Parliament Highlights – 10 January 2018
PUBLISHED ON 10 Jan 2018
Guarding against fake news

The House has unanimously voted to convene a Select Committee to combat deliberate online falsehoods on 10 January 2018. All 80 members of Parliament who were present, voted yes. 

This comes after Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam moved the motion in Parliament to appoint a Select Committee to look into how Singapore can prevent and combat “fake news” online.

Explaining the need for a Select Committee, Mr Shanmugam shared three reasons why Singapore is highly susceptible to deliberate online falsehoods.

First, the Republic’s high internet penetration rate makes it easy to attack and spread falsehoods online and given Singapore’s status as a multiracial and multi-religious society, these fault lines can be easily exploited. He cited an incident last year, which saw false rumours of cat and dog meat being sold at the Geylang Serai Bazaar transmitted via Facebook and WhatsApp.

Mr Shanmugam also highlighted Singapore itself is an attractive target to attack, as the Republic is a key strategic node and key player in ASEAN. "What we say on regional issues, international issues, carries weight. If we can be influenced and swayed, then foreign interests can be advanced through us,” he cautioned.

If left unchecked, Mr Shanmugam said such deliberate falsehoods “can drown out the facts, can cause people to be disillusioned, can be manipulated to create rifts and damage social cohesion”.

Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim also spoke in support of the motion, noting that falsehoods can go viral in seconds in today’s Internet age and can destabilise societies easily. “Digital content can be easily manipulated to make it more provocative, and stir emotions more easily. Anyone can publish or share falsehoods online, even from halfway around the world,” he shared.

Dr Yaacob stressed that it is important to have mechanisms in place to respond swiftly to fake news and engage the community to address the issue. “We need a broader national conversation about this issue, so everyone has a shared understanding of the threat, and a sense of ownership about the solution,” he added.

The Select Committee will examine the causes and consequences of deliberate online falsehoods and may call for public feedback, before it presents a report with recommendations to Parliament.

Train driver did not have time to avoid Joo Koon train collision

Minister of Transport Mr Khaw Boon Wan said that he does not blame the train captain involved in the 15 November 2017 Joo Koon train collision.

Explaining his statement, Mr Khaw said that the train captain and operations control centre staff were not aware that a train’s protective bubble could be disabled – even after the first protective bubble had failed. A train’s protective bubble ensures a safe distance between trains.

Mr Khaw pointed out that the train captain was trained by signalling system supplier Thales, which shared the assumption that the deactivating of the protective bubble could not have happened. “In hindsight, one can blame the captain, but I don’t. Because he was mentally not prepared and never trained to react for that kind of scenario,” Mr Khaw said.

Mr Khaw also explained that the train captain had to switch to manual mode, before he could apply the emergency brakes.  “Based on the logs and review by the experts, they felt that the train operator just could not react in time,” he said.

Mr Khaw said the flaws in the system have been rectified, and supplier Thales has accepted full responsibility and apologised for the incident.

Support for unemployed PMETs

The Career Support Programme (CSP) has assisted more than 1,100 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) with job placements since its inception in 2015.

Sharing the details in Parliament, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo said that over 90% of the PMETs supported by the CSP were aged 40 and above.

The CSP is part of the Adapt and Grow initiative and aims to encourage employers to hire eligible Singaporean PMETs.

Improvements to SkillsFuture portal

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) will gradually publish more information on the portal to help Singaporeans make better decisions, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Ms Low Yen Ling.

Elaborating further, Ms Low said the information will include course quality and the standards of the trainers. “Course applicants can be assured that the key criteria of quality, course transparency and accountability really underpins SSG’s efforts to enhance Singaporeans’ learning needs,” she added.

Ms Low stated that a community feedback feature was recently introduced in the portal, allowing course participants to directly provide feedback on the quality of learning on the respective SkillsFuture Credit-eligible courses.

No upward trend in water pipe leaks

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor said there is no visible uptrend in the number of water pipe leaks in Singapore each year.

Responding to a parliamentary question on number of water pipe leaks each year, Dr Khor revealed that there are about six leaks per 100km of pipes yearly, for the past seven years. She also pointed out that rate of pipe leaks in Singapore is among the lowest, compared to other cities around the world.

Her response comes after several pipe leaks were reported within a span of two weeks in November last year.