Prime Minister’s Office Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered in Parliament on 2 March 2017)

Singapore Citizenship Journey – Leon Perera

Madam Chairperson, new citizens undergo the Singapore citizenship journey or SCJ so as to familiarize them with our national norms, culture, history and institutions. However I am concerned about the possibility of one-sidedness in the political education that new citizens receive.

In the SCJ HOME for new citizens guide, there are brief overviews of our political system explaining the role of elections, Parliament and so on. However two matters stand out that are of concern.

  1. a) In the SCJ community sharing sessions, new citizens and prospective new citizens are exposed to grassroots organizations under the People’s Association umbrella. In the course of the SCJ process – at their citizenship ceremonies for example – they are exposed to and may get to meet PAP politicians but not politicians from other parties.
  2. b) I have met a few new citizens who have told me that they are concerned that their citizenship would be taken away if they did not vote for the PAP. One example stands out in my mind. One older new citizen who was highly educated and credentialed told me that he supported more balance and competition in our political system. He said that as a successful businessman he knew the value of competition in producing better outcomes for the customer. However he went on to say that as a new citizen he was afraid that if he voted for the WP, the government would find out and take away his citizenship. We spent 10 minutes trying to explain the process by which votes are secret. At the end of that 10 minutes I am not sure if we convinced him. My guess is – probably not.

Will the government find ways to expose new citizens to members of other political parties. More importantly will it include an element of education to train them in HOW their votes are kept secret in the electoral process? I could not find this being treated at all in the HOME for New Citizens guidebook.  If there is doubt that this is an issue, will it conduct a study to ascertain whether new citizens truly understand that their votes are secret.


Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) – Sylvia Lim

The rationale for the TDSR policy is well-known.  While the government has a good intention, TDSR is a blunt instrument that has seriously affected certain groups of Singaporeans in the current economic climate.  I raised this in a recent Parliamentary Question but feel compelled to raise it again as some of our residents are in the affected group.

The TDSR restricts borrowing from financial institutions at 60% of a person’s monthly income, and applies not only to loans to purchase a property but also to loans secured on a property.  The first affected group will be retirees who have properties to mortgage but no income, who may need some liquidity for one reason or another.  A second affected group would be those who have suffered a drop in income or been retrenched in the current downturn, but who can offer property as collateral for a loan.

What these persons ask for is a tweak to the TDSR policy to give them flexibility to re-schedule their debt obligations, at little risk to the lenders.  It seems that banks are applying TDSR strictly with no or few exceptions.


Money Laundering – Sylvia Lim

A Malaysian Government investment company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, has spawned criminal and regulatory investigations into embezzlement or money laundering, in at least 10 countries. Billions of funds associated with 1MDB and wealthy financier Jho Low have reportedly flowed through bank branches in Singapore.

The repercussions on our banking industry have been severe. BSI – one of Switzerland’s oldest private banks – had its Singapore branch shut down by the MAS in May 2016, because it was the custodian bank for $2.3 billion of investments from 1MDB. The Singapore branch of Falcon Private Bank – another private Swiss bank – was also shut down by the MAS in October 2016 after being linked to US$3.8 billion of 1MDB fund flows. Standard Chartered Bank was fined while both UBS and DBS were penalised by the MAS. Bankers have since been convicted and jailed.

All these happened after last year’s COS debates when Minister Chan Chun Sing said that MAS had put in place a robust preventive regime. Madam, this ongoing saga has severely tarnished Singapore’s reputation as a financial centre.

In June 2016, the MAS announced that it would combat money laundering by strengthening enforcement. This included the setting up of a dedicated Anti-Money Laundering department, a dedicated supervisory team to monitor risks and carry out onsite supervision of financial institutions, and a new Enforcement department to work jointly with the CAD.

However, even the MAS has acknowledged that “it is not possible to prevent regulatory breaches and misconduct even with intrusive supervision”. Therefore, we are still very reliant on Financial Institutions and their employees themselves being vigilant and filing Suspicious Transaction Reports. This regimen breaks down when institutions themselves have fostered a culture of non-compliance, as we have seen with BSI and Falcon Bank, in how they willfully ignored the risks in the 1MDB-related transactions.

Billions in transactions and millions in bonuses are tremendous incentives to break the law. Even with vigorous enforcement, punishments will still only be meted out after the fact and Singapore’s reputation in this regard will still be damaged.

I would like to ask the minister, will the government take its regulatory measures a step further and actively try to detect bad institutions, and if so, what are the steps by which intends to do this?