Parliamentary Q&A for September 2019 Sitting

HIRING, DEVELOPING AND STRENGTHENING SINGAPOREAN CORE

Pritam Singh asked if the Government had an initiative to increase the number of Singaporeans hired under the Tech@SG programme, similar to the initiative for the financial sector previously.

Chan Chun Sing replied that as the Government continued to bring in people and experts who were globally attuned and had the exposure to help grow local industries, Singaporeans would continue to have the best opportunities to learn from them, acquire skills and more.

Read the full exchange here.


NUMBER OF PERSONAL PROTECTION ORDER APPLICATIONS REJECTED FROM 2015 TO 2018

Leon Perera requested for information on the number of applications for Personal Protection Orders (PPOs) that were rejected by the Family Justice Court annually from 2015 to 2018, and reasons for the rejections.

K Shanmugam shared that only a short fraction of PPO applications was rejected, with the vast majority of PPO applications proceeded for a hearing. In addition to the information provided below, he added that a PPO application may be rejected if there was lawful use of force by the respondent in self-defence, or if the court was not satisfied the PPO was for the applicant’s protection or personal safety.

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UPDATE ON DENGUE CASES AND MEASURES TO CONTAIN ITS SPREAD

Part 1

Dennis Tan asked for reasons regarding the continuing increase in the number of dengue cases this year despite mitigation measures.

Masagos Zulkifli replied that NEA’s surveillance revealed that the surge in dengue cases this year was attributable to three key factors – an increase in mosquito population; the relatively warmer weather; and lower herd immunity in our population. The Government, he said, was seeing positive outcomes from collective efforts to combat dengue and would continue work with partners to enhance these efforts.

Part 2

Dennis Tan also queried if NEA officers were facing any difficulty when accessing individual homes for inspections.

Masagos Zulkifli shared that NEA officers had so far not experienced difficulties accessing homes, with many residents opening doors, except in cases of residents not being at home at time of inspection, or just an elderly at home. In such cases, the inspectors would work with the neighbours accordingly.

Part 3

Sylvia Lim asked if there had been an observed change in the serotypes, or the strain of dengue now predominant in Singapore, and whether those contributed to the higher incidences of cases.

Masagos Zulkifli replied that there was no significant switch in the serotype of dengue strains found in Singapore, attributing the spike in dengue cases more to other factors including the low herd immunity.

Read the full exchanges here.


STATISTICS ON UNSUCCESSFUL FIRST-TIMER APPLICANTS FOR HDB FLATS

Png Eng Huat requested for information on the number of unsuccessful first-timer applicants for HDB flats at each of the last four quarterly sales exercises, and also on the algorithmic components for the computerised balloting for flat buyers.

Lawrence Wong said that there had been about 990 and 4,200 unsuccessful first-timer-family flat applications in the BTO exercises in August and November 2018 respectively (figures for February and May 2010 were unavailable as flat selections were still ongoing).

He shared that the balloting process essentially selected a certain number of flat applicants based on the number of flats on offer and assigned them a queue number. The process was randomised but would account various factors including the ethnic quotas for the various buyer groups, the applicants’ household status, and the priority schemes the applicants were eligible for.

Read the full exchange here.


TOP THREE CAUSES OF MRT TRAIN DELAYS NOT MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES IN PAST THREE YEARS

Continuing his line of enquiry on train delays, Dennis Tan sought information on the top three causes of train delays of not more than five minutes over the last three years, and what measures had been implemented to prevent or minimise such delays, including goals by LTA for the MRT operators.

Khaw Boon Wan replied that passenger actions, train faults and signalling system faults were the top three causes of minor train delays. LTA monitored and addressed the root causes of such delays and undertook remedial actions. LTA was also working closely with rail operators to support early detection and pre-emptive rectifications of faults.

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FREQUENCY OF PLATFORM SCREEN DOOR FAULTS IN MRT STATIONS BETWEEN 2015 AND 2019

Dennis Tan asked for the frequency of platform screen door faults in MRT stations each year from 2015 to 2019, how frequently the doors were serviced, and the lifespan before replacement of such doors.

In reply, Khaw Boon Wan said that there had been 10 Platform Screen Doors (PSD) faults resulting in delays longer than five minutes in the 2015 to 2017 period. In the past 19 months till July 2019, there were no PSD incidents. He added that rail operators had monthly preventive maintenance of PSDs, and the PSDs were replaced when they become unreliable or more difficult to maintain but usually last for many years as long as their mechanisms were well maintained.

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CONDITIONS OR CIRCUMSTANCES TO ALLOW REQUESTS TO VIEW TRAFFIC ACCIDENT FOOTAGE

Sylvia Lim sought to know what pre-conditions were necessary for the Traffic Police to show CCTV traffic accident footage to victims, next-of-kind, potential claimants or offenders; and at which stage of investigations would such request to view footage be considered.

K Shanmugam revealed that CCTV footages of traffic accidents were part of evidence of investigations and criminal proceedings, and that Police do not generally share such footages with victims, their next-of-kin, potential claimants or alleged offenders while investigations were ongoing. This was to mitigate against witnesses tailoring evidence after viewing footage, causing inaccurate info gathering of the accident.

Parties keen to access such footage may do so via a court application after criminal proceedings have concluded.

Read the full exchange here.


BUS SHELTER ADVERTISEMENT BOARDS CAUSING BLIND SPOTS LEADING TO ACCIDENTS BETWEEN PEDESTRIANS AND PERSONAL MOBILITY DEVICE USERS OR CYCLISTS

Daniel Goh enquired if bus shelter advertisement boards placed perpendicular to roads were causing blind spots leading to accidents between pedestrian commuters and personal mobility device (PMD) users or cyclists.

Khaw Boon Wan replied that the LTA considered safety factor when placing these advertisement panels at bus stops. He advised cyclists and PMD users to use the space behind bus stops (instead of through them). LTA, he added, was progressively building cycling paths and widening footpaths behind bus stops with high commuter traffic.

Read the full exchange here.


CASES DEALT WITH BY EMPLOYMENT CLAIMS TRIBUNAL SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT IN APRIL 2017

Regarding cases dealt by the Employment Claims Tribunal since its formation in 2017, Sylvia Lim asked how many and what proportion of employee-claimants obtained judgments or orders for monetary payments in their favour.

Josephine Teo said that between April 2017 and December 2018, about 1,600 employees filed salary claims at the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), with two-thirds of the claims filed resulting in money orders issued to employers to settle the salary claims, and the remaining were mostly withdrawn or dismissed.

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PERCENTAGE OF EMPLOYERS OPENING POSB PAYROLL ACCOUNT FOR PROSPECTIVE FOREIGN WORKERS WHEN APPLYING FOR WORK PERMITS IN 2018

Daniel Goh asked for information on the percentage of employers who opened a POSB Payroll Account for their prospective foreign workers during work permit applications in 2018. He asked if the POSB branch at Kaki Bukit Recreation Centre was adequate to service the banking needs of foreign workers.

Josephine Teo said that in 2018, about 63% of employers selected the option to open a POSB Payroll Account for their prospective foreign workers (non-domestic work permit holders) in their work permit applications. POSB, she said, was working with MOM to explore ways to reduce the need for foreign workers to visit the POSB branch there through some initiatives in the works.

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ADDITIONAL MEASURES TO ADDRESS RISE IN YOUTH SUICIDES

In light of the rise in youth suicides, Daniel Goh asked if MSF would consider shifting the current strategy or introducing additional measures to address this trend.

In his reply, Desmond Lee said that MSF was working closely with agencies such as MOE, MOH, MHA, the Institute of Mental Health, the Health Promotion Board, the National Council of Social Service, and with community partners such as the Samaritans of Singapore on inter-agency efforts to address youth suicide. Initiatives such as the new Inter-Agency Research Workgroup for Youth Suicides, and the amendments in this year’s Criminal Law Reform Bill, would continue to strengthen the national response for suicide prevention.

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MEASURES TAKEN TO ENSURE EARLY DETECTION AND EFFICIENT DEPLOYMENT OF RESOURCES TO HANDLE VEGETATION FIRES

In view of the increased frequency of vegetation fires in 2019, Leon Perera sought clarifications on what intermediate and long-term measures were being taken to ensure early detection and efficient deployment of resources to handle such fires.

K Shanmugam attributed increased vegetation fires in recent years to drier and hotter weather, citing a 56% rise in such fires in the first half of 2019 from the same period last year (555 fires versus 356 respectively). He shared that the inter-agency Wildfire Task Force Committee led by SCDF coordinated measures to minimise the risk of vegetation fires. These included stepped up patrols of hotspots to enable early detection, as well as preventive measures such as removing dead leaves more regularly during the dry season. Public education efforts in fire prevention were also undertaken.

Read the full exchange here.


IMPACT OF SURGE IN CHINESE DEVELOPERS IN RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY MARKET IN PAST FIVE YEARS

Citing the surge of Chinese developers in the residential property market in the past five years, Daniel Goh asked if this had triggered problems in property speculation, over-pricing of land sales and poor construction quality.

Lawrence Wong said that there was a brief surge in property prices from 2H2017 to 1H2018 due to improvements in market sentiments, with developers both foreign and local bidding more for aggressively for land. To add, Chinese developers accounted for less than 10% of the private residential sites sold via the Government Land Sales programme and en-bloc sales during this period. On prices of winning bids, he said Chinese developers’ bids were comparable to other developers, while the quality of projects by Chinese developers were comparable to the national average.

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UPDATE ON CAD’S INVESTIGATION OF CHAIRMAN AND MANAGEMENT OF SWIBER HOLDINGS AND RELATED COMPANIES

Regarding Swiber Holdings and its related companies, Dennis Tan asked whether the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) had completed its investigation of the chairman and management, and if so, whether CAD would proceed with any charges for any offences.

K Shanmugam said that Police investigations into Swiber Holdings Limited and its subsidiaries were still ongoing.

Read the full exchange here.


MEASURES TAKEN BY MAS IN VIEW OF IMF’S FINANCIAL SECTOR ASSESSMENT PROGRAMME FINDINGS FOR SINGAPORE

Following the findings in IMF’s Financial Sector Assessment Programme for Singapore, Leon Perera asked what resources and preparation were being applied by the MAS division that supervises payment systems to manage the broad scope of supervisory duties that it undertakes.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam replied that MAS shared IMF’s views on increasing MAS’ resources for the supervision of payment systems, in anticipation of evolving systemic risks in the payments landscape.

On this, he shared that MAS had been allocating additional resources for supervision of payment activities and implementing enhancements to its supervisory programme. These include leveraging data analytics capabilities, and applying appropriate standards to retail payment systems in line with their changing systemic importance, and the agency would continue to watch developments in the payments landscape and ensure its capabilities and supervisory approaches were appropriate.

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COMPANIES THAT VOLUNTARILY RESTORED CPF CONTRIBUTION RATES FOR EMPLOYEES AGED 55 YEARS AND ABOVE

Daniel Goh asked how many companies had voluntarily restored the CPF contribution rates for employees aged 55 years and above, and how many employees had benefitted to date.

Josephine Teo shared that in 2018, about 1,000 employers made voluntary contributions for about 13,000 employees aged 55 and above. As these were private arrangements between the employers and their employees, CPF Board did not have sight over the basis for voluntary contributions and if they were due to voluntary equalisation of CPF contribution rates for employees aged 55 and above.

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UPDATE ON TRAINING ACCIDENT DEATH OF CORPORAL FIRST CLASS LIU KAI

Dennis Tan Lip Fong asked whether MINDEF or AGC had ascertained if any persons should be held responsible for their conduct during the training which resulted in the training accident death of Corporal First Class Liu Kai; and if so, whether any decision had been taken to institute any disciplinary or legal proceedings or criminal prosecution.

Ng Eng Hen said that MINDEF was unable reply to the specific queries as Police investigations into the death of Corporal First Class Liu Kai have not been concluded.

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MEASURES TO REDUCE OVERLY CONSERVATIVE BUDGETING

Leon Perera asked if measures were being adopted to reduce instances of overly conservative budgeting or budgeting approaches which tended to under-state the eventual real surplus on Government accounts.

Heng Swee Keat replied that the Government’s approach to budgeting was prudent and citizen-centric, including planning for sufficient revenues to meet the needs of Singaporeans across each term of Government. Any surpluses were then invested to yield long-term returns. Up to half of these returns on net assets were then channeled into future budgets to meet growing needs in areas from education to healthcare, support for seniors, and keeping Singapore safe and secure.

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PLANS TO IMPROVE REGULATION REGIME OF CREDIT RATING AGENCIES IN SINGAPORE TO EU EQUIVALENT STATUS

Leon Perera asked if there were plans to improve the regulation regime of credit rating agencies (CRAs) in Singapore to re-achieve equivalence status with the regulation regime of the European Union.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam replied that MAS’ CRA regulatory regime was based on, and consistent with, standards promulgated by the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, which was the global standard setting body.

The European Commission had assessed MAS’ CRA regulatory regime to be less prescriptive than EU rules in certain areas, such as in defining specific situations in which a conflict of interest for the CRA arises. MAS took a more principles-based approach, but nevertheless required conflicts of interest to be effectively addressed, and was fully in line with international standards and appropriate to our context and needs.

He added that Singapore was in good standing with the EU, and had EC recognition on a broad range of other financial services, including for over-the-counter derivatives trading venues and central counterparties. MAS would continue to closely engage EU counterparts in reviewing our rules to ensure that financial institutions in Singapore continued to have access to the EU market in various financial services.

Read the full exchange here.


STEPS TO ENSURE TOURISTS AND FOREIGN VISITORS ARE FAMILIAR WITH PMD RIDING REGULATIONS

Dennis Tan asked if measures were in place to ensure that tourists and other foreign visitors were familiar with PMD riding regulations before they are allowed to rent the devices, and whether such measures would be included in the operators’ licensing requirements for both types of services.

Khaw Boon Wan said that LTA would require licensees of dockless PMD-sharing services to include in their mobile applications the essential active mobility regulations, such as speed limits and prohibitions against riding on roads, reminding all users of these regulations before a trip.

Licensees were also required to charge a $5 fee for PMD-sharing users who fail to end their trips within a designated parking area. This was to discourage indiscriminate parking.

He added that LTA was considering additional regulations to ensure that all shared devices were used safely, and LTA had also encouraged PMD-sharing operators who operated solely on private land, to include in their mobile applications the advisory on the safe and responsible use of such devices.

Read the full exchange here.


UPDATE ON AMENDMENT TO PROTOCOL TO THE CONVENTION ON LIMITATION OF LIABILITY TO MARITIME CLAIMS

Dennis Tan requested for an update as to when the 2012 Amendment to the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on Limitation of Liability to Maritime Claims 1976 would be introduced in the Merchant Shipping Act.

In reply, Khaw Boon Wan said that MPA would implement the 1996 Protocol in December this year, and with that raise the liability limits to the 2012 limits as required of all contracting states of the Protocol by updating the Schedule of the Merchant Shipping Act.

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SMES, REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS AND WORKFORCE AVERTING SIDE EFFECTS OF US-CHINA TRADE STANDOFF

On innovation capability among Singapore-based enterprises, Leon Perera asked for an assessment of the current trend or direction of innovation capability among Singapore enterprises, and if MTI had done any study that could point to any structural or any other impediments to developing and furthering innovation capability among Singapore-based enterprises.

Chan Chun Sing that the challenge for any research, innovation and enterprise cycle was to translate research into innovation and enterprise. One area to improve was to always have an environment where entrepreneurs and scientists could mix and together generate ideas for both business and science. Another area was to ensure the funding eco-system provided a continuum of funding options for new enterprises from the start-up stage, all the way through possibly market listing.

Read the full exchange here.


INVESTMENT IN AMARAVATI CITY FOLLOWING CHANGE IN STANCE OF GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

On the Amaravati city project, Leon Perera asked if the Government would continue to encourage investment in the project following the change in the stance of the Indian Government in respect of seeking funding for the project.

He also sought information on the total investment that had been made by Singapore companies in this project to-date, and if there had been to-date any significant expenditure of state funds in terms of, for example, co-investment or grants to support the companies in terms of the project.

S Iswaran replied that the new Andhra Pradesh state government was reviewing its plans for the capital city project, amidst its other priorities. In July, the government of India had withdrawn its request to the World Bank for a US$300 million loan for the project, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank also subsequently withdrawn a US$200 million loan. He added that the Singapore consortium companies were closely following these developments and evaluating the impact on the investment opportunity.

On the other queries, S Iswaran said that as the investments made by the companies were commercially confidential, the Government was not privy to the details. He also iterated that there were no subsidies or grants by the Government for investments made in the state.

Read the full exchange here.