Monday, 19 November 2012

Parliament Highlights - 16 Nov 2012

Close watch on casino gambling
Govt promises to take tougher measures if necessary
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

MORE curbs on casino gambling were passed by Parliament yesterday, with two ministers pledging to keep a close watch on the industry and introduce stricter rules, if necessary.

Both ministers also said that while there is no foolproof regulatory regime, the amendments to the Casino Control Act would help to minimise social ills and ensure the two integrated resorts continue to reap economic benefits for Singapore.

Yesterday, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, and Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs, devoted their speeches to addressing MPs' overwhelming concerns over problem gambling becoming a norm in Singapore society.

To assuage their fears, Mr Iswaran said fewer locals are visiting the casinos. This is reflected in the amount of entry levies collected. It has fallen from $216 million in 2010 to $195 million last year.

But he did not give a breakdown of how much came from the $100 daily levy and how much was from the $2,000 annual levy.

He also said the entry levies have been an effective deterrent and should be seen as complementing the host of other measures, like the exclusion order.

In his bid to put to rest the perennial debate on whether the annual levy deters or encourages gambling, Mr Iswaran disclosed that it makes up only a small proportion - 1 per cent - of the total number of levies purchased.

So it is "hardly a loophole" that gamblers exploit to pay less in levy, as suggested by one MP.

Mr Chan also sought to allay MPs' fears that the imposition of a visit limit would backfire, with some saying these gamblers would likely wager more each time.

But he pointed out that those who intensified their gambling habits could end up being banned from the casinos.

The amended Act gives the National Council on Problem Gambling powers to decide whether to impose a visit limit or exclusion order on a gambler.

As at end-October, about 130,000 exclusion orders are in force: 85,000 people on self-exclusion, 43,000 on third-party exclusion, and another 1,200 on family exclusion orders.

Mr Chan was also not in favour of some MPs' idea to have the Government set a loss or expenditure limit on gamblers.

He said it could lead to a situation where people "pass their personal responsibility to the State".

He added: "That is, if the State limits my gambling to N visits or X amount, then I am safe to gamble within that limit without due consideration of my own personal circumstances, or to control my gambling behaviour, or to monitor the consequences upon myself and my family."

To best tackle problem gambling, the combined efforts of the individual, family members, community and Government is needed, he said.

The two ministers repeatedly said the gambling industry will be watched closely.

"The Government is resolute in its commitment to have strong social safeguards," said Mr Iswaran. "We will continue to monitor closely the effectiveness of these additional measures and are prepared to take further steps."

On the economic front, he assured the MPs that Singapore is not over-reliant on the IRs as they contribute only 1.5 per cent to 2per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product. To attract tourists, Singapore has upcoming attractions like the River Safari, where giant pandas Jia Jia and Kai Kai will be the star attractions.

The rules will also ensure the IRs continue to develop and create jobs in the economy, he said.

Govt exploring ways to curb online gambling
By Ng Kai Ling, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

THE Government is looking at how it can regulate other forms of gambling, including those conducted online, even as tighter rules on casino gambling were passed in Parliament yesterday.

Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs, said online gambling is a growing concern and the Government is looking at how better gambling rules and social safeguards can be applied.

During the debate on the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill on Thursday, some MPs highlighted that more should be done to curb online gambling.

MPs, including Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), said the young could be sucked in by the ease of accessing gambling websites.

Mr Iswaran replied yesterday that the threat from other forms of gambling is already on the Government's radar.

The Home Affairs Ministry and other government agencies, including the Social and Family Development and Finance ministries, are reviewing the regulatory framework and social curbs against non-casino gambling and how it can cover online gambling.

The minister said online gambling via social media and mobile devices is growing in many countries, adding that gambling online is potentially more addictive and minors may easily fall prey to it.

Some countries have introduced laws on online gambling and Singapore will study them. For instance, in the state of Nevada in the US, online poker operators need to be licensed before they can offer games to residents.

Said Mr Iswaran: "Our objective remains the same, which is to preserve our values of thrift and hard work, and protect society, especially the vulnerable, from the potential harms of gambling."

Asked by Ms Phua if the Government would consider interim measures like blocking gambling websites, he said they are being looked into as part of the review.

Stronger safeguards for casinos
Issues of visit limit and economic impact of IRs also tackled in debate
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

CABINET ministers Chan Chun Sing and S. Iswaran addressed MPs' queries on casino regulations during the debate on changes to the Casino Control Act.

Among the issues they tackled were the visit limit and the integrated resorts' (IRs) economic impact.

Would the proposed visit limit inadvertently lead to an increase in gambling intensity? Can it be accompanied by a loss limit?
Mr Chan, who is the Acting Minister for Social and Family Development, stressed that a committee under the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) would decide if a person should have a visit limit or an exclusion order.

This would be for cases where the person is financially vulnerable or may have a problem with gambling. He said that his ministry would "monitor the situation closely". Any instance of a gambler with a visit limit gambling more intensely should be reported to the NCPG. The committee could then review the case and impose a third-party exclusion order, if necessary.

On the issue of a loss limit, Mr Chan observed that both casino operators already offer a system in which patrons can voluntarily set loss limits to predetermine their expenditure each visit. His ministry will work with the operators to enhance the publicity for this scheme.

While the Government wants to safeguard its people, it also does not want a situation where "people psychologically pass their personal responsibility to the state".

If the Government imposed a loss limit, then some gamblers may think they are "safe" to gamble within that limit, he said.

How exactly have the IRs helped our economy and Singaporeans? Should we continue to be economically reliant on the IRs?
Mr Iswaran, who is the Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said the IRs contribute about 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

They directly hire 22,400 employees and have created 40,000 jobs elsewhere in the economy. Altogether, this works out to 2 per cent of the total labour force in Singapore. More than half of their direct employees are Singapore citizens.

Gaming taxes still comprise a small fraction of government revenues, he added.

In the 2011 financial year, the net increase in tax revenues from the casinos was $1.1 billion, or 2.2 per cent of total government operating revenue.

Mr Iswaran said that Singapore is "at no risk" of being overly dependent on the casinos or IRs, as they are part of a "diversified economy".

How can the IRs be made to be more socially responsible? Can the Government ensure tighter safeguards?
Mr Chan pointed out that the amendments will require casino operators to propose a responsible gaming programme comparable to those in other countries, and should include intervention for problem gamblers. Audits would be conducted to ensure the operators comply.

He added that it would be "in the interest of the operators to (comply) if they want to sustain a viable business here in the long run", as they would not achieve what they want to do without public support.

Mr Iswaran said the Government has established an "extensive" social safeguard regime that is one of the most elaborate in the world, and that the amendments effectively broaden it.

How will the evaluation panel assess the performance of the IRs, and will it look at how the IRs fulfil their social obligations?
Mr Iswaran said the performance of the IRs' non-gaming facilities and attractions will be made explicit as a factor the Casino Regulatory Authority (CRA) will consider when renewing their casino licences. The panel, he said, would provide an independent opinion on the ability of the IR operators to fulfil their economic obligations.

Factors used to assess the overall performance include their appeal to visitors, visitor trends, whether they meet benchmarks set in relation to similar attractions in other countries, industry standards, and contributions to Singapore's tourism.

Will the Government further limit junket operators, otherwise known as international market agents (IMA)?
Mr Iswaran said the CRA will continue to take a cautious approach in granting licences. This year, it rejected 12 applicants and approved only two IMAs. They were given only one-year licences, even though licences can be given for up to three years.

MPs ask: Why not scrap annual levy for entry?
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

THE annual levy for entry into the casinos continues to rankle some MPs, and yesterday, at least three of them questioned the need to retain it.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran's response was that less than 1 per cent of all levies bought by Singaporeans last year were annual entry levies.

He used this statistic to make the point that the "significant" cost of the annual levy - which is $2,000 - acts as a deterrent, and not a "loophole" as suggested by members.

But Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) pointed out that since the number was so small, why not scrap it altogether?

She also noted that the annual levy, in effect, acts as a "volume discount" marketing tactic that could encourage Singaporeans to gamble more.

Mr Iswaran said that scrapping the annual levy because proportionately few have been purchased was "an interesting argument".

"If it was large, the member would say, 'There you are, we have a problem'. If it is small, 'Why not do away with it?'

"So there must be a sweet-spot zone that the member is thinking of where it's permissible," he said.

The annual levy was needed for premium players, as making them pay daily levies was "cumbersome". If the annual levy was really a "volume discount", then "clearly based on the outcomes, it's not working", he added.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam then pointed out that there could be many people buying the annual levy who are not premium players, and asked if they could be excluded.

Mr Iswaran said it should not be assumed that buyers of annual levies have a gambling problem, and that the best way is still to identify those who are financially vulnerable or who have problems with gambling, and impose limits on them.

Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) said that if the annual levy was meant for premium players, it should not be called a safeguard, noting that when divided by the number of days in a year, it amounted to only $5.50 a day compared to the daily levy of $100.

"A loophole, whether it's 1 per cent, 5 per cent, it's also a loophole. It's just a matter of how tolerant we are of the loophole," Mr Png said.

Mr Iswaran replied that in most other regimes, patrons do not have to pay levies to enter their casinos.

"So whether you pay $100 or $2000, that is part of a social safeguard regime," he said.

So, what's the true cost of casinos?
Issue is ultimately about economics versus values
By Leslie Koh, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

PERHAPS it was simply the end of a long week, as Parliament continued its sitting for a fourth day yesterday. Or maybe the sombre expressions on some of the faces around the chamber were because MPs present did not get the answers they might have wanted to hear.

For certain, there were questions left dangling when Question Time ended, whether it was about the cost of industrial land or the price of Housing Board flats.

But the greatest disquiet was apparent during the debate over the Casino Control (Amendment) Bill.

While Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing and Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran took pains to acknowledge MPs' concerns, it seemed clear that when the Bill was finally passed, many were left less than fully satisfied. Doubts lingered over whether more could be done to prevent problem gambling.

Part of this could be simply due to the fact that it is still too early to tell what kind of social impact the two integrated resorts (IRs) have had on Singapore.

Official data showed that the proportion of "problem pathological gamblers" had not risen significantly, despite the fears that many had raised when the idea of legalising casinos was first floated.

That has made it difficult to determine exactly what more safeguards are needed, which ones will work and which will not, and what more needs to be done.

It may take a few more years before the feared social impact of casinos is seen in hard figures. Only then might critics have the ammunition to tell the Government "I told you so", as well as to justify demands for more specific safeguards.

In the meantime, many might be forgiven for wondering if the account being given of the social impact of the casinos quite captures the full story.

Yesterday, the House heard that Singaporeans account for 25 per cent to 30 per cent of all casino visits. But they were also told it was difficult to ascertain how much locals actually spend at the jackpot machines and poker tables, even though Mr Iswaran hazarded a guess that their contribution to casino revenues was proportionally less.

This missing data makes it hard to determine how much the IRs are reaping from foreign visitors - as they were meant to - and how much from locals.

MPs were also assured that fewer Singaporeans were visiting the casinos, as reflected in the drop in total amount of entry levies collected. But it was not clear how many were paying the $100 daily levy and how many were opting for the $2,000 annual levy.

This could give a clue as to how many Singaporean visitors were casual punters dropping in for some fun and flutter - who tend to pay the daily levy - and how many were gambling addicts or premium players, who are more likely to pay the annual levy.

But possibly the most important reason why questions about casinos will never be answered fully is that the issue is ultimately about economics versus morals and values.

Seven years after the fateful decision to legalise casinos was taken in 2005, some - in and out of the House - still appear not to have got past the questions of whether casinos should be allowed at all, or whether the trade-offs in terms of costs and benefits stack up.

On one side is a government trying to show that the economic benefits to be had from the IRs are justifiable. It appears to believe that the social fallout will not be so bad, and that it can be controlled; yet, it comes up with measure after measure to address concerns over problem gambling, which seems to suggest that it shares some of the fears.

On the other are many MPs with a clear conviction that casinos are a bad thing and will cause trouble, but who also want the jobs that the IRs create for their constituents.

It is as if both sides recognise the upsides of casinos, but yearn that the downsides could be willed away.

On Wednesday, the House had no problems with how the nation should see drug abuse and trafficking; only what kind of punishment they should entail.

With casinos, however, there seems to be a huge grey area.

The Government's stance is that to some extent, Singaporeans should be allowed to take "personal responsibility" for their actions, and choose if they want to take their chances at the casinos. Freedom, after all, comes with responsibility for the choices one makes, even if they are not always the best.

Yet, one could argue that if this was true, then there should be less need for so many safeguards, whether they are exclusion orders, entry levies or visit limits. But the extensive debate over the safeguards, and the calls for more, suggests that many remain ambivalent about casinos.

Perhaps it is something that Singapore has to decide at a deeper level - whether when it comes to gambling, citizens should be given free choice, or whether it should be discouraged altogether, even if this means curbing some freedoms.

In a few years' time, a clearer picture of the social impact of the IRs on Singapore may emerge when there are more hard figures. Then policymakers, MPs and the public will be able to find answers about what safeguards are needed or not.

Parliament passes amendments to Road Traffic Act
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 16 Nov 2012

Parliament has passed amendments to the Road Traffic Act, paving the way for stiffer penalties against vehicles that are illegally modified.

The new bill will also allow for the introduction of a new scheme aimed at incentivising motorists to buy cars with low carbon emissions.

Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke on the bill welcomed the enhancements but wanted to see more done. 

The number of illegal modification offences has tripled from about 2,500 in 2009 to 7,300 in 2011.

Of these, offences relating to illegal modification of the exhaust system increased three-fold, from about 80 cases per month in 2010 to 250 cases per month this year.

"Such illegal modifications to a vehicle's exhaust system not only compromise vehicle safety and therefore the safety of other road users, but also result in excessive noise emissions and public nuisance," said Minister of State for Transport, Josephine Teo.

Under the enhanced penalty, the court can impound illegally-modified vehicles for up to three months.

This is on top of a possible jail term for repeat offenders.

MPs noted that such a move will be painful for motorists of such vehicles, but they asked if workshops involved in such modifications should also face stiffer penalties.

In response, Mrs Teo said: "Not all types of modifications are illegal and so workshops that undertake modification works are not necessarily breaking the law. For example, if the vehicle is going to be used off the road at specialised race tracks, they could be legal."

She elaborated: "Currently, our enforcement regime targets owners of illegally-modified vehicles. One reason is they do not necessarily need to do the modifications in a workshop in Singapore. They could go elsewhere to get the modifications done, in which case enforcement against the workshops will not be terribly effective. It is better to enforce against the vehicle owners themselves. That is one reason we have targeted the owners as rather than the workshops.

"But nonetheless, we do agree that it is important to get the workshops on board as well, and so LTA (Land Transport Authority) is in the midst of reviewing the enforcement and legislation against workshops; for example, the closure of workshops may be an effective deterrent for them."

Mrs Teo added the government is also taking a calibrated approach in enhancing the penalties.

She said that it is not the intention of authorities to go after motorists, but there needs to be a message sent - that illegal modifications are not acceptable, especially in cases where there are blatant violations or when offenders blatantly break the law.

Under the new Carbon Emission-based Vehicle (CEV) scheme, buyers of cars with low carbon dioxide emissions can enjoy rebates of between S$5,000 and S$20,000.

Meanwhile, those who buy high carbon emission cars will be taxed between S$5,000 and S$20,000.

The CEV scheme will apply to all new cars, taxis and newly-imported used cars registered with effect from 1 January 2013.

The CEV rebates will be implemented from 1 January 2013.

The surcharges will only take effect six months later, from 1 July 2013, to give consumers and the motor industry more time to adjust.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said: "While I support the motion and its intent, I am worried that the proposed scheme as it stands will not significantly shift our car population towards being more environmentally friendly.

"I am concerned that the majority of car buyers will not in any way have their purchasing behaviour affected. I would like to recommend that the tax and rebate amounts are significantly increased, and that the limits for CO2 emissions made stricter."

Mrs Teo said: "The scheme is designed such that the maximum price between a high and low emission car can be up to S$40,000, which is more than the open market value of a typical mid-sized car.

"The existing buying pattern is definitely a reference point. The hope and the expectation is that certainly at the margins, vehicle buyers will consider moving from the band which causes them to be levied a surcharge into the neutral band, and for those who were contemplating the purchase of a car that currently falls on the neutral band, to be incentivised by the existence of a rebate and modify their buying behaviour accordingly.

"We have until the end of 2014 to observe the impact, which is when the scheme will be applicable up to. We plan to monitor particularly motorists' purchasing decisions before deciding whether to go further and if so, by how much.

"For the emissions thresholds that qualify for rebates and taxes, we note Dr Janil's comparisons with other jurisdictions. Indeed, we are playing catch up. But when we think about the thresholds in future, we will also look at advances in technology as well as the progress in Singapore's overall mitigation efforts on climate change.

"We are introducing the CEV for the first time. We believe there will be some impact, but are also mindful to give motorists time to adjust before drawing conclusions."

Other enhancements to the Act include strengthening the security regime at bus depots to allow for bag checks on public buses and in bus interchanges, similar to the bag checks conducted in MRT stations today.

Mrs Teo said the difficulties faced on areas like illegal modification, noise pollution, driver behaviour are all due to lack of consideration for well being of others. So there is only so much enforcement can do. She said what is needed is a change in mindset, for Singaporeans to be more gracious on the roads.

URA allows graffiti on historic shop houses on case by case basis
Channel NewsAsia, 16 Nov 2012

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) will allow graffiti art to be painted on the sides of selected conserved shop houses on a case by case basis, even though it had introduced stricter colour guidelines for historic shop houses in January this year.

Some shop houses in Haji Lane were in the spotlight recently as they were deemed to have flouted these new rules by having murals painted on their facades.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and Defense Dr Maliki Osman said the URA decided to allow this as the area has become a niche for commercial outlets associated with the creative community.

He added that the murals were also painted in themes that are appropriate to the context and character of the area.

Dr Maliki said: "Developing conservation guidelines that find an appropriate balance between heritage conservation and artistic expression will always be challenging.

"The URA will continue to work closely with the community, professional bodies and interest groups to refine, enhance and clarify these guidelines over time."

BTO flats affordable for first-timers: Khaw
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

THE rise in prices of new Housing Board flats is less than that of resale HDB units, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament yesterday.

Since January 2009, the price of new HDB flats for first-time buyers has risen by 12 per cent, which is lower than the corresponding 34 per cent rise in the HDB resale price index.

These homes for first-time buyers are also affordable, he added.

But Ms Lee argued that a 12 per cent rise could still be higher than the salary increase of many Singaporeans. She asked if the Government could keep prices stable.

Mr Khaw replied that first- time buyers of new flats in non- mature estates used, on average, 23 per cent of their monthly income for housing loans.

Also, they were able to pay their monthly instalments using their Central Provident Fund contributions, with minimal or no cash outlay.

"You judge by the figure that I've given - 23 per cent of their monthly income - I think that is affordable for BTO," he said.

The price of a four-room HDB flat in Sengkang or Choa Chu Kang ranges from $250,000 to $310,000, he said. "Looking at it from the situation that we are facing today, I find these figures very reasonable," he added.

Mr Khaw said a lot of the misunderstanding over HDB home prices resulted from people looking at the resale price index - which hit a record high in the last quarter. The Government is trying to stabilise that, he added.

"Resale price is beyond my control. That is set by buyer and seller. But for first-timers buying BTO flats, that is within my control and it is my job to ensure it will be affordable," he said.

In fact, he added, it is "quite an achievement" to have brought about a 12 per cent price rise in new flats compared with the 34 per cent increase in resale prices.

"I think not enough credit has been given to my ministry," he said, with a smile.

Pay TV R21 content have proper safeguards Parliament told
Channel NewsAsia, 16 Nov 2012

Minister of State for Communications and Information Lawrence Wong has given the assurance that there are proper safeguards for the screening of R21 films on pay-TV.

Parliament was told on Friday that R21 content is only offered as a Video-on-Demand (VOD) service.

The service arose from a recommendation by the 2010 Censorship Review Committee (CRC), which conducts periodic reviews of Singapore's content regulation standards and policies.

"In accepting this CRC's recommendation, we had recognised the need to provide adults with mature content while at the same time protecting our young" said Mr Wong.

"We also recognised that VOD on pay TV allows for a higher degree of parental oversight, with the availability of an easy-to-use parental lock mechanism to prevent unauthorised access by under-aged viewers.

"VOD is also a paid service whereby consumers make a conscious choice to purchase the videos they wish to watch" said the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

TV operators must include a parental lock mechanism to prevent access by under-aged viewers.

The content can only be unlocked by a PIN number, the House was told.

Existing VOD customers who request for the PIN number will need to have their identity verified over the phone using the name, age, NRIC number and date of birth.

As an additional safeguard, pay TV operators will also ask the caller to provide information ranging from date of last bill payment to the location of payment.

As for new customers, they are required to personally sign up and show proof of their age at retail shops.

Since the VOD is a paid service, consumers will have to make a conscious choice to buy the videos they wish to watch.

When the content is bought, there's another layer of checks, such as a monthly bill breakdown of the R21 videos bought, from the title, to the date and time.

This will allow parents to check if their children have gained access to R21 content without their knowledge.

In addition, MDA has also required pay TV operators to put in place sufficient publicity to educate consumers on the safeguards for the R21 VOD service.

At the same time, trailers for the R21 VOD are not allowed on linear pay TV channels.

StarHub and SingNet can only offer R21 titles that have been previously classified by the Board of Film Censors for commercial release.

The VOD services are also not offered to corporate subscribers, which include places like coffee shops, community clubs and hospitals, and subscribers will also not be able to record the R21 VOD content purchased.

Mr Wong said Singapore's content regulatory standards will have to keep pace with the evolving media landscape and consumer demands.

But he added that in allowing for more content choices for Singaporeans, the government will continue to safeguard the young, and will not move ahead of what society is comfortable with.

Scary TV ad prompts girl, 9, to write to MP
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

SPOOKED by a scary movie trailer she saw on television one night, nine-year-old Renee Guerville wrote a letter to her MP last month asking for the authorities to stop allowing such commercials to be aired during prime time.

Her MP, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), went on to raise the matter in Parliament yesterday.

Indeed, TV broadcasters must show care and sensitivity when showing trailers or other advertisements, replied Ms Sim Ann, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Ms Sim said the Media Development Authority's Television Code states that such trailers could not be aired before 10pm on free-to-air television.

On cable TV, trailers for content rated PG13, NC16 and M18 cannot be aired on channels targeted at children. She said her ministry would look into Renee's case.

Renee, a Singaporean, told The Straits Times yesterday that she saw the trailer around 8pm on a Wednesday night on Channel 5, during a commercial break for the variety show Sasuke Singapore.

She was so upset that she cried and could not sleep properly for the next two weeks.

Renee, who is in Primary 3, said that when she shared her experience with her classmates at Methodist Girls' School, several told her they had been frightened by similar trailers they saw on TV.

Her mother advised her to write the letter to the MP, she said.

"I wrote it because I think these scary commercials should be shown later at night. I want to help other children who may have had nightmares like me," she said.

Govt hopes to update Shared Values via National Conversation
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2012

THE Government hopes to update the 21-year-old Shared Values through the ongoing National Conversation, said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong yesterday.

The concept of a set of values "which Singaporeans of all races and faiths could subscribe to and live by" was first mooted in 1988, noted Mr Wong. A White Paper setting out the values was debated and passed in Parliament in 1991.

The five values aimed to anchor Singaporean identity on some common threads and include "nation before community and society above self" and "family as the basic unit of society".

The values also shaped the six core values of today's school curriculum, which provides a framework for students to discuss issues.

Mr Wong said Our Singapore Conversation was deliberately designed to be more open-ended so Singaporeans could discuss their aspirations, rather than delve immediately into policy issues.

For instance, they could talk about the values which resonate strongly with many Singaporeans, reaffirm things that are going well, or discuss what needs to be recalibrated and adjusted and new things that need to be done, he said.

Through the process, the committee hopes to get a better understanding of values important to Singaporeans and "it may indeed be an update or it may be different from the Shared Values that we had in the past".

However, Mr Wong said he would take on board the suggestion made by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) to better set the context at National Conversation dialogues by reminding participants of important values and "qualities that have enabled us to succeed as a nation".

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