SG50 Charity Art Exhibition

My wife and I have contributed some of our paintings for a SG50 Art exhibition, with part of the proceeds going to World Vision for rebuilding homes hit by the earthquake in Nepal. It will feature works from 6 artists, as well as from budding visually impaired artists from Dialogue in the Dark. Event is from 13-18 June 2015 at Gallery@The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane. Come join us for the event!

Below are the pieces we are contributing.

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Art pieces by JJ Yee:

Self-portrait: my first oil painting done in 2013

Self-portrait: my first oil painting done in 2013

My parents sent me for water colour and Chinese painting lessons when I was young. However, I didn’t quite appreciate painting then, and so I quit art. It was only two years ago that I restarted art after my wife had picked up oil and acrylic painting.

French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas had said, “Everyone has talent at 25. The difficulty is to have it at 50.” I was born in the year of Singapore’s independence. Now at age 50, I do not think it is too late for me to pick up a new skill. I paint whenever I can find free time in between running my businesses and my active community commitments. I am happy to contribute my pieces for this SG50 art exhibition.

(YJJ: Acrylic and oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

(YJJ: Acrylic and oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

Colours of the Bay

This piece depicts a celebration scene at our iconic Marina Bay. Many national celebrations are now held at the Bay.

Most of the buildings in the Bay were built in the last 10 years, many of them on land that has been reclaimed from the sea. It is a reflection of the rapid pace of development in Singapore in our 50 years of independence. The bright colours on the Bay each night is a constant reminder of the busy and bustling global city that Singapore has now become.

(Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 51 cm, 2015)

(YJJ: Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 51 cm, 2015)

Reflections of Nature

This piece is a scene of the “Little Guilin (小桂林 )” in Bukit Gombak. It is a granite rock sitting within a lake. The place was once a granite quarry, where granite rocks were blasted to obtain needed construction materials as Singapore modernised. It was originally intended to be covered up and a road built on it. However, the place was turned into a pond when the town planners decided that the rugged granite outcrops against a backdrop of green hills made it a beautiful place. Today, it is part of the Bukit Batok Nature Park. In rapidly developing Singapore, there is a need to balance development with having places of natural beauty.

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Art Pieces by Sharon Ngoi

self-portrait, oil on canvas

self-portrait, oil on canvas

It takes a long time to become young.  ~ Pablo Picasso

 I reconnected with visual art whilst on a project in 2010, working with primary school pupils using different art styles. It was an eye-opening experience to see the works of the great artists through the eyes of the children. This started my journey to play with different colours, paint mediums and styles… just like children.

It is a privilege to contribute my pieces to this SG50 Art event that will raise funds to rebuild homes in Nepal. I had participated in an earlier World Vision’s charity art exhibition organised by Pin Lay and was happy to have played my part to raise funds to build classrooms in Zambia.

(SN: Oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

(SN: Oil on canvas, 102 x 76 cm, 2015)

The Last Kampung

This painting of a bicycle shop in Pulau Ubin depicts life in the rustic and rural island, abundant with flora and fauna.

Once, several thousand people live on this island. Today, only about 100 villagers remain. Many Singaporeans visit the island for day-trips to get away from the busy city, often renting bicycles to peddle around the island to get a glimpse of what life in Singapore used to be like with kampungs everywhere.

A kampung is a village in the Malay language.

The actual Ubin shop, photo taken by artist on 9 June 2015

The actual Ubin shop, photo taken by artist on 9 June 2015

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 91 cm, 2014)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 91 cm, 2014)

Rising over Storms

This abstract piece depicts a sun rising over stormy seas, radiating its light over the darkness. Singapore has faced many storms since its independence. With resilience and resourcefulness, Singaporeans have risen over these storms and will continue to do so even as more storms come our way.

(SN: Oil on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2013)

(SN: Oil on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2013)

A Forest Giant

Singapore may be a bustling city, but it is also a city in a garden. Trees play an important part to maintain the green environment of the city. Today, several patches of primary rainforest still remain on the island.

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2015)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 41 x 51 cm, 2015)

Supertrees

These “Supertrees” at the Gardens by the Bay are giant man-made structures which also function as vertical gardens. They are lit up beautifully every evening. Which giant do you prefer – the Forest Giant or a Supertree?

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 27 x 35 cm, 2012)

(SN: Acrylic on canvas, 27 x 35 cm, 2012)

Waterfall at Botanical Gardens

This waterfall is at the Ginger Garden within the 74-hectare Botanical Gardens. The Gardens played an important part in Singapore’s early history as it was the place where plants that were of economic importance were cultivated to assess their suitability for our climate.

Confronting the dangers of radicalisation into violent extremism

The massacre in central Paris yesterday shocked me. It shocked the world. 12 lives were lost, 4 more were critically wounded and several more were injured. Masked gunmen had stormed into the office of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and opened fire randomly at people. Supporters of the ISIS movement have already openly praised the attack.

I offer my deepest condolences to those that have lost loved ones in this tragedy.

Last month, it was the siege incident in a popular downtown Sydney café by a lone gunman who was making demands to support the ISIS movement. It resulted sadly in the death of two of the hostages.

Four months ago at a gathering of Asian political parties in Colombo, Sri Lanka, I gave a speech calling for the promotion of peaceful developments and to embrace political diversity. I had shared my fears of remote conflicts spreading their influences to places all over the world, including Singapore. Text from speech extracted as follows:

“I am personally alarmed and saddened by the recent increase in violence and conflicts globally, such as in the Middle East. Even though the Middle East conflicts are far away from Singapore, in our interconnected worlds, it is nevertheless very close to home. Once a while, we hear of volunteers from Singapore and from our nearby region joining the ISIS movement. Yesterday, as I was travelling here, I heard the news that an ISIS network was broken up in Australia, fortunately before they could strike within Australia. These are dangers we must constantly guard against if we wish to build a strong Asian community.”

In particular, I am very apprehensive of what the ISIS movement may mean to the world. There are many supporters of the movement being won all over the world. These include those born into good families with comfortable lives in developed countries. Some of them have excellent education and professional backgrounds. Not all will join the fight just in Syria and Iraq. Some will carry the fight into places everywhere. Singapore is not immune to this too.

In the multi-racial, multi-cultural and highly interconnected world that we live in, we need to be constantly on our guards to safeguard peace and to embrace diversity. Only then, progress can be made. It is important especially for those in positions of influence to speak out against misunderstanding of teachings that may lead to radicalisation. It is equally important that we should not form stereotypes and be biased against others of different beliefs because of the actions of some in their community. It is good to know that some leaders have indeed spoken out against extremism. Let’s work to preserve the peace and harmony in our community.

Debate on Education Endowment and Savings Schemes (Amendment) Bill

I delivered the following speech in Parliament on 8 October 2014.

Madam Speaker, I wish to declare that I run businesses that offer education services to students.

This bill will ensure that all Singaporean citizens aged seven to 16 who are not enrolled in mainstream schools will now also receive the $200-$240 yearly Edusave contributions by the government. News reports have estimated that 20,000 more children will benefit from this[1].

I believe this is a strong signal to tell Singaporeans that there are many education pathways, and Singapore children who have chosen to be enrolled in Madrasahs and other religious schools, private schools and home schools or are studying overseas are part of Singapore and deserve access to the funds that are meant for use for activities to enrich their minds.

The scheme, popularly known as Edusave was designed to provide yearly funds to students in mainstream schools to allow parents to use the moneys to pay for enrichment activities for their children in programmes that are approved by the schools. Autonomy has been given to the schools to decide what activities are best suited for the students. This is something that is useful as schools can bring in programmes that extend on their niches or programmes that they believe are best for their students.

Over the years, students have used their Edusave moneys for many sorts of programmes such as speech and drama, sports, learning expeditions and camps, and even for overseas trips.

Enrichment programmes offered through mainstream schools are often very competitively priced, as there is economy of scale from having a large number of students. Facilities within the schools are not charged to these service providers, so fees are much lower than that of similar programmes offered in venues outside of the schools that have to pay commercial rents. The enrichment providers sometimes also offer other type of programmes and services to the schools outside of Edusave funding, so there’s incentive for these providers to be as competitive as they can to sell a continuous stream of services to the schools.

While the same amount of funding per child is now available to children in religious and private schools and those that are home-schooled, enrichment providers will not rush to offer services to them as the scale of business is small. Granted that depending on rules that MOE will establish, those that are home schooled can attend enrichment courses by commercial providers individually, the costs are a lot higher per hour of learning. Hence, the yearly $200-$240 Edusave contribution that a student will receive will not go far. More importantly, there will be the missing social emotional learning elements of learning together in a large group.

I’d like to suggest that MOE can look at having schools open up participation of edusave-funded enrichment courses in their schools to those that are home schooled or in the smaller religious and private schools nearby.

I’d like to suggest that this can be a nationwide effort coordinated through MOE. Selected schools spread throughout Singapore can be satellite centres to partner with students that are in the religious schools, smaller private schools and home schools. Enrichment courses offered in the schools, especially those that are Edusave funded can be extended to these external students. This will foster interaction through joint programmes which will help develop the social and emotional learning of those outside of mainstream schools while helping students in the mainstream school better understand their peers learning under a different education system. It will also provide some form of common education experience for both groups of students.

Madam, the idea may sound radical but I believe it is doable. Some schools have on their own initiative, fostered partnerships with communities in their neighbourhood, including with disadvantaged children. I believe we can have a more structured approach on enrichment programmes to have schools partner on regular basis with neighbourhood children outside of mainstream schools. This will give more value to the Edusave contributions that the government is now giving to this new group of beneficiaries. I hope MOE can study the feasibility of this proposal.

Madam Speaker, I support the Bill. Thank you.

[1] http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/more-children-benefit-edusave-enhancements

Remote Gambling Bill – Strong Safeguards Needed

I delivered this speech during the debate on the Remote Gambling Bill on 7 October 2014. The video of speech is here.

The Rise of Remote Gambling

Madam Speaker, online gambling is increasingly becoming a problem, both globally and in Singapore.

In 2013, a news article reported an online survey by the Ministry of Home Affairs which found that 3 in 10 out of 1,000 respondents had gambled online or through the mobile phone. The article estimated that the size of the remote gambling market in Singapore was $376 million[1]. MHA had also estimated that the revenue of the global remote gambling industry was around US$35b in 2012[2].

A survey conducted in 2011 with Singapore residents by the National Council on Problem Gambling found that 10% of the respondents had gambled remotely in the preceding year, and those who did so said they often found themselves spending more time and money than they had intended to[3]. With the wide penetration of the Internet and mobile phone here, and an increasingly technology savvy population, remote gambling will rise rapidly if left unchecked.

Singapore currently already has tough laws on gambling in the real-world physical form, but has lagged behind that of other countries in imposing legislation on remote gambling, at least until now. Hence, I support the government’s move to impose tough legalisations on remote gambling. Remote gamblers will now face fines and even jail terms, while those who facilitate remote gambling will be subjected to even heftier fines and up to 5 years in jail. Industry experts have said that we will have one of the toughest laws in the world against online gambling. While most countries would adopt one or two of the key measures to control online gambling, Singapore will adopt all three measures with the proposed regulation: ban advertisements, block access to such websites and block payments to and from gambling sites.[4]

Exemptions

However, a worrying aspect of the Bill is that under Part 5, it provides for exemptions for Singapore-based not-for-profit operators with a proven track record of distributing moneys to public, social or charitable purposes in Singapore and with good compliance track record with applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

Our state-run operators, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club have already been quoted in the press as saying that they will apply for the exemption certificate once this Bill is passed into law.[5] Last year, it was reported that Singapore Pools is looking to launch the first licensed gambling website that will be based in Singapore.[6] The same report cited sources who said that Singapore Pools had already begun design for a website with online betting functions. In effect, this Bill will create a monopoly for legalised online gambling in Singapore for the existing operators.

Dangers of Gambling and Lessons We Have Learnt

Madam, while it is good to have only compliant not-for-profit organisations with charitable outlook to be considered for exemption, we must not forget that there are very real dangers of people and families that have been and will continue to be destroyed at our existing legalised casinos, turf club and betting outlets.

According to a British gambling consultancy, H2 Gambling Capital, Singaporeans are the second biggest gamblers in the world, and the average adult resident lost $1,189 in 2013.[7] This ranks Singapore only behind Australia in terms of gambling losses per resident. Half of this amount was reportedly lost in casinos, with the other half going to other forms of gambling such as lotteries, non-casino gaming machines, betting, and offshore gaming websites.

While the rates of problem and pathological gambling across the board are still considered relatively low,[8] a local study funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development has found that there has been an increase in the gambling participation rates among older adults aged 60 and above;[9] this is consistent with other countries such as the UK and the US which have also found similar trends. What is worrying about the prevalence of gambling participation among older adults from the study is that none of those identified within the problem gambling and moderate risk groups in the study, were seeking professional help.[10] As a result, while there are generally more people seeking help for gambling addiction, there still remains a significant group of people who do not do so, for various reasons such as being unaware of the problem, or the fear of being stigmatised, amongst others.

This is a cause for concern not just because this group of people are around retirement age, but also because of the dire consequences that could befall their families if the problem is not addressed in time.

When we legalised casinos in 2006, we enacted the Casino Control Act which had provisions aimed at protecting vulnerable persons and society at large from the potential harm of casino gambling. Yet we still saw individuals and families being destroyed by the scourge of addictive gambling. That resulted in amendments to the Bill 2 years ago to offer further safeguards.

I’d like to know what are the lessons learnt from the operations of our legalised gambling franchises that our authorities intend to incorporate to control the negative aspects of addictive gambling. This is especially so when remote gambling is so much more convenient for the gamblers.

While we are legislating remote gambling for the first time in Singapore, there are already some form of remote gambling by our two state-run gambling operators. Singapore Pools already allows phone betting[11] and Singapore Turf Club’s MobileTote allows betting via mobile devices[12]. Phone betting allows for the placement of lottery bets by following voice prompts and through data entry using the phone’s number pads. It also allows for Sports bets through speaking with a customer service representative. The MobileTote allows Telebet account holders to view raceday information and place their racing wagers on their mobile phones. ​Users of these services must first be registered with the gambling operators.

I trust that our authorities have been monitoring these existing forms of legalised remote gambling services. I’d like to know if we have examined the frequency of usage of these types of remote gambling, such as number of bets and amount of bets versus the traditional forms. Have we studied the betting patterns of those who use these remote gambling services to see if the services had led to an increase in the number and overall values of their betting? What is the size of the existing memberships of these services? The information could be helpful to determine the extent of the danger for legalising online gambling through exempted operators and if these two existing state-owned operators should be granted exempt-status. With the exemption provisions in this Bill, it could open the floodgates for these operators to be more aggressive in offering a wider range of services with greater convenience, which could inevitably result in more people becoming addicted to gambling.

Strong Verification and Controls Needed

With online gambling, one should logically first need to be registered with a login identity and to have financial details linked to the gaming operator to facilitate payment. If we have to go down the path of having exempt gambling operators, we will need a way to impose controls on the legalised gambling sites such as exclusion orders, voluntary self-exclusion and limits to gambling tied to financial abilities. With the current exercise to strengthen Singpass security with 2-level authentication, perhaps Singpass could be used as the means for authentication and financial background checks. At the very least, some form of strict authentication of the identity and background of online gamblers at the initial creation of their account is important. Those on state-funded welfare programmes can be automatically excluded as such information will be readily available about the person. Those already on casino exclusion orders and are bankrupt should also be automatically excluded. Known financial details could perhaps be used to determine gambling limits.

What forms of remote gambling will be allowed for the legalised exempt operators? I am glad to hear from the Minister that there will be no online casinos as casino games are potentially more addictive compared to other forms of gambling. It would have allowed a loophole to let Singapore residents gamble on casino games without the safeguards such as entry levies that physical casinos have.

Another issue that we may need to look at in the implementation of online gaming is live betting. With live betting, one can bet on sporting events as they happen, with odds changing by the minute as the game progresses. Gambling sites internationally have devised all sorts of creative live bets, such as the number of yellow cards in, say the first 20 minutes of the game. This can lead to more bets being placed on each sporting event and it also raises the risk for match fixing. Australia, which has laws regulating online gambling since 2001, moved last year to ban live betting and live odds on all sports event, with the exception of horse racing. [13] Their reasons, amongst others for this move were to control excessive gambling and to prevent the sporting values of games from being distorted by gambling. I hope live betting will also not be allowed in Singapore.

Commit Bill to a Select Committee

Madam Speaker, I understand a reason given for allowing exemptions is to allow enforcement through entities that we can better monitor. However, we need to tread this carefully as the ills of gambling are far reaching, as we have already seen from our experiences with the casinos and other forms of legalised gambling. There need to be constant monitoring of the effects of remote gambling and to restrict participation by vulnerable persons and to also restrict the type of gaming activities allowed.

While I support the broad principles of the Bill to ban remote gambling, I find that there are many unanswered questions regarding the exemption provisions. I fear that once we open the floodgates to have legalised remote gambling, we may end up with very high social costs and other unintended consequences in the future. Hence, I also ask that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee to examine the exemption provisions in detail to convince Singaporeans why exemptions are necessary and if so, how we can tighten our legislation to implement very strong safeguards.

Thank you.

[1] http://m.todayonline.com/singapore/govt-moves-moves-curb-remote-gambling-websites
[2] http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details.aspx?nid=MzAzOA%3D%3D-YA3Z%2BhZbN8g%3D
[3] http://app.msf.gov.sg/Research-Room/Research-Statistics?tid=26&title=Gambling/Problem%20Gambling
[4] http://www.establishmentpost.com/singapore-pools-plug-online-gambling-remote-gambling-bill/
[5] http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/online-gambling-sites-urged-keep-addicts-out-20140927
[6] http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/singapore-pools-looking-start-licensed-gambling-website-20131213
[7] http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/sporeans-remain-second-biggest-gamblers-world
[8] http://app.msf.gov.sg/Press-Room/Preventing-rise-in-Gambling-Addiction
[9] Tsu S, et al., (2013). Estimating the prevalence of problem gambling among older adults in Singapore,. Elsevier., p. 607.
[10] Tsu S, et al., (2013). Estimating the prevalence of problem gambling among older adults in Singapore,. Elsevier., p. 610.
[11] http://www.singaporepools.com.sg/en/pb/Pages/index.aspx
[12] http://www.turfclub.com.sg/Wagering/BettingServices/Pages/MobileTote.aspx

[13] http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/gillard-moves-to-ban-live-odds-restrict-gambling-ads-during-games-20130526-2n4tc.html

Building an Asian Community: Promoting Peaceful Developments and Embracing Political Diversity

The following is my speech delivered on 19 September 2014 at the International Conference of Asian Political Parties, 8th General Assembly at Colombo, Sri Lanka. The theme for the General Assembly was “Building An Asian Community”.

I had attended the ICAPP 8th General Assembly held in Sri Lanka from 18-21 September with 2 colleagues from WP Youth Wing. Also from Singapore were representatives from the Singapore People’s Party. The event provided an interesting exchange of ideas with some 300 politicians from the ruling and opposition parties of around 30 countries. Asia has very diverse cultures, religions, geographies, ideologies, types of governments and state of economic developments.

Delegates from WP and SPP of Singapore at ICAPP 2014

Groupie of delegates from WP and SPP of Singapore at ICAPP 2014

Throughout the proceedings, many speakers including myself had referred to the Asian century. As I listened to the optimism and occasional words of caution sounded by the speakers of the enormous potential of Asia, I was reminded of a discussion during my General Paper (GP) tutorial class in college over 30 years ago. The topic then was about Africa. After World World II, there were many countries that were gaining independence. Africa was exuberating with confidence as their resource-rich countries broke away from their colonial master. Sadly, with wars and mismanagement, the huge potential of Africa did not materialise, perhaps not yet. Asia is now indeed racing ahead with many of its huge economies on the rise. However, political leaders must guard against terrorism, internal and external conflicts and narrow-minded policies that can tear a country apart.

Yee JJ delivering speech at ICAPP, 19 Sep 2014

Yee JJ delivering speech at ICAPP, 19 Sep 2014

Building an Asian Community: Promoting Peaceful Developments and Embracing Political Diversity

Good afternoon, Mr Chairman and honourable delegates of ICAPP. As introduced, I am a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament in Singapore’s 12th Parliament. I am here with two Youth Wing colleagues of the Workers’ Party. They are currently in the youth wing session delivering a speech.

Thank you for inviting us to be at this gathering of political parties across Asia.

I am happy to be back in Colombo. My last trip here was for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s conference in 2012, also in the month of September and also in this same venue. I had received warm hospitality from the host during that trip so I am glad to be able to come back for this ICAPP General Assembly.

Geographically, Singapore is a small country by land size, somewhere in the middle of South East Asia and Asia. Since the founding of Singapore by the British nearly 200 years ago, the country had thrived by being a trading hub and more recently as a business, financial and technology hub. Next year will be the 50th year of our independence. Four years after that will be our 200th year since Sir Stamford Raffles founded modern Singapore.

As a small trading nation and business hub, peace and cooperation with other countries, especially in our region has been very important to Singapore.

I am personally alarmed and saddened by the recent increase in violence and conflicts globally, such as in the Middle East. Even though the Middle East conflicts are far away from Singapore, in our interconnected worlds, it is nevertheless very close to home. Once a while, we hear of volunteers from Singapore and from our nearby region joining the ISIS movement. Yesterday, as I was travelling here, I heard the news that an ISIS network was broken up in Australia, fortunately before they could strike within Australia. These are dangers we must constantly guard against if we wish to build a strong Asian community.

Singapore is a multiracial society comprising of four main races – Chinese, Malay, Indians and Eurasians. We also have many new immigrants amongst us, especially from Asia. Foreigners comprise nearly 40% of the population in Singapore today. Hence we have a rather diverse Asian community within Singapore. It is a challenge that we have to take on an ongoing basis to preserve the peace and harmony amongst one another. The relative peace between different ethnic groups and people of various faiths has been a key to enable our economic progress.

Hence I look forward to peaceful developments in countries across Asia, despite the challenges of many diverse religions, ethnic races and ideologies. Only peaceful development and cooperation with one another can help realize the potential of the Asian century.

The Workers’ Party of Singapore was formed in 1957. As the name implies, we started with a socialist incline. Currently on the political spectrum, we can be considered as being centre-left.

Those who follow Singapore politics may know that the ruling party has been in power since the self-independence of Singapore in 1959. From 1968-1981, there was no opposition presence in parliament. From 1981-2011, there were between 1-2 members of the opposition in parliament.

In 2011, the Singapore electorate voted in a record six members of the opposition at the General Elections. Today, there are seven elected opposition members and three non-constituency opposition MPs in our parliament. While this is still a very small number compared to that of many countries here, it was nevertheless an important political milestone for us.

I believe greater political competition and political diversity is yet another important development in our relatively young country’s progress. I believe we are not alone in Asia in moving towards greater political diversity as the proliferation of social media and the rising levels of education of the people have driven the desire in many countries for more political diversity.

Our team is happy to be here in the midst of so many political parties in Asia, the largest and most populous continent on Earth with so much political diversity. We look forward to fostering friendship and cooperation with the many political parties here. Thank you.

Transboundary Haze Pollution Bill

The following is my speech delivered on 5 August 2014 in Parliament and a follow-up question for MEWR Minister. Source: Parliament website – http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00006478-WA&currentPubID=00006482-WA&topicKey=00006482-WA.00006478-WA_1%2Bid-4067f594-ea00-4e20-ac4b-1ad5493c5b74%2B

TRANSBOUNDARY HAZE POLLUTION BILL

[speech by MEWR Minister and other members…]

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Mdm Speaker, I rise in support of the Bill. Since 1991, Singapore has endured recurring haze episodes resulting from land and forest fires in Indonesia, with last year’s being the worst ever. While I appreciate the efforts of our officials over the many years in trying to find workable solutions with our ASEAN neighbours on this issue, I have been concerned about our lack of ability to take more actions that are within our controls.

Hence, two years ago, I had asked the Government to consider legislative measures to allow us to prosecute companies found guilty of causing haze in Singapore through illegal burning, even if the acts were committed outside of our shores [1]. This Bill now gives us a new legal lever to exercise our rights to clean air, covering both criminal and civil liabilities for commercial entities responsible for land clearance if their actions outside of our territorial boundaries cause haze pollution in Singapore.

This Bill signals Singapore’s seriousness in combating this issue. Agricultural companies that wish to do business with Singapore or have their operational headquarters here will have to think seriously about their practices if they are not already practicing good land clearing practices.

My speech will focus on some details of the Bill and the potential challenges to put it in place, which the Minister and other Members had also pointed out.

Presumptions. First, there is a string of sweeping presumptions under clause 8 of the Bill which we need to especially convince our regional neighbours that these are fair and reasonable.

Clause 8 contains a series of legal presumptions to assist the prosecution to pin guilt on entities. There will be much controversy surrounding clause 8(4), which presumes the accuracy of land maps obtained by the Singapore Government from the foreign government or any person requested by the Singapore Government to furnish a map. If the Singapore Government decides to rely on that map, it is presumed under clause 8(4) that the entities reflected on the map as occupying particular geographical areas will be presumed to be doing so unless the entity proves otherwise. Is this presumption from a map reasonable? Therein lies a potential minefield.

Experts in agrarian land laws have cited the complexity of the law related to land in Indonesia [2] and the need for reforms in land registration [3 and 4]. There are reportedly ambiguities in land rights between the customary law or adat, which deems land as belonging to communities, and the formal law called the Basic Agrarian Law giving individual title to land. There are thus unregistered but valid land rights which would not show up in maps as they are generally not recognised by the State.
A further complication is that, under the Basic Forestry Law of 1967, all forest land is deemed to belong to the State, even when communities recognise their customary rights to the forest land among themselves. The Basic Agrarian Law of Indonesia recognises four types of land tenures that can be registered: (a) the right of ownership; (b) the right to use; (c) the right to exploit; and (d) the right to build. Different entities can hold the four different rights to the same piece of land. Many of the rights given to the urban and rural land in Indonesia have not been registered. In addition, foreign entities also team up with local entities to get de facto rights to the land, making it unclear as to who is the actual entity that is in charge of activities on the land parcels.

Given the state of affairs, how reliable would land maps from Indonesia be? Do the Indonesians themselves accept their government maps as accurate? This may call into question the reasonableness of the presumptions under clause 8(4).
Besides clause 8(4), the rest of clause 8 also places the burden of proof on a suspected entity to disprove its guilt. Clause 8(1) presumes that haze pollution in Singapore is caused by a land or forest fire outside Singapore if the meteorological data suggest so. Clause 8(2) presumes that an owner or occupier of the land alleged to have caused haze pollution in Singapore had engaged in conduct that caused or condoned the haze pollution. Clause 8(3) presumes that if any entity is believed to have caused or condoned haze pollution in Singapore, any other entity that participates in the management of the first entity has also caused or condoned haze pollution in Singapore.

While presumptions have been used in Singapore laws before, such as in the Misuse of Drugs Act, shifting the burden of proof to persons is likely to be more demanding, and even more so when the evidence is overseas. Where a legal presumption operates against an accused, it is not sufficient for the accused to cast a reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case; instead, the accused has the burden of proof to rebut the legal presumption on a balance of probabilities. In order to do so, the accused entity is expected to bring its witnesses and documents to Singapore and foot the expenses of such. Even assuming that a foreign entity does all these things and is acquitted, there is no provision for it to recover its expenses or legal costs, since this is a criminal proceeding. A challenge will be that some foreign entities may not be interested to clear their name at their own expenses in Singapore.

Next, on the defences provided in the Bill. The Bill provides as defence to condoning haze pollution that if the accused Primary Person proves on a balance of probabilities, that the Primary Person took “all such measures reasonable” to prevent or stop or reduce substantially such conduct by the Secondary Person, if the haze pollution has already happened.
It will be good for parliament to clarify what standards of behaviour are the Primary Persons expected to implement to constitute a good defence? It would be a perverse policy outcome if Primary Persons are able to get away by simply inserting clauses in their contracts with their supplier Secondary Persons that the Secondary Persons must not engage in conduct that causes haze, and with the rights to terminate their contracts in the event of a breach.

Should we expect a higher standard of behaviour to be met before the clause can be invoked, such as for the Primary Persons to conduct regular audits of their contractors, plus provide resources to fight fires once they have broken out, and to do everything possible to prevent and fight haze fires?

The Bill provides for a fine of $100,000 per day if a party is found guilty of causing haze, plus $50,000 per day for failing to comply with preventive measures, up to a cap of $2 million. This was an increase from the earlier draft for caps of $300,000 to $450,000.

The Minister had said that we need to increase the overall level of deterrence [5]. For the purpose of clarity to the public, I would like to know the processes which the Government had used to arrive at these figures. Were other methods of computations for caps considered? I feel it is important for the Government to have a principled basis for these figures so that there will be greater acceptance of this Bill by our regional neighbours.

Enforcement. The Bill provides for the Director-General of Environmental Pollution or an authorised officer to give notice to any person, whether within or outside of Singapore to furnish information or documents. The challenge is to get the cooperation of contractors or sub-contractors, when the persons or corporations that do not have presence in Singapore or are not even managed from Singapore. Large plantation companies often work through contractors. Our courts will need to have concrete evidences if we wish to prosecute these plantation companies. Would this make it vulnerable for prosecution under this Act to fail due to the lack of evidence because of the lack of cooperation?

There are provision under Sections 4, 6(3) and 6(4) for “extra-territorial application”. Singapore currently does not have any umbrella extradition treaty with Indonesia. If the accused person fails to appear in court, a warrant of arrest is issued under Section 17. This will likely have little or no effect if the person is not in Singapore. We have many examples of such cases in other aspects of our laws. For example in divorce-related maintenance issues, there are many cases that have stalled for indefinite periods at this stage of the legal process because the accused is in a country which Singapore does not have an adequate extradition treaty with, such as Indonesia.

Good evidence is needed given the complex nature of the ownership and operations of plantations in Indonesia. Last year in the midst of the haze, several large plantations were flagged out publicly as possible culprits. The press reported that several of the named companies said that they followed strict no-burning policies, demanded their contractors to do the same, and had in fact worked to put out fires in neighbouring areas [6]. They also stated that while the permits for lands may be listed as belonging to them, they were not conducting activities on these concessions, or the permits have expired, or were not under their control as parts of the land may be occupied by others.

Regional Cooperation. While having this new legislation is good for signalling Singapore’s strong intent to fight transboundary haze, we will still have to rely heavily on good old-fashioned diplomacy and extending our strong support to our neighbours to help them prevent and fight forest fires. We also need their cooperation to ensure that prosecution and the enforcement of punishment can be carried out.

In this respect, it is very encouraging that Indonesia’s President-elect, Mr Joko Widodo, who also happens to be a forestry graduate, has backed our plans to impose heftier fines on transboundary polluters, but with a caveat to respect the sovereignty of Indonesia.[7]

Ultimately, the fires are burning in a sovereign foreign country. We need to have accurate and up-to-date land concession maps in order to have evidence against the companies implicated in unlawful forest fires. Most of all, it is best to be able to prevent these fires from starting.

An important step to solve the regional haze problem is for Indonesia to ratify the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. Indonesia has remained the only ASEAN country not to have ratified the Agreement, with some officials citing the need for detailed protocols to guarantee Indonesia’s sovereignty. As the Minister and others had also pointed out, the haze, unfortunately affects ordinary Indonesians even more than it does to their neighbours as those in Riau and Kalimantan are where the most intense fires are. Our diplomacy efforts can extend towards helping Indonesia achieve their stated aim for a more sustainable agro-industry.

Last year, the Minister shared about Singapore’s collaboration with the province of Jambi [8]. He had termed it as one of our more successful efforts that saw a greater reduction in the number of hotspots in Jambi Province during our years of collaboration, compared to other fire-prone provinces in Sumatra. He attributed the success to the strong support given by the then Governor of Jambi, Pak Zulkifli Nurdin. The collaboration was not renewed, unfortunately, after 2011.

I believe our officials must be hard at work trying to build up that same level of close collaboration that we had back then with Jambi province and with other Indonesian provinces. This is a tireless effort that must not stop. With the signal of support sent by President-elect Mr Joko Widodo to have greater ASEAN collaboration on various environment issues, let us hope the Minister can soon share more success on this front of preventing fires at the frequent hotspot areas.

Mdm Speaker, notwithstanding the challenges to operationalise this Bill, I am pleased that we now have the legislative means to allow us to do more in the fight for our right to clean air. Thank you.

… [Speeches by other members and Minister’s response]

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Thank you, Madam. I thank the Minister for the clarifications. I just have one question which is actually from my speech. I would like to know what would be our Singapore Government and the Minister’s expectations as to the Primary Person’s responsibility. How do you define “taking all such measures reasonable to prevent, stop and reduce substantially such actions by the Secondary Persons”? The reason I am asking this is it is very simple for large companies to insert clauses into their contracts with sub-contractors and then say that they have, therefore, safeguarded themselves. If a forest fire happens, they can then simply say it is the responsibility of their sub-contractor and, therefore, they have taken all reasonable measures. Thank you.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thank the Member for that query. I do not think the simple insertion of a few clauses into a contract will be a sufficient defence. But I will leave it to the judge in the court of law to assess whether that controlling entity has really done the best to prevent a fire, or did not know about the actions that led to the fire, or having known that the haze has being caused, did not take adequate action to put it out. These are issues which have to be settled in court. I do not think just having a clause in the contract absolves you of your responsibility and of your liability.

——————————————-

References:

[1] http://www.landcoalition.org/sites/default/files/publication/1357/2012AsiaLandForum_AdeCholikMutaqin.pdf

[2] http://www.landcoalition.org/sites/default/files/legacy/legacypdf/angoc/ch2/ch2p06.pdf?q=pdf/angoc/ch2/ch2p06.pdf

[3] http://usaidlandtenure.net/Indonesia

[4] http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00078137-WA&currentPubID=00078220-WA&topicKey=00078220-WA.00078137-WA_1%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B2

[5] http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/up-to-s-100-000-fine-for/1243194.html

[6] http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/the-haze-singapore/story/haze-update-companies-reject-claims-they-were-behind-fires-20

[7] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-29/haze-fines-win-indonesia-s-support-with-caveats-southeast-asia.html

[8] http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00000206-WA&currentPubID=00000140-WA&topicKey=00000140-WA.00000206-WA_1%2Bid-631404fd-00cb-43b5-a98b-4d0b51828ccb%2B16

Debate on MediShield Life – Keeping Healthcare Cost Manageable

(I delivered this speech on 8 July 2014 during the debate on MediShield Life)

Madam Speaker, I welcome the move to improve protection against large hospital bills and against expensive chronic treatments, as well as to cover those with pre-existing conditions. My colleagues have touched on and will be touching on various aspects of MediShield life. I wish to speak today about keeping healthcare costs manageable.

 

The Committee reported that in the recent five years, our total healthcare spending has risen close to 10% each year on average. Medical inflation has been rising much faster than inflation in general. The healthcare industry has little incentive in itself to contain costs. If this medical inflation trend continues, it can be worrying as to how much MediShield Life’s premiums will be in future, as well as the cost of smaller medical bills which are not covered by MediShield Life.

 

The report touched on some areas that the government can look into to contain costs. First, I’d like to understand how we can keep claims reasonable. I’d like to see a robust framework to detect inflated or frivolous treatments by healthcare professionals. Inflated claims can come in the form of prescribing treatments beyond what the patients need or from the over prescription of drugs. How will the government track claims to ensure that even as we strengthen our insurance framework, we will not have inflated claims and unnecessary treatments that will push up healthcare costs, as we have seen that happened in many other countries?

 

Another way to keep costs manageable is for people to stay healthy. That’s easier said than done. Many in Singapore today are already not healthy, being diagnosed with chronic illnesses. For example, 11.3% of Singaporean adults are diabetic. 1 in 3 people are currently diabetic by age 70. A recent study by NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health forecasted that by 2050, Singapore may have as many as 1 million diabetics, with 1 in 2 being diabetic by age 70. [1] Around 24% of adults in Singapore now have high blood pressure (hypertension). [2] What’s needed will be to prevent those with chronic illnesses from developing complications. Diabetes itself is not scary, but it can lead to kidney failure, or the patient becoming blind or needing amputation. A person with high blood pressure may feel healthy, but the ailment can develop into stroke or a heart attack if the situation is not controlled.

 

Our lifestyles are increasingly becoming unhealthy. We can put more effort to focus on those that are already diagnosed as unhealthy and invest in preventive care for them. We need to give the best care possible and to monitor the proper taking of medication to prevent complications from developing, which will be life threatening and are very costly to treat. While we currently already have schemes like CHAS and various subsidies for medicines, it is frightening to note that we now have four new cases of kidney failure every day[3] and two cases of limb amputations are performed each day due to diabetic foot complications[4]. We should constantly monitor the schemes to see how they are working and what else can be done if the results are not as good as what we want them to be.

 

Drugs are another area for cost control. I am also concern about the potential impact that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) may have on the cost of drugs. TPP is currently being negotiated between 12 countries which include Singapore. Many negotiating countries have raised concerns about the Intellectual Property (IP) rights chapter in the TPP which reportedly seek a much more stringent level of IP protection than the WTO’s (World Trade Organisation) standards. Fears are that these new rules will strengthen the drug monopoly of big US pharmaceutical companies by altering existing patent laws in their favour[5]. The Medishield Life Review Committee has recommended using generic drugs as far as possible to lower costs. We will need to guard against the TPP drastically changing IP rules that may delay drugs becoming generic.

 

Next, on electronic health records.  I believe information transparency will allow the government to monitor the performance of healthcare providers and to track if appropriate and cost effective treatments are provided. Readily available comprehensive medical data will allow the government to better manage cost across the entire healthcare sector. This is especially so for the private sector, which the Committee had highlighted concerns about “high professional fees” in the private sector.

 

Some 10 years ago, the Ministry of Health made it as one of its priorities for the healthcare sector to adopt ICT for health and to set up a common Electronic Medical Record system. Much has been invested in the National Electronic Health Record system (NEHR) and international experts have been brought in to implement the system. I understand that today, a version of the system is used in the public healthcare sector. However, the vast majority of those in the private healthcare sector and those run by VWOs are not yet adopting the system.

 

For NEHR to help better manage the industry efficiently and effectively, I think it will be necessary to have the private sector and VWO health providers adopt the National Health Record system. We should have all healthcare providers on board the same system. This will let patients have the choice to move to other healthcare providers with full portability of records. The information will allow the government to measure the performances of healthcare providers and if necessary, to even effect changes to payment models, such as to pay for health outcomes rather than just on treatments.[6] I like to know if there are timelines in place for NEHR to be used industry wide.

 

Healthcare has been a laggard in the exploitation of ICT. As we move to provide wider healthcare coverage for all Singaporeans through MediShield Life, how will NEHR play a role in providing more efficient healthcare?

 

Also on technology, telehealth or telemedicine offers opportunities to enable the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management and self-management of patients remotely.  Telehealth can include the home monitoring of chronic diseases, time sensitive assessments in accident and emergency (A&E) departments by medical specialists in another hospital, video conferencing between patients and health providers, and store-and-forward technologies such as for X-Rays and photographs to be captured and transmitted for analysis by doctors later and remotely.

 

Expanding the use of telehealth has the potential to reduce healthcare costs, increase the level of convenience for patients, and improve patient outcomes over traditional methods. Home monitoring of chronic diseases has been shown to lead to reduced hospitalisations.  A patient in the A&E department can receive care by videoconferencing with a specialist in another hospital and thus may save a transfer to that hospital. Telehealth can provide timely care for stroke patients who may have difficulties travelling to hospitals. [7]

 

I understand telehealth is currently being piloted in Singapore. We will need to move to an agreed-upon reimbursement model. If doctors cannot be compensated for tele-consultations, they will likely fall back on the traditional mode of getting patients to visit them in their clinics. If patient cannot use Medisave or be covered by insurance for telehealth, they may opt not to have telehealth even if it can be more suitable for them. I’d like to see greater adoption of telehealth through better infrastructure and changes to reimbursement models or regulations that inhibit telehealth.

 

Finally, the Committee has recommended that the government build up capabilities to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of medical practice, technologies and drugs. I wish to understand what measures have the government put in place to ensure that new practices, technologies and therapies that are cost-effective in achieving a good treatment outcome are covered by Medishield Life? What will be the measures used to define cost effectiveness? What will be the frequency of such evaluation so that good treatment methods can be covered as soon as practical? Will there be a formal institution that will be set up to make these decisions in a transparent manner and to evaluate appeal on decisions? For example in the United Kingdom, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is government-funded and exercises independent and binding decision-making on what the health service needs to offer[8]. Crucial to the Institute’s independence is its transparency in decision-making. The academic research, industry input, patient advocates’ filing, demographic and epidemiologic data that go into the decision-making process are freely available.

 

In conclusion, MediShield Life is a step in the right direction to ease the worries of Singaporeans on large healthcare bills. I hope the government will examine all ways possible to contain healthcare inflation so that healthcare will be affordable to all.

 

Madam Speaker, I support the motion.

 

———————————– References ————————————

[1] http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/1m-diabetics-2050-singaporeans-get-older-fatter-20121002

[2] http://www.myheart.org.sg/article/about-the-heart-and-heart-disease/statistics/risk-factors/77

[3] http://news.xin.msn.com/en/singapore/sdollar70m-needed-to-support-kidney-patients-nkf-1

[4] http://www.annals.edu.sg/pdf/39VolNo6Jun2010/V39N6p472.pdf

[5] http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=5325&frcrld=1

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/17/business/17quality.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

[7] http://cchpca.org/sites/default/files/Fiscal%20Impact%20of%20AB%20415%20Potential%20Cost%20Savings%20from%20Expansion%20of%20Telehealth_0_0.pdf

[8] http://www.nice.org.uk/About/Who-we-are

Time to review priority for Primary 1 registration for community leaders

 

Last Thursday (12 June 2014), it was announced that parents who become grassroots volunteers will have to do at least two years of grassroots work and not one year as was the case previously, to qualify for getting priority for their children in the Primary 1 registration exercise. They will also be restricted to schools in the constituency where they live. The changes were announced by the People’s Association (PA) in a circular sent in April 2014. It was reported that the PA had reviewed the scheme and felt it was still “relevant” in promoting collaboration between schools and the community. The report stated that the changes were made to ensure that only “deserving” grassroots leaders and district councillors would benefit.

I think it is time to totally review this scheme. I had spoken on this issue a few times in Parliament, the records of which I have extracted and appended below.

The stated reason for this privilege is to promote collaboration between schools and the community. While I think it is relevant that there should be collaboration between schools and the community, it is questionable how many community leaders have actually been actively doing so. If the intention is really such, there can be a change to the rule. The principal of the school that the community leader is applying for priority entry for their children into, must endorse that the community leader is actually actively involved in collaboration projects with the schools for a sustained period. Right now, it appears that this is not the case from the reply given by Senior Minister of State, Ms Indranee Rajah to my question on 13 May 2013 (see below).

Anyone who wishes to serve as a community leader should serve voluntarily. I fail to see how active service to the community but not to the school will actually “promote collaboration between schools and the community.” By attaching various benefits to service as a community leader, it may distort the meaning of community service. The reason stated by the PA that “only deserving grassroots leaders and district councillors would benefit” seem to imply that these leaders must receive various benefits for their service.

 

 ————— Extracts from Singapore Parliament’s Reports ————–

1. Priority for Primary 1 Registration (13 May 2013)

http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00000108-WA&currentPubID=00000021-WA&topicKey=00000021-WA.00000108-WA_1%2Bid-d0092b7e-8fb7-4aa8-a342-5c6f5a1a6329%2B

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Thank you, Mdm Speaker. Earlier in her reply, the Senior Minister of State mentioned that the community leaders are important to build the bond between the schools and the community. I would like to ask if the Ministry has done any survey to see how many community leaders have actively contributed to the schools that their children are enrolled in, and if it can be a criterion for community leaders to have first made specific contributions to the schools before they are being considered for priority.

Ms Indranee Rajah: I am not aware of any survey. I do not have that information at the current time. If the Member would like to file a specific question on that, I can check. But currently, the criterion is based on contribution to the community, as opposed to contributions specifically to the school. Contributions specifically to the school would be under the parent volunteers scheme or on the Advisory Council of the school. But with respect to the community leaders’ contribution, it is contribution to the community.

 

2. COS 2013 – Ministry of Education (13 March 2013)

http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00079140-WA&currentPubID=00079143-WA&topicKey=00079143-WA.00079140-WA_4%2Bbudget%2B

Primary One Admission

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Madam, while MOE wants every school to be a good school, there is great disparity in results between schools. The highest and lowest medium PSLE T-scores amongst schools last year are 247 and 160 respectively, a difference of 87.I feel community leaders need not be given priority. Being a community leader for the purpose of getting into top primary schools does not gel with the spirit of community service. With the change, we can have a better mix of students of different social backgrounds in our schools, allowing better integration among pupils.

I hope MOE can better spread resources across schools, reduce class size and review the need to centralise gifted students into top schools, then it may not be as much stress over which primary schools to enter.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had observed that admission to primary schools is based on the social class of parents. Six out of 10 pupils in six of the top primary schools live in private houses. But it is useful to review the primary one admission system. It is a stressful process for some; shifting house and doing volunteer work to get their children into top schools. I agree that priority should be given to those with siblings already in the school for the sake of convenience. Beyond that, we can consider a system with higher balloting chances for alumni, school volunteers and those living near the school. But it need not guarantee their position over others like in the phase system today.

 

(3)  Priority for Primary One Registration Based on Active Community Leadership (13 AUG 2012)

http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00077817-WA&currentPubID=00077751-WA&topicKey=00077751-WA.00077817-WA_2%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Education with regard to the priority granted for Primary One registration based on active community leadership by the child’s parents (a) what constitutes active community leadership; (b) how many children have gained admission to primary schools yearly based on this priority over the past five years; and (c) whether the Ministry plans to review the necessity for this priority.

Mr Heng Swee Keat: Under the current Primary One (P1) Registration Framework, current serving committee members of the Residents’ Committee (RC), Neighbourhood Committee (NC), Citizen’s Consultative Committee (CCC), Community Club Management Committee (CCMC) and the Community Development Council (CDC) are eligible to register their children under Phase 2B as active community leaders. To qualify as active community leaders, the People’s Association (PA) requires the community leaders to serve actively in these Committees for at least one year prior to the P1 registration exercise.

While active community leaders can choose to register their child under Phase 2B, there is no guarantee that they will be successful in obtaining a place in their school of choice if the number of applications in Phase 2B exceeds the number of places in a school. In the last five years, an average of 330 children, or less than 1% of the primary 1 cohort, were admitted annually under the active community leaders scheme.

The Ministry regularly reviews the P1 Registration Framework, taking into consideration the feedback received after every exercise.

My parliament speeches and questions on renewable energy

(1) 14 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Test-Bedding of Solar Photovoltaic Installations (Results and lessons learned)

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) what are the results and lessons learned from the test-bedding of solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in HDB housing estates and in public institutions such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic; (b) whether the Government will scale up the experimental test-bedding to have PV installations beyond the targeted 3% of HDB blocks; (c) whether the Government will consider deploying PV installations on all government buildings and public schools; and (d) and whether doing so would set an example to the private sector for the viability and cost-effectiveness of PV installations.

Mr S Iswaran (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Over the years, we have supported various research, pilot and test-bedding programmes to strengthen our capabilities in solar PV. For example, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is leading the $31 million Solar Capability Building Scheme, a nationwide solar pilot programme on public housing blocks. Since 2008, HDB has been progressively installing solar PV in both new and existing HDB precincts. To date, about 100 blocks have been installed with solar PV systems. From HDB’s pilot programme, we seek learning points on the feasibility and performance of various solar PV technologies in Singapore’s densely built tropical environment, as well as best practices for implementation and systems integration of solar PV.

Another initiative is the Economic Development Board’s (EDB’s) Clean Energy and Research and Test-bedding (CERT) Programme, which offers opportunities for companies to test-bed clean energy technologies using locations provided by government agencies, including government buildings and public schools. The CERT programme also aims to encourage R&D and build research capabilities in solar PV in our local research institutes. Projects supported under the CERT programme include National Parks Board’s (NParks’) Gardens by the Bay, PUB’s Marina Barrage, the Building and Construction Authority’s (BCA’s) Zero-Energy Building, and installations in Singapore Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Our HDB solar PV systems generate an average of 3,200 to 4,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month per housing block. This largely goes towards powering each block’s common services such as elevators, water pumps and corridor lights, thus reducing common areas’ energy consumption from the grid.

Going forward, we will continue to support such test-bedding efforts. To meet the energy demands of government-owned buildings, we remain open to all energy technologies and options. These could include buying electricity from the grid, installing solar PV to augment electricity supply, or installing energy-efficient technologies to reduce energy consumption. The Government could take the lead in installing solar PV where it makes economic sense to do so.

The private sector would similarly need to weigh the costs and benefits in deciding whether to deploy solar PV installations. The Government will continue to facilitate this by supporting technical infrastructure for better integration of distributed energy sources, and reviewing our market regulatory rules and policies.

———————–

(2) 15 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Solar Powered Lightings at HDB Blocks

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for National Development (a) in which HDB housing estates have test-bedded solar photovoltaic (PV) panels been installed and how many blocks of flats does this comprise; (b) on average, how much savings have the Town Councils for these estates gained in their electricity bill ; (c) taking into account the subsidies given by the Government for the PV installations, how long will it take for the PV installations to break even on the savings achieved; and (d) whether the savings have benefited the residents directly or through rebates in the Service and Conservancy Charges.

The Senior Minister of State for National Development (Mr Lee Yi Shyan) (for the Minister for National Development): Sir, under HDB’s Solar Capability Building Programme, about 100 HDB blocks have been installed with solar PV systems. These blocks are scattered in different geographical areas in about 15 locations to enable HDB to study the impact of the microclimate on the performance of the solar panels. The solar power generated is used to power the lighting at the common areas, water pumps and lift operations.

Initially, the implementation of the solar PV systems was fully funded by the Government. Later on, in order to stretch the budget to benefit more estates, HDB adopted a solar leasing model to tap on private enterprises to carry out the design, financing, installation and maintenance of solar panels in HDB buildings. HDB funds a small percentage of the initial start-up costs, and the remainder is funded by the contractor. The contractor recoups its investment from selling the generated solar electricity to the Town Councils (TCs). Under this model, the Town Councils will enjoy monthly savings of up to 5% off the prevailing electricity tariff rate.

To-date, HDB has installed solar PV systems at 40 blocks in Punggol through this solar leasing model. The payback period for the latest phase of the solar leasing model is 19 years.

The savings derived from the installation of solar PV systems will help TCs to mitigate rising operating and estates management costs. Residents will in turn benefit, as this helps to keep the cost of maintaining the common areas low.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Sir, I thank the Senior Minister of State for the answer. Just a quick question, whether this programme has resulted in savings in the S&CC for the residents. If not, whether it is because we are still in the pilot phase and if we have to scale this project up to a much larger scale across Singapore to get the economies of scale that will result in direct savings to residents in the fees that they have to pay?

Mr Lee Yi Shyan: Sir, right now, the blocks that have the PV solar systems installed will enjoy about $500 to $800 savings per month per block. So compared to the entire block consumption, it is not a huge sum of money. That is why it is still a pilot phase. The benefit is directly accrued to the TCs. The TCs can mitigate part of the operating costs and perhaps the rising costs, so the TCs can delay adjusting the tariffs to the residents to a further date. The economics of PV solar system is such that even with some form of Government subsidy today, it would still take another 19 or 20 years. Over time, we hope that the prices of PV cells would come down. Indeed it has come down. From last year to this year, it has come down almost by half. If the cost of production of PV cells continues to go down, we hope one day the economics would be favourable to us implementing PV system on a wider scale. Having said that, we have to keep it in perspective because worldwide in most countries, if PV applications can reach 1% of the country’s overall power generation, it is considered to be very good. If it is 2% nationwide, it would be a very successful implementation.

———————–

(3) 15 Feb 2012 – Question Time: Solar Powered Lighting for Households and Commercial Premises

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) how many grid-connected commercial and household solar photovoltaic (PV) installations are there in Singapore; (b) what is the total capacity of these installations; (c) what percentage of Singapore’s total electricity generating capacity does this represent; (d) how much subsidies, grants, or funding-in-kind have been given for these installations, if any; (e) what schemes are available to encourage grid-connected PV installations by the private sector and households; and (f) whether the Ministry is studying the viability of Feed-In Tariffs, Rooftop Leasing, and Solar Leasing to encourage private grid-connected PV installations.

The Second Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr S Iswaran) (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Mr Speaker, Sir, as at 1 January 2012, there were 157 grid-connected solar PV installations in Singapore with a total installed capacity of 5,546 kilowatts peak (KWp). This is almost three times the capacity compared to end of 2009, and it represents 0.05% of Singapore’s total generation capacity.

Our principle is to price energy correctly. The right price signals will help to ensure greater energy efficiency and conservation. Hence, we do not subsidise energy through, for example, feed-in tariffs as this would lead to the inefficient use of a scarce resource.

Also, there are challenges with the use of solar energy. It is an intermittent source, and we have limited land for large-scale deployment of solar panels. Nonetheless, we are investing in research, development and demonstration (RD&D) to build capabilities that can support greater adoption of solar energy. The Economic Development Board’s (EDB) Clean Energy Research and Test-bedding (CERT) programme has set aside $16.6 million for Government agencies to work with private companies to develop and test-bed clean energy solutions, including solar, for Government buildings and facilities in Singapore. Another $20 million has been set aside for the private sector through the Solar Capability Scheme (SCS), to offset part of the capital costs to install solar technologies in energy-efficient commercial and industrial buildings. This seeks to build capabilities and encourage innovative integration of solar panels into such buildings.

Last year, the Housing Development Board (HDB) announced a pilot solar leasing scheme for 40 HDB blocks in Punggol – Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan elaborated on some of the projects earlier. And under this test-bedding arrangement, HDB supported part of the start-up costs, while the commercial partner designed, financed, installed, and is now operating and maintaining the solar PV installations, offering the Town Council electricity at a rate not higher than the retail electricity tariff.

All these efforts will allow us to harness solar energy to its full potential when it becomes a cost-competitive option for Singapore.

Mr Speaker: Mr Yee Jenn Jong, keep it short.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): I thank the Minister for the answer. The reason I have been asking questions about the solar situation in Singapore is because I feel that this represents an opportunity for Singapore to be able to develop our own capability to export overseas even though we have limited capability –

Mr Speaker: Mr Yee, we are going to run out of time.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Yes. I just want to know what sort of blueprint we have to develop our local abilities to be able to export our expertise in solar energy installation.

Mr S Iswaran: Mr Speaker, Sir, I am not sure whether the Member meant exporting energy or exporting the expertise.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong: Expertise.

Mr S Iswaran: Thank you, I understand. I just want to elaborate to make it very clear. First, solar as an option for us, we continue to look at it as we do all other energy options because we cannot rule anything out in the context of energy security for Singapore.

Secondly, solar energy in the context of meeting Singapore’s basic energy needs has limited potential for the reasons I have elaborated – its intermittency and the large land take that is required to meet our energy needs through solar puts some natural limits on it. Our investment in R&D is precisely in order to develop capabilities in this space. We are working with the private sector through our research institutes. And I think in the long term there will be potential therefore to collaborate with the private sector and to potentially export that expertise.

Mr Speaker: Order. End of Question Time.

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(4) 9 Apr 2012 – Energy Conservation Bill  (extracts of relevant portion of Yee JJ’s speech)

… (earlier part of Yee JJ’s speech) …

Third, I would like to cover an area I believe will be increasingly important for both Singapore and for the world, which is renewable energy. I think a gap in this Bill is that it does not seek to promote renewable energy explicitly. A comprehensive energy conservation effort must include renewable energy as a component. South Korea is aiming for 11% share of renewables in total energy consumption by 2030. Another heavy energy consumer country, Belgium, is aiming for 12% share of renewables for electricity suppliers in 2012. Japan, the energy intensity of which is comparable to the EU, is aiming for 10% by 2020. Denmark, already a leading energy efficient country in the world, is aiming for 13% by 2020.

According to statistics from the Singapore’s Energy Market Authority, in 2010, 79% of electricity in Singapore is produced from natural gas; 19% is from petroleum products, ie, fuel oil and diesel, but only under 3% is from renewables. This gap is made more pronounced by the fact that our National Climate Strategy commits Singapore “to do our part in the international effort to address climate change”. We have promised to play our part by “improving the energy efficiency of our major energy sectors, namely, power generation, industries, transport, buildings and households” and “to the global research effort on climate change and energy technologies”, particularly in solar energy and green buildings. The Strategy states, “The objective of our research efforts … is to improve the current state of technology, and to bring down production costs to a level that would make large-scale adoption commercially viable”. The Government is conscious of the need to signal to the international community our national commitment to the international climate change effort. The fact sheet in this Bill concludes, “Establishing energy efficient standards across sectors under an Energy Conservation Act will also send a strong signal to external parties that Singapore is serious in undertaking mitigation actions to meet its international obligations”.

Therefore, I would like to know the progress of our development in using more renewable energy. What are our current plans to significantly increase the use of renewables? I would like the Government to be more proactive to signal to the international community of our commitment to international efforts to address climate change by setting a target of renewables in total energy consumption to be achieved by a specific year. Using the four benchmark countries’ target as reference, how far can we push for a target of, say, 10% of renewables in total energy consumption by 2030?

… (additional part of Yee JJ’s speech) …

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(5) 5 March 2013 – Debate on Annual Budget (extracts of relevant portion of speech on Solar Energy)

… (earlier part of Yee JJ’s speech) …

Next, new Industries. I am glad the Government is constantly looking at new industries to develop as the economic landscape is rapidly changing due to globalisation and technological advancement. This is important as Singapore companies continue to seek areas to fill a niche in.

One area, I hope the Government can give more attention to, is in renewable energy. Last Saturday, The Straits Times reported energy scenario projections by Shell. The report projected that total energy demand could double in the next 50 years as the world’s population rises to 9.5 billion. In a high energy demand scenario, Shell predicted a strong push for the development of solar power as an alternative source of energy. By 2070, photovoltaic panels could become the world’s largest primary source of energy.

Singapore is constrained by small land size. We have been told that even if all roof tops and building surfaces are covered with photovoltaic panels, we could only have up to 14% of our energy needs being met.

I think this should not stop us from aggressively promoting and pursuing renewable energy installation expertise and technologies at a faster pace so that our companies can export their renewable energy products and services to fast developing countries in regions hungry for more energy.

Our public projects can be more aggressive in using renewable energy. The Government can actively support local companies to build up their abilities to install such set-ups. Just as we had supported local companies to build up capabilities in water technologies to allow them to become global players in this field, we can do likewise now in renewable energy.

…. (additional part of speech) …

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(6) 11 March 2013 Committee of Supply Debate on MTI – (Renewable Energy)

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-Constituency Member): Madam, it has been some years since the Government identified clean energy as a key economic growth area. Since 2007, the Government has invested $350 million to fund the development testing and export of clean energy solutions. By 2015, the Government expects clean energy to contribute $1.7 billion to Singapore’s GDP, and employ around 7,000 people. It is now 2013, how far are we from this target? We have a dozen tidal wind and solar energy that MNCs largely R&D facilities here but how many sizeable Singapore enterprises have sprung up to export clean energy solutions?

Solar power currently represents just 0.1% of energy generating capacity in Singapore. This is very low, and could be the reason why local enterprises have not taken off. We are too focused on development and testing. Germany is the global leader in solar energy production. The German solar energy industry was enabled not just by R&D but also lessons learnt in system adoption and use, because of the aggressive promotion of the alternative energy market.

Solar energy capabilities are not just about producing and exporting panels. Clean energy solutions require hardware and software integration, with customisation and after sales services. Without a sizeable local deployment, it will be very difficult for Singapore to export our clean energy solutions expertise. Currently, we only have two small scale schemes for private companies. One to encourage test bedding in Government’s facilities, and the other is to offset the capital cost for installation. We need to scale up system adoption and use in it the private sector to develop the industry and make the market.

I propose the Government look into three areas. One, fit-in-tariffs for solar energy producers, selling the electricity back to the grid on long-term guaranteed contract at slightly marked up prices. Two, rooftop leasing to encourage building owners to lease out their rooftops to solar energy companies to produce electricity. Three, solar leasing to encourage building owners to rent panels from solar energy companies.

The Government has said that it is not fair to subsidise electricity generation producers. However, the Government provides funding and subsidies in many creative forms to develop promising industries. MTI should study the viability of these schemes and experiment with solar leasing, roof top leasing and FITs.

Source: http://www.parliament.gov.sg

Doing more to fight haze

Haze in Marina Bay Area (photo from Pritam Singh’s Facebook)

The PSI has been at unbearably unhealthy levels again. One of the things that we can do is to support companies with proven good land clearing practices and boycott those found to be burning. However, we currently do not know who the good companies are and who are the ones doing the burning.  Perhaps there can be cooperation amongst ASEAN governments to push through a sort of labelling programme where agricultural companies with good land clearing practices can be independently certified and use the label on their products. At the same time, we need more information on the owners of the land with hotspots.

 

We should also have the ability to take action on agricultural companies listed or registered in Singapore if they are found to be the culprits of burning in a foreign land. Our laws currently do not have this provision. So even if we do know that a Singapore-listed company or a company controlled by Singaporeans is burning to clear land in a neighbouring country, we will need the foreign government to impose action. That will impact our ability to deal swiftly with the culprits. I believe we can do more.

 

Below are two parliamentary questions I filed last year on this issue.

15-Oct-2012: Efforts to Resolve Transboundary Haze Problem

http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00078046-WA&currentPubID=00078007-WA&topicKey=00078007-WA.00078046-WA_2%2Bid-69d01997-b19e-4c73-8bb9-3333f669e785%2B

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources if the Ministry will consider (i) publishing the identity of errant companies which it is aware of that have been found to be conducting illegal burning activities in neighbouring ASEAN countries; and (ii) taking action against any of the companies identified if the company or its subsidiaries are registered, listed or operating in Singapore and, if so, by what legal means.

Mr Yee Jenn Jong (Non-constituency Member): Yes, Sir, I do have some supplementary questions. I thank the Minister for answering the questions. At last month’s meeting, it was said that the ASEAN Environment Ministers met and talked about the identifications of these companies. I would like to know if in the identification of these companies, are any of these companies listed in Singapore or are owned by Singaporeans or have their subsidiaries based in Singapore. What can the Singapore Government do to these companies that are Singapore-owned or Singapore-operated? Also, what particular methods can we use to prosecute these companies?

 

12-Nov-2012 Efforts to Encourage Responsible Land Clearing Practices in Neighbouring Countries

http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00078137-WA&currentPubID=00078220-WA&topicKey=00078220-WA.00078137-WA_1%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B

Mr Yee Jenn Jong asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources (a) what are the exact plans and timeline that ASEAN has to exert commercial pressures on plantation owners to practise responsible land clearing; and (b) if the Ministry will consider amending the Environmental Protection and Management Act to give powers to our authorities to prosecute Singapore-linked companies or Singaporeans who are found to have practised illegal burning activities in neighbouring countries.