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Archive for November 2014

Parliament: Workers’ Party opposes Constitution (Amendment) Bill (Pritam Singh) – 4 Nov 2014

Workers’ Party opposes the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill 

Madam Speaker, the Workers’ Party opposes the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill.

The Workers’ Party is uncomfortable about the appointment of short-term Senior Judges who can be re-appointed after 65. The renewal of these short-term positions are contingent on whether renewal is recommended by the Prime Minister and concurred by the President. The new Article 95(2) provides that a person who is 65 years of age of older may be appointed as the Chief Justice, a Judge of Appeal or a Judge of the High Court for a specified period. The Workers’ Party position is that this weakens a concept critical to judicial independence, namely, the security of tenure.

Democracy and Judicial Independence  

According to the former Chief Justice (CJ) Mr Chan Sek Keong:

[T]he “freedom to choose one’s Government is a hallmark of democracy” and that the “governors and the governed must respect the law and all are equal before the law. But respect for and subjection to the law can only be sustained if a neutral institution exists to ensure that the law is respected and enforced against all. That institution, in all democracies, is the Judiciary” and it is “the lynchpin of a democratic society and the rule of law.” Critically, the former Chief Justice notes, “the ability of the Judiciary to fulfil such a role is by no means automatic or assured; this is heavily contingent on it being an independent institution.”

Madam Speaker, these observations of the former CJ appeared in a Singapore Academy of Law Journal article in 2010 titled,Securing and Maintaining the Independence of the Court in Judicial Proceedings. The former CJ’s thesis was that the independence of the Judiciary hosted a theoretical and practical component.

The theoretical component noted that judicial independence can be secured by surrounding judges with a protective wall against pressure from political appointees, parliamentarians and pressure groups with specific agendas. This protective wall can be categorized according to what secures independence “to individual members of the judiciary and those that secure the independence of the Judiciary as an institution.” According to CJ Chan, protection afforded by this wall gives the Judiciary the impetus to carry out its Constitutional role and gives judges unfettered freedom to adjudicate disputes without fear or favour and according to law.

Now what are the components of this wall for individual judges? They include lifelong security of tenure and remuneration, immunity from civil suits, adequate remuneration and pension rights.

What are the components of the wall for the judiciary as an institution? Well they include, a fair process for judicial appointment, adequate funding and support for the Judiciary and, respect and support for the Judiciary in general.

Lost opportunity to strengthen Judicial Independence in Singapore?

Madam Speaker, the Workers’ Party is of the firm belief that this amendment to the Constitution offers the Government an opportunity to strengthen and reinforce the protective wall around the Judiciary to carry out its Constitutional role.

In accordance with our manifesto, the Workers’ Party is of the view that the Constitution should be amended to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 65 to 70 years with no prospect for extension by the Government thereafter. While extensions and short-term appointments are administratively convenient, it is the Workers’ Party view that they weaken the protective wall that upholds judicial independence.

Under the existing regime, which this Bill re-enacts, it is conceivable that a judge past the retirement age may be retained by the Government because his or her judgments are “safe” ones and acceptable to the Government, even as the Judiciary remains a separate organ of state. While I am not suggesting that this has occurred, such judgments may well be read as a signal by other judges who have not reached retirement age, as a factor that might determine the prospects for future judicial employment past the statutory retirement age or for a permanent appointment in the case of Judicial Commissioners. Such a prospect could threaten to breach to the protective wall upholding judicial independence and confidence in the Judiciary.

It is apposite to note, as CJ Chan did in his article, that there was also a practical component to judicial independence – namely, that each judge must believe in and maintain the integrity that the judicial office requires of him or her, and that no protective wall can maintain judicial independence should judges be unwilling or unable to exercise personal independence in discharging their duties and functions.

Future-Proofing Judicial Independence

Madam Speaker, we have a first class Judiciary. There is no reason to doubt the integrity of our judges. However, judicial independence as an institution may well take centre-stage and remain in the spotlight in the years to come as our polity becomes more plural and as our citizens turn to the court to adjudicate or clarify disputes covering administrative action and social norms. Before that happens, the Government would be well placed to institutionally strengthen the protective wall of judicial independence so that confidence in the Judiciary remains high. Relooking at concept of security of tenure is good place to start.

In fact, there are some signs that the Government is working to buttress the concept of judicial independence. In the Prime Minister’s speech to Legal Service Officers (LSOs) on the 20th of March 2014, it was announced that a separate judicial track would be created for LSOs. While the structure of the Legal Service remains an integrated one – hence retaining room for improvement – this change is an improvement from the current situation where legal officers rotate between appointments in the State Courts as Magistrates and District Judges, and as Deputy Public Prosecutors in the Attorney-General’s Chambers heightening the prospects of a conflict of interest and a potential lack of judicial independence.

The creation of a separate judicial service at the State Court level is a better measure to guard against members of the Executive from influencing the career and advancement of Judges at the State Courts, since the judicial officers career track will now be assessed by the Judicial Branch Personnel Board and not the Legal Branch Personnel Board. In effect, what this change as announced by the Prime Minister does is to play some small, but not imperceptible, part in strengthening the protective wall of judicial independence. Even if this may not be the stated intention of the Government, it ought to operate as such.

Mdm Speaker, this amendment to the Constitution would have been a good opportunity for the Government to address judicial independence with an acute focus on the future of the Judiciary in Singapore. To make it better and to reinforce that protective wall.  Along with the prospective introduction of a  judicial service at the State Courts, it would have also been an opportunity for the Government to address judicial independence globally, across the courts in Singapore.

Other Constitutional Changes Proposed

On the other changes proposed by the Bill, the Workers’ Party does not object to setting up of the International Commercial Court and the creation of the post of an international judge as it is not envisaged to have direct ramifications on areas of sovereign domestic law which remain the domain of local judges and because it has the potential of making Singapore a key centre for legal work in Asia.

I have a clarification for the Minister about the government’s thinking behind the possible appointment of multiple Deputy Attorney-Generals. The AGC already accommodates for the appointment of a Solicitor-General and a Second Solicitor-General. Could not taxpayer money have been better utilised to strengthen the middle ranks of the Attorney-General’s Chambers if a heavier workload is the reason for the creation of the office of one or more Deputy Attorney-Generals?

Finally, I seek clarification from the Minister about the replacement of pensions with gratuities for members of the Public Service Commission, the Auditor-General and the Attorney-General going forward.

Madam Speaker, in 2012, when parliamentary pensions were abolished, DPM Teo said that “the removal of pensions will further strengthen the principle of a clean wage and align the retirement scheme of office-holders and Members of Parliament to the Central Provident Fund system.” There was no replacement of parliamentary pensions with any gratuity, and rightfully so. Indeed, the concept of a clean wage goes hand in hand with good governance and transparency.

In a parliamentary reply to a question in April 2013, DPM Teo stated that for judicial and statutory appointment holders, the proposed gratuity plan is essentially of the same value as the pension and is taken into account in the overall salary levels when carrying out salary comparisons. It would therefore appear that there is a lack of consistency in the Government’s approach towards the concept of a clean wage, if indeed a gratuity is seen to replace a pension.

In principle, because of the competitive salaries already received by civil servants, I seek the Minister’s clarification about the current rationale behind paying certain civil servants a gratuity and why it would it not just be simpler and more consistent to have a clean wage.

Madam Speaker, I oppose the Bill.

Written by singapore 2025

10/11/2014 at 10:35 am

Cancellation of international events due to problematic pitch at National Stadium

8 Mr Baey Yam Keng asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (a) how will the unsatisfactory condition of the National Stadium pitch affect the international reputation of Singapore given that planned international events have been cancelled or rescheduled; (b) besides payment to SportsHub Pte Ltd being withheld, how are the interests of the Government and public protected in the Private-Public-Partnership arrangement; and (c) apart from the commercial events, what other planned events will be affected and how will these event owners be compensated.

9 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth what steps will be taken to avoid a repeat of the episode where the National Stadium pitch was deemed to have fallen short of international standards during the soccer friendly between Brazil and Japan on 14 October 2014.

Mr Lawrence Wong: Madam, with your permission, can I take questions 8 and 9 together?

Mdm Speaker: Yes, please.

Mr Lawrence Wong: Madam, Members have expressed concerns about the condition of the pitch at the National Stadium and its impact on Singapore’s reputation, and I share these concerns.

Under the public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement, Sports Hub Pte Ltd (SHPL) designed, built, financed and operates the new Singapore Sports Hub for 25 years. The intent of the PPP is to leverage the private partner’s expertise and network to create a vibrant mix of sports and lifestyle activities that would be accessible to all. SHPL is required to make available the various facilities in the Sports Hub for public and private use, according to the specifications and standards detailed in the Project Agreement between SHPL and Sport Singapore.

Now, developing a major sporting venue in land-scarce Singapore does present several unique challenges. Many stadiums around the world are designed for a specific purpose and they are not used intensively all year round. This is perhaps possible in countries which do not face space or land constraints. In Singapore, it is a luxury we cannot afford. As such, SHPL was asked to deliver a multi-purpose Sports Hub, which could accommodate a vibrant calendar of sports and entertainment activities. By and large, I would say that the expertise brought in by SHPL has helped to make the Sports Hub an integrated sports and lifestyle destination for Singaporeans to enjoy.

However, it has faced problems with the National Stadium pitch because of several reasons. For one, SHPL had taken three months longer than expected to complete the National Stadium, and this meant that there was not enough time to allow the grass on the pitch to take root and stabilise. In addition, SHPL misjudged the impact that the intensive events schedule would have on the pitch. It had carried out testing before deciding on the hybrid Desso GrassMaster pitch. This is a hybrid pitch which is primarily natural turf anchored by artificial fibres. It procured a cover that was designed to allow activities and concerts to take place on the pitch with reduced impact on the grass. This had been tested but it did not work out as planned, and in part because the grass was not anchored deeply enough. It did not have time to grow and anchor itself deeply enough, and so, as a result, the repeated use and coverage of the pitch ended up damaging it.

SHPL recognises that the poor condition of the pitch and the changes in the event schedule have brought about negative publicity to the project. This is also not in the consortium’s own interests, and hence it has stepped forward to take ownership of the issue. It has acknowledged its own shortcomings and it has embarked on the necessary remedial actions to improve the condition of the pitch.

Earlier, SHPL had procured growth lights at its own cost to enhance the growth of the grass. And after the recent Brazil-Japan match, the Asia Pacific Dragons – Maori All Blacks rugby match was cancelled and the Jay Chou concert postponed and this was done to give the pitch more time to stabilise before the coming AFF Suzuki Cup in November. SHPL is bearing the costs arising from the cancellation and postponement of these events.

With the freeing up of the events schedule and the measures put in place so far, we have already seen improvements in the pitch conditions. At the same time, SHPL has been engaging local and overseas experts to fundamentally re-examine its earlier assumptions and models for the use of the pitch. They will assess if the current pitch solution is viable beyond the Suzuki Cup, or whether more extensive changes are needed in the medium to longer-term to ensure a consistently robust pitch. These are still being studied, and SHPL intends to put in place longer-term measures after the Suzuki Cup.

Sport Singapore will continue to monitor the situation and ensure that SHPL does everything that is necessary to establish a top quality pitch for the National Stadium.

Mdm Speaker: Mr Baey Yam Keng.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines): Thank you, Madam. I would like to ask the Minister how was the Government involved in deciding the type of pitch used for the National Stadium? Was the Government consulted before this hybrid was decided? In resolving this issue now, how is the Government working with SHPL to settle this issue and what is the time frame that the Minister expect this pitch to be restored to the expected standard?

My last question is the Minister mentioned that as part of the PPP, the Sports Hub has to cater for public use. So, during this period where the pitch is not satisfactory, what are the public events that would be affected and how would this affect this PPP arrangement and how would SHPL be taken to task for not fulfilling its end of the agreement?

Mr Lawrence Wong: Madam, as I have mentioned earlier, the requirement is stated in the project agreement that spelt out between Sports Singapore and SHPL. SHPL is required to deliver on certain outcomes, so it has to take upon itself the responsibility of ensuring the pitch allows for multi-purpose usage and is robust enough to withstand that usage.

In the course of coming up with the present solution, SHPL had done a series of tests and these test results were shown to Sports Singapore to show that these tests were done and that the proposed solution that was eventually put in place was the best solution that they had based on the conditions that they had tried out earlier. This, of course, as I have mentioned we know now that it has no worked out as planned, not necessarily because the proposed solution is not the desired one but perhaps there were other extenuating circumstances – as I had mentioned the project was late, and the grass itself had not had time to stabilise before it had to deal with a very heavy event schedule.

The current arrangement or presently, even with the postponement of the events in the coming months, and the time that has taken to allow the grass to grow, we have already seen significant improvements in the pitch. This is something that is being done for the interim, for the Suzuki Cup. Beyond that, there is now a process of going through some of the earlier test results all over again – just to ensure that the solution that is being proposed is truly robust. And this is again a process which we have asked SHPL to undertake. They will do a series of experiments and tests to assure all stakeholders that they have a robust solution for the medium and long term. They will be sharing the results with the Government, with Sports SG. We are also asking our own experts, for example, from the National Parks to look at the results and to satisfy ourselves that whatever the solution as proposed by SHPL is a robust one.

On the private and public use, the public use will pertain to events like the National Day Parade, for example. Not that it is going to be happening next year in the Stadium, but if something like that were to happen, that would be an event that is for public usage. So, in the near term — between now and December or early next year — we have no public events that are in the calendar.

Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): I would like to thank the Minister for his reply. Mdm Speaker, page 58 of the Ministry of Finance’s Public/Private Partnership Handbook states that the misallocation between the PPP provider, in this case, SHPL, and the Government procuring entity namely Sports Singapore, is complex and Sports SG must be careful that operational risks are not passed back to them.

Separately, there was also the media statement from Sports Singapore suggesting non-payment if the condition of the pitch does not improve – I believe this was issued shortly after the Brazil-JapanFriendly match.

I have three supplementary questions for the Minister. First, what is the annual payment that Sports Singapore pays to the Sports Hub under the PPP framework and how are the payments structured over the re-payment period? Secondly, under what circumstances can Sports Singapore contractually withhold annual payment to the Sports Hub and how much can it withhold for non-performance? And finally, in view of the Suzuki Cup ticket prices that were released yesterday, what role does Sports Singapore and the Sports Associations play to determine the pricing of events with potential mass appeal and what recourse does Sports Singapore have to ensure that ticket prices are not out of reach for the mass public?

Mr Lawrence Wong: Madam, with respect with the questions, on the annual payment, I do not have a figure at hand but I would say that the annual payment is over a stream of a period of time which eventually would amount to the overall cost of the project. The overall cost of the project is something at a region of $1.3 billion.

As a PPP, instead of forking out $1.3 billion upfront, the Government does not do that. It is done by the private sector but we instead, pay an annual stream of payments over the 25-year period for the usage of the stadium; of the facilities within the Sports Hub. That is how it is designed and constructed.

Within the project agreement, there is indeed a provision for deductions in the availability payment in the event of non-performance or non-availability of use. And this is quite standard in a PPP arrangement. Even in a mature PPP in other countries, you will often find deductions being made in the event of a non-performance by the private partner. This is something that Sports SG will carry out in accordance with the provisions in the project agreement.

On ticket prices, that is something that would be set by event organisers, not necessarily by Sports Hub itself because the events that are taking place in the Sports Hub may be put up by a National Sport Association, it may be put up by Sports Singapore, it may be put together by a private events promoter. These are not regulated prices; these are left to the market. So, the property owners and the event organisers, which are usually commercial organisers, would then have to decide what is the appropriate price range to set these prices.

I would say if you look at the experience so far, and compare with what we have seen in Jalan Besar Stadium, what we have seen in the old national stadium for the events and for the sporting activities that we have had in the Sports Hub, I think they are within a comparable range. For example, the Brazil-Japan match ticket prices were comparable to what was in the old national stadium when Liverpool came to play in the old national stadium. We have had many sporting events within the new Sports Hub organised by our National Sports Associations where ticket prices are very affordable and accessible to all Singaporeans.

Written by singapore 2025

04/11/2014 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Parliament

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