Parliament Highlights – 5 May 2020

05 May 2020 4 min read

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More ComCare applications in April

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee shared that Social service offices have exercised flexibility to provide immediate help to low-income households affected by Covid-19.

Social service offices approved 125 applications for ComCare Interim Assistance, an increase from the monthly average of 72 for the past six months.

An additional $60 million has been committed to ComCare under the Resilience Budget, on top of $180 million for the year.

Mr Lee also said that households on ComCare are receiving support for a longer period to provide greater assurance to affected families.

For new applications to the ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA), SSOs have provided at least six months of assistance. A total of 1,441 applications for SMTA was approved last month, higher than the six month average of 946 applications.

Mr Lee also highlighted that households that are already on ComCare assistance that will end before July, will have their assistance automatically extended.

Mr Lee said, “SSOs take into account the applicants’ circumstances and needs and exercise flexibility as needed to provide the necessary financial assistance and social support.”

He added that help schemes such as the Temporary Relief Fund are part of the Government’s response to mitigate the broad-based impact of Covid-19 to Singaporeans. “The Government will continue to assess the situation and provide more support to affected Singaporeans if needed,” he said.

Sale and slaughter of live animals in wet markets being reviewed

The sale and slaughter of live animals in wet markets is currently being reviewed, taking into consideration “international benchmarking and scientific evidence”, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.

Dr Khor was replying to a question from Member of Parliament Louis Ng on whether the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) would consider banning the display, slaughter and sale of wild-caught live soft-shelled turtles at the wet markets due to zoonotic disease transmission risks.

Zoonotic disease is a type of disease that passes from insects and animals to humans. 

She explained that transmission risks are found to be low. There have been no cases of zoonotic disease transmission from these animals at the wet market stalls.

However Mr Ng pointed out that he believed there was a risk “very similar” to what might have led to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Khor replied that the majority of zoonotic pathogens are associated with mammals and birds rather than reptiles. This was why the slaughtering of live poultry at wet markets was stopped in 1992 and centralised at slaughterhouses, she added.

As part of the review, MEWR will consult the relevant stakeholders and share the outcome when ready, added Dr Khor.

Commission fee structure of food delivery firms ‘needs to evolve’ to attract hawkers

The authorities will work with food delivery companies to see how they can adjust their operating models to better suit hawkers, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament.

Responding to concerns about steep commission fees by some delivery platforms, Dr Khor said that the model for food delivery services, including the commission structures, must strike a balance among all parties in the food delivery services ecosystem, including hawker, delivery person and platform operator.

“This will potentially lower costs for the hawkers, not just on the circuit breaker period but beyond,” she added.

Dr Khor noted that there have been ground-up initiatives such as Hawkers United and SG Dabao which have helped hawkers advertise their food for delivery or takeaway.

She shared that the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will be providing hawkers with an information package that includes a list of the various food delivery platforms and “newer models that allow aggregation of orders within a hawker centre”. This will give hawkers a better idea of the type of platforms available.

Some hawkers suspend operations

Since the start of circuit breaker, about 20 to 30 per cent of cooked food stallholders have chosen not to operate their stalls, said Dr Khor. They include stall holders operating in the central business district and older stallholders. 

This is in spite of support for hawkers in the form of a three-month rental waiver and a one-month subsidy to defray the costs of table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services by NEA. About 14,000 stallholders are expected to benefit from the rental waiver.

Dr Khor told the House that National Environment Agency’s one-time assistance of S$500 to help hawkers with the cost of engaging food delivery services will be extended by a month to the end of June. About 600 applications for the funding have been received as of Apr 27, she added.

“We encourage more hawkers to make full use of this funding to set up an additional revenue stream during this challenging period,” said Dr Khor.

MCI, IMDA and telcos to boost network capacity

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will work with local telecommunications operators to increase the buffer of their network capacity, said Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran.

Mr Iswaran was responding on the surge in Internet data traffic during the circuit breaker period and how operators are responding to capacity issues. “Since the start of the circuit breaker, our telecom operators have seen an increase in their network traffic, particularly for fixed broadband and daytime usage due to telecommuting and home-based learning,” he explained.

He also added that the volume of traffic still remains within each operator’s network capacity, with a buffer of at least 30 per cent.

Mr Iswaran said the experience in recent months has also highlighted the importance of investing to build up a robust and resilient infocomm infrastructure.

“My ministry and IMDA will continue to ensure that our telecom infrastructure keeps pace with demand and meets our connectivity needs, especially as digitalisation accelerates in our economy and society,” Mr Iswaran added.

Image from Minister Desmond Lee’s Facebook, photo taken before circuit breaker measures