Prime Minister’s Office Committee of Supply 2016 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 13 April 2016)

Anti-Corruption Reputation – Sylvia Lim

According to the CPIB, Singapore is one of the least corrupt countries in the world.   The number of corruption cases registered for CPIB investigations is at 30-year lows.  This, CPIB says, is testament to Singapore’s continued vigilance, commitment and zero-tolerance approach in our fight against corruption.

While CPIB’s low case load is one thing, it seems that internationally, there are some doubts as to whether we have been as vigilant and intolerant towards corruption as claimed.  In particular, it has been suggested that we have a certain double standard – intolerance towards corruption within Singapore, but permissiveness towards corruption committed abroad.

One of the main factors is Singapore’s position as a global financial centre, and its reputation for having strong banking secrecy laws that could shield those who have broken laws overseas. Articles have been written, mostly abroad, accusing Singapore of “asking no questions” or “turning a blind eye” to the sources of funds being managed from here.

Since about 2009, the government has progressively implemented regulations requiring more vigilance, increased reporting and exchange of information with other countries.  These are guided by international standards set by the OECD and FATF (Financial Action Task Force).  For instance, Singapore now has in place some anti-money laundering measures.  But how effective are they to prevent the inflow of corrupt monies?

The 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a case in point.  It was reported that MAS is currently probing into 40 banks operating here, for possible money-laundering offences linked to the 1MDB (Straits Times April 1, 2016).   Concerns have also been raised about locally-based firms such as Portcullis Trustnet, which purportedly specialize in setting up offshore companies and trusts and hard-to-trace bank accounts in Singapore and other offshore financial centres.

Another weakness in Singapore’s fight against corruption from abroad seems to be our lack of extradition treaties with other countries.

Is the government concerned that Singapore’s anti-corruption reputation has thus been eroded?

Total Fertility Rate – Leon Perera

Madam Chairperson, our total fertility rates (TFR) have been declining for several decades and remain low by global standards at 1.24, in spite of billions spent on marriage and parenthood packages over the past 15 years or so.

The reasons for this and hence the policy tools to address this are necessarily complex and multi-faceted.

Madam, while some East Asian developed countries have low TFRs, some other developed countries have fared better, including most of the Nordic countries and the USA, at around 1.9. Even Japan and Switzerland are doing better at 1.4 and 1.5 respectively.

There is only so much we can and should do to nudge Singaporeans to marry and have babies. Perhaps our focus can be on encouraging those parents who do have one or two children to have more.

In this regard, I think policies to ease the difficulties of having more children – infant care and access to childcare in particular – may be crucial. When a family already has one or two children, the logistical issues tend to weigh heavily.

Other countries do have programs where the state sponsors some parents in the same neighbourhood to provide quasi-informal child and infant care to their neighbours, as in Denmark, or sends part-time helpers to help mothers of new-borns to cope for a month or two as in France.

In the Singapore context the key may be to ensure there is enough infant and child-care capacity in estates and towns with many young couples – building infrastructure ahead of demand, as it were. While there may be sufficient child-care capacity nation-wide, it is unevenly distributed, as has been discussed in this House this year. This should be tracked closely.

There is also scope to experiment with the Danish model of private child minders in specific blocks, precincts or estates and I hope this is something we can look at seriously, taking a whole of government approach.