Wednesday 10 September 2014

Parliament Highlights - 8 Sep 2014

Bill tabled to restrict online gambling in S'pore
Access to sites could be turned off, while payments could be blocked
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

GAMBLERS who go online for a flutter could find themselves staring at jail time.

A wide-ranging Bill, tabled in Parliament yesterday, seeks to expressly make unauthorised online gambling a criminal offence. It also aims to equip the authorities with the tools to fight this growing addiction.

Payments to remote gambling websites could be blocked, in a move that some noted may be a game-changer. Access to such sites could be turned off.

The gamblers themselves could be jailed for up to six months or fined up to $5,000, while the agents helping gambling websites could be hit even harder.

Since one key aim of the Bill is to protect young people from getting hooked on online gambling, anyone trying to lure those under 21 to this addiction would face even heavier penalties, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Bill also allows for Singapore-based operators to offer online gambling but this will be tightly regulated, and not be for profit.

The online gambling market here is estimated to be worth US$416 million (S$521 million) this year, up from US$383 million last year, according to data from Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy (GBGC). It estimated that more than 95 per cent of revenues go to operators offshore.

Online gamblers also set themselves up for trouble, as nearly 40 per cent of them tend to overestimate their wins and underestimate their losses, according to a study published in the Psychological Assessment journal.

The Remote Gambling Bill, which could become law when it is next read in Parliament, will equip Singapore with one of the toughest jurisdictions against online gambling, experts said.

The proposed law could also stop some of the more established remote gambling players from targeting Singaporeans.

"It will deter the major public companies and the larger private companies, and they presently represent a significant market share of the Singapore Internet gambling market," said Mr Warwick Bartlett, chief executive of GBGC.

"But the authorities have to keep a watchful eye on the market. If illegal gambling takes off... the police will be devoting too much time to catching illegal sites without any material success."

One Hope Centre executive director Dick Lum said that while he welcomed the proposed law as a good starting point, he was concerned that a clampdown could push hardcore punters towards gambling illegally offline.

With the strict requirements for companies that may apply to be exempted under the Bill, experts said the only legal online gambling operator here would likely be Singapore Pools. There would also be tight restrictions, such as limiting online gambling to certain types of betting.

"It will defeat the purpose of the protections if they allow casino games, so I suspect it will mainly be sports and numbers betting," said Dr Munidasa Winslow, an addictions specialist. "If you are a local company, you can impose caps on an individual basis."

A Singapore Pools spokesman said it was premature for the company to comment at this stage.

Proposals under the planned legislation
- Block access to unauthorised online gambling websites.
- Block money transfers to and from these sites.
- Criminalise activities relating to unauthorised online gambling. For instance, anyone found inviting someone under 21 to gamble online can be fined between $20,000 and $300,000 and jailed for up to six years.
- Allow for highly-regulated online gambling. Exempt operator must be based in Singapore and not be for profit, for instance

Change mindset on degrees: MPs
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

EVEN as the Government makes it easier for non-graduates to move ahead in their careers, Members of Parliament called for a radical change in people's mindset towards a degree.

"The biggest battle lies in the deeply entrenched paradigm that the degree route is the ticket to a better career and life," said Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC).

The MPs suggested three ways to get people to change.

Firstly, provide more information on educational opportunities and career guidance to students as well as their parents.

Secondly, parents need to teach their children values of respect and humility towards everyone, "regardless of the work they do or perceived social status", said Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

Thirdly, employers need to stop discriminating against non-graduates. Nominated MP Ismail Hussein, a banking executive, noted that they are invariably paid less than degree holders even when both are doing the same entry-level job.

The trio were among seven MPs who spoke yesterday, the first day of a two-day debate on whether to endorse the Applied Study in Polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education Review (ASPIRE) report.

The rest of the 21 MPs on the list are set to speak today.

While all seven who spoke yesterday worried about the difficulty in convincing people to change, they were unanimous in supporting the report, put before the House by Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

The report recommends ways to give all Singaporeans, regardless of their qualifications, opportunities to succeed in their careers. It seeks to strengthen the multiple pathways by making it easier for people to build on their skills while working, modelled after the Swiss and German apprenticeship schemes.

These moves, however, need to be supplemented by a culture that defines success more broadly, said Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

He cheered the Government's decision to promote non-graduate employees faster when they do a good job and to consider merging the career tracks of graduates and non-graduates.

But more should be done, he added.

He wants a review of the fast-track career schemes for government scholars, who get more opportunities and move up faster.

He also called for salary structures in the public sector to change and focus more on job responsibility and productivity.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) called for respect to be shown to not just graduates but non-professional workers as well, particularly those in the service, retail and hospitality sectors.

"We need to get to a stage where parents stop using (what are seen as) lowly regarded jobs to scare their children into studying," she said.

Improving, excelling in one's work despite age
Indranee outlines type of employees Singaporeans must be for the future
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

JAPANESE sushi master Jiro Ono and Singaporean curry puff maestro Tham Niap Tong were held up in Parliament yesterday as poster boys for the kind of Singaporean workers a new national report aims to nurture.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who chaired the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee, said the two men, despite their age, strive relentlessly for perfection, always seeking to improve, upgrade and better their performance.

"The quality of their work generates its own demand. Virtually recession proof," Ms Indranee said when she presented the ASPIRE report for the House to endorse.

Mr Ono is 89 and Mr Tham, who owns the Rolina curry puff business, is 75. Mr Ono, who went to work for a sushi eatery at age nine, owns the first sushi restaurant in Tokyo to be awarded three Michelin stars. Mr Tham learnt how to make curry puffs from a Hainanese sailor at age 19, and owns two stalls.

Said Ms Indranee: "Both espouse the philosophy that they must seek to be the best in their profession, and their success is founded on real and deep skills."

She cited the duo's attributes and achievements to drive home the point about the kind of workers Singaporeans must be if they want to thrive in the new global environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, termed Vuca for short.

In a speech calling on MPs to endorse ASPIRE's 10 recommendations, she said in a Vuca environment, it is not possible to predict the types of jobs for the future.

One thing, however, is certain: The demand for deep and relevant skills. But the nature of jobs will continue to evolve and in some cases, the jobs will change. Some may disappear forever because of disruptive change brought about by technology. "This means Singaporeans will have to constantly adapt and learn new skills in order to remain relevant and to get good employment."

Among the key ASPIRE recommendations were pathways for students from technical institutes to work and further their qualifications at the same time. It also proposed a pathway for those in the workforce to progress in their careers while building on their skills. ITE and polytechnic graduates will also get more career guidance, and their education will be strengthened so that they will be ready for their jobs when they enter the workforce.

Some MPs who spoke after Ms Indranee urged the Government to clarify ASPIRE's objectives.

Was the Government now saying a degree is overrated and no longer required, asked Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).

Ms Indranee said the Government always drew up an educational strategy that was closely attuned to the economic situation of the day. The "overarching objective" of the ASPIRE plan is not to educate people to serve the economy, but to enable Singaporeans to prosper, do well and achieve their aspirations. "It is not one size fits all - or one educational path for all," she said.

Skill that helped him earn a living
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

MR THAM Niap Tong, 75, was just 19 when he learnt to make curry puffs from a Hainanese sailor many years his senior. "I was young, had no education and no skills. It was hard trying to make a living in the 60s," he said.

The skill has served him well, for he has been selling curry puffs since then. He has two Rolina Curry Puffs outlets: in Serangoon Gardens and Tanjong Pagar Plaza. He started selling curry puffs by the roadside at Novena Church, which was how Rolina - a mispronunciation of Novena - came about.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah highlighted his story in Parliament yesterday and said his success was "founded on real and deep skills".

"Even now, he still goes around buying curry puffs made by others to make sure his curry puffs are as good or even better than the rest," she said.

He spends almost a day preparing the chilli paste for the puffs, which takes about three hours to cook. He uses fresh ingredients and rejects instant mixes. "This traditional taste is what customers are paying for, so I can't lose that," he said.

He runs the Tanjong Pagar Plaza outlet while son Bren, 39, is in Serangoon Gardens. Now, he hopes to pass on his skills to his 18-year-old grandson.

"I told him having an education is important, but it is just as important to master a skill. That way, you don't have to worry in times of trouble, as you have a skill you can rely on."

Sushi master still seeking perfection
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

MR JIRO Ono, 89, owns the first sushi restaurant in Tokyo to be awarded three Michelin stars, and Japan has declared the sushi master a living national treasure.

His sushi was described by French chef Eric Ripert of Le Benardin as a "cloud that explodes in your mouth".

Yet in a 2011 documentary made about him - Jiro Dreams Of Sushi - and his sushi bar, Mr Ono said his work still has not "reached perfection".

"I will continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is," he said in the award-winning film by David Gelb.

Ms Indranee Rajah said in Parliament yesterday that such dedication and pride in his craft was a recipe for success.

He strives relentlessly for perfection, is always seeking to improve, upgrade, and better his performance, said Ms Indranee.

Mr Ono, who runs Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seater basement sushi bar in the Ginza district, still kneads sushi for his customers every day, and tastes the food to ensure its quality.

He had humble beginnings, and started out as a kitchen apprentice when he was seven, where his tasks included cleaning the floor, washing the dishes and delivering items.

But this helped him develop his strong work ethic.

And it is a quality of work that generates its own demand, and is "virtually recession proof", said Ms Indranee.

Nine new Nominated MPs sworn in
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

FOR nine new Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs), their first day in Parliament yesterday began with handshakes and congratulations.

Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen and backbenchers smiled and greeted them before their swearing-in at a five-minute ceremony. Corporate lawyer Chia Yong Yong, 52, who has peroneal muscular dystrophy, was the first to be called by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob. Ms Chia is the first wheelchair user to be in Parliament - and sits next to Deputy Speaker Charles Chong in the front row.

She was joined by other new NMPs, the oldest being Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua, 60, and the youngest, social entrepreneur Kuik Shiao-Yin, who is 36.

All recited the oath at the Table of the House in the centre of the Chamber.

Veteran unionist K. Karthikeyan, 55, and bank executive Ismail Hussein, 51, made their maiden speeches on the ASPIRE report.

The other NMPs are Board of Architects Singapore president Rita Soh, 55; sports physician Benedict Tan, 47; labour economist Randolph Tan, 50; and veteran historian Tan Tai Yong, 51.

The NMP scheme was introduced in 1990 to provide more alternative voices in Parliament.

1949 stays as cut-off for Pioneer Package
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

THE panel looking into appeals by seniors to be part of the Pioneer Generation will not be accepting those born after 1949.

This is because "for any age criterion, there will be those who marginally fall short" of it, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

"It was not feasible or fair to allow age-related appeals without extending the new age criterion to all Singaporeans," he said.

To be recognised as pioneers and qualify for benefits under the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, Singaporeans must be 65 or older this year and must have become a citizen before 1987.

While the panel will not bend on the age cut-off, it will consider on a case-by-case basis those who did not obtain citizenship before 1987.

Factors it will be looking at include whether the person had been in Singapore in the early years of independence and had contributed to society, said Mr Tharman, in a written reply to Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East). She had asked for an update on seniors who had missed out on qualifying to be a pioneer.

As of last month, more than 1,200 people had appealed to be included in the Pioneer Generation Package since applications opened in April. About half of them did not meet the age requirement.

Mr Tharman said another reason the panel will not be accepting appeals based on age is that there is already a range of health-care benefits open to all older Singaporeans, such as MediShield Life premium subsidies.

Also, Singaporeans aged 55 and above who are not part of the Pioneer Generation are already slated to receive Medisave top-ups for the next five years.

Ms Lee also asked about the procedures in place for appeals.

The panel verifies supporting information and documents for each case, said Mr Tharman. Those appealing will be contacted for verification if necessary.

Low risk of Ebola outbreak in S'pore, says Lam Pin Min
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

SINGAPORE faces a low risk of an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus because few people from the affected countries arrive here each month, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said yesterday.

This is despite the worsening situation of the disease in West Africa.

Before the outbreak, between 200 and 300 people arrived in Singapore from Nigeria each month, he said.

Another 30 travellers in total came from the worst-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone each month.

Since the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on Aug 8, many airlines stopped flying to the countries. So, there are fewer travellers from there to Singapore.

The current epidemic has killed more than 2,000 people in West Africa.

Replying to questions on the Health Ministry's plans in the event of an outbreak, he said suspected cases will be centrally managed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Confirmed cases will receive intensive supportive treatment, and staff handling them will use protective equipment.

But should a person be initially admitted to another hospital, he will remain there to minimise the risk of infection during his transfer.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said there are now 12 Singaporeans in Nigeria and one in Liberia.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry is in regular contact with them and urged them to consider returning, especially if they do not have essential matters to attend to there, he told Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked Dr Lam if the Health Ministry has stockpiles of the experimental drug ZMapp, which has been used to treat Ebola cases overseas with varying success.

"We have been informed by the manufacturer that there is a shortage of ZMapp at this point in time," Dr Lam said. "We want to let Singaporeans know that while we monitor the situation very closely, ZMapp is not the mainstay of treatment for any patient infected with Ebola."

As for media reports in August of a suspected Ebola case here, he said the ministry was concerned about it and wrote "to the media to clarify with them and to ensure that in future reporting, they do check with the ministry to prevent such false alarms".

Construction delayed only at Jurong hospital
By Linette Lye, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

ONLY the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital is facing construction delays, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

"The other hospital projects under construction are currently on track," he assured the House.

Mr Gan said that the main reason for the delay was the problems the contractor faced in procuring windows, glass panels and other parts of the building's exterior.

"These functional elements need to be installed so that the building is protected from the wind and rain, to allow internal building works and installation of critical equipment to proceed without the risk of damage by weather," he said.

Mr Gan also reiterated the measures that the Health Ministry is taking to ensure hospital bed capacity is not adversely affected by the delay.

These include pushing back plans to close the 330-bed Alexandra Hospital for refurbishment as well as adding 150 beds, spread between the National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

Changi General Hospital will also add more beds as the new building it shares with St Andrew's Community Hospital opens in stages from December.

Said Mr Gan: "These measures, along with other ongoing capacity-related initiatives, will add about 400 acute and community hospital beds to the system this year."

Effects of dengue vaccine Sanofi 'too early to assess': MOH
The Phase II trial for the Sanofi drug, which started in 2009, is still ongoing at public hospitals, says Parlimentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health (MOH) Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Channel NewsAsia, 9 Sep 2014

A dengue vaccine could potentially help reduce the number of cases of dengue in the country, but one specific drug - Sanofi - is still being tested and it is "too early to definitively assess the effects of the dengue vaccine", said Parlimentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health (MOH) Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim in Parliament on Monday (Sep 9).

To these questions, Dr Faishal said a Phase II clinical trial for the Sanofi vaccine has been conducted among 1,200 patients in Singapore, and was started in 2009. Dr Faishal added that MOH aims to assess the immune response and safety of the drug in healthy persons aged 2 to 45 years old, and follow-up checks of those in the trial are still ongoing at public hospitals.

"It is still too early to definitively assess the effects of the Sanofi dengue vaccine," said Dr Faishal, adding that all new vaccines must be assessed by the Health Sciences Authority for its safety, quality and efficacy to meet international benchmarks before being approved for use here.

Dr Faishal also pointed to results from two large-scale Phase III studies on Sanofi conducted in Asia and South America that were reported recently.

Both studies focused on effectiveness of the vaccine in children and showed that it had lower efficacy against dengue virus serotypes 1 and 2, which are the most common types of dengue circulating in Singapore. However, most dengue cases in Singapore occur in adults, said Dr Faishal.

Thus, to reduce the number of dengue cases, other measures such as reducing the number of mosquito breeding sites and using mosquito repellents continue to play an important part, Dr Faishal said.


Mr De Souza also asked if MOH has plans to make a dengue vaccine available under the National Childhood Immunisation Programme, like the polio vaccine.

Dr Faishal replied that an Expert Committee on Immunisation (ECI) advises the ministry on matters related to vaccination.

"The ECI considers factors such as the local burden of disease, vaccine safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness when recommending whether a particular vaccine, such as the dengue vaccine when it becomes available, should be included into the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule," added Dr Faishal.

Low numbers employed under Letters of Consent, Training Employment Passes
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Sep 2014

A total of 9,700 foreign workers were employed under Letters of Consent (LOC) as at December 2013.

This makes up less than 1 per cent of Singapore's total foreign workforce, excluding foreign domestic workers. Writing in reply to a question posed in Parliament on Monday (Sep 8), Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said this percentage has remained fairly constant over the years.

He added that the number of foreign interns brought in by firms on Training Employment Passes (TEPs) has fallen significantly, from a peak of 4,100 in 2010 to 1,200 in 2013.

Mr Tan said the Government tightened the scheme in recent years to prevent firms from relying on "interns" on a permanent or ongoing basis, as well as to allow Singaporeans more internship opportunities.

Feedback on Jobs Bank has been positive: Tan Chuan-Jin
Increase in Jobs Bank sign ups are “encouraging” signs of the portal’s success, local labour market remains well
By Robin Choo, TODAY, 8 Sep 2014

And over 65,000 jobs are available on the Jobs Bank, a more than 400 per cent increase from the portal’s official launch on July 14.

Feedback from both job seekers and employers, since the launch, has been positive. “It’s an encouraging start,” said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who gave this update in a written reply to a parliamentary question posted by West Coast Member of Parliament Foo Mee Har today (Sept 8). He also expressed hope that more employers and Singaporean job seekers would use the Jobs Bank.

However, Mr Tan noted that actual figures and accurate or representative indicators of how well Singaporeans are doing in the labour market are difficult to determine due to multiple avenues of employment.

Singaporean job seekers may be hired directly by firms, through head-hunters or private job portals and other job advertisements. Even application for jobs that Singaporeans see on the Jobs Bank cannot be tracked directly as they apply through in-house human resource (HR) portals.

Mr Tan said: “What is important to us is whether the overall labour market ecosystem benefits Singaporean job seekers.”

This involves broader factors such as the number and types of jobs being created, and whether Singaporeans have the “skills and passion” for the job.

The Jobs Bank is a free service provided to all Singapore-registered companies and Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. It is intended to facilitate a fair hiring process and greater awareness of job vacancies available for Singaporean job seekers.

“The Jobs Bank and the Fair Consideration Framework was not, however, set up to guarantee local job seekers that they will always get the job,” Mr Tan noted. Hiring will continue to be determined on the basis of merit, and to the best applicant for the job.

The Ministry of Manpower has been tracking and reporting indicators of citizen employment outcomes regularly, with seasonally adjusted citizen unemployment rate estimated at 3 per cent, as of June. Singaporean workers have also enjoyed positive real wage growth over the past five years. “The situation is healthy,” said Mr Tan.

Police step up fight against cybercrime
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

POLICE are making use of print and broadcast media as well as social media to warn people of tactics that crooks use to cheat them on the Internet.

Also, the authorities will work with agencies outside Singapore to crack down on these cyber criminals.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli set out these measures in Parliament yesterday for countering the surge in cybercrime in Singapore.

The number of cases of online crime in the first six months of this year more than tripled to 787, up from 187 in the same period last year.

This, said Mr Masagos, could be partly due to greater public awareness and people being more willing to report these crimes.

"A key strategy to reduce the number of online crimes is to raise public awareness and vigilance," said Mr Masagos, adding that the police are working with other groups to educate the public on these crimes.

For instance, the police are working with major local banks DBS/POSB, United Overseas Bank and OCBC to put up crime prevention advisories on their Internet banking websites by the end of the year.

Cases of online purchase and identity theft scams will also be highlighted in upcoming episodes of local TV series CrimeWatch.

Meanwhile, the police and the National Crime Prevention Council have come up with public education materials on cybercrime to put online and on bus stop panels and at MRT stations.

Prevention, said Mr Masagos, is the best way to tackle online crime. He said: "The people who are using all these mediums must be always aware that they can be victims of cybercrime."

As many of these crooks are located overseas, the authorities are also working closely with international agencies. "Our own forces in the police have had to upgrade themselves to understand the nature of these crimes, how they are perpetrated, including working with their foreign counterparts," said Mr Masagos.

He cited the Interpol Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, which will house the global police agency's first centralised cybercrime data centre when it opens next year.

"We work together with international organisations like Interpol to make sure we have a bigger global view of the issue, not just about what's happening in Singapore," said Mr Masagos.

Implications of short-term rental trend to be studied
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

THERE is a growing phenomenon in Singapore of home owners offering their residences for short stays.

It is a situation that will require the Government to study whether to change home rental rules, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Lee Yi Shyan yesterday.

He made the point when noting the growing popularity of home-sharing websites like Airbnb, which let owners offer their homes for short stays.

Many such sites have disclaimers stating that those offering or taking up such accommodation must comply with local laws and regulations, said Mr Lee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry.

"So I think in this context of renting out properties for less than six months, clearly they are in infringement of our Planning Act," he said.

But in the longer term, the Government will need to study the implications of this trend, he added.

Such "sharing of resources... is itself positive" but comes at the expense of existing regulations that protect both consumers and service providers, said Mr Lee in his reply to Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC).

He noted the risks of changing the rules, saying that the Government does not want a situation where consumers are promised certain services or products but do not receive them.

"So I think we have to look at both the interest of the larger public as well as the appeal or attraction of such form of resource-sharing," he added.

Since last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has received about 520 complaints about the alleged rental of individual strata-titled private residential properties for less than six months.

Those who complained had concerns about privacy and security, owing to the presence of transient guests and their use of common facilities, said Mr Lee.

The URA investigates all complaints and if an offence has been committed, the home owner can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed up to 12 months.

Cutting red tape for businesses
By Melissa Tan, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

LESS red tape for businesses is on the cards after proposed changes to the Companies Act that were introduced in Parliament yesterday.

One proposed move is to exempt more small companies from having to get their accounts audited.

Another is to let people who register with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) submit an alternative address rather than have their home address shown in public records.

These proposed changes are aimed at easing companies' regulatory burden, giving them greater flexibility and improving the corporate governance landscape in Singapore, the Ministry of Finance said in a statement yesterday.

The changes could benefit an additional 25,000 companies in Singapore at least, the ministry said.

It added that, in total, these made up the largest number of changes to the Companies Act since the Act was enacted in 1967.

Under existing rules, only companies that fall into a special category of "exempt private companies" and bring in $5 million or less in revenue a year do not need to get their accounts audited.

However, the proposed change will let more businesses qualify for the audit exemption.

It will let private companies that have up to $10 million in annual turnover, up to $10 million in total assets and up to 50 employees get an exemption from account audits.

Companies will need to meet just two of those three conditions to be exempted.

Another significant change the Finance Ministry proposed in a second Bill yesterday was that people who register with Acra can provide an alternative address rather than their home address.

The ministry said that there were "concerns about public disclosure of residential addresses" in Acra's current public records.

Safeguards will be put in place to "minimise fraudulent reporting and filing of invalid addresses", it added.

Three other Bills were introduced yesterday by the Finance Ministry, including a "Business Names Registration" Bill, which aims to cut red tape for the registration of business names.

The second Bill was about the details of seller's stamp duty for industrial properties, and the third one was about technical changes to the goods and services tax (GST) system, such as GST on re-imported goods.

No self-rating scheme in Arts Bill
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

TWO weeks after a controversial self-classification proposal for Singapore arts groups was dropped, a Bill to amend the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act was introduced in Parliament yesterday.

It did not have the Arts Term Licensing Scheme, which would have allowed arts groups to give age-appropriate ratings for their own works.

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA), which had proposed the scheme, saw it as a step towards "co- regulation".

However, arts groups opposed it stoutly, saying it would encourage self-censorship.

The scheme was on MDA's list of proposed amendments for the Act, which was last changed in 2000. With its exclusion, the changes set out in the Bill include licensing virtual performances streamed to a venue for public exhibition in the same way as a live event at the same location.

Also, MDA would be allowed to investigate arts entertainment breaches, instead of subjecting the organisers to police action.

Move to reserve 40 spots for non-alumni in Primary 1 registration has worked: Heng
The Education Minister told Parliament that without the rule, there would be even fewer places available to students who do not have prior connection to the schools.
By Chitra Kumar, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Sep 2014

The newly-instituted rule requiring each school to set aside 40 places for Phases 2B and 2C of the Primary 1 registration process has fulfilled its intent, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Sep 8) in Parliament.

This year, every school had to set aside 20 spots each - for Phase 2B and 2C - before the start of the Primary 1 registration exercise. The Education Ministry said this was to ensure access to popular schools remains open.

With four primary schools having had to conduct balloting in Phase 2A(2), Mr Heng said that if not for the new rule, there would be fewer than 40 places in each of these four schools that are open to students without prior connection to the schools.

“Some schools may in the future run the risk of not having any access at Phase 2B and 2C,” he added.

He said the current criteria has met the needs of most parents well, and making further changes at this point would not be meaningful. What is most important is that every student receives good quality and holistic education, regardless of which school he or she attends, he added.

Move to amend law on Edusave scheme
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

A MOVE to change the law to extend the Edusave scheme to students in madrasahs, privately-funded schools, homeschoolers and Singaporeans abroad was made in Parliament yesterday.

It will benefit 20,000 more children, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in his National Day Rally speech last year when he announced the extension of the scheme.

The grants will be pegged to what children in national schools receive: Those aged seven to 12 will get $200 a year.

Students aged 13 to 16 will get $240, which is the same as what secondary school students get.

The scheme, set up in 1993, is for students to pay for enrichment programmes or sports and leadership courses.

Why unsold lease is worth more than portion sold
'Time value of money', different rate of depreciation the reasons: Khaw
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

IF A Housing Board flat owner keeps half his remaining lease and sells the other half back to the Government, what he keeps is worth more than what he sells - even though the number of years for each is the same.

This aspect of the Lease Buyback Scheme has puzzled many and yesterday National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan explained what was behind the unusual situation. The reason, he said, is that a property's value does not fall at a steady rate.

First, there is the so-called "time value of money".

Under the scheme, a flat owner keeps the next 30 years of his lease. The Government pays now to buy the far-flung remainder of the lease - say, the final 30 years.

But $1,000 today, for instance, is worth more than $1,000 in several years' time, said Mr Khaw.

This is why the immediate half of a lease is worth more than the future half.

Second, properties with a very short lease left tend to depreciate faster than properties with a very long lease remaining.

As a result, when half the lease is kept and half sold, the first half is likely to be valued at about 60 per cent and the second at 40 per cent, said Mr Khaw in reply to Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

He later added that this 40 per cent, which the owner receives, is already higher than would be the case under "strict computation".

The first half of the lease is rightly worth 75 per cent, and the other half just 25 per cent. But that would mean much lower proceeds under the scheme.

This is why HDB introduced conditions. Owners who have sold part of their lease cannot resell the flat and cannot sublet it entirely, though they can sublet rooms.

"Because of those conditions put in, when valuers value the front end of the lease to be retained, they take that into account and discount it," he said.

This is why the second half is worth 40 per cent instead of 25 per cent. "So that enables the Lease Buyback Scheme to be a lot more attractive and to be a lot more meaningful to the owners."

He was replying to Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang), who wanted to know why such restrictions existed.

The need for substantial sales proceeds is also why HDB requires at least 20 years of lease to be sold back, Mr Khaw told Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC).

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) wanted the Ministry of National Development to reveal how its calculations are made.

"How valuers value properties is not secretive," replied Mr Khaw. "It's an established practice and there are tables which are published by valuers." If owners object to the valuation of their flats, they can appeal, he added.

Ms Foo and Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) wondered how property cycles would affect the scheme as payouts are based on market value.

Mr Khaw said the ups and downs of the property market will affect all monetisation options, from lease buyback to selling one's flat and moving into a studio apartment. The key is proper counselling so that a flat owner is aware of all the options, he said.

Since the Lease Buyback Scheme began in 2009, 1,083 seniors from 812 households have taken part in it.

The sales proceeds go towards topping up their Central Provident Fund savings which are used to buy the CPF Life annuity.

The average monthly annuity payout for people in the scheme is $550. The highest payout is $1,200, and the lowest $50, which was for an owner with only a 5 per cent share of the flat.

Lease buyback: Owners can still benefit from SERS
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

A FLAT owner who has sold part of his lease back to the Government will still benefit if his flat is up for redevelopment, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

He was fielding questions from five MPs about the Lease Buyback Scheme, under which Housing Board flat owners keep 30 years of their lease and sell the rest back to the Government.

From April next year, the scheme will have greater flexibility, like a range of lease lengths.

If such a flat later falls under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), the owner will be compensated based on the market value of the remaining unsold lease, said Mr Khaw.

Under SERS, old estates are redeveloped, and affected owners get compensation and rehousing benefits, including new replacement flats at subsidised prices.

Those who have taken up the Lease Buyback Scheme can choose a replacement flat with the same remaining lease as their existing one, or one with a fresh 99-year lease at a subsidised price, said Mr Khaw.

He was replying to Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who had asked what options owners had if they outlived their leases.

Such owners will not be left homeless, said Mr Khaw.

"HDB will look into the circumstances of each case to work out an appropriate housing arrangement, taking into account the elderly owner's health condition, financial status and the availability of family support," he said.

This is done on a case-by-case basis as the owner could be bedridden, for instance, and thus may need a place in a nursing home rather than a flat. The HDB would work with the Health Ministry to ensure the owner is "well- placed", said Mr Khaw. This will depend on whether his children, if any, are able to look after him.

The lease can also be extended, taking a cue from studio apartments that are sold on 30-year leases. For these, the HDB commits to a 10-year lease extension at the prevailing market value.

From April 2015, flat owners opting for the Lease Buyback Scheme can choose to keep a 35-year lease. "Those who are concerned about outliving their lease can take up this longer lease option," he said.

Insurance is another option the Government is studying, said Mr Khaw. Flat owners could buy insurance such that, if they outlive the committed lease, the insurer takes over and pays for the extra lease needed.

But the downside is that if the owner dies before the lease is up, he will lose the remaining value.

This is in contrast to the current practice, which is that any unconsumed lease will be refunded to the owner's estate, he said.

Public mindset yet to catch up to policymaking
By Lydia Lim Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 9 Sep 2104

OF THE 20 Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students that Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) polled recently, only one was open to heading straight to work after he graduated, and giving a proposed place-and-train programme a shot.

The rest preferred to study for a diploma next, believing that was a surer route to success.

With that one anecdote, Mr Zaqy illustrated the gulf between what non-degree holders on the ground have in mind and what members of the ASPIRE Committee were reaching for in their report released two weeks ago, and aimed at enhancing opportunities for polytechnic and ITE graduates.

The thrust of the report - which the Government has accepted and adopted as policy - is that all Singaporeans, regardless of their qualifications, should enjoy full opportunities to upgrade and progress during their working lives.

It also sets the stage for a cultural shift away from decades of over-emphasising paper qualifications to giving due weight to skills and performance.

All eight MPs who joined the first day of debate on Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah's call for the House to endorse the ASPIRE report cheered its lofty goals but pointed to real issues on the ground that needed to be addressed before students, parents and workers would buy into it.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) said she was worried about what the report left unsaid. "There appears to be an underlying assumption that all things will fall in place if we only strengthen the vocational track. And we will miraculously achieve what we would like to see in systems in, say, Germany, Switzerland, Norway or Finland, where there is a greater balance between the vocational and academic tracks."

Ms Indranee herself acknowledged that many people were not even clear what was meant by skills, with some youngsters informing their parents that since the emphasis was now on things they could do with their hands, they no longer needed to study.

She sought to set the record straight by explaining that skills refer to relevant knowledge and being able to apply it, as well as the experience of having done so.

From yesterday's debate, which continues today, it would seem that while almost nobody disagrees with the new direction set out by ASPIRE, few are clear about what it will mean in practice.

That too was the upshot of a lively exchange between four MPs and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on the Lease Buyback Scheme.

The scheme, which helps retirees monetise their flats by selling part of the remaining lease to the HDB in exchange for income, will be extended to four-room flats from next April.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asked Mr Khaw how the HDB determined the value of the lease that it buys back from flat owners. She said people were puzzled that when the duration of the lease sold to the HDB was equal to that retained by owners, the owners received less than 50 per cent of the flat's market value.

Mr Khaw explained that because a dollar today is worth more than a dollar in say, 30 years' time, the value of the lease retained by the flat owners is worth more than that sold to the HDB. He said the split would be roughly 60-40.

But he later revised that figure when asked by opposition MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) about the restrictions imposed on those who sign up for the Lease Buyback Scheme, and who are not allowed to sublet the whole flat or resell it.

Mr Khaw then revealed that without such restrictions, and if HDB adopted a strict computation of the value of the lease, the split in value would be 75-25 rather than 60-40, rendering the scheme unattractive.

With the restrictions, however, the HDB is able to make adjustments that enhance the payouts to owners.

Yet, when Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked for MND to publish both the methodology and the figures used in the computations, Mr Khaw demurred.

Mr Nair said he was asking because "one can discount on a different basis and apply different percentages and their results could be quite different. So if the MND can publish the workings and the methodology, that may help explain things".

In not taking up Mr Nair's suggestion, Mr Khaw lost an opportunity to educate the public on a new scheme that many seniors, and even MPs, are struggling to understand.

It would seem that on both Lease Buyback and the ASPIRE report, policymaking and messaging may be running ahead of public understanding and acceptance.

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