Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Parliament Highlights - 14 Jan 2013

Madam Halimah, Madam Speaker
MPs laud her social advocacy as they elect her the new head of Parliament
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

THE phrase "Madam Speaker" was uttered for the first time in Singapore's history yesterday as MPs elected popular People's Action Party (PAP) stalwart Halimah Yacob to head Parliament.

After Madam Halimah, 58, took her place in the Speaker's chair, six MPs rose to laud her tireless social advocacy during a decade on the PAP backbench, and a year as Minister of State for Social and Family Development.

This was the latest in a series of glass ceilings she has broken, they said, calling her a champion of women's rights and the pride of the Malay community.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman spoke of a Malay girl's rise from humble beginnings to high office.

"It is meritocracy regardless of gender, ethnicity or attire," he said, in a nod to the inspiring sight of a woman in a tudung presiding over Parliament.

The election of a new Speaker was the first order of business for the first sitting of the year. The position was vacated last month after former Speaker Michael Palmer resigned due to an extramarital affair.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein- Kallang GRC) proposed Madam Halimah for the role, seconded by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

As hers was the only name put up, Madam Halimah was duly elected. She then walked to the Speaker's pulpit to chair-thumping from MPs, and Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen rose to speak, beginning with the historic two words "Madam Speaker".

He said that Madam Halimah was well suited to the role due to her "formidable reputation as an active and ardent backbencher" who championed the cause of women, families and children.

Her election comes ahead of a busy legislative calendar for Parliament, Dr Ng said, which includes a debate on the Population White Paper as well as this year's Budget statement.

Singapore is also on the cusp of transition as it faces the challenges of an ageing population and low fertility rates, while coming up against land and labour constraints.

Meanwhile, other Asean countries - with their younger populations and natural resources - pose stiff competition to Singapore for investments, and the external economic environment remains uncertain, he added.

He said that he expects Madam Halimah's "firm and impartial hand" will move parliamentary debate to fruitful outcomes over important national issues.

In their speeches, both Ms Phua and Mr de Souza recalled that Madam Halimah joined them in not voting for the 2009 Human Organ Transplant Act as they worried that the ability to pay for organs would be abused.

Mr de Souza praised her "independence of thought", while Ms Phua said the incident was one of many that showed Madam Halimah's ability to take a principled stand "without being unnecessarily harsh".

Minister of State for Transport and Finance Josephine Teo and Nominated MP Mary Liew spoke of Madam Halimah's career as a labour lawyer and union leader.

The National Trades Union Congress has appointed Madam Halimah as an adviser for international affairs.

After the deluge of accolades, Madam Halimah rose.

She said that she expects debate in the House to be vigorous - as it should be, as the rigorous examination of policy improves it.

She also wanted to reassure members of the public that while the Speaker cannot take part in parliamentary debate as she must be impartial at all times, she would continue to fight for social causes through other channels.

Then, she got to work.

Signalling the start of the sitting in earnest, Madam Speaker sat back down, and called for questions for oral answer.

Singapore ties with US, China to 'stay strong'
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

SINGAPORE'S bilateral relations with the United States as well as China will remain strong regardless of the leadership changes in both countries, said Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam.

To underline the ever-strengthening ties with the US, he cited as an example last year's US-Singapore Strategic Partnership Dialogue in which bilateral initiatives as well as regional and global matters were discussed.

"One strength of the US Asia-Pacific strategy in recent years is that it is essentially bipartisan and has remained consistent through successive administrations," he said.

He was replying to Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) who had asked how growing nationalism in the two major powers and changes of some top US leaders would affect its foreign policy towards Asean and China.

"These policies are based on national interests, which don't vary from administration to administration," said the minister.

With China, relations will also continue to be strong, said Mr Shanmugam.

He does not expect the recent strike by SMRT bus drivers from China to affect bilateral ties as it is "strictly a matter of law enforcement". The drivers went on strike over pay and living conditions.

The minister noted that many of the new Chinese leaders are "familiar with Singapore", and "relations (are) built on a foundation of strong, regular institutional links".

He added: "Business-to-business and people-to-people links are also robust."

As for the maritime dispute over territories in the South China Sea, Mr Shanmugam reiterated Singapore's position on establishing a code of conduct for the countries involved.

Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) had asked if growing Sino-US competition for influence in the region, as well as the South China Sea dispute, might widen divisions within Asean.

Mr Shanmugam said that while the "temptation" for major world powers to try and get closer to some Asean countries would always be present, a united Asean would better serve their interests.

"We've made the point quite forcefully that a united Asean better serves the interests of the major powers because Asean, with 600 million people and... the regional economy close to US$2 trillion (S$2.45 trillion), is poised for take-off."

Replying to Nominated MP Nicholas Fang, Mr Shanmugam said that while it was in Singapore's interests "to be good friends of both (US and China)", this might prove challenging depending on how US-China relations evolve.

He added that "the relative weight of China is growing", which might lead to a shift in "respective levels of influence".

Some buyers 'taking advantage of ECs to profit'
Khaw: Some rent out dual-key units at once, others can afford private
By Melissa Tan, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

THE Government will continue building executive condominiums (ECs) and has moved to fix loopholes that lead to abuse of the policy, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said.

He told Parliament yesterday that the Government changed the EC rules as soon as it realised that some buyers were taking advantage of them to profit.

For instance, dual-key EC units - which have two separate entrances to provide privacy - are meant to support multi-generational families, but some people were buying them to get "immediate rental yield" instead, he said.

Also, "families that can actually afford private property are coming in to take up ECs", Mr Khaw said, noting that they were "very much encouraged" to do so by the sale of huge EC units.

This goes against the original intent of the EC policy, which is to cater to a "sandwiched class" of buyers who might not qualify for public housing but find private property beyond their reach.

Several MPs pressed the minister on whether recent launches of super-large and pricey EC units violated the original spirit and intent of the policy.

Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) cited the sale of a 4,349 sq ft penthouse at an EC in Tampines for a record $2.05 million last month and asked if the developer had won official approval to market such a unit.

Mr Khaw replied that earlier EC plans were approved based on the planning rules at that time "but as soon as we realised that the planning rules were being taken advantage of, we fixed it, and I think this should be history".

Maintaining that ECs were "really a wonderful scheme", he noted that measures unveiled by the Government last Friday were meant to "make sure the scheme returns to its original spirit".

The changes include capping the size of an EC unit at 160 sq m and allowing only multi-generational families to buy new dual- key units, among others.

Mr Khaw said the EC scheme "protects middle-income Singaporeans from competition while ensuring a very market-friendly way of allowing them to buy condos at very affordable prices... We should try to ensure its continuance because it is relevant".

"By capping the size of the EC, I think automatically the price will become more sober."

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked whether the Government should continue with ECs if the scheme could still be abused.

Mr Khaw said: "I will continue to be vigilant and see. And if indeed the abuse continues, we may have to think of other ways of fixing this problem."

Singles policy 'being finalised'

IN THE last 10 years, 18,000 singles aged 35 to 40 bought HDB resale flats. Of these, 3,800 later got married.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan released these figures yesterday, in a written reply to Nominated MP Tan Su Shan.

He also said that his ministry is finalising its policy to allow singles to buy new HDB flats for the strict purpose of owner occupation. "We aim to get it implemented this year," he added.

In a separate written reply to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who asked if the Ministry of National Development would consider lowering the age requirement for singles to own new flats, Mr Khaw said singles aged 21 and above can buy new or resale flats if they form a family nucleus with their parents to do so.

If they wish to live on their own, they can buy a resale flat if they are aged 35 and older.

Mr Khaw also said that the minimum age of 35 supports the Government's promotion of marriage and parenthood.

In the revision of policies to allow singles to buy new HDB flats, "there are no plans to lower the minimum age, as marriage rates are highest between the ages of 25 and 34", Mr Khaw said.

Injured servicemen get 'more generous' payout
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

COMPENSATION amounts for injured servicemen are "significantly higher" than those given out under the Work Injury Compensation Act and the civil courts, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in Parliament yesterday.

On top of a base amount that is comparable to that of the Work Injury Compensation Act, the ministry has additional grants and financial schemes, explained Dr Ng.

"I would say that in general, it is more generous than the base layer," he said. The system is also reviewed "from time to time".

He made the remarks along with the assurance that the ministry will cover all medical expenses incurred at government hospitals or clinics for navy serviceman Jason Chee, who lost his legs and left arm in a horrific accident last month.

Dr Ng added that the amount is doubled for servicemen who become disabled as a result of military training or operations.

This is based on a lump sum compensation that is drawn up according to the degree of permanent disability sustained.

"Additional amounts are also provided to servicemen with total permanent disability who require constant care," he said.

He was replying to Nominated Member of Parliament (MP) Teo Siong Seng's question on whether the ministry provides adequate compensation for long-term medical expenses and cost of living for critically injured navy servicemen such as Military Expert (ME) 2 Chee.

The 29-year-old, who remains hospitalised, was caught between a motorised winch and a rope on Dec 10 while on board a warship. Dr Ng said the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) aims to redeploy such disabled servicemen to suitable vocations.

Meanwhile, the SAF Benevolent Fund also provides "discretionary amounts in welfare support" to injured servicemen and their families, said Dr Ng. "For example, a serviceman with total permanent disability will receive a one-off grant, as well as a monthly allowance for at least three years." There is also an avenue for appeals if families of servicemen have queries about the compensation amount, he added.

The minister, in another reply to Nominated MP, Assistant Professor Eugene Tan, emphasised that safety and health are top priorities within the SAF.

Commanders who maintain high safety standards in their units will be recognised during appraisals, said Dr Ng. And those who allow unsafe practices will be "dealt with seriously", he added.

"Units are encouraged to report near misses, unsafe practices and safety breaches," he said.

Hacking incident: PA 'lapsed' in site maintenance
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

THE People's Association (PA), which had 17 of its websites hacked into last month, had been alerted to a vulnerability in the software tool it used, and told to conduct maintenance ahead of time.

But the PA lapsed in the maintenance of its websites, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

He was responding to questions from Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) on the incident.

"There was a lapse in maintenance and the agency responsible has informed us that they will step up the maintenance regime to ensure that the checking and auditing is done more timely," said Dr Yaacob.

The websites hacked into included the main PA website, the websites of four community development councils and those linked to the National Youth Council.

Dr Yaacob said preliminary investigations have traced the hacking activities to foreign Internet Protocol addresses, and that the police have asked for assistance from their foreign counterparts.

He added that the personal information of visitors to the affected websites was not compromised. The sites provide general information about the PA and its programmes, and were not used to carry out transactions other than online feedback.

Dr Yaacob assured the House that there are "stringent security measures" in place to protect government websites.

He added that the SingPass system, which allows people to access government online services, is "safe and secure", but the ministry will continue to monitor the situation.

"Where needed, additional security safeguards and risk-mitigating measures would be put in place to ensure the integrity of our websites, taking into account new technologies and risks."

Although government agencies are audited by the Infocomm Development Authority, Dr Yaacob said that agencies are also expected to do their own audits.

Heng Swee Keat: PSLE just one stage of education journey
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

ALMOST two months on and uncertainty still surrounds the Education Ministry's decision not to publish the top scorers of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE).

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) asked if the decision is a temporary measure and for the broader considerations behind it, as did Nominated MP R. Dhinakaran.

In response, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday it is aimed at "recognising students for their holistic development and all-round excellence, and not just their academic performance".

Just days before the release of the PSLE results last November, the Ministry of Education announced that it would no longer list top-scoring pupils.

Explaining the decision once more yesterday, Mr Heng said: "Education is a long journey.

"The PSLE marks the conclusion of one stage of a child's learning journey and the beginning of another.

"We want to encourage them to persevere, to pursue learning along appropriate pathways and help them to succeed in each milestone."

He also expressed his hope that parents would join his ministry's efforts to "encourage their children to develop a love for learning and become life-long learners".

In line with this move, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked if MOE would also stop publishing the range of aggregate scores required for admission to different secondary schools.

Mr Heng said that the entry scores provide a guide to parents, but that MOE will look at this issue together with others relevant to the posting of pupils to secondary schools.

Separately, in a written response to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong's query, Mr Heng said that the quality of a primary school is not measured by the number of its pupils who attain high PSLE aggregate scores.

Mr Yee had asked for a breakdown of schools with a larger proportion of pupils who scored 250 and above, as well as those with a smaller proportion.

In response, Mr Heng wrote that in the 2012 PSLE, 15 primary schools had more than 20 per cent of its graduating cohort attaining 250 and above, and 61 primary schools had less than 5 per cent attaining 250 and above.

Football development being reviewed
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

TO IMPROVE the standard of football here, the Singapore Sports Council and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) are conducting "a holistic review of football development in Singapore", Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong announced yesterday.

He was replying to a question from Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) on plans to ride on Singapore's recent win in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup and to improve the standard of football here.

In December, Singapore won the Suzuki Cup for the fourth time, beating Thailand 3-2 on aggregate.

Mr Wong attributed that triumph to the FAS' system of identifying and developing young talent, in place since 2000, and increased funding from the sports council and sponsors.

Mr Ang also asked how the ministry, which oversees sports in Singapore, planned to retain national players when regional football clubs offer them better terms.

To that, Mr Wong noted that when the standard of Singapore's players improves, "it is only natural that they will be sought by other football clubs".

Singapore needs to strike a balance between trying to keep all its players here, and giving them the opportunity to play for regional and international clubs, the minister said.

Computer Misuse Act beefed up
But MPs fear power to demand organisation's vital info may be abused
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

A LAW giving the Government powers to take pre-emptive steps to prevent potentially crippling cyber attacks on Singapore's essential services was passed by Parliament yesterday.

But one major feature of the new Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act worries several MPs.

It is the power given to the Home Affairs Minister to require, say, telcos and banks to disclose information to the Government way before a cyber attack hits Singapore.

It prompted several MPs, during the debate, to express concern over the changes about confidential information being leaked and the abuse of power.

Mr Desmond Lee (Jurong GRC) asked: "How does the ministry ensure that the privacy of ordinary individuals is not compromised?"

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC) said: "The enormous power and wide discretion the Bill confers on the Government... will inevitably raise questions on whether those powers will be properly used."

But Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran assured the House that only technical - not personal - information will be sought and the ministerial order given only after a thorough assessment of the cyber threat is made.

Before this change, the minister could issue a directive only when the attack on Singapore is imminent.

The toughening of the law is part of efforts to make Singapore's critical services "more robust and resilient" in the light of the spread and sophistication of cyber attacks, said Mr Iswaran when he introduced the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill for debate.

The move is in line with similar measures taken by countries such as the United States, Israel, Estonia, South Korea and Australia, he added.

It is essentially to keep Singapore's power stations, water filtration plants, telecommunications and banking networks, among others, safe from cyber attacks, which can disrupt the economy and threaten national security.

So, when the Government receives intelligence of a new computer virus attacking another country's critical infrastructure, the Home Affairs Minister can order, say, telcos or banks to disclose how their computer networks are designed, release reports of any attempted breach or install certain security software.

Any person or organisation that fails to comply with the order can face up to 10 years in jail, a $50,000 fine, or both.

Although supportive of the new law, several MPs, including Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Nominated MP Eugene Tan, indicated a desire for safeguards to prevent the abuse of power.

Replying, Mr Iswaran said that with the rapidly changing nature and complexity of cyber threats, "it is neither possible nor practical to specify details, the precise triggers for the activation of powers in the legislation".

He added: "The proposed powers are needed to enable anticipatory actions to be taken against such evolving threats in a timely manner."

He stressed that adequate safeguards were in place and spelt them out.

The minister can use his powers only in situations that threaten Singapore's foreign relations, national security or essential services.

"His discretion is not unfettered," he said.

Operators of the essential services will be consulted. The Government will also periodically review earlier directives to ensure these are still relevant.

Operators can also air their views to the regulators, the Home Affairs Minister and a national committee made up of several permanent secretaries.

If aggrieved by a ministerial order, operators can also appeal against the decision in court.

Key changes under the Act
- The Computer Misuse Act is renamed the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act.
- The Home Affairs Minister has pre-emptive powers to order infrastructure operators, such as telecommunications companies and banks, to disclose how their computer networks are designed, or disclose reports of any attempted breach, on news that a new computer virus is used against another country's critical infrastructure. Previously, the minister could do so only when there was an imminent attack against Singapore.
- Any breach in duty by individuals or organisations to protect the disclosed information - which may be commercially sensitive - carries a jail term of up to one year, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
- Non-compliance with the minister's order is an offence that carries a jail term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
- Those who act on the minister's order get immunity from civil and criminal liability.
- Land transport, aviation, shipping and health care have been added to the list of essential services, which include public utilities, telecommunications and banking.

4,300 foreign spouses rejected for PR yearly
The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2013

EACH year, Singapore rejects an average of 4,300 applications for permanent residence (PR) by foreign spouses.

These rejected applications from 2007 to 2011 were sponsored by Singaporeans.

In the same period, about 480 applications by foreign spouses to be citizens were rejected each year.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean gave these figures in a written answer to Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) yesterday.

He did not say how many applications were received.

In deciding whether to give foreign spouses PR or citizenship, factors considered include the duration of marriage, length of stay in Singapore, and whether the couple have children.

Citizens who are sponsoring their spouses must also show they are able to support them financially.

But foreign spouses who do not qualify for PR status may be granted a Long-Term Visit Pass or Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus, so they can remain here, added Mr Teo.

The Long-Term Visit Pass-Plus scheme was introduced last year in response to the trend of increasing marriages between Singaporeans and foreigners.

It allows for a longer period of stay and more benefits than the Long-Term Visit Pass.

In a separate reply to opposition MP Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap (Aljunied GRC), Mr Teo said there were 13,500 Long-Term Visit Pass applications each year on average from foreign spouses of Singaporeans, between 2007 and 2011.

Of these, about 11,500 were approved each year.

At the same time, there were 4,300 Long-Term Visit Pass applications a year on average from foreign spouses of PRs.

About 4,000 were approved each year.

No plans for Potong Pasir polyclinic: Gan Kim Yong
Channel NewsAsia, 14 Jan 2013

The government is not planning to build a polyclinic in Potong Pasir, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said.

This was his written reply to Potong Pasir Member of Parliament Sitoh Yih Pin's question on whether the Health Ministry had plans to open a polyclinic in Potong Pasir in the near future.

Mr Gan said the primary care needs of Potong Pasir residents are served through Toa Payoh polyclinic. 

They also have the option of visiting 46 private clinics and 25 dental clinics in the Potong Pasir and Toa Payoh areas.

He noted that Potong Pasir residents above 40 and up to the median income can enjoy subsidised healthcare services in 23 private clinics and 16 dental clinics.

Mr Gan said Toa Payoh polyclinic, which is less than 1.5 km from Potong Pasir, was expanded in 2010 to keep up with growing demand for healthcare in Potong Pasir and Toa Payoh.

Public hospitals adopt multi-pronged strategy to avoid overcrowding
Channel NewsAsia, 14 Jan 2013

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong in a written reply to Parliament said public hospitals adopt a multi-pronged strategy to actively manage patient loads and bed occupancy.

Mr Gan was replying to Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC, Associate Prof Fatimah Lateef.

She asked Mr Gan how are overcrowding and high bed occupancy rates handled in the restructured hospitals.

Mr Gan said the multi-pronged strategy includes right-siting care, active intervention to safeguard patient safety during the wait for admission and optimising the use of resources.

To right-site care, hospitals review and discharge patients who are medically stable to allow new patients to be admitted.

For patients waiting at the emergency departments for admission, hospitals deploy inpatient medical teams to initiate prompt medical assessment and definitive care at the emergency department.

To optimise the use of resources, subsidised patients may be placed in private wards for a short duration if subsidised wards are full and these patients continue to pay subsidised rates.

Some stable patients are also transferred, with their consent, to hospitals with higher available capacity to help spread the load across the system.

The Health Ministry is also working with existing institutions to add capacity in the short term.

In addition, hospitals also tap on the capacity in the private sector to meet their needs.

Singaporeans to receive up to S$400 Medisave top-up in March
Channel NewsAsia, 14 Jan 2013

Singaporeans will enjoy a one-off Medisave top-up of up to S$400 in March this year to offset adjustments to their MediShield or Integrated Shield Plan premiums.

This was announced by the government in Budget 2012 to alleviate concerns over premium affordability given the increase in premiums.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said this in a written reply to a question from Nominated Member of Parliament Mary Liew.

Ms Liew had asked whether the government will consider reviewing the cost and coverage of MediShield so that more elderly persons can be insured under the scheme.

Enhancements to MediShield will take effect from 1 March.

Among the changes - the policy year limit will be increased from S$50,000 to S$70,000, while lifetime limits will be raised from S$200,000 to S$300,000.

In his reply to Ms Liew, Mr Gan added that less well-off elderly Singaporeans have been receiving regular Medisave top-ups of up to S$450 a year since 2012 through the GST Voucher for Medisave to help them with various healthcare expenses.

Ms Liew had also asked if the government will consider increasing the national healthcare budget so that the elderly will incur less out-of-pocket expenses.

Mr Gan said the yearly healthcare budget will be doubled from S$4 billion in 2011 to S$8 billion in 2016, as stated in last year's Budget.

Shanmugam challenges WP's Singh
Minister explains S'pore position on UN resolution on Palestine status
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2013

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam has issued a challenge to Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh over a parliamentary question he filed last Monday that linked Singapore's decision to abstain on a UN resolution on Palestine to its vulnerability to terrorism.

Mr Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if Singapore's decision to abstain on the resolution to elevate Palestine to a non-member observer state last November increased its vulnerability to terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

As that question was not answered during question time on Monday, Mr Shanmugam issued a written reply.

He said Singapore's position on that particular United Nations resolution has neither made it more nor less vulnerable to terrorism.

"If we had a different position on this issue it would not have reduced the threat to us either. Singapore continues to be vigilant because the threat of terrorism to Singapore, regardless of our voting position on this or other issues, remains a constant challenge," he added.

He challenged Mr Singh to state if he believed a change in Singapore's voting position would make the country more secure, adding that he would take serious note if that was indeed the Aljunied MP's view.

It is not the first time that Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, has challenged a stand taken by Mr Singh in Parliament.

In October 2011, the minister challenged Mr Singh to state whether he believed the mainstream media was controlled by the Government, during an exchange on a Freedom of Information Act, which Mr Singh championed.

On the Palestine issue, Mr Shanmugam also took the opportunity in his written reply to explain once more that Singapore abstained on the non-member observer state resolution because it believes that "only a negotiated settlement consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 242 can provide the basis for a viable, long-term solution".

Apart from the resolution on Palestine's observer state status, there are approximately 19 resolutions on various Palestine-related issues tabled annually at the UN General Assembly. Singapore has consistently voted in favour of all of them, he noted.

Mr Singh told The Straits Times via e-mail yesterday that it is debatable if a change in Singapore's voting position would make the country more secure.

He said Singapore's decision to abstain was in contrast to all other Asean member states, and an overwhelming number of UN member states, which voted in favour.

He added that Singapore's even-handed position, "sharing the desires of the Palestinians for an independent state, and that of Israel for its security", may have been misunderstood by some Singaporeans in favour of the latter because of the abstention.

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