For convenience of access, I have compiled a selection of some of the parliamentary questions (PQs) and Supplementary Questions (SQs) I raised over the past five months below (Source: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/publications-singapore-parliament-reports):
Divestments of JTC’s properties (21 Oct 2011)
8 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) how many properties of JTC Corporation and how much total floor area have been transferred to Real Estate Investment Trusts or sold through trade sales since 2006; and (b) what is the average percentage change in rent of these properties one year after having transferred out from JTC.
Mr Lim Hng Kiang:
JTC Corporation undertook two phases of divestment in 2008 and 2011 respectively for its ready-built high-rise industrial properties. A total of about 2 million square metres (sqm) of Gross Floor Area (GFA) of space in 83 properties was divested. This corresponds to less than 5% of the overall industrial space market. Most of these properties were flatted factories. The remaining properties were amenity centres and other types of industrial buildings. Separately, JTC divested three dormitories in 2007 with an estimated GFA of 110,000 sqm.
The first phase of divestment was completed in mid-2008 with a sale to Mapletree Investments Pte Ltd. Under the divestment terms, the rent escalation for existing tenants was capped at 5% per annum over JTC’s July 2007 posted rents for a period of three years. Hence, one year after the divestment, the maximum rents these existing tenants paid should be no more than 5% above JTC’s July 2007 posted rents. The actual adjustment in rent would vary among individual tenants, depending on the level of their base rent. JTC is not privy to the actual adjustments, as the tenancy agreements had become private commercial transactions with the divestment.
The second phase of the divestment was completed in August 2011. One of the conditions of the tender was for the bidder to provide a business continuity plan for tenants.
One tranche was sold to Soilbuild Group Holdings Ltd, which committed to cap renewal rates for a three-year tenancy for existing tenants at not more than 10% above JTC’s July 2011 posted rents, for a period of two years.
Another tranche was sold to Mapletree Industrial Trust (MIT), where the renewal rates would be pegged to JTC’s July 2011 posted rents with a cap of 5% per annum for three years, upon the completion of the trade sale. In addition, for tenants who have more than 10 years of continuous tenancy, MIT has offered an additional 2% discount off JTC’s July 2011 posted rates in the first year. The renewal rates for this group of tenants would be subject to a lower rent escalation cap of 3% per annum of JTC’s July 2011 posted rates for the subsequent two years.
One year after the second phase of divestment (which would be August 2012), JTC would similarly not be privy to the actual adjustments of rent. However, the new owners will have to keep to the rent caps when negotiating tenancy renewals with the tenants.
JTC will continue to track industrial rents as part of its overall responsibility.
(NB: A recent ST report cited several industry leaders in retail and industry blaming REITS as the main cause of rental increase. REITS need to answer to shareholders to maximise returns. By being large land owners now, they dictate rents and smaller property owners will follow suit.)
Government Co-ordination for Handling of Problems Related to Birds (16 Jan 2012)
6 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) why the issue of crows come under the purview of the National Environment Agency (NEA) while nuisance with pigeons is handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and complaints about mynahs are handled by neither agency; and (b) whether there is a plan for a single agency to handle problems related to birds.
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan:
The management of bird nuisance requires action from several different agencies. These measures include trees management, food waste management and occasional culling of birds as a last resort. For example, (i) NParks and the Town Councils maintain and prune trees regularly in areas where there are large numbers of nests; (ii) NEA ensures increased cleaning frequency at hot spots to remove litter which may act as food source for the birds and bird droppings; (iii) NEA ensures that operators of food outlets at hotspot areas observe good housekeeping practices, and requires refuse points to be properly secured with nettings and other anti-bird devices; (iv) both AVA and NEA take enforcement action against people who feed birds as this can result in littered premises; and (v) occasionally NEA and Town Councils cull crows and pigeons as a last resort.
In the past, the allocation of responsibility amongst agencies was based primarily on the nature of the intervention required, rather than the specific species of bird involved. This inadvertently led to a situation where there was some ambiguity over mynahs in particular. MND and MEWR have decided that henceforth, AVA will coordinate the work of all the agencies involved whenever problems caused by birds arise.
(NB: Mystery solved. Now we know who to call… AVA, the birds busters)
Points Demerit System (PDS) for Food Vendors (18 Jan 2012)
3 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources since the implementation of the Points Demerit System (PDS) for operators of food courts, coffee shops and canteens in November 2010 (a) how many operators have been issued with demerit points; (b) what are the three most common offences; (c) how many operators have had their licences suspended or revoked; (d) how frequently is enforcement being carried out; and (e) what programmes are put in place by NEA to educate all operators and their cleaning contractors on hygiene standards.
The Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources (Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien) (for the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources): Mr Speaker, the Point Demerit System (PDS) was first implemented in 1987 for hawker stalls. PDS was extended to food courts, coffee shops and canteens in November 2010 to motivate operators to pay more attention to the cleanliness of the common areas in their premises. Food courts, coffee shops and canteens are routinely inspected at least twice a year. NEA also carries out additional inspections based on the feedback it receives from the public. Potential problem areas, such as toilets in coffee shops, are inspected monthly.
Since November 2010, 179 operators have been issued with demerit points, in addition to being fined for cleanliness-related offences. The three most common offences are the failure to keep the premises clean, the toilets clean, and to maintain the sanitary fittings in the toilets in good working condition. An operator who chalks up 24 demerit points within 12 months will have his licence suspended for up to three days. Thus far, no operator has accumulated the maximum number of demerit points for suspension.
Besides educating the operators during the inspections, NEA also carries out outreach and educational programmes, such as the “My Coffee Shop Shines” programme in the South-West district and the “Clean Food Shops” programme in the North-West district. Under these programmes, NEA works with the operators and stall owners to improve their cleaning regimes and works with the grassroots organisations to educate the public on keeping food shops clean and hygienic. NEA also works with the Public Hygiene Council (PHC) and Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS) to improve the state of toilet cleanliness in food establishments.
To raise cleaning standards, NEA also initiated a voluntary accreditation scheme for the cleaning industry in July 2010. The scheme recognises companies that have in place operating systems that ensure the provision of quality cleaning services by a professional cleaning workforce. We hope that this will bring about improvements in cleaning standards in the longer run, and encourage operators to hire accredited companies for cleaning so as to increase industry demand for more reliable cleaning services.
We need the concerted efforts of operators, cleaners and patrons to ensure a clean environment in food establishments. Moving forward, more educational efforts will be carried out together with the PHC, and we urge the public to also play a greater part in demanding a cleaner dining environment by providing feedback to NEA and not visiting establishments that are poorly maintained. At the same time, the public can also help the situation by being considerate when using the facilities in the food establishments and keep them clean for the next user. This will help to raise the level of public hygiene and improve our living environment.
Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): I thank the Senior Minister of State for the very comprehensive answers. I have three supplementary questions. The first is: these rules and enforcement, how are they being applied to the hawker centres which are run by NEA? The second is: I have noticed that there are large numbers of foreign cleaners working in the various eating establishments in Singapore and they have various acceptable hygiene standards from their own countries. How is the Ministry monitoring this and are they satisfied with the level of cleanliness by these workers? The third question is whether there is any rating or grading of eating establishments’ cleanliness like the way hawker stalls are being graded.
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: Mr Speaker, I would like to thank the Member for the supplementary questions. For the enforcement, NEA hawker centres will be subjected to the same regime. Second question about foreign cleaners: I would like to stress that we do not make a distinction on the nationality or the race of the cleaners. What we will focus on really is the outcome and we will like to apply that same consistent principle, looking at the outcome of overall level of cleanliness. We have a standard that we apply on the various areas to watch. For example, as I mentioned in my reply, how clean is the toilet, whether the toilets are properly provided with the necessary supplies, and so on. So it is really outcome-driven. I would like to respond to the question I think that most Singaporeans are concerned with. It is really the overall hygiene standard and cleanliness at our food establishments. My Ministry has worked very hard to improve on that level but we are not satisfied, and we would like to see a bigger improvement in the level of public hygiene. This is an area that my Ministry will work very, very hard on for the coming years. On the standards of cleanliness of eating establishments, this is something that we will be prepared to consider, and if the Member would like to give us specific suggestions, we will be very happy to incorporate.
(NB: This PQ was prompted by a series of dirty eating establishments I visited recently that got me worried about the level of food hygiene in Singapore. I think we can all play a part in notifying NEA if we come across eateries that are unsatisfactory in hygiene.)
Elitism in Schools (18 Jan 2012)
Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to join in this interesting discussion. I would like to follow up on the specialised Normal (Technical) school. I can understand the rationale is that we want to have more resources to be channelled to this group of students, because at the current moment, each school have maybe just one or two Normal (Technical) classes and it is difficult to find the resources. Is there going to be a trend that there is going to be more of these specialised Normal (Technical) schools spread across Singapore? And whether MOE will instead consider perhaps clustering resources together so that, perhaps, within the cluster, they can help to set examination papers across the Normal (Technical) classes in the schools? Or maybe MOE can do that, so that we can still let these Normal (Technical) students stay in a normal school rather than separate them?
Mr Lawrence Wong: I thank the Member for the supplementary question. In fact, the second part of what he said is already happening. Within the clusters in the zone, the teachers who are involved in teaching Normal (Technical) do share notes, do come together and share experiences and resources. But the specialised schools are really a step forward in terms of thinking about perhaps a different way of doing things. So it is, to some extent, an experiment in terms of trying out something different where we have a specialised institution catered to this group of people, appropriately resourced, with a different curriculum catered to them.
There will be pros and cons, and we have to strike a balance. There is no plan for us now to expand these specialised schools because this is something new. As I mentioned earlier, we are developing these programmes and we are looking very hard and monitoring the results of what is happening through these schools. The initial findings are positive. We think these children are coming out better and they are coping better in their studies, and they are learning better, more effectively. That does not mean that we should proliferate and expand them. I do not think there are any plans now. But what we would want to do, as I mentioned, is to focus on these institutions to see how they can do better, in terms of developing their children in these schools. At the same time, we will take up Ms Denise Phua’s suggestion of programmes that can integrate better, students across different institutions. We are working on multiple approaches. I think these are things that we will continue to evolve and develop. If we think there are indications that a particular programme offers success and is useful, then we would look at ways to expand it in the most effective manner.
(NB: Mine was a supplementary question to a question raised by Dr Intan about elitism in school that led to the discussion on Specialised Normal (Technical) schools that will be operational from 2013. I subsequently wrote a blog piece on this as I am concern about the trend that this may lead to.)
Progress of Normal (Technical) Students (14 Feb 2012)
8 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education for each of the past 10 years, what is the number of Normal (Technical) students and percentage of its yearly cohort who (i) progress to Secondary 2 Normal (Academic) stream at the end of Secondary 1; (ii) progress to the Normal (Academic) stream after the Secondary 4 Normal (Technical) examinations; (iii) qualify for a place at the Institute of Technical Education; and (iv) progress to study at a local polytechnic or university.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education (Ms Sim Ann) (for the Minister for Education) : Sir, on average, around 380 students or 6% of each Secondary 1 Normal (Technical) cohort transferred to Secondary 2 Normal (Academic). Most students who could benefit from a more academically-oriented track are identified early and would transfer to the Normal Academic course prior to Secondary 4. On average, around five students transfer from Secondary 4 Normal (Technical) to Secondary 4 Normal (Academic).
All students who complete the Normal (Technical) course qualify for admission to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), and compete for courses of their choice.
On average, around 960 students or 15% of each Normal (Technical) cohort go on to our polytechnics and autonomous universities. Many also upgrade themselves to Diplomas and other qualifications after gaining some work experience, through Continuing Education and Training programmes at our ITE, polytechnics, and universities.
Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member) : Sir, I would like to thank the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the answer. I have two supplementary questions. The first is that it seems that the mobility out of the Normal (Technical) stream is still quite low despite there being provisions for them to move to the Normal (Academic) stream. What does the Senior Parliamentary Secretary think of re-combining Normal (Technical) back with the Normal (Academic) stream to increase the mobility for the late developers?
The second question is that for the Normal streams, are we able to offer more widely modular courses that range from those that are technical in nature to those in the visual and performing arts? By “modular” I mean that we can even have examinations at the end of the module rather than at the end of Secondary 4 for the major examinations.
Ms Sim Ann : I thank the Member for his concerns on mobility for students. Please allow me to explain. Amongst our students, there are different aspirations, different aptitudes, different interests and learning profiles, and our education system seeks to cater for such a range of profiles amongst our students. The most important priority for us is to help them to learn best whatever their learning profiles or interests are. And this is the reason why within the education system, we do set up diverse pathways for our students.
The key for us, beyond ensuring mobility beyond the pathway, first, is to ensure that each education pathway is well supported and resourced, and this we have done, including for our Normal (Technical) students. The second is to ensure that there is mobility between the pathways. For instance, our students are able to move laterally between Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic). This is in response to the Member’s concerns.
The third thing that we do is also to ensure that beyond formal education, there continues to be continuous education and training so that our students are able to upgrade their skills. And I think the most important and overarching priority is to ensure that there are fulfilling jobs and good employment outcomes for our students, regardless of whether they graduate from ITE, from polytechnics, or from our autonomous universities.
In terms of the design of courses for our students, the Ministry of Education is constantly considering different methods of pedagogy and of organising the way our curriculum is taught and managed so as to optimise learning outcomes for our students. For our Normal (Technical) students, for instance, we are considering experimenting with different ways of organising their curriculum and this has also been discussed in the House previously.
(NB: My belief is that we should have less tracks rather than more differentiated tracks, and we then try to find a way within the track to help those who need more help to catch up, or to allow them to do things differently as they may have talents in other areas besides academic.)
Foreign scholars (Part 1 – 9 Jan 2012)
40 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education for the last 10 years what was (i) the annual number of foreigners who were granted scholarships by the Ministry to study in our schools and universities and the annual cost of these scholarships; (ii) the percentage of foreign scholars who commenced studies in secondary schools and proceeded on to local universities; (iii) the percentage of foreign scholars in local universities who had graduated with Second Class Upper Honours or better; and (iv) the percentage of foreign scholars who completed their contractual bond period to work in Singapore after their graduation.
Mr Heng Swee Keat: For students from ASEAN countries, MOE offers scholarships to promote mutual understanding and goodwill in the region. In the past few years, MOE awarded around 150 scholarships annually to students from the ASEAN countries at the pre-tertiary level and another 170 at the undergraduate level. The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation, and the annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary scholarship and between $18,000 to $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship. Around 65% of pre-tertiary international scholars progress on to our Autonomous Universities.
In addition, our schools, universities and the corporate sector also offer a range of scholarships to quality international students to create a diverse student body that encourages the learning of important cross-cultural skills, as well as to meet the manpower needs of our economy. With Singapore’s decreasing fertility rates, it is important that even as we seek to better develop our talent pool, we augment this with working professionals and students from abroad. This helps us to maintain our economic competitiveness and ultimately raise the standard of living of our people.
Of all the international students who graduated from our Autonomous Universities in 2011, around 45% did so with a Second Upper class of Honours or better.
Upon graduation, scholars are obliged to work in Singapore or Singapore companies for up to six years. More than eight in 10 scholars have been working in Singapore and are contributing to our economy. As for those who did not start work immediately, many had deferred their bonds to pursue postgraduate studies.
Foreign scholars (Part 2 – 17 Feb 2012)
16 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education (a) for the last 10 years what was the annual number of non-ASEAN foreigners who were granted scholarships by the Singapore Government to study in our pre-tertiary schools and universities and what was the annual cost of these scholarships; (b) how does the Ministry track and ensure that foreign scholars maintain good academic standards while studying here; and (c) whether the Ministry tracks foreign scholars after graduation and enforces their obligation to fulfil the contractual bond period to work in Singapore.
Mr Speaker : Senior Parliamentary Secretary, you have two-and-a-half minutes.
The Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education (Ms Sim Ann) (for the Minister for Education) : Sir, on average, about 800 pre-tertiary and 900 undergraduate international students (IS) are offered scholarships. The scholarships cover school fees and accommodation. The annual cost is about $14,000 for each pre-tertiary scholarship, and between $18,000 and $25,000 for each undergraduate scholarship.
The academic performance of each scholar is closely monitored every semester, and the scholarship would be withdrawn if the scholar’s performance is not satisfactory. Most international scholars serve out their bonds to completion. The scholarship administrators take action against the few who default on their obligations, by pursuing liquidated damages from individuals who default on their service obligation
Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member) : Sir, I thank the SPS for the answers. I have some supplementary questions. Firstly, is there any noticeable shift in the quality of scholars coming from countries that are fast-growing like China, because people may be richer and have other options to go elsewhere to study, and whether we follow a certain quota system of just maintaining a certain number from each country every year? Secondly, is there some figure that SPS can share regarding the number of scholars who had their scholarships suspended as they consistently did not do well in their performance?
Sports CCAs in Schools (22 Nov 2011)
Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Thank you, Sir. I thank the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for his answers. I scanned through the most recent book published by MOE introducing secondary school education to the public, I noticed that most schools offer, perhaps, four or five sport CCAs. I like to ask: does the Senior Parliamentary Secretary feel that four to five sport CCAs is enough? I also noted that a number of popular sports like football, basketball are not being offered by many of the schools as sport CCA. The second question I have is that in speaking to a number of schools, one of the problems told to me is that they do not have the budget to hire the coaches and to handle the logistics for more than the four or five sport CCAs. So would the MOE consider increasing the budget to support sport CCA?
Mr Hawazi Daipi : May I just ask why does the Member think that four or five sport CCAs is not sufficient?
Mr Yee Jenn Jong : I think it is not sufficient because in a typical school there are 1,500 students and you have only four or five sport CCAs with, say, an average of about maybe 20 members, sometimes, in the smaller sports there are 10 members participating. I do not think that is enough to go round and I personally experienced this myself or I hear this from my friends – difficulties getting our own children into the sport CCAs that they wish simply because it is not being offered by the school.
Mr Hawazi Daipi : Sir, I think the Member is talking about students who represent the schools. Yes, we do need students to represent the school in sports or games that schools have chosen. Nevertheless, students have the opportunities to learn to play the games and take part in competitive games through other opportunities – through the CCA, through inter-class games, carnivals and so on. Many schools use the SEP Fund which is an initiative of SSC and MOE. So I would like the Member to consider that taking part in sports should not necessarily be just based on sport CCAs. It should be done through PE lessons which are now more structured. We have introduced more PE lessons in primary schools now and the students have the opportunities to learn to be able to like the games and to play on their own. So playing games should not be confined to taking part in CCAs in school. We can provide more opportunities by working together with the community organisations.
Second-Tier Competitions under Sports Education Programme (Secondary Schools) – (14 Feb 2012)
Mr Heng Swee Keat : Since the release of the SERI Report in December 2010, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has piloted or expanded various programmes to encourage greater participation in sports and physical activities.
Organising recreational competitions is one avenue. The Sports Education Programme (SEP) is another, where students have the opportunity to learn to play one or more from over than 50 sports.
MOE will continue to expand the opportunities for students to participate in sports, but we have to pace this in accordance with the resources available, while ensuring safety and reasonable demands on students’ time.
Holistic Assessment for Students at Lower Primary Levels
Preliminary findings from schools on holistic assessment are positive. Many teachers commented that their pupils have become more confident and are able to communicate better. Pupils also receive more feedback, have more opportunities to reflect and improve on their learning, and are developed more holistically.
Gifted Education Programme (GEP)
(Update on GEP Student Numbers, Budget Allocated to the Programme and Academic Performance of GEP Students)
18 Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education if he can provide the past 10 years’ data on (i) the number of students admitted into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) at Primary 4; (ii) the annual budget for the GEP; and (iii) the performance of GEP students at the PSLE and A level examinations in terms of minimum, maximum and average scores.
Mr Heng Swee Keat: About 500 students were admitted into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) each year over the last 10 years.
Primary schools hosting the GEP are provided with additional teachers for the GEP classes they host over and above their usual complement of classes, and an annual programme grant of $53 per pupil.
Over 90% of GEP students score among the top 10% of PSLE candidates. About half of former GEP students scored 4As at the A levels.