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.

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

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.

————————-

(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) …

————————-

(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) …

——————————

(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.

YJJ Rally Speech at Punggol East By-Election 22 Jan 2013

各位亲爱的榜鹅东选民,各位来之新加坡各区的工人党支持者,大家晚上好。

在2011年的大选中,选民很明确地表达了他们希望在新加坡的政治上有改革。人民行动党得到了独立以来最低的票数。

在去年的后港补选里,选民又再一次拒绝了人民行动党。人民行动党开始害怕了。所以他们想跟你们交谈,想和您进行全国对话。

英文有一句话说“Action speaks louder than words”。行动比语言更有说服力。你们现在有机会向他们传达一个更强烈的信号。1月26号 就是榜鹅东选民的机会了。只有这样,他们才会真正地听你们的心声, 才会真正地想办法了解人民的辛苦。

我入党已经两年了。在这两年里,我有机会与党员李丽连一起工作。她充满了活力。在党的各种活动,她时常作为主持人,讲话非常有自信。大选过后,丽连成为友诺士区 Pritam Singh议员的国会助理。 她组织基层活动,安排见面会,帮忙解决居民的问题,又同时当工人党青年团的主席。此外,她还有一份要求很高的全职工作。我称她为“Energizer”,应为她就像“Energizer” 电池一样,浑身是劲。

从她认真办事中可以看的出,她有一颗为人民的心。我相信她会成为一位好议员。

1月26号,你们要继续传达政治改革的讯息。请支持工人党!请投李丽连一票!谢谢!

Good evening dear voters of Punggol East. Good evening dear supporters of the Workers’ Party. Rain or shine, muddy or dry pitch, you are always here to support us. Thank you.

On Sunday, Education Minister Heng Swee Kiat told you to vote for PAP so that The Workers’ Party will work harder. The Education Minister has got it all wrong! Which party is in government and has created the policies that are hurting you? The PAP! The PAP needs to work harder to improve their policies and to improve your lives.

Mr Heng has forgotten that whether they win or lose, the PAP’s candidate will still be the grassroots advisor. He has forgotten that the losing PAP candidate will still get access to community facilities to continue his party’s work. THESE will not be given to the WP if we lose. Mr Heng has also forgotten that the elections department reports to the Prime Minister, who is the secretary-general of his party. The PAP can do wonderful magic. They can tear up a constituency and move it around. They can make constituencies disappear just before a general election. Only when you vote an opposition in can you vote one and get one free, because PAP will start to treasure you and work doubly hard for you. Only when you vote an opposition in can you ensure that Punggol East will stay as its own constituency.

Dr Koh, the candidate of the PAP has said he wanted to have more child care facilities here. He’s right that there should be more child care centres here. Dr Koh will however have to content with a PAP’s policy that is flawed.

Child care services have certainly become important. Over the past 8 years, with more working parents, the number of children enrolled in child & infant care centres has doubled to 76,000.

Child care fees have also gone up. Over the same 8 years, average fee has shot up by some 50%. Many centres, especially those in new towns like Punggol East are full. You sometimes have to wait more than a year to get your child into a centre that is more reasonably affordable. This is an issue that affects many Singaporeans.

Last week, the Prime Minister said the opposition has not presented any alternatives in parliament. Well, I remember presenting an alternative childcare policy in September as an adjournment motion. I also remember that the government has yet to answer many of the issues I had raised on this matter. Let me elaborate.

In 2009, the government came up with the Anchor childcare Operator scheme. Conditions were set such that many long established and reputable operators in the childcare industry could not qualify. Only the PAP Community Foundation (or PCF) and NTUC’s My First Skool became anchor operators.

The government said that grants given to anchor operators will be $30 million every year. Anchor operators have opened over 132 new void deck sites in the 3 years since the scheme started. In this same period, only a few HDB sites were available for bidding by private and other non-profit operators.

From parliament answers, I calculated that Anchor Operators received grants averaging $600,000 per new centre. Their centres in HDB void decks pay rents 10-20 times lower than what is paid by private operators in similar void decks, based on results from recent tenders. Because there are so few HDB sites now available for non-anchor operators, rents have been bidded sky high, causing fees to rise rapidly. In fact, the void deck childcare with the highest rent in Singapore is here in Punggol.

The stated purpose for Anchor operators is to provide affordable, accessible, and high quality childcare. But all these are not happening with PAP’s policy. The fees charged by our two Anchor Operators are in some instances higher than that charged by some private and non-profit centres that do not get such generous grants or have to pay more in rent. In other words, the two anchor operators are protected from competition. They do not need to work as hard as they should to make fees as low as they can.

In the Lien foundation survey last year, there are more parents happier with the services of any other category of centres compared to that of PCF and NTUC. So despite huge grants available only to PCF and NTUC, satisfaction of their customers is lower than others. In 2010, the government started SPARK accreditation to raise the quality of preschools. Their aim is to have 85% of all centres to be SPARK-tested by 2013, which is this year. Guess what? Only 12% of the centres operated by anchors met the SPARK criteria as of last year when I questioned the minister in parliament. The anchors are so far off the government’s target, yet they continue to receive huge grants.

After studying these data, I presented an alternative proposal in parliament. It is to make childcare as a public good, with active competition by all. These include the government making all sites operating on government spaces to be at low managed rents, and for the government to be able to directly regulate fees of centres that benefit from grants and subsidized rents. This can be done because the majority of all childcare centres operate on government owned sites.

Right now, the government is toothless to control fees. It gives out a lot of money but cannot stop fees from rising. It can only advise operators to give three months’ notice before increasing fees. Rather than rely on just two operators, the government should open up for competition to all operators based on a more reasonable set of anchor qualifying criteria, and to push these operators to do more to improve quality and to tightly regulate their fees.

With this alternative model, competition will keep all operators on their toes. They will need to be innovative and affordable. This will benefit all of you.

So the solution is not for Dr Koh to ask for a new centre here and a new centre there. Think… If it was so easy, why is it a nationwide problem? Why couldn’t your previous MP do that for you? This is because the PAP’s childcare policy is in need of fixing, just as there are many PAP’s policies that need fixing. The Workers’ Party has spoken out in Parliament on this. And the Workers’ Party will continue to push the government when we find policies that need fixing.

Vote Lee Li Lian into parliament. She will be a good and hardworking MP for you. She will be your voice in parliament. Come 26 Jan, vote The Workers Party. Vote for Lee Li Lian.

A tale of two race horses

I shared an analog of 2 race horses at my rally last night in my speech on entrepreneurship and on small and medium enterprises in Singapore.

I am bemused by various press asking me about it. Channel News Asia told me that they told whatever they knew of my story to Mr Charles Chong, my opponent for Joo Chiat SMC. Charles remarked that Mr Chan Soo Sen and he are certainly no old horse and have been walking up and down the 4 blocks of public flats in Siglap. I laughed loudly.

No, no, no. I was not referring to Mr Chong or Mr Chan as old horses. Charles looks strong and fit. I was referring to PAP as a political party as the old horse and the opposition as the young horse. For the benefit of all, a re-narrated version of the story is provided below. It is in the context of PAP using fear factor to scare voters to vote for PAP because they are big and they have the track record, like how civil servants may be tempted to award contracts to large companies even if smaller ones can meet the criteria at a lower cost. PAP tells voters that the opposition will make errors and mess things up because they are small and not up to the mark.

Imagine you are going to place a horse racing bet. There’s an old horse that has been winning races in the past, but it is tiring and slowing down. There’s a young horse who has not been winning, but it is gaining strength and charging ahead. PAP is like the old horse, winning all or nearly all parliamentary seats since independence. But it is showing cracks and making mistakes. The opposition has won few seats or none since independence.  But it is very strong this year and charging ahead. Who do you wish to place your bet on? So vote The Workers’ Party, towards a first world parliament!

Action items for Joo Chiat SMC

I have often been asked in my walkabouts what I would like to do for Joo Chiat.

I like to start by saying that I do not promise anything on physical upgrading. Any physical improvement should first be something wanted by and necessary for the residents. Then we can work with the relevant authorities to look into the justifications for the improvement. These improvements can be for better traffic flow, parking facilities, use of public facilities for community purposes, better public transport, etc.. They should be something the residents feel strongly that they need and my role, if elected as Joo Chiat’s Member of Parliament will be to actively champion the improvements to the authorities.

Joo Chiat is in a unique situation in that there are only 4 public housing blocks. The collection of rubbish, maintenance of roads and parks outside of these 4 blocks are not managed by the town council. Those in condominiums and apartments will have these services taken care of by their respective management committees. Your rubbish will continue to be collected and public infrastructure will continue to be maintained. Joo Chiat will certainly not turn into a slum, as some have asked me. I will in fact, actively monitor the situation to ensure that public services will be performed diligently by the commercial entities outsourced to handle these. Living right in the centre of the redrawn Joo Chiat constituency myself, I will have the benefit of being here 7 days a week to experience the service levels of these commercial entities and to respond more rapidly to situations.

On what I like to see Joo Chiat develop into, I see Joo Chiat as a place where there can be great vibrancy, unique character, friendly neighbours, clean environment and with people living a healthy lifestyle. Having lived in the area all my life and having interacted with many residents here, I have arrived at some key tasks which I need to attend to should I be elected as the Member of Parliament for Joo Chiat:

1. Grassroot committees

  • Involve passionate volunteers from amongst residents who can raise ideas for community involvement and improvements to the neighbourhood. 
  • Encouraging social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is a good way to drive a spirit of vibrancy in the community. Areas that can be explored include football clinics, baking homemade cookies and cakes for sale, providing avenues for budding arts to offer mural painting services, etc. These are just suggested ideas and any initiative must first be driven by residents. The MP can certainly help to encourage, promote and facilitate where appropriate.

2. Community support for the needy

  • While Joo Chiat is a mostly private residence area, there are some members of the community living here that require assistance with their livelihood. We wish to reach out to these residents through tapping on the goodwill of community service centres and self-help groups in Joo Chiat and matching the needy residents to these groups for adoption.

3. Community development

  • Joo Chiat can be a friendly place with strong family ties. Activities that can be done include promoting the Dad’s For Life outreach, organizing events such as dog shows and securing places for dog runs, and other community programmes to bring neighbours and families together. Popular events already being organised such as golf tournaments will continue to be supported.

4. Education

  • We will set up an education trust fund with money provided by from donors and fund-raising activities. The money will be used to provide bursaries to needy students.

5. Environment

  • Look into improvements and work with the relevant authorities to solve problems faced by residents. Existing feedback include: flooding in parts of Opera Estate, parking problems, traffic situation at Palm Road / Tay Lian Teck Road, cleanliness of common  parks and drains, overcrowding of  buses, lack of buses linking Kembangan MRT to various estates in Joo Chiat, etc.
  • Promote NParks’ Community in Bloom programme to have a green community in Joo Chiat. A beautiful environment will enhance the value of your property.
  • Championing a safe and secure environment. Encourage neighbours to keep a lookout for one another against break-ins, illegal activities and other threats.

6. Healthy lifestyle

  • Promote healthy lifestyle and use of the many recreational facilities already available in Joo Chiat and on East Coast beach

 I look forward to working with residents to turn Joo Chiat into a beautiful home for all.

My new Facebook fan page

There are many people who have been sending me Facebook friends requests. Hence, I have created a public page on Facebook to facilitate discussions with Singaporeans from all walks of life @ http://goo.gl/uniKG.

I will be providing frequent updates on my campaign using this page.
Please share with fellow Singaporeans. Thanks!