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Parliament Highlights – 8 July 2019

08 Jul 2019 5 min read

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Three-pronged strategy for Singapore economy

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing has laid out a three-pronged strategy for Singapore’s economy as the country navigates fundamental shifts in the global economy.

Responding to questions from Members of Parliament about the current state of Singapore’s economy and the impact of the US-China trade war, Mr Chan said Singapore is well-placed to weather the storm. He pointed out that the Economic Development Board (EDB) is on track to achieving its target of S$8 billion to S$10 billion in foreign investments, and at the same time, and is also watching business investment decisions very closely.

Elaborating on the three-pronged strategy, Mr Chan said Singapore can overcome future challenges by focusing on:

  1. Continue strengthening the fundamentals that have set Singapore apart from the competition. These include having a stable political environment with a competent and united leadership, a pro-business environment, a skilled workforce and a progressive tripartite partnership.
  2. Singapore must constantly refresh its business offerings to seize new opportunities.
  3. Singapore must continue to promote a conducive global and regional business environment with like-minded countries and companies. Mr Chan added that Singapore will deepen and diversify its trade links, citing how negotiations are ongoing for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Pacific Alliance Free Trade Agreement.

“Our economic fundamentals are sound, we are in a strong fiscal position, and we are making good progress in restructuring our economy. The Government also stands ready to step up our support for companies and workers in sustaining our core capabilities, enhancing our competitiveness and seizing new opportunities,” emphasised Mr Chan.

Action against fire safety infringements

To enhance the fire safety of buildings and better optimise resources, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has proposed several amendments to the Fire Safety Act.

The key changes to the Act, tabled by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament on 8 July 2019, will mandate building owners to install critical fire safety upgrades such as fire alarm systems and fire hose reels. This ensures that the buildings are updated with the latest Fire Code.

The amendments also seek to prosecute contractors and suppliers who use non-compliant fire safety products or materials in buildings. This comes after the SCDF found a number of buildings in Singapore were using external cladding that may not have adhered to the safety standards in the Fire Code. As such, SCDF said it would propose legislation to hold errant parties responsible for the use of such panels.

Another proposed amendment is the enhancement of the enforcement and investigative powers of the SCDF. This would allow SCDF officers to immediately prosecute building owners for serious fire hazards such as overcrowding, non-maintenance of fire safety measures and the obstruction of escape routes.

Compulsory registration for drone flying

Drone operators must register their drones by the end of this year and those who flout flying rules will face harsher penalties.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced these new measures to tighten control after two illegal incursions disrupted operations at Changi Airport in June.

The Government is looking to:

  • Implement drone registration to ensure that operators are “made aware of their responsibilities and undertake to conduct their activities in a responsible manner”
  • Introduce a licensing framework for pilots of large or capable drones
  • Adopt a balanced approach in regulating the use of drones
  • Impose stricter enforcement actions against errant drone operators
  • Improve countermeasures at Changi Airport to detect and disrupt drones quicker

“We stand ready to invest in and deploy additional capabilities to monitor and enforce the safety of our airspace,” said Dr Lam Pin Min. He also added those who flout the rules can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to a year currently

Improved MRT network, higher fares

Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan has shared in Parliament that the MRT network now clocks nearly one million train-kilometres between delays.

Though Singapore’s MRT network is now on par with other world-class systems such as the Hong Kong MTR,  this has come at a substantial expense to the operators and Government, he added. In fact, the rail companies are operating at a loss since fares paid by commuters do not cover operating costs, said Mr Khaw.

Responding to questions in Parliament about funding rail reliability, Mr Khaw explained that higher fares will be needed in face of rising subsidies for public transport as the Government currently subsidises more than 30 per cent of public transport operation. “With intensified maintenance to reach the current level of reliability, the government operating subsidies have increased further,” explained Mr Khaw.

Mr Khaw said that the Public Transport Council will have to review their fare adjustment mechanism in due course to reflect the increased operating cost to support rail maintenance, and the additional operating subsidies from the Government to the MRT system. Stressing the importance of a sustainable and stable rail system, Mr Khaw said it would require discipline and investments in upgrades and preventative maintenance, together with regular fair adjustments to sustain a high quality and affordable public transport network

Singapore not affected by Pasir Gudang pollution

The recent incidents of pollution in Pasir Gudang have not affected Singapore, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Mr Masagos Zulkifli.

Mr Masagos confirmed that no toxic chemicals were detected within Singapore. He said in Parliament on 8 July 2019, “The ambient levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the northeast region were also well within safe limits.”

Mr Masagos added that Singapore’s agencies, National Environment Agency and the Singapore Civil Defence Force are in contact with their Malaysian counterparts and will continue to monitor the development of pollution over at Pasir Gudang. Emphasising that the Singapore agencies have put in place precautionary measures to guard against any potential pollution impacts arising from incidents, he added that the air and water quality in the northeast region “were comparable to the rest of Singapore”, including during the northeast monsoon period.

Traffic Police to stop issuing physical driving licences

The Traffic Police (TP) plans to stop issuing physical driving licences, unless requested by motorists, in its push towards digitalisation, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling.

Other proposed amendments to the Road Traffic Bill:

  • A motorist’s licence will be suspended or revoked four weeks from the date of notice, even if the motorist’s appeal against it is still being processed.
  • The licence suspension period will be lengthened to up to five years from the current three-year period.
  • Motorists who have one of their probationary licences revoked, will have their other licences revoked at the same time.
  • Allow the courts to consider past road traffic offences as an aggravating factor when sentencing a convicted person for road traffic offences
  • Motorists are required to stop their vehicle to render assistance to animals involved in accidents.
  • Motorcyclists and pillion riders who do not wear proper protective helmets will face higher penalties – up to three months’ jail and a maximum fine of $1,000, up from the current $200 fine.

New Bill to regulate pricing policy

A new Point-to-Point (P2P) Passenger Transport Industry Bill was tabled in Parliament on 8 July 2019.

This Bill will allow the Public Transport Council to regulate pricing policy for fares of private-hire vehicle operators such as Grab and Gojek.

This would mean that operators may have to indicate the components for ride-hail fares and how fares are calculated, along with minimum and maximum fare ranges. This Bill will also allow the Land Transport Authority to structure regulations around services that is provided by the operators, and at the same time have regulatory oversight to protect the safety of commuters and drivers.

This Bill will be debated in Parliament next month.