Singapore 2025

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Archive for September 2014

Pritam Singh: Reply to letter in Lianhe Zaobao on Humanitarian support for Gaza

ZaobaoOriginal letter sent to Lianhe Zaobao  and published (see above) on 8 Sep 2014

I refer to the article published on 3 Sep 2014 and thank Mr Ye for his letter. Mr Ye would know that PAP MPs who participated in last month’s parliamentary debate on the Israel-Palestinian conflict on 5 Aug 2014, like me, also enquired about the prospects of Singapore taking a stronger position in the matter. Hence, I am puzzled by the title of the article, “MP should take into account national interest when taking a stand on international conflict”.

I would like to clarify that insofar as my support for Palestine is concerned, I support all initiatives that lead to a peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict resulting in a just and internationally recognised settlement which creates a sovereign homeland not just for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but one which ensures the right of Israel’s existence as well. Until a final settlement is reached, I also support all humanitarian efforts to assist all those affected by the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a Facebook post on 23 July 2014, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also called on Singaporeans to keep the victims of the conflict in Gaza in our “thoughts and prayers”. The Prime Minister also encouraged Singaporeans to donate towards humanitarian assistance efforts in Gaza. Since then, many Singaporeans of all races and religions have contributed generously. Singaporean Malay-Muslims contributed more than $1.2 million through all the 68 mosques in the country.

Mercy Relief, a secular and well-known Singaporean organization only last weekend organized ‘Pause for a Cause’ in Orchard Road, to raise money towards the humanitarian fund raising efforts in Gaza. Mercy Relief also organized a charity playdate at Northstar@AMK and collaborated with a well-know yoga operator, Sadhna Sanctuary to raise funds for the same purpose.

At its recent Hari Raya celebration for Aljunied GRC residents held at Jalan Damai, Workers’ Party MPs and members who had also joined the call to raise funds for the humanitarian effort in Gaza, handed over a cheque to the Badan Agama Dan Pelajaran Radin Mas (BAPA) or Religious & Educational League Of Radin Mas, a non-profit social organization which was first formed in Singapore in 1957.

Mr Yap would appreciate that Singapore is an open society and because of our international trade connections and a more interconnected world today, Singaporeans, including younger Singaporeans, are likely to be much more engaged in international affairs in future, not less. This is also part and parcel of citizen participation in a parliamentary democracy.

I believe that as a people living together in a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society for close to 50 years, we can understand each others’ sentiments and concerns, and even emotional responses to different events within our region and around the world. We should continue to respect each others’ views and allow one another the space to express views and feelings of happenings around us and the world, while being mindful of the sensitivities, and exercise self-restrain and tolerance towards each others as Singaporeans.

Pritam Singh
MP for Aljunied GRC

Original Letter by Mr Ye dated 3 September 2014

photoAljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh recently called upon the government to take a stronger position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and had earlier openly expressed support for the “Save Palestine” movement

(I am not sure what ‘Save Palestine’ movement Mr Ye is referring to in this case. I assume it is for the letter of support I gave one of my resident’s who sought to hold a charity fundraising concert on HDB land in Eunos in aid of the humanitarian effort in Gaza, with proceeds from the concert going to Mercy Relief).

From my position of as an ordinary citizen, I am very curious to know in what capacity MP Pritam Singh is expressing his support. Is it in his personal capacity? Or does he represent all Aljunied MPs to do so?

According to press reports, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both sides had used firepower / aggressive methods to inflict casualties on their opponents.

Foreign Minister Shanmugam, in answering an oral parliamentary question in Parliament in August filed by Chua Chu Kang MP Zaqy Mohamad, emphasised that Singapore supports following international law will support sanctions/punishments in accordance with international law.

In the current complex situation, both Israelis and Palestinians are blaming each other. Frankly, they should be accountable to the blameless dead and injured civilians, and in seeking to achieve their political aims, they should not sacrifice the safety and lives of civilians.

Currently, despite the international community’s hard efforts through various channels, the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities continue, showing the limitations of the international community. Whoever is in the wrong, we should leave it from the UN Human Rights Council to investigate. Singapore has already publicly stated its neutrality, and supported an international resolution, but is more realistic about her own ability to influence the conflict, since neither Israel nor Hamas is dependent on Singapore.

I am worried about MP’s intention being misunderstood and misinterpreted in our multi racial and religions Singapore society. This might serve as a negative demonstration can cause social polarisation.

Reflecting further, if communities take sides in international conflicts which have yet to stabilise, will this cause tension among the different communities here? What purpose will be achieved by openly stating such positions? As a small country, what right does Singapore have to state its view in this conflict?

I hope when taking stand/s on foreign affairs, the MP can consider the impact it will have on our multi racial and religion society, and to consider carefully the message that is being sent out/conveyed when openly supporting any movements.

Mr Ye

Useful links:

MFA Press Release: Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam’s reply to the Parliamentary Question and Supplementary Questions, 5 Aug 2014:

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Occupied Palestinian Territory:


Written by singapore 2025

13/09/2014 at 9:33 am

A (very) short history behind the latest Causeway tolls hikes

So, as forewarned by the Land Transport Authority, Singapore has matched Malaysia’s toll hikes at the Causeway. This was a long-time in coming.Rates

As a result of the angst this issue has created, some Singaporeans feel our Government should bear the blame for this by increasing Vehicle Exit Permit (VEP) charges in July this year, thus giving Malaysians an opportunity to respond in kind. The history behind this issue is a little murky so here is my attempt at shedding some light to the matter.
In 2008, it was reported that the Malaysian government had awarded a RM 1.2 billion contract for the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL) to Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB), a company linked to the ruling UMNO party. Contract promoters saw it as a way to alleviate congestion in Johor Bahru city but the contract contained a lucrative 34-year toll concession for MRCB. The contract also called for the collection of this toll not on the road itself, but at the Malaysian side of the causeway.

On the EDL project information sheet for investors, the toll charges would range from RM$6.20 for cars to RM$12.40 for lorries, with rates to be reviewed every three years, peaking at RM$14.60 for cars, and RM$29.20 for lorries.

EDL-IntroductionOn 1 April 2012, the Eastern Dispersal Link finally opened to traffic but no decision was taken by the Malaysian Government about imposing tolls. Apparently, Malaysia did not take a decision on the matter largely because of their upcoming general elections, and the effect of such a toll on voters, especially on Malaysian businesses that rely on Singapore as a source of supply.

As early as 2012, the Singapore position has been clear. Any toll hike will be met by Singapore, on the basis of “some form” of a matching principle.

The matching principle originated when the Second Link was opened in Tuas in 1998. Then, the Government said it was entitled to charge a toll as it spent some $600 million dollars on building the second link bridge in contrast to the $200 million spent by Malaysia.

Today, this matching principle appears to have found itself a new basis –  ‘we will raise if you raise, we will reduce if you reduce’. (see 2014 parliamentary exchange below).

But the basis behind this matching principle, if accurate, appears to be at odds with the Government’s public messaging about Iskandar Malaysia, an area of land about three times the size of Singapore in Johor, that has been vaunted as complementing Singapore.

In May 2014, PM Lee, at a Malay-Muslim business conference was quoted as saying that Small and Medium Entreprises (SMEs) seeking to venture abroad should seriously look at Iskandar:

“All SMEs want more foreign workers…..SMEs will have to turn away business because they cannot find workers….(SMEs) can take advantage of lower costs, and greater supply of land, while staying close to Singapore…..I encourage companies to consider this seriously.”

A month earlier in April 2014, at a joint press conference with the Malaysian Prime Minister, PM Lee was quoted as saying that Iskandar was a “strategic play” that can lift Malaysia above its global competitors and help Singapore maintain its competitive edge.

The contradictory forces generated by Singapore’s decision to match Malaysia’s toll hikes on the one hand and the complementary economic relationship of Iskandar to Singapore on the other aside, it would appear that Singapore’s coffers will see a windfall shortly (assuming conservatively that only 10,000 cars cross the causeway each day, on the basis of 30 day month, the government will collect around $23m a year).

Where did Iskandar figure in Singapore’s toll hike? Could it have considered a less steep hike in toll charges in view of the fact that Singapore did not contribute to constructing the EDL? Even so, if a decision had been taken by the LTA not to increase toll charges, it would inevitably have been read as a signal by some in Malaysia, that Singapore will not react to terms in contracts such as those that led to MRCB being awarded the concession for the EDL, with potentially more road construction in Malaysia ultimately funded mainly by Singaporean taxpayers. Perhaps this is what the Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo meant when she said in parliament, “there is no assurance that toll charges foregone by one side will be translated into lower total charges which benefit motorists.”

But in the meantime, the lustre of Iskandar has gone a little dull with no connection made by the Government of its decision to match Malaysian toll rates at the Causeway and in the same breath, its promotion of Iskandar to SMEs.

Malaysia is in the meantime looking into the prospect of introducing its own Vehicle Entry Permit for foreign cars (read Singapore and Thailand) in the near future, with some unverified reports touting figures of up to RM$50 per vehicle. It is not known what effect this would have on the Iskandar project, unless Malaysia has calculated that it can go it alone with capital from other investors such as the Middle East, at the same time concluding that a more crowded Singapore and increased business costs in the city-state in the years to come would guarantee enough Singaporean business and tourist visitors anyway.

Source: PM Lee Twitter

Source: PM Lee Twitter

In anticipation of the Singapore’s toll hikes, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) met in Batu Pahat, Johor last month to solicit feedback on the issue. In their joint statement, both parties called for an “extensive study…to alleviate the burden on various parties.” This carefully-worded statement make it clear that the toll hikes go well beyond Iskandar.

Should more have be done by both Malaysia and Singapore to alleviate the burden of increased tolls on ordinary Singaporeans and Malaysians? One would have hoped so. But in the final analysis, Iskandar did not matter, both for Malaysia and Singapore.

Now with talk of a “Friendship Bridge” between Singapore and Malaysia mooted in April 2014 by PM Najib and PM Lee, the financing of such a link may well be the first issue for both Singapore and Malaysia to resolve.


Useful Links:

1. PM Lee urges SMEs to consider Iskandar for expansion:

2. Iskandar strategic to Singapore and Malaysia, says PM Lee:

3. Parliamentary Question on Matching Toll Charges at the Causeway and Second Link (9 Sep 2014)


Parliamentary Question on Matching Toll Charges at the Causeway and Second Link

Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Transport whether LTA plans to review its long-standing policy of matching toll charges at the Causeway and Second Link to those set by Malaysia in future; and (b) whether a Whole-of-Government study has been carried out by Singapore to assess the prospect of higher toll charges on Singapore businesses operating in the Iskandar zone in Johore.

Mrs Josephine Teo (for the Minister for Transport): Mdm Speaker, toll charges at the Causeway and Second Link were introduced by Malaysia in 1998. Our matching policy reflects the shared nature of the two crossings, and ensures a fair distribution of total revenues from the crossings. Without a matching policy, lower toll charges by one side may simply be offset by higher tolls levied by the other side. There is no assurance that toll charges foregone by one side will be translated into lower total charges which benefit motorists.

Hence, in response to Malaysia’s Causeway tolls revision on 1 August 2014, we have announced Singapore’s intention to match Malaysia’s new and increased toll charges in due course.

The Government has limited information on the cost structures and market conditions of Singapore businesses operating in the Iskandar zone in Johore. But clearly, there will be some impact on their costs.

In this regard, we note reports in the Malaysian media that the Malaysian authorities will review the tolls. Should Malaysia reduce or do away with the toll charges, Singapore will follow suit. This would be welcomed, I think, by both Singapore and Malaysia businesses on both sides of the Causeway.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Speaker, I would like to thank the Senior Minister of State for that very helpful clarification. I have three supplementary questions for the Senior Minister of State. First, did the Malaysian government forewarn Singapore their intention to raise toll charges at the Causeway on 1 August, and have there been any joint discussions about this round of toll hikes since 1 August so as to manage costs for Singaporeans and Malaysians travelling to and fro both countries?

The second question is: did the Singapore Government inform its Malaysian counterparts when it planned to increase VEP charges in July this year, and if not, does it plan to do so going forward?

Finally in view of the close relationship between Singapore and Malaysia, especially between the Prime Ministers in recent years, has the Government suggested to the Malaysian authorities to consider tagging the additional toll from 1 August along the Eastern Dispersal Link rather than at the CIQ, so as not to penalise drivers who do not use the Eastern Dispersal Link and only travel into Johor Bahru city?

Mrs Josephine Teo: Mdm Speaker, the answer to the Member’s first question is “No”. We were not informed in advance of Malaysia’s intention to increase the tolls at the Causeway. The answer to his second question is “Yes”. We informed our Malaysian counterparts in advance why there is a need to revise the VEP fees. As I have explained in my answer to the first question, is really because the cost of owning a Singapore-registered vehicle and using it on Singapore roads has risen, whereas the VEP fees which was meant to equalise the similar cost for a foreign-registered vehicle had largely remained unchanged. And so, yes. Our Malaysian counterparts were aware of the intention to raise VEP fees.

The answer to the Member’s third question is “Yes”. We very much would like our Malaysian counterparts to come to the discussion tables, and look at what are the better ways of managing this issue of the Causeway tolls. Our long-standing policy is well known to our Malaysian counterparts, and that means if the Causeway tolls levied by the Malaysian side were to be reduced or removed, we would do likewise.


Written by singapore 2025

13/09/2014 at 8:21 am

Posted in Parliament

Parliament: Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 8 September 2014

Mdm Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on this Bill, which I support. Nonetheless, I seek clarifications from the Senior Minister of State on clause 14 in particular.

Clause 14 of the Bill re-enacts section 65B to cover all handheld devices which are designed or capable of being used for a communicative function. This extends an offence to the use of a device’s non-communicative functions such as surfing on the Internet, visiting social media platforms and downloading videos. The new laws are envisaged to apply to devices such as tablets computers and any communicative device, not only mobile phones. The proposed law does not explicitly ban the use of such devices if they are mounted on the dashboard or windscreens of vehicles or if they are used at traffic junctions. Some motorists have remarked this would mean it would not be illegal to type out an email on a device which has been mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard while driving along a busy road.

As far as the Bill stands, a driver could conceivably type out an email while driving as long as the device is mounted and he would not fall foul of section 65B. I am not sure whether this is necessarily a better way to reduce the number of distractions a driver can fall victim to, especially if Members consider the fast pace of life in Singapore and our increasingly crowded roads. To this end, a part-time taxi driver was quoted in TheStraits Times, musing, “What is the difference between holding the phone and mounting it in a holder? I have a holder and when I touch the phone on the holder, I am not concentrating. It is not an offence but it is still a distraction.”

While the taxi driver’s concerns are valid, a motorist could nonetheless fall foul of another section, namely, section 65 of the Act which metes out an offence of driving without due care and attention and without reasonable consideration. However, for an enforcement officer, in view of the broad “catch-all” ambit of section 65 of the Road Traffic Act, it would appear that it would take an egregious violator to result in a successful prosecution.

To this end, I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State: how many motorists have been summoned under the “catch-all” section 65 last year and the in first half of this year, with specific references to being distracted by mobile devices including tablets, for example?

Secondly, according to the National Safety Council in the United States, 23% of all crashes each year involve handphone use. I would like to ask the Senior Minister of State if the Ministry keeps similar statistics on the local situation and if he could share them with the House.

Mdm Speaker, while I welcome the clarity and updating of section 65B, this clause could have been more emphatic about the dangers of being distracted by communicative devices of any nature while driving a vehicle. Numerous local media reports since the Bill was first read in the House have noted that Singaporeans regularly use mobile phones and devices while driving, especially when waiting for the lights to change at traffic junctions. The President of the Automobile Association of Singapore, citing a 2013 American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah report, was quoted in TheStraits Times noting that the use of mobile devices could distract drivers in two ways: firstly, through inattention blindness, where drivers fail to visually process or remember what their eyes see; and secondly, through tunnel vision where drivers gaze centrally ahead instead of scanning their surroundings.

Foreign jurisdictions, in view of the danger surrounding the use of mobile devices while driving, host clearer laws with less ambiguity. It makes enforcement less subjective and more straightforward as well. For example, in the United Kingdom, it is illegal to drive using a handheld phone or similar device even if one has stopped at the traffic lights or is queuing in traffic. A driver can, nonetheless, use a hands-free kit, two-way radio or a satellite navigation device, but is nonetheless liable to be stopped and penalised if the Police think the driver is distracted and not in control of the vehicle. The laws are broadly similar in Australia. More fundamentally, under the re-enacted section 65B, an offence is only meted out if the motor vehicle is in motion akin to current legislation under the same section.

It would appear that this section’s re-enactment could have afforded the Ministry a better opportunity to send a stronger signal to the public on the dangers with regard to the use of communicative devices on the road per se.

To this end, I would like to enquire from the Senior Minister of State what deliberations took place in the Ministry when determining the amendments to section 65B on this point, especially when compared to the laws in foreign jurisdictions. What differences are present in foreign jurisdictions as compared to the local situation which merits our laws allowing the use of mobile devices and communicative devices now at traffic stops and junctions? Does this not encourage the continued use of the device should the signal change, perhaps just to type out the final line of an SMS or an email on a tablet mounted on the dashboard or, worse, send out an email while driving? If so, how effective is the law really in changing the behaviour of motorists on the road?

In conclusion, I certainly hope the amended section 65B arrests the prospect of errant drivers and, as a consequence, reduces the number of summons Singaporeans receive under section 65B. However, an approach targeted at behavioural change may well be more useful in getting motorists to improve their driving habits with the view to better road safety and separately, more straightforward enforcement as well. I hope the Ministry considers this going forward.

Written by singapore 2025

08/09/2014 at 7:52 am

Posted in Parliament

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