Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Parliament Highlights - 12 Nov 2012

Ex-CJ Chan 'one of S'pore's greatest jurists'
Shanmugam pays tribute, says 3rd CJ strengthened rule of law in S'pore
By K. C. Vijayan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

LAW and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam has hailed retired former chief justice Chan Sek Keong as one of Singapore's greatest jurists, "if not the greatest".

Paying tribute to him in Parliament yesterday on behalf of the Government, Mr Shanmugam traced Mr Chan's long and brilliant legal career that spanned almost 50 years, capped by serving as Singapore's third chief justice. In the process, he established his standing as one of Singapore's "greatest" legal minds.

As head of the judiciary, the chief justice "sets the tone for the administration of justice in Singapore" and the country has been "singularly fortunate" that for the past six years, that responsibility has been discharged by Mr Chan, Mr Shanmugam told the House.

Mr Chan, 75, retired last week and was succeeded by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

At the end of the 20 minute-long tribute, MPs thumped their wooden armrests loudly to signal endorsement of Mr Chan's contributions.

The minister's tribute to Mr Chan was the latest in a string of accolades from the Bench, the Bar and academia upon his retirement, including a valedictory letter from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week.

Mr Chan, an Ipoh boy of humble background, started his studies late due to the Japanese Occupation. He could not speak English when he went to school.

Yet he emerged as one of the top students in the 1955 Senior Cambridge School Certificate exams. He read law on the advice of his English literature teacher, who praised his "crafty mind".

He then rose to become one of Singapore's leading banking and corporate lawyers. His "finest moment" in that field of law was during the 1985 Pan-El collapse, which forced the closure of the Singapore Stock Exchange.

He crafted "lifeboat agreements" for banks to extend credit to insolvent stockbroking companies, thereby ensuring the exchange's survival and preserving Singapore's standing as a financial centre, Mr Shanmugam said.

In 1986, Mr Chan was appointed judicial commissioner, then judge, and later Attorney-General for 14 years from 1992 to 2006.

Mr Shanmugam cited the 2003 case of Pius Gilbert Louis to make the point that in his role as public prosecutor, Mr Chan not only acted firmly and in the public interest but was also fair to the accused.

In that case, Mr Chan took the view that the High Court had exceeded its sentencing jurisdiction. He authorised a criminal reference to the Court of Appeal to have the law clarified, and the sentence of the accused reduced.

As Attorney-General, he also persuaded the Government to amend the Civil Law Act and enact the Application of English Law Act, ending the automatic reception of English Law that began in 1826 while preserving key English enactments on commercial law.

He played a leading role in the Pedra Branca case and helped to establish Singapore's sovereignty over the island before the International Court of Justice.

Mr Shanmugam said as chief justice, Mr Chan "believed that the function of judges was to interpret and to apply the law, and not to legislate or make policy in the guise of adjudication".

At the same time, he believed that judges had a role in developing the law in a way that was consonant with national values and fundamental principles of the common law.

To promote the practice development of Singapore law, he issued a practice direction that Singapore law should be cited in preference to foreign cases.

Mr Chan's tenure "has strengthened the rule of law in Singapore", Mr Shanmugam said, adding: "He retires with the great respect and warm affection of all who have worked with him and have appeared before him."

Sex blogger's scholarship terminated
News comes as Parliament discusses case and minister deplores behaviour
By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

ASEAN scholar Alvin Tan Jye Yee, who gained notoriety for posting explicit photos and videos of himself and his girlfriend online, has been stripped of his scholarship.

The 24-year-old Malaysian student was not expelled but will have to pay full, unsubsidised fees if he wants to complete the remaining year of his law degree course at the National University of Singapore (NUS), a source told The Straits Times yesterday.

The revelation comes on the same day Mr Tan and the Asean scholarship came under scrutiny in Parliament. Education Minister Heng Swee Keat had strong words for Mr Tan, saying his conduct was "reprehensible and unbecoming of a scholar".

Without referring to the law student by name, the minister said he shared the public's disappointment at Mr Tan's decision to post sexually explicit photos and videos on his blog. But he stopped short of asking NUS to reveal what punishment it had meted out to the student, citing the need to respect its policy of confidentiality: "I'm confident the university management takes the matter seriously and will do the right thing."

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) wanted to know if such scholarships could be terminated if holders behave immorally, while Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) asked if the ministry would direct NUS to reveal Mr Tan's punishment for the sake of transparency.

It is understood Mr Tan will not have to pay back the earlier portions of his scholarship but has to pay his own way from now on.

Yesterday, Mr Heng defended the scholarship selection process, stressing that the panel "exercises the best judgment at the point of entry". But he also acknowledged that lapses "do occur".

Last week, an NUS disciplinary panel found Mr Tan guilty of "inappropriate conduct" detrimental to the reputation and dignity of the university.

But it stirred controversy by declining to disclose his punishment, citing the privacy policy governing students and its practice not to make public the disciplinary decisions of the Board of Discipline.

Its decision came under fire from some critics, both offline and online, as they compared it to NUS making public the punishment of scholarship holder Sun Xu, from China, earlier this year.

Mr Sun, 23, had made disparaging remarks about Singaporeans online. His punishment: a $3,000 fine, community service and termination of scholarship benefits for his final semester. These were disclosed in an internal e-mail to students from Provost Tan Eng Chye but Mr Sun was not named.

Yesterday, Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) cited the Sun Xu case as he raised the question of inconsistency on the part of NUS. But Mr Heng defended the NUS position, reiterating its explanation that no official announcement was made in that case.

When asked for the circumstances under which foreign scholarship holders can have awards terminated, Mr Heng said the most common reason is failing to meet academic requirements. A "small number" are stripped of awards for misconduct, he added.

New MCCY to provide more opportunities for participation in sports
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

The new Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) will provide more opportunities for people, including youths and students, to participate in sports.

The Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Lawrence Wong, gave this assurance and said this will be done through the Vision 2030 programme, which aims to use sports to build closer community ties.

He said sports can contribute to building a society based on mutual respect, understanding and care, and foster a deeper sense of national pride and national belonging.

Mr Wong said: "Our efforts in encouraging community involvement in the sports will not dilute the focus on high-performance sports. On the contrary, the broader the base of sports participation, the better our chances of developing talented youth athletes. At the same time, the achievements of Team Singapore athletes will inspire other young people to pursue their passion for the sports, whether at the recreational or competitive level."

MOE assures Parliament that Malay students not lagging behind
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Education Ministry Hawazi Daipi said in parliament Monday that Malay students are going further in their educational pursuits and doing better at national examinations.

"Today, close to 88 per cent of the P1 cohort of Malay students are admitted to post-secondary education. This is a significant improvement from the 75 per cent 10 years ago, although this is lower than the national statistics, the gap has narrowed steadily," he said.

He was saying this in response to MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad who asked if the performance of Malay students are lagging behind those of other ethnic groups.

Mr Zaqy also asked if the gap in academic performance between Malay students and those of other ethnic groups is a result of factors such as proficiency in English language, its use at home, socio-economic background and cultural differences.

Mr Hawazi responded saying that the factors affecting the performance of students are "complex and multi-dimensional".

He pointed out that proficiency in English and socio-economic background are contributing factors and are not unique to Singapore, and added that home support and individual motivation also play a part.

Mr Hawazi said the Education Ministry has put in place learning support programmes to help not just the weaker students but also the low-income ones.

"(The improvement) is the result of concerted efforts of the self-help groups, or the SHGs, other community organisations and parents working in partnerships with schools and MOE," Mr Hawazi said.

Traffic Police, MOE to review road safety education
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

The Traffic Police are working with the Education Ministry to review and develop age-appropriate road safety education schemes.

In January and October this year, fatal road accidents involving children occurred along Sembawang Drive outside a primary school.

The Traffic Police recently conducted daily observations of the road over a 10-day period to determine if the area needed further safety measures to be implemented.

Mr Masagos said: "The authorities take road safety around schools very seriously and will engage local stakeholders. We will look at issues of specific concern that the member wish to highlight and the relevant agency will take it up. The Traffic Police will continue to send letters to parents of school-going children to raise awareness of road safety messages."

Film rating change 'not a negative signal'
Yaacob: Dialogue space not shrinking, director should await appeal outcome
By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

LOCAL film-maker Ken Kwek, whose satirical movie Sex.Violence.FamilyValues was pulled from release by the authorities, has been allowed due process and will have to wait for the outcome of his appeal, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

Also, the revoking of the film's earlier rating does not send a negative signal to budding film-makers, or that the common space for dialogue is shrinking, he added.

Dr Yaacob made these points in his parliamentary reply to several MPs who had raised questions on the Media Development Authority's (MDA) controversial decision last month to pull the film after initially giving it an M18 rating, which allows only those aged 18 and older to see it.

Mr Kwek's film is a compendium of three short films. It was pulled from commercial release by the MDA last month, after public feedback that one of the films, Porn Masala, had racial references deemed offensive to Indians. Mr Kwek is appealing against the MDA's decision.

In Parliament yesterday, Nominated MP Janice Koh said the MDA had recognised that the film was a satire when the authority originally gave it an M18 rating that was later revoked.

"In fact, (the film) points out the root of our racist views as being ignorance and exposes our prejudices," she said.

She asked Dr Yaacob if blocking the film had shrunk the common space, as it denied Singaporeans a chance to discuss it and grow and mature as a society.

He replied that film is not the only platform for discussing sensitive issues, and cited the national conversation helmed by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat as another such platform.

"So I don't see this as a step backwards... there is a process. The process has proven over time to be effective," he said.

He also said it was the right of the Film Consultative Panel (FCP) to give the film-maker the opportunity to defend his film before the rating is given.

"Because we received two strong complaints - in fact, a very long complaint by one particular member of the community - we decided to convene the FCP because we think that's how the process should work," he said. "It's really up to the film-maker to submit his appeal, and we will have to wait and see the decision of the appeal panel."

Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) wanted to know if there had been similar cases in the past when a film's classification had been changed.

Replying, Dr Yaacob said changes in classification were few and far between.

"In 2010 and 2011, there was no such instance. This year, we have had two - the film in question and an earlier film which was an imported film," he said.

While his ministry was satisfied with the classification process, he said he agreed with Ms Koh and Mr Ong that as society evolves, the MDA's processes have to change as well.

Flip-flop over film reflects more diverse society
By Leslie Koh, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

AT YESTERDAY'S sitting, a key theme that emerged was how Singapore could move in tandem with changing societal values.

There was the debate over the landmark change to the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, which many note reflects changes in attitudes towards capital punishment and justice.

But another exchange in the House was shorter, yet just as significant: the reversal of the classification of local comedy Sex.Violence.FamilyValues.

No fewer than three MPs had filed questions over director Ken Kwek's film, whose M18 rating was replaced with a Not Allowed For All Rating last month by the Media Development Authority (MDA), following public complaints and a Films Consultative Panel (FCP) recommendation. This rating amounted to a ban.

How could their assessments be so different, asked the MPs.

When Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim explained how it would have been "unwise" of the MDA to ignore the views of the panel - 20 of 24 of whom had watched it had found the film offensive to Indians - it didn't seem to convince Ms Janice Koh, Mr David Ong or Mr Baey Yam Keng.

They proceeded to query the minister on why the film classification was changed, and raised concerns about what it meant for Singapore's arts scene.

That many in the arts fraternity were disappointed by the MDA's move is understandable.

As Ms Koh charged: "By blocking this film, we've actually denied Singaporeans a chance to dialogue on this issue and to grow and mature as a society."

Many believe the MDA should have kept to its original rating and not followed the FCP's advice. But it made one wonder: What if it had been the other way round?

What if, say, the panel had recommended a less stringent rating instead? Would the MDA then be "wrong" in heeding its advice?

Or what if a film had been derisive of certain religions? Would the FCP and MDA have come under the same flak for banning it?

Of course, these are hypothetical posers. But they lead to one question about the FCP's role: Just who does it really represent?

According to the MDA, the panel's job is to give feedback to the Board of Film Censors (BFC) on the classification of films, videos and games. It is made up of nearly 60 volunteers from a range of professions, ages and races, most of whom are from the private, education and people sectors.

"The panel aims to reflect community standards and to contribute a more balanced approach to film classification, in keeping with changing social mores," the MDA says on its website.

Last year, the BFC gave 3D Sex And Zen: Extreme Ecstasy an R21 rating after consulting the panel, while in 2010, it stopped slasher flick Dream Home from being shown. Both were foreign films.

Was the FCP being overly conservative with Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, as some critics charge? Or was it merely reflecting the more conservative segment of Singapore society? That probably depends on who you trust to accurately represent the "public interest". Should the FCP include more "liberal" members? Or should there be another panel? And what will it take for that panel to be accepted by the majority?

Ultimately, the buck has to stop somewhere: Whether it's the MDA, FCP or any other "independent" panel, someone has to make a judgment call. And that call is unlikely to please all.

Yet it is significant that not all the 24 FCP members who watched Mr Kwek's film felt the same way. There were four who believed it could have been released under an R21 rating.

Clearly, there is no single answer to such issues of morality and values. As Singaporeans continue to express an increasingly diverse range of views, it will inevitably get harder and harder for society to find a compromise.

Actually, such differences show that ours is a maturing society, though we will have to learn to accept the common ground may continue to be constantly contested and, in some instances, shrink.

Whether it's film ratings, economic goals or how many foreign workers to take in, there will be fewer and fewer points of agreement, making it a growing challenge to find practical ways to live with the differences.

Perhaps another lesson from the Sex.Violence.FamilyValues saga is that one setback shouldn't be seen as the end for Singapore's film scene. In the 1980s, Japanese new-age artiste Kitaro was banned from entering Singapore because he refused to cut his long hair. That didn't mark the end of the local music scene.

In any case, it's not even the end for Mr Kwek's film yet. The director has filed an appeal, and is waiting for a response from the Films Appeal Committee. Who knows, we might still get to watch Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, and learn to laugh at ourselves.

SAF 'will stay strong' despite falling birth rates
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

UP TO the year 2040, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will remain a strong military force despite the nation's declining birth rate and ageing population.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen gave Parliament this assurance yesterday, when he disclosed that the ranks of young people enlisting for national service will shrink from last year's peak of 21,000 to about 15,000 a year going forward, similar to the levels in the 1990s.

"With these enlistment numbers, our long-term projections till 2040 indicate that the SAF will still be able to mobilise about 300,000 soldiers from regulars, full-time national servicemen and operationally ready NSmen," Dr Ng said.

He agreed with Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) that the use of military technology will help the SAF to remain formidable.

Dr Ng said the SAF will con- tinue to invest "steadily and prudently" in advanced technologies, such as its recently acquired High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

The system needs just three men to operate, compared with 12 for other artillery systems that have less precision and destructive power.

Similarly, he noted, the navy's Formidable class of frigates needs a lean crew of about 70 men, fewer than the 100 men needed for similar warships from other navies.

NSmen are also more educated and technologically savvy, he said.

"The higher quality of our NSmen combined with the advanced platforms and effective use of technology to network our systems will ensure the SAF continues to be an effective military force and a strong deterrent against any aggression," he added.

MOM encourages conversion of contract workers to permanent staff
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is encouraging employers to consider converting contract employees into permanent staff. 

Speaking in Parliament on Monday, the ministry's Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi said companies should make the conversion if such employees are found to be suitable for the job and if the job is expected to be available on a permanent basis.

Mr Hawazi was responding to a question from labour MP Zainal Sapari who wanted to know if the ministry has plans to give more employment rights to low wage contract workers.

He noted that contract workers may feel that they lack employment certainty and job security due to the short tenure of their contracts.

While they are protected under the Employment Act, they might not be eligible for certain benefits such as annual or sick leave if they do not meet the qualifying period of three months due to breaks in contracts.

Mr Hawazi said: "We are working closely with our tripartite partners and our stakeholders to review the Employment Act. At this stage, we are considering suggestions and feedback on various issues, including the protection of low wage contract workers.

"Ultimately, we wish to ensure that the Act safeguards basic employment standards to those who need it, while still giving employers sufficient flexibility to manage their businesses. We will be sharing more details in due course."


260 employers caught for exceeding overtime limits in last four years
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin revealed in parliament Monday that 260 employers were found to have contravened the limit of overtime work between 2008 and last year.

He added that 56 employers were issued compositions fines by the Ministry while another 21 were prosecuted in court for more serious breaches.

The remaining were issued warnings or advisories.

Mr Tan also said that his ministry is addressing this issue under the review of the Employment Act.

"We are in the process of working with the unions and the employers on this… specifically with some industries which we do know there is a more slightly more chronic issue of overtime requirements such as the security industry. We will work with the different partners to see how we can adjust this from a structural perspective," Mr Tan said in parliament.

Employees covered under the Employment Act are not allowed to work for more than 12 hours a day, including overtime, with a limit of 72 hours of overtime in a month.

Between 2008 and 2011, an average of 310 employers applied for exemption each year, of which some 270 were approved.

Mr Tan said that while overtime pay forms an integral part of wages for many low wage workers like those in the security sector, long working hours may be neither desirable nor sustainable in the long run.

Retirees, housewives for part-time eldercare jobs?
By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

THE Government hopes to reduce the demand for full-time workers caring for the elderly by encouraging retirees and housewives to work part-time in the sector, said Minister of State for Social and Family Development Halimah Yacob in Parliament yesterday.

Madam Halimah said that her ministry was looking into employing housewives and retirees as home-visit assistants to take over some of the work at senior care centres and senior activity centres normally done by full-time workers.

Additionally, to ramp up the professional health-care staff needed for the sector, the Health Ministry intends to expand the annual intake for nursing and encourage more people to switch mid-career to nursing and allied health.

Beyond increasing manpower, the Government will work with eldercare service providers to raise productivity through initiatives such as bulk procurement, process redesign and the use of technology, she said.

"Overall, the number of eldercare facilities which we will be developing should provide sufficient capacity to cater to the increase in the elderly population beyond 2015," she said.

Madam Halimah also provided a brief update on senior group homes that allow the elderly to stay independent.

She said that the second group home is on track to open either next month or early next year.

She added that her ministry is working with the Ministry of National Development to identify more sites for future group homes.

More doctors take part in CHAS
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

More doctors are participating in the government's Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) since it was enhanced in January this year.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament that there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of participating general practitioners (GP) and dental clinics to the current 794 clinics.

More patients have also jumped on board the scheme.

Mr Gan said over 220,000 Singaporeans are in the scheme, a seven-fold increase from about 34,000 before it was enhanced.

The scheme was improved to benefit more Singaporeans, especially those with chronic conditions.

This is through lowering the age criterion for the scheme from 65 years old to 40 years old and relaxing the income criteria.

The government is monitoring the impact of these enhancements and will review the scheme again in due course.

The enhanced scheme has also eased patient volume at the polyclinics.

Mr Gan said: "As far as the number of patients is concerned, we see from the beginning of this year, for the first six months we have about 31,000 patients already made use of their CHAS cards in our various private clinics.

"This shows potentially the (number of) patients that could have been treated at the polyclinic. They are going to our GP clinics. We hope to be able to reach out to more. Some of them have signed on the card but have not used it because they are not due for medical review and some of them may not have chronic diseases yet but they want to have the card in order to be ready."

SPP "not unhappy" Potong Pasir void deck being used by VWO
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam stressed in Parliament on Monday that the SPP is "not unhappy" that a void deck in Potong Pasir where former MP Chiam See Tong held his Meet-the-People sessions is being converted into a wellness centre by a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO).

"I want to emphasise that SPP is not unhappy that block 108 is taken by a VWO for residents' welfare but rather, residents should be consulted and explained about the void deck being taken over," she said.

Current MP for Potong Pasir Sitoh Yih Pin announced in October that an organisation "popular with residents" would convert the Potong Pasir void deck into a wellness centre for residents, saying that other unused void decks in Potong Pasir had already been earmarked.

He declined to name the organisation.

Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Dr Maliki Osman responded to Mrs Chiam saying that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) works with supervising ministries of VWOs in decisions regarding the allocation of void deck areas to such organisations.

However, HDB also takes into account input from local town councils and grassroots leaders, he added.

"On whether we consult the residents, on whether we engage the residents, I think the process ought to be one of engagement. But at some point in time, the decision will have to be made to serve the larger community," said Dr Maliki.

The new centre is expected to be up by the first quarter of next year.

Soaring numbers of young drug abusers
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

THE drug problem remains significant, especially among the young, the Government said yesterday, in explaining the reasons for giving anti-narcotics laws more muscle.

Between 2007 and last year, the number of drug abusers arrested annually jumped by about 50 per cent, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament.

Of particular concern is the increase in young abusers. The number of under-21 arrested in the five years has tripled.

But recent trends abroad also mean it is necessary to tweak Singapore's anti-drug laws, said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.

For instance, there are quite a number of clandestine laboratories operating in East and South- east Asia. It is against such a backdrop - and with Singapore being in close proximity to major source countries - that the Government is making five key amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), said Mr Teo.
- First, new psychoactive substances can be temporarily listed for up to 12 months in the Act, with the possibility of a 12-month extension.

Currently, before a substance is listed as a controlled drug and made illegal, study and industry consultation is needed.

"This takes time and in some cases, the drug may be in circulation, causing harm long before these processes are completed," Mr Teo said.
- Second, hair analysis will be used to complement urine testing in screening for abusers.

This new method can detect drugs months after consumption, although some time has to elapse after a drug is consumed before the substance and its metabolites become more clearly detectable.

Still, it will address a weakness in Singapore's dependence on urine tests - urine is less likely to contain sufficient drug traces after a few days from the time of abuse.

Hair analysis will be used only for making supervision orders for now. Under this, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) director will have powers to require anyone whose hair specimens have tested positive for drugs to be subject to the supervision of an anti-narcotics officer for up to two years.

Those who fail to provide hair specimens without a reasonable excuse will face up to two years' in jail and/or a fine of $5,000.
- The third amendment involves strengthening the enforcement regime.

It will now be illegal to arrange or plan a gathering of two or more people with the knowledge that a controlled drug is, or is to be, consumed or trafficked.

The punishment will be jail of between three and 20 years, and caning at the court's discretion.

There will be enhanced punishments if young persons, or those suffering from a mental impairment, are at the gathering.

Repeat drug traffickers and those who target the young or vulnerable will also face stiffer punishments.
- Fourth, a facility to improve the way young abusers are dealt with will be set up.

This community rehabilitation centre involves a residential component with counselling programmes that allow youths to continue with education or work.
- The final amendment involves changes to the mandatory death penalty punishment regime and means that traffickers who satisfy certain tightly-defined conditions may be handed life imprisonment and caning instead.

Concluding, Mr Teo said the measures will send a strong deterrent message and enhance the operational effectiveness of enforcement agencies.

"We have long taken a zero-tolerance approach against the drug menace. The amendments proposed...allow us to continue doing all we can to keep our streets safe and to protect our children from the scourge of drugs."

MPs fear changes to Act signal relaxing of anti-drug stance
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

SEVERAL MPs worry that the changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act may send a signal that Singapore is softening its tough stance on drugs.

Their fears centre on the lifting of the mandatory death penalty on drug mules in certain circumstances, a change which came up for debate yesterday.

Noting that many drug couriers caught here are foreigners, Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said the change will likely raise the pressure from lobbying by countries which do not permit the death penalty, when their nationals are caught here for trafficking.

"Is this something our Government is ready for and ready to push back on?" he asked.

Mr Yeo cited recent cases such as Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong, who was arrested in 2007 when he was 19 and sentenced to death the year after.

Human rights activists "took up the cudgels on the basis that the death sentence should not be passed against someone who was, among other qualities, not a Singaporean", said Mr Yeo.

He was also worried that Singapore's "zero-tolerance" stance on drugs may be adulterated by the exceptions, as it is a "much more powerful statement" to say that all drug traffickers will be sentenced to death.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said compassion is skewed towards drug traffickers. A former volunteer with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, Mr de Souza said the true victim is society and the families broken by drug addiction.

"We should have compassion for this brokenness too. The way to do so is to maintain immensely strong and muscular measures to deter drug traffickers from targeting Singapore," he said.

He also spoke at length on the link between drugs and crime, adding that Singapore cannot afford missteps in its anti-drug drive.

"We misstep, open the floodgates, our war on drugs falters."

Other MPs, like Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), noted that the proposed changes were taking place against a backdrop of rising arrests for drug addiction and recidivism.

Dr Intan was concerned that the public, especially the young, would misperceive the amendments.

Already, she said, the number of drug abusers aged below 18 arrested last year was more than double that in 2008.

"The less informed may think that the drug trafficking offence has become less serious while the opportunists may think that they can get away with a less harsh sentence," she said.

"The seriousness of the drug trafficking offence must be emphasised time and again."

How 'useful' must a drug mule be to live?
MPs debate proposal to spare those who assist CNB the death penalty
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

LOW-LEVEL drug mules are unlikely to have information that can help disrupt syndicates, several MPs said yesterday, as they questioned if the bar of "substantive assistance" for couriers to escape mandatory hanging was set too high.

The issue emerged as a major point of contention as Parliament debated amendments that will give judges discretion to punish such offenders with life imprisonment and caning rather than automatic death.

The issue proved so divisive that Nominated MP Laurence Lien, one of 16 members of the House who rose to speak, even asked for the clause to be removed.

The life or death of an offender should not be decided based only on their utility to the state, he added.

Under proposed changes, the public prosecutor will issue a Certificate of Cooperation to couriers who show "substantive assistance".

They must first have substantially assisted in enhancing the Central Narcotics Bureau's (CNB's) enforcement effectiveness, for instance by providing information leading to the arrest of those involved in drug trafficking.

Judges can then choose to sentence them to life imprisonment plus 15 strokes of the cane, instead of death.

But MPs such as Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), Mr Desmond Lee (Jurong GRC) and Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said yesterday that the bar may be set too high.

Couriers may be too low in the hierarchy to provide enough information that would lead to arrests, they pointed out.

Echoing their points, Nominated MP and law academic Eugene Tan asked: "Will an ordinary drug mule really be in a position to provide the requisite information?"

The sophistication of drug syndicates often means that mules are unlikely to know anyone else other than their immediate boss, he said.

Several MPs suggested that "substantive cooperation" be judged according to whether the accused person has done all that he can to assist the CNB, rather than providing information that leads to specific outcomes.

Another point the MPs raised - how the information given may prove useful only months or years later, or when it is used along with intelligence from others.

Mr Tong, a lawyer, asked what could be done to ensure certification is not refused to offenders who provide assistance that could not disrupt drug trafficking presently, but which could prove useful in the future.

Jurong GRC's Mr Lee also noted that success sometimes depends on factors outside the couriers' control - luck, the investigators' skills, or the level of cross-border cooperation.

The requirement that substantial cooperation be proven only through a certificate from the public prosecutor also introduces subjectivity, lawyer Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said.

The senior counsel said: "Although I have confidence in the integrity of our law enforcement officers, what happens if an accused person claims that he rendered his fullest cooperation but the CNB chose to not recognise it?"

Such accusations could undermine public confidence in the legal system if they kept cropping up, he added.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) also addressed this point.

It would have been opportune for the Bill to allow an accused's lawyer to make representations when the public prosecutor does not issue a certificate, and for the judge to determine the extent and scope of the cooperation, he added.

An outlier among those who spoke yesterday was Mr Christopher de Souza, who was the second last to speak out of 16 MPs.

The Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP was all for a high bar to cooperation, emphasising that it should lead to the dismantling of drug syndicates or assist in apprehension of the wider drugs network.

Different definitions and interpretations of cooperation may be dangerous, as the policy intent becomes diluted, he said.

"We may run the risk of ineffective deterrent measures coupled with an inability to neutralise the syndicates upstream. This will be a disaster," he added.

Abolish death penalty, urge 3 MPs
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

AT LEAST three MPs yesterday urged the Government to go further and abolish the mandatory death penalty when they joined the debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act.

They cited reasons such as the ethics of taking a life, its irreversible nature, and lack of evidence that it is effective as a deterrent.

Under proposed changes to the Act before the House, the mandatory death sentence can be lifted for drug couriers only if they have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau or are mentally impaired.

Nominated MP Laurence Lien went the furthest yesterday by calling for the death penalty to be completely abolished from the laws of the land.

This should be the "ultimate goal", he said in an impassioned speech, even as he welcomed the shift in the Government's stance.

"My starting point is that we must believe that every human life is precious," he said.

"Unless it is specifically to save another life, taking a life, for no matter how good an intention, is wrong."

Mr Lien argued against what he called a utilitarian view of justice, where the ends justify the means. A "culture of death" damages the goal of having an inclusive society, he said.

While Singaporeans are rightly proud that the nation is relatively free from drugs and serious crime, he said the death penalty is not just about the criminal justice system.

"It is also about the type of society that we want to build - a society that values every person and every human life, and one that doesn't give up on its people."

Joining in the debate, Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) wanted the mandatory death sentence meted out for some crimes to be scrapped.

Mrs Chiam called for the death penalty to be made discretionary for all crimes. Already, the "extremely harsh" nature of the death penalty means any error discovered after an execution cannot be remedied, she said.

"It is even harsher to make it mandatory, because... offenders are denied the chance to convince the court why they do not deserve this harsh punishment."

Mr Singh said the proposed changes are a step in the right direction, but lamented the "missed opportunity to remove the mandatory death penalty from our statute books completely".

Mandatory death sentence cases leave judges "strait-jacketed", with no room for mitigation, said Mr Singh. "All the prosecution has to do is to prove that the accused is guilty of the charge preferred against him or her, and the hands of a judge are tied."

Such sentences "effectively make the role of the judiciary administrative, in favour of the executive arm of the state in the shape of the public prosecutor," he said.

The effectiveness of the death sentence as a deterrent was also questioned.

Mr Lien and Mrs Chiam cited Hong Kong, where homicide rates fell after the death penalty was abolished in 1993.

Nominated MP Faizah Jamal asked the Government to publish more data on the link between the death penalty and low crime rates.

She was among the MPs who applauded the compassion and greater judicial discretion they saw in the proposed changes, although they did not make an outright call for the mandatory death penalty to be abolished.

Said Madam Faizah: "There is a vast difference between a life sentence and a death penalty... A compassionate society gives (an offender) a second chance, even as it sends a strong message of the severity of the consequences. It does not have to be a zero-sum game."

Act being amended to stop cyber attacks before they strike
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

THE Government wants pre-emptive powers to thwart potentially crippling cyber attacks, according to proposed amendments to the Computer Misuse Act tabled in Parliament yesterday.

The moves will allow the Minister of Home Affairs to order a person or organisation to act against any cyber attack even before it has begun.

Currently, he can only do so when there is an outright cyber attack against critical infrastructure like power stations or water filtration plants that may in turn disrupt the economy and threaten national security.

With the proposed changes, he can take pre-emptive actions when specific intelligence has been received of an imminent attack that could cripple critical infrastructure such as public utilities, telecommunications, banking and transportation.

For instance, the minister may order telcos or banks to disclose how their computer networks are designed, or disclose reports of any attempted breach, to detect or counter any threat.

The changes are part of the Government's efforts to better counter the spread and sophistication of cyber attacks.

The Act - which will be renamed the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act - is "in line with similar moves by other countries", the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

"Cyber attacks worldwide have increased in frequency, speed and sophistication... Prompt and effective action must be taken to avert such threats well before they endanger our critical information infrastructure," it added.

As the disclosure of information may be sensitive, legal safeguards will also be put in place to protect the use of such data.

Those who act on the minister's direction will be granted immunity from civil and criminal liability.

Non-compliance with the direction will be made a crime.

But the minister's powers will not be used to prevent or investigate a criminal offence that does not threaten Singapore's national security or essential services.

Under the amendments, essential services will also include land transport, aviation, shipping and health care.

Last year, nearly a quarter of the world's banks and 40 per cent of major insurers reported security breaches, according to a Deloitte survey.

In Singapore, about 1,000 cyber crime cases, including hacking, were reported under the Computer Misuse Act over the past five years, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean revealed at the National Security Conference in August.

NMP's plea: Help SMEs adapt to change
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

A BOOKSTORE had to move four times in seven years because of rising rental costs while a florist trained five local workers, only to see them walk away from the job because it was too much hard work.

These were among several examples Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng gave yesterday as he called on the Government to give more help to businesses struggling to cope with the rapid economic restructuring taking place in Singapore.

He wants a slowdown in the tightening of the foreign worker tap, rental subsidies to be given to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and a review of the criteria of the grants offered to help these companies.

Mr Teo made the heartfelt plea in Parliament during an adjournment motion he had filed to give him more time to elaborate on the issue.

He is managing director of leading shipping company Pacific International Lines and president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

During his 15-minute speech, he also warned that traditional trades and businesses face the danger of disappearing amid the change.

"We understand and support the Government's view that there is no turning back the foreign worker policy and that SMEs should adopt innovative and productive measures to develop," he said in Mandarin.

"However, increasing productivity is a long-term and continuous process, especially for labour-intensive industries. It cannot be rushed and needs time to be refined and improved."

Citing a survey done by the chamber and the Nanyang Technological University this year, he said 93 per cent of the 521 companies polled said they understand the importance of innovation, but 62 per cent were not able to find suitable schemes, and 32 per cent said they found the application procedure for government schemes tedious.

Since 2009, the Government has slowed the inflow of foreign workers, in a bid to reduce the strain on infrastructure, plus raise productivity and wages of Singaporeans.

The target is to lift productivity from 1 per cent in the last decade, to between 2 and 3 per cent in the next decade. To achieve this, the Government has introduced many schemes to help companies.

But commercial rents have moderated since 2011 and are below the 2008 peak, he noted. Also, more office space is being added in the next five years.

The Government, too, is reviewing the various schemes and strategies to make sure they are SME-friendly, he said, and the tightening of manpower is done carefully so that it does not stall growth.

While restructuring is painful, Singapore is still far behind what some other countries have achieved in productivity, he said. "Hence, we are not trying to do the impossible. On the contrary, raising productivity is achievable."

4 in 10 at top primary schools live in HDB flats
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

FOUR in 10 pupils from several of Singapore's top primary schools live in Housing Board flats.

That is half the national average of eight in 10 pupils for all primary schools, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed in a written answer to Parliament yesterday.

He wanted to know how their figures compared nationally and with neighbourhood schools.

Mr Heng said their 40 per cent figure "broadly reflects the mix of residential housing in the vicinity of these schools".

The average proportion of HDB resident households in the designated planning areas where these schools are located is 35 per cent, the ministry said later.

Tao Nan is in Marine Parade, ACS (Primary) in Novena and the remaining four in Bukit Timah.

Mr Heng did not give the comparative figures for neighbourhood schools. "MOE does not have a definition of 'neighbourhood schools'," he said.

The ministry has been advocating the notion of seeing every school as a good one, rather than encouraging such distinctions.

During a visit to Raffles Girls' Primary School and Punggol Primary School two years ago, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew noted that what differentiated the two schools were the parents' different backgrounds rather than their facilities. He also argued that the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) levels the playing field.

A scheme which admits students to a secondary school based on their strengths in certain niche areas, instead of PSLE results, was questioned by Nominated MP Mary Liew.

She asked if there could be a cap or scrapping of the direct school admission scheme "to ensure equal opportunities".

In a written reply, Mr Heng said autonomous schools offering the Integrated Programme (IP) where students skip the O levels admitted between 25 and 40 per cent of IP students through the scheme last year, even though they are free to admit more.

Admissions by autonomous schools offering the O-level programme are capped at 10 per cent.

He defended the scheme, saying that it has "served to broaden the definition of success and promote holistic education by reducing the emphasis on national examination results".

Top 1% earn annual average of $700k
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2012

SINGAPORE'S richest 1 per cent have an average taxable income of $700,000 a year, the Finance Ministry revealed for the first time yesterday.

The number of individuals in this group has gone up over four years from 29,524 in Year of Assessment (YA) 2009 to 32,285 in YA 2012.

These figures were given in a written response to a question from Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam in Parliament yesterday. They provide more details on how wealth is distributed in Singapore amid concerns of rising income inequality.

Mr Giam had asked Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam for the average income and total income of the top 1 per cent of income earners in Singapore for the past 10 years, including their income not from employment, such as that from capital gains, property rentals and interest.

In the reply, Mr Tharman said that comparing incomes over the past four years would be better as certain types of income have been exempted over the years, which makes the income base different.

The main exemptions from tax were introduced before the 2009 Year of Assessment, he added.

And while income data is collected by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), individuals are required to declare only income that is taxable. Capital gains - income derived from selling an investment - are not taxed and are therefore not captured by Iras.

Income inequality in Singapore has become a hot issue as the gap between rich and poor has grown.

The richest top 10 per cent of households in Singapore have seen their income growth outpace those in the bottom 10 per cent.

The Gini co-efficient, an oft-cited measure of income inequality, has risen from 0.45 to 0.47 over the last decade.

Mr Giam told The Straits Times that he had tabled the question to get a better sense of how income is distributed in Singapore.

"It is illustrative of the trend that the number of people at the top 1 per cent has increased over the years," Mr Giam said.

He added that there could still be significant non-taxable income of these high earners not reflected in the data.

"So actually the wealth of the top 1 per cent could potentially be quite a bit higher than what is published here," he said.

Separately, Mr Giam also asked the Manpower Ministry about low-wage workers who earned less than $1,000 a month.

Citing published figures from the Labour Force Survey, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that among full-time workers, 100,000 Singaporeans and 10,000 permanent residents earned less than $1,000 a month.

They made up about 6 per cent of the full-time local labour force, as of June last year.

The pay cheque of low-wage workers has been boosted by the Government's Workfare programme, in both cash and Central Provident Fund payments.

The National Trades Union Congress has also rolled out a progressive wage model to systematically raise low-wage workers' pay through training and job restructuring.

Cleaners are among the lowest-paid workers in Singapore. Office cleaners earn $815 a month, according to past figures. Others who earn below $1,000 a month include car washers, odd-job labourers and food stall assistants.

Each Singapore Grand Prix race "costs about S$150m"
Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran told Parliament on Monday that the cost of organising each Formula One race is estimated to be at about S$150 million.

In a written response to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam, the minister said that the government co-funds 60 per cent of approved costs for the race.

In turn, the F1 Singapore Grand Prix has generated about S$150 million in incremental tourism receipts per race, surpassing the original projection of S$100 million per race.

Mrs Chiam had asked for a cost-benefit report on the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix to justify the country's participation in the event for the next five years.

Mr Iswaran added in his reply that close to 200,000 tourists visited Singapore for the first five races, and that the F1 Singapore Grand Prix has also yielded significant global branding benefits to Singapore.

Cumulatively, more than 360 million television viewers worldwide have followed the first four races.

The statistics for this year's race are still being compiled.

The extensive international media coverage of the F1 Singapore Grand Prix has also showcased Singapore's distinctive skyline globally, the minister said, adding that the government expects these benefits to be sustained and the costs to go down in the extended term.

Mr Iswaran also stated the government's plans to optimise existing infrastructure, become more efficient in race organisation, and benefit from revised terms with the race promoter and Formula One Administration.

The minister also said that the government will continue to explore ways to minimise the public inconveniences that a street race may bring to Singaporeans.

Khaw Boon Wan clarifies status of Toa Payoh SERS flats
By Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said Block 31 at Lorong 6 Toa Payoh is managed by HDB for needy Singaporeans and is not leased to foreigners.

Blocks 32 and 33 along the same road, he said, are vacated Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) flats.

And in 2009, HDB leased these two blocks to EM Services at market rates as an interim arrangement.

Mr Khaw made the points in a written reply to oral questions raised by NCMP Lina Chiam in parliament on Monday.

She had asked why Blocks 31 to 33 at Lorong 6 Toa Payoh were leased by HDB, through its managing agent EM Services, to Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) at below market rates to house its foreign employees.

Mr Khaw said on Monday the arrangement between EM Services and RWS is a commercial one.

EM Services had leased Blocks 32 and 33 to RWS to house its employees in 2009.

RWS has since returned Block 32 to EM Services and is only leasing Block 33.

HDB's leasing contract with EM Services will end in December 2012.

The flats will then be demolished for redevelopment.

HDB to build more rental flats to reduce waiting time
By Melissa Chong, Channel NewsAsia, 12 Nov 2012

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced on Monday the government's target to have 57,000 rental flats by 2015.

Mr Khaw said this in a written response to Member of Parliament Dr Lee Bee Wah, who asked for an update in the measures taken to reduce the waiting time needed to apply for a flat under the Housing and Development Board's (HDB) Public Rental Scheme.

The minister said that the average waiting time for a flat is about six months, which could stretch longer if applicants request for specific locations or blocks.

He said that the government intends to build more rental flats to reduce the waiting time of applicants, with a target of 57,000 units by 2015.

Singapore now has 49,300 units of 1- and 2-room public rental flats, up from 45,500 two years ago.

Mr Khaw reiterated that even as more rental flats are being built, "we must also ensure that they are safeguarded for the poor and needy. These are the vulnerable citizens with no family support or other housing options."

Mr Khaw said the government is also tackling the problem upstream, by advising Singaporeans not to sell their HDB flats with the expectation that HDB will provide them with a heavily subsidised rental flat.

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