Saturday 31 January 2015

Parliament Highlights - 29 Jan 2015

Parliament passes MediShield Life Scheme Bill
By Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

Parliament on Thursday (Jan 29) passed the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which will provide universal insurance coverage for all Singaporeans.

The Health Ministry is also reviewing the list of pre-existing medical conditions which warrant additional premiums and will inform Singaporeans who are affected.

To help Singapore citizens who will have to pay higher premiums - despite various subsidies - the Government has raised what is known as transitional subsidies.

In the first year, all citizens will get 90 per cent subsidy on the net increase in premium - instead of 80 per cent announced previously. In the second year, they will get 70 per cent subsidy - instead of 60 per cent. They will enjoy 40 per cent subsidy in the third year and 20 per cent in the fourth year.

* MediShield Life Scheme Bill Passed Into Law

The Health Ministry on Thursday (Jan 29) said it will begin checks to calculate each household's eligibility for MediShield Life premium subsidies in a few months' time.

For the data to be accurate, Singaporeans will need to update their address in their IC. There will also be letters sent to them in a few months' time, to give them more information on how to confirm their estimated household make up.


More than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) rose and spoke about the Bill. Among the issues raised was the confusion between MediShield Life and Integrated Shield plans, and whether Singaporeans have to pay for both MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plan premiums.

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor explained: "This is clearly not the case. Let me explain it this way. MediShield as it is today forms the foundation of all Integrated Shield Plans, and the IPs ride on this foundation to provide additional coverage targeting the Class B1/A wards or private hospitals.

"When MediShield Life is launched, it will become the new foundation. To use everyday language, MediShield Life is like plain Milo, which is tasty enough for most people. IPs are like Milo Dinosaur or Milo Godzilla, which taste even richer than Milo but will definitely cost more."


Some MPs asked for more details regarding pre-existing conditions.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "MOH (Ministry of Health) is currently reviewing the list of serious pre-existing medical conditions, with specialist advice from clinicians, and will share more on the broad categories of such conditions later.

"The key focus would be on serious pre-existing medical conditions that are likely to be life threatening; or have high risk of future complications or recurrence, and therefore may require prolonged treatment."

Minister of State for Health Dr Lam Pin Min noted: "I would like to highlight again that the MediShield Life approach for identifying serious pre-existing conditions will be different from and more compassionate than the approach used by private insurance schemes. Less severe conditions such as pre-cancer, well-managed hypertension and diabetes with no complication will not be subject to additional premiums."

Responding to Nominated Member of Parliament Chia Yong Yong's question, Dr Lam said those who have to pay additional premiums can request for a review if they feel their health has got better.

The process of identifying Singaporeans with pre-existing illnesses will be done by assessing information already in Government databases and medical institutions, so that the majority do not need to undergo medical assessments or provide medical reports. This means that they do not need to submit any applications.

However, those who do not wish to have their information accessed can request to opt out. But they will then not be eligible for the subsidies.

The Health Ministry also stressed that it will do its best to help all Singaporeans - especially the lower-income group - to benefit from MediShield Life

Strong support in House as MediShield Life Bill is passed
Concerns over affordability, sustainability and safeguards raised during six-hour debate
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 30 Jan 2015

Almost one and a half years after it was first mooted, a scheme to provide universal healthcare coverage for Singaporeans for life was written into law yesterday.

The MediShield Life Scheme Bill was passed in Parliament with strong support from both sides of the political aisle, following a six-hour debate during which 24 Members of Parliament (MPs) rose to speak.

Nevertheless, several MPs expressed concerns about the affordability of the premiums — especially for the more vulnerable groups — and the sustainability of the scheme, which will cost the Government almost S$4 billion in subsidies and other forms of financial support over the next five years. Other concerns raised by the MPs include penalties that could be imposed on those who default on the premiums, and whether there would be sufficient safeguards to protect information in policyholders’ medical and financial records, which would be accessed by authorised public servants to conduct eligibility checks for premium subsidies.

Wrapping up the debate, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced that higher transitional subsidies will be given to citizens whose net premiums would go up after the scheme kicks in: They will get a 90 per cent subsidy in the first year, and a 70 per cent subsidy in the second — instead of the previously-announced 80 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively. The transitional subsidies will be in place for four years, with the subsidy rates for the third and fourth year unchanged at 40 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

Within the next few months, the Ministry of Health will start determining how much subsidy each Singaporean or Permanent Resident will receive, based on records in the Government databases. The scheme, which offers protection against unexpected large medical bills, is scheduled to be rolled out at the end of the year.

MediShield Life — first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the 2013 National Day Rally — represents a “significant shift in healthcare financing” towards greater collective responsibility, said Mr Gan. “The idea of MediShield Life goes beyond healthcare and insurance. It is in fact a reflection of the kind of society we want to build,” he added. “A more inclusive society — where we pool our resources together to help the vulnerable and the sick among us. And a more caring and progressive society — where those who are able play their part while those who are needy receive more help.”

A MediShield Life Review Committee was set up to design the scheme, and Parliament debated its recommendations in July last year.

Calling the scheme a “game-changer”, Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad nevertheless voiced concerns for those who might struggle to pay the premiums, including people who are unable to work due to chronic illness. Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong cited households with persons with disabilities who have a higher financial burden.

Mr Gan reiterated that the Government has committed a lot of resources to help offset the premiums, including subsidies for the pioneer generation as well as lower- and middle-income Singaporeans, transitional subsidies, and additional support for those who need more help.

Several MPs, such as Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu and Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Denise Phua, cautioned against over-consumption of healthcare services.

In response, Mr Gan pointed out the deductibles — expenses that must be paid before insurance kicks in — and co-payment components of the scheme. But he added that healthcare providers should also play a part by not over-prescribing tests or medication, and guiding patients in choosing cost-effective treatments.

All Singaporeans and PRs are required to participate in the national risk pooling, even if they are overseas. “(Those living abroad) can also benefit from MediShield Life coverage any time, if they return to Singapore and seek medical treatment here, regardless of any changes in their health or life circumstances,” he said. Those with serious pre-existing illnesses would need to pay 30 per cent more in premiums than others in their age band, for the first 10 years.

Mr Gan said MOH is reviewing the list of such illnesses with advice from clinicians. The Government will adopt a “fair and compassionate” approach in assessing who have to pay the additional premiums, he assured.

New Flexi-Medisave scheme can be used with other schemes for outpatient treatment
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

A new Medisave scheme, which helps the elderly further reduce their out-of-pocket costs for outpatient medical care, can be used in addition to other schemes for outpatient treatment, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said in Parliament on Thursday.

The Flexi-Medisave scheme allows those aged 65 and above to use up to $200 of Medisave a year for outpatient medical treatment at public-sector specialist outpatient clinics, polyclinics and Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) clinics.

The scheme, details of which were announced earlier this month, is part of an effort to expand the use of the national health savings plan, so patients can use it to cover more of their medical bill.

Dr Lam said the $200 from Flexi-Medisave can also be used over and above other outpatient Medisave limits, such as the $400 annual limit for the Chronic Disease Management Programme, and the recently-implemented $300 limit for outpatient scans.

He was responding to Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), who asked if claims from the scheme can be used on top of others claims such as from the Chronic Disease Management Programme which is for outpatient treatment of 15 chronic diseases and has an annual cap of $400.

He added that Flexi-Medisave can be used for consultation fees, tests, drugs and other medical services needed to diagnose or treat a medical condition.

But it cannot be used for non-medical treatments and non-essential items, such as cosmetic surgery and skincare products.

Under the scheme, husbands and wives, if aged 65 or above, can also tap on their spouse's Medisave account if they do not have enough funds in their own account.

Dr Lateef asked in a supplementary question if the Health Ministry would consider allowing elderly patients to dip into their children's accounts if both their and their spouse's accounts were depleted.

Dr Lam said the ministry would consider the suggestion in future reviews.

He added: "Even as we continue to expand the use of Medisave, I would like to encourage all Singaporeans to spend it wisely so that it is enough for their healthcare needs over a lifetime."

Sengkang temple site not meant for commercial columbarium: MND
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

The decision to award a site designated as Place of Worship to a company not affiliated to a religious organisation is a first for the Government, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in Parliament on Thursday (Jan 29).

Mr Khaw said the Ministry of National Development is "in discussion" with Eternal Pure Land (EPL) to "ensure that the land is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple". He was responding to questions posed by MPs Seng Han Thong, Lee Li Lian and Lee Bee Wah.

"We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land, is actually a private company without any religious affiliation. From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site," the minister said. "This is not in line with our plan for the Places of Worship site."

He said the authorities never thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit making venture, such as building a Chinese temple. Reports said EPL, which is owned by Australian company Life Corporation, had put in a S$5.2 million bid in July 2014.

Authorities are now in talks with the company on how to restore the land to its original purpose.

"I will find a way to try and unwind this," said Mr Khaw. "The key point is - for that Sengkang site - we want a Chinese temple, and we will deliver that. For that Sengkang site, we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won't have one. "

He added that many temples provide an incidental columbarium service for their members and devotees, and whether the eventual temple in Sengkang will provide such a service is a decision for the temple trustees to make.

However, to minimise disamenities to residents, there are clear Urban Redevelopment Authority planning guidelines for such ancillary facilities.

These include having a 4.5-metre buffer between the site where the columbarium is housed and other buildings, and that the columbarium be located inside the main building, out of sight from the surrounding developments and preferably in the basement.


Mr Khaw said a review to improve the land tender process for Places of Worship was launched late last year, for example by tightening eligibility requirements for tenderers.

"We have been engaging religious groups on the review. The Sengkang temple case has highlighted the necessity for such a review. I will provide more information when the review is completed," he stated.

Said Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation: "For commercial companies, what is their aim to come in to bid for that piece of land? If they are to advance the religion or (if they are) affiliated to any religious group, I think they might be accepted. If a company comes in to set up to bid for this place just for commercial reasons, maybe it is not in line with the use of the land."

The current tender process allows for religious organisations and companies to participate. This is because some of the religious organisations form companies to enable and facilitate their ownership and development of such sites.

A spokesperson for the Catholic church said most religious institutions would lose if they had to compete with a company for place of worship sites. The spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia that it is still studying the tender process with a view to providing feedback to the Government.

The spokesperson said: "Allowing pure commercial companies to compete with religious institutions for sites slated for Places of Worship would put such sites out of the reach of most religious institutions, as the latter generally do not have the financial strength of commercial companies.

"More importantly, the objectives of the two are vastly different - one being to serve the spiritual needs of the community, whereas the other is for profit."

Meanwhile, Mr Khaw said: "For each tender, the highest bid among eligible bidders will win, as this is a fair way to allocate the site."

"This has been the practice since 1991 when State Lands were put up for tenders for Places of Worship use. The assumption is that only companies affiliated to religious organisations would participate in such tenders," he added. Since 1991, seven sites have been won by companies, all affiliated to religious organisations.

Previously, property owners in Sengkang were up in arms over plans to build a Buddhist temple with columbarium services near their new homes, despite measures to mitigate possible inconveniences for residents being put in place.

However, some residents Channel NewsAsia spoke to had no issues with the location of the site.

One resident, Ms Angeline Loh, said: "I have no problem at all, even with the columbarium there. There are columbariums all over, even in Sengkang, the church that I go to, we have a columbarium. So for me, it is not a problem."

Mr Khaw said: "The Master Plan sets aside and provides sites for commercial columbaria. We have occasionally tendered such sites as 'columbarium', but not as 'place of worship'. The tender documents are differently worded."

The Housing and Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority indicated that plans for a columbarium at a Chinese temple planned in Sengkang can go ahead, despite objections from residents.

MP for the area Dr Lam Pin Min said he is happy with the decision to allocate the Sengkang site to its original intent.

He said some residents had expressed their concern if the proposed development was a columbarium with temple activities or a Chinese temple with columbarium services. He agreed that a review of the land tender process for places of worship will ensure religious bodies do not lose out, if they are unable to compete with commercial companies. 

"I am pleased with the announcement by Minister Khaw that this particular piece of land, that has been identified for a Chinese temple, will not have a commercial columbarium," he said. "I think this will bring a lot of relief and certainty to a lot of my residents and future residents who will be shifting there."

No specific threat linked to Singapore's coalition effort: DPM Teo
He addresses impact of Republic's involvement in anti-ISIS coalition
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

THERE are no indications of a heightened security threat to Singapore following its deployment of personnel to support the multinational coalition combating the terrorist threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

But the ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq has meant that the overall threat level for every country is greater, added Mr Teo, who is also Minister for Home Affairs and Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Mr Teo said that while security agencies in Singapore share watch-lists and information with their foreign counterparts, these efforts do not guarantee a foolproof way of preventing the entry of foreign terrorists.

This is particularly the case if the terrorist had not previously attracted the attention of security agencies, said Mr Teo, citing French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who attacked a Jewish museum last year and killed four people.

He had spent a year fighting in Syria, and to cover his tracks, travelled through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore before returning to Europe.

"This is compounded by the large number of individuals from many different countries - more than 15,000 in total - who have taken part in the armed conflict in Syria and Iraq, plus others who have been indoctrinated in extremist ideology or trained in violent methods elsewhere," Mr Teo said.

Like other countries, Singapore reserves the right to deny a traveller entry to its shores if he does not have a bona fide reason to be here, he added.

"Singapore also subscribes to Interpol's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database, which allows us to identify anyone who uses a lost or stolen passport to mask his real identity," he said.

Home-grown and "lone- wolf" terrorism are problems as well because ISIS uses social media and the Internet effectively to both recruit foreign fighters and encourage attacks by their overseas supporters on home soil, said Mr Teo.

He added that "our community and religious organisations have put in considerable effort to counter the radical ideology of ISIS" and terrorists.

"They recognise the importance of tackling the problem ideologically, to complement security action by the authorities," he said.

Singapore, he added, will hold a symposium in April to share best practices with other countries on ways to counter the terrorists' radical ideology.

Last November, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore would contribute a tanker aircraft for air-to-air refuelling and an imagery analysis team to support the coalition against ISIS.

Dr Ng also gave an update to Parliament last week that Singapore Armed Forces planners will be deployed in the next few months, and a pre-deployment site survey team will be sent to the region to prepare for the deployment of the tanker aircraft.

Pensioners assured they will not lose current medical benefits
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

GOVERNMENT pensioners need not fear that MediShield Life offers them fewer benefits than their current medical coverage schemes, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

Following a call in Parliament by Workers' Party MP Png Eng Huat (Hougang) for pensioners to be exempted from the new universal health-care scheme, Mr Teo dismissed the need for that.

He assured pensioners that after they move to MediShield Life, they will continue to receive all the benefits they currently enjoy.

The Government will also pay for their MediShield Life premiums, said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister and Minister in charge of the civil service.

Most importantly, even after the pensioners die, their spouses will continue to be covered by the health-care scheme - a perk they would not have had under their old medical benefits schemes.

In his speech, Mr Png had referred to a news report stating that some pensioners now receive medical benefits superior to those offered by MediShield Life.

"How would MediShield Life be better for these pensioners when the Public Service Division has acknowledged that it is not?" Mr Png asked. "And why would the Government want to go to great lengths to match the benefits of Medishield Life with what the pensioners are currently receiving when a simple solution is to let them remain status quo?"

Mr Teo replied that the issue had already been addressed in Parliament previously, and that pensioners have been told of the benefits they will receive. He asked Mr Png to reassure pensioners instead of causing anxiety by "raising issues which are not true".

Mr Png countered that the elements of the government pension plan highlighted in his speech were based in fact."I just want to seek clarification - if pensioners were to go on MediShield Life, are they going to be expecting the same kind of (benefits)?"

Mr Teo replied that the answer as: "Yes, unequivocally yes."

He added: "I hope that the member, instead of raising red herrings, will help to reassure pensioners of this."

Costs of stadium pitch 'won't be passed on'
By Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

MORE than $2.3 million has been spent on the National Stadium's ill-fated pitch so far and the sum will only increase when a new "lay-and-play" turf is installed.

But Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong reassured end users and tenants of the Singapore Sports Hub that these costs will not be imposed on them directly or indirectly.

"Sport Singapore will continue to keep a close watch on rentals, charges and ticket prices at the Sports Hub to ensure that this commitment is upheld."

He was responding yesterday to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam, who asked how the Government will ensure that SHPL does not pass on those costs.

The Sports Hub, which cost $1.33 billion to construct, was built under a public-private partnership scheme with the Singapore Government.

SHPL, which manages and runs the facilities at the venue, proposed the new lay-and-play turf after the original $800,000 Desso GrassMaster field was criticised by athletes and officials for its sandy surface.

SHPL also spent $1.5 million on special lighting machines to stimulate grass growth, but to no avail.

The new turf will be grown at a nursery before being laid on the pitch of the 55,000-seat stadium ahead of the SEA Games, which Singapore is hosting in June.

Mr Wong also explained why a natural pitch was preferred over an artificial one at the stadium, and allayed fears that such a pitch might pose problems to athletes.

"(The lay-and-play natural turf) was preferred... because top sporting events and top teams in sports such as football and rugby demand a natural turf," he said.

"SHPL is engaging an international turf company to work out the solution for this lay-and-play (turf) and I'm sure it will be well-advised on having adequate time to put the pitch in place.

"Contractually, SHPL has an agreement with Sport Singapore to deliver certain standards, which include (ensuring) the facilities and the pitch at the stadium are of a sufficient standard for international play. Sport Singapore will hold SHPL accountable to these outcomes," he said.

Three lessons from AirAsia search mission
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

DEFENCE Minister Ng Eng Hen cited three key lessons that Singapore and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) can draw from the tragedy of the AirAsia plane crash and the search efforts which it took part in.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed into the Java Sea on Dec 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore. All 162 people on board were killed.

To aid search-and-rescue efforts, the SAF deployed more than 400 personnel, two RSAF C-130 aircraft, two Super Puma helicopters, five navy ships and a six-man Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team in the course of the 22-day mission.

Singapore's efforts in the multi-nation search operation ended two weeks ago, with the return of the naval ship MV Swift Rescue, which found the plane's fuselage.

Reflecting on the mission, Dr Ng said in a written reply to MP Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) that the first lesson was the need to maintain a high level of operation readiness.

"Even though it was the last weekend of the holiday season, our servicemen responded quickly and gave their full effort," he said, citing an RSAF C-130 aircraft that was airborne within two hours of being activated, and Singapore aircraft and ships which were the first foreign forces to arrive on the scene.

The second lesson was the importance of "realistic, tough and rigorous training".

Dr Ng said servicemen, including full-time national servicemen (NSFs), go through rigorous training so that they can "carry out their mission with the highest standards of professionalism" when activated for actual operations, like the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

For example, those on naval vessels had to contend with waves of more than 2m high on some days. But their training paid off, when the MV Swift Rescue spotted the fuselage of the missing aircraft, added Dr Ng.

He also said a total of 56 NSFs were involved in the search-and-rescue effort.

The third lesson was the importance of having strong bilateral relationships in the region, particularly with Singapore's neighbours.

Serious disasters and accidents can affect any country without warning, and neighbours should assist one another when they happen, he said.

Dr Ng pointed out that Singapore offered help to Indonesia and, at the same time, to Malaysia, when floods hit its north-east.

"For the missing AirAsia flight, the years of close cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia, particularly at the military level, paid off and enabled the SAF to do its part in the operations," he said.

Dr Ng extended his condolences to the loved ones of those aboard the plane. He was also proud of the SAF, which represented Singapore well. In addition, he thanked MPs and Singaporeans for their encouraging words during the search effort.

Investor confidence not dented by patent battles
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

RECENT court battles in Singapore over patents have not affected the confidence of investors and entrepreneurs in the country’s intellectual property regime, said Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah yesterday.

While she did not elaborate, Ms Indranee pointed out that government and related agencies made a total of two patent revocation applications in the last 14 years, both in the context of counter-claims to legal proceedings.

All patents are also potentially open to challenges by other parties, she added in her reply to Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam.

Mr Giam's question in Parliament follows a recent war of words over a patent infringement lawsuit against the Defence Ministry (Mindef) which local start-up MobileStats Technologies lost.

Earlier this month, MobileStats co-founder Ting Choon Meng alleged online that Mindef had illegally copied his patented concept for an emergency mobile clinic.

Said Ms Indranee: "Patent systems in the world generally allow for the validity of patents which have been granted to be contested, and Singapore is no exception."

She also said the granting of a patent does not guarantee that the patent will never be successfully challenged in court, as a patent office grants patents without the benefit of hearing arguments by other parties as to why it should not be given.

"The determination of whether an invention meets the criteria for obtaining a patent depends very much on the relevant body of knowledge and technology that the examiner is able to find in the public domain within the time available and his evaluation of the information found."

Ms Indranee said that, since 2001, there have been two patent revocation applications made by government and government-linked organisations.

Besides the MobileStats case, the Housing Board had also made an application against local inventor Yiap Hang Boon'sexternal clothes drying rack.

The High Court ruled last September that Mr Yiap's creation could not be patented as no "inventive step" was demonstrated.

As for Mr Giam's question of why government agencies go to court instead of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore to get a patent revoked, Ms Indranee said that in both cases, the applications were made in the context of counter-claims, after lawsuits had been brought against the agencies.

Balanced approach to liquor licensing, with reviews as needed
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

LAWS in Singapore already allow the authorities to make it compulsory for liquor to be sold in plastic containers or cans instead of glass bottles, Second Home Affairs Minister S. Iswaran said yesterday .

He pointed out that at some organised events, liquor must be sold in plastic containers, while in Tekka market in Little India, beer can be sold only in cans, following fights in which beer bottles were used.

Mr Iswaran highlighted these requirements to Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC), who had suggested making it a must for alcohol sold in residential areas to be in plastic or tin containers. He said the authorities need to adopt a balanced approach when issuing liquor licences.

"...The countervailing consideration is that it does have a bearing on the experience of the patrons and also business considerations, so we have to find a balance.

"But certainly where the local conditions and situation demand a review in order to impose certain conditions like this, we will certainly look into that and I think the new legislation that has been proposed will enhance the range of labels that are available to the licensing authority."

Mr Iswaran was referring to the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill which was introduced in Parliament on Jan 19.

If passed, it will outlaw alcohol consumption in public places between 10.30pm and 7am as well as retail sale of liquor after 10.30pm.

Also, parts of Geylang and Little India will be Liquor Control Zones, with tighter restrictions on alcohol sale and consumption.

These include no drinking in public places from 6am on Saturday to 6am on Monday and a ban on retail sale of alcohol from 8pm till 6am on weekends.

Safeguards in place to deal with fire or smoke in MRT tunnels and trains
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

MRT trains and tunnels are designed with safety features to protect passengers should there be a fire or smoke, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in Parliament on Thursday.

Underground MRT stations and tunnels, for example, are equipped with smoke extraction and tunnel ventilation fans to expel smoke and to supply fresh air in the event of a fire.

The materials used for Singapore's trains also conform to strict fire safety requirements, so that smoke emission and the level of smoke toxicity are minimised during any fire outbreak, Mr Lui explained.

He was responding to a question from MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who asked if there were safeguards in place to deal with accidents such as the one in Washington DC in the United States earlier this month. Smoke from an unknown source began filling the cars of a subway train during the evening rush hour resulting in the death of one passenger and injuries to 80 others.

Mr Lui said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) requires rail operators to have plans to ensure passenger safety during emergencies and to ensure that their officers are trained to execute these plans.

In the event of a fire or smoke in an MRT tunnel, for instance, operators will have to alert the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) immediately and route affected trains to the nearest station, away from the source of the fire or smoke, he said

The operators' readiness to handle such emergencies is also tested regularly by the LTA and agencies such as the SCDF and Singapore Police Force through checks as well as table-top and simulated exercises.

Pre-flight briefings not compulsory, but pilots given relevant info: Lui
Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has said that all Singapore carriers are required by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to provide their pilots with relevant information before each flight.

Mr Giam had also asked who conducts these briefings, what the contents of the briefings are, and if these are left to the discretion of individual airlines or flight operators.

According to Mr Lui, information relayed to pilots by Singapore carriers must include weather information, Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), status of the aircraft, the estimated passenger and cargo load for the flight and the recommended flight plan - among other information.

“Our airlines usually provide the information through a pre-flight information package prepared by the respective airlines’ flight operations centres. CAAS does not mandate that such information for the pilots be provided through pre-flight briefings. This is consistent with international practice,” Mr Lui said.

Nearly 14,700 foreign spouses on long-term visit passes in Singapore
Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

As of Dec 31, 2014, there were 14,694 foreign spouses in Singapore on a Long Term Visit Pass (LTVP) or a Long Term Visit Pass-Plus (LTVP+).

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean gave this update in written parliamentary reply on Thursday (Jan 29) to a query from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Gerald Giam. Mr Giam had asked about the number of foreign spouses who have social visit passes, LTVP and an immigration status which makes them ineligible to work in Singapore.

Mr Teo, who is also the Home Affairs Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, said details on the number of foreign spouses who enter Singapore as social visitors is not available. He said the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority does not track this statistic.

Design of Sentosa monorail's power lines to be improved
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

STEPS have been taken to improve the design of power lines along the tracks of the Sentosa monorail, after a train stalled and left 61 passengers stranded last month.

Revealing the cause behind the Dec 4 incident, Senior Minister of State (National Development and Trade and Industry) Lee Yi Shyan said yesterday that a power line at the monorail's Beach Station had dislodged because of wear and tear.

This then damaged the train's "swinging arm" - a device under the carriages which is used to draw electricity from the power line - causing it to stall, he said.

Replying to Mr Baey Yam Keng's (Tampines GRC) question on how future incidents could be prevented, Mr Lee said Sentosa Leisure Management (SLM) is working with Hitachi, the monorail manufacturer, to improve the power line's design.

Sentosa Development Corporation chief executive Mike Barclay told The Straits Times yesterday this will involve using metal brackets to secure the lines in place.

"Our technicians have stepped up the frequency of inspections of the power lines to ensure no sections work loose again", he added.

In Parliament, Mr Lee said SLM is also working with Hitachi to revise the instruction manual used in operating the monorail.

On Dec 4, the rescue train which passengers were transferred to could not decouple from the stalled train as it was on a slope and there was insufficient power. Mr Lee said studies found the rescue train could have moved off if a gear with higher traction power was used. But this was not recommended in the instruction manual.

Mr Lee said the maintenance of the monorail trains and tracks are outsourced to SMRT, which has a team of 16 staff on site at the monorail's depot.

SLM and SMRT also work closely with Hitachi to conduct a range of regular inspections, and to procure and replace parts, he added.

Singapore Volunteer Corps will be honoured in SG50 celebrations
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

The contributions of the Singapore Volunteer Corps, who kept the country safe during periods of turmoil like the two World Wars, will be celebrated this year as both the country and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) turn 50, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Stories highlighting the contributions of Singapore's pioneers, including those who joined the Singapore Volunteer Corps - which was renamed the People's Defence Force in 1965 - will be showcased in a SAF50 commemorative book and online through its SAF50 website.

Some of these pioneers will also be featured in an online campaign, "The Pioneering Spirit. Since 1965".

Their stories will also be told by the SAF's Commitment to Defence ambassadors when they interact with students and servicemen. These ambassadors are national servicemen, and members of the SAF Veterans' League who have volunteered to share their experiences with the younger generation.

The Singapore Volunteer Corps played an important role in defending Singapore and keeping it secure, said Dr Ng.

"These volunteers served actively during both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency, Konfrontasi, and helped to train national servicemen when National Service was introduced in 1967. Many of the units in the Singapore Armed Forces can trace their early beginnings from these volunteers," he said.

Not all property owners have to buy fire insurance
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2015

FIRE insurance for properties is not mandatory, as with many other forms of insurance, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament yesterday.

Instead, it is up to owners to ensure they have the financial means to repair their properties, should a fire occur, he added.

However, the junior minister also said Housing Board home owners who take up HDB loans are required to buy such insurance from an HDB-appointed insurer.

More than 80 per cent of HDB flats are covered by an appointed insurer, he said, adding that the proportion is likely to be higher as the board does not keep track of flats covered by other insurers.

More than half of such home owners do so voluntarily, even after they have finished paying up their HDB home loans.

Premiums for HDB's basic fire insurance, which covers a flat's basic structure and fixtures, are affordable, Mr Lee said.

For example, coverage for a four-room flat over five years costs $5.50 in total. A five-room flat over the same period costs a total of $6.60.

The HDB will buy insurance for those who forget to renew their policies but are still paying for their HDB loans, Mr Lee said, adding that the board will recover the premiums from them later.

Home owners who want greater coverage would buy insurance for their personal property and renovation work, he added.

As for non-HDB property, Mr Lee said management corporations must have insurance for strata-titled developments, which include condominiums, under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act.

"Regardless, I encourage all owners to ensure their properties are adequately insured against damage caused by unfortunate accidents like a fire," he said. "It would be prudent to do so."

Last year, the Singapore Civil Defence Force doused 4,724 fires in properties, vehicles and open spaces - 588 more than the previous year. Most of the increase was attributed to a spike in vegetation fires during a dry spell in the first quarter. Fires in homes dropped 2.2 per cent to 2,888 cases last year, while those in non-residential premises rose by 6 per cent.

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