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Parliament Highlights – 3 September 2019

03 Sep 2019 4 min read

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Navigating global uncertainties

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said Singapore must diversify markets and supply chains, as well as invest in innovation to navigate the uncertainties in the world.

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Chan pointed out that the uncertainties are no longer just about the US-China trade conflict, but also Brexit, tensions between Japan and Korea and the situation in Hong Kong. He added that it is also a multi-faceted challenge that covers not just trade, but also technology issues.

As such, Mr Chan encouraged companies to venture further afield to countries still experiencing strong and positive growth and tap on Singapore’s diversified portfolio of free trade agreements (FTAs).

Mr Chan also shared that the Government is working with the United Kingdom on an agreement that will seek to continue existing arrangements that Singapore has with the UK as part of the European Union. 

Higher payouts for work injury compensation

Insurance for work-related injuries will be made mandatory and it will provide higher maximum payouts and cover around 300,000 more workers, under a new law tabled in Parliament.

Employees placed on light duties owing to work injuries can also receive their regular pay – as though they were on medical leave – for up to two weeks, while companies with poor safety records may face higher insurance premiums.

Launching the Work Injury Compensation Bill 2019 for debate in Parliament, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said these, and other proposed changes will make the system better for both employers and employees. The new law, which will be effective next year, seeks to raise the maximum compensation amount to keep pace with rising wages and healthcare costs. For example, the payout for death will be $225,000 and for total permanent incapacity will be $289,000. The new law will also ensure that it covers more than 95 per cent of all medical expenses claims.

Furthermore, the salary threshold will also be raised to cover all non-manual employees earning up to $2,600 a month and not just those working in factories or earning below $1,600.

To expedite claims processing, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will approve certain insurers who can provide Work Injury Compensation insurance. These insurers will process all insured claims, instead of MOM processing some types of claims and the insurers processing the rest.

Build up endowment funds to support students

Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung revealed that the National University of Singapore has the largest endowment fund of the six local universities here, totalling $5.9 billion in the financial year that ended in March last year.

Sharing details on the usage of endowment funds, Mr Ong said the principal sum in the endowment cannot be touched and only the income generated from investing the sum is used for various purposes.

He noted that the biggest use of endowment income is to pay for operating expenditure in delivering subsidised education. Other major uses are to provide bursaries and scholarships, fund research projects and support students’ overseas internships and other programmes that enrich their learning experience.

“The autonomous universities set up endowment funds, with government support, because they should have a separate stream of income such that they can embark on their own programmes and activities without always depending on the Government,” he added.

Mr Ong said the Education Ministry also contributes significantly to the universities’ endowment funds, by matching donations they raise.

Surveillance cameras help nab litterbugs

Since 2012, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has deployed surveillance cameras with video analytics to catch litterbugs in the act and this has significantly improved NEA’s enforcement action, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.

These cameras have caught more than 2,200 high-rise litterbugs between August 2012 and December 2018, of whom 52 were repeat offenders, she shared.

While there are stiff penalties are in place to deter high-rise littering, Dr Khor reminded Singaporeans that it is important to foster collective responsibility for the environment and cultivate positive social norms.

“Residents should also bin their litter properly and contact their town councils for assistance in disposing of bulky waste items if they are staying in public estates,” she added.

Funding for climate change measures to come from sources including borrowing, ministry budgets

The Government could fund the S$100 billion cost required for climate change protection measures using a combination of borrowing, reserves and ministry budgets, Second Minister for Finance Mr Lawrence Wong said.

Responding to a question on how much of past reserves will be used to fund the measures, Mr Wong told Parliament on 3 September 2019 that smaller-scale infrastructure such as localised flood barriers for public assets, like hospitals and bus depots, can be funded from the budgets of ministries.

Meanwhile, the Government will look at the option of borrowing for long-lived major infrastructure works like sea walls to spread the cost across the generations, which will benefit from such infrastructures.

“Where the measures include land reclamation, the land reclamation costs can already be met from past reserves,” added Mr Wong, who is also Minister for National Development.

This comes after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcement during his National Day Rally speech on Aug 18 that Singapore would probably need to spend S$100 billion over 100 years to tackle climate change and rising sea levels.

When asked about the roles of the President and Parliament in approving or overseeing the use of past reserves for such measures, Mr Wong, said Parliament debates and approves the Supply Bill every year, part of which involves seeking approval for development expenditure, including land reclamation costs.

He added that the use of past reserves to fund reclamation costs is in accordance with the Reserves Protection Framework, which is agreed on between the President and the Government.