Parliament Highlights - 10 September 2018
PUBLISHED ON 10 Sep 2018
VERS: Government studying how to implement scheme
The Government is studying how to implement the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS), which was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on 19 August 2018.

VERS which will start 20 years from now, will progressively redevelop precincts in ageing housing estates. PM Lee had stated that the redevelopment will happen from about the 70th year onwards.

Reiterating the need to provide affordable and quality homes for Singaporeans, Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong, in reply to a question in Parliament today said that private developers may be involved in redeveloping older public housing estates.

He emphasised that even if private developers are involved, "let's be very clear that our role is to redevelop public housing estates... so we will need to ensure that any redevelopment is done in a way which supports HDB's mission to provide affordable and quality homes for Singaporeans," said Mr Wong.

Mr Wong replied that more time is needed to work out the details, the extent of coverage of VERS and the compensation payable. "We will ensure that we implement VERS in a fiscally sustainable way, so that it does not become a burden for the next generation," he said.

More flats would be eligible for VERS as against the Selective En-bloc Scheme (SERS). But the compensation terms for VERS would be less generous " because we will be redeveloping land that is more built up," said Mr Wong.

Besides VERS, and an enhanced upgrading programme (HIP II) for older flats, the government is also considering making CPF funds more flexible to enable buyers to purchase HDB flats with shorter leases while ensuring they have enough to retire on. 

These plans - dependent on Singapore’s external, economic and financial conditions – are expected to come onstream over the next few decades.

Mr Wong added: "Whether they come to pass depends on our situation. But this Government has a track record of delivering on our commitments."

Changes to Parliamentary Elections Act

Trade and Industry Minister and Government Whip Chan Chun Sing has tabled a Bill in Parliament where candidates who contest a General Election will need to pay for an election deposit, which is lesser than the present S$14,500.

The Parliamentary Elections Act tabled by on Monday also states that the number of non-constituency MPs (NCMPs) will be increased.

Following up with a factsheet, the Elections Department (ELD) said that the proposed amendment simplifies the formula to compute the election deposit to it being based on an elected Member of Parliament’s (MP) fixed monthly allowance, rounded to the nearest S$500. Given that the current fixed monthly allowance is S$13,750, the election deposit will be rounded down to S$13,500.

The amended Bill allows the candidates to pay the amount by electronic fund transfer systems. Other payment methods of bank draft and certified cheque currently provided in the Act will continue to be available, it said.

The increased number of non-constituency MPs (NCMPs) from 9 to 12 minus the total number of elected Opposition MPs was also included.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in 2016 that he intends to raise the number of NCMP seats so that there will be at least 12 opposition faces in Parliament from the next General Election.

In the event of contingencies, such as riots, fires or floods, the Bill allows the Returning Officer to suspend proceedings for up to two hours to assess the situation and decide on the course of action. For example, the Returning Officer can change the time and place of the nomination if a disruption were to occur, but the proceedings must still take place on the same day.

Notice of the decision will be published in the Government Gazette.

The Bill also proposes that only aspiring candidates who meet the following conditions may be allowed to enter the nomination place:
  • The candidate has been issued a political donation certificate
  • The candidate is accompanied by a proposer, a seconder and at least four assentors
  • For Group Representation Constituency (GRC) candidates, the relevant candidate in the group should hold the relevant minority community certificate

Safety standards for PMDs

There have been more than 80 fire incidents involving motorised PMDs since 2016 and taking into consideration the fire and electrical hazards they can pose to public safety, motorised personal mobility devices (PMDs) such as e-scooters will have to conform to a safety standard.

Retailers can only sell PMDs that conform to the UL2272 standard - developed by an independent United States certification company - from July next year. Motorised PMDs that do not meet the UL2272 standard will be illegal on public paths from January 2021.

The Land Transport (Enforcement Measures) Bill will also allow owners of motorised PMDs that do not comply with UL2272 to use their devices until the end of 2020, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min during the second reading of the Land Transport (Enforcement Measures) Bill.

Mindset change needed to tackle workplace discrimination

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will not hesitate to act against offending companies or curtail their work pass privileges if they have discriminated against people with disabilities, stated Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

He disclosed that there were four allegations of workplace discrimination against people with disabilities in past five years. However, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) found no evidence of discrimination after its investigations, he said.

He explained that the main reason for such complaints was due to poor communication and a lack of sensitivity when working with persons with disabilities. He said: "All the four cases were closed after TAFEP provided advice to the employers to improve their employment practices."
The four cases were among a total of about 1,600 complaints on workplace issues.

Responding to a question if there is a need for an anti-discrimination law to protect disabled people, Mr Zaqy said there is no conclusive evidence that anti-discrimination laws necessarily improve the employability of people with disabilities.

“In fact, such laws may have the unintended consequence of deterring employers from hiring them in the first instance. This may happen when employers are fearful that workers cannot be dismissed even with legitimate reasons or that their actions would be misconstrued as being unlawful,” he emphasised.

Instead, the key to addressing discrimination is to change mindsets - and that goes beyond legislation, Mr Zaqy said.

Passengers come first

Taxi companies and private-hire car operators interested in allowing their drivers to perform courier services on a limited trial basis can approach the Land Transport Authority to discuss such a possibility said Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary.

Dr Puthucheary said that LTA will work with operators to assess the feasibility of a trial as well as ensure there is minimal impact on the availability of taxis and private-hire cars for commuters.
LTA will also work to ensure that the necessary conditions are in place to safeguard commuter interests during such trials, such as making sure that the vehicles have the appropriate third-party insurance coverage, said Dr Puthucheary.

"This is to ensure that taxi and private-hire cars remain available to provide point-to-point services for commuters," said Dr Puthucheary. Drivers found violating those rules may have their vocational licenses revoked, he added.

Motorcycle COEs: No market manipulation

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min has reiterated that there was no irregular bidding activity or market manipulation for motorcycle certificates of entitlement (COE).

"While we have not observed any irregular bidding activity or market manipulation, LTA (Land Transport Authority) will continue to monitor the situation closely." He further said: "We are mindful of the needs of motorcycle owners and businesses and are prepared to review the COE regulations if and when warranted.”

Dr Lam also pointed out that motorcycle COE prices had fallen from $8,001 in January to $4,390 in the last round of bidding last Wednesday, 5 September 2018.