Ministry of Home Affairs Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 1 Mar 2019)

Singaporeans with Foreign Stepchildren – Png Eng Huat

Sir, it was reported in the Population White Paper of 2013 that about 40 per cent of all marriages registered in Singapore involved a non-Singaporean, and there was a rising trend in international marriages over the years as well.

These marriages would have strong and sustainable Singaporean core to begin with, and even more so, when these married couples decide to start a family.  Some of these foreign spouses may be in their second marriage and have children of their own with them.  While these foreign spouses may be granted permanent residency in due course, their children from previous marriages are facing an uncertain future.  These children will not get PR status by default.

In such cases, Singaporeans with foreign stepchildren to raise, would have to struggle with non-subsidised school fees, medical fees, and more, if they are unable to legally adopt these children.

Sir, some adoption procedures can be onerous.  For example, to adopt a stepchild from China, the consent of the biological ex-spouse must be sought.  If the ex-spouse is missing, non-cooperative, or even hostile, it is next to impossible for the Singaporean to legally adopt his stepchild.  Some of these stepchildren can never go back to their home countries as well because they were abandoned at birth by one half of their parents.

Sir, our TFR has been below the replacement rate for decades. Here we have children who are already an integral part of the Singaporean core families, who are totally integrated into our society, and who are as Singaporean as any one of their local siblings.  Can we not grant these children PR status at the very least, until they reach the age of 21?  These grown up children can then make their own declaration to become citizens at that point in time.

In my conversation with Singaporeans with foreign stepchildren, they are deeply concerned how their stepchildren would feel as they grow older and come to know that they are actually quite different from their brothers or sisters in many ways.  I urge the ministry to grant these stepchildren of families with strong Singaporean core, permanent residency or citizenship sooner rather than later.

SPF’s SOP in Replying to Appeals – Faisal Manap

Sir, I would like to ask the ministry on the Singapore Police Force’s Standard practice in replying to appeals made by a Member of Parliament or a Grassroots Adviser.

My NCMP colleague once made an appeal on behalf of a member of the public who lives in the constituency he contested in General Election 2015. However, the appeal was not accepted. I would like to quote the reply from SPF ‘We regret that we are unable to process the appeal, as a Government organisation can only consider representations from MPs/Advisers to Grassroots Organisation on behalf of their constituents’.

Sir, on the other hand, it has come to my attention recently through SPF’s reply letter to one of my residents that SPF acknowledged the PAP Party Branch Chaiman’s appeal and a carbon copy of the reply, which was addressed to my resident, was sent to the PAP Party Branch Chairman.

Sir, a PAP Party Branch Chairman is appointed by a political party. I am therefore surprised as to why the SPF acknowledged the appeal from a PAP Party Branch Chairman, whereas the appeal from an NCMP was not accepted. Sir, I seek clarity on the matter.

Rehabilitation for Low-income Hardcore Addicts – Pritam Singh

Sir, earlier this week, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) shared that the number of drug abusers in Singapore in 2018 had increased by 11% with new abusers comprising 40% of all cases. In concert, the drugs of choice have also evolved – today psychoactive substances and methamphetamines are the norm.

To this end, the recent amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act in the direction of rehabilitation for hardcore addicts are to be welcomed. Minister shared during the debate that the profile of abusers had changed along with the change in profile of the general population. However, in the absence of more information on the background of hardcore addicts in DRC, I am concerned that the latest rehabilitative improvements may inadvertently be tilted in favour of addicts who come from more affluent households. On the surface of things, it would appear that they would have fewer obstacles procuring drugs, as compared to low-income addicts who may have to resort to crime to feed their urge. Such a prospect may mean that hardcore addicts with criminal antecedents and parallel criminal charges would ironically have lesser access to the new rehabilitation regime which can help keep them out of the Long-Term (LT) detention. A useful indication of how the new regime may operate would be to have some sense of the income and socio-economic background of hardcore addicts who are under the LT regime. I would also like to enquire if there is a distinction to the types of drugs consumed by low-income and affluent addicts respectively.

I urge the Ministry to keep a tab on this issue to see how low-income hardcore addicts can be better rehabilitated since many, in view of their concurrent criminal records and antecedents, may not be able to extricate themselves out of the LT regime towards rehabilitation. Paradoxically, these low-income hardcore addicts made need the most help and rehabilitative assistance.

Fire Safety – High-rise Residence – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, the SCDF designated residential buildings that go beyond 40 storeys as Super High-rise Residential Buildings. There are additional Fire Code requirements such as the creation of refuge floor with holding area at 20-storey intervals and the installation of larger capacity fire-lift. In 2013, such buildings were required to have two fire lifts to facilitate the evacuation of people with disabilities by firefighters.

After a tragic fire at Marina Bay in 2014, where two security guards died in the fire, the requirement to appoint trained Competent Persons for Super High-rise Private Residential Buildings was implemented. The Competent Person, such as the Managing Agent’s supervisor, will perform fire safety duties and train security guards to execute evacuation procedures properly.

In a fire at a 48th floor unit at Pinnacle Duxton in May last year, it was reported that a man and a woman, in their 60’s, were hurt, suffering smoke inhalation. It was also reported that many residents living on the 47th and 48th floors chose to use the lifts to evacuate despite knowing the risk of being trapped in the lifts. A senior aged 64 years said he and his family walked from the 48th to the 45th floor, then gave up and took the lift to evacuate.

I think there is a gap here for Super High-rise PUBLIC Residential Buildings, as there are no Competent Persons and trained security guards to help conduct regular public education of residents and facilitate proper evacuation during fire. There is urgency in this with the ageing society, as more and more seniors find it onerous to walk down 20 storeys to the refuge floor. Some seniors may not even know that they should not evacuate using the fire lifts.

Home Team Science and Technology Agency – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, it was announced that the Home Team Science & Technology Agency will be established to develop science and technology capabilities to support the Home Team’s operational needs. The Budget Book states that the Home Team is growing a pool of in-house scientists and engineers to develop capabilities in sense-making and surveillance, biometrics and profiling, forensics and dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives incidents.

If the agency is the extension of the current work of the Science and Technology office to preempt and contain terrorist attacks, this is a good development. However, I am concerned with the scope of surveillance and profiling technology to be developed and deployed.

Sometime ago, the Minister for Home Affairs said that the integration of facial recognition technology into the Home Team IT systems could help automate police work. Recently, many organisations, including tech giants such as Microsoft and Google have raised the alarm on facial recognition and its potential abuse if left unregulated. Some critics have pointed to China’s misuse of the technology for political control.

How will the government ensure that the data collected is authentic, is secured and not subjected to abuse, political or otherwise? What safeguards are there to ensure that the privacy and rights of citizens will not be violated? What recourse will citizens have to address possible misuses of personal data and violations of privacy by the Home Team?

I would like to know whether the government has the intention to bring a bill to Parliament to establish the Home Team Science & Technology Agency as a statutory board, so that the mission, role and specific functions of the agency can be transparently stated in law and regulated.