Friday, 16 November 2012

Parliament Highlights - 15 Nov 2012

Govt's approach to regulating casinos hasn't changed: Iswaran
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

SINGAPORE is changing the law governing the two casinos to ensure the country continues to benefit economically while minimising socials ills and crime, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.

Also, the changes are to make sure that the regulations remain effective and relevant in a "complex and dynamic" industry.

But despite the changes, the Government's approach to regulating the industry has not changed, he said as he laid out the objectives of the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill in Parliament for debate.

Central to the approach is that the integrated resorts with casinos exist to heighten Singapore's appeal to tourists, and to generate economic benefits - but without crime and problem gambling getting out of hand.

He also said the proposed changes were timely as Government agencies had gained practical experience in regulating the industry in the last two years.

"This is a complex and dynamic industry," said Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry.

"It is, therefore, imperative that we continually monitor developments, anticipate trends and challenges, and ensure that our regulatory regime stays effective and relevant - the Government's approach on regulating the industry had not changed."

Among the changes is the setting up of a panel to evaluate the performance of the two IRs. Its members, to be appointed by the Minister for Trade and Industry, will assess the IRs in areas such as visitor appeal, contributions to tourism, and how they match up to international attractions.

From Jan 1, 2015, the Casino Regulatory Authority will consider the panel's reports when processing the IRs' applications to renew their casino licences.

The date, said Mr Iswaran, will give the panel enough time to develop and work through the assessment framework.

Another new rule will limit the number of times a "financially vulnerable" person can visit the casinos. As with the exclusion orders, individuals or family members can apply to set a limit. The National Council on Problem Gambling can also impose it.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development estimates that the limit could apply to between 4,000 and 6,000 people.

Other changes include raising the maximum fine from $1 million to 10 per cent of the casino's gross gaming revenue if it goes against the social safeguards.

The changes were supported by all 18 MPs who spoke, with most calling for the social safeguards to be tightened. Mr Iswaran will reply and wrap up the debate in Parliament today.

Bill limits casino visits but MPs want further safeguards
Higher day levy, scrapping annual fee among proposals mooted
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

EVERY one of the 18 MPs who spoke on the changes to the Casino Control Act yesterday wanted the proposed new safeguards to go even further.

In the four-hour debate, the House heard story after story of families wrecked - and in one case, driven to mass suicide - from problem gambling.

The Casino Control (Amendment) Bill would impose visit limits on financially vulnerable patrons and increase the maximum penalty on integrated resorts (IRs) that breach social safeguards, from $1 million to 10 per cent of annual gaming revenue.

But the visit limits were seen as inadequate by several MPs, who called for this to be complemented by loss or expenditure limits.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) said visit limits would give gamblers an excuse to place higher bets each time as they know they might not be allowed back.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam - both long- standing, staunch opponents of the IRs - called for the casino entry levy for Singaporeans and permanent residents to be raised. It is currently $100 a day.

They also want the option of the $2,000 annual entry levy to be scrapped entirely, as did Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang), who said it was a "loophole" in social safeguards.

Several other MPs wanted the financially vulnerable to be banned outright from the casinos.

Those who receive financial aid from the Government are now automatically excluded.

Citing an elderly resident who declined to apply for public assistance because of the consequent casino exclusion, Ms Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) suggested that those receiving help from grassroots organisations and voluntary welfare organisations should also be banned.

Nominated MP Ramasamy Dhinakaran said individuals who handle large sums of public money should be automatically excluded to limit the possible fallout from a gambling habit.

Other suggestions include having officers from the National Council of Problem Gambling patrol casino floors to look out for those who may be spending beyond their means (from Dr Lam Pin Min of Sengkang West), raising taxes on the two IRs (NMP Mary Liew) and the setting up of an Anti-Gambling Fund (Mr Ang Wei Neng of Jurong GRC).

This fund would give immediate financial relief to families of problem gamblers and help them meet the administrative costs of declaring bankruptcy, said Mr Ang.

He noted that his personal effort to raise money for such residents from the two IRs have been met with indifference.

While almost all the 18 MPs acknowledged that the IRs have brought much economic gain to Singapore, they were also unanimous in their opposition towards the sector growing.

Several, like Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), cautioned against being too dependent on casinos as magnets for tourism and drivers of economic growth: "If we continue, we will soon have to build more casinos."

Harking back to the emotive 2005 parliamentary debate that saw many MPs oppose the IRs being set up in Singapore, Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) said: "For now, let's pause and say, 'Thus far, and no further.'"

Benefits to economy come under spotlight
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

THE contributions of the casinos to Singapore's economy were raised by several MPs yesterday during the debate on the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) wanted to know how many of the jobs created by the integrated resorts (IRs) had gone to Singaporeans, and whether these were "good jobs".

She also asked for details on the benefits derived by small and medium-sized enterprises from the presence of the IRs.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) noted the upheavals they caused in various industries.

"Even as the proponents of the casinos sang praises about how thousands of jobs are created", she said the IRs' hirings also caused "stress on the eco system, leading to the loss of manpower in the food and beverage, hospitality and cleaning industries".

Others warned against Singapore becoming over-reliant on the casinos, despite the growth they have generated.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) noted that "we have succeeded beyond expectations" in the growth generated from the IRs.

Now that "the economic gains have been reaped", he said, the Government has to step up protection against the social fallout.

He also said two casinos were enough, citing the lack of land and stresses on Singapore's infrastructure caused by the IRs.

Ms Phua, however, went a step further, calling on the Government to "wean ourselves (off) from such a controversial and worrisome economic strategy".

As Singapore can never match the sophistication of "smooth casino operators" and can only play "catch-up" in addressing the industry's ill effects, Singapore should work towards exiting the industry eventually, she said.

"We must resolve to engage experts and even ordinary Singaporeans to help imagine, create future tourism products that are less controversial and more wholesome," she added.

In his speech, Mr S. Iswaran, the Second Minister for Home Affairs as well as for Trade and Industry, said that the IRs have met the Government's expectations.

Together, they have committed more than $13 billion worth of investment in Singapore, hired more than 22,000 employees directly, and spun off more than 40,000 jobs throughout the economy, he added.

He also said that last year, the IRs awarded around $500 million in contracts to local companies in various sectors, including retail, transport, and food and beverage.

More must be done to curb online gambling, say MPs
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

IT IS not just visits to the two casinos that need close watching; online gambling can be an equally dangerous lure for problem gamblers, warned several MPs yesterday.

Leading the charge, Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) held up before the House a printout of an online casino's website as she lamented the lack of curbs on such gaming.

Speaking during the debate to tighten casino regulations, she noted that online gambling was fast becoming popular among the young, and was "especially alarming in a wired nation such as Singapore".

She added that online casinos were proliferating around the world, including Singapore, and urged the Government to arrest online gambling "before it is too late".

In similar vein, Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for a "pre-emptive strike" to protect children and teenagers from gambling sites.

He felt that while a 2010 report by the Law Reform Committee found that laws here addressed land-based gambling, there was "inadequate" attention paid to controlling online gambling. He asked for the Government to fix this gap.

He was not the only MP to point out legal loopholes.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) noted that the proposed visit limit to casinos for vulnerable, low-income gamblers would specify the maximum number of visits a person could make to any casino in a month.

But, she pointed out, how would the authorities know if the person visited an online casino or casino cruise ships in international waters? She asked if the authorities could place a check on these casinos.

Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) suggested looking at the United States and Europe for lessons on curbing online gambling.

The US Congress passed an Act in 2006 making it illegal for financial institutions to transfer money to offshore gambling websites or to online payment sites used by gambling sites.

Across the Atlantic, the European Commission last month proposed a set of actions and common principles on the regulation of online gambling among member states.

Dr Lam said there was an "urgent need" to control the proliferation of other forms of gambling such as online gambling, "which can similarly bring about adverse effects to the family and the society".

Less fiery but casino issue still a major debate
By Ignatius Low, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

THOSE who had expected another fiery debate on casinos in Parliament yesterday would have come away disappointed.

Other than two impassioned speeches by the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development Seah Kian Peng and Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam, the mercury never reached the levels it did in 2005.

One obvious reason for this, of course, is that the nation has already crossed the Rubicon and there is no going back.

As Nominated MP Eugene Tan slightly grudgingly put it: "We just have to make do, given that we have made the decision."

But that was only part of the reason why yesterday's casino debate seemed unsatisfactory - both for the 18 MPs who rose to speak on it, as well as for those watching from the gallery.

Now that Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands have been in operation for a good two years, this is a good chance to take stock.

The trouble is that any cost-benefit analysis regarding the two casinos is always going to be lopsided, as many members of the House found yesterday.

On one side of the equation, the economic gains to the nation are quantifiable and irrefutable.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran listed them again yesterday: $13 billion in direct investments, $500 million in contracts to local companies, 22,000 jobs at the integrated resorts and at least another 40,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy.

This is unlike in 2005, when supporters of the IRs could only make grand projections.

On the other side of the equation is the social cost that casinos bring - but that is much harder to pin down.

Several MPs referred to a recent gambling habits study conducted by the National Council for Problem Gambling. But the hard numbers show, at best, only very initial signs of a trend that has clearly yet to become a serious problem.

The proportion of low-income gamblers who are betting big, for example, rose from 0.8 per cent in 2008 (before the IRs) to 2 per cent last year. The percentage of "problem pathological gamblers", meanwhile, is up very marginally from 1.2 per cent to 1.4 per cent over the same period.

With the economic gains so real and the extent of the social cost still unclear, many MPs looked a little out of their element as they carefully nuanced their arguments.

Many told stories of problem gamblers and their broken families to even the score. The starkest portrayal was from Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar: a man who rejected public assistance because taking it would disqualify him from visiting the casinos.

Other MPs even turned a little passive-aggressive. One MP's dramatic warning was that the economy must not become over-reliant on the casinos for revenue and jobs, like in Macau. Another urged the Government to look long-term and not be "myopic" about economic gains.

In the end, they all still supported the Bill. But the Government should note two things about yesterday's session.

The first is that practically every MP who spoke had serious qualms about key aspects of the proposed legislation.

Many pointed out, for example, that setting the proposed limit on casino visits will only make problems gamblers bet bigger each time, to make each visit more worthwhile.

Others lamented that the Government had not reviewed the entry levies at all - in particular the annual levy of $2,000 that encouraged more frequent visits, not less.

Yet another cluster of issues had to do with protecting the financially vulnerable from the temptations posed by the casinos.

Should we ban them altogether, some MPs asked, or at least set dollar limits on the amounts they can wager? A couple of speakers even suggested banning all Singaporeans.

Mr Iswaran had prefaced the debate by reminding the House that the Bill was drafted in consultation with "a wide range of stakeholders" that included community, grassroots and religious leaders, as well as social service professionals.However, by the time the debate was adjourned yesterday evening, it seemed clear to any casual observer that a consensus has not been reached on the way forward.

It will seem a bit of an anticlimax, therefore, if Mr Iswaran neatly sums up the debate today and the Bill goes through as is, leaving the long list of suggested tweaks to the system to the next round of amendments, perhaps, several years from now.

It would also seem odd that he - a minister who also champions tourism and tourism-related players like the IRs - should have the final word.

Perhaps someone like Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing should weigh in before pen is put to paper, if only to ensure a proper airing of many of the social and community issues that MPs raised yesterday.

The second thing that the Government should note following yesterday's debate is clearer and more straightforward.

Judging from the tone of the discussion, and the lack of agreement on so many issues, the House is in no mood to brook discussion of further expansion of the casino sector.

In the past, there have been murmurings of a third casino for high rollers on the Southern Islands, or an expansion of the current two.

One wonders if the original 2005 proposal would have made it in this new post-election climate. Any attempt to extend it is likely to get a rough ride in Parliament among MPs and those they represent.

Better protection for retail investors
Tough rules for complex derivatives; 3 MPs caution against over-regulation
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

PARLIAMENT passed two Bills yesterday to give greater protection to Singapore retail investors and tighten the rules for the trading of complex over-the-counter derivatives that led to the 2009 global financial crisis.

But three MPs cautioned that too much regulation could stunt the growth of the financial industry and also prevent some retail investors from getting the advice and products they needed.

The Financial Adviser's (Amendment) Bill increases the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) supervision of financial advisory firms here and also extends their civil liability so that investors can take them to court to seek compensation.

The changes are prompted by the mis-selling of products like the Lehman Minibonds that led to vulnerable retail investors losing their life savings during the financial crisis.

At the same time, the Government is leading a Financial Advisory Industry Review (Fair) to improve the industry's practices.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), both senior banking executives, warned against "overly onerous requirements" that could stifle the industry and lead to higher costs.

Ms Foo said reforms in the British financial advisory industry led one bank to stop offering financial advice to retail customers.

Mr Gan asked whether civil liability was necessary as global financial markets are becoming more volatile and can lead to investments going wrong "through no fault of the local distributor or financial adviser".

Replying, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the aim of the MAS was to improve the financial advisory process so that it better serves the investor and develops a culture of advice over the long term that will particularly benefit retail investors.

He urged industry players and investors to view the documentation process and the compliance cost "not merely as regulatory requirements but as part and parcel of a process that enables FA firms to carry out their duties in the best interest of their clients".

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC), a trader at investment bank Morgan Stanley, urged caution in implementing the changes to the Securities and Futures Act.

He said Singapore should avoid being too strict in its definition of the firms that it has to regulate as it could lead to the departure of global financial companies.

The new law gives greater supervisory powers to the MAS and requires mandatory reporting of over-the-counter derivatives trades and central clearing of the trades. This is to improve transparency and reduce the overall risk of these complex trades.

The changes are in line with financial reforms taking place around the world.

Said Mr Ong: "We can regulate such global firms with an iron fist and create impractical rules, but they will just leave and we would have tried for nothing."

Mr Tharman assured the House the MAS was "keenly aware of Singapore's positioning as a hub for global financial institutions".

He added: "It is, and will continue to align its regulatory approach so as to relieve global market participants of undue compliance burden, while at the same time ensuring that the objectives of the Financial Stability Board recommendations are met."

MAS mulling over tighter investment ad rules
By Magdalen Ng, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is looking into tightening the rules on advertisements for investment schemes, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Mr Tharman, who is also MAS chairman and Finance Minister, said the central bank is working with the Ministry of Communications and Information and other agencies to "minimise the scope to mislead consumers through advertisements".

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Tharman said that through MoneySense, the national financial literacy programme, MAS has worked with both the English and vernacular media to educate consumers.

However, he added that the fact that a company is on the list does not mean it has breached any of MAS' regulations.

It also does not accord MAS with the powers to monitor the company's activities, or investigate its operations. Action will be taken by the appropriate enforcement agencies where there is evidence of fraud or other breaches of the law.

Recently, the Commercial Affairs Department raided the premises of Genneva, a gold trading company, for alleged financial improprieties.

Genneva operated a gold buy-back scheme, offering customers a monthly discount of about 2 per cent off the purchase price, which they can redeem monthly. Customers have been unable to receive their monthly payouts or sell back their gold to the company recently.

The exact number of affected investors is not known.

Mr Tharman said: "MAS will continue its efforts in educating Singaporeans on the pitfalls of dealing with unregulated entities and the risks of unregulated schemes."

White Paper on Population in January 2013
By S. Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Nov 2012

The government is preparing to release the White Paper on Population in January 2013.

Revealing this in Parliament on Thursday in reply to questions from MPs Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Png Eng Huat, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the Government recognises that population growth in recent years has outpaced the country's planned infrastructure capacity.

He explained that in response to this, the government has ramped up infrastructure development in the areas of transport, housing and healthcare, and these are coming on-stream progressively.

Going forward, Mr Teo said the government will strive to better match infrastructure provision with population needs.

And over the course of 2012, the government has been engaging the public widely on these issues and has invited Singaporeans, including all Members of Parliament, to provide their views.

It has also met with numerous stakeholders such as the business federations, labour unions, students and various civic and community groups, and received more than 2,000 pieces of feedback.

The government will take these inputs into consideration as it formulates and reviews the population policies for the White Paper.

Some HDB blocks will not be offered lift upgrading programme
Channel NewsAsia, 15 Nov 2012

There will be some HDB blocks that will not be offered the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) due to excessively high cost and technical constraints.

This is even though the Housing and Development Board is focusing its efforts on upgrading the remaining feasible blocks by 2014.

Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan said HDB will continue to look for solutions for these blocks.

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Zainudin Nordin had asked the minister in Parliament whether the ministry would review the basis of its computation of the cost per benefiting housing unit.

But Mr Lee said it will not be appropriate for HDB to change the basis of its computation, as the programme is nearing the end.

The figure is derived by dividing the total cost of upgrading a block by the number of units which will benefit directly from the LUP. The total cost comprises the building construction cost, the lift cost and other related costs.

Mr Lee said HDB has applied the basis of computation consistently to all blocks selected for LUP.

Mr Zainudin also asked if the HDB would consider other alternatives.

"Beyond the construction of lifts, are there other alternatives that HDB or MND is looking at that is more feasible and viable for residents? Beyond half a landing, or maybe one or two floors?" he asked.

Mr Lee said: "LUP is a huge programme. It covers 5,000 blocks with a budget of S$5 billion. So necessarily we have to set a financial cap on how much we can build and spend on each benefiting unit. This is so that we spend prudently and to maximise the budget. When this programme was being executed, initially we encountered about 1,000 blocks that are very difficult to deal with because of the way the flats are laid out and also because of the tight site constraints. But over time we found solutions, technical solutions to some of these blocks and we have managed to reduce the number to about 200 today.

"We will still continue to look for technical solutions that can be cost effective and still address the needs of the residents, but some of these technical solutions will take time to test whether they are feasible. But for residents with medical conditions and with severe handicap in the physical movement, let HDB know and we will see how best to assist them."

MPs want faster lift upgrading works
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

MEMBERS of Parliament yesterday called for faster completion of lift upgrading works in their wards and asked the Government to do more for those blocks where lift upgrading is technically not feasible.

Both Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang SMC) and PAP MP Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said some blocks in their wards have been waiting for years for their lifts to be upgraded.

Replying, Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan assured the MPs that all lift upgrading works are on track to be completed by 2014, which is when the programme is slated to wrap up.

He also said for any given block, it typically takes a year from the announcement of the programme to the polling exercise and then 21/2 years from the polling exercise to the completion of works. But the scale and complexity of each project differs, so the time taken can vary, he said.

PAP MPs Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) asked for more to be done for residents in blocks where lift upgrading is technically not feasible.

Mr Lee said when HDB started the lift upgrading programme, it identified 1,000 blocks with technical constraints. Through innovative construction solutions, it has since brought this down to 200 blocks. For residents with disabilities and mobility problems in these 200 blocks, HDB helps families relocate to other units on a case by case basis.

Mr Baey suggested giving each of these families a $30,000 cash subsidy to facilitate their relocation, which he said is the subsidy amount that each unit enjoys for the lift upgrading programme.

Mr Lee said the Government is still looking at options to help such residents.

Providing staircase bomb shelters in HDB will incur high maintenance costs
By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Nov 2012

Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan has said providing staircase bomb shelters in HDB blocks will incur high maintenance costs.

And that's a reason why HDB has not adopted the option as seen in some private condominiums.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Mr Lee said for HDB to do likewise requires it to fully enclose its staircases.

The need for 24 hour (mechanical) ventilation will incur high maintenance costs.

He said an enclosed space may also pose security issues, and give rise to illicit activities within the space.

MP Denise Phua had asked if HDB can review the need to build bomb shelters within the housing units, following feedback from home buyers. 

But Mr Lee said building shelters within the households offer advantages. Other than immediate protection, such shelters can also be used as a store room during peace time.

He said HDB has also improved the layout of the shelter over time, and has reduced the internal space needed in flats.

Mr Lee said such shelters is a necessary balance between practical use and against war time.

"In crisis, really this is the place that will give protection to the household in terms of either direct shot or collapse or even in the case of tremors or earthquake. So I think this is like buying an insurance policy, you only realise its usefulness when the time comes," he said.

$15m to replace cables on Circle Line
Contractor will foot $12m of this sum and LTA will pay the balance
By Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

IT WILL cost almost $15 million to replace the power cables along the Circle Line, as part of a raft of measures being taken to prevent further disruptions on the three-year-old MRT line.

The bulk of the cost - $12 million - will be borne by the contractor, as manufacturing and installation faults were found to be the main cause of two major disruptions last year and this year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will pay another $2 million to $3 million to upgrade the cables to higher-grade ones, as they will better suit areas that are more likely to be exposed to water seepage.

Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo gave these details in Parliament yesterday, after Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong asked about the cost of repairs for the Circle Line.

Some 38,000 commuters were affected when the line suffered two major breakdowns - one in September last year, and another last month - that were traced to faulty power cables.

Investigations found that the insulation on some of these cables were possibly damaged during installation, while other cables had manufacturing defects.

These defects, which were found at the microscopic level, were detected in laboratory tests, said Ms Teo.

"There is a possibility that cables may have component defects at the microscopic level which cannot be detected through factory tests or through the site tests even after installation," she said.

Some cables were also exposed to water, causing them to deteriorate faster than expected.

The LTA is now replacing 1,000 cables totalling 120km in length, and is working with train operator SMRT to organise a planned disruption on the line to speed up the process.

The process is expected to take 18 months.

Mr Yee asked how the LTA would prevent similar problems from cropping up on future lines.

To this, Ms Teo replied that the LTA was increasing the frequency of checks on the cables - from every six months to three - so that manufacturing defects that are not caught at factory tests can be picked up early.

The LTA is also looking to make the checks even more frequent, to once a month.

And it is reviewing if higher-grade cables and a different installation method should be used for the new Downtown and Thomson lines.

For the Downtown Line, cables will be placed in a cable trough to protect them from exposure to water, said Ms Teo.

MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if flooding in tunnels was a concern. Ms Teo said the LTA was installing water pumps to drain out water that may accumulate in cable pits.

MP Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked if there were delays to construction of the Downtown Line along the Bukit Timah stretch, which sits in his ward.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew replied that some of the work was behind schedule because there were adverse soil conditions in the area.

Some contractors have also had to restrict their working hours because of complaints about noise and inconvenience.

Despite these problems, said Mr Lui, this stage of the Downtown Line was still on target to be completed in 2015.

ERP tolls 'cut more often than raised'
By Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2012

IN THE last two years, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges have been lowered more often than they have been raised.

There were 11 reductions compared with eight increases between early 2011 and last month, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in Parliament yesterday.

He was replying to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked whether road tax would be cut given the revenue generated by the ERP scheme.

Mr Lui, stressing that it was important to put the scheme in perspective, said the rates were reviewed regularly and in response to the latest traffic conditions.

As such, there were no plans to reduce road tax, he said.

He also said the aim of the ERP scheme was to manage congestion and not to raise revenue.

Ms Lee asked why there was a need for the recent increase in ERP rates on the Central Expressway (CTE) and East Coast Parkway. Rates on these two highways were raised on Nov5 by $1 during some time intervals in the morning.

Replying, Mr Lui said the ERP rates were reviewed regularly and adjusted upwards when the average speed along a certain stretch of the road fell below the optimal speed range.

For expressways, it is between 45kmh and 65kmh.

Ms Lee also asked whether there were plans to scrap evening ERP on the CTE, following improvements made to it, including the building of extra lanes.

Said Mr Lui: "I hear your call to scrap the evening ERP altogether, but we want to also make sure that we provide options to people who would like to have a smoother travelling experience in the evening."

Motorists on the CTE before 8pm pay $1 in ERP charges but experience a smoother ride than those who use the expressway after 8pm, he said.

NWC's recommendations depend on economic situation: Tan Chuan-Jin
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 15 Nov 2012

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said whether the National Wages Council (NWC) continues presenting quantitative recommendations depends on how the wage situation unfolds in the coming years.

Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang Group Representation Constituency Alex Yam pointed out in parliament that the NWC had provided quantitative recommendations this year, which is a slight deviation from previous years.

The NWC had recommended specifically that employers grant a built-in wage increase of at least S$50 to workers earning a basic monthly salary of up to S$1,000.

The Acting Minister said while it is too early to know the full impact of the Guidelines, indications from the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress are that employers have generally been supportive of this recommendation.

Mr Yam wanted to know if such recommendations, especially for low wage workers, will be the way forward for the next five years.

Mr Tan said: "This year there has been a slight deviation in specifying not just in quantitative terms but in specific dollar terms. Whether this becomes a norm depends on how we see the situation unfolding in the coming years. If there continues to be a need for that, I think the NWC would consider in future whether to specify a quantum. As with all things, we would look at the situation to see how the income progresses at the different levels."

Mr Tan stressed that the NWC is not a static institution and that it will continue to evolve and fine tune its recommendations to meet the changing economic and social needs of the country.

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