Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Parliament Highlights - 11 Nov 2013





MP gets go-ahead to table law on human trafficking
Push for 'potent' deterrent in rare Private Member's Bill
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

THE Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday gave the green light for Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) to table a rare Private Member's Bill on combating human trafficking.

Mr de Souza, a lawyer, had asked in Parliament if the ministry would be open to working with him on his proposed Bill, which would help in "strongly, potently" deterring traffickers.

He argued the need for dedicated legislation to show Singapore means business in cracking down on traffickers, just as it has done for drugs through the "highly effective" Misuse of Drugs Act.

Responding, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said the Government supported Mr de Souza's initiative.



He will ask the Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons to work closely with Mr de Souza, who intends to consult various parties in developing and improving the Bill next year.

The task force, set up in 2010, had confirmed the need for a dedicated law in its review of domestic legislation, said Mr Masagos.

Such a law will have a framework to deal with all types of offences, equip agencies with levers for various criminal methods, and reflect Singapore's commitment to fighting trafficking to the world while aligning itself with international standards, he said. It is an "essential progression" in the fight against human trafficking, he added.

The task force said in a statement last night that it will "fully support" Mr de Souza in his work and co-develop the Bill with him.

A dedicated law paves the way for appropriate penalties that reflect the severity of offences, it said.

Mr de Souza has prepared a draft of the Bill, tentatively titled the "Prevention of Human Trafficking Act".

It seeks to criminalise the trafficking of persons, especially minors, for such purposes as sexual exploitation, forced incarceration, slave labour and organ trafficking.

He told The Straits Times that existing provisions are spread across different laws, making them hard to enforce. These include the Penal Code, the Children and Young Persons Act and the Women's Charter.

"Rather than just point and say, 'Look, there's a legislative gap', I decided to try and fill it," said Mr de Souza, who has spoken about human trafficking in Parliament several times since 2008.

His draft Bill consolidates existing laws and includes relevant examples from overseas, such as the United Nations' Palermo Protocol on human trafficking and International Labour Organisation conventions.

The inter-agency task force also said it would refer to and adapt such international examples.

One area Mr De Souza seeks to address is extra-territoriality, where the trafficker can be punished if he uses Singapore as a transit point even if the actual trafficking is not carried out here.

Mr de Souza plans to put the Bill before Parliament late next year or early 2015, after consultation, he added.

Private Member's Bills, introduced by MPs who are not ministers, are rare. The last such Bill to be successfully passed was the Maintenance of Parents Act, tabled in 1994 by then Nominated MP Walter Woon, now a law don.

Since 2004, Singapore has been criticised by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, though some findings have been disputed by the Singapore Government.

Yesterday, responding to Nominated MP Eugene Tan, Mr Masagos said there were about 100 reports of alleged human trafficking last year. Six cases have been convicted and the rest are under investigation.







IDA studying back-up plan for network
It may involve telcos having two sets of equipment at different sites
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

MOBILE network operators here may be required to maintain two separate sets of core network equipment at different locations, to ensure that there are back-ups in case of a power blackout.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is studying the feasibility of having such a geo-redundant network, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament yesterday.

His updates on the measures being considered to make Singapore's mobile networks more resilient come a month after the IDA completed a review, following telco M1 suffering its worst mobile network failure in January.

After the shutdown, which lasted almost three days, the IDA said it would be introducing a new audit framework by next year to regularly review the resiliency of all three telcos' mobile networks.



Dr Yaacob's responses came during his reply to questions tabled by Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong on last month's fire at a SingTel Internet exchange, and what it implies about the resiliency of Singapore's broadband network.

The Government takes this incident seriously, he said.

And in the same way as it dealt with the M1 incident, the IDA will explore if similar measures for Singapore's broadband network are necessary after investigations into the fire are complete.

"Based on the findings, we will review if further policy measures are necessary, including having a similar audit framework for other networks," he said.

The Oct 9 blaze had crippled essential services across Singapore, including taking some DBS ATMs and AXS payment machines offline.

Dr Yaacob said a resilient broadband network is important, adding that there are four components core to resiliency. These are diversity, resistance, redundancy and recovery.

With M1 and StarHub's broadband services also disrupted by the fire, questions were raised on whether having an alternative to SingTel's network would prevent such a major shutdown.

The two telcos buy fibre links wholesale from OpenNet, the national fibre broadband network builder, which has cables in the same premises.

But Dr Yaacob said a second, fully diversified network would require the digging of new ducts and use of completely separate infrastructure, and would cost more than Singapore's next-generation fibre broadband network.

In response to a question by Mr Zaqy on OpenNet's proposed sale to a SingTel-owned business trust, the minister stressed that it is separate from the issue of the fire.

He said the IDA has received feedback from various parties concerning the proposed sale and will make a decision soon.







Detention without trial extended for 5 more years
Controversial law recently used in match-fixing case passed after lengthy discussion
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

AN ACT that allows for detention without trial was yesterday extended for five more years, starting Oct 21 next year.

This is the 13th time the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) has been passed since it was introduced in 1955 to fight organised crime, but it did not come without lengthy debate.

Eight Members of Parliament, the majority of whom are lawyers by profession, voiced their thoughts about the controversial act, asking questions about its scope and lack of transparency.

It was used most recently last month to detain four suspected football match-fixers, among them believed to be Dan Tan Seet Eng, 48, the alleged ringleader of a global syndicate.

MPs Hri Kumar Nair, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh questioned whether the alleged offences justified the use of the Act.

Said Mr Nair, the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC: "Is match-fixing, regardless of how widespread it is, a sufficiently serious offence? It is of a different order from crimes involving secret societies, drug trafficking or loan sharking. Match-fixing is essentially cheating, and it is driven by the gambling industry."

There is no threat to life, limb or security, he noted.

Voicing similar doubts, Ms Lim, the Workers' Party MP for Aljunied GRC, said: "The question remains, how exactly does soccer corruption in Europe threaten the public safety, peace and good order to justify the use of the Act?"

She also noted the alleged match-fixers had been dealt with through the courts both here and overseas.



In his reply, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran defended the use of the Act to detain the alleged match-fixers, given that the crime shares "some of the most egregious characteristics that render them a threat to public order" with other syndicated crimes.


Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean said last month: "Illegal soccer match-fixing activities are carried out by organised criminal syndicates with complex and layered structures motivated by financial gain."

MPs also commented on a lack of transparency of the number of detainees under the Act, to which Mr Iswaran said detention statistics will be released on a "more regular basis", as part of the Prisons' annual statistics report.

Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said there were 209 CLTPA detainees as of Oct 31 - a 36 per cent decrease from the 326 as of Dec 31, 2009, the year the Act was last extended.

Of these 209 detainees, two-thirds were imprisoned for gang-related activities, a quarter for unlicensed moneylending, and the rest for drug trafficking and other syndicated crimes.

Between 2008 and 2012, an average of 43 detention orders were issued each year, although the number issued annually has decreased, with 17 last year, he said.

A majority of detainees are jailed for less than four years, though one current detainee has been imprisoned for almost 11 years for drug trafficking.

Meanwhile, close to 300 police supervision orders were issued in lieu of detention between 2009 and Oct 31 this year. This includes people who have been released from prison detention.

They are, among other things, required to report to the police and observe a curfew.

Recidivism rates of detainees have generally been lower than that of the broader prison population. Mr Iswaran said this could be because of the police supervision regime.

He emphasised: "Prosecuting offenders in court is, and will always be, the first and preferred course of action."

The Act is used judiciously "as a last resort" in cases where witnesses may not be keen to testify in court for fear of reprisals.

Calling it a "critical" part of the justice system, Mr Iswaran said: "An evolving criminal threat is the reason we cannot let our guard down, although our crime rates have fallen for several years.

"They are evolving their modus operandi and becoming more sophisticated to evade capture and prosecution. Every time an arrest is made, the syndicates quickly adapt and adjust their operations in response."

The eight MPs who spoke all voiced support for the Act, even while some questioned its most recent use.

Ms Lim said while she looked forward "to the day this Act can be thrown away", it was with "a heavy heart" that she was unable to oppose the extension, given the current crime risk.

Ms Lim highlighted, as did other MPs, developments across the Causeway, where crime had escalated after a repeal of the Emergency Ordinance in 2011 saw the release of 2,700 criminals.

Some 74 people were shot and killed in Malaysia between January and September this year, Mr Nair said. To curb worsening crime, amendments were passed in Malaysia's laws to restore detention provisions last month.

Ms Lim voiced concerns that without the CLTPA, there may be "spillover effects".

Mr Iswaran said: "In Singapore, we cannot afford to merely react to the situation after the impact of a criminal threat has become fully apparent."



SUPPORT OF THE BILL

Ms Sylvia Lim said, if I remember correctly, she is unable to oppose the Bill under the current circumstances. I would like to clarify, does that mean that she supports the extension of the Bill?
– Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran


GOOD REASONS FOR EXTENSION

As I have said in my speech, I do not think that the current circumstances warrant a non-extension of the Bill. So, yes, I support extension of the Bill for the next five years, with a heavy heart I add.
– Ms Sylvia Lim





Robust safeguards to prevent detention Act's abuse: Edwin Tong
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

MP EDWIN Tong yesterday defended the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, saying robust safeguards were in place to prevent its abuse.

The Allen & Gledhill lawyer cited his own experience sitting on independent advisory committees convened to review orders served under the Act.

In voicing his support for an extension of the Act, the MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC said "substantial safeguards" were in place. "I am myself satisfied that these safeguards have worked well and are sufficient."

Justifications for detention and police supervision orders must be made to the Public Prosecutor, whose approval is needed before the order can be issued by the Home Affairs Minister.

Each order is then reviewed by an independent committee, made up of private citizens such as former judges and senior lawyers.

"The detainee and witnesses are often heard, and the detainee can make full arguments against the detention order. The detainee can also be represented by counsel," said Mr Tong.

"This advisory committee doesn't have any connection or speak to the Minister. We don't have anyone from the Ministry of Home Affairs discuss the case with us, save for administrative details concerning the hearing."

The committee presents its findings to the President, who has the power to cancel, confirm or vary the order, on the advice of the Cabinet.

Each confirmed detention order will be reviewed once every 12 months, with the committee made up of different members each time to "ensure independent decision-making".

The Act includes a sunset clause requiring parliamentary approval for renewal every five years, Mr Tong noted, thus requiring the minister to account for its need in prevailing circumstances.

But he had several suggestions, including that the State should assign counsel to any detainee who requests one. He said: "While a detainee has the right to counsel, he cannot always instruct or afford one."

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran replied: "I understand that the Ministry for Law has been generally looking at enhancing criminal legal aid, and I think we're able to announce the position on this soon."






Govt stops review of accident payouts
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

MOTORISTS who hire lawyers to make accident claims will no longer be able to get help from the authorities to ensure that the compensation they receive is fair.

This is because motorists are now better educated and there are enough precedents on accident compensation to ensure that victims are not short-changed, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah yesterday.

Previously, motorists who were injured or died from accidents got help from a public official - the Public Trustee - who independently reviewed the out-of-court compensation and ensured lawyers did not over-charge their clients.

While the authorities will continue to ensure lawyers do not over-charge, they will stop reviewing whether the compensation amount is fair.

They will also stop receiving compensation on behalf of the victims unless the victim is a child or lacks the mental ability to receive payment.

But victims without lawyers will continue to get the full slate of help from the Public Trustee. Their numbers, however, are low, said Ms Indranee.

The changes follow the passing of the Motor Vehicles (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Amendment Bill in Parliament yesterday.

The Workers' Party's Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), during the debate on the Bill, called for safeguards to ensure payments are not delayed.

Ms Indranee replied that there was no need for them: "It is for the victim's lawyer to pursue the (vehicle) owner or the insurer to make sure that payments are made on time."




No advance warning for litterbugs
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

SINCE August, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has stopped informing residents when it installs surveillance cameras at their blocks or when it removes these cameras.

This means recalcitrant litterbugs are no longer warned in advance, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

The move should serve to deter litterbugs even more, he said in a written reply to Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC).

All three MPs had filed questions on measures to curb high-rise littering, such as the use of surveillance cameras.

Dr Balakrishnan said the NEA has deployed such cameras in nearly 500 locations since September last year, in response to residents' feedback.

Thus far, NEA has successfully prosecuted 56 high-rise litterbugs with the help of these cameras. The culprits were slapped with fines ranging from $400 to $2,100, he said.

The NEA has also stepped up enforcement, with man-hours spent on enforcement going up by 50 per cent since May this year.

The agency has started a pilot scheme for volunteers to apply peer pressure on litterbugs.

Some 104 volunteers have been trained under the programme, which authorises them to ascertain culprits' identities for further investigation by the NEA.




More powers for tax officers
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

IT WILL now be easier to administer the goods and services tax, and for government agencies to share information to combat serious tax crimes.

Under amendments to the goods and services tax (GST) Bill - passed yesterday - the Comptroller of GST can seize goods and arrest those suspected of making fraudulent claims under the Tourist Refund Scheme.

"The enforcement powers of the comptroller are being strengthened to enable him to carry out more thorough investigations, and effectively prosecute persons who have made fraudulent claims," Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo told Parliament.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) can now also share information with the Commercial Affairs Department and the police, to investigate money laundering from the proceeds of serious tax crimes.

The tax authority has also been given powers to disclose anonymous information to the Government for statistical or research purposes as well.

Regulations to specify who should repay GST, when there is non-compliance with the conditions of a GST scheme, have also been added.

One of the seven amendments to the GST Bill also grants Iras the power to deduct tax arrears from government payments to taxpayers, such as those to businesses under the Wage Credit Scheme.

Mrs Teo said that the Government incorporated feedback from a public consultation exercise in August on the draft Bill.




Taxi firms must meet conditions before growing fleet
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

TAXI companies' fleet growth will now be subject to them having met certain conditions, following changes to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament yesterday.

The growth will still be capped at the current 2 per cent that has been in place since last year when the framework was introduced.

But from January, the maximum number of new licences issued by the Land Transport Authority will be linked to the companies fulfilling minimum standards relating to taxi availability during peak hours, and on the roads in general.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), one of two MPs who rose to speak on the Bill's amendments, pointed out that there were concerns that operators were "fully passing on the taxi availability framework to taxi drivers".

"For drivers who are unable to meet this standard, they may have their hiring agreement terminated or penalties imposed by the operator," said Mr Ang, an adviser to the National Taxi Association.

"Taxi hirers are under immense pressure and many struggle to look for relief drivers to assist them."

Responding, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said taxi companies too had a role in helping their drivers meet the standards. "I... urge them to work with and help their drivers achieve the service and availability standards and not expect the drivers to achieve them all on their own," he said.

In other changes to the Bill, it is now an offence to leave or attempt to leave Singapore knowing that a vehicle's fuel-measuring equipment has been altered.

This addresses a gap where the LTA is unable to prosecute motorists who alter the fuel gauge outside Singapore, Mr Lui said.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), while supporting the amendments, questioned the relevance of the three-quarter petrol tank rule for Singapore cars entering Malaysia.

The Workers' Party MP called for a review, saying that the law's rationale - to control road usage, among other things - should be studied as petrol tax was no longer an inhibitor to motorists looking to buy a car, said Mr Singh.

Mr Lui said even with caps on the vehicle growth rate, usage restraints "are equally important". "Hence, a combination of the ERP, parking charges as well as fuel cost are all matters that a motorist would have to take into consideration," he told the House.

The amendments to the Bill also empower the LTA to collect the vehicle tax, known as the Additional Registration Fee, upon the registration of vehicles previously de-registered.

Currently, the tax can be collected only when vehicles are registered for the first time.




Proposed condition for inmates' early release
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2013

AN AMENDMENT to the Prisons Bill, which will make inmates' early release for good conduct conditional on their not re-offending, was among six Bills introduced in Parliament yesterday.

Currently, such prisoners can be released after serving two-thirds of their sentences. No conditions are imposed upon release.

The proposed changes before the House will empower the courts to impose an additional sentence, should the prisoner re-offend during the remission period.

The remission period refers to the period of the sentence not served by the inmate due to early release.

Any additional jail time will be capped at the remaining length of the remission period, at the time the new offence was committed.

The changes also propose a Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, under which former offenders deemed to require more help reintegrating into society - such as those who committed drug offences or serious crimes like rape - will be more closely monitored for up to two years.

There will be a gradual stepdown in supervision.



The other five Bills introduced yesterday were the Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Bill, Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, Government Procurement (Amendment) Bill, Regulation of Imports and Exports (Amendment) Bill and Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Bill.

The Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Bill will reposition the Subordinate Courts to become the State Courts.

It will also create the office of Presiding Judge of the State Courts, to take over the duties of the Chief District Judge.

The Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill will, among other changes, amend the Casino Control Act to require casino operators to perform due diligence on customers, to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.

It will also compel operators to keep records of such checks for a period of time and in a manner usable as evidence during prosecution.


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