Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Parliament Highlights - 5 Aug 2014

Israel, Hamas must act to end conflict: Singapore
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

BOTH Israel and Hamas are responsible for the escalating conflict in Gaza that has claimed more than a thousand lives so far. But Israel can and should do more to minimise civilian casualties that have shot up in the past month.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam made clear Singapore's position on the conflict yesterday, amid calls by some Members of Parliament and Singaporeans for the Government to take a stand.

He said both Israel and Hamas were in the wrong, and had a part to play in ending the violence.

"While we understand the legitimate right of Israel to self-defence, the rising Palestinian death toll... is tragic and extremely distressing. It raises the question of whether Israel's response to the threat is proportionate. Whether or not this response is justified, we believe that Israel can and should do more to ensure that civilian casualties are minimised," he added.

The death toll in Gaza has topped 1,700 as a 72-hour ceasefire came into effect yesterday. Most of those killed in the month-long violence were said to be civilians. More than 60 have also been killed on the Israeli side.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if Singapore could denounce Israel's actions more strongly.

Responding, Mr Shanmugam urged a careful examination of the conflict's facts. Hamas fired over 2,000 rockets into Israel, inviting retaliation and putting Palestinians in the line of fire. The rockets have been intentionally launched from densely populated areas, and a Hamas spokesman spoke on national TV about the strategy's effectiveness.

"Hamas in Gaza should also take maximum precautions to ensure that civilians are not put in harm's way. Unfortunately, Hamas' cynical approach has been the very opposite - to deliberately use civilians as shield... Hamas knows that its cause is helped when Gazans die," he said.

Singapore has equally made clear that Israel's response is disproportionate. It would be "completely unacceptable" if innocent civilians have been targeted, and Singapore will support prosecution of those responsible under international law, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.

But the rights and wrongs will have to be determined by a new United Nations commission investigating violations of humanitarian laws in Gaza, he added.

Israel should show more commitment to the two-state solution, and comply with its international law obligations. Hamas should cease attacks and change its intention to destroy Israel.

He said Singapore supported the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and has voted for all Palestinian-related resolutions at the UN. Singapore also maintained good ties with the Palestinian National Authority and provided it with financial support in the form of an enhanced technical assistance programme.

"Both politically and materially and philosophically, we have been supportive of the Palestine cause and have made that very public," he said to Mr Zaqy, who said there was a perception that Singapore was siding with Israel.

Mr Shanmugam said there was a limit to what Singapore could do to solve the crisis, but the Government, people and aid groups have been raising funds to help.

Haze law passed; fines may go up if necessary
Polluters can be fined up to $100,000 per day, capped at total of $2 million
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

A NEW law to punish polluters who cause the haze was passed by Parliament yesterday, with Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan promising to stiffen the penalties further if necessary.

Dr Balakrishnan gave the assurance after listening to MPs insisting that the fines were too low compared with the size of the errant companies' profits and the harm caused by the haze.

The fines are up to $100,000 a day, capped at a total of $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze, defined as a Pollutant Standards Index value of 101 or greater for 24 hours or more.

The culprits who often cause, contribute to and condone activities that raise the haze level are mainly large palm-oil companies based in Indonesia.

As a result, several MPs said the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act could be hard to implement as it would be difficult to nab firms based outside Singapore, without infringing on the sovereignty of another country.

Singapore is regularly plagued by haze, the result of deforestation by burning in Indonesia. The worst haze occurred last year when the three-hour PSI hit a record 401, in the "hazardous" range. This year, the dry season threatens to bring on the haze any time until next month.

All nine MPs who spoke on the Bill, including opposition Non- Constituency MPs, gave their support to Singapore's first legal move against polluters.

But most felt the penalties were not stiff enough.

Said Nominated MP Eugene Tan, a law don: "There must be sufficient deterrence in this Bill. How was $2 million arrived at when one considers the profits to be made and the market value of the oil-palm business?"

Replying, Dr Balakrishnan said: "This is a new legislation... We want to be very careful that we don't overreach or have unrealistic penalties. So we'll start now at this level."

The penalties had, in fact, been raised after public consultation over the draft law earlier this year. The cap on fines was initially set at $300,000.

Beyond fines, Dr Balakrishnan said the new law lets people or companies sue the haze culprits, with no limit set on the amount of damages they can ask for.

On enforcing the law, the minister said legal notice can be served on the companies' representatives when they are in Singapore. The National Environment Agency will work with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority on it.

"Where necessary, the public prosecutor could apply for a court order to require the person to remain in Singapore to assist in investigations," he said.

He also urged consumer interest groups and non-governmental organisations to help the cause, by tracking agricultural supply chains and monitoring the fire situation on the ground.

One such group is the home- grown People's Movement to Stop Haze, a youth group founded by 29-year-old Tan Yi Han, who felt the new law is a good step. "It will put companies under the spotlight to encourage them to continue zero-burning practices."

MPs concerned over how to implement haze law
Nabbing culprits hard given complex land laws in Indonesia
By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

WITH the threat of haze looming over Singapore until next month, MPs debating a new law yesterday to nab and punish the polluters were especially concerned with the practicality of implementing it.

Uppermost on their minds was the difficulty of pinpointing the culprits responsible for setting fires to clear agricultural land, amid Indonesia's complex, often overlapping land ownership and usage rights.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked how Singapore would obtain objective data on land ownership, as "the owners of the land may subcontract it out to others to manage and run".

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act targets those responsible for causing or condoning such fires if burning results in unhealthy levels of haze, defined as a PSI level of 101 or more for at least a day.

Replying, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan acknowledged that the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which Parliament passed yesterday, had several presumptions.

"We had to have presumptions on the validity of maps, we have to have presumptions on control, we have to have presumptions on indirect control... Because this depends on circumstantial evidence at best, we needed to get the balance right between presumptions and at the same time providing adequate defences and providing opportunities for the companies to rebut it," he said.

Circumstantial evidence that can be used includes satellite data and weather information about where winds are blowing from and how strong they are.

As well, databases of land concessions cobbled together by non-government groups like environmental research organisation World Resources Institute.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong wanted to know how the Government came up with the initial total fine of up to $300,000 for a polluter, an amount that was raised to $2 million after public consultation.

Dr Balakrishnan, however, did not address the question.

The law also lets companies and individuals sue and claim damages from the polluters.

But Nominated MPs Eugene Tan and Faizah Jamal, both trained in law, said an average person may find it too onerous to file a civil suit against the errant companies which have deep pockets.

They asked if there could be government support for class-action suits to allow groups to sue.

Dr Balakrishnan was non-committal, saying Singapore's court rules allow a form of group litigation called representative action, in which one person may represent all in a group.

MPs also made several suggestions, including offering incentives for companies to behave well, helping consumers choose sustainable palm oil and other products, using the fines collected to control fires, and expanding the scope of the new law to include haze from other sources such as oil rigs at sea or factories.

Dr Balakrishnan said the law was deliberately kept narrow as it already breaks new ground.

He also feels consumer groups, not the Government, should push companies to be more transparent about their supply chains. "Not everything is best done through legislation or through government action alone."

But going palm-oil-free is a wild goose chase, he added. "I asked my colleague in my ministry, please go to the supermarket and identify all the products with palm oil. He came back and said: 'I can't give you that list because more than half the products on the shelves have palm oil, including - you'd be surprised - Swiss chocolates of the highest quality."

As for the fines collected by government agencies, they all go into the Government's consolidated fund as a matter of public policy and are not earmarked for specific purposes.

Still, "if we need money to safeguard our population's interest, money to embark on cooperative action, money to work with civil society and other consumer groups in pursuit of these objectives, we will do so", said Dr Balakrishnan.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), however, feels "the greater long-term concern is not the haze but the large amount of carbon released into the earth's atmosphere".

He said: "The fires are the single largest contributor to Indonesia's greenhouse gas emissions."

When contacted, Dr Nigel Sizer of World Resources Institute said: "The law sends a very strong signal to companies that Singapore is going to do its best to hold them accountable."

The maximum $2 million fine is "not a significant deterrent" to large firms, he added. "The deterrent to them is damage to their reputation" if they are found guilty under the Act.

Call to remove cap on CPF Life top-ups
MP Foo Mee Har hopes members can get bigger payouts from scheme
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

A MEMBER of Parliament wants Central Provident Fund (CPF) members to be given an option to pay more into their retirement accounts, so they can receive bigger payouts from their CPF Life annuity scheme.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) was speaking up for CPF members who are concerned that the CPF Life payouts of around $1,200 a month will not be enough as retirement income.

The current cap on how much people can put into CPF Life is equivalent to their Minimum Sum. Ms Foo suggested that the cap be removed.

"Given that the Government has acknowledged the current Minimum Sum only provides monthly payouts to cover basic living expenses, I would like to ask the minister, why is there a need to set a cap on the sum of money that CPF members wish to set aside in CPF Life?"

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, in his reply, said that while the CPF Life scheme is designed to help Singaporeans meet their basic needs in retirement, its priority is to provide for those at lower income levels.

In doing so, it allows the Government "to target our resources on those Singaporeans who need it most", he added.

Mr Tan also pointed out that middle- and higher-income Singaporeans, who have retirement savings in excess of the Minimum Sum, have other investment options outside the CPF system to meet their retirement needs.

Persisting, Ms Foo expressed the hope that the Government would look into her suggestion.

Mr Tan, noting that the four-year-old CPF Life scheme is relatively new, said the Government will "continue to look at it and see how best to improve it".

Earlier, he told the House that CPF members can put aside more than the specified Minimum Sum for their cohort - up to the current cohort's limit.

The Minimum Sum is lower for older cohorts. For instance, it was $148,000 for those who turned 55 from July 1 last year until June 30 this year. This is lower than the $155,000 for people who turn 55 from July 1 this year until June 30 next year.

But these older workers can put in up to the $155,000 Minimum Sum of the current cohort. This bigger amount would give them monthly payouts of $1,200 under the CPF Life scheme.

Ms Foo also asked for an explanation of how the CPF Life scheme can guarantee a payout for life, even after the initial quantum had been exhausted.

Mr Tan said this was because CPF Life involves risk pooling.

The Minimum Sum is used to buy a CPF Life annuity.

The premium from the annuity is not pooled. But the interest earned on the annuity is shared among surviving members, allowing payouts to continue.

MOM to look into possible loophole in foreign worker pay
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will look into a potential loophole that allows employers to lower the basic wages of foreign workers, making them "cheaper" than Singaporean hires, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

The move follows a point raised in Parliament yesterday by Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who asked about the increase in the monthly qualifying salary of S Pass holders.

It was raised from a minimum of $2,000 to $2,200 last month.

This increase, however, need not be in the form of a rise in the worker's basic pay. It could be made up of fixed allowances that do not vary from month to month, said Mr Tan.

The flexibility worries Mr Zainal, who said employers could just increase their foreign workers' allowances but keep basic pay low.

A low basic pay means a lower overtime rate and lower bonus, making these foreign workers relatively cheaper than local hires, he added.

"Would MOM consider plugging this loophole to ensure the cost of hiring a foreigner has parity to hiring a local worker... to ensure a more level playing field?" he asked.

Mr Zainal, an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, also said union members have given feedback that some employers deliberately lower basic pay to contain the cost of hiring foreigners.

He later told The Straits Times that an S Pass worker in a building material firm had his basic pay cut from above $1,900 to $1,000. His allowance was raised from under $200 to $1,300. Other S Pass holders in the firm were similarly affected.

Mr Tan said there is no stated requirement on how much of the qualifying salary must be met by basic pay, and how much by allowances. "But I think this is something we can take a look at to see whether it's a loophole that is exploited on a consistent basis," said Mr Tan, adding: "We will explore that further."

Recruiters interviewed yesterday said the practice exists but is not common.

The managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting, Mr Adrian Tan, said he had noticed that employers who use high fixed allowances - of up to 30 per cent, for instance - to meet the new qualifying pay usually fail to get their S Pass applications approved.

PrimeStaff Management Services managing director Ronald Lee said his firm's practice is to ensure that the basic salary meets the $2,200 minimum.

With employers who want to use a fixed allowance to meet the minimum, "our advice to them is not to do so", he added. "It is not such an enlightened practice."

1.32m foreign workers in Singapore; the bulk in construction and marine sectors
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

There are 1.32 million foreign workers in Singapore and the bulk of them work in the construction and marine sectors.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said this in a written reply yesterday to a parliamentary question filed by Nominated Member of Parliament Mary Liew.

She wanted to know the total number of foreign workers and which countries they came from.

The minister said that data on the breakdown of nationalities of foreign workers is not publicly available but gave the top 10 sectors that employed foreign workers.

Apart from construction and marine, the other eight sectors were:
- Wholesale trade;
- Food and beverage services;
- Professional services;
- Transportation and storage;
- Fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment;
- Petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical products;
- Administrative and support services;
- Electronic, computer and optical products.
He added that excluding foreign domestic workers, there were about 1,107,100 foreigners working in Singapore as of December last year.

But while the total number of foreign workers has grown, the pace of growth has slowed significantly.

Between 2010 and 2011, excluding foreign domestic workers, the pool of foreign workers grew by 8.75 per cent from 911,800 to 991,600.

This same pool expanded at nearly half the pace, or about 4.57 per cent, from 1,058,700 workers in 2012 to 1,107,100 workers last year.

The Government has been on a major drive to slow the inflow of foreign workers as part of a broader move to raise productivity in the economy.

Among other things, it has sought to do this through a series of foreign worker levy hikes and stricter quotas.

These measures were aimed at weaning companies off cheap foreign labour and urging them to boost productivity.

The large numbers of foreign workers have also raised social tensions and have led to complaints over overcrowding in public areas such as on trains and buses.

But while the Government has moved to reduce the flow of foreign workers, it has also maintained that Singapore needs to remain open to talent.

CPF Board recovered S$420m in wrong contributions last year: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Aug 2014

The Central Provident Fund Board recovered S$420 million in 2013 for late, under- and non-payment of CPF contributions for more than 250,000 workers, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 5).

He was responding to a question about a recent report by the Auditor-General, which stated that the ministry had failed to detect underpayment of CPF contributions by a company over a 10-year period for employees who performed National Service (NS).

Mr Tan said the CPF Board has several measures in place to ensure the timely and accurate payment of CPF contributions. This includes an automated system to detect late payments, as well as proactive audits on employers.

He added that the Board cannot carry out its audit on each and every one of the 140,000 employers on a yearly basis. Instead, it takes a risk-based approach, targeting enforcement effort at higher-risk industries and firms, and complementing it with investigations on complaints lodged by employees or whistleblowers.

The Board's audit checks include CPF contributions for NSmen make-up pay. Mr Tan said errors made on NSmen make-up pay are relatively small, but his ministry takes the AGO's findings very seriously.

He added the CPF Board has strengthened its audit process to better detect employer CPF liabilities arising from NS make-up pay. It now further requires employers to declare which of their employees have gone for reservist training and provide supporting documents, including an acknowledgement from MINDEF on the NS make-up pay amount. CPF Board also works with MINDEF to educate and remind employers that they are required to make CPF contributions for the period that their employees are on NS training.

Incorrect MOH pay-outs: IT vendor was at fault, says Gan
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Aug 2014

The Ministry of Health is seeking full reimbursement from its IT vendor over funds that had been wrongly paid to beneficiaries of a disability assistant programme, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (Aug 5).

The Auditor-General had earlier pointed to a lapse in which the ministry continued to pay S$64,000 in financial assistance to 99 people, even after their deaths. These 99 were beneficiaries of the Interim Disability Assistance Programme for the Elderly (IDAPE), and their pay-outs should have ended upon their deaths.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Gan said the mistake was made by a vendor, which the ministry had engaged in 2002 to administer IDAPE. He said the errors arose due to migrations in the vendor's IT processing system, which resulted in the demised list not being updated in specific months.

Mr Gan said this has since been rectified, and his ministry has required the vendor to make improvements in data processing to prevent errors from recurring. This includes system enhancements to trigger alerts when there are errors in data uploading and processing.

He added that under the terms of the IDAPE tender, the vendor is obliged to reimburse MOH the full amount for such over-payments.

"MOH views all AGO findings seriously and institutes measures either through changes in operating procedures or establishing new standard operating procedures to ensure similar mistakes are prevented in the future," said Mr Gan.

PRs who fail to serve National Service face serious consequences
Channel NewsAsia, 5 Aug 2014

Permanent Residents (PRs) who fail to register or enlist for National Service (NS) face serious consequences. In a written Parliamentary reply, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that these PRs have committed an offence under the Enlistment Act.

He said they are NS defaulters and must answer for their NS offences. Upon conviction, they face a fine or a jail term. Dr Ng was responding to a question by Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan. He said those who renounce their PR status before serving their NS liability face serious consequences when they apply for work and study.

Dr Ng said that according to records, no such persons have been granted re-instatement of PR or citizenship. He added that the policy has been progressively tightened such that no NS-liable PR who renounced his PR status in the last decade has been granted approval for work or study.

For former PRs who fail to serve NS, any immediate or future applications for renewal of their parents' and immediate family members' Re-Entry Permits may be adversely affected, including curtailment of the Re-Entry Permit.

Plans to minimise impact of new business regulations
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

THE Government says it realises some new regulations are making life tougher for businesses just as economic restructuring is hurting too - but it is working to minimise the impact of such moves.

Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said in Parliament yesterday that the Government is aware of the challenges that these new regulations may cause.

"We do recognise that this is imposing high compliance costs on businesses and we're also concerned about it."

He noted that different regulatory agencies have put out new rules and guidelines based on their objectives.

Such changes could add to a firm's operational costs in an already difficult environment of a tight labour market as businesses grapple with the pressures of economic restructuring.

But Mr Lim said a whole-of-government approach is being adopted to first ensure that the various regulations do not run counter to one another.

He added that the Government is looking into how the pace of changes can be better managed.

Mr Lim was responding to Ms Foo Mee Har's (West Coast GRC) questions on the raft of new regulations facing businesses.

Ms Foo cited the examples of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's new rules to combat money laundering and terror funding as well as regulations to improve construction safety.

She also asked if the Government would look into helping workers who lose their jobs because of economic restructuring.

Mr Lim replied that the Government is working with the labour movement to help upgrade the skills of workers whose jobs may be at risk in the restructuring.

"This is something that is very important to us because the key to all this is to make sure that... the skills of the job levels are raised so that we can justify higher wages and, commensurate with this, the skill level of the workers has to be improved."

MOH will 'carefully consider' use of Medisave for home-based healthcare
Channel NewsAsia, 5 Aug 2014

The Ministry of Health will continue to consider further flexibility in the use of Medisave - including for home-care services - but the focus is ensuring that Singaporeans have enough in the fund for hospitalisation and outpatient treatments, said Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor on Tuesday (Aug 5).

Responding in Parliament to a question from Jurong GRC Member of Parliament David Ong, who asked if the MOH will consider allowing the use of Medisave for home-based healthcare delivery to the elderly sick, Dr Khor said: "It is important to ensure that Singaporeans have enough Medisave for hospitalisation and outpatient treatments, which are needed more frequently as one ages. Hence, extending Medisave use to home-based services need to be selective, bearing in mind the Medisave adequacy of Singaporeans."

However, with the need for home-based medical care having grown, she noted that several measures are in place or in the pipeline to address the associated costs.

"Today, home-based intermediate and long-term care is subsidised at up to 80 per cent for eligible patients to ensure that they are affordable," he said.

"In 2010, Medisave was extended to home palliative care to help Singaporeans better afford the service. We have just announced that the lifetime limit for home palliative care will be raised from S$1,500 to S$2,500 per patient. Those with cancer and end stage organ failure will have unlimited use of their own Medisave for such care.

"Next year, MOH will be introducing Flexi-Medisave, where elderly patients will be able to use up to $200 per year for their outpatient treatment. MOH will continue to consider further flexibility for Medisave use, including other types of home care services. But we will have to do this carefully, to avoid premature depletion of Medisave and ensure sufficient Medisave savings for healthcare expenses, especially during old age."

Guidelines for home care providers by year end
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

NEW guidelines for home care providers are being drawn up to set standards across the industry and will be finalised by the year end, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday.

These developmental guidelines will help "enhance and align the quality of services, and articulate the level of care expected", she added.

She was responding to a question in Parliament from Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) on whether the Health Ministry (MOH) had plans to standardise quality and prices in the home care sector.

People who need home care are typically too frail to leave their homes for medical treatment, and need help with daily activities like eating or bathing.

In March, MOH announced that it plans to have 10,000 home medical and nursing care spaces by 2020, and 7,500 for home personal care.

There are now 13 voluntary welfare organisations and four private home care providers receiving ministry funding to provide subsidised home care services.

These supported about 5,000 people last year.

However, there are as yet no specific guidelines dealing with home care.

MOH will start a quality improvement programme next year to help home care providers adopt the new guidelines, Dr Khor said.

Land acquisition: Owners to get better compensation
No 'betterment levy', so owners will be compensated at full market value
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

A NEW law passed yesterday will give better compensation for owners who have part of their land acquired by the Government.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill has removed what is known as the "betterment levy", among other reforms.

The levy required that any increase in the value of the owner's remaining land be deducted from the compensation he is given for the acquired land.

It was imposed because the value of the land remaining in the owner's hands could increase due to the improvement works undertaken on the acquired land.

Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah told Parliament that removing the levy means owners will receive compensation equivalent to the full market value of the acquired land.

"The amendment continues in the spirit of the previous set of amendments to the Land Acquisition Act in 2007, which pegged compensation for acquired land to the market value which a bona fide purchaser would reasonably be willing to pay for the property," said Ms Indranee during the second reading of the Bill.

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, the only MP to speak during the debate on the Bill, asked if removing the levy will hit government coffers.

"If we are to now increase the compensation for land owners, taking into consideration the benefits of the public developments, we will be losing taxpayers' money to enrich the land owners on an 'after the fact' basis," she said.

Ms Indranee reiterated that the ultimate aim is to ensure that land owners receive a fair market value for the part of their assets that is compulsorily acquired.

"With respect to the betterment levy, it is not the case that one is unjustly or unfairly enriching the owner," Ms Indranee added.

Other amendments of the Bill include improving the efficiency of the land acquisition process.

One change will enable the management corporation of a strata-titled development to act on behalf of individual unit owners in the acquisition of common property.

Another amendment has removed the need to paste physical notices for site possession.

SLP International research head Nicholas Mak thinks that while removing the betterment levy is good for land owners, it will not have much impact on the market.

"A lot of the part-lot acquisitions that took place in the past was because of MRT construction work or the building of expressways," he noted.

"But these days, much of such work appears to be winding down or the Government would use state land where possible instead."

Part-lot acquisitions of the kind cited by Mr Mak were employed to get land for the North-East Line MRT construction.

Attorney-General can now represent statutory boards
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

THE Attorney-General will now be able to represent public agencies in judicial review and other court cases, after Parliament passed a Bill giving it the powers to act for statutory boards.

For a start, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Land Authority will be the only two statutory boards it can represent, but more will gradually be added to the list. Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday this will "ensure that the conduct of litigation is aligned across the public sector, and promote the coherent and systematic development of public law principles".

Under the new Attorney-General (Additional Functions) Act, the AG can act for statutory boards when four requirements are met - the board must ask the AG to represent it, the minister overseeing the board has to agree, there must be no conflicting interests between the Government and the board in the legal matter, and the AG's involvement must not be contrary to the public interest.

Currently, the AG, as the Government's lawyer, may only provide views and comments to the parent ministries of statutory boards in cases that involve public law or interest. Statutory boards are considered separate legal entities from the Government.

On why only MAS and SLA are included for now, Ms Indranee said this was to give the Attorney-General's Chambers time to develop its protocols so it can meet the projected workload.

MAS was included first because the financial sector is an important part of Singapore's economy, she said during the debate on the Bill, and financial regulations were also becoming increasingly complex. And SLA cases involving state land could have important ramifications for Singapore, the Government and even individuals.

Ms Indranee added that the AG should be involved in cases of public importance. These include cases in which there could be novel legal issues with an impact on the whole public sector, she said.

"Such matters have the potential to affect Singapore as a whole, and could involve issues of public law and the public interest. As such, they require closer oversight," she said.

MDA does not expect everyone to agree with its decisions: Yaacob
By Alice Chia, Channel NewsAsia, 5 Aug 2014

Due to the nature of their work in classifying content, Media Development Authority (MDA) officers do not expect everyone to agree with their decisions. Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said this in a written Parliamentary reply to a question by Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad.

Dr Yaacob said if the decision attracts disagreement from the public at either end of a spectrum of views, it is a good indication that MDA has managed to strike a judicious balance between competing interests. He pointed out that the current approach, which ensures that content regulatory standards and policies are in line with social norms and keep pace with their evolution, has worked well.

MDA classifies and regulates content across different platforms, and publishes various Content Codes outlining the classification standards for film, videos, video games, broadcast media, publications and arts performances. The formulation of the Content Codes, as well as the decision of MDA classifiers in specific cases, involves seeking input from the community. MDA conducts regular surveys of the population to gain important insights into community views.

Dr Yaacob reiterated that later this year, MDA will be launching a Content Standards Study to assess whether its existing content standards and policies remain in line with community expectations, and whether there is a need to further harmonise the ratings system across different mediums. The last such major study was conducted in 2010 to support the work of the Censorship Review Committee.

One key finding of the survey was the broad-based support for the content regulatory standards, with 7 in 10 respondents supporting current levels of content regulation for TV, magazines, films, videos and arts performances. In addition, MDA regularly seeks the views of its advisory committees, which comprise members representing a wide cross-section of the society.

Dr Yaacob said that clearly, the public does not expect agencies to seek consultation on every single classification decision they have to make. When Content Codes are being reviewed, they are open to public consultation.

However, he says between such periods of review, it should be left to the classifiers, with input and advice from the consultative panels, to get on with the job of providing the public with sufficient information to allow them to make their own informed choices.

At the end of the day, NMPs make the House better
By Robin Chan Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2014

YESTERDAY was the last time most of the nine Nominated MPs will set foot in the House, with their term coming to an end this month.

The nostalgia was already sinking in for Ms Mary Liew, who was seen passing some printed photos to the other NMPs seated near her.

Some, like Ms Janice Koh, took the chance to tour the chambers one last time, posing for a picture next to a painting by artist Chua Mia Tee, which she later posted on Facebook.

The NMPs also continued to question and debate, like it was any other day of business.

During yesterday's sitting, Ms Faizah Jamal and Ms Liew asked questions on fish farm waste and on the placement fees that foreign domestic workers pay, respectively.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan and private banker Tan Su Shan also joined in the debate on the new Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. The law will give Singapore authority to target companies and other entities which either cause or condone fires that lead to haze.

From the seemingly minute and mundane to issues of national importance, the nine NMPs have demonstrated their ability to contribute to the discourse in Parliament. Now, after they have served for 21/2 years, there will be a new slate of NMPs selected come next month. Of the nine, only businessman R. Dhinakaran and Prof Tan have opted to be considered for another term.

Coming after the hotly contested 2011 General Election, they joined the House in debating contentious issues such as the White Paper on Population and the Little India riot.

They have witnessed the Government making significant shifts in social policy such as health care and social security.

And they also celebrated former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday, in a poignant moment in the House.

Having sat in the press gallery and observed them during many of these occasions in Parliament, I think it's fitting to recognise them and their speeches which have left an impression on me.

With tongue-slightly-in- cheek, here are three awards:

The Super Passion Award goes to Ms Faizah.

Since the very first day in Parliament, she was single-minded in her focus on environmental issues.

From marine life to parks to trees, the environmentalist argued impassionedly for more attention to be paid to green issues, and was able to turn any matter in Singapore into one, inevitably, about our environment.

In the opening debate after the President's Address this May, she said: "All members of this House should raise environment issues in this House because it is the right thing to do, it is the mature and wise thing to do. It is time to take back personal responsibility."

As someone who is not so environmentally conscious, I was often left feeling rather guilty about leaving the light on too long, or the many plastic bags I used, after hearing her speak.

Yesterday, on the debate over the haze Bill, she continued to strike at our collective conscience. Quoting from a billboard she saw in London, she said: "You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic."

The next honour is the Range Far And Wide Award.

It goes to Prof Tan, the law don, for having something to say on almost everything - even the attendance of MPs.

An expert on constitutional law and administrative law, just in the last two days, he again displayed that knack, by speaking on the National Library Board's saga over homosexuality-themed children's books, the crash of MH17 in Ukraine, the haze Bill, and a more obscure Bill on additional functions of the Attorney-General.

Prof Tan also made his mark in Parliament by unfailingly calling out his fellow MPs for not being present in the House for a quorum.

Under the Constitution, a quorum of one-quarter of the total number of 87 MPs, excluding the Speaker, is needed for a Bill to be passed.

Last month, in one sitting he pointed out not once, but twice, the fact that a quorum was not reached, forcing the Speaker to ring the bells summoning the MPs into the chamber.

My last award is the Mirror Award. It goes to Mr Laurence Lien.

The mild-mannered Mr Lien surprised with his hard-hitting speeches that would often ask members of the House and the Government to look in the mirror, and focus on the bigger question of "what kind of country do we want to be?"

Many of his speeches urged the remaking of the social compact between the Government and citizens, and improving trust between the two.

In his first Parliament speech, he charged that Singapore was in a social recession, and proposed a Social Review Committee "to create a new shared vision and new social compact" for Singapore.

In one of his last speeches this May, referring to an ancient Judaic tradition to celebrate a Jubilee year with rest, he said to the House ahead of Singapore's own Jubilee year: "There is something worthwhile about resting, in the sense of taking a step back to reflect and ponder: What do we wish to become? How do we want to get there?"

In all seriousness, all nine NMPs have made meaningful contributions this term.

Now in its 24th year, the NMP scheme has attracted debate over its continued relevancy.

But this batch of NMPs has proven that, despite the criticisms, with them around, the House has certainly been the better for it.

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