Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Parliament: Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 8 Nov 2016

Madam Speaker, the changes proposed by the Government to the provisions that deal with the Elected Presidency in the Constitution by way of this Bill are uniquely significant. A key significance lies in the fact that a Constitutional Commission was formed to review the Elected Presidency – only the second time such a Constitutional Commission was formed in the history of post-independence Singapore. However, the deepest significance of the Commission’s findings I would argue Madam Speaker, lie in Chapter seven of the report which rest firmly outside the Commission’s Terms of Reference.

After reading 107 written submissions and receiving oral representations from selected contributors, the Menon Constitutional Commission was compelled to ask a critical question, which in the opinion of the Workers’ Party, all Singaporeans ought to ponder over seriously – and that is – Should the Presidency remain an elected office?

Having had many months to immerse itself in the genesis of the Presidency, its historical role, and the function and operation of the Elected Presidency, the Commission found it a critical enough responsibility and duty to pen its thoughts about a Singapore without an elected President and for the Government to consider undertaking a more fundamental change to the office. With this background to the Commission’s work in mind, my speech will cover four main points.

Firstly, as guiding principles, the Workers’ Party agrees that the President should not become an alternative centre of political power and an elected entity should safeguard the nation’s reserves.

In January this year, when the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a Constitutional Commission to study changes to the Elected Presidency, PM Lee said that the President cannot be an alternative centre of power. In September, when the Law Minister rebutted the Constitutional Commission’s alternative proposal to replace the Elected Presidency with an appointed council of experts, he said that the president must himself be elected to have the popular mandate to veto an elected government.

The Workers’ Party agrees with the Government on these two fundamental principles. First, the President should not become an alternative centre of power with the potential to undermine the sovereign authority of Parliament. Second, our national reserves need to be safeguarded and the body safeguarding the reserves would need to be elected to say the ‘no’ and to force a debate in Parliament.

This has been the Workers’ Party’s position when the Elected Presidency was first introduced in 1991. We believe that an Elected President should not fetter the supreme power of Parliament as the people’s representative. The Presidency should be a dignified ceremonial office and a President from any race should focus on performing his or her role in fostering national unity and representing Singapore to the world. We also believe that the past reserves should be safeguarded, but this custodial function should lie with elected representatives of the Legislature.

Secondly, the Workers’ Party believes that reviewing the Elected Presidency by strengthening the Council of Presidential Advisers to check the Elected President complicates the Elected Presidency further.

To that end, we disagree with the Government that the solution to the current problem is to tighten the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency and to strengthen the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) hereinafter referred to as “Council”.

In tightening the qualifying criteria for the Elected Presidency, the Government seeks to lessen the potential for the Elected Presidency to become an alternative centre of power by severely reducing the number of qualifying candidates and restricting the pool to the super-elite executives in the private and public sectors. This is based on the mistaken premise that a candidate from such a pool is immune to politicization and will not become an activist President.

The Government has refused to recognize that the problem is inherent to the Elected Presidency by virtue of a popular mandate. Unlike the typical Member of Parliament, the Elected President is elected by the whole nation to represent the country without any party affiliation. The competitive election process pitting individuals against each other compels candidates to offer platforms to attract votes. The outcome of such a popular election tempts candidates to use the percentage of votes garnered as an indication of popular endorsement and the elected candidate to claim a mandate beyond his or her constitutional powers.

The Government had recognized that even with existing discretionary powers, we run the risk in the Elected Presidency of placing too much power in one person to properly check a popularly elected Parliament. The Council was set up to moderate this risk, by endowing the Elected Presidency with a team of advisers so that his or her decisions would always have the benefit of a group of experts and/or experienced persons.

Again, in order to further moderate the risk of the Elected Presidency having too much power to clip the Government’s wings, the Government is turning to the unelected Council. By expanding the Council from six to eight members and obliging the President to consult the Council on all monetary matters related to the reserves and all key public service appointments, the Government is not merely strengthening the Council’s advisory capacity, but is changing the very nature of the Council beyond its advisory function.

In attempting to create another check, namely, the strengthened Council on the original check, namely the Elected Presidency, the Government’s approach will in effect create a third key for safeguarding the reserves. When the President disagrees with the Government, the strengthened Council will be empowered to settle the decision on the side of either party. This makes the Council another alternative centre of power. This approach risks politicizing the office of the Presidency further, by placing the Elected President in a situation where he will be caught in a three-way faceoff in making crucial custodial decisions. This approach also risks producing complicated three-way situations that could end in gridlock and the erosion of the legitimacy of the elected Government. An unelected Council should not have the power to create such outcomes.

The Government’s proposal to reserve an election for an ethnic community if the past five Elected Presidents did not come from that ethnic community does not solve the problem. Over a long period, our Presidents should come from the main ethnic communities to symbolize and express the multiracial fabric of our nation. However, to tie this important symbolic role with the electoral process risks politicization of the role. As the ethnicity of the candidates will be pushed into the glare of competitive elections in the case of reserved elections, this will inadvertently lead to the politicization of multiracialism and may even introduce communal interests into the contest.

Thirdly, the Workers’ Party proposes to revert to the Ceremonial Presidency and to establish an Elected Senate to fulfill the custodial role as the solution.

We studied and deliberated the Constitutional Commission’s report and agreed that the most elegant solution to the problem is the Commission’s alternative proposal to revert to an appointed ceremonial Presidency and to set up a group of experts to exercise the Elected President’s custodial role. However, as the body performing a check on Parliament should have a popular mandate, we believe this group of experts ought to be popularly elected.

With your permission Madam Speaker, I would like to distribute a two-page handout which presents two flowcharts – the first is titled Checks and Balances under Option A, which fleshes out the key details of how the Elected Presidency system with a strengthened Council of Presidential Advisers as conceived by the Government would operate. The second is titled Checks and Balances under Option B presents a streamlined system of checks and balances with an elected Senate as put forth by the Workers’ Party.

We propose that a Senate be established within our Legislature as an Upper House to exercise the custodial functions that are now exercised by the Elected President. Eight Senators shall be elected from a list in periodic elections where non-partisan candidates will have to fit the qualifying criteria. A Senate Elections Committee will select the most suitable sixteen candidates to stand for the Senate election. Properly mandated by popular elections, the Senate will take over the custodial powers of the Elected Presidency. A Senate veto will return relevant bills to Parliament for debate which Parliament can veto with a ¾ majority. As part of the legislative arm of the State and not the executive arm, and mandated to fulfill a limited custodial role, Senators would be under no illusion of having any executive or policymaking powers. It is the Workers’ Party belief that such a two-chamber legislative system will minimize gridlock and enhance constructive politics.

With the establishment of a Senate, the Presidency shall revert to an office appointed by Parliament with no custodial role to perform. By focusing on unifying Singaporeans and representing Singapore to the world, the dignity of the office will be preserved and protected from the risk of politicization inherent in electoral competition and in checking Parliament and being checked by an appointed Council. Parliament shall consider the multiracial character of society and factor in multiracial representation when making the appointment. This way, the symbolic role of representing our coveted multiracialism will also be preserved and protected from politicization.

Fourthly, the Workers’ Party is of the view that the proposed constitutional amendments are major changes that should not be made with indecent haste and should be put to a referendum.

The amendments to the Constitution that the Government has proposed are far-reaching and wide-ranging, and deserve much more airtime where the changes can be subjected to proper and thorough public debate. Any changes made with indecent haste will expose the Government to suspicions and accusations that it is seeking to shape the terms and outcome of the election, when the country is on the verge of the next Presidential Election.

In the amendments proposed by way of the new Articles 5A, 5B and 5C, the Government has affirmed the utility, desirability and legitimacy of a national referendum in introducing controversial changes to presidential candidate eligibility. Given that the Prime Minister has acknowledged the proposed fundamental changes to the Presidency are controversial and potentially unpalatable to many members of the public,[3] we believe that a national referendum on these proposed amendments should be held after an appropriate period of public debate.

The public should be presented with a simple choice between the Government’s proposed amendments and the Workers’ Party’s proposal as outlined in this paper. The two options represent the main ideas mooted by the Constitutional Commission with minor modifications. As such, we believe the referendum questions should be marked in non-partisan manner as simply Option A and Option B, as explained by Ms Sylvia Lim earlier. A simple majority should suffice to decide the referendum.

In conclusion Madam Speaker, should this Bill be passed in its current form, the Elected Presidency, we will soon host a triple-weak situation. A weak institution that is structurally flawed in hosting different and contradictory objectives, weak public knowledge about the powers of the Elected President and finally an Elected President whose electoral mandate will be weakened as a result of the strengthening of the unelected Council of Presidential Advisers.

This House needs to focus its energies on the path that the Commission has laid for the future of the Elected Presidency. Instead of rushing this Bill through parliament in time for the next Presidential Elections, the Workers’ Party calls for the Government to delay any changes to Elected Presidency. The Government should do this not because it is has been suggested by Workers’ Party or the Constitutional Commission in varying forms but to protect the institution of the Presidency and to create a more accountable and robust system than the one we host today for the next 50 years.

Thank you.

Written by singapore 2025

12/11/2016 at 7:17 am

Parliament: Preventing the Scourge of Online Gambling in Singapore (Pritam Singh) – Adjournment Motion – 7 Nov 2016

Preventing the Scourge of Online Gambling in Singapore

Madam Speaker, I am speaking on this adjournment motion as a result of the debate that took place during the second reading of the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014. I noted in my speech then that terrestrial and online gambling are two very different realms that would require different approaches to address the problems associated with gambling.

To this end I would like to refer to a section of the speech made by the then Minister of Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing on online gambling and I quote: This is an evolving challenge. It is a difficult challenge. We need to stay vigilant to stay ahead of the threat and the challenges. We need to stay ahead and be prepared to strengthen our safeguards as necessary proactively and creatively. And we need concerted efforts by all – individuals, family and society – to keep our eyes on this issue. And we need to make sure that our measures are multi-pronged – upstream, midstream and downstream (unquote).

During the last session of Parliament, I directed some supplementary questions at the current Minister of Social and Family Development about these multi-pronged measures that the Government had sought to introduce to check online gambling. The answers did not suggest any specific initiatives introduced by the Government since the debate on the Remote Gambling Bill in 2014 to tackle the online gambling realm any differently from terrestrial gambling, even though the Government has acknowledged that its methods of outreach between terrestrial and online gambling have to be different. So I would like to ask the Minister again, what new upstream, midstream and downstream measures has the Government instituted to prevent the scourge of online gambling since the passage of this Bill in 2014? One would have thought that it ought to have been imperative for the Government to go public with these new initiatives well before granting exemptions to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club to offer online gambling services starting from October 2016.

Madam Speaker, the choice of the usage of the word scourge in my speech fulfils a specific purpose. Why do I call online gambling a scourge?

Impact of Online Gambling on the Young and Low Income

The American Psychiatric Association places pathological gambling in the same category as drug dependency and alcoholism in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It says that gambling “activate(s) the brain reward system with effects similar to those of drugs of abuse” and that “gambling disorder symptoms resemble substance use disorders to a certain extent.”

Numerous academic studies have found that online gambling is more addictive than other types of gambling, and that online gamblers have higher rates of gambling addiction than traditional gamblers. The Internet has greatly increased the accessibility of gambling. A 2015 study in Spain found a significant increase in pathological gamblers two years after the legalisation of online gambling in that country. The problem was found to be especially serious among young people – online gambling has become the main form of pathological gambling among people below 26 years old in Spain.

These results are unsurprising, since millennials are more comfortable using Internet technologies than their older compatriots.

Online gambling has another dark side. Problem and pathological gamblers can place bets using their smart phones without their friends and family members even noticing, unlike when they visit the casinos or go to the Turf Club. This removes a very important informal safeguard against problem gambling.

An important part of addiction treatment is for the problem gambler to avoid putting himself in situations which could tempt him to lapse back to his bad habit, for example, by avoiding casinos, jackpot rooms or other physical locations where gambling is available. However, it would be impractical to expect a problem gambler to refrain from using his mobile phone or computer as these are needed for modern day work and personal communication.

A longitudinal study of gambling and problem gambling in the U.S. between 1999 and 2013 found that problem gambling affects the poor more than the rich. The prevalence of frequent gambling is highest in the poorest one third of respondents and those in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and it declines dramatically as socio-economic status increases. This could be because some in the lower income group are motivated to gamble in an attempt to improve their financial status.

Raising Revenue from Gambling

The most common reaction I have heard from Singaporeans to the news of the issuing of exempt operator licenses is that the Government just wants to “make more money”. While am sure the Minister will refute this accusation vigorously, the fact remains that a large part of legalised gambling revenue goes into the state’s coffers. Is providing for exempt operators a way to redirect gambling spending away from illegal overseas operators to local operators, which are owned by the Tote Board? If so, this only fuels public speculation that the Government simply wants a piece of the huge global internet gambling pie, and that this is a revenue-raising exercise done at the expense of Singaporeans’ welfare.

Some have argued that the Tote Board gives money to many charities, which help the vulnerable in our society. This is a morally questionable argument that is akin to saying that it is okay to harm some people in order to help others. Since problem gambling disproportionately affects the poor, collecting revenues from online gambling is in effect a regressive tax on the most vulnerable in our society.

Prohibition is the Best Way Forward

The Minister said that the Government looked at a similar exempt operator regime in Hong Kong and Norway and found that the problem gambling situation did not worsen. I am not sure what these studies were or what the exact findings were. I hope the Minister will be able to share the details of these studies for Singaporeans to examine.

Did these studies prove that having an exempt operator regime reduces gambling harm more than a complete prohibition of online gambling? If not, was the Government too eager to rush to exempt operators before more conclusive results are found?

Madam Speaker, we should not be gambling with the lives of Singaporean families.

In the aftermath of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) dialogue with the Government, it was reported the carve out created for exempt operators to legally provide online gambling facilities were based on studies relating to the social impact of gambling that the Government had documented, and its assessment of possible scenarios with and without the ‘valve’ of controlled exempt operator. The NCCS noted that the research on this area is still new. To this extent at the very least, the Government should publish its research in this area especially since the Government will reportedly be meeting up with NCCS leaders in three to six months time.

The Minister has argued that exempt operators provide an “outlet” for gamblers and allow the government to manage crime associated with gambling. The assumption behind this argument is that gamblers who were gambling on illegal overseas gambling websites will switch over to the exempt operators’ websites or apps.

Has the Government found any studies to show that people will actually switch over to exempt operators? More likely, local gambling apps that have a stamp of approval by the government will attract people who have previously never gambled online. It may include many young people who may not relish queuing up at Toto outlets or going to the races at the Turf Club, but may experiment with gambling for the first time from the privacy of their phones. The legalisation of online gambling will thus expand the gambling market, rather than provide a safe outlet for existing gamblers. Once started, online gambling, like soft drugs, could be a gateway to more serious gambling addictions.

A Fait Accompli?

In its meeting with the NCCS, it was reported that the Government told the NCCS that it was not sending conflicting signals with the partial lifting of the ban on online gambling because the exemptions had already been written into the Bill back in 2014.

It would appear these exemptions were written specifically with Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club in mind. A quick review the timeline of events is as follows:

October 2014: Remote Gambling Bill passed.

July 2015: Singapore Pools and STC apply for exemptions.

July 2015: Straits Times reports that Singapore Pools had hired OpenBet to replace its website with one that can offer sports betting, and the contract is estimated to be worth $10 million.

15 September 2016: Singapore Pools and STC were reported to be running final tests on their new online betting websites.

29 September 2016: The Government grants exemptions to Singapore Pools and STC.

25 October 2016: Singapore Pools launches new online betting website, although this was not widely reported in the mainstream media.

$10 million is no small sum. It would be a huge gamble to sink $10 million into a contract without knowing it would pay off. Yet more than one year before the exemptions were granted, Singapore Pools appeared to have done exactly that. In the eyes of the public, it would seem that the yearlong evaluation of the applications was conducted with one outcome in mind – to find a way for Singapore Pools and the Turf Club to carry out online gambling operations. Was the process meant to determine whether or not the applications should be approved, or to determine how they could be approved? To this end, will the Minister inform this house under what circumstances the Government will review the exemptions granted currently to Singapore Pools and the Turf Club and how it plans to review them in an on-going manner?

During the 2014 debate, I asked the Minister to put the Bill before a Select Committee so as to scrutinise the exemption clauses. This request was turned down as the House was told that the Government had already engaged in consultations. However, in its recent meeting with the NCCS, the government cited its consultations with social service leaders and religious representatives as justification for the exemptions. Was the NCCS part of the “religious representatives” consulted in drafting the Bill? Did they agree to the exemptions? If so, why have they changed their position and if not, why weren’t they consulted before?

While feedback through the government channels should not be discouraged, we should remember that they are not subject to the same degree of parliamentary scrutiny in terms of the range of opinions consulted and the extent of public scrutiny. On Bills that provoke as much controversy as this one, should we not take the extra step to establish relevant Select Committees to go over the implementation and provisions with a fine-tooth comb? In exchange for a bit more time, we gain the opportunity to deepen public engagement and generate greater support for our laws.

Insufficient Safeguards

The Government says that there are safeguards in place to prevent gambling addicts from harming themselves and their families. These include self-exclusion and third party exclusion. However, self-exclusion is only practical for those who recognise that they have a problem. As for third party exclusion, a family member has to cross several difficult hurdles to get his or her loved one placed on the exclusion list. This includes being interviewed by a panel and having to show proof of the family member’s gambling addiction. The surreptitious nature of online gambling addiction means that such proof will be hard to obtain.

International studies have found that each problem gambler negatively impacts an average eight to 10 family members, colleagues and friends. Also, most problem gamblers do not seek help until they hit rock bottom – for example if they have wiped out all their family savings. These suggest that the numbers affected by problem gambling are much higher than official statistics show.

Unlike other vices like alcoholism and drug abuse, the costs associated with problem gambling are borne almost entirely by family members, who often end up paying off the debts of the gambler. The embarrassment associated with problem gambling means that the gamblers and their families rarely talk about their problems in public. Because of this, there is a tendency for policymakers to overlook the real social impact of problem gambling. As part of its on-going review of the exemptions, the Government should look into the implementing more stringent ‘circuit breakers’ – for example, tying expenditure and daily funding limits to an individual’s salary scale, deliberately set as a low percentage of one’s salary or removing the user-defined funding and expenditure limits. Separately, Singapore Pools and the Turf Club should be required to collect detailed statistics so that the Government and the public can better study the trends of problem gambling online. Anecdotally, many cases of loan sparking “runners” are linked to problem gambling. There should be better statistics gathered on such tragedies to better establish the extent of their links to problem gambling. This will enable a proper assessment of the impact of the exemptions on the rates of gambling and problem gambling.

We need to look further downstream to prevent gambling habits from taking root. Particular focus should be on young people. It would appear that many young men are introduced to the habit during their National Service days through army mates, or at their workplaces. More targeted public education is needed, especially among young people, if we are to prevent the scourge of gambling from spreading in our society.

The best safeguard is to lessen the avenues for Singaporeans to get introduced to gambling. Legalising online gambling is a step in the wrong direction.

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, there has been a glaring lack of clarity as to how the Government is making preparations to address the scourge of online gambling downstream, midstream and upstream in a directed and committed way. This is in spite of the Government open admission that the online gambling is, I quote, a “difficult challenge”. It would logically follow that the issue would demand significant attention from the authorities. However, one cannot help but to get the feeling that it is business as usual, and that online gambling is just another game to gamble on, or just another sport for the public to take a bet on. I am concerned that it is much more ominous than that.

Written by singapore 2025

08/11/2016 at 7:09 am

Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC): Waiting for the CCC

Facebook post 7 Sep 2016:

In the run-up to the Bukit Batok by-election, I posted a facebook note about the Neighbourhood Renewal Program (NRP). The PAP later confirmed that the NRP is “fund-neutral” and would be available to any Town Council, a subtle, but significant shift away from its earlier position that should it lose Bukit-Batok SMC, it would not be able to carry out NRP works for the affected precinct. Today is as good a day as any to talk about another source of “upgrading” funds for Town Councils – namely the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funding, one year to the date of an article published by the Straits Times last year. For the record, AHTC is still waiting for CIPC-funded works to begin.

Unlike the NRP, CIPC funding is anything but “fund-neutral”. In fact, my experience informs me that CIPC funds are used as a political tool to differentiate PAP town councils from opposition ones, not just physically through readily apparent town improvements, but to reflect better operating surpluses and/or minimise operating deficits for Town Councils in their financial statements too.

With generous CIPC injections, Town Councils are not restricted to to use their finite routine funds and surpluses for town improvement and upgrading. Instead, Town Councils can propose the use of CIPC funds to upgrade or replace older equipment including proposals to build new structures (such as linkways).

In short, CIPC funding is a treasure chest of public monies for Town Councils to tap on, subject to the enthusiasm and commitment levels of the various CCC Chairmen who oversee the ward hand in hand with the Grassroots Adviser (in the case of opposition wards, usually the losing PAP candidate) or MP of the ward.

Even so, the ultimate beneficiaries of CIPC funding have to be the residents of each constituency and town. To that end, AHTC has proposed to the People’s Association (under who the Grassroots Adviser and CCCs are organised) that for CIPC funding for FY16/17 available from MND, the Aljunied and Hougang CCC’s look to upgrading the playgrounds outside PAP Community Fund (PCF) kindergartens in the town in line with the Prime Minister’s call earlier this year for more “challenging” playgrounds in our HDB estates (see facebook post linked below). We hope the CCC Chairmen and Grassroots Advisers in Aljunied and Hougang work hard to deliver this – in AHTC, they will find a ready and supportive partner.

That Singapore is a democracy is exceedingly trite. But the substance of our democracy should evolve to deliver fund-neutral benefits for all our residents. As a PAP pioneer leader, Mr S. Rajaratnam once remarked, we should move to becoming a democracy of deeds, not words. It is time to put Singaporeans first, regardless who they vote for – with you, for you, for Singapore.

Useful Links

Parliament and the CIPC: see selected Hansard debates and questions below.

PM Lee on Playgrounds: https://www.facebook.com/leehsienloong/posts/1139832076079497

The Middle Ground: Now you see the CCC – http://themiddleground.sg/2015/07/28/now-you-see-the-ccc/

The Middle Ground: Thank you CCC (not your MP) – http://themiddleground.sg/2015/09/07/thank-ccc-not-mp/

The Straits Times: Budget 2015 – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-budget-2015-maliki-wps-pritam-spar-over-upgrading-work-in-opposition-wards

Afternote:

Each year, the Ministry of National Development (MND) sets aside about $40m under its budget for all the use of the Citizen Consultative Committees (CCC) in Singapore for Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) upgrading purposes.

Each CCC in Singapore is formed on the basis of its political boundary – for e.g. in Aljunied GRC, there is the Eunos CCC, Paya Lebar CCC, Kaki Bukit CCC, Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC and Serangoon CCC. In the usual course of events, once projects are approved by the CCC, CIPC funds are then transferred the parent Town Councils to execute the upgrading works.

From 2009 to 2011 (prior to the 2011 elections), over the course of three years, the Government had pushed about $12m of CIPC monies to the then Aljunied Town Council under the PAP team for upgrading projects.

Over the course of a political term of five years, the Government can potentially extend up to about $200m of taxpayers monies to all the Town Councils under CIPC funding through the CCCs.

It has been suggested to me that the amount of CIPC funding extended for the 17 projects that were tendered out by the CCC sometime in May 2015 (as stated here: http://www.straitstimes.com/politics/singapolitics/ccc-rebuts-wp-claim-of-indifference-says-17-projects-being-implemented) amount to about $2m. If true, it would correspond that Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC were allocated about 1% of CIPC funding over a five year term. It would be useful to know how much taxpayer dollar was allocated to similarly sized constituencies over the course of FY2011-2016. Such questions, have been met largely been non-answers (see parliamentary remarks on CIPC issues below), arguably confirming the political nature of CIPC funding.

_____

PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONS/ANSWERS AND REMARKS ON CIPC FUNDING

13 JULY 2015: DISBURSEMENT OF COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE (CIPC) FUNDING TO TOWN COUNCILS

Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for National Development how much Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funding has been extended to each Town Council through their respective Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) from 7 May 2011.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan: The Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) provides funding support for improvement projects in HDB estates for the benefit of local residents. Such facilities include covered walkways, footpaths, cycling tracks and playgrounds.

CIPC funding is disbursed through the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs). CCCs are close to the ground and can help identify projects which will be most useful for the residents, and through that process, strengthen bonds within the community.

CIPC allocates its budget to the CCCs each year based on the number of HDB residential units of each Town. CCCs have the flexibility to allocate their notional budget and prioritise projects within their Towns based on local needs and which will be most useful for the residents.

Town Councils may approach their respective CCCs if they have any enquiries or proposals.

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11 MARCH 2015: HEAD T – MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman: Let me address the issues raised on Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC). Mr Pritam Singh asked about CIPC. To set the issue in context, we must recognise that there is a difference between CIPC under the charge of Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), and programmes like Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) which are nominated by Town Councils (TCs). So, there is a difference….

In the case of the CIPC, Mr Singh would be aware that CIPC funds are disbursed through the CCCs, not the TCs. We have said this in this House many times before. It is therefore incorrect for Mr Singh to say that MND had previously given CIPC funding to the former Aljunied TC, but withdrew it from AHPETC. This is untrue. The funds were never disbursed through any TC. They were disbursed through the CCCs.

Just as we give TCs flexibility over proposals under the HIP and NRP, we give the CCCs flexibility to assess proposals under CIPC and to prioritise them for implementation. The CCCs are close to the ground and will be better able to decide on the projects which will be most useful for the local residents. CIPC is community oriented. Its key objective is to bond residents, working together with their community leaders, to improve the living environment. CCCs also have to raise the 10% co-payment for CIPC, and will have to be prudent in what they decide to do as they have the responsibility to raise the funds, thus the need to consult the residents and know what the residents want and whether the residents are prepared to support the CCCs in their fund raising efforts.

In the case of AHPE CCCs, I understand that it had earlier consulted residents on proposed CIPC projects in their HDB estates and received 90 project proposals. The number of projects residents proposed had busted the CIPC budget for the year and the CCCs needed therefore to prioritise these projects. Notwithstanding this, the CCCs reached out to AHPETC for its nominations; AHPETC proposed 52 projects.

This meant that there was a long list of proposals, 90 that the CCCs received from the residents, plus 52 with some overlaps between them. The CCCs, which comprised community volunteers, needed time to go through all these proposals. Eventually, the CCCs identified 17 projects which could be funded within the allocated budget: 6 were proposed by both the TC and CCCs that is the overlap; six were proposed by the TC and the remaining five were proposed by the CCCs. So AHPETC’s proposals actually accounted for 12 out of the 17 projects selected. And the CCCs have to raise funds for these AHPETC’s proposed projects. The CCCs would need a bit more time to implement the projects.

I do not know why Mr Singh would now turn around, blame the CCCs for tardiness, and unfairly paint them in such a negative light in the eyes of the public, when the CCCs took the time and trouble to seek, go through and as it is clear, gave significant consideration to the TC’s proposals and were prepared to support many of them. I think the grassroots and the local community leaders are fully prepared to work with the TC to serve residents better. But it takes two hands to clap.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Madam, I refer to comments made by the Minister of State. According to the expenditure control document, about $40 million is allocated to MND for CIPC projects, these are national funds and every Town Council should be allocated these funds fairly.

Together, I reject the Minister of State’s call that my cut is a mischievous distortion of the facts. The allocation extended from MND to the CCC for CIPC resources are publicly available through the Government gazette. The facts are that for the previous Aljunied Town Council, about $12 million was allocated to the CCC through MND between FY2009 and FY2011. That is about $4 million a year. Nothing has been allocated to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council since 2012.

The CCC can work much faster as shown by the previous Town Council management. The Minister of State has said that it takes two hands to clap, and he is right. He should be reminded that it was the Town Council that initiated contact with the CCC to seek CIPC funding to benefit residents. I have personally asked for information on the budget and timings of various nominations and when these should be put up to the CCC.

Now, having said that, it is quite clear that the system, the CIPC nominations system, can be improved in Opposition wards, and should be improved. Can I confirm with the Minister of State would be keen to pursue this, or at least to create a forum where CIPC nominations can be discussed more reasonably, and without any concern about some political interference or delay from one party to another because it does not benefit the residents.

Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman: Mdm Chairman, let me first start off with the issue of CIPC. Yes, it is Government funds, but I think Government decides on the nature of the programme based on different objectives. CIPC, as I mentioned in my reply earlier, is a community-oriented programme. It is community-oriented because we want to build community cohesion through an upgrading programme. Not all upgrading programmes are just purely upgrading.

CIPC is unique. We started CIPC with the intended objective of getting residents together, getting residents to come up and work with their community leaders – who amongst themselves are fellow residents – and bring about the cohesion in the community.

That is one of the reasons why we decided to allocate the funds through the CCC, and not to the TC. There is nothing wrong with the programme, and there is nothing wrong with that objective, because it goes back to the residents. The beneficiaries are the residents. It is a different objective from the other upgrading programmes, like the HIP or the NRP, the LUP and some of the other programmes. The original intent of CIPC must be seen in that context.

That is one of the reasons why community engagement is critical, and we continue to uphold this objective because we have seen it work. We have seen how community leaders engage residents, and how residents respond, and they also have to work towards their 10% co-payment component that has to be borne by the CCC.

The objective of the programme must be understood. It is not just about allocating funds to a TC, because CIPC funds have never been allocated to the TCs. It has always been allocated to the CCCs. The CCCs decide with the managing agent, and subsequently work or discuss with the Town Councils for maintenance of the project that has been completed.

I just want to clarify the objectives of the CIPC programme. It has worked and we will continue to uphold and continue to use this platform, because it is very important for us in building up our HDB estates. Community cohesion is important. Community bonding is important. Residents must want to own the projects that they require. And when we say “own the projects”, it means that they want to work with the community leaders to raise the funds that are required. There is some ownership; there is some issue of responsibility.

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10 MARCH 2014: HEAD T -MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): The Community Improvement Projects Committee Funding or CPIC funding is an important source of taxpayer funding to Town Councils to assist in the construction and upgrade of community facilities. The Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) is the entity within the CIPC framework which nominates projects to MND. While the CIPC Committee at MND has to ensure that taxpayers’ monies are prudently spent, in view of the finite amount available and different needs of each town, I would like to ask if there is a distinction made in the percentage of funds disbursed for upgrading existing facilities of Town Councils on the one hand and new projects on the other, for CIP nominations by the CCC. Would the Ministry consider the formation of an appeals forum under the CIPC framework where differences of opinion, if any, about an Opposition Town Council which manages and maintains the community facilities, and the CCC’s nominations can be ironed out?

The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Mr Lee Yi Shyan): Sixth, we are actively involving residents and grassroots organisations in shaping their living environments because it is only with the people’s involvement that towns become stronger, cohesive communities. We have been doing so through the Community Improvement Project Committee (CIPC) and more recently through new initiatives like the “Cool Ideas for Better HDB Living”. The Cool Ideas initiative aims to gather ideas from members of the public to improve the HDB living environment. We will be holding the Cool Ideas Exhibition 2014 later this month. I invite all Members and their residents to participate.

To encourage ground-up proposals for precinct improvements, CIPC was conceived to co-fund grassroots organisations to carry out their community improvement projects. Mr Pritam Singh asked if there can be a better way to nominate CIPC projects with the CCCs. I believe all CCCs consult widely to derive CIPC project proposals and they would be happy to take in Mr Pritam Singh’s suggestions.

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8 JULY 2013: GUIDELINES FOR UTILISATION OF COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE FUNDING

Pritam Singh asked the Minister for National Development whether the guidelines for the utilisation of the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CPIC) funding will be made available in the public domain and furnished to all Town Councils.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan: The Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) provides funding support for infrastructural and recreational facilities, including general amenities for the benefit of residents in the whole constituency. Such facilities include covered walkways, footpaths, cycling tracks and playgrounds.

CIPC funds are disbursed through the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) as they are close to the ground and will be better able to decide on the projects which will be most useful for the local residents. We give the CCCs flexibility to assess the relevance of any proposal and to prioritise them for implementation so that the CIPC funds are optimally utilised. The operating principle for the CCCs is to ensure that the approved CIPC projects are useful, functional, represent value for money, freely accessible to the community and properly planned.

Town Councils may approach their respective CCCs if they have other queries.

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7 FEB 2013: INSTALLATION OF LIGHTINGS AT WALKWAY BRIDGE ACROSS KALLANG RIVER CONNECTING ST ANDREW’S VILLAGE AND POTONG PASIR

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin asked the Minister for National Development whether he will consider installing lightings at the walkway bridge across the Kallang River that connects St Andrews Village and Potong Pasir HDB flats.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan: The footbridge is maintained by the LTA on behalf of the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC). If the Potong Pasir Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) wishes to install lightings on the footbridge, it may tap on the CIPC budget allocated to it. The CCC may appoint the LTA as its implementing agent.

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27 MAY 2009: PRESIDENT’S ADDRESSDebate on the Address: (Third Allotted Day)

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): In his speech, the President said, amongst other things, “we must have social cohesion”.  Social cohesion is about arousing the emotions of people to feel a sense of togetherness, unity and closeness, but Government policies do not reflect this, especially in regard to Opposition MPs.  We practise one country, two-system policy in regard to CIPC funding for community works and no proper amenities to all the MPs although they are legitimately elected.

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12 FEB 2009: HEAD W – MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

The Senior Minister of State for Transport (Mrs Lim Hwee Hua): Town Councils can make use of their CIPC funds to further improve the connectivity within their estates if they choose to.

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28 FEB 2008: HEAD T – MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

Mr Ang Mong Seng (In Mandarin): Sir, the Community Improvement Projects Committee, or CIPC, fund is established by the Ministry of National Development for the purpose of improving and enhancing the public facilities to enable HDB residents to enjoy better basic facilities and, at the same time, enhance the cohesiveness among the residents, the so-called kampung spirit.

At the moment, the CIPC fund caters only for HDB residents but not the residents of the private estates.  I would like to ask the Minister whether MND would consider allowing the residents of the private estates to enjoy these benefits too.  If that can be done, I would like to know how much can each unit of the private estates be given and for what improvements can this fund be used.

Can the CIPC fund cover the full costs of such improvement items?  I understand the CIPC fund has to be applied for and executed by the CCC of each constituency, and if there is any shortfall, the CCC would have to bear the remaining cost.  The CCC is a grassroots organisation, a non-profit organisation, with limited capital.  I hope that the Minister would grant higher disbursement for these improvement projects.  I suggest that CIPC pay up to 95% or even 100% of the cost, so that the CCC can execute this job more effectively.

The Minister of State for National Development (Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien): To allow for smaller scale upgrading works to complement the EUP, Mr Ang Mong Seng may be happy to know that the Government will be introducing the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) scheme for private estates.  The scheme is similar in concept to the CIPC scheme for public housing estates, but will be adapted to suit the needs of private estates.  It will allow minor improvement works to be carried out on a timely basis.  The scheme will be rolled out in FY2008, and more details on this will be made available later.

Beyond EUP and CIPC, the public infrastructural needs of private estates are also met by the regular upgrading and maintenance work undertaken by various Government agencies on an ongoing basis.

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3 March 2007: MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

Mr Siew Kum Hong: Madam, the Government recently announced that it will make available $32 million over five years to implement barrier-free access in housing estates.  These funds will be disbursed through the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC). Based on media reports, Town Councils will be required to co-pay 5% of the cost of projects using these funds.

The use of the CIPC, coupled with the requirement for co-payment by Town Councils, effectively excludes the Opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir from access to these funds.  CIPCfunds are channelled through the Citizens’ Consultative Committees, but the advisers to the CCCs in those two wards are from the PAP and are not the elected MPs, which is the case in the PAP Government wards.

So I think that is very unlikely that the CCCs and Town Councils in Hougang and Potong Pasir will be able to come to an agreement on how to use such funds. This penalises the disabled and elderly folks in those estates.  If we are serious about making society more friendly to the disabled and the elderly, then this method of disbursing the funds is unhelpful and unfair.  In fact, it directly contradicts the vision of an inclusive society for Singapore, knowing that the use of the CIPC will almost inevitably exclude Hougang and Potong Pasir from access to these funds.

Madam, these funds are for barrier-free access.  In an ageing society, that is increasingly a must-have and not a good-to-have, like upgrading.  They should not be subject to political considerations such as whether the ward in question is an Opposition ward. I would suggest that a better way to distribute these funds is to make direct grants to the Town Councils for their use. After all, the Town Councils would know the best ways in which to apply these funds and what are the most pressing areas of need for barrier-free access.  This would truly further our vision of an inclusive society.

Madam, these funds are for barrier-free access.  In an ageing society, that is increasingly a must-have and not a good-to-have, like upgrading.  They should not be subject to political considerations such as whether the ward in question is an Opposition ward. I would suggest that a better way to distribute these funds is to make direct grants to the Town Councils for their use. After all, the Town Councils would know the best ways in which to apply these funds and what are the most pressing areas of need for barrier-free access.  This would truly further our vision of an inclusive society.

The Minister for National Development (Mr Mah Bow Tan)Let me now talk about barrier-free accessibility which Mr Siew Kum Hong mentioned.  It is an important part of our programme to help the elderly to age in place to make sure that the environment is barrier free and more elderly friendly.  My MOS has already updated Members about the progress of the LUP which is also part of the barrier-free accessibility programme, and we are also supporting the Town Councils.  We will extend the barrier-free accessibility to all HDB precincts by 2011.

How do we fund it?  We have a CIPC fund.  The CIPC fund is meant to help or improve projects within the community.  So we decided that we will expand the CIPC fund to also fund the construction of the barrier-free accessibility (BFA) items such as ramps, railings and so on.  All Town Councils will be invited to draw up their BFA masterplans for their estates and apply for access to the CIPC fund.  I just want to make it very clear at this point that we are not excluding any Town Council from applying for these funds.  Everybody is welcome to apply for the funds and, in fact, we have written to every Town Council, including to Mr Low Thia Khiang, to apply for the CIPC funds in order to implement BFA.  So I do not think there should be any problem in so doing.  This is not subject to political consideration, it is just commonsense.  Here you have a CIPC fund and you are using it to improve the neighbourhood and the precincts and there we have a need to improve barrier-free accessibility.  Why do we not put the two together?  So that is the reason why we have expanded CIPC to allow for BFA and the simple procedure is to apply for it through the CCC.  Why the CCC?  Because they are the ones who are most familiar with the neighbourhood.  If all Town Councils do this, follow the procedure, draft their BFA masterplans and apply for access to the CIPC funds, I am sure that by our target date of 2011, all Town Councils will be redeveloped and all the BFA facilities will be put in place.

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3 MARCH 2006: HEAD T – MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY) 

Mr Chiam See Tong:  The Opposition MPs are completely deprived of CIPC funds while the PAP MPs get the full quota of those funds.  The injustice and unfairness is glaring.  I hope that the new leadership shall make a genuine effort to rectify the incongruent situation and give Opposition MPs their share ofCIPC funds.  There should not be any discrimination against any Singaporean who supports the Opposition.  They pay their taxes, observe the law and do their required time for National Service and why should they be treated so shabbily?  Also, the Government boasts that no Singaporean shall be left behind and it wants to build an inclusive society.  Those are high-sounding aims but we do not see them in reality.  The Opposition in Singapore is always left behind and is not included in such benefits like theCIPC funds.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for National Development (Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman): Finally, Mr Chiam asked again and pleaded that the Government not be discriminatory against Opposition MPs with regard to CIPC funds.  Let me just reiterate again that the objective ofCIPC funding is to improve the infrastructure, recreational facilities and general amenities of the whole constituency.  The budget is limited and is allocated to the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) based on the merits of the projects that they proposed.  This is because the CCCs interact closely with residents and are, therefore, in a good position to assess the needs of their residents.  In response to Mr Chiam’s point that we are being unfair to the Opposition MPs because we give PAP MPs CIPC funds, we do not give PAP MPs CIPC funds.  CIPC funds are give to the CCCs to operate the proposed projects for improvements in the constituencies.  These projects are then presented to the CIPC Committee which will then evaluate the proposals.  Town Councils are responsible for the management and maintenance of the common areas in HDB estates.  So if Town Councils wish to put up their improvement projects in their estates they can do so using their Town Council fund.

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1 MARCH 2005: ANNUAL BUDGET STATEMENT

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir,  the Prime Minister speaks of building an inclusive society where nobody is left out.  Yet, in reality, the Opposition wards continue to be discriminated against.  In the last 15 years, millions of dollars of CIPC funds have been disbursed to all the PAP-controlled constituencies, yet not one cent of those CIPC funds has been handed to the Opposition wards.  Residents of Opposition wards are also Singapore citizens.   They do pay their taxes, they pay their fines probably, they do their stint of National Service, they obey the law and do whatever other citizens are required to do under the law.  Yet, they do not benefit from the CIPC funds.

I say that it is only right that all Singaporeans should be treated equally.  On my part as MP for Potong Pasir, I have applied for such funds many times.  Till today, I have not received any of such funds to benefit my constituency.  I urge the Prime Minister and his team to look into the matter of CIPC funds and make provisions for CIPC funds to be disbursed to Opposition wards, as all previous applications for support made to the PAP grassroots were futile.

Dr Wang Kai Yuen (Bukit Timah): Mr Speaker, Sir, Mr Chiam earlier lamented that ever since he became a Member of Parliament, he did not get a single cent out of CIPC funds.  I can also enlighten him that ever since I became a Member of Parliament together with him, all my requests for CIPC funds have never been fully approved.  It has been always partially approved.  And I have always complained how come my worthy project was not considered appropriately.  And since the Minister for National Development had deemed it fit to appoint me into the Community Improvement Project Committee (CIPC), I can say that when the Committee meets, there are always requests that are at arms-length, and before we can even approve all the projects proposed by the PAP colleagues, the budget had been exhausted. So perhaps, if Mr Chiam tries harder next year, the Committee might have a chance to review his proposals.

Mr Speaker, Sir, let me now proceed to my —

Mr Chiam See Tong rose —

Mr Speaker: Dr Wang, would you allow Mr Chiam to clarify?

Dr Wang Kai Yuen: Sure.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Thank you.  Sir, I have two comments to make.  Firstly, at least, Dr Wang has received some money.  I have not received any money at all.  The other comment is that: does he know that we have to pass through the first hurdle at the constituency level before we can go to the Committee in which he is sitting?  That means, we have to go through the person whom I defeated at the last election for permission.  What do you think his answer would be?

Dr Wang Kai Yuen: Mr Speaker, Sir, I am aware of the process in which the project comes to the review of the Committee.  My suggestion is that he works harder with the constituency Adviser so that he can come to see the virtue of the project proposed by Mr Chiam.

The Minister for National Development (Mr Mah Bow Tan) rose —

Mr Speaker: Dr Wang, would you allow Mr Mah to interrupt?

Dr Wang Kai Yuen: Yes.

Mr Mah Bow Tan: Sir, I just want to clarify for Mr Chiam’s benefit that I believe that Potong Pasir has indeed received CIPC funds.  CIPC funds do not go to the MP or the Adviser.  It goes to the constituencies.  I recall that all constituencies in Singapore do receive some CIPC funds.

Mr Speaker: Last interruption, Mr Chiam.  I do not want a mini debate on this.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Can I just clarify?  I believe the CIPC funds received by Potong Pasir was awarded to a PAP election candidate.

Some hon. Members:  No.

Mr Chiam See Tong:  Through him, at least.  And it was for two or three town signs, if I am not mistaken.  I think the amount was $6,000.  That is all.  And to date, I believe a PAP constituency has, on average, received about $1 million.

Mr Mah Bow Tan: Sir, I just want to reiterate that CIPC funds are made available upon the request of the Advisers of the various constituencies and they go to enhance the facilities within the constituency.  In the case of Potong Pasir, I believe funds have been requested for and have been given to Potong Pasir constituency.  Of course, the reason why we go to the Adviser is because the request is generated through the grassroots organisations.  These requests are assessed by a Committee of which Dr Wang is a member, and all the more deserving ones are given the funds.  Therefore, it is not true that Potong Pasir has not received any funds.

On Mr Chiam’s points about treatment of Opposition MPs, his first point was about his experience at the Istana party where somebody asked him where were his grassroots leaders.  I do not know what grassroots leaders he has. I know that Potong Pasir grassroots leaders were invited.  Maybe not his grassroots leader but, as far as the Government is concerned, the grassroots leaders are the ones who serve in our CCC, RC, CCMC and so on.  We did not consider Town Council as part of the grassroots, otherwise the PAP Town Councils would also be involved.

His other complaints about not having a room, having to work at the void decks, not being able to plant a tree, not being able to have CIPC funds, not being able to speak at a dinner, and not getting upgrading in his estate, etc, I think we have been through all that before.  Mr Chiam now finally finds a piece of ground to plant the tree, and the reason being that, as he said, that piece of land is managed by the Town Council.  But in the public housing estate, the HDB owns the land and, therefore, it is up to the landowner to decide who plants the tree.  And every year, we have the tree planting campaign and, therefore, the Advisor is the one who is allowed to plant the tree.  We have been doing this for the last umpteenth year since we have the tree planting campaign.  This is not something new.

On the conducting of the meet-the-people session, the PAP MPs do not have a room either.  The PAP MPs make use of the PCF centres.  The PCF is a foundation with $5 million or more of paid-up capital.  They set up kindergarten education classes, etc.  And, because of the relationship between the PCF and the PAP, the PAP was able to pay a rental to the foundation to make use of one room for our once-a-week meet-the-people session.

On CIPC funds, I am not sure why Mr Chiam brings up CIPC funds because, as far as I know, from what I was told, Town Councils already get grants from the Government and that is for the residents  But CIPC funds are for improvement of the whole constituency and therefore it is disbursed through the CCCs, and if they have projects, they can apply to the CIPC for funds.  From what I was told, Potong Pasir residents have not been deprived of CIPC project funding.  In fact, in 1998, CIPC funds were used for back-lane lighting of Jalan Wangi and Upper Aljunied Road.  In 2002,CIPC funding was available to build covered linkways in Potong Pasir Town, but because Potong Pasir Town Council failed to come up with its co-share of cost, the project could not be implemented.  Why is this so?  I do not know.  Only the Potong Pasir Town Council can answer.  But as far as PAP Town Councils are concerned, when the CCC gets funding for CIPC projects, the Town Council would have to chip in to pay for part of the cost.  It is not completely free, it is not completely at Government’s expense.

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11 March 2004: HEAD U – PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir, I would like to speak on the unfairness of treatment to Opposition MPs. Once, at a function on the grounds of Istana, a PAP MP asked me, “Hey, Chiam, why did you not bring your grassroots along today?”  That PAP MP thought that I did not have any grassroots members to bring along to that function.  I did not want to embarrass him by telling him that, in fact, my grassroots members were not invited to that function although PAP MPs’ grassroots were invited.

Yes, Opposition MPs are treated differently from the PAP MPs.  I think it is appropriate that I speak out on this matter to educate PAP MPs on the matter.  I have already complained that I do not get a proper room to hold my MPS.  I have to see my constituents in the open at the void deck.  I do not mind doing so, but the only problem is that sometimes, I do not have the privacy to discuss some sensitive matters with the people who come to see me with a personal problem.  When working in the open, I am always subject to the elements.  Void decks, somehow or other, are very windy and I have difficulty holding my pieces of papers together.

When I was first elected MP, the situation then was even worse.  I was not even allowed to plant one tree. Today, of course, I can plant as many trees as I like in my constituency or on the land under the jurisidiction of my Town Council.  Things have improved a little for me, but on very basic things like application for Government grants, CIPC funds, I still have to apply to the person whom I defeated at the last election, and I believe he shall be competing against me at the next election.  In the circumstances, I wonder how I can ever get the support of my rival to support me in getting CIPCfunds which would lessen his chances of getting elected.  I would probably think that the answer shall always be never.

My constituency, in a way, has been subjected to scare tactics at election time.  They have been threatened that should they vote for me, they shall never get upgrading of their flats, kindergarten facilities shall be scaled down, the MRT station shall never be opened and any precincts that give 50% votes to the PAP shall get upgrading.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: I come to Mr Chiam’s question about the GRC.  After 16 years of operation of the GRC – we had our first election based on the GRC system since 1988 – we are still talking about the GRC system.  Unfortunately, even after 16 years, Mr Chiam is still contesting in a single constituency and has not gone into a GRC.  Maybe if he had led a team to the GRC he will then know how he can win a GRC.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Do you want me to be in the GRC?

Mr Wong Kan Seng: Sure.  Mr Chiam just asked me whether I want him to be in the GRC or not.  He is the leader of a party, he should really decide.  And, being the leader of a party, he should lead the charge and not leave it to others to lead the charge for him and he just follows behind and says it is very good.

But to be serious, there is a reason why we have GRCs, as the Deputy Prime Minister explained earlier on in answer to another question concerning the GRC.  The reason is that we need the GRC for multi-racial representation.  But whether a 2-man, 3-man, 4-man, 5-man or 6-man GRC is to the disadvantage of the Opposition or not, I think it is the same to both the Opposition and the PAP.  The PAP would need to put up candidates whether it is a 2-man, 3-man, 4-man, 5-man or 6-man GRC.  And so do the Opposition.  But the fact that since the Opposition cannot put up enough candidates that surely cannot be the fault of the GRC system.

Mr Chiam See Tong: That is not the only reason.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: That is the fault of the Opposition, for not being able to get enough people to contest for them.  Otherwise they would be there in the GRC.  And Mr Chiam had the by-election effect strategy, which says that he would rather not contest in all the constituencies.  I think that is a very good reason to give for not being able to get enough candidates to contest in an election.  But that is very clever.

The Prime Minister (Mr Goh Chok Tong): Ask him if he would like Potong Pasir to be part of a GRC.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: If Mr Chiam says he would like Potong Pasir to be part of a GRC, the Prime Minister just told me that he might ask the Electoral Boundary Review Committee to consider this.

Mr Goh Chok Tong: Ask again. Get an answer.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: Does he want it?

Mr Lee Hsien Loong: Potong Pasir to become a GRC.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Give us time.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: Now, and we will tell him the answer.

Mr Goh Chok Tong: Better record this, Kan Seng.

Mr Wong Kan Seng: It is in the Hansard.  Mr Chiam will know that.  But, again, more seriously, whether it is a single-member constituency or a GRC, really it is up to the candidates themselves whether they can convince the voters to vote for them.  It does not depend on whether it is a 2-man, 5-man or 6-man GRC.

 

On Mr Chiam’s points about treatment of Opposition MPs, his first point was about his experience at the Istana party where somebody asked him where were his grassroots leaders.  I do not know what grassroots leaders he has. I know that Potong Pasir grassroots leaders were invited.  Maybe not his grassroots leader but, as far as the Government is concerned, the grassroots leaders are the ones who serve in our CCC, RC, CCMC and so on.  We did not consider Town Council as part of the grassroots, otherwise the PAP Town Councils would also be involved.

His other complaints about not having a room, having to work at the void decks, not being able to plant a tree, not being able to have CIPC funds, not being able to speak at a dinner, and not getting upgrading in his estate, etc, I think we have been through all that before.  Mr Chiam now finally finds a piece of ground to plant the tree, and the reason being that, as he said, that piece of land is managed by the Town Council.  But in the public housing estate, the HDB owns the land and, therefore, it is up to the landowner to decide who plants the tree.  And every year, we have the tree planting campaign and, therefore, the Advisor is the one who is allowed to plant the tree.  We have been doing this for the last umpteenth year since we have the tree planting campaign.  This is not something new.

On the conducting of the meet-the-people session, the PAP MPs do not have a room either.  The PAP MPs make use of the PCF centres.  The PCF is a foundation with $5 million or more of paid-up capital.  They set up kindergarten education classes, etc.  And, because of the relationship between the PCF and the PAP, the PAP was able to pay a rental to the foundation to make use of one room for our once-a-week meet-the-people session.

 

On CIPC funds, I am not sure why Mr Chiam brings up CIPC funds because, as far as I know, from what I was told, Town Councils already get grants from the Government and that is for the residents  But CIPC funds are for improvement of the whole constituency and therefore it is disbursed through the CCCs, and if they have projects, they can apply to the CIPC for funds.  From what I was told, Potong Pasir residents have not been deprived of CIPC project funding.  In fact, in 1998, CIPC funds were used for back-lane lighting of Jalan Wangi and Upper Aljunied Road.  In 2002,CIPC funding was available to build covered linkways in Potong Pasir Town, but because Potong Pasir Town Council failed to come up with its co-share of cost, the project could not be implemented.  Why is this so?  I do not know.  Only the Potong Pasir Town Council can answer.  But as far as PAP Town Councils are concerned, when the CCC gets funding for CIPC projects, the Town Council would have to chip in to pay for part of the cost.  It is not completely free, it is not completely at Government’s expense.

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27 Feb 1998: DISBURSEMENT OF CIPC FUNDS

Mr Chiam See Tong asked the Minister for National Development (a) whether, in light of the economic downturn, the CIPC funds will be disbursed to grassroots organisations in the PAP-controlled constituencies at the same level as previous year; (b) how much CIPC funds will be allocated this year; and (c) what is the amount of CIPC funds paid out last year.

Mr Koo Tsai Kee (for the Minister for National Development): Mr Speaker, Sir, CIPC funds are allocated to all the CCCs and not only to grassroots organisations in the PAP-controlled constituencies. It is up to the CCCs to decide which community improvement projects within their constituencies they want to support. Since its inception, the CIPC scheme has benefited all the CCCs, including the hon. Member, Mr Chiam See Tong’s area. In view of the economic downturn in FY 98/99, the Government has trimmed its expenditure on some projects. CIPC has also carried out a review of its budgetary requirement for FY 98/99. Under this review, useful projects from the CCCs will still continue to receive CIPC funding.

The amount of CIPC funds allocated for this financial year, that is, FY 97/98 is $40 million. My Ministry has asked the Ministry of Finance for a budget of $36 million for the coming financial year. The amount to be allocated for the coming financial year will be tabled for Parliament for debate and approval by the Minister for Finance.

The amount of CIPC funds paid out in FY 96/97 was $39.9 million.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Can I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, in regard to Potong Pasir, whether the CCC has any outstanding request for CIPC funds?

Mr Koo Tsai Kee: Mr Speaker, I did not catch the question clearly. Can he repeat the first part again?

Mr Chiam See Tong: I understand that the CCC has been applying for CIPC funds.

Mr Koo Tsai Kee: Which CCC?

Mr Chiam See Tong: At Potong Pasir. I am only interested in Potong Pasir. I understand that they have been applying for CIPC funds for two covered linkways. Is it still on?

Mr Koo Tsai Kee: Mr Speaker, Sir, my Ministry has not received a formal submission from the Potong Pasir CCC. So I have no record of a submission on the walkway. But the Potong Pasir CCC was given CIPCfunds in financial year 1995 for five estate landmarks in the signposts in Sennett Estate, which is a non-HDB common area. If the hon. Member for Potong Pasir is asking whether his CCC has applied for a walkway, I have no such record.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I wish to clarify. I have got no CCC at Potong Pasir. I am talking about the only CCC that is existing in Potong Pasir and whether they have put in a request for funds. Because I know they have circulated notices asking whether they will get the support of the residents there. I imagine that they would be putting in their case.

Mr Koo Tsai Kee: My Ministry has not received any formal submission. It could well be lobbying for support to put in a project.

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7 JULY 1995: COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE FUNDS

Mr Cheo Chai Chen asked the Minister for National Development for the period from January 1992 to April 1995, how many Citizens Consultative Committees (CCCs), in both the Group Representation Constituencies and the Single Member Constituencies, had received funds from the Community Improvement Projects Committee; which were the CCCs which had received such funds; on what projects were the funds given and what was the sum for each project.

Mr Lim Hng Kiang:

a) For the period from January 1992 to April 1995, 77 Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) from 15 GRCs and 17 SMCs had received funds from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC).

b) The CCCs which had received the funds are listed at Appendix C (Cols. 1413 – 1414).

c) The types of projects that were given the funds are listed at Appendix D (Cols. 1415 – 1418).

d) As there have been already more than 3,000 projects, it will not be a productive exercise to list out each and every project with the expenditure. The sum for each project varies from $86 to $446,687.
7 JULY 1995: APPENDIX – COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE FUNDS

https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00064795-ZZ&currentPubID=00069742-ZZ&topicKey=00069742-ZZ.00064795-ZZ_1%2Bid045_19950707_S0010_T00361-written-answer%2B#

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23 MARCH 1995: HEAD U – MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Acting Minister for National Development (Mr Matthias Yao Chih): Sir, allow me to continue. The Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) started life in 1965. Then, it was known as the Urban and Rural Services Committee (URSC). At that time, and since then, the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), on the ground, will determine what amenities are needed in the constituency and they will consult the PWD, Ministry of the Environment and other departments to request for improvements. If those works are within the budget and within the work plan of the departments, then those works will be carried out. If the requests are reasonable but the budget provided is not sufficient, then the CCC would apply to the CIPC for funding.

The CCC does not decide what they can have. They put in an application and the CIPC will evaluate and consult the relevant departments whether these are feasible, whether they can serve the residents effectively and efficiently and based on the budget available, the CIPC will decide whether the constituency can have the money. This money is given to the CCC to be disbursed.

The Opposition Members asked: why not give this money to the town councils? The answer is very simple. The town councils, by law, can only work within the boundaries of the HDB estates, in particular, within the common areas of the HDB estate and if we give the money to the town councils, then the private estates and privately-run commercial and industrial areas will never get this money.

Why not give it to the MP? The answer is no again because CIPC funds are public funds and in disbursing public funds we have to give them to a public body to be disbursed. No money is given to any MP, Opposition or PAP, for such purposes.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang): Sir, may I seek clarification? First of all, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary has gone back to the old story and standard answer of the CIPC. Mr Chiam and I did not say that the money should be given to the MP or the town council. What we are asking is simply the procedure of application to CIPC. Yes, money should be given to a public body because it is public money. Is the town council not a public body?

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir, may I clarify? The situation from 1965 has changed tremendously. There are at the moment four constituencies held by the Opposition and probably there will be more in time to come. If you keep to this procedure, on the face of it, it would appear that all these Opposition constituencies will never get CIPC funds for community projects because members of the CCCs are all selected by the People’s Association (PA). Unfortunately, PA is not under the Ministry of National Development. It is under the Ministry of Community Development.

If you look at PA, which is a statutory board, the Chairman of PA is the Prime Minister and Ministers are on the board. It is a very high-powered board. This board will select the members of the CCC. The CCCs will, in a way – I would not say beholden – have to look to the people who have appointed them. These are all political figures. Their action will definitely be politically-biased. They will certainly not approve something which will help the Opposition MPs. I think that is the crux of the matter.

When we wrote to the CCC for support to apply for CIPC funds, they not only refused us but they have not even got the courtesy to give a reason. The usual standard Government answer: We have looked at your application. We are unable to accede to it. We asked three times for reasons because Potong Pasir has so far not benefited anything at all from CIPC funds and there is a need for community projects, because community projects, especially linked walkways, are built in other constituencies. If other constituencies have a need for covered walkways, why not Potong Pasir? It is within the guidelines. That is the problem.

Unfortunately, when I brought up this problem the last time, the Minister conveniently said that CCC was not under his charge. So I should not ask him how they approve and not approve. The Ministry of National Development is the ministry that disburses the funds and yet it is another ministry that gives the approval. Again, there is some irregularity here. Perhaps the CCC should not be made an approving body in the first instance. Maybe, as we have suggested yesterday, it should be the MP himself. Normally, the MPs are the advisors in other constituencies and the CCC in a way will take the advice of the MP. So why not cut away the CCC and let the MP, who is the elected Member, make the application or approve it? If the MP does not know the wishes of the grassroots, then he should not be the MP at all. If he cannot read the ground, I am afraid
he will probably be voted out in the next election. There is no other person who has got more interest in these projects than the MP himself if he wants to remain an MP.

I would suggest that the procedure be corrected and put the MP to be the person either to approve or to make the application. The town councils can make the application and approval given by the MP, just like MPs have approved many other applications. I would suggest this to the Minister.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, I have listened to the comments by both Opposition Members very carefully but they have not listened to my comments carefully. I have said why the money should not be given to the town council. By law, the town council is confined to working within the boundaries of an HDB estate. It cannot do work outside of the estate and it cannot spend money outside of the estate. So giving CIPC money to the town council does not help those who live outside of HDB estates. So that is out of the question.

Mr Chiam’s quarrel with PA and how the CCC is structured, I suggest he raise this under his cut on the CCC. But to suggest that because he is in Parliament, therefore, we must change a long lasting and long established practice which has worked very well is not necessary. The point is, from MND’s position, we have got these funds to subsidize improvement projects. We look for a body within the constituency that can coordinate various requests and help disburse the funds. Where is this body? There is one, which is the CCC, and it was established a long time ago. The URSC had worked very well with the CCCs all this while.

Mr Chiam says conditions have changed. It is not the same as 1965. I am glad conditions have changed. There were more Opposition Members in 1965 than there are now. So his suggestion about changing the rules is not based on sound arguments. All he wants is the control of the money. The CIPC and URSC have never given money direct to MPs. We do not give them to PAP MPs. We do not give them to Opposition MPs. I do not think we need to change the rules.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Sir, on this point that in 1965 we had more Opposition MPs, I think if you read the history of the PAP there was a split at that time and the Barisan Sosialis MPs were no longer interested in being MPs. In that period, they were trying to work their way out and, in fact, they did. In 1965, they all walked out of Parliament. So they were not interested in any community projects. But we are. The present Opposition Members are keen to improve all their constituencies.

My quarrel is that under the present system it would appear that no Opposition MPs will get any taxpayers’ fund through the CIPC. That is my contention. As long as you have this checkpoint at the CCC, none of the Opposition Members can get through this checkpoint. They will be blocked right from the start, and no funds will be disbursed to any of the Opposition MPs. That is really unfair, because those funds are not PAP funds. They are taxpayers’ funds. I think there should be a new system. Probably you allocate the fund pro rata. For so many voters in your constituency they will give you this amount. I think that is the fairest system.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary says it is not fair if funds are not allocated for improvements in private estates. Is it not true that CIPC also provides funding for community projects which are done in HDB estates? The funds are used for HDB estates.

As regard private estates, is it not also the elected MP’s responsibility to look after the private estates? They could also suggest improvements in the private estate should the need arise. So why is it that application for funds should be given to the CCC for approval because we are also looking after the private estates?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, Mr Low does not understand my answer. I shall repeat it. We cannot give the money to the town council because the town council can only spend money and work within the HDB estate. So if we give the money to the town council, none of this money can be used in private estates.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: No, I am not saying that.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: He is not clear.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: The Senior Parliamentary Secretary does not understand my clarification. So far, the CIPC has never given any money to town councils, even for the PAP wards. You provide funds for upgrading community projects to the HDB estates. The fund is used for improvement works in HDB estates. What we are asking is that you allow the town council or the MP concerned to submit the application directly to CIPC for funds and the CIPC decides whether it is going to provide the funds for a particular project. That is what we are asking. The Senior Parliamentary Secretary has called for fine-tuning of the system yesterday and a proposal has been put forward by us. I would like to know his position on that.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, the town council cannot put up a proposal and ask for money for improvement works outside of an HDB estate. That is the simple position, as provided by the law. Mr Chiam understands that.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Yes.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Thank you. On Mr Chiam’s question, all I want to say is this. Mr Chiam does not want this money to be used in a politically motivated manner. So the best solution for all of us is, let us give this money to the CCC, as we have done since 1965 and let the CCC recommend and decide on its priorities. The money does not go to the PAP MP and it does not go to the Opposition MP. It is fair for all. So my position on Mr Chiam’s and Mr Low’s suggestion is that there is no need to change the present system.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: First of all, yes, the town council’s funds cannot be used outside the HDB estate. The town council could, through the MP, look at the private estate and put up a proposal to the CIPC for improvements. Why can it not be done? Or the MP himself can put up the proposal. What is wrong with that? The fund is not going to the town council. It is a CIPC fund. I am not saying that you give the money to the town council. What I am saying is that you allow the town council to apply. There is no need for the CCC to apply. Allow the town council or the MP to apply for funds for certain projects and you consider whether it is viable. If you do not think so, explain why. Rather than going through the CCC and the CCC says, “We do not support your application.” When we wrote in and asked for the reasons, they replied, “No need to give you the reason.” I think this is not fair.

Mr Chiam See Tong: The Minister talks about the CCC. I have an amendment on the CCC and I will talk more about it. But he says that the CCC is not politically motivated. I think most CCCs, if not all, are highly politically motivated. This is proven by the fact that I have been an MP at Potong Pasir for nearly 10 years and the CCC has not lifted a finger to apply for CIPC funds. The best person to get things moving in a constituency must be the MP. It cannot be anybody else. If he wants his seat, he must do something. If he does not do anything, he will be kicked out. Whereas for the CCC, it makes no difference to them. So the CCC is not the best body.

I am going to repeat myself. As the system exists now, all the Opposition wards will not get any CIPC fund, and that is the reality. I have already mentioned that even in Hougang, before the Opposition MP came in, they were eagerly applying for funds. As soon as the Opposition Member came in, they say, “No, withdraw all the funds.” That proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the CCC has got no interest to improve the constituencies under Opposition MPs. So if you have this system, Opposition wards will not get one cent of the CIPC fund. That is the problem. So if the Minister can solve this problem, I shall be very happy.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: May I suggest to Mr Low that he discontinues with his line of questioning because it makes no sense and he knows it, but he does not want to give up.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: No.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: I suggest that he goes to the library outside, take a look at the Town Councils Act and see whether the town councillors are charged with the responsibility of looking after the entire constituency or looking after the common areas of the HDB estate. After that, he may wish to file another motion or Question and we can have another debate on it.

As for Mr Chiam, his quarrel is really with his CCC in Potong Pasir. I do not hear this quarrel from the other Opposition Members with their own CCC. He has got an amendment under the CCC subhead and I suggest that he brings this up under that amendment.

Mr Chiam See Tong: An easy way out.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: It is not an easy way out. I have said this before, and I say this again. Public funds are involved. Here is the CIPC fund. What do we do with this fund? We want to let the constituencies enjoy the use of this fund. We go to a public body that can disburse this fund and coordinate the projects in a proper manner. The CCC exists for this purpose and we will continue to keep contact with the CCC, look at the recommendations and decide whether they should get the money or not.

Mr Chiam’s proposal does not get the support of the CCC of Potong Pasir. It is not the concern of the CIPC. The CIPC’s job is to look at applications and make sure that the applications are reasonable, feasible and effective, and give the fund in support of these projects.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: I do understand the town council’s main responsibility. It is for the HDB estate. It is under the Act. But the private estate is part of the town. Is it not part of the town? You call it a town council. It is part of the town. You cannot, of course, apply for funds for improvement works in a private estate.

An hon. Member: It is only for HDB estates.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Yes, it is only for HDB estates. I understand that. I have no quarrel with that. What I am saying is that private estates, being part of the town, the town council can show concern and put up a proposal if the CIPC allows. We are not talking about using town council’s funds. We are talking about putting up proposal on behalf of a private estate within the town to CIPC for consideration.

Mr Choo Wee Khiang (Jalan Besar GRC): There is no basis.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Why is there no basis? It is part of a town.

The Chairman: Order. Yes, Mr Chiam.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Sir, I think the answer from the Senior Parliamentary Secretary is rather unsatisfactory. His Ministry controls the fund and of the two Ministries, MCD and MND, I would say that MND should be the Ministry that should initiate a change on the procedure of application for CIPC funds because it is controlling the purse strings. It is not MCD. So I would urge the Minister not to pass the buck over to MCD and say, “It is none of my Ministry’s concern. Let them solve it.” I would say the buck ends with MND.

I would urge the Minister to take the initiative to change this system of application for CIPC funds. I repeat myself again. If this system is not changed, none of the Opposition MPs would get any assistance fromCIPC for funds for community projects. Can I urge the Minister to initiate the change?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Information and the Arts (Encik Mohamad Maidin B P M): Sir, I just want to clarify from the Member. Before we debate further on whether the responsibility of approving funds for improvement works in the Opposition constituencies should fall with MND or MCD, I think we should get back to the basic question. The general care of the constituency must be the responsibility of the MP. I do not think the Member should pass the buck from our shoulders to MND or MCD. Sir, the complaint made by the Opposition Members, Mr Chiam and Mr Low, is basically that the Opposition wards could not get funds from CIPC for improvement works in their constituencies. In other words, because of this situation, the Members now complain that they cannot do anything to improve the surroundings of the housing estates in their wards. I thought that was the question that was raised because of the current position of funding by CIPC.

Sir, improvements in many constituencies have been made even before CIPC was formed some years ago, and Members of Parliament in this House, whether PAP or Opposition, have done whatever they could to improve their constituencies. The Members of the Opposition have just said that without the CIPC fund, they are ineffective as MPs. They are now trying to pass the buck to MND and MCD. It is not fair.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, we did not say that no improvement works have been done. I think Mr Chiam will agree that the crux of the issue is the system of application which allows only the CCC within the constituency to submit the application. The CCC, given its affiliation to the PAP, will never support Opposition wards and therefore the application of public fund is biased towards the PAP constituencies. As a result, it is unfair. That is the crux of the issue. That is why I was very happy yesterday when the Senior Parliamentary Secretary said, “Well, put up a proposal to fine-tune the system.” Yes, we have put up a proposal to improve the system. Now I would like to know whether the Senior Parliamentary Secretary agrees with our proposal. If he does not agree, why does he not agree that we change the system to allow town councils or MPs to apply directly to CIPC? Of course, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary, being the Chairman of CIPC, we may not get the fund applied for because he can reject it. But never mind. At least he is in Parliament. We can come to Parliament and ask him for justification as to why he refuses to approve certain projects. It is better than going to MCD and MCD says something else. I would like to have an answer.

Mr Choo Wee Khiang: I have actually applied for CIPC funds. I am an advisor to the grassroots organisation as well as the MP. As far as most of us are concerned here, I think we are very happy with the system and if we are so happy with the system, why change it.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: The answer is very simple. This is because you are from the PAP.

The Chairman: Order.

Mr Choo Wee Khiang: Let me finish. I think the grassroots organisations know exactly what is happening in the constituency. They have RC and CCC members, most of whom are local residents. They know exactly which spot to be improved. It is not the MPs because we do not stay in our own constituency. So I think it is better to leave it to RCs and CCCs to come up with proposals which we all are very happy. If Mr Chiam has any proposal in regard to the application of CIPC fund, he should approach Mr Gan and Mr Gan will decide in consultation with the RC and CCC members. If it is reasonable, I am sure the Chairman ofCIPC will be more than pleased to approve.
1.00 pm

Mr Low Thia Khiang rose –

The Chairman: Order. I think hon. Members are repeating the same point over and over again. Unless Members have any fresh points to make, I would like to put the debate to an end. Are there any more new points?

Encik Mohamad Maidin B P M rose –

The Chairman: Do you have any fresh points to make?

Encik Mohamad Maidin B P M: Yes, Sir. This fresh point, in fact, was indirectly raised by Mr Low. Now he is saying that it is the responsibility of the PAP Government to help the Opposition Members so that they can win the next election. This was what he said. But that does not come under the MND budget, Sir.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, I have a fresh point to make with regard to Encik Maidin’s comments. Of course, by virtue of the system of CIPC, it is the PAP Government’s responsibility to make sure that the PAP win the next election and thereby deprive the Opposition wards of funds to improve the estate. Therefore, during the election you can compare and say, “You see, the Opposition has not done much to improve your constituency.”

The other fresh point is with regard to Mr Choo Wee Khiang’s comments. I regret to say that it seems to me that Mr Choo’s grassroots know more about his constituents’ needs than Mr Choo himself. I advise him not to rely too much on the grassroots leaders. Of course, I respect some of them who are really working for the people. But I think that may be his downfall.

The Chairman: Order. We have taken 15 minutes yesterday on this discussion, and almost half an hour today. I will ask Mr Yao to reply and then Mr Chiam can give his concluding remarks.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, with your indulgence, I agree with my PAP colleagues in their unanimous response to Mr Low. Please read the Act and then come back.

Mr Chiam’s point, if I can summarise it, is this. The Ministry of National Development should change the system because under the present system, the Opposition constituencies will never get any funding fromCIPC. That is the point. The day the CIPC approves funding for any project in any Opposition constituency will prove his point wrong. When the day comes, I hope he withdraws all that he says. With that, Sir, at this point, it is not necessary to change the system. It has worked well and it will continue to work well.

The Chairman: Mr Chiam, would you like to wind up the debate?

Mr Chiam See Tong: Sir, Mr Maidin, I think, makes the issue stand on its head. He asked why the Opposition wards need CIPC funding when they can carry on with whatever funds they have and do something. I think he should reverse it and say that all the CIPC funds be given to the Opposition wards and let all the PAP wards do the funding on their own. Why does he not reverse the argument?

The other point is Mr Choo Wee Khiang of Jalan Besar GRC said that he is very happy with the system. Of course, he is happy with the system because he is having all the funds and we are not having it. I am astounded that he makes such a statement. As a senior Member of this House, I would advise Mr Choo that if he does not know his constituency better than his grassroots, I think he had better watch out at the next election.

With that, I thank you for your indulgence, Sir, and withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The sum of $498,806,550 for Head U ordered to stand part of the Main Estimates.

The sum of $11,345,011,200 for Head U ordered to stand part of the Development Estimates.

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5 DEC 1994: COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE

Mr Chiam See Tong asked the Acting Minister for National Development: (a) what is the total amount of funds which have been disbursed by the Government for projects by the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) and how much of the said funds have been released to Opposition-controlled Town Councils for such projects; (b) why the CIPC comprises only PAP Members of Parliament and if non-politicians will be included in the Committee; and (c) if there are any guidelines for the Citizens’ Consultative Committees on how to process applications in support of a CIPC project.

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for National Development (Mr Matthias Yao Chih) (for the Acting Minister for National Development): Mr Speaker, Sir, the total amount of funds which has been disbursed by the Government for Community Improvement Projects Committee projects since the inception of the scheme in April 1990 is $51.2 million.

We do not have records on CIPC funds released to Opposition-controlled Town Councils as the funds are allocated to the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) and not to the Town Councils.

The CIPC comprises Advisers to the CCCs. The nine Advisers on the Committee happen to be PAP MPs.

As the system works well at the moment, there is no need to change the composition of the CIPC.

General guidelines have been provided to CCCs on how to request for funding support for their projects. However, the guidelines do not specify which projects the CCCs should submit. It is up to the CCCs to decide which projects within their constituencies they should support.

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir): Sir, a question has been put to the Minister to specifically ask how much money has been disbursed to Opposition-controlled Town Councils. The Senior Parliamentary Secretary said that the money was disbursed through the CCCs. My question is: is it not incumbent upon the Minister, once a question has been asked, to find out how much money has been disbursed to Opposition wards in regard to CIPC projects? I think it is his duty to find out. How can he come to the House and avoid the question and say that it is the CCCs who are responsible for getting the funds?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, I did not evade his question. No money was given to any Town Council, PAP or otherwise.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Thank you. So no money has been given at all. The next question I want to ask is: is it the policy to refuse grants for CIPC projects to Opposition-held constituencies?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Not at all, Sir.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Then why is it that Potong Pasir constituency has not received even one cent from the Government in regard to these grants whereas PAP wards have obtained $51.2 million? Why was our request for support for a CIPC project, ie, a walkway, refused?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, as far as I know, the Potong Pasir CCC has not applied for any funds. Therefore, they have not been given any funds.

Mr Chiam See Tong: We have to apply through the CCC and that is the rule laid down by the PAP Government, and that is exactly what we did. Permission was refused outright and without reason. Is the Senior Parliamentary Secretary aware of the Potong Pasir Town Council’s request for support of a CIPC project?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, I am not aware of what transpired between Potong Pasir Town Council and Potong Pasir CCC.

Mr Chiam See Tong: In view of a question being filed in Parliament, is it not the duty of the Senior Parliamentary Secretary to find out whether an application has been made for support of a CIPC project at Potong Pasir? Is it not his duty to do so? He cannot just come to Parliament and say, “I do not know anything about it.”

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, I have answered all his questions, including the one on whether any money was given to Opposition Town Councils. His Question is: how much money was disbursed, plus the composition of the CIPC and other details. I have answered all of them. If he asked whether I knew what happened between the Potong Pasir Town Council and the Potong Pasir CCC, I would have found out. But he did not ask, so I did not find out.

Mr Chiam See Tong: The Senior Parliamentary Secretary appears to be rather naive.

Mr Speaker: Mr Chiam, could you get to the point and ask your supplementary question?

Mr Chiam See Tong: Yes. He says that since no such question was asked, it is not his duty to answer any question outside the Question asked. I want to ask him another question: do the grassroots leaders’ decisions reflect the policies of the Government?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: I do not know exactly what he means. But I think the grassroots leaders will decide according to the priorities of the residents in the estate and the constituency.

Mr Chiam See Tong: No. They must decide according to some guidelines. They cannot just arbitrarily decide on their own.

Mr Speaker: Mr Chiam, can you ask your question?

Mr Chiam See Tong: Yes. Do decisions made at the grassroots level reflect the policies of the PAP Government?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, if he is asking a question on how the CCC decides on matters pertaining to the constituency, I think this is the wrong Ministry to ask.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I am just asking a question in regard to your Ministry.

Mr Speaker: Mr Chiam, ask your question, please.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I will be more specific. Do grassroots leaders’ decisions made in regard to CIPC projects reflect the policies of the Government?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, we have not given any instruction to any CCC on how to process these applications.

Mr Chiam See Tong: The Senior Parliamentary Secretary has been reported over TV that most of the CIPC projects will receive Government support if they meet certain criteria and, if I can remember, he said that if they are useful and beneficial to the citizens, they will most probably be given CIPC support. I want to ask the Senior Parliamentary Secretary: is a walkway linking a block of flats to a bus stop a CIPC project?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: If an application for such a project surfaces at the CIPC, the secretariat will evaluate the proposal, whether it links between two points that are frequently used by residents, how much the proposal is going to cost, whether it is ostentatious, using tiles that are unnecessarily expensive. All these things will be evaluated. So I cannot tell him whether a linkway will be approved at all.

Mr Chiam See Tong: The Senior Parliamentary Secretary mentioned about the secretariat. What does he mean by that? Does he mean that once an application has been made to the CCC, the CCC will let the secretariat Ž I do not know what secretariat Ž know of this application? Is that correct?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: That is correct if the CCC makes the application to the CIPC.

Mr Chiam See Tong: What is this secretariat? Can he explain to me?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: The secretariat comprises civil servants and Ministry officials who will process the applications and advise the CIPC on whether the guidelines have been followed.

 Mr Chiam See Tong: Has the Potong Pasir Town Council’s application for CIPC support in regard to construction of a walkway been given to the secretariat for processing?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: No.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Why not, if that is the procedure?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Let me repeat the procedure. If the Potong Pasir Town Council or a resident or a RC or the Civil Defence Coordinating Committee or somebody in the constituency says, “Why not do this?”, the CCC will evaluate. If the CCC supports this proposal, it will draw up specifications, state the budget and submit it to the CIPC. The CIPC will refer it to the officials for initial evaluation. The Potong Pasir Town Council’s project never surfaced, so we are not aware of it.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I want to know why the Potong Pasir CCC did not submit the application for CIPC support to the secretariat.

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: First, I do not know why and, second, if he wants to know why a CCC makes a certain decision, the Ministry of National Development is the wrong ministry to ask.

Mr Speaker: Mr Chiam, do you have any other supplementary questions on this subject? You are straying from the substantive question.

Mr Chiam See Tong: As regards the composition of the CIPC, why should only MPs from the PAP be included in this Committee?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: Sir, if he heard my answer, the nine members are Advisers to the CCCs. They are in charge of CCC projects and whatever the CCCs wish to do for the residents. They happen to be PAP Members of Parliament. This question has been asked many times by Mr Chiam about him being an Adviser. The answer is that he is not an Adviser.

Mr Chiam See Tong: Anyone looking at the composition, with only PAP Members, would it not be deemed that it is very political in nature?

Mr Speaker: Mr Chiam, you are asking more or less the same question over and over again. Unless you have something new to ask, I intend to move on to the next Question. Have you got anything new to ask?

Mr Chiam See Tong: I will ask another supplementary question. Can I assume that Opposition wards will never get the recommendation of their grassroots’ organisation in relation to any application for support ofCIPC projects in their constituencies? Can I take that?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: I do not think he can make such an assumption. Anyway, I cannot answer this because the CCCs will decide on the merits of each application.

Mr Chiam See Tong: I do not believe that the Senior Parliamentary Secretary has no control —

Mr Speaker: Order. Mr Chiam, I think you are still asking more or less similar questions. I will allow you one more supplementary question because we have to move on.

Mr Chiam See Tong: All right. Do you have control over your grassroots’ organisation, ie, the CCC, and its Chairman?

Mr Matthias Yao Chih: That depends on what he means by “control”. Anyway, the Ministry of National Development has no control – if he calls it “control” – over CCCs. It is the Ministry of Community Development that is in charge of CCCs.

_____

The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for National Development (Mr Lee Yiok Seng) (for the Minister for National Development): Sir, I am answering on behalf of my Minister.

The Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) Scheme was implemented, in its present form, in April 1990. The total funds available to the CIPC for community projects from FY 90 to FY 93 amounted to $65 million. The breakdown is as follows: FY 90, $10 million; FY 91, $15 million; FY 92, $20 million; and FY 93, $20 million.

CIPC funds are allocated to the constituency as a whole through the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs). The constituency has HDB areas administered by Town Councils as well as non-HDB areas which are not administered by Town Councils. The CCC decides on the priority of the various project proposals it receives and what items it should support and submits its requests to CIPC for funding.

From FY 1990 to 1st May 1993, a total of about $42 million or 65% of the $65 million available under the CIPC programme has been committed for various projects submitted by the Town Councils through the CCCs.

The amount of CIPC funds committed for Town Council projects varies from Town Council to Town Council, depending on the types of projects approved.

The Town Council projects which have been allocated CIPC funds fall mainly under these categories:

(a) Infrastructure facilities such as street lightings, covered walkways and footpaths;

(b) Recreational facilities such as cycling tracks, playgrounds, outdoor tables; and

(c) General amenities which include landscaping of roadsides and open spaces.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Sir, I think the question asked specifically for the amount given to each Town Council and for which projects were the funds given.

Mr Lee Yiok Seng: Sir, as I have stated, about 65% of the funds available under the CIPC programme had been committed for various projects submitted by the Town Councils through the CCCs. If the Member wants the details for each Town Council, he can write to me or to my Ministry. We will try to give the Member whatever information that is available after consulting the respective Town Councils.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Mr Speaker, Sir, the question asks for the “funds allocated to projects with town council participation and the amount given to each town council”.

Mr Lee Yiok Seng: The CIPC fund is given to the CCCs, not to the Town Councils, and I think this is fair. Town Councils receive direct grants from the Government, particularly for the residents in the HDB areas. We know that in each constituency there are many residents who are not in the HDB areas. So this fund also caters for those residents who are not in the HDB areas and it is for the CCCs to decide on the priority for improvements in their own constituency.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Is it true that though the fund was allocated to the CCCs, the Town Council uses the fund for their project development? The question here asks specifically for the amount for each project in each Town Council.

Mr Lee Yiok Seng: I have stated quite clearly that, under the CIPC programme, 65% of the amount goes to the projects submitted by the Town Councils. And this is the fund allocated to the CCCs. So for the individual Town Council, as I said, he can write to us. We will try our best to give him the information.

_____

30 July 1993: COMMUNITY IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS COMMITTEE FUNDS ALLOCATION 1989-1992

Mr Chiam See Tong asked the Minister for National Development if he will state (i) the total amount of funds allocated by the Community Improvement Projects Committee to Town Councils for community projects in the years 1989 to 1992; and (ii) which Town Councils were granted such funds and how much was given to each of them in each of these years.

Dr Richard Hu Tsu Tau:  Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) funds are allocated to the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs) for projects in the whole constituency and not to Town Councils. Hence, no CIPC funds were allocated directly to Town Councils for community projects in the years 1989 to 1992.

Since the implementation of the CIPC scheme in April 1990, a total of $65 million has been allocated to constituencies through the CCCs. The amount of funds allocated annually ranged from $80,000 to $527,000 per CCC, depending on the size of the constituency. CCCs may propose community improvement projects in HDB areas administered by Town Councils as well as projects in non-HDB areas which are not administered by Town Councils, for funding under the CIPC.

_____

11 MARCH 1992: HEAD U – MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY)

 Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang)(In Mandarin): Sir, every HDB housing estate will be aging after some time. The facilities in the estate would need to be improved, for example, the children’s playground, etc. If these upgrading and improvement works, particularly in the older housing estates, are solely dependent on the town council without funding from any other sources, then more often than not, it will be inadequate.

The Ministry of National Development has a committee known as the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) which is responsible for handling and approving applications submitted by the town councils for community improvement projects. What surprises me is that the application must be submitted through the Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) to the CIPC, and the application must first be approved by the Adviser to the CCC. To the best of my knowledge, the establishment of town council is to represent the town concerned. Why is it that application to the CIPC must be made through the CCC? What is the reason for it?

Take my constituency of Hougang, for example. Prior to the General Elections, an application was made by the CCC of Hougang constituency to the CIPC for the construction of a covered link-way. After the elections, I wrote to the CIPC to make enquiry about it. The CIPC replied that the CCC of the Hougang Constituency had withdrawn its application. When I wrote to the Hougang CCC, the reply I received was that they had never applied. Of course, I understand the reason!

In this process, my experience is that the matter involves two very important questions. One, what is the role of the CCC? The CCC, according to my understanding which is also the Government’s open definition, is a community project consisting of community leaders. Since it is for community work, and improvement to town facilities is also for the good of the community, I fail to understand why they withdrew their application.

On the other hand, another matter which warrants our special attention is that the fund to be allocated by the CIPC comes from the taxpayers’ money. Should not all the town councils and all the tax-paying Singaporeans residing in the constituency be equally and fairly entitled to apply for such funds?

Sir, I hope that the Ministry of National Development will announce to the public the total amount of allocations approved by the CIPC, up till this date, and a breakdown of allocations approved for each individual town council. I would also suggest that the Ministry of National Development set up a Town Facilities Improvement Fund to allocate funds to the town councils for improvements to facilities within the constituency.

The Minister for National Development (Mr S. Dhanabalan): I would like to take the points raised by Mr Low Thia Khiang. Since he is a new Member, he needs some explanation about what the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) fund is all about. He may be aware that there used to be a fund called the Urban and Rural Services Committee (URSC) fund. This was really meant to build roads and put up  street lights in the urban areas as well as the rural areas. The CIPC is something that developed out of that, and the funds administered by the CIPC are not for Town Councils. I would like to underline that they are not for Town Councils. They are for the constituency as a whole. The constituency has HDB areas administered by Town Councils as well as non-HDB areas which are not administered by Town Councils.

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Clarification, Sir.

The Chairman: Do you want to give way?

Mr Low Thia Khiang: Where do the funds come from?

Mr Dhanabalan: If the Member can just be a little patient, he will know where the funds come from. The funds, of course, are allocated to the Ministry and I am trying to explain to him what the funds are for. Where the funds come from, of course, all the funds allocated under the Budget come from the taxpayers as well as earnings from various investments. So the CIPC funds are for the constituency as a whole. And how the funds are to be allocated for various projects in a constituency has to be decided by some body which has responsibility for the constituency as a whole. Under the old URSC system, it was the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) that decided what kind of projects should be carried out in the constituency. So we are carrying on with the system and if Town Councils have projects for which they want funding from the CIPC, they have to go through the Citizens Consultative Committee; and the Citizens Consultative Committee will decide what are the priority items, what items it wants to support and what it does not want to support. That is the system we have and that is the system we intend to continue to practise.

As to the particulars of the projects in Hougang that were submitted by the CCC and withdrawn, he should address those questions to the CCC in Hougang, because I do not know what priority they set for themselves, what are the more important projects, and how they want to use the money. So I cannot give him an answer why the CCC withdrew the application. The CIPC fund is a block vote. We have, of course, internal guidelines but this really need not concern Members. So far, no Member has complained that reasonable projects have been refused funding. I think I have answered all the questions.

_____

 

15 MARCH 1990: MAIN AND DEVELOPMENT ESTIMATES OF SINGAPORE FOR THE FINANCIAL YEAR 1

The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Dr Lee Boon Yang): Sir, the second category is more grants for improvement works. Dr Ho Tat Kin has asked for additional grants to provide the improvements in and about a town. For such works, town councils can apply to the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) for funding. This is a new Committee set up to take the place of the former URSC. Under this funding scheme, Government will pay between 50% and 90% of the project cost up to a limit of $1/2 million per project. Already the Committee has approved 16 such projects amounting to about a million dollars. More projects will be evaluated for funding. If Dr Ho has any plans for upgrading the amenities within his town, he is welcomed to apply to the CIPC.

Dr Koh asked whether reserve sites could be converted into recreational area, preferably funded by the Government. Sir, in planning these housing estates and new towns, HDB is always conscious of the need to provide recreational amenities for the residents. Hence, there are adequate open spaces in every HDB estate and new town. These open spaces include town garden, neighbourhood park, precinct garden, and in the case of new towns, sports and swimming complexes. There is no need to make additional provision over and above what has already been made available. Reserve sites are earmarked for future development, as I said earlier, for residential, schools or other commercial uses. These sites are turfed in the interim and residents are free to use the turfed area for their recreational needs, if they like to.

But if a town council is interested in developing additional recreational facility on the reserve site, then the town council should first write to my Ministry to find out what are the plans on the site, whether the piece of land will be available for interim use of about three to five years, or even more. If the land is not needed for immediate development, then my Ministry can consider proposals from town council to lease this land for development as interim recreational facilities. But since these are additional facilities over and above what HDB has already provided to the residents, I think the town council should be prepared to bear the cost of this development. Of course, if it is a project which the town council is very keen and feels that there is great merit, it can submit the proposal to the CIPC (Community  Improvement Projects Committee) and seek support from Government for funding such projects. But the town council must remember that if it is only for a short period of time, after which the site will be needed for redevelopment, whatever investment that has been put into it will be lost. This is a decision which the council must decide.

_____

 

Written by singapore 2025

07/09/2016 at 9:59 am

Parliament: Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 15 August 2016

Introduction

Mdm Speaker, at paragraph 17 of the judgment in Alan Shadrake, the Singapore Court of Appeal notes that the balance between freedom of speech on the one hand and protection of the administration of justice on the other is at the heart of the law relating to contempt. But rather than to merely codify the common law on contempt in Singapore, this Bill threatens to upset this delicate balance by extending extraordinary powers to the Government.

Contempt by Sub-Judice

The Minister publically remarked after the first reading of the Bill that it merely crystallizes the current legal position on contempt and “does not create anything new”. However, the drafting of Clause 3 suggests this far from the case. If it were so, one would have expected specific reference to the “real risk” test as established in the Alan Shadrake judgment to preface the explanatory statement covering Clause 3. In view of the Minister’s second reading speech, it is now clear that clause 3 does indeed envisage a more stringent test that the “real risk” test in cases of scandalising the court.

However, clause 3(1)(b)(i) on sub-judice contempt, on a plain reading, is also open to interpretation and is hardly determinative. A broad reading of the clause with the conjunction “or” suggests that an individual could be guilty of sub-judice contempt by publishing something that prejudges a pending court proceeding by firstly, prejudicing; secondly, interfering with; or thirdly posing a real risk of prejudice or interference with, that proceeding.

Does this not potentially create different thresholds for sub-judice contempt especially since there is a dearth of Singapore case law on this matter? It also leaves room for the courts to potentially introduce a test other than the “real risk” test, such as the “inherent tendency” test, which has been summarily rejected by the Court of Appeal, albeit in cases of scandalizing contempt, but not sub-judice contempt.

Compounding this ambiguity is the introduction of the term “prejudgment”, a term that is curiously not defined in the interpretation section of the Bill. What does prejudgment entail? Should the Minister argue that it would depend on each case, does he not agree that leaving it open-ended would give the Government significant powers to alter the balance between freedom of speech and the administration of justice to its whim and fancy.

Madam Speaker, on sub-judice contempt in particular, this Bill will legislate vagueness. At best, it would only serve to confuse the public, and does nothing to educate the layman about what qualifies as sub-judice contempt. In reality, it will shrink the common space for discussion on matters of public interest as is typical of human behaviour to be safe rather than sorry. That alone already makes this Bill bad law, negating its very purpose.

No place for fair comment of pending cases?

Furthermore, the concerns many Singaporeans have raised over the clause on sub-judice contempt ought to bring members back to fundamental purpose of the sub-judice contempt in the first place – which is to protect the right to a fair trial.

In his remarks to the media shortly after the first reading, the Minister raised a recent case the 2-year old toddler, Daniel who was abused by his caregivers before he passed away. Minister correctly observed many people were angered by the facts of the case, and Minister queried in such circumstances whether a Defendant would get a fair trial. Interestingly, Minister conceded that the judge – the facilitator in chief in ensuring a free trial – may not be influenced, but instead the witnesses, and the whole environment may be prejudiced or influenced. However, has such a doubt ever been raised in the Singapore context where our judiciary was so helpless as to be unable to oversee a fair trial, and to assess the veracity of the evidence of witnesses? Under the current legislation, it can be argued that many Singaporeans would have conceivably been in contempt when the City Harvest trial was on-going. But did their public comments compromise a fair trial?

Coming back to the toddler’s case, what actually happened and how fast did public anger blow over? Was the judge actually influenced? Were witnesses influenced in spite of negative feedback? And most importantly, did the Daniel’s parents not have a fair trial? To quote the Minister, has the situation “gotten out of control”?

Mdm Speaker, as it stands, there is a “real risk” this Bill would have an unnecessarily detrimental effect on public discourse of matters central to the effective functioning of a participative democracy, and that is why it is so objectionable as it stands.

In reality, there are benefits in allowing the public to comment on cases pending before the courts. For example, in the recent Benjamin Lim case, no reasonable person would argue that the Coroner would not have been able to rule fairly, and this is a testament to the standing of the judicial and legal service, which are already held in the highest esteem not just locally, but internationally as well.

In the Benjamin Lim case, it was the very feedback and concerns raised by the public that contributed to a review of police procedures involving young people and minors before the case was concluded. For most lay Singaporeans, the reality is that criticising policies and the facts central to a pending case will inevitably overlap to varying degrees. That is the very nature of public communication and for the common man, it is not easy to always neatly differentiate between the two. Surely there is a place for fair comment and criticism of pending cases and it does not necessarily follow that freedom of speech has to be curtailed as a result.

Relying on the common law to address sub-judice contempt in egregious cases of sub-judice would more than suffice, so as to preserve a healthy balance between freedom of speech and public confidence in the administration of justice. There is simply no overwhelming reason to pass this Bill when Singapore’s experience with sub-judice contempt in particular has not compromised the conduct of fair trials – the near absence of case law on this matter in our legal history provides the strongest evidence of this.

More Power to the Government

With the passage of this Bill into Law, the Government, and specifically the Attorney-General by virtue of clause 13 now has a potentially overwhelming role in the determining the balance between freedom of speech and the administration of justice. Worse, the Attorney-General only has to prove a prima facie case of contempt, an exceedingly low standard of proof. Even our judges, in whom we have so much respect, are prevented by law from refusing to grant leave should he deem the prima facie standard of proof to be too low and not in correspondence with the public interest in a particular case. In fact, the Government, through the Attorney-General could conceivably abuse the law by virtue of the unclear and highly interpretative words such as prejudge in clause 13(7), and suggestions of a test with a lower burden of proof than the real risk test, which mirrors the identical problematic drafting in clause 3. This vagueness suggests a clear and present danger for civil liberties should the Government decide to interpret the law strictly as drafted, to muzzle alternative voices.

Even worse, making sub-judice contempt arrestable by way of clause 22 and thereby giving the police powers to confiscate personal computers amongst other things appears to be specifically targeted at civil society activists who are not afraid to challenge the Government, and who play their part in serving Singapore by contributing to a diverse public space of voices and views. Proceeding on this course will not only compromise trust between the Government and people in the long run, but between the people and the police as well.

At this stage Madam Speaker, it is useful to review the Government’s record on civil liberties over the last few years in particular.

In 2013 when Parliament passed the Protection against Harassment Bill, the Government canvassed many justifiable reasons for the passage of the Bill. Many were legitimate, such as protecting individuals and public servants from (I quote) “indecent, threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour” (unquote). One would have expected sexual harassment, stalking, bullying in schools to be brought to task under the law, as predicted and in step with the tone of public consultation on the Bill.

But after the Protection of Harassment Bill was passed into law, it was the Government that used the Act to claim harassment from a member of the public in a dispute over a mere patent! It is instructive to recall that during the second reading of the Protection against Harassment Bill, the Minister was silent about the Protection of Harassment Act envisaging the Government as a plaintiff. To then turn around as sue individuals, was a completely unexpected use of the Act by the Government. And if suing an individual was not enough, the Government then proceeded to sue an online news site under the same law!

Earlier this year, the Government proposed and passed amendments to the Government Proceedings Act that allowed the Government to claim costs for more than two legal officers from a plaintiff knowing that the Government has limitless resources to hire the most expensive lawyers and an entire army of civil servants and legal service officers behind it to defend any civil suit.  The Minister-in-charge did not even address why it was amending clause 9 of the Government Proceedings Act, until Ms Sylvia Lim brought it to the attention of the Minister. This seemingly innocuous amendment would inevitably cause an individual to think twice about taking on the Government because of the prohibitive costs involved.

Madam Speaker, even the so-called “sharp edge” of judicial review is blunted when Parliament passes laws that cause ordinary citizens to think twice about mounting a judicial review action, or further strengthens the Government’s hands, as it can conveniently make the case that its actions are within the form and substance of the law as determined by Parliament. This is especially the case for Bills like the Administration of Justice Bill, which is to give the Government maximum scope of action.

In this vein, there are other pieces of legislation over the years that directly impact freedom of speech too, and which have been amended to give the Government greater powers, such as the amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act of 2014, the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notifications of 2013, and of course the Public Order Bill of 2009.

Upon a closer analysis, it is increasingly clear that the Government’s recent record on civil liberties mirror what was known in the heyday of Cold War as “salami tactics” – only that the Singapore version is slightly different and a tad more sophisticated, with the curtailing of civil liberties occurring incrementally, bit by bit or slice by slice, one law at a time which appear justifiable and innocuous when analysed in isolation. Taken together however, they portend a clear and consistent ability to control the public discourse, fair comment and criticism should the Government choose to up the ante to tighten its stranglehold on the public discourse. Viewed in totality, the Government’s approach gives it significant powers to strike fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

Conclusion

To conclude Madam Speaker, how much confidence is one supposed take from a Bill which criminalises contempt by a fine of up to $100,000 at the High Court, and a three-year imprisonment term when the Court of Appeal in Alan Shadrake affirmed a sentence of six weeks imprisonment and a $20,000 fine in what the Court of Appeal called and I quote, “the worst case of scandalizing contempt that has hitherto come before the Singapore courts” unquote. IfAlan Shadrake stands for the worse case of scandalizing contempt in Singapore’s 51-year history, how can the Government justify increasing the prison term and fine by such a wide margin? The Minister commented on a recent civil case where the High Court imposed an imprisonment term of eight months. It would appear that the common law is working fine. Does the Government envisage a higher quantum of fines and imprisonment terms for other contempt scenarios, like sub-judice contempt for example?

Madam Speaker, the Workers’ Party objects to this Bill that overstates the case for the administration of justice to the detriment of freedom of speech.

Written by singapore 2025

19/08/2016 at 9:40 pm

Interview with Lianhe Wanbao (7 Aug 2016)

Original Wanbao Interview (Mandarin): Pritam Singh

REFLECTIONS BY PRITAM SINGH ON THE FACTORS INFLUENCING THE 2015 ELECTION RESULTS: OPPOSITION UNDERESTIMATED THE IMPORTANCE OF GRASSROOTS WORK

Pritam Singh (40 years old) attracted some attention after being elected into the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) with the highest number of votes in June. He was also appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary General, and officially took office on the 7th of July.

Four days later (11th of July), he agreed readily in the morning to be interviewed by this newspaper in the evening. He did not ask for the interview questions to be sent to him beforehand, but instead attended the interview with candour, at a coffeeshop near his Meet-the-People Session (MPS) venue.

Singh looked back on the year after the General Election (GE). He spoke vividly when talking about the moment when the election results were announced.

“I was at the assembly centre at Hougang Stadium when I saw the look of disappointment on the faces of our volunteers of Punggol East. After the results of GE 2011 and the two by-elections in the following 2 years, many young volunteers and members, including myself, have not tasted “blood in our mouth”. This defeat is an important lesson. I feel that in the face of uncertainty, keeping faith is very important. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you may not be able to cross the finishing line”.

On the factors which affected the opposition’s performance, he said: “2015 was a unique year, the passing of our founding prime minister was still fresh in people’s mind, the nation was in a somber mood, and this was an affirmation to the many contributions he made to Singapore”.

He also revealed that discussions within WP concluded that the impact of the Pioneer Generation (PG) Package on many elderly Singaporeans was very significant.

He believes that the Town Council (TC) issue is also a factor, but “I’m not certain as to whether it really affected the voting outcome as compared to the PG Package.”

He thinks another “extremely underrated factor” is that PAP changed course after GE 2011 to invest more on social spending through the budget.

Finally, he felt that most importantly, the PAP had been work harder and putting more effort into grassroots activities.

“There has been very little discussion on this, but I believe it (grassroots activities) has a great influence, whether through publicity in social media or through other channels. The opposition should remind ourselves that it is not sufficient just to appear when the GE is round the corner, publish your manifesto, and expect the public to vote for you.”

SINCERITY IS THE KEY TO THE SELECTION OF CANDIDATES

Pritam Singh admitted bluntly that Singaporeans are “seasoned” voters.

“You really need to do house visits and knock on doors earlier if you have interest in a constituency. This is an important lesson for the opposition. Winning the elections is not as simple as appearing on nomination day.”

He emphasized that this was a lesson the opposition must ponder over, “The key is that we have to internalize these lessons.”

Speaking about preparations for the next GE, “It depends on whether we can find enough candidates, and now, even the so-called blue-collar workers have a better understanding of politics than we imagine them to have. They can tell whether a person is sincere. If the candidate is judged to be insincere, even with impressive qualifications, I think the people will not vote for him”.

He also pointed out that WP looks out for candidates who can interact well with people and who love the country.

“If one does not have impressive qualifications or experience, but is able to interact well with and is passionate about serving people, we are also interested in you. The key qualities are service to the people and the country.”

DOES NOT MIND TO BE LIKENED TO THE PAP

Pritam Singh said that because of low unemployment, the anti-establishment sentiment is not strong in Singapore. “This is credit to the PAP, and they do well at many levels. It is difficult to say whether the next generation will crave for more checks and balances and a pluralistic political system. However as the ruling party, the PAP has the advantage of incumbency”.

The reporter pointed out that the PAP often say they represent the whole population. In this context, what is the population segment that WP represents?

“If you want to be a nationally inclusive political party, you must represent everyone. It is obvious that we have much fewer MPs. However, we will try to do as good a job with our existing resources despite the asymmetry of information and resources. We play the game according to the cards that we have been dealt. Even if the cards are not good, we have to fight this battle and try our best to represent the voices of Singaporeans.”

When talking about the future of the opposition, Pritam Singh highlighted that impact of new citizens should not be underestimated.

“If you come from another country to sink roots in Singapore, and the government gives you the red passport, it is normal for new citizens to be grateful. I cannot say that they will definitely vote for the PAP, but I certainly know that it is a natural advantage for the ruling party. Since 2007, we have seen an annual inflow of twenty thousand new citizens (and many before that). You do not know how they vote, but I feel that the PAP has an advantage in this. Looking at this situation, we may have fewer or even no opposition representation in the future”.

In response to criticisms that the WP is becoming more and more like the PAP, he said “If the purpose of politics is to oppose the ruling party, then we have to ask ourselves why we want to participate in politics. Our aim should be to improve the lives of the people. If this means that we have to be subjected to criticisms that we are too similar to the PAP, then so be it. The responsibility of my party colleagues and I is the welfare of Singaporeans, so even if the opposition is accused of not opposing enough, and being too similar to the PAP, we will continue to work towards that end”.

He believes that the value of the WP to Singapore should be judged using a different set of standards.

“I believe that a rational, responsible and honorable opposition still has a role to play in Singapore”.

ON BEING A FULL-TIME MP

Pritam Singh did not renew his practicing license as a lawyer in March this year to take on the role as the Chairman of Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), and became a full-time MP.

“The next few months are quite critical for the Town Council (TC). In addition to ensuring the smooth delivery of daily operations to serve the residents, we have to also remedy the problems pointed out by the Auditor General, and audit all transactions made with our former managing agent FMSS. If it is established that there were fraudulent transactions, I, as Chairman of the TC, have the responsibility, together with my team, to get back the lost monies”.

“If I continue to practice law, I will inevitably have no time for the TC. I would rather focus on public service. As WP MPs do not have an extensive grassroots network and strong financial support, we have to spend more time and energy to serve the constituents. Having chosen to serve the public through the opposition, I have voluntary chosen to embark on a road full of obstacles. No one forced me with a gun to my head. Along the way, there will be challenges and we will have to endure some knocks, but my party colleagues and I are willing to go through these for the sake of attaining our objective. We must also remember that whatever we do, we have to accept that we are imperfect, and that sometimes we will make mistakes, but we should always have the mentality of serving Singaporeans as we continue on this path”.

ON FAMILY AND DAUGHTER

“My wife and family know why I chose this path, and they also respect my decision. I’m quite thankful for this. Some people face difficulties and resistance from their family members and loved ones in joining the opposition. This has caused immense pressure and difficulties. Fortunately, my family supported my decision, and my wife is a pillar”.

“I have a 15-month-old daughter, and she is a jovial baby. We all hope she can continue like this. I have to manage my time better. For example, reserving Friday evenings or one day a week for my family”.

“I was 38 years old when I became a father, and I always thought that raising children while having a busy career can be difficult. But with the baby, I feel it is a blessing. It opens your mind into another world, and you become more sensitive. It feels good. I will let nature take its course as to whether I want to have a second child, but I will not rule it out”.

ON MR LOW THIA KHIANG

As the WP Secretary-General, Mr Low is not a one-man show. He has the ability to attract people who are patriotic and believe in political pluralism to join us.

“Since joining politics, Mr Low influenced me the most. I watched him for years before joining the party. I understand what he has experienced, as well as his contributions to WP. I admire him, he prefers to walk the talk. He once told Aljunied team, “Please do not disappoint Singaporeans”. We cannot guarantee the election results, but what he meant is for us to do our best. It is a very simple message, but it tells us what to do, and what we are fighting for, in a profound manner. He also encouraged everyone to “not let ourselves down”. Also, do not expect him to encourage you by giving you a pat on your shoulders. He encourages people the old-school way.”

Ends.

Written by singapore 2025

19/08/2016 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Foreign Policy and the Opposition: A Response to Mr Bilahari Kausikan

Former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr Bilahari Kausikan’s remarks at the fifth and final lecture of his IPS-Nathan Lecture Series titled Dealing with an Ambiguous World: Can Singapore Cope? revisited an intractable pessimism and lack of confidence about the approach of the opposition in Singapore – specifically the Workers’ Party – towards foreign policy in Singapore.

Source: Mothership.sg

This opinion was apparently formed on the basis of a parliamentary question I asked the then Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2013, on Singapore’s decision to abstain on the successfully passed United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN to that of a non-member observer.

I say Mr Kausikan’s views on the matter are intractable because this is the second time the very same point he makes has been carried by the Straits Times, although it is the first time he refers to me by name.[1] In fact, Mr Kausikan, has consistently made the identical point, originally found in an endnote of his contribution to a book published by Straits Times Press in 2015 titled The Big Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew.[2]

I will use the rest of this article to address Mr Kausikan’s misgivings, by putting my views on the drivers of my parliamentary question on Palestine in perspective. In doing so, I will identify the shortcomings and partisan nature of Mr Kausikan’s point about the Workers’ Party approach towards foreign policy, which he anchors on the basis of one parliamentary question, albeit recycled three times across three different contributions authored by him.

Before doing so, it would only be appropriate for me to acknowledge Mr Kausikan for his reflections on a broad canvas of topical issues on global affairs as the second speaker of the IPS-Nathan lecture series. They reveal a personality with an acute sense of Singapore’s interests and the trade-offs that determined Singapore’s foreign policies priorities in years past and present. I personally found his reflections on the management of a rising China in the years to come and importance of avoiding invidious choices, insightful.

In making his point that the Workers’ Party plays “fast and loose with foreign policy for partisan purposes”, Mr Kausikan posed three rhetorical questions. Firstly, if the Arab countries did not think Singapore’s relations with Israel and our position on Palestine were problems, why was the Workers’ Party asking questions on Middle East policy? Secondly, and rather sinisterly, was the Workers’ Party trying to stir our Malay-Muslim ground against the government? And finally, would Singapore benefit if Singaporean Muslims become alienated from the government or non-Muslim Singaporeans?

During the question and answer session at the lecture, in a moment of complete serendipity, a member of the audience asked Mr Kausikan, “What was the political reality of being a Malay-Muslim minority in Singapore?”

Mr Kausikan replied, “I have not the slightest idea what they experience and what they feel [as I am] not a Malay-Muslim.”[3]

Politicians in a multiracial and multi-religious country do not have the diplomatic immunity to deflect such questions.

It is apposite to note that nowhere in my parliamentary question did the Arab countries feature. The reason Mr Kausikan saw fit to introduce a red herring, which is not found on the parliamentary record, is best known to him. On the contrary, my parliamentary question sought to query whether the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would consider voting along with the majority of ASEAN members on Palestine-specific issues at the UN in future, particularly since all the ASEAN countries voted in favour of the resolution, barring Singapore.

The Straits Times published the Ministry’s position on the aforesaid resolution on 1 Dec 2012, in a short 125-word piece, citing the upgrade in Palestine’s status at the UN as a “unilateral move” that should be seen “in the context of its efforts for full UN membership.” This position, which largely mirrored that of the US – which voted against the resolution – was a wholly incongruous one for some of my Malay-Muslim constituents, some of whom follow the Israel-Palestine issue closely. Much more closely than I had cared to assume.

As Singapore supported a two-state solution, why was it abstaining from a vote that brought Palestine closer to that reality, they asked? A handful requested me to raise the issue in Parliament, and I duly did as it was a legitimate query in my view. It did cross my mind why Singapore would take such a position, which made it stick out like a sore thumb among its closest neighbours in a largely Malay-Muslim neighbourhood. Could such a position unnecessarily unsettle the Malay-Muslim mainstream in Southeast Asia? Was it a wise position to take? And how was it in Singapore’s interests? In fact, there was no readily apparent reason why the Singapore government chose to abstain, since it consistently supported a two-state solution with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a position the government takes even today.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs provided a lengthy, largely helpful and more detailed reply – in step with the political process in a parliamentary democracy – to say that Singapore had consistently voted in favour of Palestinian resolutions at the UN General Assembly. My point was that this consistent course of action had been lost on many Malay-Muslim Singaporeans as the diplomatic and political signature of Singapore’s decision to abstain from voting in favour of Palestine’s ascension to the UN as a non-member observer, overshadowed our earlier voting patterns on Palestinian issues at the UN.

Even so, the ground sentiments of the Malay community on Palestine did not start to manifest themself as a result of my parliamentary question. To this end, it is helpful to consider some of the public sentiments on the Israel-Palestine issue that have been published in the Straits Times from Singaporeans of all racial and religious stripes, particularly Malay-Muslims. These go some way to answer the loaded question posed by Mr Kausikan – would Singapore benefit if Singaporean Muslims become alienated from the government or non-Muslim Singaporeans? The answer is an obvious one, but wholly irrelevant and unconnected to the point Mr Kausikan seeks to make.

In 2005, the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts and MINDEF organised an exhibition titled The Changing Face of Terrorism, which featured the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a photo montage as a terrorist. More than one reader questioned this characterisation and whether it was fair or accurate. In 2006, in response to a piece by the deputy chief of the Israeli embassy in Singapore, a Sikh Singaporean and Young PAP member questioned why the Straits Times published an Israeli perspective on Israel’s actions in the region without offering a Palestinian position on the same matter. In 2007, the President of PERGAS (Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association), in response to the Israeli ambassador’s call for a dialogue with PERGAS, politely replied that any meaningful dialogue could only take place when Israel ceases its aggression and use of force in the Gaza strip and Southern Lebanon, urging Israel to take a more reflective stance on its past actions. In 2009, a Malay Muslim wrote in to state that the bombing of civilians in Gaza was unconscionable, with another eloquently arguing why Muslim communities around the world were outraged over the death of innocent Palestinians.  In 2014, in an event organised by From Singapore to Palestine (FS2P), a group set up in 2012 to create awareness about the Palestinian situation gathered at Speakers’ Corner to show solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Whether Mr Kausikan cares to admit, the Palestine issue is on the minds of a not insignificant number of Singaporeans. He would have to offer a compelling reason why he considers such foreign policy questions off-limits, even more so in the context of our democratic system of government – and especially since Singapore’s position as an outlier in abstaining on Palestine’s elevation was out of the ordinary from its usual approach. That the Malay-Muslim ground did not “turn against the government” or see “the alienation of the community” by non-Muslim Singaporeans as a result of my question, suggests a flaw in Mr Kausikan’s understanding of the Malay-Muslim ground in Singapore on the Palestine issue.

In the same speech, Mr Kausikan, rather oddly, took issue with another question I asked in parliament on Palestine in 2014, which again, in his view, “could” have inflamed our Malay-Muslim ground. In arguing that the Workers’ Party’s views on foreign policy do not inspire confidence in him, a cursory check of the parliamentary record would show that the 2014 question he refers to, was actually filed by a PAP politician, who was later joined by his PAP colleague enquiring if Singapore could take a stronger stance against Israel!

I had asked a supplementary question on the back of the question filed by the PAP MP on the dangers of self-radicalisation amongst Singaporeans as a result of the shocking images coming out of Gaza, and raising the prospect of this possibility to Israel through the Ministry’s public and private channels. In the name of consistency – which Mr Kausikan argued, in reply to separate question after his lecture, was “overrated” – the ambassador would have to concede that the filing of the question on Palestine and subsequent supplementary questions by the PAP MPs could have inflamed the Malay-Muslim ground as well. Why he chose not to make this point is best known to him.

Mr Kausikan concluded his lecture by stating that he was not pessimistic about Singapore’s ability to cope with the complexities ahead. In so far as the Workers’ Party’s approach on foreign policy is concerned, he ought to have no difficulty in opining similarly.

A check of the parliamentary record would show that on defence and foreign policy issues, the Workers’ Party adopts a measured approach, best appreciated by the tone of the Committee of Supply debates between members of the WP MPs and PAP Ministers. We do not hold back from asking questions on defence expenditure and other difficult issues, as seen most recently by the back and forth between the Defence Minister and Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap on the challenging issue of halal kitchens on our warships. But we do so with the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at the centre of our objectives, and in the context of a multi-racial society where every community has a right to have its reasoned voice heard in parliament. That has been the guiding principle of the Workers’ Party and must be so of all Singaporeans, regardless of our political affiliations.

In the final analysis however, it takes two hands to clap on an existential issue for Singapore such as foreign policy or for it “to stop at the water’s edge” as Mr Kausikan puts it. At this year’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Committee of Supply Debates, which included contributions made by PAP and Workers’ Party MPs, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan remarked, “Mdm Chairman, I thank the Members of the House for sharing their perceptive insights yesterday. I am gratified by our unity of purpose. The friends and protagonists that we have on the international stage will not be so much listening to what I have to say, but rather to the congruence of the discussions and the debates in this House. It is important that we demonstrate unity of purpose.”

Achieving such a unity of purpose on foreign policy in parliament is not an alien concept to the Workers’ Party. Nothing is stopping the government and ambassadors like Mr Kausikan from engaging opposition politicians with a view to achieve this unity outside parliament too.

_____________

[1] “Foreign Policy is no laughing matter”, The Straits Times, 8 June 2015.

[2]  In the book, Mr Kausikan also took issue with the Secretary-General of the Workers’ Party, Mr Low Thia Khiang for asking the Minister of Foreign Affairs why Singapore had brought the Indonesian transboundary haze issue to the UN in the past, but not in 2013, on the back of the worse episode of haze to affect Singapore. To Mr Kausikan, this was “politicking”.

[3] See video from 1.31.30 onwards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gViA1O9L934

Written by singapore 2025

27/05/2016 at 2:42 pm

Parliament: Budget Speech (2016) Pritam Singh – 5 April 2016

Budget 2016: Fiscal Prudence and Sustainability – Deepening the Discussion

Introduction

Madam Speaker, this is the first Budget that allows the Government to tap on Temasek’s Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) alongside the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), presenting the Government with a cumulative total of $14.7b. This is a substantial increase of about 48% from the NIRC of $9.9 billion at the Government’s disposal last year and has given this Government more leeway and flexibility to implement its plans, with a $3.4b surplus as well.

Madam Speaker, the focus of my speech is to persuade the Government to consider a deeper discussion of fiscal prudence and the trade-offs in determining our budget priorities. By doing so, we can have a richer discussion on the budget and my speech will seek to provide some suggestions on the contours of such a discussion.

A misplaced fear of Welfare?

As with almost all budget announcements made over the last few years in particular, it is usually followed by a discussion in some quarters – especially in commentaries and forum pages – about whether the government is turning populist, or if welfare is taking root in Singapore, or a combination of similar themes. Very seldom are fears of welfare accompanied by a look at the overall fiscal state of affairs both in the short and long term.

The additional details in this Budget about the Silver Support package exemplify a recognition by the Government that there are many Singaporeans – more than 140,000 of them in fact – who are not adequately equipped for retirement and live precarious lives, perhaps not only physically, but more significantly, even mentally. The total expenditure for this year’s budget comes up to $73b.The $330m (0.4% of the total budget) expended on the Silver Support package will rise in the years to come because of our demographic profile. To put things in some perspective, the state collects $2.2b a year in gaming revenue. Our vulnerable elderly deserve to retire with dignity. That must be a central social objective of the Singapore system.

No discussion of financial prudence can escape the important behavioural question of ensuring our society retains a positive work ethic with permanent schemes like Silver Support and Workfare. However, this question should be posed with a sense of not just perspective, but also proportion, in view of the demographic transition in Singapore and the structural changes that come with economic transformation, both of which will become more apparent in the years to come.

More details to better understand sustainability

How can we better approach a discussion on the budget going forward?
Firstly, the evolution of technology and data analytics ought to make discussions on budget projection generate more light rather than heat. In the same way MINDEF human resource planners can project with sufficient granularity the number of men that will serve National Service in about 20 years time, and as a consequence determine force size and structure to a reasonable degree, a richer public debate on permanent schemes like Silver Support can take shape if we assess the sustainability of such schemes with a longer-term perspective in mind. This would help the public to better understand the overall costs and sustainability of such schemes rather than leave it conjecture.

For example, a more coherent and holistic public debate on the pros and cons of potentially expanding Workfare can also take place if the public is presented with tools to better understand how much such permanent initiatives are likely to cost years down the road. Many Singaporeans have in the past suggested tweaking Workfare to raise the cash component. Currently, a 50 year-old employee earning $1800 on Workfare gets an additional $9 in cash and $13 in CPF contributions every month, with the amount payable every quarter, subject to the number of months he or she remains employed.

However, an important consideration in the context of fiscal prudence, and understanding such permanent schemes better could be, for example, an exercise that compares raising the WIS pay-out amounts as compared against the initiative announced in this year’s budget which increases the income eligibility threshold from $1800 to $1900 (Erratum: from $1900 to $2000). How many additional Singaporeans would benefit by this threshold rise and is there scope to further raise the payouts under WIS, and if so, what would be the specific impact on the budget, and would it be wise? Such enquiries will make the public better appreciate trade-offs and operationalise the meaning of fiscal prudence.

Companies and businesses on “Welfare”?

A second trend that often repeats itself prior to the budget debate are the wishes of specific industries or industry leaders who call for more reliefs or taxpayer support. What we do not see much of in the mainstream media is a debate about whether some companies have grown to expect the equivalence of constant assistance or “welfare” from the state, without the same scrutiny extended to permanent schemes for the needy or less well-off.

Like permanent schemes that help individual Singaporeans, a fuller public discussion on fiscal prudence should also extend to companies and industries, and enquire whether budget initiatives indeed achieve the policy outcomes they were intended for. For example, it would be helpful for the Government to set out how much the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme (PIC) has actually improved national productivity numbers or even spurred innovation, even as this year’s budget heralds a reduction of PIC pay-outs going forward. This is relevant, as even the Government has acknowledged that some companies have used their PIC credits to buy equipment they do not need. Fiscal sustainability would also require accounting for the extent of such leakage and unintended consequences as well.

The lessons learnt from the shortcomings of the PIC scheme should be transferred to the budget’s announcement of the three-year $400m Automation Support Package, specifically with regard to grants, which assist in the rollout of new automation projects and investment allowances. This would ensure that technologies introduced actually improve productivity as envisaged.

Incentivising the Industry Transformation Programme

Moving forward, and specifically on the budget’s announcement of the $4.5 billion dollar Industry Transformation Programme with 20 sectors earmarked for development, it would be worthwhile to consider how companies and sectors that do the most to raise productivity, improve skills and innovation as well as promoting internationalization can benefit more from taxpayer dollars than those that do not. One way to effect this differentiation is to consider a higher cap on corporate income tax rebates than the current $20,000 cap for companies that record real productivity gains. For example, the cap can be progressively lowered or even removed completely for companies that do not meet the policy objectives of the scheme.

It would also be important for any exercise in fiscal prudence to distinguish and incentivize activities that actually create something tangible that have a real trickle-down effect as opposed to economic initiatives that just (I quote) “rotate around the high-finance microcosm enriching the 1% as they buy and sell existing assets to one another, bidding up their value, while failing to invest in research, products, jobs or innovation.” (unquote) – an apt descriptive which I read in a recent TIME magazine article that reviewed a new US primetime TV show, titled Billions.

Keeping Singaporeans at the core of the budget’s priorities

Madam Speaker, even as our businesses are incentivized to transform, they must keep Singaporeans at the centre of their efforts. To this end, the Industry Transformation Programme should identify and thereafter prejudice firms that are what the Ministry of Manpower calls double-weak firms – weak in having a Singaporean core and weak in their commitment to fair hiring practices and the development of Singaporeans. Likewise, these companies should be restricted from benefitting from corporate income tax rebates or tapping on the grants that go up on the business grants portal that is to be established in the fourth quarter of this year. An inclusive Singapore must be underwritten by Singapore-based companies that support the employment prospects of Singaporeans.

Conclusion

In conclusion Madam Speaker, a in recent book titled, Industries of the Future by Alec Ross, the former innovation adviser to Hilary Clinton portends a future where medical technology, robotics, coding, big data etc. will make many jobs redundant, amongst other interesting predictions. In this context, a deeper and more sophisticated public discussion on fiscal prudence, sustainability and accountability of budget expenditure in a more ambiguous future becomes more, not less urgent. It would also have the parallel effect of engendering a more inclusive citizenry that is rooted to Singapore’s long-term success.

Madam Speaker, I support the budget.

Written by singapore 2025

05/04/2016 at 7:03 am

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