Parliament Highlights - 6 February 2017
PUBLISHED ON 06 Feb 2017
Singapore working on other trade deals besides TPP

The withdrawal of the United States (US) from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a setback but need not be the death knell to free trade, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Mr Lim Hng Kiang in Parliament on 6 February 2017.

Responding to questions by MPs Ang Wei Neng and Pritam Singh, as well as Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mr Randolph Tan, Mr Lim said the TPP agreement cannot come into effect with the US' exit.

As such, the remaining 11 members that signed the TPP agreement will now have to carefully evaluate the new balance of benefits without the US' participation and consider the value of such an agreement.

Meanwhile, Singapore is actively engaged in other regional integration initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the ASEAN Economic Community. The Republic also has an existing network of 21 free trade agreements in force.

Mr Lim added that Singapore will continue to work with like-minded partners at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as advocates of a rules-based multilateral trading system.

Such deep ties with key trading partners will help Singapore stay connected as the environment evolves, Mr Lim said.

"We will also actively pursue other forms of economic cooperation initiatives, including industrial parks and other projects in the region, to create more opportunities for our companies to collaborate and to grow," he added.

Review underway for penalties against irresponsible motorists

Senior Minister of State Mr Desmond Lee announced that the Ministry of Home Affairs will be reviewing the penalties for driving dangerously against the flow of traffic, as part of the review of the Road Traffic Act.

In addition to the query on traffic and roads, two other MPs asked in Parliament if the transport ministry will be re-assessing the design of road, especially since there have been a rise in cases of motorists going against traffic since December.

Second Minister for Transport Mr Ng Chee Meng responded that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) takes reference from international standards, when it comes to design and installation of road signs and markings.

Mr Ng said, “LTA engages independent, specialist road safety engineers to review the clarity and effectiveness of road signs and markings for new roads, and to undertake regular safety audits of existing roads.”

Mr Ng also urged and reminded drivers to be extra careful and slow down when they are driving down roads that they are not familiar with.
95 per cent of salary related claims resolved in 2016

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) received about 9,000 salary related claims involving 4,500 employers in 2016.

Minister for Manpower Mr Lim Swee Say said that 95 per cent of these claims were resolved after mediation by MOM, and adjudication by the Labour Court.

The remaining 5 per cent of the cases which remain unresolved is due to the fact that one case appealed the Labour Court order, and the case is still with the High Court. Eight other cases are still in business but have yet to comply with court orders. For the rest of the cases, 199 out of the 208 employers either ceased operations, or are facing impending business closure.

At the same time, the ministry is investigating employers who are not paying salary to their employees, which is an offence under the Employment Act. Mr Lim said, “While it is not our intention to criminalise every non-payment of salary, especially if it is the result of a business failure, we do prosecute serious or repeated cases, for deterrence.”

Mr Lim also added that 99.9 per cent of workplace incidents have been resolved. He said, “While we are relieved that the vast majority of unpaid salary (95 per cent) and work injury cases (99.9 per cent) are successfully resolved, we are however concerned with workers who are unable to recover their claims because their employers no longer have the financial means to pay. We will continue to strengthen our support for them.”

Presidential Election to be held in September 2017

The next Presidential Election, which is reserved for Malay candidates, will be held this September instead of August 2017.

This was announced by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Chan Chun Sing, in Parliament during the second reading of the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill.

Mr Chan explain the change in month because voting for a new president has typically been held in the last week of August, to ensure the process falls within the term of the sitting President, which ends on 31 August.

The date revision does not require any changes to the law and the Government is announcing changes early for transparency and ensuring that prospective candidates are aware of the changes.

Citing the process of the Presidential Election in 2011, Mr Chan noted that the Writ of Election was issued in the first week of August. As such, candidates began campaigning shortly after National Day and activities coincided with the month-long National Day celebrations. The revised timing would ensure the election is not held during the celebrations.

For the upcoming election, Mr Chan said the government will issue a Writ in the later part of August, before President Tony Tan’s term expires. This shift will also “reset the clock” so that future elections will take place outside the National Day period.

Mr Chan added the Constitution allows for an acting President to assume office from the end of the incumbent President’s term until a new President assumes office. As such, the Chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers or Speaker of Parliament can be the acting President.
Changes to the timing of the polls will also pave the way for several changes:
  •  Deadline for prospective candidates to apply for a certificate of eligibility will be extended to five days after the Writ is issued, up from the current three days.
  •  Nomination day will be held at least 10 days after the day the Writ is issued, up from the current five days.
Mr Chan also announced changes to the campaigning rules for the next Presidential Election.

For the upcoming polls, there will no longer be designated rally sites for candidates. Instead, candidates who wish to hold rallies will l have to apply for a police permit, which will be assessed by the Police based on public order considerations.

Candidates will also receive more television airtime to reach out to voters. In the 2011 Presidential Election, candidates were given two 10-minute TV segments to make their statements. In addition, candidates also participated in an hour-long TV forum.

Besides television airtime, candidates can also use social media or conduct indoor private meetings with specific groups of voters.

Mr Chan said the changes are the result of the Government broadly accepting the recommendations made by the Constitutional Commission on election campaign methods. In a report it submitted to the government, the Commission noted that candidates for the Presidential Election should conduct their campaigns in a dignified manner that befits the office and the unifying role of the presidency.

More poly grads hired in 2016

More graduates from local polytechnics were hired in 2016 compared to the year before, said Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong revealed that the overall employment rates for fresh and post-National Service polytechnic graduates in 2016 were at 90.6% and 95.4% respectively.

This was slightly higher compared to 2015 when the overall employment rates for fresh and post-National Service polytechnic graduates were at the 88.9% and 91.5%.

"Many polytechnic graduates chose to work in part-time/temporary jobs as they prepared to commence further studies," Mr Ong said.

Meanwhile, full-time permanent employment rates for the fresh and post-National Service Polytechnic graduates in 2016 were 55.8% and 70.1%, respectively, which was also comparable to the 2015 figures. 

Bill to ensure transparency in Town Councils

Town councils will be required to observe higher standards of transparency and governance under the proposed changes to the Town Councils Act

The amendments will require town councils to submit audited financial reports within six months of the end of the financial year, and keep a registry of conflict of interest disclosures from its staff, among other things.

For instance, the secretary of the town council can be fined up to $5,000 if he fails to keep a registry of conflict of interest disclosures. Town councils can also be fined up to $5,000 if they do not submit audited financial statements on time.

The changes were tabled in Parliament on 6 February 2017 by Senior Minister of State for National Development (MND) Mr Desmond Lee.

Currently, MND has no power to compel town councils to provide information on its finances and there are no penalties if a town council refuses to do so.

If the proposed changes are passed by Parliament, MND will be able to appoint inspectors to investigate if town councils have flouted regulations, and issue an order to town councils specifying remedial action.

Short-term rental of private homes illegal

The use of private property for short-term accommodation was legislated as illegal in Singapore on 6 February 2017. Home-owners will now face a hefty fine if they rent out their homes via online homestay networks such as Airbnb and Roomorama.

Such short-term rentals of private property were already prohibited under guidelines by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and those who flout the rules face up S$200,000 fine or jail for up to a year if a private residence is rented or sublet for less than six months. The same penalties will apply going forward.

“Private residential properties should not be used for other purposes without planning approval, as there is a need to safeguard the living environment of residents in the neighbourhood,” said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

He added that URA has seen an increase in complaints from home-owners about breaches of this rule in their residential properties. As such, there is a need to enforce the current rules and ensure the issue does not worsen further. Mr Wong added that URA will now have enhanced powers to investigate suspected infringements.

Although advertising on home-sharing or rental websites in itself was not an offence nor regulated, Mr Wong said authorities will work with managing bodies of private properties listed online, to notify residents of the rules.

He also pointed out that residential homes should not be put up for daily rental and ought to be regulated in a similar way as hotels.

Hence, the ministry is studying the option of creating a new use category for private residences that wish to engage in short-term rentals.