PARLIAMENT: WRITTEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER NOT ANSWERED BY 3.00 PM, 26 MAY 2008

 

ELEVENTH PARLIAMENT OF SINGAPORE

 

(FIRST SESSION)

_________________

 

WRITTEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

NOT ANSWERED BY 3.00 PM

 

MONDAY, 26 MAY 2008

 

20                                                                                                                                            127

 

 

YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES

(Update on Progress of Preparation)

 

*15.            Mr Seah Kian Peng: To ask the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (a) whether all the key positions for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) organising committee have been filled; and (b) if he will provide an update on the progress of the preparations to-date given that the 2010 YOG is less than two and a half years away.   

            Dr Vivian Balakrishnan:

 

            The International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the hosting of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to Singapore on 21 February 2008. Since then, the Singapore Youth Games Organising Committee (SYOGOC) has been set up to specifically oversee the planning and delivery of the Games over the next two years. 

 

In March 2008, Mr Ng Ser Miang, International Olympic Committee Executive Board Member in Singapore, was appointed as Chairman of the SYOGOC Board. 21 other members from the public, private and people sectors have also been appointed to the SYOGOC Board. At the executive level, BG Goh Kee Nguan has been appointed as the CEO of SYOGOC.  The other key leadership positions in SYOGOC have been identified and 6 out of the 13 senior executives are already on full time employment, with the rest joining the team later.  The hiring of the core personnel required for planning and preparation is also ongoing. SYOGOC has adopted a phased approach for staffing, tapping on an initial group of core personnel to identify specific functional requirements before additional staff are brought in for operations. Besides permanent staff, SYOGOC is looking at contract services as well as volunteers to carry out its tasks. SYOGOC is also well supported by the various Ministries and government agencies in terms of officers assigned full-time to SYOGOC to help organise the Games.

 

The planning and preparations for the YOG are on track. Last month, a seminar with the IOC was held in Singapore for transfer of knowledge, and a detailed project schedule has been developed with clear milestones for this major endeavour. In particular, the construction of the Youth Olympic Village is on track and the schedule of upgrading works for the competition venues is also being finalised. More meetings with the International Sports Federations will be taking place to discuss the technical requirements for the different sports.  We have also started development on some of the Culture and Education programmes such as the Schools-NOCs Twinning Programme and the Olympic Education package. The Ministry of Education, together with SYOGOC, will launch the Schools-NOCs Twinning Programme and the Olympic Education by the end of this year.  SYOGOC will also be sending a team to observe and learn from the management of the Beijing Olympic Games. 

 

 

HAND, FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE

(Enforcement and Control)

 

*16.            Ms Ellen Lee Geck Hoon: To ask the Minister for Health why the enforcement and control of hand, foot and mouth disease cases are not extended to private education providers for toddlers, young children and religious schools such as Sunday school in churches.

            Mr Khaw Boon Wan:

 

Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a notifiable disease.  By law, a doctor is required to report all cases of HFMD to my Ministry, including information such as the childcare centre or the school the child is attending. We investigate all clusters of HFMD cases to determine the extent of disease transmission and whether the institutions should be closed to contain the infection. If a cluster were reported in a school run by a private or a religious provider as described by Ms Ellen Lee, we will investigate.  

 

In practice, given the longer exposure time and greater intensity of interaction, transmission risk is higher in the following institutions and they have therefore administrative arrangements to report their HFMD clusters to my Ministry:

 

a) All childcare centres under the Ministry of Community Development, Youth &     

                Sports;

 

b) All playgroups under the People’s Association;

 

c) All kindergartens, special education schools, primary schools, secondary schools,    

     junior colleges, religious schools, private regular schools and foreign system schools       under the Ministry of Education;

 

This arrangement will cover almost all of the children who are cared for outside of their homes. 

 

HFMD is spread through direct contact with the bodily secretions of an infected person or indirectly through contact with contaminated items. Children may be infectious before they show any symptoms. A significant proportion of infected children remain asymptomatic, but they are also infectious. The risk of transmission will therefore exist whenever children congregate and if good hygiene is not practised. 

 

The only way to prevent transmission is to maintain a high standard of personal and environmental hygiene.  Parents have an important role to play: set personal example of good hygiene standard, teach the children to do the same, and keep them at home should they fall sick. 

 

 

SINGAPORE AS AN EDUCATION HUB

(Update)

 

*18.            Mr Zainudin Nordin: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) if he will provide an update on the vision of making Singapore an education hub; (b) whether there exists a conducive eco-system that allows education services in Singapore to flourish; (c) whether the recent rise in property prices and operational costs has affected efforts to attract reputable institutions to locate in Singapore; (d) what is the present total number of foreign students in Singapore and the long term target of this number; and (e) whether the current immigration policy is in line with and "friendly" towards the objectives set for the education hub.

*19.            Mr Ang Mong Seng: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry in view of our plans to be an international education hub (a) how many foreign students his Ministry intends to attract over the next 3 years; and (b) what are the plans to provide sufficient affordable accommodation for these students.

            Mr Lim Hng Kiang:

 

The Global Schoolhouse initiative was launched in 2002 with the objective of developing Singapore into a Global Schoolhouse, comprising a rich diversity of quality education institutions and programmes at all levels from pre-school to post-graduate study, and attracting an interesting mix of students from all over the world. Today, Singapore hosts more than 16 leading international institutions, as well as 41 preparatory & boarding schools (comprising 38 foreign system schools and 3 privately funded schools) in Singapore.

 

In recent years, we have successfully attracted a range of reputable foreign institutions to set up their campuses in Singapore. Besides leading foreign universities such as INSEAD and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, we have also brought in renowned institutions, such as University of Nevada Las Vegas, New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Cornell University and Duke Graduate Medical School. The market for international education is growing quickly, especially in Asia. Singapore has many strengths: high education standards, secure and high quality living environment and our unique East-meets-West, cosmopolitan city. This puts us in a good position to secure high quality educational institutes. The strong growth in the number of international students in Singapore is evidence of the growing demand in this market – there are 86,000 international students studying in Singapore currently as compared to 50,000 students in 2002.  We foresee similarly strong growth in the years to come. There is potential to grow to 120,000 international students over the next 3 years and to 150,000 international students in the longer term.

 

The Global Schoolhouse initiative is only possible because we have adopted a whole-of-government approach to develop this area with the support of many government agencies across different ministries. Besides EDB, others include the Ministry of Education, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, just to name a few. All our agencies work together to enhance Singapore’s educational ecosystem and allow the delivery of quality educational services. For example, the introduction of the recently announced “EduTrust” is an initiative that was rolled out by the Ministry of Education. EduTrust builds on the standards that had been achieved through CaseTrust, by providing the necessary regulation required to bring the private education sector up to the next level of development.

 

We also adopt an open immigration policy to allow legitimate students to easily pursue their education in Singapore.  The government through SLA, releases suitable sites to private hostel operators, to increase the supply of hostel accommodation. This ensures an adequate supply of affordable accommodation for the growing community of international students. We are thus confident that the Global Schoolhouse initiative is well on track to create a vibrant education hub in Singapore.

 

 

HDB’S DESIGN, BUILD AND SELL SCHEME FLATS AT BOON KENG

(Applicants Who Lost Their Booking and Deposits)

 

*20.            Mr Inderjit Singh: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) how many people who registered for HDB's Design, Build & Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats at Boon Keng lost their booking for the flats and their deposits (in terms of option fees) because they failed to secure their loans from HDB or the banks; (b) whether HDB processed the loan applications before or after the applicants paid their 5% option fee; and (c) how many flats remain unsold as a result of cancellations due to whatever reasons.

            Mr Mah Bow Tan:

 

Applicants for DBSS flats are required to pay a booking fee amounting to 5% of the flat price upon booking.  This is similar to practices in the private property market, as DBSS flats are built by a private developer.  This booking fee is fully refundable if applicants are subsequently found to be ineligible to buy a DBSS flat.  If they cancel their application although they are eligible, they would have to forfeit one-quarter of the booking fee. 

 

According to the developer of the DBSS project at Boon Keng Road, there were 21 cases of cancellations as at 15 May 2008. 13 cases were on grounds of ineligibility, such as exceeding income ceiling, ownership of private property or not meeting the minimum occupation period for the current flat.  These applicants will be refunded their booking fees in full.

Out of the remaining 8 cancellations, 5 cancellations could be related to financing reasons while 3 were due to health-related reasons.  Of the 5 financing-related cases, only 1 had applied for and was granted an HDB loan after booking the flat.  The other 4 cases did not apply for an HDB loan, although 1 of them did enquire at the HDB loan counter.

 

Buying a flat is a major financial commitment, and applicants are advised to work out their finances before committing to a flat purchase, including checking on their bank or HDB loan eligibility before booking a flat.

 

Since 1 January 2007, HDB requires those who need mortgage financing to first obtain an HDB Loan Eligibility (HLE) Letter from HDB or a Letter of Loan Offer (LO) from the banks before they commit to a flat purchase.  For the Boon Keng project, flat buyers had more than one month from the launch of the project to work out their finances before the start of the booking exercise.

 

 

HDB’S REDUCED REPAYMENT SCHEME

(Number of Cases Approved)

 

*21.            Mr Liang Eng Hwa: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) how many cases under HDB's Reduced Repayment Scheme were approved in 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively; and (b) whether HDB has any plans to enhance the scheme so as to reduce the number of cases of flats being repossessed.

            Mr Mah Bow Tan:

 

                   The HDB has in place various financial assistance measures to help flat owners who are in temporary financial hardship. The Reduced Repayment Scheme (RRS) is one such measure, whereby the monthly mortgage instalment is reduced for a limited period not exceeding 2 years.  From 2006 to 2008, HDB has granted the RRS to about 24,000 households.

 

                   The financial assistance measures are meant to give the lessees some time to tide over temporary financial difficulties.  They are not meant to be long-term solutions. Lessees whose financial situation has deteriorated must be prepared to make lifestyle changes such as sub-letting a room, include another working family member as a joint owner or downgrading to a smaller flat. Enhancing the RRS for such lessees will not help, as they will still be unable to pay the mortgage installments once the assistance comes to an end.

 

                   HDB will give ample time, advice and assistance to allow lessees to work out a realistic long-term financial solution.  For example, HDB can help by offering another concessionary loan to facilitate downgrading.

 

                   Unfortunately, not all lessees in financial hardship are receptive to advice and some are even reluctant to take action to prevent their arrears from accumulating.  In such cases, HDB will have no choice but to compulsorily acquire their flats so that the lessees do not end up in greater debt. I must stress that compulsory acquisition is the last resort to help these households, taken only after all other measures have been exhausted.

 

 

MANDATORY CANING OF FOREIGN WORKERS WHO OVERSTAY

(Review of Law)

 

*22.            Mr Gautam Banerjee: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry has plans to review the law on mandatory caning of foreign workers who overstay as a result of rogue labour agents.

*23.            Mr Gautam Banerjee: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) in the last 12 months, how many foreign workers were caned for overstaying; and (b) whether caning of foreign workers, particularly if they are innocent victims of unscrupulous labour agents, will affect Singapore's relationship with the countries from which these workers come from.

            Mr Wong Kan Seng:

 

Mandatory caning of at least three strokes for foreigners who overstay 90 days or more was introduced in 1989 to curb the immigration offender problem.  Our experience prior to 1989 had shown that a mandatory imprisonment term of at least 6 months alone was not sufficiently deterrent. With the introduction of mandatory caning, the mandatory minimum imprisonment term was reduced from six to three months. In 1995, the law was again amended to remove the requirement of imposing a sentence of at least 3 months.

Mandatory caning remains a necessary deterrent in today’s context.  Long term overstayers who stay here illegally pose social problems. In addition, not being able to work legitimately in Singapore, they may turn to crime. It is therefore necessary for our immigration laws to remain stringent to deter would-be immigration offenders.

 

The mandatory caning provision applies only to overstayers who have overstayed for more than 90 days, in other words, these are deliberate law-breakers. Foreign workers who are victims of scams, whilst deserving of support, should not overstay in Singapore or work illegally.  Being cheated is not a valid reason for anyone, foreigners included, to break our laws.  Instead, they should report their plight to the authorities immediately. In this way, they can work with Police to apprehend labour agents in Singapore who are involved in such scams.

 

            This is one reason why MOM has stepped up its outreach efforts to educate employers and workers on our employment and immigration regulations. For example, it has published a guidebook in various languages which highlights the penalty of mandatory caning for overstaying[1].  This is given to workers at the Work Permit Services Centre when they collect their work permits. In addition, MOM conducts regular dormitory road-shows to reach out to foreign workers.

 

For these reasons, we do not think it is necessary to review the law on mandatory caning for overstayers at this point in time.

 

We do not track the number of foreign workers allegedly cheated by rogue agents who were subsequently caned for overstaying.  In any case, we do not think that the caning of foreign workers will affect our relationship with the countries from which they come.

 

All persons, whether local or foreign, are subject to our laws and will be punished accordingly if they do not abide by them. This approach likewise applies to Singaporeans who commit offences in other countries.   I believe countries whose nationals come to Singapore to work understand this principle. Our relations with them are good.   For foreigners who are detained for overstaying, the authorities will facilitate consular assistance if they wish to speak to their consular representatives. 

 

“10TOUCH POINTS” COMPETITION

(Use of Design Solutions in Public and Private Sector)

 

*25.            Miss Penny Low: To ask the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts in light of the ‘10TouchPoints’ competition held in 2007 which promotes innovation and creativity in the redesigning of objects for daily use (a) whether the winning entries have been adopted or adapted by public agencies and corporations; (b) if so, what is the success rate; and (c) if not, does the Ministry plan to promote its design solutions to both the public and private sector.

            Dr Lee Boon Yang:

 

            10TouchPoints was an exercise to improve the design of public amenities. The top 10 items for design improvement were identified from public nominations and voting. 400 nominations were received and over 17,000 votes cast. These 10 everyday items, namely bicycle dismounting system, bus stops, drains and canals, hospital signage system, mailboxes, multi-purpose ID card, playgrounds, public toilets, recycling bins and takeaway meal boxes, were then put to the designers for their redesign.

A Jury Panel led by distinguished designers from Singapore and overseas was appointed to evaluate the design proposals. Out of the ten redesign categories, the Jury Panel recommended five winning design proposals. From the five winners, two designs are being implemented, and the other three are being kept in view by the sponsoring agencies for imp, lementation in the future.

 

For instance, the winning design for recycling bins, which cleverly uses the items to be recycled as its appearance, were put on trial along Orchard Road in December 2007 by the National Environment Agency (NEA) in collaboration with other agencies. The design team for the bins is also concurrently working with Waterways Watch Society[2] and NEA for potential adaptation nationwide.

In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has awarded a design contract to adapt the recycling bins for implementation in the three terminals of Changi Airport, and this is scheduled for rollout in September 2008.

 

We are also happy to note that the National Parks Board had taken an interest in Roy Pang's bicycle dismounting design to encourage cyclists to dismount at specific points along a cycling path. The Board is studying the idea with the designer.

 

Aside from the tangible outcomes highlighted above, 10TouchPoints has helped to raise the awareness of how good design can enhance the functionality and aesthetic quality of such common items for all users. DesignSingapore takes a long-term view in promoting design awareness. It plans to run the 10TouchPoints campaign once every two years. The second 10TouchPoints will be launched in early 2009.

 

 

WORKFARE INCOME SUPPLEMENT SCHEME

(Extension to Housewives)

 

*26.            Ms Ellen Lee Geck Hoon: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower in light of the intrinsic value in the contribution of homemakers, whether he will consider extending the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme to housewives who have no income by staying at home to look after their children and having a maid/childcare is too costly for them.

            Mr Gan Kim Yong:

 

The objective of the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme is to encourage older low-wage Singaporeans to work by supplementing their income. Therefore, a person is eligible for WIS only if he has worked as an employee or as a self-employed person, and met the WIS eligibility and work criteria. We acknowledge that homemakers do make important contributions to the family. However, WIS is not the right scheme to help them. 

 

 

                   Nevertheless, if the spouse of the homemaker is working, he will be eligible for WIS if he satisfies the criteria. Husbands of homemakers are further eligible for tax relief. Homemakers with children do receive other forms of help from the Government, such as centre-based subsidies if they place their children in licensed infant care and childcare centres. They may also receive foreign domestic worker levy concessions of $95 a month if they have children below the age of twelve. They also benefit from government surplus sharing schemes such as the Growth Dividends, GST Credits, utilities and conservancy rebates and other measures announced from time to time.  

 

MANDATORY REST DAY FOR FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS

(Introduction)

 

*27.            Mr Siew Kum Hong: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower whether the Ministry intends to introduce a mandatory rest day for foreign domestic workers and, if not, why.

            Mr Gan Kim Yong:

 

The Ministry of Manpower is committed to safeguarding the well-being of foreign domestic workers, or FDWs, in Singapore. As part of the Work Permit conditions, employers are responsible for the well-being of their FDWs, including the provision of adequate rest.  Employers who fail to comply with this requirement can be fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed up to six months. They will also be barred from hiring another FDW.

 

In addition, the accreditation bodies have, in 2006, introduced a standard employment contract for FDWs. All accredited employment agencies are required to use this standard contract. The standard contract requires employer to stipulate the number of rest days per month, and zero is not an option. Employers are also required to compensate their FDWs salary, should the FDWs work during their rest days. 

 

This is a more practical approach than legislating a fixed number of rest days per month for FDWs, given the unique nature of domestic work. Households that have for example disabled family members who require constant attention may find it difficult to release the FDW for a prescribed period every month.  Therefore, allowing households the flexibility to work out an employment arrangement with their FDWs, including paying their FDWs for not taking their rest days, is a more sensible approach. Nonetheless, MOM encourages employers to grant FDWs rest days regularly wherever possible. 

 

As a result of our education and enforcement efforts, together with other measures to enhance the protection of FDWs, most FDWs are happy working in Singapore according to a recent survey, and the reported cases of abuse have remained low.   There is therefore no need at this point for MOM to legislate a mandatory rest day.    

 

 

UTILISATION OF PIT BUILDING FOR FI-RELATED ACTIVITIES

 

*32.            Mr Arthur Fong: To ask the Minister for Trade and Industry aside from the 2-3 months of utilisation of the Pit Building for F1 related activities, what are the plans for the use of the building and its immediate surroundings for the remainder of the year.

 

 

            Mr Lim Hng Kiang:

 

Mr Speaker Sir, the pit building is attractively located within the Marina Bay and next to the Singapore Flyer. Amongst its closest neighbours are the future Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort. STB intends to maximise the use of the building and its immediate surroundings, during the months when it is not used for the race. The pit building could be put to a variety of business and leisure uses such as events, corporate training programmes, conventions and even art exhibitions. STB is exploring various options and targets to announce plans by September 2008.

 

With 4 months to go before the F1 race in September, the priority now is to ensure timely completion of the pit building. On this note, I am pleased to inform the House that construction works are on schedule, and the pit building should be completed by early-July.

 

The race promoter and the many government agencies involved in this project are now entering the final stages of preparation for our inaugural F1 race and we look forward to a successful event.

 

 

MALAY VILLAGE

(Revamp)

 

*33.            Ms Sylvia Lim: To ask the Minister for National Development (a) why the Malay Village has not been able to thrive since its inception; and (b) how the new plans to revamp it will be an improvement from the past.

            Mr Mah Bow Tan:

 

The Malay Village site was sold to Malay Village Pte Ltd for a commercial development, on a 20-year lease which commenced on 27 September 1991. The lease will expire in 2011.  It is a private development and Government has no hand in its operations. As such, I am not able to comment on its business performance. 

 

Under the new Draft Master Plan 08, which URA unveiled on 23 May, the Paya Lebar area will be comprehensively redeveloped into a commercial hub called Paya Lebar Central, where new commercial floor space for retail, office and hotel use will be located.

 

The site occupied by Malay Village will be re-parcelled for more optimal land use. A substantial portion of the site will be reserved for a new civic building that will house a variety of amenities, including a Community Club, the Community Development Council office, and possibly a Community Library.  A new open plaza space, about the same size as the open atrium space at HDB Hub, will be created next to this civic building. This space will allow for community uses, including activities related to the Hari Raya celebrations.  Another portion of the Malay Village site will make way for an improved road network to reduce traffic congestion in the area.

To retain the ethnic character of the area, a new pedestrian mall will be created along Geylang Road to accommodate more stalls during the annual Hari Raya bazaar.

 

In summary, the comprehensive redevelopment of Paya Lebar Central into a new sub regional commercial hub will allow us to cater to new commercial and civic uses, while retaining the rich Malay heritage of this area.

 

 

_______________

 

Office of the Clerk of Parliament

Singapore, 26 May 2008



[1] The penalty of overstaying including mandatory caning for overstaying beyond 90 days is set out clearly under the section “Singapore Laws & You” of the guidebook.

[2] The 'Waterways Watch' is a special volunteer group with the mission of formulating and implementing an on-going action plan to assist in keeping the waterways of Singapore clean and free of pollution, as well as initiating and organizing on-going activities aimed at educating the public on the importance of keeping the waterways clean. The WaterWays Watch Society has been registered with effect from 27 May 2000 as a charity under the Charities Act, 1994.