This Bill comes four years after the Singapore Academy of Law’s Law Reform Committee released a report on online gaming in Singapore in July 2010. The Law Reform paper noted that Singapore had begun to host gaming and gambling events with more frequency referring to the Betfair Asian Poker Tour, and through statutory exemptions to the Common Gaming Houses Act for organisers of private events to organize gambling activities in Singapore. In the words of the report, these developments suggested a more open state policy towards controlled and revenue-generating gambling activities, with similar implications for online gambling, even though the local Courts have generally taken a more conservative approach with regard to the public policy considerations about gambling.
This Bill will clarify the law on online gambling especially since the four key statutes that govern gambling in Singapore, namely, the Common Gaming Houses Act, the Betting Act, the Private Lotteries Act and the Betting and Sweepstakes Duties Act do not adequately address the legal regime surrounding online or remote gambling. With regard to online gambling till date, the Common Gaming Houses Act and the Betting Act are generally differentiated with the former dealing mainly with casino-style online gambling and the latter with sports-type online betting.
The Bill targets all forms of remote gambling activity – and it covers individuals and corporate entities from gamblers to betting agents and operators. The law will apply so long as part of the gambling activity takes place in Singapore, regardless of where the bet is placed or where the remote gambling operator is located. It also gives authorities the power to block payments between illegal gambling sites and financial institutions and block local access to gambling websites that facilitate or advertise remote gambling. All of these are very far-reaching measures.
The Bill’s Key Issue: Exemptions
Madam Speaker, a reading of the Bill in isolation sends a signal that the state subscribes to a restrictive and socially responsible attitude towards remote gambling. This is however only until the exemptions from clauses 26 to 30 to the Bill kick in and this aspect of the Bill is the focus of my speech.
The Minister can issue a certificate of exemption to any operator if it is in the public interest to do so. Clause 28 lists the conditions that the Minister may refer to when deciding to issue a certificate, although these are not exhaustive, and because the Minister has wide powers to add to, delete or modify the conditions governing the issuance of a certificate of exemption.
I have a few clarifications for the Minister in this regard. While I am supportive of a clear legal regime to deal with remote gambling, I am concerned that the prospect of a certificate of exemption issued to one or more local operators will increase the prospect of gambling in Singapore per se, as there is no clarity as yet on the means by which an operator would seek to contain and control the potential of remote gambling to cause harm to all Singaporeans not just to young persons and vulnerable persons. I will cover four main areas in my speech.
First - Is it inevitable that a total ban will cause remote gambling to go underground?
It was noteworthy that in the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) consultation exercise report on the regulation of remote gambling dated 6 March 2014– some stakeholders advocated a complete ban on remote gambling on the grounds that there were sufficient gambling outlets available to Singaporeans, and to prevent easy access to remote gambling especially among youth who are usually more tech-savvy and potentially at greater risk.
The often-heard argument about remote gambling is that a total ban will drive activities such as internet gambling underground. This is often is the same argument used for the regulation of other vices. In the absence of relevant data and information, I am not convinced that these concerns wholly apply to remote gambling precisely because gamblers can still get their fix at land-based outlets and some remote gambling options provided to gamblers by operators currently, and it is not as if gambling per se is being banned. If so, wouldn’t that suggest that rather than gamblers going underground and operating illegally, most gamblers would just go to the existing land-based outlets such as authorised 4D/TOTO shops which are completely legal and regulated? Separately, even if some remote gambling does go underground, there is already some acknowledgement by the Minister that even with the passage of this Bill into law, there remain loopholes such as Virtual Private Networks or VPNs that can be set up to circumscribe the some restrictions in this Bill and gamblers could still get their fix through international online gambling sites. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform this House whether his Ministry will be open to look into the efficacy of a total ban on online gambling and not issue a certificate to any operator, especially since the public does not know how restrictive or liberal the remote gambling regime will be in practice, or whether it will increase the prospect of compulsive gambling in Singapore.
Second – Information on Remote Gambling in Singapore
The NCPG consultation exercise report on the regulation of remote gambling saw some stakeholders calling on the Government to commission more local research on remote gambling to study the nature and extent of remote gambling in Singapore. I am of the view that access to this information would better equip members for this debate, rather than to rely on analyst reports projections from third parties. I hope the Minister can share more information on remote gambling in this regard, for example, details on the numbers of the remote gamblers in Singapore, the frequency of their betting activities and preferred betting activities i.e. sports betting or conventional casino-styled gambling, so that parliament can ensure that the social safeguards with regard to remote gambling are set at an appropriate level.
Third – Remote Gambling exempt operators: Taxation and Proceeds?
In a USA Today editorial dated 25 Sep 2014, it was reported that the state of New Jersey was looking to the Courts to allow sports betting and the concern was that online sports betting would follow suit accordingly. This may not just mean bets on the eventual results, but live-betting as well (such as the number of red and yellow cards in soccer game for example), raising the prospect of attendant social ills such as increased sophistication in match-fixing for example. The fear is that if pressures begin to mount of the bottom-lines of exempt operators and even the state as a tax partner, there may well be a desensitization towards relaxed remote gambling restrictions as a solution. The Bill gives wide powers to the Minister to decline or revoke the issuance of a certificate and I hope the Minister can let this House know what measures are in place to ensure that such a slippery slope does not occur.
In addition, the NCPG consultation exercise on remote gambling proposed that the proceeds of remote gambling products offered by not-for-profit entities should go towards charitable and community causes. This point is made in clause 26 on the factors the Minister may consider before issuing a certificate of exemption. I would like to ask the Minister if the Ministry has determined what percentage of proceeds from remote gambling would go towards such causes and the operators respectively, and how remote gambling will be taxed. Will this figure will be made public in due course, and would an expectation of a percentage of proceeds be a criteria for the issuance of a certificate, in addition to the conditions specified in clause 28?
Fourth – Responsible Gaming Regulations for Remote Gambling
According to a speech made by the Minister at the 3rd Singapore Symposium on Casino Regulation and Crime last year, the total revenue of the global remote gambling industry in 2012 was estimated at US$35b, with an expected annual growth rate of about 9% – about five times the expected growth for conventional land-based gambling.
The Minister for Social and Family Development – in a reply to a parliamentary question on the implementation of responsible gaming measures adopted by the two Integrated Resorts in October 2013 with respect to the Casino Control (Responsible Gambling) Regulations which came into effect on 31st May 2013 – said that a casino operator must submit its responsible gambling programme to the authorities for prior approval with some measures including whether the operators had committed a dedicated committee to oversee responsible gambling efforts, set-up a pre-commitment facility for patrons to limit their gambling expenditures, and other broad measures such as responsible gambling ambassadors providing patrons with information and to assist those who display signs of anxiety or distress.
These measures have not been raised by this Bill but would conceivably be similarly raised in subsidiary legislation. However, as the drawing up of such legislation is not subject to parliamentary debate, it would be important for the Minister to flesh out the contours of responsible gaming regulations relevant to remote gambling in parliament, so that members can be assured that remote gambling options as offered by exempt operators do not end up making it more convenient to gamble as Singapore is already one of the most wired and connected countries in the world. There is also a legitimate concern that responsible gambling regulations specific to land-based gambling are not easily portable to the remote gambling realm precisely because land-based gambling outlets are viscerally better placed to introduce social checks and monitors, for example through entry levies. In view of the ubiquitous nature of remote gambling, the integrity and online security of gambler/gambling-related information and specifically, the greater difficulty to police and influence online activity, can the Minister please share what measures and regulations the Ministry deliberated upon to ensure that widespread online gambling does not begin to take root in Singapore because of online or remote mediums through regulated operators who have been issued a certificate of exemptions?
Separately, in its press release dated 29 Nov 2013 on proposals to restrict remote gambling, the Ministry stated that in addition to the changes promulgated in the Bill before the House today, the Ministry will also strengthen public education with regard to remote gambling and gambling simulation games. Can the Minister share how the Ministry intends to do so, how different its public education program would be for remote gamblers as opposed to the land-based gambling, and how it plans to gauge the effectiveness of such measures in view of the privacy afforded to a gambler by the Internet, and as iterated earlier, given the nature of the online medium in particular.
In conclusion Madam Speaker, a number of international studies warn how remote gambling activities can be more dangerous than conventional ones that are already present in Singapore. The British-based Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC) estimated that the remote gambling industry in Singapore will rake in US$416 million (S$526 million) in 2014, up by more than 50 per cent from the US$271.58 million in 2009. More worryingly, according to the Psychological Assessment Journal, it was reported that 40 per cent of online gamblers tend to overestimate their winnngs and underestimate their losses. Separately, NCPG statistics from 2011 showed that those who participated in online gambling were found to have the poorest self-control, gambling longer, more frequently, and spending more money than planned.
Mdm Speaker, the phrase, the devil is in the details is an often heard cliché. This Bill essentially sees the Government proposing a largely restrictive regime governing remote gambling which is a positive development in principle. To that end, I support the Bill. However, the Bill is also one where the details – of how the Government will ensure remote gambling through exempt operators will not lead to an increase incidence of gambling, especially among the vulnerable groups – are not sufficiently clear. As this is a significant aspect of the Bill with far reaching implications on gambling norms in Singapore, I ask the Minister to put this Bill before a Select Committee so parliament can receive additional feedback from Singaporeans, industry experts, and in particular, operators that would potentially qualify for a certificate of exemption, with a view to scrutinise clauses 26 to 30 of Bill more closely. Thank you.
I refer to the article published on 3 Sep 2014 and thank Mr Ye for his letter. Mr Ye would know that PAP MPs who participated in last month’s parliamentary debate on the Israel-Palestinian conflict on 5 Aug 2014, like me, also enquired about the prospects of Singapore taking a stronger position in the matter. Hence, I am puzzled by the title of the article, “MP should take into account national interest when taking a stand on international conflict”.
I would like to clarify that insofar as my support for Palestine is concerned, I support all initiatives that lead to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict resulting in a just and internationally recognised settlement which creates a sovereign homeland not just for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but one which ensures the right of Israel’s existence as well. Until a final settlement is reached, I also support all humanitarian efforts to assist all those affected by the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
In a Facebook post on 23 July 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also called on Singaporeans to keep the victims of the conflict in Gaza in our “thoughts and prayers”. The Prime Minister also encouraged Singaporeans to donate towards humanitarian assistance efforts in Gaza. Since then, many Singaporeans of all races and religions have contributed generously. Singaporean Malay-Muslims contributed more than $1.2 million through all the 68 mosques in the country.
Mercy Relief, a secular and well-known Singaporean organization only last weekend organized ‘Pause for a Cause’ in Orchard Road, to raise money towards the humanitarian fund raising efforts in Gaza. Mercy Relief also organized a charity playdate at Northstar@AMK and collaborated with a well-know yoga operator, Sadhna Sanctuary to raise funds for the same purpose.
At its recent Hari Raya celebration for Aljunied GRC residents held at Jalan Damai, Workers’ Party MPs and members who had also joined the call to raise funds for the humanitarian effort in Gaza, handed over a cheque to the Badan Agama Dan Pelajaran Radin Mas (BAPA) or Religious & Educational League Of Radin Mas, a non-profit social organization which was first formed in Singapore in 1957.
Mr Yap would appreciate that Singapore is an open society and because of our international trade connections and a more interconnected world today, Singaporeans, including younger Singaporeans, are likely to be much more engaged in international affairs in future, not less. This is also part and parcel of citizen participation in a parliamentary democracy.
I believe that as a people living together in a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society for close to 50 years, we can understand each others’ sentiments and concerns, and even emotional responses to different events within our region and around the world. We should continue to respect each others’ views and allow one another the space to express views and feelings of happenings around us and the world, while being mindful of the sensitivities, and exercise self-restrain and tolerance towards each others as Singaporeans.
MP for Aljunied GRC
Original Letter by Mr Ye dated 3 September 2014
Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh recently called upon the government to take a stronger position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and had earlier openly expressed support for the “Save Palestine” movement
(I am not sure what ‘Save Palestine’ movement Mr Ye is referring to in this case. I assume it is for the letter of support I gave one of my resident’s who sought to hold a charity fundraising concert on HDB land in Eunos in aid of the humanitarian effort in Gaza, with proceeds from the concert going to Mercy Relief).
From my position of as an ordinary citizen, I am very curious to know in what capacity MP Pritam Singh is expressing his support. Is it in his personal capacity? Or does he represent all Aljunied MPs to do so?
According to press reports, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides had used firepower / aggressive methods to inflict casualties on their opponents.
Foreign Minister Shanmugam, in answering an oral parliamentary question in Parliament in August filed by Chua Chu Kang MP Zaqy Mohamad, emphasised that Singapore supports following international law will support sanctions/punishments in accordance with international law.
In the current complex situation, both Israelis and Palestinians are blaming each other. Frankly, they should be accountable to the blameless dead and injured civilians, and in seeking to achieve their political aims, they should not sacrifice the safety and lives of civilians.
Currently, despite the international community’s hard efforts through various channels, the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities continue, showing the limitations of the international community. Whoever is in the wrong, we should leave it from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate. Singapore has already publicly stated its neutrality, and supported an international resolution, but is more realistic about her own ability to influence the conflict, since neither Israel nor Hamas is dependent on Singapore.
I am worried about MP’s intention being misunderstood and misinterpreted in our multi racial and religions Singapore society. This might serve as a negative demonstration can cause social polarisation.
Reflecting further, if communities take sides in international conflicts which have yet to stabilise, will this cause tension among the different communities here? What purpose will be achieved by openly stating such positions? As a small country, what right does Singapore have to state its view in this conflict?
I hope when taking stand/s on foreign affairs, the MP can consider the impact it will have on our multi racial and religion society, and to consider carefully the message that is being sent out/conveyed when openly supporting any movements.
MFA Press Release: Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam’s reply to the Parliamentary Question and Supplementary Questions, 5 Aug 2014: http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/media_centre/press_room/pr/2014/201408/press_20140508.html
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Occupied Palestinian Territory: http://www.ochaopt.org
As a result of the angst this issue has created, some Singaporeans feel our Government should bear the blame for this by increasing Vehicle Exit Permit (VEP) charges in July this year, thus giving Malaysians an opportunity to respond in kind. The history behind this issue is a little murky so here is my attempt at shedding some light to the matter.
In 2008, it was reported that the Malaysian government had awarded a RM 1.2 billion contract for the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) to Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB), a company linked to the ruling UMNO party. Contract promoters saw it as a way to alleviate congestion in Johor Bahru city but the contract contained a lucrative 34-year toll concession for MRCB. The contract also called for the collection of this toll not on the road itself, but at the Malaysian side of the causeway.
On the EDL project information sheet for investors, the toll charges would range from RM$6.20 for cars to RM$12.40 for lorries, with rates to be reviewed every three years, peaking at RM$14.60 for cars, and RM$29.20 for lorries.
On 1 April 2012, the Eastern Dispersal Link finally opened to traffic but no decision was taken by the Malaysian Government about imposing tolls. Apparently, Malaysia did not take a decision on the matter largely because of their upcoming general elections, and the effect of such a toll on voters, especially on Malaysian businesses that rely on Singapore as a source of supply.
As early as 2012, the Singapore position has been clear. Any toll hike will be met by Singapore, on the basis of “some form” of a matching principle.
The matching principle originated when the Second Link was opened in Tuas in 1998. Then, the Government said it was entitled to charge a toll as it spent some $600 million dollars on building the second link bridge in contrast to the $200 million spent by Malaysia.
Today, this matching principle appears to have found itself a new basis – ‘we will raise if you raise, we will reduce if you reduce’. (see 2014 parliamentary exchange below).
But the basis behind this matching principle, if accurate, appears to be at odds with the Government’s public messaging about Iskandar Malaysia, an area of land about three times the size of Singapore in Johor, that has been vaunted as complementing Singapore.
In May 2014, PM Lee, at a Malay-Muslim business conference was quoted as saying that Small and Medium Entreprises (SMEs) seeking to venture abroad should seriously look at Iskandar:
“All SMEs want more foreign workers…..SMEs will have to turn away business because they cannot find workers….(SMEs) can take advantage of lower costs, and greater supply of land, while staying close to Singapore…..I encourage companies to consider this seriously.”
A month earlier in April 2014, at a joint press conference with the Malaysian Prime Minister, PM Lee was quoted as saying that Iskandar was a “strategic play” that can lift Malaysia above its global competitors and help Singapore maintain its competitive edge.
The contradictory forces generated by Singapore’s decision to match Malaysia’s toll hikes on the one hand and the complementary economic relationship of Iskandar to Singapore on the other aside, it would appear that Singapore’s coffers will see a windfall shortly (assuming conservatively that only 10,000 cars cross the causeway each day, on the basis of 30 day month, the government will collect around $23m a year).
Where did Iskandar figure in Singapore’s toll hike? Could it have considered a less steep hike in toll charges in view of the fact that Singapore did not contribute to constructing the EDL? Even so, if a decision had been taken by the LTA not to increase toll charges, it would inevitably have been read as a signal by some in Malaysia, that Singapore will not react to terms in contracts such as those that led to MRCB being awarded the concession for the EDL, with potentially more road construction in Malaysia ultimately funded mainly by Singaporean taxpayers. Perhaps this is what the Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo meant when she said in parliament, “there is no assurance that toll charges foregone by one side will be translated into lower total charges which benefit motorists.”
But in the meantime, the lustre of Iskandar has gone a little dull with no connection made by the Government of its decision to match Malaysian toll rates at the Causeway and in the same breath, its promotion of Iskandar to SMEs.
Malaysia is in the meantime looking into the prospect of introducing its own Vehicle Entry Permit for foreign cars (read Singapore and Thailand) in the near future, with some unverified reports touting figures of up to RM$50 per vehicle. It is not known what effect this would have on the Iskandar project, unless Malaysia has calculated that it can go it alone with capital from other investors such as the Middle East, at the same time concluding that a more crowded Singapore and increased business costs in the city-state in the years to come would guarantee enough Singaporean business and tourist visitors anyway.
In anticipation of the Singapore’s toll hikes, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) met in Batu Pahat, Johor last month to solicit feedback on the issue. In their joint statement, both parties called for an “extensive study…to alleviate the burden on various parties.” This carefully-worded statement make it clear that the toll hikes go well beyond Iskandar.
Should more have be done by both Malaysia and Singapore to alleviate the burden of increased tolls on ordinary Singaporeans and Malaysians? One would have hoped so. But in the final analysis, Iskandar did not matter, both for Malaysia and Singapore.
Now with talk of a “Friendship Bridge” between Singapore and Malaysia mooted in April 2014 by PM Najib and PM Lee, the financing of such a link may well be the first issue for both Singapore and Malaysia to resolve.
1. PM Lee urges SMEs to consider Iskandar for expansion: http://www.todayonline.com/business/pm-lee-urges-smes-consider-iskandar-expansion
2. Iskandar strategic to Singapore and Malaysia, says PM Lee: http://www.singapolitics.sg/news/iskandar-strategic-singapore-and-malaysia-says-pm-lee
3. Parliamentary Question on Matching Toll Charges at the Causeway and Second Link (9 Sep 2014)
Parliamentary Question on Matching Toll Charges at the Causeway and Second Link
Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA plans to review its long-standing policy of matching toll charges at the Causeway and Second Link to those set by Malaysia in future; and (b) whether a Whole-of-Government study has been carried out by Singapore to assess the prospect of higher toll charges on Singapore businesses operating in the Iskandar zone in Johore.
Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Minister for Transport): Mdm Speaker, toll charges at the Causeway and Second Link were introduced by Malaysia in 1998. Our matching policy reflects the shared nature of the two crossings, and ensures a fair distribution of total revenues from the crossings. Without a matching policy, lower toll charges by one side may simply be offset by higher tolls levied by the other side. There is no assurance that toll charges foregone by one side will be translated into lower total charges which benefit motorists.
Hence, in response to Malaysia’s Causeway tolls revision on 1 August 2014, we have announced Singapore’s intention to match Malaysia’s new and increased toll charges in due course.
The Government has limited information on the cost structures and market conditions of Singapore businesses operating in the Iskandar zone in Johore. But clearly, there will be some impact on their costs.
In this regard, we note reports in the Malaysian media that the Malaysian authorities will review the tolls. Should Malaysia reduce or do away with the toll charges, Singapore will follow suit. This would be welcomed, I think, by both Singapore and Malaysia businesses on both sides of the Causeway.
Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Speaker, I would like to thank the Senior Minister of State for that very helpful clarification. I have three supplementary questions for the Senior Minister of State. First, did the Malaysian government forewarn Singapore their intention to raise toll charges at the Causeway on 1 August, and have there been any joint discussions about this round of toll hikes since 1 August so as to manage costs for Singaporeans and Malaysians travelling to and fro both countries?
The second question is: did the Singapore Government inform its Malaysian counterparts when it planned to increase VEP charges in July this year, and if not, does it plan to do so going forward?
Finally in view of the close relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, especially between the Prime Ministers in recent years, has the Government suggested to the Malaysian authorities to consider tagging the additional toll from 1 August along the Eastern Dispersal Link rather than at the CIQ, so as not to penalise drivers who do not use the Eastern Dispersal Link and only travel into Johor Bahru city?
Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, the answer to the Member’s first question is “No”. We were not informed in advance of Malaysia’s intention to increase the tolls at the Causeway. The answer to his second question is “Yes”. We informed our Malaysian counterparts in advance why there is a need to revise the VEP fees. As I have explained in my answer to the first question, is really because the cost of owning a Singapore-registered vehicle and using it on Singapore roads has risen, whereas the VEP fees which was meant to equalise the similar cost for a foreign-registered vehicle had largely remained unchanged. And so, yes. Our Malaysian counterparts were aware of the intention to raise VEP fees.
The answer to the Member’s third question is “Yes”. We very much would like our Malaysian counterparts to come to the discussion tables, and look at what are the better ways of managing this issue of the Causeway tolls. Our long-standing policy is well known to our Malaysian counterparts, and that means if the Causeway tolls levied by the Malaysian side were to be reduced or removed, we would do likewise.
Mdm Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this Bill, which I support. Nonetheless, I seek clarifications from the Senior Minister of State on clause 14 in particular.
Clause 14 of the Bill re-enacts section 65B to cover all handheld devices which are designed or capable of being used for a communicative function. This extends an offence to the use of a device’s non-communicative functions such as surfing on the Internet, visiting social media platforms and downloading videos. The new laws are envisaged to apply to devices such as tablets computers and any communicative device, not only mobile phones. The proposed law does not explicitly ban the use of such devices if they are mounted on the dashboard or windscreens of vehicles or if they are used at traffic junctions. Some motorists have remarked this would mean it would not be illegal to type out an email on a device which has been mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard while driving along a busy road.
As far as the Bill stands, a driver could conceivably type out an email while driving as long as the device is mounted and he would not fall foul of section 65B. I am not sure whether this is necessarily a better way to reduce the number of distractions a driver can fall victim to, especially if Members consider the fast pace of life in Singapore and our increasingly crowded roads. To this end, a part-time taxi driver was quoted in TheStraits Times, musing, “What is the difference between holding the phone and mounting it in a holder? I have a holder and when I touch the phone on the holder, I am not concentrating. It is not an offence but it is still a distraction.”
While the taxi driver’s concerns are valid, a motorist could nonetheless fall foul of another section, namely, section 65 of the Act which metes out an offence of driving without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration. However, for an enforcement officer, in view of the broad “catch-all” ambit of section 65 of the Road Traffic Act, it would appear that it would take an egregious violator to result in a successful prosecution.
To this end, I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State: how many motorists have been summoned under the “catch-all” section 65 last year and the in first half of this year, with specific references to being distracted by mobile devices including tablets, for example?
Secondly, according to the National Safety Council in the United States, 23% of all crashes each year involve handphone use. I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State if the Ministry keeps similar statistics on the local situation and if he could share them with the House.
Mdm Speaker, while I welcome the clarity and updating of section 65B, this clause could have been more emphatic about the dangers of being distracted by communicative devices of any nature while driving a vehicle. Numerous local media reports since the Bill was first read in the House have noted that Singaporeans regularly use mobile phones and devices while driving, especially when waiting for the lights to change at traffic junctions. The President of the Automobile Association of Singapore, citing a 2013 American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah report, was quoted in TheStraits Times noting that the use of mobile devices could distract drivers in two ways: firstly, through inattention blindness, where drivers fail to visually process or remember what their eyes see; and secondly, through tunnel vision where drivers gaze centrally ahead instead of scanning their surroundings.
Foreign jurisdictions, in view of the danger surrounding the use of mobile devices while driving, host clearer laws with less ambiguity. It makes enforcement less subjective and more straightforward as well. For example, in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to drive using a handheld phone or similar device even if one has stopped at the traffic lights or is queuing in traffic. A driver can, nonetheless, use a hands-free kit, two-way radio or a satellite navigation device, but is nonetheless liable to be stopped and penalised if the Police think the driver is distracted and not in control of the vehicle. The laws are broadly similar in Australia. More fundamentally, under the re-enacted section 65B, an offence is only meted out if the motor vehicle is in motion akin to current legislation under the same section.
It would appear that this section’s re-enactment could have afforded the Ministry a better opportunity to send a stronger signal to the public on the dangers with regard to the use of communicative devices on the road per se.
To this end, I would like to enquire from the Senior Minister of State what deliberations took place in the Ministry when determining the amendments to section 65B on this point, especially when compared to the laws in foreign jurisdictions. What differences are present in foreign jurisdictions as compared to the local situation which merits our laws allowing the use of mobile devices and communicative devices now at traffic stops and junctions? Does this not encourage the continued use of the device should the signal change, perhaps just to type out the final line of an SMS or an email on a tablet mounted on the dashboard or, worse, send out an email while driving? If so, how effective is the law really in changing the behaviour of motorists on the road?
In conclusion, I certainly hope the amended section 65B arrests the prospect of errant drivers and, as a consequence, reduces the number of summons Singaporeans receive under section 65B. However, an approach targeted at behavioural change may well be more useful in getting motorists to improve their driving habits with the view to better road safety and separately, more straightforward enforcement as well. I hope the Ministry considers this going forward.
Parliamentary Question: National Library Board’s Book Acquisition and Review Process (Pritam Singh) – 4 August 2014
Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Communications and Information if he will (i) explain NLB’s selection processes governing the purchase and classification of books for circulation and if there is a dedicated selection committee to oversee this process; (ii) clarify whether the book entitled Who’s in My Family that was pulped was approved by this selection committee or any other individual or committee before appearing on the shelves for the public to access; and (iii) explain what procedures were followed and what committees were consulted before NLB arrived at the decision to pulp the book.
Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: I thank Members for their questions. My response would be in three parts. First, I will touch on the library’s role in society; second, I will discuss NLB’s processes and how these might be improved; and third, how we move on from this episode.
Our libraries serve Singaporeans of all ages from all walks of life. To promote reading, learning and information literacy, NLB maintains comprehensive and high quality collections for the reference library, for the adult sections of the public library, and for the children’s section of the public library. NLB recognises that its collections must cater to a broad range of interests, tastes, reading levels, cultural and social backgrounds.
NLB cannot impose a one-size-fits-all approach to its different collections. The Lee Kong Chian Reference Library at the National Library provides a comprehensive collection of library materials, with a special emphasis on Singapore, to preserve our cultural heritage and to support research. Its materials are housed in the reference library and are not for loan. Its content guidelines allow for an extensive range of ideas and opinions.
NLB’s approach for the adult’s section of the library is that it will be in compliance with Singapore laws and regulations. It will, therefore, not acquire publications that are prohibited under the Undesirable Publications Act. It will also not acquire publications that incite hate or violence, or cast aspersions on any racial or religious groups, for example.
Madam, it is impossible to keep every known title in its collection. Some curation is required, and NLB is guided by the principle of maintaining a comprehensive and high quality collection. Materials in the adult’s collection will also not be inhibited by the possibility that materials may be accessible to children or teenagers. It is NLB’s philosophy that the responsibility for guiding and directing the use of such materials by children and teenagers rests with their parents or guardians.
NLB encourages parents to actively partner their children in their reading or their visits to the library. However, it must also be recognised that in reality, for many different reasons, it is not possible for kids in the children’s library to be supervised at all times. Many will thus browse the shelves unsupervised. NLB also recognises that many pre-schools organise visits to its libraries, and in those situations, a whole class will be supervised by only a few teachers. Titles from the children’s collection are also provided to some pre-schools and kindergartens to help them provide greater variety of books in their kindergarten libraries.
For this reason, NLB’s approach is to take special care in its children’s collection, to ensure that the books are age-appropriate. The assessment of age-appropriateness should take into account community norms.
For example, we observed from the 2013 Our Singapore Conversation survey that 55% of the 4,000 respondents surveyed rejected same sex marriage, compared to 24% who were neutral and 21% who accepted same sex marriage.
It is not NLB’s mandate to challenge or seek to change these norms. Community norms are subjective and will evolve over time, especially as our society becomes increasingly diverse. A REACH survey conducted after the NLB decision was first made known showed that 52% of respondents agree that books promoting values that are not in line with traditional family values should not be made available in the children’s section of the public libraries. A further 23% were neutral on the issue, and 21% disagreed.
The Government pays close attention to community norms. This is the right approach. We will continue to run polls from time to time, and actively listen to how Singaporeans debate various issues. Therefore, we must also enhance our processes to ensure that our collections best meet community norms. I will speak more about this later.
Madam, the NLB is an active member of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). IFLA has members from over 150 countries with diverse cultures, as well as government and legal structures. By adopting a differentiated approach for the reference, adult’s, and children’s libraries, NLB seeks to apply the principles and philosophy of IFLA, adapted to the local context. This is because in every society, libraries must be responsible to the communities they serve.
The NLB runs a wide network of 25 public libraries across Singapore, with about 35 million loans per year. To make sure Singaporeans’ reading demands are met, the libraries bring in about a million new items a year.
Within NLB, there is a team of selectors. To ensure new books are made available in a timely manner as expected by NLB’s patrons, selectors refer to reviews and synopses to decide what the library should buy. With the high volume, it is not possible to read every book from cover to cover during the selection process.
First, NLB regularly reviews about 5,000 books a year internally. This is part of NLB’s regular work in putting together booklists for their programmes and festivals. Secondly, the public may also provide feedback on books to be reviewed. Each year, NLB receives about 20 such requests. Regardless of whether the review is initiated internally, or via public feedback, the book will be read by staff, supplemented by research based on book reviews and recommendations in trade journals. NLB staff also make reference to lists such as the American Libraries Association’s list of challenged books. They then make recommendations to withdraw or retain the books for final decision through an internal approval process.
Let me touch on the issue of how books are disposed of. Today, it has been NLB’s standard practice to recycle books when they are torn or worn. They, therefore, applied this same practice to books withdrawn on the basis of content that is not age-appropriate. The REACH survey showed that while 52% of respondents agreed that books that promote values not in line with traditional family values should not be made available in the children’s section of the public libraries, only 22% thought that the books should be destroyed.
I think that was a reasonable point of view. It reflects a deep-seated respect in our culture for the written word. It is for this reason that I had asked NLB to transfer And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express to the adult’s section. NLB’s key objective in ensuring the children’s library is age-appropriate can still be achieved.
First, NLB will ensure that the team selecting books for acquisition and the team reviewing books are different. At the moment, this is not clearly spelt out. It is a good practice to segregate these responsibilities and I believe it will also lead to greater public confidence in the review process.
Second, we should retain the existing system in which NLB staff make professional judgements on the suitability of a title for any collection. Making such assessments is not an exact science. It would be most regrettable if NLB staff making such assessments as part of their duty, and acting in good faith, are attacked by those who are unhappy that a particular decision did not go their way. This is why I had announced that NLB should set up an advisory panel, to help NLB staff to take into account the broader concerns of the community. Such a committee should represent a cross-section of society, and include members from the literary community. An advisory panel will also help improve the communication of the rationale for review decisions – something that Mr Nicholas Fang raised. This is also the experience of the Media Development Authority, which relies on various consultative panels to provide input to its classification decisions.
Third, NLB will establish a clear process to deal with books that have to be withdrawn. For books that are in good condition but were withdrawn due to controversial content, NLB would consider other options than pulping. I do not want to prejudge their review, but one possibility is to place them in a more appropriate section of the library for lending as was finally done in this case. Other possibilities are to place them in the reference library, or to put them up for sale or donation.
Let me address the queries pertaining to MDA in the area of regulation for publications. Madam, the publications industry is largely self-regulated. In assessing whether a publication is suitable for importation or distribution, importers, local publishers and retailers refer to content guidelines issued by MDA and the Undesirable Publications Act (UPA). These documents can be found on MDA’s website. MDA also engages importers and local publishers regularly, to ensure that they are aware of the content guidelines.
MDA steps in when there are public feedback or complaints, or when importers refer publications to MDA for advice. If MDA assesses that a publication is in breach of the UPA or content guidelines, MDA would advise the importer or retailer not to import or distribute the publication.
Given that importers, publishers and retailers, by and large, self-regulate based on the UPA and content guidelines, it would not be meaningful to publish a quarterly list of publications that have been disallowed for sale.
In NLB’s case, the immediate priority should be to establish the advisory panel, which can complement NLB’s review process. At this point, NLB has not decided whether to publish a list of challenged titles.
Madam, I would reiterate that this would not be the last time public institutions like NLB would face such controversy. We have learnt much from this experience and we will continue to work with Singaporeans, such as those who will be appointed to NLB’s advisory panel, to better understand and balance the different views of different groups.
Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Madam, I would like to ask the Minister whether there was a sustained period of astro-turfing in the form of emails or letters, all unusually appearing around the same time, which led to the announcement from the NLB that the books in question were pulped in response to public feedback in the first instance.
Secondly, are there any communication guidelines that the Ministry issues to Government bodies on how to deal with or differentiate regular feedback from what appears to be orchestrated feedback from interest groups? If not, are there plans for the Government to introduce such guidelines?
To Mr Pritam Singh’s question whether or not there was astro-turfing, it is difficult for me to say exactly, but there were obviously a lot of input that came in during that period of time. NLB and other Government agencies will probably have to take all of these into consideration and then decide what is the best course of action.
It is difficult for all of us to say whether or not that this is a bona fide feedback or this is basically something which is planned. We should leave it to the agencies. They know what to do. They have been in this business for a long time to exactly determine what is the appropriate course of action. I think we cannot be very, very prescriptive in this day and age when, as the hon Member rightly pointed out, astro-turfing is possible. I am sure that all the agencies, including the agencies under MCI, are aware that these are things which can happen and, therefore, they have to take these into account when they come to making a decision on the matter.
On the advisory panel, at the moment, it is difficult for me to say whether we should have an appeals panel. We are already making one step further to have an advisory panel. I would rather prefer at this point in time for all decisions to be made by NLB. Do not forget – this is an advisory panel to advise NLB on whether a book is appropriate or not for its collection. The decision finally rests on NLB and I would rather prefer to leave it to NLB to do that because this is the practice for most libraries across the world. The library and the librarians make the decision on what is the best course of action for a particular book. In fact, this is what we do in most of our panels. Advisory panels are set up to advise the agencies. We have only one appeals panel which is in the film appeals panel. Everything else is just an advisory panel, and we would like to retain it that way.
Details of books withdrawn from the National Library Collection (written question)
Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Communications and Information if he will provide a list of the books and publications that have been withdrawn from the shelves of public libraries as a result of objections from members of the public over the last 10 years.
Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim: There are many reasons why books are withdrawn. These include graphic sexual content, excessive violence, crude language, and age-inappropriateness. Books could also be withdrawn due factual inaccuracies or poor editing and translation, as well as publishers’ recalls.
Since 2011, 64 titles have been withdrawn, of which 40 of them were withdrawn based on public feedback. In the past 10 years, 153 titles were withdrawn, for which 105 were due to public feedback. Among these titles withdrawn arising from feedback, a third were due to age-inappropriateness, and another third were withdrawn due to graphic sexual content, excessive violence, crude language and disturbing images. Others were removed due to religious sensitivities and factual inaccuracies or poor editing and translation.
Thank you, Madam. This motion of thanks for the President’s Address takes place amidst worrying developments in our neighbourhood. At the recent ASEAN Summit in Myanmar, ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a statement on 10 May 2014 expressing their serious concerns over the on-going developments in the South China Sea, which increased tensions in the area. There have been many references from the Government over the last few months about hostilities between Ukraine and Russia, and the implications for Singapore.
In the South China Sea, tensions are increasing between China and a whole host of countries. It is a sea line of communications central to our survival. US$5.3 trillion worth of trade passes through it every year. Needless to say, the South China Sea is right at our doorstep, too. The geopolitical jockeying taking place in the region takes place in a year when we celebrate 30 years of Total Defence, a national initiative that first began in 1984.
Madam, my colleagues have already spoken and will continue to speak during this debate on a wide range of important domestic matters, as covered in the President’s Address. I will focus my speech on national security, specifically to issues pertaining to foreign affairs and defence.
In spite of the American pivot towards Asia, the fact remains that the benign American security umbrella in Asia has to accommodate China’s economic and growing military power. The real manifestations of a changing power equilibrium in East and Southeast Asia are taking place. Over the last year, developments in the East and South China Sea in particular are causing serious concerns amongst several Asian countries, including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam – all in the eye of the storm.
A Code of Conduct on the South China Sea to address these territorial spats is unlikely to come to pass anytime soon. This is in spite of hopes for it to be hurried along, as most recently expressed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his visit to Washington two weeks ago. In contrast, the Prime Minister’s more sober remarks in Tokyo on the back of the Nikkei International Conference last week that any nation would be cautious about signing on to a set of guidelines which may constrain its freedom of action are noteworthy.
Seen from this perspective, while the early agreement of a Code of Conduct would be warmly welcomed by Singapore, it is not terribly realistic to expect this of China, or any other major power in its shoes. As China grows economically, it has taken a long view of history to ensure that it is in the foremost position to determine the power dynamics of its immediate neighbourhood, which it sees as a core interest.
Such big power behaviour is not unusual. Big powers march to their own drumbeat. Even the US, while accepting the widely ratified United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as customary international law, has not moved to ratify the treaty for reasons best known to American lawmakers.
In a sense, China’s reactions can be read as a direct response to the perception of a gradually minifying ability and keenness of the United States to impose its will on the world. This is coupled with the slow and uneven post-Cold War shift to a more multi-polar world. As part of this process, it would have come as no surprise to hear of the 30-year $400 billion gas deal between China and Russia last week, even as a barbed exchanges and spats were taking place over the South China Sea.
For Singapore, the jockeying in our neighbourhood suggests that the external environment in the years to come is likely to be more, and not less, unpredictable. In the event our external trade is affected by skirmishes and hostilities in the South China Sea or a chill permeates through the markets and business confidence sinks as a result of it, our resilience as a people is likely to be severely tested.
Beyond hosting a strong SAF that is ready for battle, how prepared are we as a country if conflict in a foreign region has a debilitating effect on our economy and society? With our fast-changing population, have the pillars of Total Defence been unwittingly weakened? Is our economy strong, resilient and diversified enough to survive a crisis in the South China Sea?
With close to 40% of Singapore comprising of non-Singaporeans, will Singaporeans and foreigners look out for each other or turn to look after their respective communities? These numbers should inform the Government that the next 30 years that undergird Total Defence will be much more important than the last 30. While SAF and Home Team National Servicemen reinstate their commitment to Singapore, the Government should assess if we have over-extended ourselves in outsourcing many critical public functions.
In times of conflict, we can certainly expect job losses and some foreigners returning to safer pastures. How will our municipal, health, transport and telecommunication services hold up, given the large number of foreigners manning them? Will some of our foreign friends among us respond nationalistically, favouring the Philippines or Vietnam, depending on their ethnicity and original citizenship, even as Singapore would prefer to stand as a neutral party?
We would need to prepare for these unexpected outcomes and review our crisis strategies even as the Government presses ahead with economic growth and with the expansion of foreign manpower continuing. Insofar as national resilience is concerned, the announcement by the Committee to Strengthen National Service in recommending a Volunteer Corps is a laudable initiative. This is even if it is, for all intents and purposes, a pilot initiative and a small baby step targeted at new citizens, first-generation PRs and women.
As a young nation, but with close to 40% of our population comprising non-Singaporeans, questions of identity and commitment of the new arrivals are likely to remain in the minds of Singaporeans for the foreseeable future. This has a direct consequence on our resilience as a country and a people. The Government should continue to explore how new citizens and PRs can contribute to our national security and how the total defence concept can be reinforced in light of the new realities.
Mdm Speaker, it was instructive to note the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Addendum to the President’s Address referring specifically to the fact that good relations with our immediate neighbours, namely, in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are essential for our security and prosperity.
I recently attended the 34th Singapore Lecture delivered by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei in April this year. The Sultan took the opportunity to applaud Singapore’s offer of the Changi Command and Control Centre as a regional humanitarian disaster and relief co-host centre. Such Singaporean initiatives are hallmarks of effective defence diplomacy and we should build on this. Going forward, it may be appropriate to us to explore how our defence ties with our immediate neighbours in particular can be further improved. This would be solely to increase reservoirs of trust with our neighbours with the view to completely eradicate the prospects of hostilities as far as practically possible. This would have to be a long-term strategy but it is not impossible.
We can start with Malaysia. As our populations and economies become more interconnected with Iskandar Johor and the rapid transit system between Johor Baru and Woodlands in the works, the logic of conflict between us will make less and less sense as the years go by. To this end, a new multilateral architecture between Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei that eradicates the prospect of conflict and promotes military inter-operability and joint training may well operate to create a far more benign security environment in our immediate neighbourhood so as to allow for a more flexible and targeted use of our defence dollar in the long run.
Whilst Singapore must ultimately remain responsible for its own security, steady and determined confidence-building measures with our neighbours and the willingness to put the past behind can alter the security landscape. I would suggest that we are in a much better starting position. The Government already actively encourages Singapore businesses to operate in Iskandar Johor as evinced most recently in the Prime Minister’s remarks during the Malay/Muslim business conference held earlier this month.
Singapore already conducts a wide range of military exercises with our immediate neighbours. It would also be helpful to add some cultural ballast to deepening defence ties by restating the importance of the Malay Language and encouraging its use, even informally, since Singapore will always be located in the Malay Archipelago.
We should also take the opportunity in so far as our local discourse is concerned, to remind policy-makers that the fear of putting a Malay serviceman behind a machine gun is already over. We are all Singaporeans and with 50 years of independence behind us, now more than ever, when you are conscripted to defend your home Singapore, in whatever capacity, your race is not a factor.
Mdm Speaker, much has been said about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), a trade agreement to expand the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. The TPP seeks to enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development.
For Singaporeans, the implications of the TPP for Singapore have not been discussed beyond broad motherhood statements even as many groups and lobbies in potential TPP signatory countries are protesting against the treaty, especially those economies heavily weighted in favour of particular industries such as automotive and agriculture amongst others. Even environmentalists and Internet freedom advocates have raised a hue and cry about the implications of the TPP.
Whilst Singapore’s considerations will be different in view of the externally oriented nature of our economy, it would be important for the Government to inform Singaporeans what is in it for us. These questions are especially important for Singapore businesses and for the world we want to bequeath to our children, questions that go beyond economics in view of the implications of the TPP for the Asia Pacific region. Will the TPP allow Singaporean companies to go overseas and do business the same way big companies are allowed to come to Singapore and compete for major contracts with local businesses? Which businesses and industries, if any, are likely to be killed off by the TPP?
Mdm Speaker, it would be helpful if the Government flesh out the opportunities and pitfalls awaiting our local SMEs should the TPP come to pass so that our businesses are not blind-sided by it. In fact, such a strategy going beyond communication with Chambers of Commerce and business federations may well encourage greater entrepreneurship amongst our people. Equally, greater sharing of information with budding businesses, start-ups and those that are still primarily locally oriented will vindicate and justify the policy-making hours spent by our civil servants and Government officials on TPP negotiations.
In conclusion, Mdm Speaker, with our total external trade hitting almost one trillion dollars according to 2013 statistics, Singapore will be acutely vulnerable should a conflict erupt in the South China Sea. Beyond our neutrality and our relentless diplomatic efforts, Singapore will have to adjust and deal with the reality that comes our way. A former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs once observed, not incorrectly, Singapore will always be a price taker, not a price setter in the international realm. Nonetheless, we may be in a better position to determine the price we take with regard to our immediate neighbours, given the greater inter-dependence between Singapore and Malaysia in particular.
Unfortunately, we are not in a position to determine or prevent a conflict in the South China Sea, beyond offering ourselves as a neutral arbiter and an advocate for a code of conduct in the South China Sea. We can, however, start working on scenarios to determine how we can better be prepared for a regional conflict, especially given the deep changes that have taken place in our society over the last 10-15 years with regard to our population policies and economic strategies in particular. The standoff between Ukraine and Russia is not wholly relevant to Singapore but there are more immediate worries closer to home.
Mr Zainal Sapari: Mdm Speaker, I would like to ask Mr Pritam Singh whether, in his speech, he was alluding to the fact that Malays in the Armed Forces are not deployed to handle machine guns. That is my first clarification.
My second clarification is to ask Mr Pritam Singh whether he is aware of the fact that today, many Malays are actually deployed in different parts of the Armed Forces – artillery, signal, and whether he would agree with me that that signals that the Armed Forces has actually opened up these places to the Malays as well.
Mr Pritam Singh: I thank the hon Member for the question. It is a very important one. Indeed, he is right. I remember my own experience as a National Serviceman in the Combat Engineer Unit, as a platoon commander, where we had no Malay servicemen in the rank-and-file, at least when I was there. And a few years ago, one of my best friends took over command of a similar unit and I was pleasantly surprised actually to see Malay Servicemen in the rank-and-file. So, in that sense, it is very good to know that we have moved.
Unfortunately, on the ground, you have certain noises, sometimes coming up from the Malay community, that somehow these messages of earlier political leaders in Singapore suggest that we have not moved. But as the hon Member rightly pointed out, we have moved forward. As I mentioned in my speech, I think we have to move forward with this idea that right now, we are moving forward as one united people, no matter what your race and religion is, you will defend Singapore with no one doubting your intentions because of your race.
Follow-up Paliamentary questions on the subject on Malay servicemen and women in the SAF and uniformed services
Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Defence if he can provide (i) the racial breakdown (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others), in percentages, of full-time national servicemen and regulars who are currently serving in the Air Force, Navy and Army respectively; and (ii) the racial breakdown (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others), in percentages, of NSmen in the Air Force, Navy and Army respectively.
10 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Defence if he can provide (i) the racial breakdown (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others), in percentages, of full-time national servicemen and regulars who are currently trained in the artillery, signals and armour vocations of the Army respectively; and (ii) the racial breakdown (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others), in percentages, of NSmen in the aforesaid vocations.
11 Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap asked the Minister for Defence of the full-time national servicemen and regulars currently serving in the Air Force, Navy and Army (a) what is the breakdown in percentages of those who are (i) commissioned officers (ii) warrant officers (iii) specialists (iv) enlistees, respectively; and (b) for each group, what is the racial breakdown in percentages for (i) Chinese (ii) Malay (iii) Indian (iv) Others, respectively.
12 Mr Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap asked the Minister for Defence of the NSmen currently serving in the Air Force, Navy and Army (a) what is the breakdown in percentages of those who are (i) commissioned officers (ii) warrant officers (iii) specialists (iv) enlistees, respectively; and (b) for each group, what is the racial breakdown in percentages for (i) Chinese (ii) Malay (iii) Indian (iv) Others, respectively.
Dr Ng Eng Hen: National Servicemen are deployed to various vocations based on the SAF’s operational needs and the individual’s factors such as educational qualifications, skills, physical attributes and aptitude to adequately perform the requisite tasks and responsibilities. All vocations within the SAF contribute to and collectively strengthen the defence and security of Singapore.
The ethnic composition of servicemen in the SAF corresponds broadly to the ethnic profile of our population, with major ethnic groups represented in each Service. In the Army, where the bulk of full-time national servicemen are deployed, the ethnic compositions of the combat vocations (which include Infantry, Guards and Armour) and the support vocations (which include Signals, Engineers and Logistics) are again similar to that in the general population. Due to operational security considerations, MINDEF does not release detailed data within each specific vocation.
The selection of commanders (which include Officers, Warrant Officers, Specialists, and Military Experts) is based on similar criteria for deployment into vocations and merit. The ethnic composition of commanders is similar to that in the general population.
Post-script- Defence Minister’s reply is noteworthy. Which vocations our Malay servicemen are serving in and their numbers respectively are important. I can certainly expect many to be logisticians and infantrymen. Zainal Sapari said Malays serve in the Artillery and Signals vocations. A close reading of the Minister’s answer does not say that Malay representation in these vocations are similar to that of the general population. By lumping Infantry, Guards and Armour, the manouvre arms together, it is probable that Malay representation is more extensive in the first two. Likewise, the reply for the support vocations. Without more information, Malay representation is likely to be disproportionately weighted in the Logistics vocation. I would love to be corrected on this conjecture because it would show progress. Until then, we have many more miles to go. Ironically, this issue is much bigger than that of Malays in the SAF. It is about equality in Singapore – that one star in our flag that means so much.
In a piece titled “Football, security and striking a delicate balance” on 15 April 2014, the Straits Times’ From the Gallery section observed:
Despite a cross-carriage rule that will mean Starhub subscribers get to enjoy the matches for the same price, Singapore still the most expensive places in the world to catch the tournament beyond the opening match, semi-finals and final.
To understand why local football fans are so frustrated over the matter of sky high World Cup subscription prices, a look back at the circumstances surrounding the subscription price of World Cup 2010 for Singaporean viewers – before the implementation of the cross-carriage rule – provides a large part of the answer. The business decision of Singtel to break into the local pay TV market in a big way by bidding an exorbitant amount to win the rights from Starhub to broadcast the English Premier League (EPL) for three years from 2009 sent a crystal-clear signal to FIFA on how far it could go in setting a price for World Cup content for Singaporeans.
Reports have suggested that FIFA asked Singtel for $40m for the exclusive rights to all 2010 World Cup games, after discovering just how much the telco was willing to pay for BPL television rights. – Dodgy football pitch or S’pore own goal? The Business Times, 13 Feb 2010.
One also has to ponder how different things might have turned out had FIFA not been influenced by the reported $400 million that Singtel paid to be the exclusive broadcaster of the English Premier League (EPL) starting this August. FIFA then saw fit to raise its asking price even higher. – Have a heart, telcos – make your customers happy The Business Times, 7 May 2010
On more than one occasion, Government ministers have stressed that the purpose of cross-carriage rule is to widen the distribution of exclusive content across pay TV retailers like Starhub and Singtel, and not to regulate prices. In practice, the belated introduction of the cross-carriage rule after the World Cup 2010 imbroglio sought to prevent companies like Singtel from sabotaging consumers as the Singtel effectively did in its attempt to break Starhub’s stranglehold of the EPL market. It proved to be a pyrrhic victory for Singaporean consumers, and cross-carriage was the Government’s response to disincentivise telcos for making crazy bids as the same content would have to be offered at the same price to rival telco consumers.
World Cup prices – 2010 vs 2014: More than meets the eye?
For the 2006 World Cup, Starhub charged subscribers $15 under an early-bird promotion rate. For World Cup 2010, the rights for which were won by a last-ditch joint bid by both Singtel and Starhub, this figure had jumped nearly four-and-a-half times to $70.62 with the non-promotion rate at $94.16.
This time around Singtel shrewdly went it alone and held the early bird promotion rate at $94.16 with the non-promotion rate set at $112.35.
While there was a rise in rates from the 2010 figures, the non-promotional price for World Cup 2010 and the promotion price for World Cup 2014 was identical, a fact which lead some to conclude, not incorrectly, that there had been no real rise in prices, but only if one subscribes early.
These identical rates were more down to a hard-nosed business decision by Singtel, rather than any overwhelming desire to keep costs as low as possible for the Singaporean viewers.
With negotiations heading into extra time on the 2010 World Cup that kicked off in June, Singtel and Starhub had to join hands to meet FIFA’s demands – reportedly in the region between $40 million and $100 million – or risk the wrath of fans here. A deal was eventually sealed, albeit 35 days before the first match in South Africa kicked off.
But this time around, there was ample time for either Singtel or Starhub to plan their moves.
Singtel did, and outflanked Starhub with its exclusive bid for the 2014 World Cup screening rights. It wanted to use the content to sell more EPL subscriptions…..(the World Cup 2014) is thrown in free for those willing to sign up for or extend their existing EPL contracts with Singtel for two years.
Singtel was essentially using its World Cup content to sweeten its EPL offerings, which fans had complained were expensive. A basic EPL package now costs $59.90 a month, almost twice the $34.90 sports bundle Singtel used to offer that came with EPL and other premium content like Uefa Champions League and Spanish La Liga. – Making football content affordable to all The Straits Times, 4 April 2014.
In spite of the operation of the Government-mandated cross-carriage rule for World Cup 2014, Singtel was still able to keep its eyes firmly on unlocking shareholder value, foregoing the prospects of a joint bid with Starhub.
In the aftermath of Singtel winning broadcast rights for World Cup 2014, Starhub complained about Singtel’s conduct in the matter as it had made a “sincere offer” to Singtel to submit a joint bid to FIFA. StarHub’s Chief Marketing Officer Jeannie Ong in an unambiguous media release, lambasted SingTel for going it alone instead of placing a joint-bid.
“We are concerned that customers will have to pay more for 2014 FIFA World Cup…At a time of escalating sports content costs, we made a sincere offer to our competitor for a similar arrangement as the last World Cup. A joint bid would have spread the cost of the content and allowed both operators to offer the tournament at a more affordable price, benefitting all viewers in Singapore. Unfortunately, our competitor chose to acquire the rights exclusively. The higher price our competitor paid for the exclusive rights for this year’s World Cup (compared to 2010 World Cup) exacerbates this trend.”
Would such a joint bid have really reduced prices for the consumer? Should the Government have reined in Singtel earlier and on what basis? Could Mediacorp have also come in to join hands in a private-public bid as well since it is going to pay Singtel to acquire the right to screen the opening match, semi-finals and final of World Cup 2014 anyway? Could FIFA have been persuaded to understand that for World Cup broadcasting in a small country of five over million people, the Singapore Government has mandated that it would no longer be left solely to private sector operators, and hence some financial sobriety is in order? Compounding the questions on the minds of many, no one really knows what is on the agenda when the telcos negotiate with FIFA or their appointed agents for World Cup broadcasting rights, like whether 4am broadcasts can be used as a bargaining chip by local telcos to negotiate a lower price for example.
Minister Lawrence Wong’s reply in parliament on 14 April 2014 acknowledged that a joint bid could have some impact, albeit marginal in the Minister’s opinion, as FIFA is the ultimate price setter in this game. Of course, it remains open to question as to how much of an impact this would have translated into, as information on bidding/broadcast alternatives and strategies are not public information. In fact, many football fans viscerally feel that World Cup broadcasting should be treated like a quasi-public good by policymakers, in view of the popularity of the sport and in view of the profits Singtel makes from its EPL broadcasting rights.
What are the alternatives?
So, where do we go from here in light of FIFA’s superior negotiating position and Singtel’s EPL gambit which let the genie out of its bottle in the first place and exacted a heavy price on Singaporeans for any future World Cup broadcasting bids?
At outset, it is important to acknowledge that World Cup 2014 broadcasting has gone up 20-40% around the world from the previous instalment in South Africa. Going forward, FIFA will remain in a superior bargaining position, given the logic of supply and demand, even though Singapore fans were already paying $94.16 in 2010, double what fans in Malaysia and Hong Kong are going to pay this year.
Since Singapore cannot totally influence FIFA’s rates, the question before us now is what local strategies can be employed to moderate any rise in prices, or even lower prices for such exclusive content in future, in spite of what happened in 2010. Minister Wong informed parliament that the Government was going to review the anti-siphoning list (any event on such a list requires that it must be available for Mediacorp to acquire), in addition to reviewing cross-carriage measures as well.
Reviewing the anti-siphoning list with a view to expand it (to include quarter-final matches or even second round matches for example) may well be a good place to start as it opens the prospect of more matches to be offered free-to-air for the viewing public. What this would mean is that Mediacorp, the free-to-air provider would have to devote more money for sports-related public service broadcasting towards the World Cup, a potentially controversial move even if the majority of sports fans were in favour. Who would foot the additional costs if any, and which sports would be removed from its list to accommodate more World Cup matches?
A number of readers and football lovers have narrowed in on Singapore Pools, the only Government-sanctioned sports lottery operator which benefits from World Cup punting, to contribute towards subsidising the Singapore viewing public in reasonable proportion to its soccer-related betting collections and payouts. How much the lottery operator actually makes from World Cup related gambling is open to question.
A Pools spokesman confirmed yesterday that the gaming operator will purchase airtime “through a combined deal” with both telcos during the June 11 to July 11 tournament. According to sources, Pools will spend $2 million. – Pools to chip in, The Straits Times, 13 May 2010
Minister Wong made the same point in Parliament – that Singapore Pools already contributes. Even so, it would be useful to know the specific contribution Singapore Pools’ makes and whether there is any scope for an increase, in addition to support with regard to some free-to-air coverage. As it stands, the Minister added that Singapore Pools provides support through a wide range of different schemes not just for MediaCorp, but also for Singaporeans to watch the matches at community centres.
A second option the Ministry of Communication and Information could consider is to mandate that Singtel and Starhub and/or Mediacorp conclude negotiations and sign off on an agreement with FIFA 12 months prior to future World Cup kick-offs. This would give the winning bidder or joint bidder enough time to ramp up an advertising campaign to recoup as much monies devoted to purchase content from FIFA, and in turn lower the final World Cup subscription fee for consumers which can be announced shortly before kick-off.
There is an argument that such a 12 month cut-off date will strengthen FIFA’s hand as it knows a mandated negotiation conclusion date is in force. However, the same argument can be made with equal vigour without such a deadline as FIFA’s hand only gets stronger with each passing day prior to kick-off anyway.
With companies and advertisers given the benefit of time to set aside the appropriate budget, they would have more creative flexibility to devote resources, financial or otherwise for TV or related advertising. During the 2010 World Cup, Puma, a leading sporting goods manufacturer reported that it would not be advertising on TV in Singapore during the World Cup as it needed at least four months to produce a TV commercial, while the rights were secured by Singtel/Starhub 35 days before kickoff.
Lobbying for better prices for Singaporeans
I asked the Minister whether the Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes (Pace) had made any specific recommendation or advised MDA on measures to reduce the costs of watching the World Cup to Singapore consumers in light of the escalating costs from the 2010 experience.
The Programme Advisory Committee for English Programmes (Pace) has a sports fan as a new chairman, and if he has his way, bellowing at your favourite football team from your living room will become cheaper….He echoed the findings of the latest biennial Pace report, which deemed the subscription rates for the FIFA World Cup charged by Starhub and Singtel “high”. – Panel to watch football more closely; Viewers’ interests subjugated in past years: new chairman The Business Times, 8 Sep 2011
The Minister replied while the specifics were not on hand, Pace would have given feedback if it was something that mattered to them. Along with the Government’s upcoming review of the cross-carriage measures and anti-siphoning list, perhaps its time Pace, an advisory body, look into how it can add value on behalf of consumers to the discourse. The telcos are likely to oppose any Government interference in the setting of World Cup prices. And with a large foreign population in Singapore accounting for 36% of the total population, some with very high disposal income to boot, the telcos may feel that they should not be prevented from setting a price it feels Singapore residents can and should pay. Such an approach unfortunately also penalizes average Singaporeans and their choices in deciding whether and where to pay to watch the World Cup.
With the benefit of hindsight, there would appear to be some scope for the Government to further explore the prospects of a joint-bid between the telcos and to understand how the free-to-air provider, Mediacorp, a 100% Temasek owned company can enter the fray, even partly, with a view to bring the World Cup to Singaporeans at a more reasonable price. To do this, the Government would need to work with the telcos to better apportion costs for Singaporeans and strategise the issue with the public interest in mind.
For now, unless the Government goes back to the drawing board and addresses the issue from the perspective of the average football-loving Singaporean, FIFA notwithstanding, local commercial interests are likely to continue determining how much Singaporeans pay to watch the World Cup.
Singapore costliest place to watch World Cup? – http://www.goal.com/en-sg/news/3880/singapore/2014/03/18/4690244/singapore-costliest-place-to-watch-world-cup