Thursday 9 October 2014

Parliament Highlights - 7 Oct 2014

Bill on remote gambling passed

All bets are off on unauthorised websites
Iswaran explains exemptions as Remote Gambling Act is passed
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

THE new Remote Gambling Act that allows for a tightly regulated form of online gambling here does not relax Singapore's stance against the vice, said Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran yesterday.

Speaking in Parliament on the legislation, which was passed after a vigorous three-hour debate, he made it clear the Act "neither condones nor encourages gambling". He also rejected calls from opposition MPs - Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang), Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong - for it to be sent to a Select Committee to gather more feedback.

Ten Members of Parliament spoke in support of the broad intent of the new Act, which makes it illegal for gamblers to go online for a flutter on unauthorised websites from next year.

But a number of them expressed reservations over a section of the Act, which allows Singapore-based operators to apply for an online-gambling licence.

People's Action Party MPs Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said allowing any exemption sends a mixed signal.

Ms Phua urged Singapore to "take a bold step and reject gambling, whether remote or on-site". She said allowing an exempt operator seems to signal that "remote gambling is fine as long as it is under a state licence".

Mr Iswaran responded by emphasising that the new regime is "prohibitive" given that it introduces new laws to restrict nearly all forms of online gaming. It is also consistent with the country's approach towards terrestrial gambling. Mr Iswaran explained how exemptions were granted to Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club in the 1960s when triads and underground gambling operators were looking to get a slice of the action.

"It (the exemption) is there as part of an ecosystem that seeks to minimise the law and order concerns, and social consequences that we are concerned about," he said. A complete ban will drive all activity underground and make it harder to mitigate these social concerns, he argued.

Under the new Act, applicants for an online gambling licence have to be based in Singapore, be not-for-profit, contribute to a social cause, and have a good compliance track record. Casino-style games or poker will be prohibited.

Individual gamblers may face up to six months' jail or a $5,000 fine - though Mr Iswaran said yesterday that these people are not so much the focus.

Rather, enforcement agencies will target unlawful operators and agents who spur illicit activity such as money-laundering or match-fixing. To protect those under 21 from getting hooked, anyone found to have lured an underage person into online gambling would face a mandatory fine of between $20,000 and $300,000, and jail of up to six years.

Meanwhile, access and payment to remote gambling websites will also be blocked. Internet service providers and financial institutions that fail to abide by a blocking order may face a fine of up to $20,000 each day for each website or transaction, up to a total of $500,000.

A unit has also been formed in the Ministry of Home Affairs to monitor gambling websites and payment mechanisms. Its blocking list will be reviewed and updated regularly. The Singapore Police Force will work with its global counterparts to provide and share evidence. Extradition of suspects to Singapore will also be possible.

Mr Iswaran conceded that the laws are not a "silver bullet", especially if pitted against an individual or operator determined to game the system. "It is a game of cat-and-mouse but the collective adoption of these blocking measures will be an ample signal to the vast majority, and it will significantly disrupt and impede the remote gambling activities of the few who may be recalcitrant."

Why broad scope for Bill on remote gambling
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

SOME social games may appear benign but could turn out to be online gambling games in disguise, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.

It was with such a possibility in mind that the Bill on remote gambling was given a broad scope to effectively tackle these disguised games and the fast-changing online gambling sector.

Explaining the Bill's provisions, he said: "We deliberately sought to be comprehensive in the Bill's coverage. If not, it will lack the efficacy and currency in regulating a sector that is innovative... and quick to adopt new technology."

The Bill criminalises the whole spectrum of remote gambling activities - from the act of gambling to provision of gambling services - and defines betting as the staking of money or "money's worth", which could include virtual currencies and in-game credits that can be exchanged for money.

Not all social gameswere as "innocuous" as they were made out to be. He cited social casino games designed to simulate real-world gambling, such as sports betting or poker, and replicate the casino experience. The only difference between these games and gambling is the use of in-game credits.

"The fact is that the line between social gaming and gambling is increasingly becoming blurred."

Noting that online operators are accepting virtual currencies, like bitcoin, he said such "disruptive developments" could potentially help operators circumvent remote gambling laws that are too narrow.

He added that "as a matter of principle", social games where people are not playing for a chance to win money, and where in-game credits cannot be converted to money or real merchandise, would not be covered. This includes smartphone games like Farmville.

The Home Affairs Ministry and Media Development Authority will work to ensure that the new law will not impede the development of legitimate gaming businesses.


I believe it is time for the Government to take a holistic approach to discourage gambling as an economic or social activity. It has been almost 10 years since we made the fateful decision of authorising licensed casino operators for the sake of jobs in an economic recession... With the tightening of foreign labour, have the casinos become competitors for manpower from our local SMEs? If manpower is so precious, why would we divert precious manpower to learn the casino business, whether in physical establishments or online?... When will Singapore wean itself off the casino industry?

- Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), on doing away with the gaming industry altogether


We should also create awareness on the ills of remote gambling through public service campaigns especially among students... and encourage everyone to whistle-blow on such activities... we want people to stay away from remote gambling because they understand its dire consequences and not because it is unavailable or because they fear punishment. If we can imbue in our young the ills of gambling, then even when they are overseas for study or later when they are on working trips or any overseas postings, they will be less susceptible to gambling altogether.

- Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), on inoculating the young against the gambling habit


Perhaps, before we enter into this debate, we should look at where the starting point of government regulation should be. Ultimately, the choice to gamble is an individual choice. We may disagree with a person's choice... but by and large, assuming he is not addicted... a person who wishes to place small bets and wants to engage in leisure gambling should be able to do so. The main justification for government intervention in prohibiting gambling is because of its highly addictive nature and (its) social ills. Once a person becomes addicted to gambling, it's no longer a free choice, it becomes compulsive.

- Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), on when the Government should step in

Concerted effort by community needed to tackle gambling
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

EDUCATION will be the first line of defence against online gambling, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament.

He admitted he was under no illusion that the Remote Gambling Act, which was passed yesterday, would solve the problem on its own. Instead, it will take a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including family members and the larger community, to keep a lid on the problem.

Many of the 10 MPs who rose to speak offered suggestions on how to curb the problem.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) made an impassioned speech on the need to teach the young on the ills of online gambling from as early as the upper primary level, where it should be part of the curriculum. "We must not wait until university level to start educating our students about gambling," she said.

Other MPs debated on the safeguards that will be put into place when a Singapore-based operator is given a licence to operate a tightly regulated form of online gambling. Many made reference to a 2011 National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) survey, which showed online gamblers were more likely to have poorer self-control.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked which responsible gaming measures that are already used in casinos here - such as exclusion orders - would apply.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) suggested adopting a personalised player card system already used in Sweden and Norway, which limits the amount a punter can bet a day and every month.

An exempt operator running a gambling website here would be a temptation for the gambler as it could operate 24-7, added Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang).

Mr Chan made it clear that exclusion orders will apply equally to an exempt remote gambling operator as they do to casinos. A person can apply for the order to ensure he does not fall into temptation, while family members can also apply on his behalf to prevent harm. Any operator which wants to run online gambling "must prove to us that they have the necessary safeguards in place before we entertain their requests".

Mr Chan also agreed with Ms Lee that awareness programmes at the school level are key, especially as some social games targeted at the young may aim to groom them into gambling online.

He said that NCPG is working with community partners to draw up new education programmes. But these must also teach family members when and how to seek help.

"We must never think that just because we have done a good job in the school, the problem will never emerge in the lifetime of the individual ever again," he said.

Mr Chan stressed the need for the authorities to stay abreast of online gambling technology and to continue to study measures adopted by others in order to refine the control of the problem here.

"The nature of gambling in general and remote gambling in particular is that it is a constantly evolving challenge," he said.

"It is an evergreen challenge that we will have to tackle today, tomorrow and forever."

No single right answer for whether or not to allow licensed gambling
By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

YESTERDAY'S debate on the Remote Gambling Bill shone the spotlight on a deep divide over how best to manage an addictive pursuit that no ban can eradicate, but which many consider immoral to condone.

While all 10 MPs who joined the debate supported the move to outlaw remote gambling and any attempt to promote it, four objected strenuously to a provision that allows the minister to issue a certificate of exemption to non- profit, Singapore-based gambling operators.

Three MPs from the Workers' Party (WP) went so far as to call for the Bill to be sent to a Select Committee for closer scrutiny of this section. A Select Committee is made up of MPs who can solicit public feedback, call witnesses, hold hearings and suggest changes to legislation. The last time a Bill went before such a committee was 10 years ago.

Joining them in making the case for a total ban on remote gambling was PAP MP Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC).

She argued passionately for it, saying: "The top reason is the signal we are sending as a government to the entire population, especially our young.

"It had been said that 40 per cent of online gamblers overestimate their wins and underestimate their losses. If indeed we so strongly believe that remote gambling is harmful and does no good to either people or nation, then are we legitimising the act of gambling and breeding its acceptance by legally providing for exempt licensed operators? Does gambling become more noble when operated by a licensed versus an unlicensed operator?"

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said the exemption was "problematic" as it could be read as saying remote gambling was okay if done through the correct channels.

WP's Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) challenged the conventional wisdom that a total ban would serve only to drive this difficult-to-eliminate vice underground, exacerbating law and order problems.

Mr Singh said: "In the absence of relevant data and information, I am not convinced that these concerns wholly apply to remote gambling precisely because gamblers can still get their fix at land-based outlets and some remote gambling options provided to gamblers by operators currently, and it is not as if gambling per se is being banned."

Rising to deliver the Government's response were Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing and Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran.

Mr Chan sought to reassure those who worry about the social costs of gambling, laying out plans to educate students of the risks, reach the vulnerable through online counselling and learn from safeguards in place elsewhere, such as the daily and monthly limits Norway has imposed on withdrawals for online gambling.

Mr Iswaran, on his part, issued a calm and clear defence of the Government's position, declaring that there was no contradiction between prohibiting online gambling and exempting licensed operators. Singapore has done so for the last five decades, since the 1960s when it granted exemptions to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club even as it dealt with triads and illegal syndicates.

"When you look at our experience, what we have done in the terrestrial gambling environment, we seek to maintain law and order, we have criminalised the range of activities. We have allowed a very tightly controlled valve, not because we wish to promote it, not because we condone it, but because it is there as part of an ecosystem that seeks to minimise the law and order concerns, and social consequences that we are concerned about," he said.

The question of whether or not to allow licensed gambling is one for which there is no single right answer. But given that public anxiety over this decades-old approach refuses to go away, the onus is on the Government to show that it can minimise the fallout through a combination of regulation, safeguards and public education on the potential dangers of a gambling habit.

DPM Teo warns of increased terror threat to Singapore
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

THE escalating violence in Iraq and Syria over the last three months has further increased the terror threat to Singapore, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

While Singapore has no information on any specific threat resulting from the military strikes led by the United States against the terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the country should stay vigilant.

"As with the threat from the Al-Qaeda, even if Singapore is not itself a target, foreign interests here may be targeted."

He reminded the House that over a decade ago, the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah (JI) had plotted to bomb embassies here, including the US Embassy. But the plan, backed by the terror group Al-Qaeda, was foiled.

Drawing a comparison, Mr Teo noted reports that Malaysians and Indonesians who fought for ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have set up a Malay Archipelago Unit.

"If this group expands in Southeast Asia, it will pose a regional terrorism threat like the JI terrorist network, which had also aimed to set up a South-east Asian Islamic Archipelago that encompassed Singapore, through the use of violence and terrorism," he said.

Those who join or help ISIS will be dealt with in accordance with the laws here, he told Parliament.

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was one of two ministers who spoke in Parliament on ISIS.

The other was Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who noted that military action alone will not curb the terrorist threat. "Military force is necessary to blunt IS on the ground, but missiles and rockets alone cannot and will not bring peace," he said, referring to the group by its other name, the Islamic State (IS).

He said a political solution needs to be found, and called for countries to counter radical propaganda. "The true fight has to be in the arena of ideas. We have to counter the extremist ideology, which is used to recruit foreigners to terrorism and fuel their violent agenda," he said.

Both ministers noted that Singapore has co-sponsored an anti-terrorist resolution approved by the United Nations Security Council. The resolution, which aims to stop the flow of foreign extremists to Iraq and Syria, requires nations to adopt laws criminalising nationals who join extremist groups like ISIS. Mr Teo added that the Government's approach to dealing with Singaporeans swayed by ISIS' influence will be "carefully calibrated" to the specifics of each case.

Where necessary, the Internal Security Act - which grants the Government the discretion to detain people without trial - will be used to pre-empt and neutralise terrorism threats that endanger the security of the country and its citizens.

He noted that there were a "handful of Singaporeans" who have left for Syria to join the fight, and were last reported to still be there.

Mr Teo added: "We will continue to investigate anyone who expresses support for terrorism or an interest to pursue violence."

Responding to a question by Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) on whether the ISIS threat would give rise to tensions here, Mr Teo said: "I would say the threat is always there, but... we have to continue to work hard together to bring people together, and help them understand the problem and that our Muslim community is taking proactive and real steps to deal with this issue."

More barriers to safeguard coastline
By Lim Yan Liang and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE'S maritime security will be tightened by the setting up of more physical barriers on land and at sea, even as a review of current measures is undertaken.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean made this clear in Parliament yesterday, in his response to a question on an immigration breach at Raffles Marina in August. Then, a Mongolian woman and two foreign men sneaked into the country after sailing from Langkawi on a catamaran.

Mr Teo said an additional 80km of barriers, such as fences, will be added to the 63km already in place. This means 143km of Singapore's 197km coastline will be barricaded. A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs told The Straits Times that the first 30km of the new barriers will be up by 2019.

Mr Teo told Parliament that the barricades, together with regular patrols, have proven to be "generally successful".

Between 2011 and 2013, Mr Teo said, 46 vessels were seized for intruding into Singapore's waters and 144 persons arrested for illegally entering Singapore waters or attempting to do so.

Last year, 2,890 vessels were detected and stopped from entering Singapore's waters, although most had simply strayed off course, added Mr Teo.

In the border breach on Aug 19, the 30-year-old woman had wanted to snatch her two-year-old son from his paternal grandparents and take him back to London, after winning custody in her divorce from her Singaporean banker husband in the British courts.

She hired Adam Christopher Whittington, 38, managing director of Child Abduction Recovery International. After finding out that Raffles Marina in Tuas West Drive was guarded only from 9am to 5pm, they sneaked in at about 6am, after arriving here on a ship skippered by Australian Todd Allan, 39. All three were arrested and jailed for 10 to 16 weeks.

While the authorities will study this incident and work with security agencies and private partners to review measures to keep Singapore's coastline secure, said Mr Teo, he also urged the seafaring community to alert the authorities to any suspicious activity.

He explained that securing Singapore's waters is "a daily challenge" because of the high traffic and long coastline, which in some places is less than 500m from international waters.

For land and flight travel, "we can funnel and control the movement of persons entering or departing Singapore via a small number of immigration checkpoints at the airport, Woodlands and Tuas". But "because we are an island, the maritime domain is far more complex".

Mr Teo pointed out that there are 180 wharves and jetties along Singapore's shoreline - many within private premises such as shipyards and marinas. He said that owners and occupiers of such landing points have a responsibility to ensure there is adequate security in their areas.

Early this year, two Malaysians - a delivery driver and a teacher, who was later declared to be of unsound mind - managed to get past immigration checks at the Woodlands Checkpoint in separate incidents, sparking a review of security there.

Experts told The Straits Times they welcome the new review of maritime security, and hope to see more coastal patrols and greater use of advanced surveillance technology.

Mr Mark Fallon, a former United States Navy counter-intelligence agent who worked with the Singapore Police Force and Internal Security Department in the 1980s, pointed to the American practice of having "maritime intelligence fusion centres" where information and warnings are coordinated. "The integration of information and the ability of entities to work within a well thought-out strategic framework is essential," he said.

Film "To Singapore With Love" on exiles contains 'untruths and deception'
Allowing public screening would mean condoning use of subversion: Minister
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

THE film To Singapore, With Love contains "untruths and deception" about the history of the communists and the violence they perpetrated, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

In a reply to MPs, he set out the Government's decision to give the documentary a "Not Allowed for All Ratings" (NAR) classification which rules it out for public screening or distribution here.

The film, by Ms Tan Pin Pin, captures the lives of nine exiles in various countries, including Britain and Thailand.

But they had in fact been involved in violent and subversive actions to advance the CPM agenda, he said, and they had posed a serious threat to the safety and security of Singapore.

The film should be viewed in its historical context, Dr Yaacob said, reiterating Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's explanation last Friday at a National University of Singapore Society forum.

The minister noted that the CPM waged a violent and subversive war for over four decades, seeking to install a communist regime in Malaysia and Singapore.

Over 8,000 civilians and security personnel were injured or killed, and communist hit squads killed in broad daylight.

The CPM also infiltrated organisations like student bodies, labour unions and political parties, using them to stir up trouble.

While these actions are well-established historical facts written about extensively, "the film To Singapore, With Love contains untruths and deception about this history", said Dr Yaacob.

Those featured in the film also gave the false impression that they were banned from returning to Singapore. Unlike them, however, many former CPM members did return after accounting for their actions. They included senior CPM members Eu Chooi Yip and P. V. Sarma, who were the heads respectively of the Chinese and English sections of CPM's propaganda radio station, the Voice of Malayan Revolution.

While the struggles against the communists may be a distant memory for many people, it cannot be that those who participated in the violence can be allowed to absolve themselves without accounting for their past actions and renouncing such violence.

Dr Yaacob said the film's "one-sided portrayals" are designed to evoke feelings of sympathy and support for the individuals who have not accounted for their past actions.

He said: "To allow public screening of a film that obfuscates and whitewashes an armed insurrection by an illegal organisation, and violent and subversive acts directed at Singaporeans, would effectively mean condoning the use of violence and subversion in Singapore, and thus harm our national security.

"It would also be a gross injustice to the men and women who braved violence and intimidation to stand up to the communists, especially those who lost their lives in the fight to preserve Singapore's security and stability, and secure a democratic, non-communist Singapore."

Not taking action against films which contain distorted and untruthful accounts would give the false impression that there is truth to the claims, said Dr Yaacob, and the Government's actions against these people could then be seen as unwarranted.

This could erode public confidence in the Government on security matters, even as the country deals with current threats like terrorism, he added.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) - which gave the film its classification - has met Ms Tan to explain its decision. The minister added that the MDA does not have specific guidelines that deal with historical content, and does not intend to develop such guidelines.

The Films Classification Guidelines already state that in "exceptional cases" a film may be given the NAR rating if its contents are deemed to undermine national interest, he explained.

'Misleading account' of lives of exiles
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

LOCAL film-maker Tan Pin Pin's film To Singapore, With Love has not presented the historical facts on the political exiles featured, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim.

Instead it gives a misleading account of their lives, when actually some were active communists, while others omitted mentioning their criminal offences.

Six people in the film are Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) members, and had been in - or were still in - a village at the Thai-Malaysian border that houses former CPM fighters who have since laid down their arms.

Chan Sun Wing and He Jin had served under senior CPM leader Eu Chooi Yip in the party's China-based propaganda radio station.

Dr Yaacob said that He Jin had in the film deflected questions about the communists' use of violence, speaking instead about the CPM's involvement in fighting the Japanese during World War II.

His wife, Shu Shihua - another CPM member - was also in the film.

Another member, Wong Soon Fong, fled Singapore in 1963 to avoid arrest.

And while Tan Hee Kim and his wife Yap Wan Ping claimed to have joined the CPM only after they decided to leave Singapore, they were - in reality - active members before they left.

Meanwhile, Ho Juan Thai and Tan Wah Piow avoided mentioning the criminal offences they remain liable for, noted Dr Yaacob.

Ho admitted in an open letter in 1982 that he had amended the expiry date of his Singapore passport.

Tan Wah Piow also left Singapore illegally to evade national service and travelled to Britain on his expired passport with a forged extension endorsement.

New HDB blocks to come with surveillance cameras
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

RESIDENTS who move into Housing Board flats built in about two years from now will feel more secure: Their blocks will come with surveillance cameras already installed.

Until then, the police are focusing on getting these closed-circuit television (CCTVs) cameras installed in existing and soon-to- be-built HDB blocks and multi- storey carparks.

The programme, part of the $160-million Community Policing System, is slated to be completed by end-2016. Until then, "we are at a transition period because this is a programme that's being implemented progressively", said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday.

To speed up the installation in new blocks, the police are working with the HDB to incorporate the camera requirements into the design, he said.

The cameras will be fitted at key entry and exit points, such as stairwells and lift lobbies. All 10,000 HDB blocks and multi- storey carparks here are slated to have them by end-2016.

Mr Iswaran said the programme is on track at the one- third mark, with 18,000 cameras installed in 3,300 blocks.

He also said the police consider a variety of factors, such as local crime trends, community feedback and town council recommendations, when deciding which blocks will get the cameras first and when to set them up.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) asked if the camera coverage could be extended to include bicycle bays, for example.

Mr Iswaran said he would consider it but noted that the police do take into account the "local priority or concern" when deciding on where to install the cameras.

Lasting Power of Attorney system has adequate safeguards
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

WHETHER a person informs family when setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is a personal choice, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing told Parliament yesterday, stressing that the scheme has adequate safeguards.

He was responding to questions from Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim on the scheme, which allows a person aged at least 21 to appoint another to make key decisions on his welfare and finances should he lose the mental capacity to do so.

Ms Lim, a lawyer, asked why an option to inform others when applying for an LPA was removed from the form last month, and whether the ministry would look at bringing it back.

Mr Chan replied that it was removed after feedback from applicants, who could still, on their own, decide to share the information. "Not everyone wants to inform certain family members of their decision and that is the dilemma. We leave it to the best judgment of the individual to inform the person that he wants to inform."

The LPA system, which was launched four years ago, has come under scrutiny after a former China tour guide was accused of manipulating an 87-year-old Singaporean widow into giving him control over her assets estimated to be worth $40 million.

The widow, Madam Chung Khin Chun, applied for the LPA naming 40-year-old Yang Yin as her donee in 2012. Her niece, tour agency owner Hedy Mok, found this out only earlier this year. She then started legal action against Mr Yang, alleging that he took advantage of her aunt, who was diagnosed with dementia this year.

An LPA is issued only after a lawyer, medical practitioner or psychiatrist witnesses and certifies the application.

Yesterday, Ms Lim asked if the Government would consider an "additional check" by these professionals to ensure that the applicant is not unduly influenced. She highlighted that in Scotland, they would have to decide on the applicant's independence, based either on personal knowledge or by consulting someone else.

Mr Chan said this would be up to the certificate issuer who, regardless, is expected to do the job professionally. "I can appreciate that sometimes a second pair of eyes does help but we must always be careful not to overly burden the system," he explained, stressing that applicants should consider who they wish to appoint as donees carefully. He pointed out that the system here is "much more onerous" than in other countries, where in some instances a person does not need a professional to certify the LPA.

One in 5 elderly patients back in a public hospital within a month
TTSH has lowest readmission rate as care managers monitor such cases
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

ALMOST one in five public hospital patients aged 65 and older is back in a hospital bed within a month of being discharged.

This is far higher than the readmission rate of patients of all ages, which is 12.2 per cent, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in a written reply to opposition MP Chen Show Mao.

Mr Chen (Aljunied GRC) had also asked if such information for each hospital could be published annually.

To this, Mr Gan said his ministry will "study the request", adding that the information is already shared among public hospitals.

"Overall, our public hospital/ institution readmission rates are comparable to the United States', but higher than some other countries', such as the United Kingdom," he said.

Mr Gan did not elaborate on what are the rates in Britain and other countries that do better.

Singapore's readmission rates vary from a low of 6.2 per cent at KK Women's and Children's Hospital to a high of 15.1 per cent at Alexandra Hospital, for patients of all ages.

For the elderly aged at least 65, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) has the lowest readmission rate of 18.5 per cent, while Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) has the highest: 21.1 per cent.

Across all hospitals, the rate for elderly patients being back in the wards within 30 days has remained a stable 19 per cent in the three years from 2011 to 2013.

However, the number of elderly patients in public hospitals has been rising and now accounts for about one-third of all admissions.

Mr Gan said factors affecting readmission rates include the patient's condition and illness as well as "the quality of inpatient care, the transitions to primary and community care, and the follow-up care, including rehabilitation care.

"The home environment and family support is also an important contributing factor."

On TTSH's lower rates for older patients, Mr Gan said it assigns a care manager to monitor patients with a history of multiple admissions.

"Such coordinated care and monitoring ensures these patients receive adequate support, and thus minimises the risk of readmission," he added.

MOH to resolve billing inconsistency
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

AN INCONSISTENT approach in the way public hospitals bill patients for emergency treatment before they are warded is to be ironed out, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Currently, some hospitals start inpatient charges only when the patients are transferred to a ward and taken care of by their inpatient team.

At others, these charges start from the time their inpatient team takes care of the patient, even though the patient may still be in the emergency department. These include Changi General Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

As a result, some patients can make bigger claims from MediShield and Medisave.

This has led to appeals and queries from patients to the Ministry of Health (MOH) on what can be claimed against the national insurance scheme as well as what they can use their Medisave for.

Hence, MOH is reviewing the situation "to see how we can streamline the practices across all public hospitals to minimise confusion", Mr Gan said.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam asked if hospitals charge patients differently for beds in tents and corridors than in the wards, and if such beds qualify for Medisave use and MediShield claims.

Mr Gan said the median wait for a ward bed was 21/2 hours last year, with priority given to the very ill. "While patients wait to be admitted to an inpatient bed, they will continue to receive medical treatment, nursing care, clinical monitoring and other services, as well as meals they may require during this transit period."

This being so, he said, they are charged according to the ward rates, and MediShield and Medisave can be used. When Mr Giam asked if patients get a discount for the discomfort they might face, Mr Gan said some hospitals are flexible and charge reduced rates.

HDB studying solutions to bring direct lift access to more households
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Oct 2014

The Housing Development Board (HDB) is studying two possible solutions to bring direct lift access to more households. This was announced in a written reply by the Ministry of National Development (MND), in response to questions from MP for Hougang, Mr Png Eng Huat, on Tuesday (Oct 7).

Mr Png had asked for an update on the new technology and solutions in place to provide direct lift access to those not eligible for the Lift Upgrading Programming (LUP).

The lifts - a Vertical Platform Lift and a Pneumatic Vacuum Elevator - are currently being constructed and should be completed by year's end. The Vertical Platform Lift uses a simple belt-driven system to move the platform vertically, while the Pneumatic Vacuum Elevator uses air suction to move the lift car up and down.

The speed of the two lifts is slower, but both are less costly to install compared to the current lift systems.

The MND said it plans to test two types of lifts at two non-residential sites - a multi-storey carpark and a commercial block – to see if they are technically feasible and acceptable to residents, especially the elderly and the disabled, before considering their suitability. Currently, some low-rise blocks and those with severe site constraints are ineligible for LUP. There are currently about 200 such blocks and they are mostly blocks with very few benefitting units to share the LUP cost.

Mr Png also asked if there would be an LUP Exercise specifically to provide direct lift access for these 200 blocks.

"There will likely still be blocks which are unsuitable for the new lift solutions and cannot enjoy the direct lift access with current technology. HDB will continue to explore other measures to improve direct lift access for residents in these blocks," said the MND in its reply, adding that those who require direct lift access due to medical conditions can approach HDB for assistance.

The Government launched the LUP in 2001 to provide direct lift access for residents in HDB blocks. Since then, it has benefited about 500,000 households from 5,000 blocks. The LUP, which is highly subsidised by the Government, cost a total of S$5 billion.

1,312 households granted more than 2 HDB loans between Jan 2013 and Jun 2014
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 7 Oct 2014

Between January 2013 and June 2014, a total of 1,312 households were granted an HDB loan, even though they had already taken two HDB loans previously.

They were among the 25,000 households who were granted mortgage loans during that period. The National Development Ministry said households who were granted more than two loans are exceptions to the rule, and HDB evaluates such requests on a case-by-case basis.

It said these are typically flat buyers who have a steady income and are in urgent need of housing but are unable to secure financing from the banks due to poor credit records.

The ministry said this in a written response to MP for Hougang Png Eng Huat, who asked how many flat owners had taken more than two loans from HDB and what was the qualifying criteria for such loans.

Some SMEs may feel impact of higher tolls
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

THE impact of the higher Causeway tolls on economic activity in Singapore is likely to be small, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck.

The reason: cost of land transport makes up just 3 per cent of business costs for manufacturers. For businesses in the services sector, it is even lower - 1 per cent.

But some businesses are likely to feel the burn from the sharp increase in the tolls, he said in his reply to Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC) - in particular, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in sectors such as wholesale and food that often transport goods across the Causeway.

Since Oct 1, a round-trip via the Causeway can cost $13.10 - an increase of more than five times. This follows higher charges imposed by Singapore to match the increased rates Malaysia had introduced on Aug 1.

SMEs could also suffer lower profits should logistics companies offering trucking services pass on to them the higher charges, said Mr Teo.

Similarly, there could be some impact on inflation.

He noted that some food imports as well as lifestyle and furniture products are moved via the Causeway and the higher toll may be passed on to consumers.

But he foresees minimal impact as most of these items arrive in Singapore by air or sea.

Mr Teo also said his ministry has received feedback that companies have found ways to cope with the new charges, including scheduling their trips more efficiently so that they did fewer trips.

As for the flow of workers into Singapore during peak hours, Mr Teo said his ministry has yet to receive "major feedback" of any impact on business operations.

Singapore Citizens accounted for 85% of COEs sold since 2012
Channel NewsAsia, 7 Oct 2014

The majority of vehicles registered to individuals in 2012, 2013 and the first eight months of 2014 - about 85 per cent - belong predominantly to Singapore citizens, according to Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew.

Mr Lui said there were a total of 60,574 vehicles registered during the time period. Of these, Singapore citizens owned 51,495 vehicles across all vehicle category class, or about 85 per cent of the overall population. All figures exclude vehicles registered to companies.

By contrast, Permanent Residents owned 6,605 vehicles, or 10.9 per cent. Non-resident foreigners were the smallest class of owners, with 2,474 vehicles or 4.1 per cent of the overall population, he stated.

The minister was responding to a question posed by Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim during the Parliament session on Tuesday (Oct 7).

Unemployment rate of degree holders has remained low: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Alice Chia, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Oct 2014

On an annual basis from 2008 to 2013, the unemployment rate of resident degree holders has remained low and relatively stable at an average of 2.9 per cent, amongst the lowest across all educational groups in this period, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in a Parliamentary written reply on Tuesday (Oct 7).

He was responding to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong.

Mr Tan said the unemployment rate for such degree holders fluctuates from quarter to quarter. It is typically higher in June each year due to seasonal factors such as the new graduating cohort entering the labour force. This trend is reflected in the recent increase from 2.5 per cent in March 2014 to 3.9 per cent in June 2014.

He added that over the last decade, the proportion of degree holders in the resident population has increased substantially - from 14.4 per cent in 2003 to 23.9 per cent in 2013.

But the proportion of degree holders who are economically inactive only increased marginally - from 10.5 per cent in June 2003 to 11.9 per cent in June 2013. This is significantly lower than the 33.3 per cent of economically inactives in the overall resident population. 

The proportion of resident degree holders under the age of 30 who were economically inactive in 2013 is the lowest across all educational groups, at 10.6 per cent. For this group, further education and training as well as childcare were the most commonly cited reasons for being out of the workforce. 

Mr Tan said: "MOM (Ministry of Manpower) will continue to monitor the economic activity status of degree holders closely. We will continue in our efforts with tripartite partners to ensure that all residents, including degree holders, have good access to quality jobs, career development and progression pathways."

New foreign workers hired in services sector almost halved in 2013: Tan Chuan-Jin
Channel NewsAsia, 7 Oct 2014

Foreign manpower demand across the services sector has "moderated progressively", said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7).

In 2013, the foreign workforce growth in the sector, excluding foreign domestic workers, was 12,100. In comparison, the growth was 22,800 in 2012 and 53,700 in 2011. "The national emphasis on productivity, together with previously announced foreign workforce tightening measures, contributed to this moderation," Mr Tan said.

The minister added that in line with slower growth in foreign workforce, MOM has also moderated its pace of tightening. After tightening measures in 2012 and 2013, the ministry did not introduce new foreign workforce policy adjustments for the services sector this year, he noted.

"There have been early encouraging results. Incomes of Singaporeans have risen more significantly in 2013 compared to previous years, especially for our low wage workers," said Mr Tan.

"Firms are also responding and adjusting, such as through introduction of technology and automation, offering more self-service options to consumers, or offering better and more flexible job packages to attract Singaporeans."

The Manpower Minister added that for the overall economy, the Government is approaching its targets in keeping foreign workforce growth to sustainable levels. For instance, overall foreign workforce growth in the first six months of 2014 was the lowest since 2009, he said.

Mr Tan's written reply to a query by MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza indicated that the Manpower Ministry does not rule out further flexibility where warranted. Mr de Souza had asked if the Ministry is open to adopting a flexible approach to the foreign worker dependency ratio ceiling for industries where it is difficult to attract Singaporeans.

Mr Tan emphasized that flexibility cannot be accorded simply to industries that claim they cannot find Singaporeans, as this would entrench reliance on labour-intensive business models and reduce the need for businesses to re-design their jobs to be more attractive to Singaporeans. He added that while the Government has applied a consistent set of rules across sectors, it does provide flexibility in industries such as healthcare and landscaping, where there is an essential economic or social need.

That said, domestic-oriented industries within the services sector - such as food services, retail trade and accommodation - continued to lag in productivity growth, with "significant room for improvement", he said.

Mr Tan added: "We intend to maintain our current foreign workforce policy stance, without liberalising nor having new measures to tighten foreign worker numbers further, which should maintain the motivation for businesses to adopt manpower-lean business models, and to improve job outcomes for Singaporeans."

He also gave an update to a question from Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin. She asked what the proportion of larger versus smaller SMEs was, which have benefited from SPRING'S productivity grants to mitigate the impact of manpower constraints. Mr Tan said eight out of 10 SMEs supported by SPRING were micro and small SMEs with an annual revenue of less than S$10 million.

More small companies may be exempt from having to audit their accounts
Channel NewsAsia, 7 Oct 2014

More small companies may soon be exempted from having to audit their accounts annually. This exemption is part of a Bill to amend the Companies Act which was read for the second time in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7).

Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Mrs Josephine Teo said the move will help reduce compliance costs for at least 25,000 small companies which currently do not qualify for audit exemption.


The first set of amendments aims to reduce regulatory burden on companies and provide greater business flexibility.

Clauses 128 and 184 of the Bill will introduce the concept of a "small company" that will be used to determine audit exemption. This will replace the current ruling where a company is exempted from auditing its accounts annually only if it is an exempt private company and has an annual revenue of S$5 million or less.

For a private small company to qualify for audit exemption, it has to meet at least two of the three criteria, which is a total annual revenue of not more than S$10 million, total assets of not more than $10 million and the number of employees being not more than 50.


Other proposed amendments in the Bill include the removal of the 'one share, one vote' restriction for public companies. Mrs Teo said this "will give public companies greater flexibility in raising capital, and investors a wider range of investment opportunities".

She added that the Singapore Exchange and the Monetary Authority of Singapore are reviewing if listed companies should be permitted to issue shares with different voting rights. Pending the conclusion of the review, listed companies will not be permitted to issue shares with different voting rights.

Mrs Teo said that this amendment "will liberalise the regime for about 800 non-listed public companies".


The second set of amendments to the Companies Act aims to improve corporate governance. These include the introduction of a new multiple-proxies regime.

This means that intermediaries such as banks and firms that provide nominee or custodial services can appoint more than two proxies to attend shareholders' meeting. At the same time, indirect investors, including CPF members who have invested in the shares of companies can also be appointed as proxies to participate in shareholders' meetings, and be given the same rights as direct investors to vote at the meetings.

Singapore plans world court for commercial cases by 2015
Amendments also to introduce new regulatory system for legal profession
By K.C. Vijayan, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

PLANS to set up an international court here by early next year to handle commercial cases were tabled in Parliament yesterday in a bid to turn Singapore into Asia's No. 1 venue for dispute resolution.

The Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), as it will be called, will draw its judges from eminent international jurists and Supreme Court judges, and give local lawyers the chance to work on high-value cross-border disputes which otherwise would not have been heard here.

Amendments that will introduce a new regulatory framework for the legal profession here were also read for the first time in Parliament. A new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, which will come under the Ministry of Law, will be set up to regulate all law firms and foreign lawyers, who will also be subject to the same disciplinary process as their local counterparts.

It will also be made compulsory for all Singapore lawyers to reveal the hours they spent doing pro bono work in the preceding year when renewing their practising certificate. The statistics, it is believed, will be used to monitor how much lawyers are contributing back to society.

Law firms here welcomed news of the SICC, which is set to build on Singapore's success in arbitration. The country is the world's third most preferred seat of arbitration, behind London and Geneva. The caseload is predominantly international, with more than 80 per cent of cases involving at least one foreign party. Last year, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) heard 259 disputes, valued at $6.06 billion in total.

Mr Alastair Henderson, managing partner for South-east Asia of global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said Singapore has won international respect for the success of SIAC, and the new court is the next logical step in its ambition to offer a complete suite of dispute resolution services.

"It is an essential component of this wider plan to be Asia's dispute resolution hub. The SICC will be an internationally respected court that can handle the largest and most complex international disputes, without the limitation of needing consent (from all parties concerned as is required in arbitration) for its involvement."

The SICC will be set up as a division of the High Court - which means its decisions can be enforced as judgments of the Singapore Supreme Court, while decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeal (CA).

The proposed legislative changes also provide for international judges to be hired to hear SICC cases, as well as allow former High Court judges to be appointed as Senior Judges to hear High Court, SICC or CA cases.

This will empower the Chief Justice to call on such judges where needed to ease the hearing load of the court and to tap into particular areas of specialist legal expertise of retired judges.

Anti-human trafficking Bill tabled
By Charissa Yong And Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2014

A PROPOSED law to prevent human trafficking in Singapore was introduced in Parliament yesterday, one of 10 Bills that was put before the House.

The Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill formally defines human trafficking, empowers specialist officers to investigate suspected traffickers, and sets out harsh penalties for those found guilty of trafficking or abetting such activities.

Singapore does not have specific laws against human trafficking but outlaws trafficking in children, and in women for sex, through other legislation.

The human trafficking situation in Singapore has been kept under control thorough laws and active enforcement, said Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who tabled the rare Private Member's Bill. This is a Bill proposed by MPs, in contrast to government Bills tabled by ministers.

But Singapore remains vulnerable to trafficking due to its status as a regional economic and transport hub, said Mr de Souza in a joint statement with a national anti-trafficking taskforce spearheaded by the Home Affairs and Manpower ministries.

Under the Bill, the penalty for trafficking is a jail term of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $100,000, as well as up to six strokes of the cane. Repeat offenders face a jail term of up to 15 years and a maximum fine of $150,000 but caning of up to nine strokes will be mandatory.

People who receive payment in connection with the exploitation of a person whom they know has been trafficked will also be committing a crime.

Yesterday, an umbrella group opposed to such trafficking handed Mr de Souza a petition with 1,050 signatures from migrant workers and Singaporeans. Among other things, the Stop Trafficking SG group wants victims to be shielded from prosecution for immigration infractions. It also wants them to be given the right to continue working in Singapore while their cases are ongoing.

Another Private Member's Bill tabled yesterday proposes tougher penalties for acts of animal cruelty, and will let the authorities adopt a code that sets new standards on animal welfare. The amendment to the Animal and Birds Act requires "owners and persons in charge of animals" to take reasonable care of them, and will allow harsher penalties to be meted out to offenders, said Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC), one of six MPs behind the Bill.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who chairs the committee driving the Bill, said it was important to balance the different views and interests on animal issues between animal lovers and those who may not be comfortable with animals.

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