The following is my speech delivered in parliament on 17 Feb 2014:
Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the bill.
As the Minister has stated, the issue of illegal tour guides is a growing problem, rising with the tourism boom in Singapore in recent years. Tour guides in Singapore need to undergo recognised courses and examinations in order to be licensed. The over 2,300 licensed tour guides here are made up mostly of Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents. Illegal tour guides not only affect the livelihood of local guides but they may provide wrong information about Singapore and damage our efforts to promote Singapore as a tourist destination.
Hence, I support the measures in this bill that will provide greater powers for the authorities to act against illegal guides such as fines for both the illegal guides and the tour agencies that knowingly engage their services and will provide greater clarity on what constitutes as illegal guiding.
I have two areas which I wish to highlight for operational considerations.
The first is about the Taxi Tourist Guide scheme, launched in 2004, ten years ago. The scheme is to train and license taxi drivers to allow them to act as tour guides for small groups of tourists. Section 19C of this Act defines a tour guide as someone who ‘provides any guiding services to 8 or more tourists.’ A taxi can never take 8 or more passengers. Hence there seem to be some discrepancies here. Does this mean that taxi drivers who wish to act as tour guides do not need any licensing and the Taxi Tourist Guide scheme is now redundant? And on this topic of Taxi Tourist Guides, I like to understand from the Minister if this scheme has been popular. If not, what are the reasons?
The second is that this Act provides the power for the inspecting officer to detain and arrest any suspected illegal tour guide if the officer reasonably believes that he or she has committed an offence as defined by the Act. The arrested person can be brought to a police station for questioning.
The tour guide may be in the midst of leading a busload of foreign visitors. The arrest would leave these visitors stranded in the middle of a tour destination. For practical considerations, inspecting officers must handle the situation carefully or it may leave a bad impression of Singapore with the visitors. Procedures on how to inform the tour agency involved and getting an immediate replacement tour guide from the agency or other arrangements to allow the suspect to settle the visitors first will be important. This is to minimise disruption to the innocent visitors who are just out here to enjoy Singapore.