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Highlights from Parliament – 10 November 2016

10 Nov 2016 3 min read

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MOH to study genetic screening of IVF embryos

Singapore will launch a three-year pilot programme to study genetic screening of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) embryos, Senior Minister of State for Health (MOH) Amy Khor announced in Parliament on 10 November 2016.

The Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS) programme will start in early next year at the National University Hospital and will help detect chromosomal disorders in embryos. Currently, the procedure is banned in Singapore.

Dr Khor said, “MOH (Ministry of Health) had previously received requests to allow PGS to identify chromosomal abnormalities in embryos created through IVF, with the aim of improving the chances of conceiving. We had not granted approval so far as the published evidence had been unclear.”

However, she noted that newer technologies for PGS have emerged in recent years. Hence, MOH is reviewing the clinical effectiveness of PGS.

The eligibility criteria for participation in the NUH pilot programme are being worked out and will be made available, closer to its date of commencement, said Dr Khor noted. The ministry will also consult stakeholders and members of the public to gather views. Additionally, the Health Ministry will look into the ethical concerns and regulation of PGS, so that “embryos are not eliminated solely based on parental preferences on characteristics such as gender.”

Bill passed for telcos to manage disputes over telecoms equipment

The Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill passed on 10 November will allow the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to direct building owners to cooperate in the installation of such equipment. Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said that IMDA has faced challenges with building managers, resulting in delays to important installations thus affecting mobile signal coverage and quality.

Dr Yaacob added that IMDA receives about 30 objections to providing space for allowing local telcos to install telecoms equipment.

The Bill also addresses the issue of users not having the freedom to access their preferred telco operator, allowing IMDA to prohibit building owners from having exclusive agreements that could deny tenants their choice of telcos.

The Bill also includes a provision for a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme to help customers resolve issues with billing, contracts, service quality and also compensation.

Singapore must dictate policy based on own interests: Dr Ng Eng Hen

Singapore will continue to push for joint cooperation and exercises with other countries, and dictate its defence and foreign policy based on its own interest.

Reiterating Singapore’s stand as a sovereign nation Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, said its policies on defence and foreign relations will be based on the nation’s best possible position to survive and progress. “Obviously we have to watch what other countries do, their foreign policy. Singapore is a small country and we will work with like-minded partners who pursue peace and stability in our region.” He continued, “We seek to have as many friends as possible and we encourage countries to use our facilities, whether it’s Changi Naval Base or the air bases.”

Singapore has worked with countries in the Asean region to ensure that the security is inclusive, and that settlements are conducted peacefully with dialogue, cooperation and non-provocation.

Dr Ng reminded Parliament of the fact that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the United States military in 1990, has since been enhanced in the Defence Cooperation Agreement in the US in 2015.

He said, “Military ships and submarines from many countries, both from ASEAN plus countries like US, China, India and Japan as well as from other continents like Europe, South America, Oceania and Africa, stop and use facilities at Changi Naval Base.”

He also added, “As a matter of policy, Singapore will continue to partner like-minded countries to pursue peace and stability for our region. We seek to be friends with all militaries and encourage them to use our port and airbases for transit.”

Maternity leave for Unwed Mothers: MSF

Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin announced in Parliament that with effect from 1 January 2017, unwed mothers will have 16 weeks of maternity leave, and fathers will get two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Getting more time off from work will allow new parents to spend more time with their children, said Mr Tan.

“We know that it can be challenging to ensure we have work-life balance, but it is important for us to adopt an active parenting lifestyle. Our children should be our priority now, not later. We need to make the effort to spend both quantity and quality time with our families,” Mr Tan urged.

These changes were made under the Child Development Co-Savings Bill.

Mothers with adopted children will also will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid adoption leave from July 2017. Another change that will be taking place is the Shared Parental Leave scheme, where mothers will be given the option to share up to four weeks of their maternity leave with their husbands – an increase from the current one week.

Mr Tan stressed that the Government is committed to supporting Singaporean children, regardless of their parents’ marital status. “It is also important to understand that we continue to believe in the importance of the family institution. We encourage married couples to have children. Hence, specific measures are targeted at married families,” he added.