Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Parliament Highlights - 3 Nov 2014


Human-trafficking law passed after debate
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

A LANDMARK law to fight human trafficking was passed yesterday, but not before a 2 1/2-hour debate on whether it went far enough to protect victims of modern-day slavery and deter offenders.

Still, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act was lauded as timely and necessary by all seven MPs who spoke on it. They praised backbencher Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) for initiating the Private Member's Bill - only the fourth of its kind since independence.

"The intention is that this (law) will dismantle syndicates and prevent the exploitation of innocent women, men, girls and boys," said Mr de Souza.

First-time offenders face up to 10 years in jail, a maximum fine of $100,000, plus the possibility of up to six strokes of the cane, with repeat offenders facing heavier punishments.

But several MPs questioned whether it will serve as enough of a deterrent. Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said that a recently passed law to clamp down on online betting included fines of as much as $300,000 to $500,000, and that he backed calls for harsher penalties.

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam highlighted that in California, human trafficking carries a fine of up to US$1.5 million (S$1.93 million) and a jail term of 15 years to life. Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) also called for stiffer penalties when victims are children.

But Mr de Souza said the penalties were benchmarked against those of similar crimes here and in overseas jurisdictions, such as Hong Kong, where sex trafficking-related offences carry a maximum of 10 years' jail.

Several MPs also said the Act did not go far enough in legislating for the victims' welfare, including immunity from prosecutions and the right to work while cases were being investigated.

Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC), calling for the Bill to be "humanised", said: "There are 11 sections... in relation to enforcement and yet only two sections... for victim protection and assistance." The two sections provide for counselling and shelter for victims.

In the lead-up to yesterday's debate, several non-government organisations criticised the Bill for falling short on victim care. But by making the Bill more "victim- centric", such as mandating the right to work, labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said that could open "a Pandora's box with many coming forward to make false claims in the hope of finding alternative employment".

Instead, he stressed the "need to assess each case on its facts and merits, followed with the exercise of discretion and empathy, as opposed to preferring a 'one-size- fits-all' approach" when it comes to the treatment of victims.

Mr de Souza said he understood the members' concerns but "one should not look at simple arithmetic to see how much or how many parts of the Bill are allocated to victim enforcement, prevention and so on".

What is important is that the law "protects the most vulnerable of the vulnerable - the innocent who often do not have a voice, and who are caught in a merciless web of exploitation".




New Bill against human trafficking aims to restore dignity, show compassion to victims
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Nov 2014

A new law dedicated at combating human trafficking was passed in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3), prescribing stiff penalties in the form of mandatory jail terms and fines.

The aim of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill is to show care and compassion for vulnerable victims, stressed MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher De Souza as he opened the debate in Parliament on the proposed new law to combat human trafficking.

Mr De Souza had first mooted the idea for such a law in 2013.

"This is a group of individuals that are extremely vulnerable - perhaps the most vulnerable of the vulnerable - and, therefore, we must, out of principle, take steps to protect and care for them. Our role is not just to help them; we need to partner them and give them a sense of hope. We should partner them to restore their dignity - their dignity as a person, as a human being," he said in Parliament on Monday.

Singapore currently does not have dedicated laws to deal with human trafficking.

ACT, MEANS, PURPOSE

The objectives of the new Bill are four-fold, he said.

First, it clarifies the legal regime by providing a formal definition of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and prescribes penalties to deal with human trafficking in a more targeted and deterrent manner.

Second, it empowers enforcement agencies with the necessary investigation and enforcement levers to tackle TIP.

Third, it provides measures to protect and support trafficked victims, and encourage the reporting of trafficking or suspected trafficking activities.

Fourth, the Bill will bring Singapore closer in line with international standards, and uplift efforts to combat TIP in the country and region.

According to the Bill, there are three elements of proof needed for an offence, to be classified as human trafficking.

There must be an "act" - this could be the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of an individual. Next, this act must be accompanied by "means" - which could be the use of threat, force, or any other form of coercion or deception. Finally, these must be done for the "purpose of exploitation", such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, or organ removal.

As TIP is a serious charge, all three elements must be proven. Cases which fall short of the required thresholds may still be taken up by other existing laws, where appropriate.

The burden of proof is lower for child victims. This is in recognition of their vulnerability to exploitation. To afford a child greater protection under the law, there is no requirement for the prosecution to prove the methods or means used.

It is sufficient for the prosecution to show that there was an act to recruit, transport, transfer, harbour or receive a child victim for the purposes of exploitation.

Recognising the transnational nature of the crime, a trafficking offender is liable in Singapore even if his acts straddles between Singapore and another jurisdiction. Besides traffickers, persons who abet the offence are similarly liable. Penalties include severe fines and caning.

VICTIM SUPPORT

As for victim support, currently victims of abuse - including trafficked victims - are provided a range of services which includes temporary accommodation, food, counselling services, medical care and temporary employment.

Mr De Souza said each victim is assessed thoroughly as the needs differ from individual to individual, and the support measures are tailored and provided accordingly. The new Bill endorses this established approach.

The Director of Social Welfare may provide trafficked victims with help as he considers practicable and necessary.

Mr De Souza said this includes, but is not limited to, temporary shelter and counselling services.

"Human trafficking is real; it is cruel; and it must be stemmed. We, as a society, must speak up for the voiceless and helpless by sending as strong a signal as we can against these serious crimes. This is the ethos behind the Bill," he said.

"To prevent TIP from taking root in our community, our laws have to be comprehensive yet targeted, possess sufficient bite to punish perpetrators and deter would-be offenders, and offer protection and support to those in need. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill strengthens these fronts by supplementing our existing suite of laws and measures. It raises our standards of fighting TIP both locally and internationally, and will serve as a beacon to our enforcement officers who are involved in this effort."

DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN CONGRATULATES MR DE SOUZA

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan congratulated Mr de Souza in a Facebook post after the Bill was passed.

In the post, Mr Balakrishnan said: "Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill passed by Parliament. Congratulations to Christopher de Souza for so masterfully taking this rare private member's bill through Parliament after extensive public consultations. His past experience as a DPP, strong sense of compassion and resolute values were so obvious."





Tragic stories of human trafficking in modern Singapore
MPs from both sides of the House who spoke on Bill say it is timely
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

FROM migrant fishermen made to work under inhumane conditions, to women lured to Singapore by promises of good pay but forced into prostitution, the new Prevention of Human Trafficking Act will go a long way to protecting such victims.

Several of the Members of Parliament who debated the Bill related tragic stories to stress the point that modern Singapore is no stranger to the scourge.

Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC) told of a Bangladeshi sex worker who ended up servicing 10 men on weekdays and up to 45 on weekends, from 2pm to 6am. And of a young woman with a good singing voice who came here for a stint as an entertainer to provide a better future for her disabled son, but was stripped and confined in a cold room until she agreed to prostitute herself.

"Even as I relate all these cases to you, I feel this emptiness in my gut," he told the House.

The man behind the Bill, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) also talked about a chef who was offered work here but, once in Singapore, was told she owed a debt to the man who arranged her entry and needed to prostitute herself to pay it back.

She refused and was beaten before she escaped.

All seven MPs who spoke on the Bill, from both sides of the House, said it was timely, given Singapore's vulnerability to human trafficking as a destination country due to its economic stature and strategic location.

Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said the Bill "speaks to our intent to rise above pragmatism and address what is morally right".

Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam called it a "long-overdue legislation".

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) said that the new law will "bring much needed relief" to migrant fishermen, who are vulnerable to labour trafficking through this country.

He said: "Conditions on board the vessels were squalid and unsanitary, but as the vessels were mostly out at sea, escape was virtually impossible..."

As for calls to make the Bill more "victim-centric", such as mandating the right to work while cases are being investigated, Mr Zainal said that it could encourage false claims.

Instead, he said the tailored approach in the Bill was the right one.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli and Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor also assured the House that victims' welfare will be looked after thoroughly.

Their ministries co-chaired the Singapore Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, established in 2010.

Mr Masagos stressed that the safety of victims is key, and that police and the Attorney- General's Chambers will fast- track cases. Victims will be given access to shelter, consular support, English lessons and vocational training, for instance.

Dr Khor said victims from non-traditional source countries who are not eligible for a work permit in the service and manufacturing sectors would be offered employment in shelters.

Mr de Souza added that instead of "hard-coding" measures, allowing the government agencies to make a thorough assessment of each victim's needs will "ensure we have a victim-care regime that is robust, flexible and fair".




Key aspects of the new leglisation
- For the first time, there is a law against human trafficking involving sexual exploitation, forced labour or organ removal
- It is trans-national in nature, which means only part of the offence needs to be committed in Singapore. Those who facilitate the offence or profit from it will also fall foul of the law
- The Act is gender-neutral, and defines a child as a person under 18. Exploiting a child will be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing
- First-time offenders face up to 10 years in jail, a maximum fine of $100,000, plus the possibility of up to six strokes of the cane. Repeat offenders face up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $150,000, with mandatory caning of up to nine strokes
- A person suspected of trafficking can be arrested without a warrant
- Informers will be protected from civil or criminal proceedings relating to evidence given
- Victims will be provided with temporary shelter and counselling




Visa requirements to keep Ebola at bay
By Salma Khalik Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

FROM tomorrow, citizens of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - three countries where the deadly Ebola virus is spreading - must have a visa before they can enter Singapore, even if they are arriving here from a different country.


Dr Lam said this will "allow for better oversight and control of entry" of the nationals from these West African countries, and will make it easier to trace people they come into contact with. Singapore gets about 30 visitors in total from these three nations monthly.

Since August, the Health Ministry has also put in place "border control measures" to guard against the risk of Ebola entering the country, Dr Lam said.

Travellers coming from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali will be sent directly to Tan Tock Seng Hospital if they have a fever on arrival.

All visitors flying in from these countries must also complete a health declaration card and a questionnaire to assess their risk of exposure to Ebola.

Those deemed to be at high risk will be "put on very close surveillance" which includes quarantine either in their home or in government facilities, Dr Lam said.

Others will be put on phone surveillance for 21 days to check if they become sick, before they are allowed to continue with their activities unrestricted, he added. Ebola patients are not infectious until they develop symptoms.

Dr Lam was replying to Tanjong Pagar GRC MPs Chia Shi-Lu and Lily Neo on steps taken to prevent Ebola from spreading here. The virus has infected 13,567 people and killed 4,951.

Dr Chia also asked if the Health Ministry would consider imposing a total ban on travel to and from the affected African nations until the "backbone of the epidemic has been broken".

Dr Lam said such a move "cannot be taken lightly". It depends on the extent of the epidemic in those nations, their public health infrastructure and advice from the World Health Organisation and experts here. Congo, for instance, is set to be declared Ebola-free on Nov 21 if no new cases emerge. Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the United States have imported cases of Ebola.

He added: "The situation is very dynamic and we will continue to review our measures as the Ebola situation evolves."

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam asked what Singapore has learnt from the mistakes that led to transmission of cases in Spain and the US. Dr Lam said three of the five transmitted cases there involved health-care workers and may have been caused by "breaches in infection control measures such as improper removal of personal protective equipment".





Proposal to let unions represent PMEs
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

A PROPOSED law was introduced in Parliament yesterday to let rank-and-file unions represent the swelling ranks of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, tabled by the Manpower Ministry, seeks to do so through collective bargaining, a move lobbied for by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Currently, these unions cannot represent PMEs as a group because of possible conflicts of interest, as they are from the ranks of management. The NTUC has been pushing for the restriction to be eased to attract more PMEs to join unions.

PMEs form a growing segment in the labour force. About three in 10 local workers are PMEs, and the proportion is expected to grow to two in three by 2030. There are about one million PMEs in the resident labour force.

Besides allowing unions to represent PMEs as a group, the Bill also wants the unions to be allowed to represent them individually on re-employment matters.

The scope of individual representation is now limited to such areas as negotiations for retrenchment benefits and appeals against wrongful dismissal.





No shorter leases for first-time flat buyers
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

THE Housing Board (HDB) is not going to introduce an option of shorter leases of 70 years for first-time buyers of its flats.

First-timers who want such flats can turn to the resale market, where they are still eligible for housing grants, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament yesterday.

He also did not think demand for such flats would be strong.


Mr Seah argued that home prices would be more affordable with shorter leases.

Disagreeing, Mr Khaw gave two reasons why demand would be weak.

First, the upfront cost the HDB would incur for a 70-year lease would be the same as that for a 99-year lease.

Second, owing to the time value of money and the fact that flats with shorter leases tend to depreciate faster, the reduced price of a flat would not be directly proportional to the shortened lease.

"In fact, it is significantly higher," Mr Khaw said.

"The fact is that we price new flats on a 99-year lease to be highly affordable for first-time buyers."

With significant housing grants, first-timers with a monthly household income of $1,000 can afford a new two-room flat in a non-mature estate, while those who earn $4,000 a month should be able to afford a four-room home.

"They can do so with little or no out-of-pocket cash," he said.

The HDB buys land from the Singapore Land Authority on a 105-year lease, enabling the authority to build and sell new flats with a 99-year lease.

It, however, offers flats with shorter leases to serve the needs of specific buyers, Mr Khaw said, citing studio apartments, which are sold on a 30-year lease to senior citizens as their retirement homes.

He also assured Mr Seah that he would "keep (his) options open", by perhaps offering an entire block of flats with 70-year lease, should the need arise.

"But at the moment, I doubt it," he said.





HDB resale flats a third more expensive than new BTO flats in suburbs: Khaw
Channel NewsAsia, 3 Nov 2014

Housing Development Board (HDB) resale flats are about 31 per cent more expensive than new Build-to-Order (BTO) ones in the suburbs, or the Outside Central Region (OCR), National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed in a written reply to Parliament on Monday (Nov 3).

He added that the price difference between the two flat types was 18 per cent in 2004.

Mr Khaw also noted that prices of private homes in the suburbs are 158 per cent higher than that of HDB resale flats in the same area. The figure was 118 per cent in 2004.

But Mr Khaw said the numbers should be interpreted with care, as the industry's grouping of private property is different from HDB's classification.

"OCR and RCR (Rest of Central Region) are terms used by the industry to group private properties in Singapore. They do not coincide with the HDB classification of mature and non-mature estates," he said.

"Moreover, given the wide range of housing types in the private housing market, from shoe-box units to luxurious penthouses, price comparison between the public and the private housing markets should therefore be interpreted with care," Mr Khaw said.

ABOUT 3,500 APPLICANTS BARRED FROM APPLYING FOR BTO FLATS FOR A YEAR

In response to another question by Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Khaw also said about 3,500 applicants have been barred from buying new BTO flats for a year after they cancelled their booking of units with HDB. This is since the implementation of the rule in March 2012, Mr Khaw said.

He noted that the measure to impose this one-year debarment is to discourage frivolous bookings. "Such behaviour is unfair to genuine flat buyers who may otherwise be crowded out," Mr Khaw said.

"HDB prefers to accumulate its balance flats and sell them under a Sale of Balance Flats exercise when there is a sufficiently large supply. This allows applicants more choices of flat types in various locations."





Bill passed to curb abuse of PIC scheme
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

NEW measures have been put in place to curb abuse of the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme, which dangles financial incentives for companies that restructure their operations to become more productive.

A Bill passed by Parliament yesterday requires businesses to show that their IT and automation equipment are "in use" before they can claim cash payouts under the scheme.

Previously, companies just had to show they had incurred the expenditure.

Now, the equipment need to be on the company's premises and deployed for the purpose of business, said Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo during the debate on the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill.

Businesses also should be able to "articulate the equipment's intended use" to the tax authorities, she added, when replying to Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, who had asked about the definition of "in use".

The new law also allows the Comptroller of Income Tax to deny PIC benefits to companies engaged in objectionable arrangements which seek to abuse the scheme, said Mrs Teo.

Those who promote or facilitate claims for PIC benefits under these arrangements will be punished. The maximum penalty is three years in jail plus a fine of $10,000.

"These changes are not expected to affect businesses making bona fide PIC claims, but seek to deter the small minority of businesses which attempt to make artificial or inflated PIC claims," she said.

Mrs Teo also pointed companies to guidelines on the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's (Iras) website for more information on claiming for research and development (R&D) activities under the PIC scheme. Mr Yee had pointed out that few turn to the PIC scheme for R&D support.

He said small and medium-sized enterprises have expressed concerns about Iras' strict definition of R&D activities, making it difficult for them to tap on the scheme.

The new law also included changes to Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS) accounts, a voluntary retirement savings programme that complements the Central Provident Fund system.

SRS members who have reached the retirement age of 62 can transfer their investments in, say, shares, to another account, like their personal Central Depository accounts, without having to liquidate them first. Similar to cash withdrawn from the SRS accounts, the value of such investments withdrawn will be taxed.

The move will help reduce transaction costs for SRS members, said Mrs Teo.

Previously, these members could make only cash withdrawals from their SRS accounts, which meant they had to liquidate their investments.





Productivity measures being fine-tuned
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014.

DIFFERENT measures of productivity are increasingly being used to give a more complete picture of how each sector in Singapore is performing, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan yesterday.

The Government wants to expand the definition of productivity - typically measured in terms of value-add per worker - by looking at indicators peculiar to each industry, he told Parliament.

For instance, the construction sector, where productivity growth is lagging by the standard measure, has been making progress on square metres constructed per man day, he said.

"If this increase is not reflected in the prices of their contracts, the net effect may be a reduction in productivity."

For the retail industry, possible industry-specific productivity measures include sales per square foot of retail space.

Mr Lee was responding to a question from Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC), who had asked if finer measurements of productivity are needed to confirm that Singapore's productivity push is on the right track, given that overall numbers do not seem to reflect the progress made since economic restructuring efforts began in 2010.

The Government has set a target of 2 to 3 per cent growth in productivity per year for the 10-year period to 2019.

This, while ambitious, came after 1 per cent growth on average in the decade up to 2009.

Singapore's labour productivity is expected to rise by slightly more than 2 per cent per year on average in the first five years of the target period, though almost all the gains were achieved in 2010 when the economy recovered strongly, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a speech last week.

In Parliament yesterday, Mr Lee also said that the Government is working with various trade associations on productivity-boosting efforts tailored to the specific needs of each sector.





More than 1,300 employers tapped grants to help older workers: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Nov 2014

As of end-September this year, more than 1,300 employers have tapped grants set up to help older workers, said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC David Ong, who asked what was being done to motivate the public and private sectors to redesign and re-engineer their workplaces to complement their senior workforce. Mr Ong also asked what was being done to convince companies to age-proof their workplace, so that older workers can be employed longer and remain productive.

The Government has set up two grants to help older workers, which come under the WorkPro programme, introduced in April 2013. One is the the Age Management Grant, which provides incentives to employers to adopt progressive workplace practices to help seniors continue working. The other is the Job Redesign Grant, a way for employers to re-engineer their workplaces to suit an ageing workforce - for example, by acquiring equipment and systems to support older workers.

"Given our ageing population, the proportion of older workers in our workforce will increase significantly in the next few decades. These workers are a potential asset to employers, with their skills, experience and wisdom honed over the years," noted Mr Tan.

He also pointed out that a key aspect of job redesign is to ensure an employee-centric approach that takes into account the changing needs of employees. On this front, he said public sector agencies engage older officers through open discussions to better understand their work preferences.

These public sector agencies also offer flexible work arrangements catering to the needs and preferences of its officers, including older and re-employed officers - such as part-time employment, the option to start and end their daily work earlier, as well as telecommuting.

"Our tripartite partners - the National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation - are active in reaching out to employers to highlight the importance of implementing job redesign. They do so through regular outreach and briefings to employers on WorkPro, and capitalise on suitable recruitment events to promote WorkPro to employers and individuals," said Mr Tan.

He said the Government and tripartite partners will continue to promote and provide support to employers to implement age-friendly practices and to redesign their workplace for an ageing workforce.





Hong Lim saga: 'Inappropriate' to comment
Khaw cites police investigations and ongoing court cases as reasons
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014


But he said that on many occasions before Sept 27, different groups had held multiple events at the same time in the park and there had been "no untoward incident".

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) had asked for a full account of the incident in which a protest rally held at the park's Speakers' Corner had spilled over to another part of the lawn where a YMCA charity carnival was being held.

He also asked whether there was any non-compliance by the organisers of the events, in ensuring public peace. And if any follow-up action had been taken to ensure such incidents would not happen again.

Mr Khaw replied: "The police investigation into the incident has yet to be completed. The legal proceedings against certain persons related to the incident are also ongoing. It is not appropriate to reply to this question."

His response came a day after lawyer M. Ravi submitted a petition to Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, urging Members of Parliament not to say anything in the House that would influence proceedings before the courts.

Mr Ravi is acting for six protesters facing public nuisance charges. They include protest organisers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui, both of whom have also been charged with organising a demonstration without approval.

Yesterday, Madam Halimah reminded MPs about the related cases before the court, and said she would not allow any statement or supplementary question that would impinge on the principle of mutual respect and forbearance between the House and the courts.


But he added that, like any other public park in Singapore, Hong Lim Park is a shared space for all Singaporeans to use, and to conduct community events or other activities for residents.

"It houses two lawns which have been designated as Speakers' Corner," said Mr Khaw, adding that members of the public can be present at these places as the lawns are not for the sole use of Speakers' Corner participants.

Ms Phua had asked about the use of Hong Lim Park, as well as the activities for which the facilities at the adjacent Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre can be used.

The minister replied that Hong Lim Park users can apply to the community centre for the use of its facilities and the stage.

Their use is subject to People's Association terms, Mr Khaw added. For example, the stage should not be used for political or religious activities.

"For the Speakers' Corner, Singaporeans can speak, hold demonstrations and performances after seeking NParks' approval," added Mr Khaw, who is the minister in charge of the National Parks Board (NParks).

Ms Phua also asked for an assurance that the Sept 27 episode would not be repeated.

Mr Khaw replied with a smile, to laughter from MPs: "Can I give an assurance that nobody would speed on the road when we all know that one should not speed?"





Bill on Pioneer Generation Fund passed
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

A BILL to set up a fund for the Pioneer Generation Package was met with support in Parliament yesterday - but also with some questions, with one Nominated Member of Parliament even moving an amendment to it.

The Pioneer Generation Fund will cover the cost of the package, estimated at slightly over $9 billion, said Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo during the Bill's second reading.

This will ensure the package can be paid for beyond the current term of government, and regardless of the state of the economy.

Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC), one of three MPs to speak on the Bill yesterday, described it as among the Government's "boldest and most generous initiatives" to look after the elderly.

But he added that good execution is as vital as good intentions.

One recurring concern is poor communication of the package's many benefits to the elderly.

Some seniors already have a negative view of the package after bad experiences with front-line staff ill-equipped to handle their queries, said Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC).

She added that it is crucial to train front-line staff: "These are the people who will be our ambassadors for the Pioneer Generation Package.

"The interaction the pioneers have with them will colour their perceptions of the package."

Mr Ong also stressed the need to ensure the fund is well-governed.

In reply, Mrs Teo said it would be subject to the same stringent structure as for similar funds.

The fund will be audited and its financial statements presented to Parliament every year.

Addressing Mr Ong's worry of indiscriminate fees from health- care providers, Mrs Teo assured him the Health Ministry will closely monitor claims submitted by clinics and will not hesitate to call them out on exceptional claims.

Whether the Bill would benefit all pioneers was a concern of NMP Chia Yong Yong, who tried moving an amendment to a clause in the Bill, leading to some confusion before it was passed.

Ms Chia took issue with the phrase "them who are elderly and are or may be in need of financial relief" - which she said suggested pioneers could be subjected to means-testing - and asked to replace part of it with "pioneers".

This led to an exchange between her and Mrs Teo, who repeatedly stressed that the Government has no intentions to introduce means-testing for pioneers.

Ms Chia still moved the amendment, but assent was not granted by the House, and the Bill was passed without changes.





Pioneer Generation Fund Bill to be refined: Josephine Teo
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

Co-chair of the Pioneer Generation Taskforce Josephine Teo on Tuesday (Nov 4) agreed to refine the Pioneer Generation Fund Bill, which was passed in Parliament on Monday without amendment.

Nominated Member of Parliament Chia Yong Yong had requested to replace a line in the Bill which suggested that the Pioneer Generation Package is subjected to means testing.

Ms Chia said the line which read: "by providing to them who are now elderly and are or may be in need of financial relief, assistance or other support", suggested that the Pioneer Generation Package is subjected to means testing. She asked for it to be replaced with the word "pioneers". Pioneers qualify for the benefits under the Package regardless of their financial status.

But MPs did not agree to the amendment on Monday.

Mrs Teo said: "Following my clarifications, the House did not agree to her proposed amendments, most likely also due to its very short notice, which meant there was no time to consider its substance and possible implications.

"We have taken a look at the Bill in the short time since and agree that we have to refine Clause 3 to better convey the intent of the Pioneer Generation Package and avoid any doubt that the fund could become restricted to providing relief to only the financially needy.”

Mrs Teo said the amendment will be brought to Parliament when it is opportune to do so.





Providing a dignified twilight a task for all
By Lydia Lim Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

IT IS a rare speech that moves the House but Ms Chia Yong Yong's on the Pioneer Generation Fund did.

It was clear, honest and heartfelt, and had even members of the front bench thumping their arm rests in approval. As a Nominated MP, she dared to venture where few elected members have gone.

A lawyer by profession and the president of SPD, a voluntary welfare organisation that caters to people with disabilities, she was one of three MPs to join the debate on new legislation on the $9 billion package of health-care subsidies for Singapore's pioneers.

She not only critiqued the way one part of the Bill was drafted, but she also tabled an amendment that she felt was necessary to pre-empt future, unhelpful debate over means-testing.

The House did not pass her amendment but Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo later said the Finance Ministry would look at how to make a change.

Ms Chia also suggested ways to improve access to the suite of help schemes for pioneers with disabilities, by rationalising the number of qualifying tests for aid.

She saved the best for last, ending her speech with a pointed challenge to all Singaporeans to do their part to ensure pioneers enjoy a "dignified twilight".

She said: "Honouring our pioneers does not lie in dispensing funds alone... It is as frightful to be aged and lonely as it is to be aged and poor. The role of the family is something which no government or voluntary welfare organisation can assume. Loneliness is not a condition that the Government or a VWO can relieve, love is not something that the Government or VWO can give.

"As we consider, debate upon and execute various government schemes for pioneers, I urge each Singaporean to examine our own roles in relation to the pioneers, seniors, people with different or special needs, and others within our families and community.

"We who have seniors within our families, are we willing to assume responsibility for them? We who have seniors in our neighbourhood, are we willing to be neighbours to them? We who are employers, are we willing to engage and employ our seniors on fair terms? Are we willing to redesign the work scope and work space to accommodate their needs whilst tapping on their experience? We see our seniors taking public transport, working in public places. Should we be kind and gracious to them? Do we even notice them? Or do we think someone else will?"

It has perhaps become the prerogative of non-elected members of the House to speak so forthrightly to Singaporeans about their responsibilities as citizens, and sons and daughters.

Mrs Teo, who wrapped up the debate on the Bill, said Ms Chia had in fact voiced what she herself had been feeling since becoming an MP in 2006 - that the loneliness of the elderly was a pain neither state nor VWO could relieve.

Peering over the top of her new, large-framed orange spectacles, she revealed that they were reading glasses and said she too was beginning to experience the challenges of seniority.

On a day when the House also discussed ways to guard against the spread of Ebola, support a coalition of nations battling the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and debated a landmark Bill against human trafficking, the exchange between Ms Chia and Mrs Teo highlighted a very real struggle that takes place daily within homes and neighbourhoods here.

It is a struggle that is set to intensify with the population's rapid ageing.

The Government's move to subsidise medical costs for the pioneer generation, who lacked opportunities to further their education and toiled to set up home and raise families on low wages, is both right and necessary.

But it would be a tragedy if younger Singaporeans saw such aid as permission to outsource to the state and charity groups an ever-growing share of the responsibility of caring for elderly parents and relatives.

That has happened in some countries with extensive welfare benefits for pensioners.

Taking the lead from Ms Chia, Mrs Teo said she joined the NMP in calling on all Singaporeans to "work together with the state to galvanise more efforts to provide the pioneers with a dignified twilight".





Pioneer Generation subsidies won’t cover TCM treatment: Gan Kim Yong
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014


In a written reply to a question from MP Tin Pei Ling, Mr Gan said the outpatient benefits offered under the package are designed to help Pioneers better afford subsidised services in public healthcare institutions, as well as at GP and dental clinics participating in the Community Health Assist Scheme.

“There are currently more than 40 charitable TCM organisations providing easy access to affordable TCM services in the community. Seniors who wish to seek TCM treatment may do so at these TCM clinics,” Mr Gan said.





Doctors 'strongly encouraged' to prescribe generic drugs where possible: MOH
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

Doctors are ethically required to act in the best interests of their patients, including those in the Pioneer Generation, and this means providing them with cost-effective treatments, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday (Nov 3).

Responding to a question by MP Lee Bee Wah, Mr Gan said his ministry "strongly encourages" doctors to prescribe generic drugs where possible, as these would be more affordable for patients than branded equivalents. There are also published clinical practice guidelines to both public and private sector doctors on how best to treat disease conditions and the appropriate use of drugs.

"We encourage patients to engage their doctors on their treatment and charges, and ask about using generics where possible," he said.

"My ministry will continue to monitor the claims made by clinics treating PGs and those under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS). Clinics have been and will continue to be called upon to account for any exceptional claims," Mr Gan added.





No air-con for B2, C-class wards despite the haze: Gan Kim Yong
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The B2 and C class wards in local hospitals are designed for natural ventilation, taking into account affordability and infection control considerations, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3).


However, Mr Gan added that MOH takes additional measures when the environmental conditions warrant it.

"For example, when the haze intensified last year, MOH provided funding to healthcare institutions to purchase air purifiers and portable air coolers for use in naturally ventilated wards. This equipment can be used during a sustained severe haze, should it occur again," he said.

"In addition to this, we are also looking at incorporating additional filter systems in the naturally ventilated patient wards for new healthcare facilities."





Almost 80,000 benefited from ComCare in the last financial year: MSF
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

ComCare has helped 41,036 unique households or 79,333 unique individuals in Financial Year 2013, said Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3).

He said this in response to Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong's question on how many unique individuals and households have received ComCare help, after removing the number of those who have received more than one form of assistance.

The numbers shared by Mr Chan exclude those who have received small amounts of urgent and temporary ComCare interim assistance.

In September, the ComCare annual report said that about 72,000 needy Singaporeans and their families tapped on more than S$102 million in ComCare assistance in Financial Year 2013, with more funds disbursed to those who required short- to medium-term assistance.





Children get same benefits, whether mothers are married or not: MSF
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

Children get the same benefits whether or not their mothers are married, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3). However, benefits that are intended to support marriages and births within the context of families are only given to married mothers, he added.

He stated this in response to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Lina Chiam, who asked if the benefits given by the Government for unwed mothers are the same as those for married mothers, and if the Government has further plans to help unwed mothers.

Mr Chan reiterated that the Government provides support and benefits for the care and development of all Singaporean children, listing benefits related to child care, child development, education and healthcare as examples.

The benefits extended to all Singaporean children whether or not their mothers are married are:
- Child care leave and upaid infant care leave
- Foreign domestic worker levy concession
- Centre-based infant and child care subsidies
- Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KiFAS)
- Education subsidies
- Student care subsidies
- Child Development Credits, Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) top-ups
- Edusave Pupils Fund; Edusave Scholarship and Awards
- Maternity leave of 8 weeks
- Medisave grant for newborns
- MediShield coverage for congenital and neonatal conditions
- Government healthcare subsidies and Medifund
The benefits for married mothers are:
- Baby Bonus Cash Gift and Child Development Account
- Maternity leave of 16 weeks
- Parenthood tax rebate, qualifying child relief, handicapped child relief, working mother’s child relief, and grandparent caregiver relief
- Housing grant for families
- Housing priority schemes
These policies are all subject to regular review to ensure currency and relevance, added Mr Chan.






Poorest households spend S$801 more than they earn each month: MTI
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The average expenditure of the poorest 10 per cent of households in Singapore exceeded their average income by S$801 a month, according to the Household Expenditure Survey 2012/13.

"The average monthly income of households in the first income decile was S$1,043, while their average monthly expenditure was S$1,844. About 55 per cent of their income was derived from work, while the remaining 45 per cent was from non-work income sources such as investment income and regular transfers from the Government," Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said on Monday (Nov 3) in response to a question from Mr Gerald Giam.

"The stronger reliance on non-work income by these households could be attributed to the fact that around one-third of the households in this group were retiree households."

Mr Lim noted that for the bottom 20 per cent of households by income, more than eight in 10 households owned their homes.





MOE has process to vet external vendors: Heng
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

THE Ministry of Education (MOE) has a vetting process to evaluate external vendors before schools engage them to run enrichment programmes, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday.

This includes interviewing potential instructors, looking into their background, taking feedback from other organisations that previously engaged them, or asking for a lesson observation, he said.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, and Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) had asked about the vetting process, after a controversy last month over a relationship programme offered by an external vendor.

Hwa Chong Institution student Agatha Tan, 17, had gone on Facebook to criticise the programme by Focus on the Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity, for being sexist and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Although this case was not specifically mentioned yesterday, Mr Heng said the ministry discourages students from providing comments on social media.

He added: "There is an existing channel for students to provide feedback to teachers to see how classes can continue to be improved."

Yesterday, Mr Heng also spoke about why schools engage external vendors.

They do so for enrichment programmes such as sports and social skills when there is value in tapping "the external expertise of those with the prerequisite professional training or relevant life experiences to complement the teacher's role", he said.

Schools may get their teachers to conduct the enrichment programmes and workshops after they have built their own expertise in a defined area, the minister said.





No plans for more schools offering IP, IB programmes: MOE
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014


In response to a question by MP Hri Kumar, Mr Heng said that following the decision to expand the number of schools offering IP from 11 to 18 in 2010, students in the programme have yet to reach Junior College level yet.

"We will take stock of the eventual outcomes for these students before considering further expansion," he said.

He added that the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been diversifying the secondary school options for students, including setting up specialised schools for Mathematics and Science, Arts, Sports, and Applied Learning and Technology. The IBDP schools add to this diversity, he added.

"Our ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level programmes are rigorous and offer a good balance of depth and breadth. These national curricula are thoughtfully designed for our students," said Mr Heng.

"MOE will continue to monitor trends and developments, and make adjustments to our secondary school landscape along the way as necessary. We will ensure that there continues to be a good mix of programmes across our schools so that we are able to cater to the different learning needs of our students, with the aim of bringing out the best in every child."





Efforts being made to keep Malay language alive: Lawrence Wong
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

There are efforts being made to keeping the Malay language alive for the Malay community and to inspire more non-Malays to pick up the language, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3).

MP Zainudin Nordin asked if there were concerns with regards to the diminishing use of the Malay language in the community, and how the teaching and learning of the language for the young can be improved.

To this, Mr Wong said: "It is true that English is becoming more and more prevalently used at home today. This applies to all communities, including Malay households.

"It is in view of this trend that the Ministry of Education's (MOE) efforts to strengthen the motivation of students in learning their mother tongue languages become even more important."

The Minister said since the recommendations made by the Mother Tongue Language Review Committee in 2010, MOE has redesigned its materials and teaching approaches to make lesson time more interactive. This meant more group discussions, debates, role plays and the use of technology.

Schools also organise Mother Tongue Fortnights annually in collaboration with community organisations and stakeholders, during which cultural activities are showcased to stimulate students' interest in their mother tongue and help them see how the language can come alive.

"A good example is Edgefield Secondary School, where all its students learn conversational mother tongue languages, including Malay, as well as about the respective cultures in Secondary 1," Mr Wong noted.

LARGER SCALE BULAN BAHASA PLANNED FOR 2015

The Minister also pointed out that Bulan Bahasa - an annual initiative of the Malay Language Council Singapore to showcase Malay language, culture and heritage - will be organised on a larger scale in 2015 as part of the nation's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

For example, there are plans to hold exhibitions and associated programmes showcasing the contributions of literary pioneers and community leaders to the development and promotion of Malay language in Singapore.

The Council also intends to organise language and literature programmes such as book talks and Malay language performances targeted at students of all ages, from pre-school to tertiary.

"We hope these activities will help Singaporeans better understand this important part of our cultural heritage," Mr Wong said.





New ERP system won't infringe on privacy, says Minister Lui
By Christopher Tan Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014

TRANSPORT Minister Lui Tuck Yew yesterday moved to allay concerns about privacy issues when he informed Parliament that data collected by a satellite-tracked electronic road-pricing system Singapore is building will be "aggregated and anonymised".

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam had both raised oft-cited concerns regarding privacy, with the latter noting that the new ERP system is not subjected to clauses in the Data Protection Act.

But Mr Lui said "we will anonymise and aggregate the data", referring to methods data collectors use to mask the identity of those tracked.

For instance, the system may be able to know that a motorist travelled from Toa Payoh Lorong 1 to Cecil Street between 8.05am and 8.30am on a Monday, but it will identify him or her only as a digit. And this digit will be lumped together with hundreds or thousands of others who move in a similar pattern.

Such information will give the Land Transport Authority a timely and accurate picture of traffic conditions, which it will broadcast to motorists to help them avoid jams.

Mr Lui said the tender process for the new ERP system - which is expected to be up before 2020 - is ongoing, hence it would not be prudent to comment on its cost.

Meanwhile, Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) asked how the system - which will be able to charge according to distance clocked as well as place and time - will impact users such as cabbies and commercial vehicle drivers, who tend to "dwell more in congested areas".

Mr Lui said: "We want to make sure that it is an equitable system. Today, you are charged the same rate, no matter how long you stay on the road... We will arrive at as fair a system as possible."

He said the cost of maintaining the current gantry-based system had risen by 80 per cent in the last decade. And because it was also ageing, it would have to be replaced.

A global navigation satellite system would also free up land taken up by gantries, Mr Lui said.





Major changes needed for cycling
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2014


Ms Ng (Tampines GRC) wants government agencies to coordinate more in producing cycling laws and enforcement policy; stiffer penalties for drivers in accidents with cyclists and pedestrians; and have a major public education campaign to instil in motorists the rights of cyclists, including changing the driving test to include cycling safety.

Currently, there is no such coordinated approach, resulting in cycling and cyclists having an image problem, she said, following her adjournment motion that let her speak for up to 20 minutes.

She also noted that as traffic and road design in Singapore do not take into account cyclist safety, they reinforce the incorrect perception that bicycles do not belong on the road.

Also, aggressive motorists create a hostile road environment that drives cyclists to ride on footpaths where they feel safer, although it is illegal.

"The whole set-up, as it is, pits cyclists, pedestrians and cars against one another," said Ms Ng.

"If the situation is allowed to persist, the negative attitudes of motorists and pedestrians towards cyclists will harden," she added. This will "sour the ground" for any plan to promote cycling as a sustainable form of transport. Ms Ng proposed that targeting cycling to form 5 per cent of the transport pie by 2020, from the current 2 per cent, would show that the Government is serious in promoting cycling.


A national but voluntary education programme for cyclists will soon be ready for schools, community centres and foreign worker dormitories, he said.

The Government will soon also discuss with the public and various groups "who may have conflicting interests" a set of cycling rules and norms for the island.

It may also look into making it compulsory for buildings to provide bicycle parking facilities.

"As our cycling infrastructure and social norms for shared space mature, I expect cycling to become even more popular," he said.





Committee to review use of personal mobility devices, such as electric scooters
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Committee is reviewing the use of personal mobility devices on how they can enhance short-distance travel while ensuring the safety of pedestrians, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said on Monday (Nov 3).

Responding to a query from MP Lee Bee Wah on the use of electric scooters, Mr Lui said that these devices are currently not allowed on public roads as they do not meet the safety and technical requirements for motor vehicles.

As such, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) can enforce against their use where necessary, he said, adding that the Traffic Police also advises caution on the use of electric scooters on footpaths, as some of the models are able to move at significant speed.

However, the import of electric scooters is still allowed as they can be used within private premises such as Sentosa with the consent of the premise owners, he said.

“That said, these regulations may be too blunt and rigid. We recognise that some personal mobility devices, if used appropriately, can enhance short-distance travel," Mr Lui said. He added that the Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Committee, chaired by Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim, is reviewing how it can "reasonably facilitate this trend", while ensuring the safety of pedestrians and other road and footpath users.





More taxis available during peak periods: Transport Minister
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The percentage of taxis on the roads during the peak period has increased from about 82 per cent in 2012 to 87 per cent in the first eight months of 2014, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew told Parliament on Monday (Nov 3). This translates to about 1,400 more taxis during peak periods, he said.

Mr Lui, responding to a question from MP Lee Bee Wah, also said that the percentage of taxis plying at least 250km daily has increased from about 75 per cent to 78 per cent in the same period, while the proportion of total taxi mileage under hire has increased from about 65 per cent to 68 per cent.

This means that more taxis are plying the roads, and more commuters are using them, said Mr Lui

The Transport Minister also rejected Ms Lee's suggestion to introduce a fixed Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charge for taxi drivers, saying that it is right and fair for taxis - which also add to traffic congestion - to pay ERP charges like any other vehicle. Mr Lui also questioned the right fee to charge, saying that if it is too high, no taxi driver would use it, and if it is too low, taxis would contribute unfairly to congestion.





Singapore to implement OECD AEOI Standard by 2018: Tharman
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The Government will work closely with the financial industry to address issues that may arise as Singapore works towards implementing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) new Automatic Exchange of Information (AEOI) Standard by 2018, said Minster for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3).

He said this in response to a question by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong, adding that the Government is mindful that implementing the standards will impose costs on Singapore's financial institutions and Government agencies. 

Saying that Singapore's continued success as a financial hub depends on maintaining the Republic's reputation as a trusted and responsible financial centre, Mr Tharman added that this means adhering to international standards such as the AEOI, which enables Singapore to strengthen its framework for international cooperation and combat cross-border financial crime.

The AEOI refers to the regular exchange of information between jurisdictions for tax purposes, with the objective of detecting and deterring tax evasion by taxpayers through the use of offshore bank accounts, explained Mr Tharman, who is also Deputy Prime Minister. The information covered is of a pre-defined scope, and typically pertains to information relating to accounts maintained by taxpayers in financial institutions located in a jurisdiction outside of their own

However, Mr Tharman said Singapore will only implement the the AEOI with the following conditions:

First, there must be a level playing field among all major financial centres, including Hong Kong, Dubai, Switzerland and Luxembourg, to minimise regulatory arbitrage

Second, we will only engage in AEOI with jurisdictions that have a strong rule of law and can ensure the confidentiality of information exchanged and prevent its unauthorised use. This is particularly important as AEOI entails the transmission of sensitive taxpayer information which should be safeguarded.

Third, there must be reciprocity with any future AEOI partners in terms of information exchanged.

These conditions are necessary to make sure Singapore continues to respect legitimate expectations for taxpayer confidentiality, as well as to ensure the AEOI is effective in tackling offshore tax evasion, said Mr Tharman.





Training, employment assistance provided to 1,600 inmates each year
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

A total of 1,600 prison inmates received training and employment assistance each year from 2009 to 2013, with 96 per cent of them successfully securing jobs before their release, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Monday (Nov 3) in response to a Parliamentary question from MP Ang Wei Neng.

Mr Teo, who is also the Minister for Home Affairs, said ex-offenders can also approach the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) for employment assistance after their release from prison.

About 360 ex-offenders a year were assisted over the last five years, with 65 per cent of them attending the scheduled job interviews and accepting the job offers, Mr Teo said. He added a successful job match depends on many factors, including the needs of employers and the commitment of ex-offenders.





Decrease in number of 'study mothers' over the last 10 years
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 3 Nov 2014

There has been a decrease in the number of "study mothers" over the last 10 years, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean revealed on Monday (Nov 3) in a written Parliamentary reply to Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim.

Ms Lim had asked about the number of female visitors who have been granted these passes and what proportion of them remain in Singapore after their children or grandchildren have completed their studies and under what circumstances.


He added that once the foreign student completes his studies, his STP is no longer valid and he has to leave the country. The accompanying mother or grandmother is also not allowed to remain in Singapore. 

However, there are certain circumstances where the mother may remain in Singapore. One example is when the mother qualifies for a work pass on her own merits and she stays in Singapore to work.

The application for a work pass is a separate process and is not linked to the LTVP that she was earlier issued, Mr Teo said.





2,200 cases of high-rise littering reported in past year: MEWR
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The National Environment Agency (NEA) received feedback on 2,200 cases of high-rise littering from September 2013 to September 2014, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said on Monday (Nov 3).

Responding to a query from MP Lee Bee Wah on high-rise littering, Dr Balakrishnan said that in most cases, the situation improved following outreach and education efforts by NEA, the Town Councils and grassroots organisations.

For persistent cases, surveillance cameras are deployed and, in the same period, 169 litterbugs were identified. Since 2012, NEA has deployed more than 1,500 cameras in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates and apprehended 273 litterbugs, he said.

“High-rise littering is a safety hazard. We will investigate each case of high-rise littering rigorously to apprehend the culprits who carry out such irresponsible acts,” Dr Balakrishnan said.





Singapore to continue to diversify lifestock sources for korban: Yaacob
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) will work with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to intensify efforts to diversify the sources of lifestock for korban, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim in Parliament on Monday (Nov 3). This will be done to mitigate the risks arising from a supply disruption to a single source.

Currently, the AVA has approved the import of sheep and goats from Australia, Canada, France Ireland, Japan and the United States for the purpose of korban, added Dr Yaacob. A trial involving the import of 500 lifestock from Canada was conducted last year.


Calling the death of the sheep "regrettable" and "unfortunate", Dr Yaacob said that AVA had identified heat stress as the cause of death, ruling out death due to infectious disease. Investigations had also shown that while the SIA Cargo plane had departed Perth, Australia, in fully serviceable condition, one of the three air-conditioning packs on the aircraft produced a lower rate of airflow that may have caused a disruption of temperature in that section of the aircraft.

However, MUIS did not bear any financial loss from the deaths of the lifestock, added the Minister, saying that it was borne by the company which won the tender to import the lifestock. 

Taking into account the cost of livestock at the countries of origin, air freight costs and operation costs incurred by participating mosques and organisations in handling Korban operations, the price of korban this year was S$499 per Australian sheep and S$575 per Irish lamb, said Dr Yaacob.

He added that the korban was carried out smoothly at 24 mosques and two organisations this year, and operations at these centres were performed according to international animal welfare standards and procedures as well as the code of practice issued by the AVA.

Korban is the ritual of animal sacrifice during Eidul Adha in commemoration of Prophet Ibrahim's expression of faith. The meat from the sacrifice is encouraged to be shared with the poor and needy. 





'Special attention' given to NSmen with special needs: Defence Minister
Channel NewsAsia, 4 Nov 2014

The Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF) approach for National Servicemen (NSmen) with special needs takes into account the spectrum of functioning capabilities of each individual, in order to keep them safe yet allows them to serve NS meaningfully, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.


Individuals with special needs are also assessed for their ability to be able to fulfil vocational roles based on their hearing, eyesight, mental and physical capacity. 

"Those able to serve are enlisted and deployed to vocations where they are able to perform their duties meaningfully and contribute to the security of the country, without posing a risk to themselves or others," said Dr Ng.

"Special attention is also paid to these National Servicemen with special needs to safeguard their well-being. Commanders are informed of servicemen who require additional supervision, so that they can accord them the appropriate level of management and care."

There is also a 24-hour Counselling Hotline, which servicemen can call whenever they need help. "The SAF will enable all those who can serve their NS meaningfully and safely to do so," Dr Ng stated.


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