Wednesday 19 February 2014

Parliament Highlights - 18 Feb 2014

Bill passed for powers to keep order in Little India
Temporary law supports security, traffic and alcohol control measures
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

PARLIAMENT yesterday passed a controversial Bill that the Government said will allow the police to continue to take calibrated measures to maintain public order and calm in Little India.

Opposition and Nominated Members of Parliament, however, opposed the Bill.

They said it was hasty, unnecessary and lacked safeguards against possible misuse of the powers it grants the police.

The new Bill is called the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill or POATM. It is a temporary law that will be valid for 12 months and apply to the Little India area.

It will grant police the power to exclude or ban people from entering the area if their conduct is likely to threaten public order, and to search any vehicle, person or place reasonably suspected of being related to an offence.

It also enacts a general prohibition on alcohol sale, supply and consumption in the area, except under specific conditions. And it empowers the authorities to cancel or suspend a permit or licence on short notice if a licensee flouts the alcohol ban.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday told Parliament that since the Dec 8 riot in Little India, the Government has taken steps to address factors that could have contributed to it. The steps have helped stabilise the situation, instilled confidence and won wide acceptance among stakeholders, he said.

To do so, the Government had to invoke on a weekly basis a provision under the Public Order (Preservation) Act or POPA.

But POPA was conceived for far graver situations, and as a result, grants police broad and extensive powers, he said.

"While some of these powers are needed to maintain public order in Little India today, many others are excessive and unnecessary for this purpose," he added.

These include the power to impose a curfew and even authorise lethal force where necessary.

The new POATM Bill, by contrast, provides for "a focused set of powers, far more limited than the extensive powers available today under POPA", Mr Iswaran said, to support security, traffic management and alcohol restriction measures in Little India.

Of the 16 MPs who joined the debate yesterday, three from the Workers' Party (WP) opposed the Bill, and five Nominated MPs and one Non-constituency MP criticised it. WP chairman Sylvia Lim said it was unnecessary as the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the causes of the riot will release its recommendations by June.

The seven People's Action Party MPs who spoke threw their support behind the Bill.

Ms Denise Phua said her constituents who live in Little India support it.

Police commissioner Ng Joo Hee yesterday issued a statement to allay concerns over police powers to conduct searches.

"Our police officers on the ground have demonstrated that they have carried out their duty in a reasonable manner and will continue to do so," he said.

Temporary Bill to meet specific policing needs

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran addressed criticisms of the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) (POATM) Bill which Parliament passed yesterday. It means the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) no longer needs to be invoked on a weekly basis to maintain public order in Little India.
The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

Why the need for a POATM Bill?

Many members have advocated that we adopt a proportionate and appropriate response to the situation in Little India. We agree fully and indeed that has been the key reason for this Bill.

So it's ironic that some members have taken issue with the powers in this Bill, which are limited and significantly reduced compared to those already available today under the POPA. The powers under POPA are extensive, some would say even draconian, and it is a law conceived to deal with a far graver set of circumstances, such as a state of emergency. It has powers to impose curfews and even use lethal force.

This is not a case of moving a Bill because we have insufficient powers, as Mr Chen Show Mao has suggested. It is a case where the powers are grossly disproportionate to the current situation in Little India, especially as the situation has stabilised and the focus is now on maintaining public order. Therefore the status quo of relying on the powers under the POPA is neither necessary nor desirable.

The logic offered by several members is quite elusive.

If you are prepared to accord the authorities the powers under POPA, then why are you reluctant to accord the powers which are significantly reduced compared to POPA as reflected in the Bill? If you are concerned about safeguards and the exercise of power that is enumerated in this Bill, then why are you not even more exercised by that concern in the context of the powers under POPA?

Why not defer the Bill to after the Committee of Inquiry (COI) on the causes of the riot, which is due to release its recommendations in June?

The COI will take some time to finish its work. Whatever the recommendations, they have to be deliberated upon and then appropriate measures put in place. So there is considerable time still ahead.

And who will be answerable to Singaporeans and to the residents in Little India if another incident were to occur? It is incumbent on the Government and our agencies to take reasonable steps and measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur.

Instead of a new Bill, why not amend existing laws?

We did consider this option but the intent and provisions in existing laws are worded generally to deal with broad law and order situations and in the end we felt it was preferable to propose a dedicated, temporary piece of legislation to meet the specific policing needs of Little India, and adapting provisions in other legislation where relevant.

Are the police powers provided in this Bill unprecedented?

In drafting the Bill, the specific powers of search and seizure, for example, take reference from similar provisions in the Public Order Act governing special large- scale events like the National Day Parade.

I agree with members that in investing such powers in our officers, we must ensure that they exercise them with sensitivity, with prudence and with care. That is the training and the culture in the police force and in our other enforcement agencies.

Why the focus on alcohol?

Some have asked: Are we jumping the gun? Where is the evidence or causality that directly links alcohol consumption to this incident?

Our police officers on the ground do not have the luxury of contemplating a variety of options when there's a clear and present danger and need on the ground. They have to make a reasonable operational assessment of this situation and what could be the range of contributory factors, and these then have to be acted upon. And one of them, in this instance, was the assessment that alcohol could have been a contributory factor.

This Bill introduces, out of necessity, targeted and temporary powers to restrict the sale, supply and consumption of alcohol.

Does the Bill target a particular community?

The provisions in the Bill are targeted at behaviour that threatens public order and not at specific individuals, communities or businesses. The measures apply equally to all persons and business operators within the special zone without exception whatever the ethnicity, whatever their nationality.

New law not a knee-jerk reaction: Minister
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

THE public order law passed in Parliament yesterday is an intermediate step to control the Little India situation until recommendations are made by the Committee of Inquiry (COI), Law Minister K.Shanmugam said.

He was addressing criticisms that the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act is a knee-jerk reaction providing the police with onerous powers.

Speaking to reporters after a closed-door meeting attended by about 45 Little India business owners, he said the reaction was a "complete misunderstanding" that led to "a lot of misconceptions" about the Act.

"The Government has a duty to act in the best interests of the people... (It) cannot keep quiet, and wait and do nothing until the COI. That would be utterly irresponsible," he said, noting that it could take months for the COI's findings to be revealed.

"Anyone who suggests we do that is not thinking through."

The COI will sit from today at Court 13 of the Subordinate Courts. The panel must submit its report to the Home Affairs Minister by June 13.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, said further steps can still be taken and measures can be altered after the findings are submitted.

He said the current Act is more tightly scoped than the Public Order (Preservation) Act (POPA) which was invoked in the immediate aftermath of the riot.

It was brought in after the Government assessed that the POPA - "an existing legislation that gives far more powers to the police" - was inappropriate.

"The Government voluntarily put in place a temporary legislation with narrower powers," said Mr Shanmugam. "The easiest thing would have just been to proceed under POPA, but... to be responsible we should reduce the powers; we don't need all these extra powers."

He added that yesterday's meeting, organised to address concerns of Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (Lisha) members, was "constructive".

While liquor businesses have been more badly hit by the restrictions than others, he noted that overall business has dipped given the smaller number of foreign workers and tourists in the area.

He promised to forward suggestions raised to the Home Affairs Ministry. They include proposals to extend the last bus timing - currently at 9pm - for workers returning to their dormitories and to set up safe zones for alcohol consumption in public areas.

Lisha chairman Rajakumar Chandra said several local firms are "in ICU (intensive care unit)" and "really need some medicine to get going".

He added that rentals remain high even though trade has dipped.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission has asked banks to set up money-remittance kiosks at dormitories following requests from foreign workers.

Opinion split over need for Public Order Bill
Some do not agree with the Bill while others want it to be deferred
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

OPPOSITION, Non-Constituency and Nominated MPs lined up against their People's Action Party counterparts yesterday on a temporary law that will give the police a calibrated range of enforcement powers in Little India.

Nine of the 16 MPs who rose to speak were not from the ruling party, and they criticised the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill as a knee-jerk reaction, lacking safeguards, and too broad. Six stated that they opposed it.

Still, all were in broad agreement with the seven PAP MPs that an appropriate response was needed to maintain peace in the neighbourhood.

Leading the charge for the Government's side of the House was Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan- Toa Payoh GRC), who said the Dec 8 riot had identified gaps in the laws to deal with such public order threats. It was thus irresponsible not to act, the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law said.

The legislation will give the police powers to interview and search people in the area for alcohol and prohibited items. It also limits the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area, and is valid for a year.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), whose ward covers part of Little India, said her residents have had to deal with migrant workers congregating and drinking in public areas such as void decks and playgrounds for years.

They were thankful for the measures implemented thus far, she said, adding: "They have a right, like the rest of us who live elsewhere in Singapore, to a safe, secure and peaceful living environment."

During the four-hour-long debate, Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) related anecdotes about how drinking had led to unruly behaviour among the foreign workers in their wards.

"I urge the Government to look beyond Little India, and urgently address similar issues in other parts of the island, including Teban Gardens," Ms Foo said.

Dr Lam said it was not uncommon to ban public consumption of alcohol, adding that countries such as Australia and the United States had already done so.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) agreed that alcohol was a concern. He had met first responders to the scene, who told him that the rioters had been inebriated and were fuelled by alcohol. Even foreign workers, whom he met during a dormitory visit after the riot, had agreed that restrictions on liquor would help, he added.

But MPs against the Bill asked if it was right to pinpoint alcohol as a cause before the Committee of Inquiry (COI), which commences its public inquiry today, has completed its investigations.

NMPs Laurence Lien, Faizah Jamal and Janice Koh said the Bill would pre-empt the COI's findings, and asked for the Government to defer it.

Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said: "What if the COI findings show these measures are barking up the wrong tree?"

Characterising the Bill as hasty and a knee-jerk reaction, she said it was also unnecessary, since interim measures instituted after the riot had worked well to bring order.

In the end, the Bill was passed with a good majority after the marathon debate, although the chorus of "Nos" was unusually loud.

Key test of new powers will lie in how they are used
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

AT ONE point during the four- hour-long debate over the controversial Bill that grants police temporary extra powers in Little India, it seemed there would be no respite for the Government.

Of the 16 MPs who spoke in total, no fewer than nine opposition MPs and Nominated MPs stood up to speak against it at length.

One after the other, they called it a "knee-jerk reaction" and "overkill". They argued that giving added powers to police officers was akin to creating a gated police state in Little India, and risked stigmatising the South Asian people as well as hurting, rather than helping, the healing process of the community there.

The Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act is a temporary law that will last for 12 months and apply to the Little India area.

It grants police the power to exclude or ban people from entering the area if their conduct is likely to threaten public order. They can also search any vehicle, person or place reasonably suspected of being related to an offence.

The MPs who spoke fell into three groups: those who opposed it vehemently, those who thought it necessary, and a handful who wanted to see the findings of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) first.

Capturing the sentiments of those who opposed it, Nominated MP Eugene Tan said: "The Bill is a disproportionate reaction to the Little India riot. Are we not taking a proverbial hammer to crack the nut?"

In the face of this strong pushback against the Bill, Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) rose to offer some perspective, urging detractors to understand the intention and how the law will be applied in practice.

It is important to understand the "legislative intent" of the law and not read it "expansively", he argued. In this case, "the legislative intent is to limit the sale and consumption of alcohol", he said.

So even if the Bill does give the authorities the power to even search a plane carrying alcohol over Little India when it lands in Changi Airport, that will not be done. At the same time, fears over the powers to strip-search appear overdone, as they will be applied with the intention of allowing police officers to search a person who may have tried to hide a bottle of alcohol under a jacket.

It was in the same vein that Second Minister for Home Affairs S.Iswaran explained the intention for introducing the Bill now and not after the COI had completed its investigations.

"Taking proactive and prudent measures does not amount to prejudging the issue. This is the duty of the Government and our agencies," he said. "And let me emphasise that these measures do not in any way intend to be definitive (about) the actual causes of the riot... That is for the COI to study and ascertain."

Understanding the intent of the Bill also helps to explain the need for it to be separated from the Public Order (Preservation) Act or POPA, and not, as some MPs called for, to continue using the latter.

Calling it the "most significant safeguard", Mr Iswaran said the Bill actually "seeks to curtail the powers available to the police compared to the present situation".

Thus, he added, if MPs accept that the extensive powers under POPA will be used with due restraint and safeguard, "then surely we should be assured that the exercise of these far more limited powers under this Bill will be similarly restrained".

The Bill has understandably raised concerns in some corners as it puts in the spotlight some of the wide-ranging and intrusive powers available to the authorities. But as Mr Iswaran and several MPs made clear, it should not be so quickly forgotten that what happened on Dec 8 last year was the worst public order disturbance in over 40 years in Singapore, and that the area is still crowded on weekends, and still in a state of "heightened security".

In that regard, the residents and business owners of Little India have just as much right to safety and security as the rest of Singapore, as Ms Denise Phua, an MP for the area, argued in supporting the Bill.

Still, however well intentioned, now that these powers have been passed into law, the next crucial step will be to ensure that they are applied sensitively and with restraint on the ground.

As Nominated MP Laurence Lien said: "Having legal powers and using those powers are two very different things." How the powers are actually used over the next 12 months will vindicate either the Government or those who oppose the Bill.

The intentions of the Bill are clearer, but now the scrutiny will shift from Parliament to the police officers and auxiliary police officers patrolling Little India each weekend.

Indonesian warship in naming row barred from S'pore
By Jermyn Chow And Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

It will also not be possible for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), as "protectors of this nation", to sail alongside or take part in training exercises with the ship KRI Usman Harun, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament yesterday.

He was replying to Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who had asked how the Defence Ministry and SAF would respond to the Indonesian Navy's decision to name the frigate after the duo who had bombed the Orchard Road building during Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, which then included Singapore.

Dr Ng said the naming of the ship will have consequences on bilateral relations, and that "already, suspicions and resentments have heightened on both sides, setting back many decades of relationship-building in defence ties".

"We want good bilateral defence and close military-to-military ties with Indonesia," he added. "But strong defence ties can be built only on mutual trust and respect, expressed through appropriate acts that underscore friendship and amity."

Dr Ng as well as Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam fielded questions from five MPs yesterday on the ship-naming incident and future bilateral ties.

The two ministers, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, had each asked their counterparts in Indonesia to reconsider the ship's name. "We knew the harm it would cause to bilateral relations," said Dr Ng.

Singapore's ban on KRI Usman Harun is a first in the country's naval history. Such visits are traditional ice-breakers used by navies to establish or strengthen ties.

Dr Ng said Singapore and Indonesia have developed strong ties through joint patrols and military cooperation since 1974.

They treat each other as "sovereign equals" and SAF and TNI officials are able to discuss sensitive matters to find "amicable solutions", he said. But the naming of the warship, which came to light earlier this month, was "an utter surprise".

"Even without ill intent, how can the naming of the ship after the two bombers build good ties, or enhance mutual respect and regard with both our countries?"

Jakarta had said that the patrol frigate will operate in eastern Indonesia.

Commenting on the ban, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto, a former armed forces chief, said: "The ship has not even arrived yet, so what's the fuss? Anyway, who says the ship will be taken to Singapore?"

Caution urged over raising CPF rates
Chuan-Jin: Gradual approach key as it will affect business costs, employability
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

To make his point, he referred to a 2003 statement made by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who said the Government would not be restoring CPF rates to 40 per cent, with equal contributions from employers and employees.

Doing so would hurt Singapore's economic competitiveness and cause job losses, Mr Goh added, and "these considerations remain valid today", Mr Tan said in his reply to Nominated MP Eugene Tan yesterday.

NMP Tan wants the employer's contribution to be put on par with that of the employee.

The CPF rates for workers younger than 50 is 36 per cent, with employees paying 20 per cent and employers, 16 per cent.

The minister's remarks yesterday were also his first comments on the issue of raising CPF rates since the National Trades Union Congress began lobbying last week for the rates to be reviewed so that workers can save more for medical costs and retirement.

It began with its secretary-general Lim Swee Say calling for a rise in the CPF rates for workers aged above 50 to 55. It is currently at 32.5 per cent.

Mr Lim wants it to be brought on par with younger workers but the gap need not be closed "in one go", he added.

His call was made on Monday.

Two days later, his deputy Heng Chee How urged the Government to do a comprehensive review of the CPF rates, including relooking the rates of all workers.

The CPF Board is a statutory board under the Manpower Ministry, which Mr Tan Chuan-Jin helms.

Yesterday, the minister acknowledged that increasing the CPF rates above the current 36 per cent will help workers in their retirement, but it will also affect business costs and workers' employability.

"Further increases in our CPF contribution rates will have to be carefully considered, together with tripartite partners, and we need to do it in a calibrated and gradual manner," he added.

The Government has made several improvements in the CPF system to help workers save for retirement, he noted, citing the extra 1 per cent paid on the first $60,000 of CPF balances, Workfare for low-wage workers and Government top-ups.

It is "important to look at retirement adequacy as a whole entity" and not "address it purely by raising employers' contribution", said the minister.

Although he did not drop any hint on where the CPF rates might go, there is wide expectation that some form of CPF-related announcement will be made on Budget Day this Friday.

AVA to help farmers prevent repeat of mass fish deaths
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

FISH farmers reeling from mass fish deaths in recent weeks will get subsidies and help in the bulk purchase of new stocks, Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman said in Parliament yesterday.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) will help farmers source for quality fish fry and fingerlings, and will co-fund 70 per cent of the cost.

To strengthen farmers' resilience in food production, it will also co-fund 70 per cent of the cost of new equipment, the Ministry of National Development added in response to media queries later.

"We want to turn this situation from adversity to opportunity... how we can actually facilitate them improving their systems such that future occurrences may be prevented," said Mr Maliki.

He pointed out that poor aeration systems were a factor in the mass deaths, which started about three weeks ago.

They were blamed on plankton bloom and low oxygen levels, triggered by the double whammy of hot weather and low tides.

During a visit to fish farms off Changi last Thursday, Mr Maliki had also said that fish farmers would get help in tapping a $30 million AVA fund to boost food production.

His comments yesterday were prompted by questions from Nominated MP Faizah Jamal, who had also asked whether fish farms that did not comply with AVA regulations would have their licences revoked.

Non-compliance could include improper waste disposal such as dumping dead fish into the open sea, or failure to meet a production target of 17 tonnes of fish per half hectare.

Mr Maliki said revoking licences would be a "worst-case scenario" and would be aimed at farms that have failed over several years to meet licensing conditions.

He added: "But I think the way to go right now is to help them... this is their livelihood. We want to try to be sympathetic."

Self-classification scheme for arts groups to be tested
Pilot under proposed term licensing plan to take place in 2nd quarter
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

A PROPOSED scheme that empowers arts groups to classify their own performances will be piloted in the second quarter.

This is to test the processes and allow arts groups to clarify issues before the scheme is formally launched by the Media Development Authority (MDA), said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament yesterday.

"We envisage that term licensees and their content assessors will need time to familiarise themselves to self-classifying their performance," he added.

Around the same time, there will be a public consultation on the amendment Bill which will pave the way for the scheme to be enacted.

Dr Yaacob was responding to a question from Nominated MP Janice Koh, who had asked for updates on the term licensing scheme.

The scheme was announced last March. It is seen as a first step towards co-regulation between the MDA and the arts sector, taking into account societal norms, and will divide arts groups into two tiers.

Tier 1 groups can self-classify performances with a General rating and without racial, religious or political content. Tier 2 licensees can self-classify performances up to the Restricted 18 rating.

So far, arts groups have asked if such licensing would result in self-censorship, and parents have expressed concern that it may mean a relaxation of standards.

When asked by Ms Koh about possible disagreements over classifications, Dr Yaacob said the authorities will be reasonable and fair in assessing the decision.

He also gave the assurance that they would be flexible and "understand the context in which (the disagreement) took place".

If there are complaints about classifications from the public, MDA will also consult widely, including even the arts group in question, the minister said.

"We want the arts groups to work together with us to ensure a vibrant arts scene which meets societal norms and standards.

"Even after we've formally launched the scheme, our doors are not closed. They can continue to consult MDA if they're not confident about classifying," he said.

Mr Noor Effendy Ibrahim, artistic director of arts venue the Substation, said that more dialogue, open channels and conversation rather than a directive or immediate action were welcome.

Other agencies need to be on the same page as the ministry and the MDA, he added, pointing out that this was pertinent whether a complaint was made to, for example, the MDA, National Arts Council or the police.

"If not, just because of one complaint, each agency may have a different measure and some will react calmly or with a more knee-jerk reaction than others," he said.

Govt to help poor switch to digital TV
It'll help pay for installation, set-top box and antenna
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

THE Government is to roll out an assistance scheme for low-income families to ensure they will keep getting free-to-air TV channels when the nation switches to digital broadcasting by 2020.

The Government will subsidise the equipment used to plug into existing TV sets to receive the digital signals.

Announcing the move yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "We want to have low-income households

migrate without having them to spend a lot of money. We hope to give them assistance through the set-top box and antenna, and funding for installation."

He estimated that about 160,000 to 170,000 households will benefit from the scheme. Details will be announced later.

"By and large, low-income families will be assisted - almost 100 per cent," he said, speaking to the media during a visit to national broadcaster Media-Corp's Bukit Batok transmission centre.

Based on the retail price of a digital set-top box and antenna - $130 combined - some $22 million could be spent under the scheme.

Digital transmissions allow broadcasters to send more signals more efficiently, enabling viewers to receive higher quality images and sound. Other benefits include the ability to toggle the display of subtitles and multiple language options included with programmes.

Digital transmissions also free up space on broadcast frequencies for other uses such as delivering Internet data to smartphones.

In December last year, MediaCorp converted all its seven free-to-air TV channels from analogue to digital format. It is also continuing to broadcast using the analogue format as well.

At the same time, it has started delivering Channel 8, Suria and Vasantham in high definition (HD) format, along with English-language Channel 5. This format is possible only with digital TV.

Channel U, Channel NewsAsia and okto will go HD in 2016.

To tune in to digital TV, viewers need to buy and connect a digital set-top box and an indoor antenna to their existing TV sets, or subscribe to pay-TV before 2020. This is when analogue TV signals will be switched off.

If they have recently bought a new TV with a built-in digital tuner, they just need to buy an indoor antenna.

Pay-TV subscribers to SingTel and StarHub, whose platforms are already digital, need not do anything to prepare for the switch to digital broadcasting. Pay-TV subscribers form about 60 per cent of households here.

MediaCorp is rolling out its digital broadcasting infrastructure here in phases over the next two years.

In December last year, Bukit Batok residents were the first to receive its digital channels.

Dr Yaacob said that the Ang Mo Kio and Jurong East estates were able to receive digital TV signals yesterday.

By June, digital transmission to Clementi and Bukit Timah estates will be turned on, followed by Bukit Merah, Queenstown, Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang by year-end.

Delay in Sports Hub completion date
By Chan U-Gene, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

COMPLEXITIES in the building of the new National Stadium have pushed back the completion date for the $1.33 billion Sports Hub.

Most of the hub will be completed by April as originally targeted, but a few more weeks are needed for testing and certifying the stadium's retractable roof and moveable seating.

This will not affect the stadium's first event, which is being planned for June, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday. In response to Nominated MP Nicholas Fang's question on whether the 35ha facility will be completed on time, the minister said the Sports Hub will have a phased opening of its facilities.

An indoor aquatic centre and outdoor water sports centre will be available for use from April.

But the delay in the completion of the 55,000-seat National Stadium means the relocation of some National Sports Association offices, such as the Singapore Athletic Association (SAA), has to be pushed back.

SAA president Tang Weng Fei was hoping to move his headquarters to the hub before June, but is now looking at a July date.

"The sooner we move the better. Hopefully, there will be no more delays as we are looking forward to setting up our Centre of Excellence at the practice track."

The consortium behind the project, also named Sports Hub, said in a press statement yesterday that while 95 per cent of the construction work will be completed by April, the hub will open in three phases.

The last phase will include the National Stadium in mid-June.

FAQ list 'does not promote same-sex lifestyles'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2014

A LIST of questions and answers on sexuality compiled by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) that became the subject of controversy does not encourage same-sex relationships, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said.

Rather, it gives advice to youngsters and their parents on mental and physical health issues from a public health perspective.

Pointing to one of the frequently asked questions (FAQs), Mr Gan said the statement that "a same-sex relationship is not too different from a heterosexual relationship" should be read together with the next sentence: "Both require the commitment of two people."

They highlight that relationships require commitment and that it is possible to remain faithful to one's partner regardless of sexual orientation, he said. This drives home a key message on preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV: Be faithful to one's partner rather than have multiple partners.

"This helps to protect individuals from STIs and HIV, minimise transmission risks and safeguard public health," Mr Gan said in a written reply to a parliamentary question by Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan on Monday.

There has been no shift in the Government's stance that the family is the basic building block of Singapore society, Mr Gan said, and the HPB takes reference from this consistent position in its activities.

This means encouraging heterosexual married couples to have healthy relationships and to build stable, extended family units, said the minister.

In November, the HPB posted a list of FAQs on its website to educate youth on issues such as sexual orientation.

A debate erupted last month on whether some of the information on homosexuality was appropriate, with church pastor Lawrence Khong, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar Nair and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) among those who weighed in on the matter.

Mr Lim yesterday welcomed the minister's affirmation of the Government's position. In a Facebook post, he said: "I intend to move on as I do not wish to see this becoming a religious group versus the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) debate."

He also urged Singaporeans "not to condemn or use hateful words" against homosexuals.

"It is not for us to judge them even if we do not agree. Let's move on and work together to build on the Singapore that we want to see for the future," he said.


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