Murali Pillai
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Murali Pillai

February 2021 Parliamentary Questions

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EXTENSION OF CHILDCARE LEAVE PERIOD TO FACILITATE PARENTS’ CARE ARRANGEMENTS FOR CHILDREN PLACED ON MANDATORY SICK LEAVE

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Prime Minister whether, in light of the Minister for Health’s advisory issued in February 2020 to medical practitioners to issue five days of sick leave to patients with respiratory symptoms during this pandemic, whether childcare leave period for eligible parents under the Child Development Co-Savings Act may be extended for the period of the pandemic so as to allow parents to provide support for their children who may be issued with sick leave and are therefore required to stay at home.

Ms Indranee Rajah (for the Prime Minister): Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and employees have had to make adjustments to work arrangements to cope with the evolving situation. In February 2020, the Ministry of Health advised doctors to issue five days of medical leave to patients with respiratory symptoms in order to reduce the risk of community spread. As a result, we recognise that working parents may face challenges balancing their work commitments and caring for a sick child at home.

Today, each working parent of a Singaporean child is eligible for up to six days of paid childcare leave if their child is under the age of seven years, or two days of paid extended childcare leave if their child is between seven and 12 years. In addition, almost half of all employees in Singapore have more than 14 days of annual leave. Parents who are unable to work from home due to the nature of their work can avail themselves of these childcare or annual leave entitlements. We have taken a practical approach to calibrating childcare leave provisions. Any enhancements, even if time-limited, will need to account for the manpower and operational needs of employers, as well as the caregiving needs of parents.

Rather than expanding leave provisions during this time, we encourage employers to provide a work environment that helps parents manage their work and family responsibilities. The Government, together with unions and employers, introduced a Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements in 2017, and a Tripartite Standard on Unpaid Leave for Unexpected Care Needs in 2018, to establish good practices that all employers should implement to support their employees’ personal or caregiving responsibilities.

In the past year, more employers have adopted flexible work arrangements such as flexible work timings or remote work, as part of measures to reduce interactions in the workplace during the pandemic. We call upon employers to adopt the Tripartite Standards and to continue exercising flexibility, including allowing employees to work-from-home to care for their children who are issued medical leave.

A sustainable way to help parents better juggle their work and childcare needs is to make flexible work arrangements a norm in our workplaces. Technology solutions and workplace practices put in place by employers to facilitate remote work during the COVID- 19 period could also be extended beyond the crisis. The Government will work with the tripartite partners to study ways to foster a more family-friendly work environment and to better support working parents.

IMPACT OF GANG ACTIVITIES ON CRIME AND SECURITY SITUATION IN SINGAPORE

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs in relation to the police operation between 21 December 2020 and 3 January 2021 that led to the arrest of 151 persons who are suspected to be members of unlawful societies (a) what are the reasons that led to the commencement of the operation; and (b) what is the Ministry’s assessment of the impact of gang activities on the crime and security situation in Singapore at this point.

Mr Melvin Yong Yik Chye asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether there has been a rise in secret society and gang-related activities over the past five years; (b) whether there is a trend of younger individuals joining secret societies and gangs; and © what are the Ministry’s plans to deter people, especially our youths, from joining secret societies and gangs.

Mr K Shanmugam: The Police operation between 21 December 2020 and 3 January 2021 that led to the arrest of 151 persons for being suspected members of unlawful societies was mounted as part of Police’s continuous anti-gang suppression and deterrence efforts.

The secret society situation in Singapore is under control. The number of rioting and serious hurt cases with secret society connotations averaged 112 cases per year from 2016 to 2020. As for cases that involve the use of weapons such as parangs or knuckle dusters, the numbers have decreased, from 12 cases in 2016 to one case in 2020.

The secret societies today are largely made up of loosely-organised street gangs, comprising mainly of younger members who flit between different gangs. From 2016 to 2020, the number of youths who were dealt with by Police for committing offences with secret society connotations remained stable at an average of 153 per year.

Nonetheless, youth gangs remain a serious concern for Police. Police invest significant resources to educate and engage youths to deter them from joining secret societies and gangs. For example, Police conduct regular anti-gang talks at secondary schools. They also work with partners such as MSF, MOE and Volunteer Welfare Organisations to target at-risk youths, to try to rehabilitate them before they become entrenched in the gang mindset. One such initiative is the Streetwise Programme (SWP), a six-month long diversionary programme for wayward youths to seek assistance and counselling from social workers and Police officers. It aims to rehabilitate youths who have drifted into gangs and are involved in petty secret society activities.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Police are looking to enhance their anti-gang outreach efforts online. In 2020, the Police and the National Crime Prevention Council organised the e-Delta League Tournament, which saw more than 100 youths participate in a FIFA 21 tournament online. As part of the tournament, the Police conducted a virtual Youth Workshop to share crime prevention advice, as well as to deliver anti-gang talks to the participants.

RECRUITING SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF FOREIGN WORKERS WHILST ENSURING COVID-19-SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENT

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Manpower (a) what is the ratio of the aggregate number of foreign workers in Singapore against the aggregate number of man- year entitlement (MYE) at this point in time; (b) how does this ratio compare with the ratios in corresponding points in the past two years; and © what steps will the Ministry take to ensure that a sufficient number of foreign workers are recruited whilst ensuring a COVID-19-safe work environment.

Mrs Josephine Teo: The requested ratio is not a meaningful indicator of whether there is sufficient manpower in the Construction and Process sectors for committed projects in any given year. This is because MYEs are allocated for multiple years, and firms can also hire workers beyond their MYE allocation.

Nevertheless, we note that the number of foreign workers in the Construction and Process sectors has decreased by about 15% in the past year. At the same time, BCA and EDB expect demand to increase in 2021. That is why we had since December 2020 been taking steps to allow the entry of new workers, but in a safe way, minimising the risk of COVID-19 transmission into the community.

Foreign workers coming to Singapore must comply with border measures and safeguards which will continue to be adjusted as the operating environment changes. From 6 January 2021, all newly arrived foreign workers staying in dormitories have to go through an additional 7-day testing regime at a designated facility, after completing their 14-day Stay-Home Notice. In addition, from 18 January 2021, newly arrived Work Permit and S Pass holders from higher-risk countries or regions in the Construction, Marine Shipyard and Process sectors are required to take a Polymerase Chain Reaction test and Serology test upon arrival.

To ensure a safe working environment for our workers, employers are required to abide by the prevailing Safe Management Measures at the workplace. This includes measures like segregating teams into different zones in construction worksites. In dormitories, we have enhanced our contact tracing capabilities and test foreign workers regularly through Rostered Routine Testing. We have also been working with dormitory operators, foreign workers and employers to implement Safe Living Measures.

ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTS INVOLVING VEHICLES CATCHING FIRE DUE TO MECHANICAL FAILURE AND POOR MAINTENANCE OF VEHICLES

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Transport (a) in the past five years, how many vehicular accidents and incidents involving vehicles catching fire have arisen due to mechanical failure and poor maintenance of vehicles; and (b) what steps have been taken against vehicle owners or other persons who are responsible for the maintenance of the vehicles involved.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: In the past five years, there have been about 200 cases of vehicle fires per year. Majority of them are due to overheating or faults in electrical components. Given that vehicular parts are badly damaged in most cases of vehicular fire, the SCDF is not usually able to pinpoint the cause of the fire to mechanical failure or lack of maintenance.

To ensure that vehicles are roadworthy, vehicle owners must send their vehicles to LTA-Authorised Inspection Centres (AICs) for mandatory periodic inspections. Older vehicles, as well as commercial and point-to-point passenger transport vehicles are subjected to more frequent inspections. Vehicles that fail the inspection will not have their road tax renewed, and cannot be used on our roads.

LTA also checks for illegal modifications to vehicles, as these could compromise vehicle safety. These checks are conducted as part of the mandatory periodic inspections, and during LTA’s regular enforcement efforts on our roads. Under the Road Traffic Act, any person who is convicted of an illegal modification to the vehicle can be fined up to $5000, imprisoned up to three months, or both. The penalties will be doubled for repeat offenders.

LTA and SCDF have developed joint advisories on how to prevent and handle vehicle fires, for example, through regular serving and checks for fluid leakages that could lead to engine overheating. These advisories can be found on social media, or at motorist touchpoints such as petrol kiosks, LTA-AICs and customer service centres.

REDEVELOPMENT PLANS FOR BUKIT BATOK BUS INTERCHANGE

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Transport whether there is any plan to redevelop the Bukit Batok Bus Interchange that was built in 1987 and, if so, what are the details of the plan.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: In 2016 and 2020, LTA completed major upgrades of commuter and staff facilities at Bukit Batok Bus Interchange, including the extension of shelters at the berths. With the recent upgrades, there are no immediate plans to redevelop Bukit Batok Bus Interchange.

COMMUNITY SENTENCES IMPOSED SINCE ENHANCEMENT OF COMMUNITY SENTENCING REGIME UNDER CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE IN 2018

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Law since the enhancement of the community sentencing regime under the Criminal Procedure Code in 2018 (a) how many persons have to date been imposed community sentences and what is the breakdown for each type of community sentence; (b) whether the numbers represent an increase over the corresponding period before the enhancement of the regime; and © what steps have been taken to ensure that there are sufficient resources channeled to deal with these cases.

Mr K Shanmugam: Our sentencing philosophy is aimed at deterrence, prevention, retribution and rehabilitation. A fair sentencing framework is one that enables the Court to deliver the appropriate mix of these four objectives on the specific facts of each case.

Community-based sentences (CBS) were introduced in 2010 to make available a wider and more sophisticated range of sentencing options, so that the Courts have more flexibility in sentencing offences and offenders traditionally considered to be on the rehabilitation end of the spectrum. In 2018, the CBS regime was expanded in a controlled manner to allow more offenders to benefit from the rehabilitative opportunities CBS offered, while balancing this with the need to deter crime. The amendments to the CBS regime came into force on 31 October 2018. The Courts decide, based on the law and the specific facts of each case, whether CBS is an appropriate sentence.

There was a slight increase in the number of cases where offenders were sentenced by the State Courts to CBS for the 26-month period from 1 November 2018 to 31 December 2020, compared to those sentenced from 1 September 2016 to 31 October 2018. This is shown in Table 1.

The number of each type of CBS imposed by the State Courts from 1 November 2018 to 31 December 2020, compared to those from 1 September 2016 to 31 October 2018, is set out in Table 2.

The agencies which administer CBS conduct regular reviews to ensure that adequate resources are available to carry out the various types of CBS. For instance, the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), which administers MTOs, increased the number of case managers, who assist in monitoring patients’ compliance with treatments and scheduled appointments, to prepare for the amendments to the CBS regime in 2018. The Singapore Prison Service (SPS), which administers DROs and SDOs, arranges for SPS officers to undergo regular training to update their skills and knowledge so that they are better equipped to supervise and support the offenders sentenced to DROs and SDOs, and also works with community partners, such as Family Service Centres, the National Addictions Management Service and the IMH, to facilitate the reintegration of offenders in selected cases.

The Government will continue to monitor the CBS regime and ensure that it is adequately resourced.

MEASURES TO ADDRESS POTHOLES ON ROADS FROM HEAVY RAINFALL

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Transport in light of the changing climatic pattern in Singapore which involves heavy rainfall from time to time which has led to the emergence of more potholes on roads, what steps will LTA take to address this issue.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: I thank the Member for his question. I have addressed them in my reply at the 1 February 2021 Parliament sitting. [Ref.]

[Ref.] WEATHER-INDUCED SOIL EROSION AND DAMAGE TO ROADS

Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan: Thank you. LTA conducts frequent inspections of over 9,000 lane-kilometres of roads to check for road defects, including potholes. Expressways are inspected weekly, major roads fortnightly, and all other roads once every two months. LTA also receives feedback from members of the public on any road defects and conducts follow-up investigations.

Wet weather conditions exacerbate wear and tear on our road infrastructure. More potholes appear on our roads during periods of heavy sustained rainfall, due to the continuous seepage of water into the road pavements. January 2021 was an exceptionally wet month, with very heavy and prolonged rainfall. From 1 to 31 January 2021, LTA identified 2,570 potholes on our roads, the highest ever number of potholes recorded in a single month, and more than double the number of a typical wet season month.

When a pothole is identified, LTA typically tries to repair it within 24 hours. In January 2021, LTA has tripled its manpower for road repairs. Unfortunately, heavy rain hampers pothole patching works because the road surface needs to be dry in order for the patching materials to bond properly. As of 31 January, about 95% of the potholes have been repaired. Safety critical ones have been prioritised for repairs. LTA is currently working to repair the remaining potholes.

Members have also asked about slope erosions. LTA conducts quarterly inspections of around 200 slopes located near roads, to look out for anomalies. During rainy seasons, LTA increases the inspection frequency for steeper slopes to weekly, as they have a higher risk of soil erosion.

In early January 2021, during downpours, there were two episodes of soil erosion at two different sections of the slope surface along the slip road from TPE(PIE) to Loyang Avenue and Tampines Avenue 7, despite the slope having been lined with a protective covering.

For the first incident on 2 January 2021, LTA repaired the eroded surface and lined about 70 metres of the slope adjacent to the incident site with concrete. The other areas did not show any anomalies, but LTA continued to closely monitor the entire slope as a safety precaution. When the second incident occurred about 100 metres away from the first erosion, LTA was able to detect it immediately and lined it with concrete as well.

In both incidents, the slip road was promptly closed off as a safety precaution and traffic redirected from the area. Other than these two episodes, LTA has not detected other incidents of soil erosion along slopes near roads last year.

When such incidents happen, be it potholes or slope erosions, our priority is rapid response to minimise risks to safety. In addition, LTA also undertakes preventive measures such as resurfacing roads based on condition assessment of the pavement, to enhance their durability. But because these resurfacing works can be disruptive for motorists and costly, we do it in a targeted way. For slopes, if pre-emptive measures are deemed necessary, they will be lined with protective covering to prevent rainwater from seeping into the soil, or reinforced with retaining walls to enhance their stability. LTA will continue to study technology-enabled approaches for monitoring and repair works.

Motorists who have sustained vehicle damages or injuries generally seek recourse from their insurance providers. We encourage motorists to drive safely and watch out for potholes as well as report any defects through the LTA website, the “Snap & Send” function on the MyTransport.SG mobile application, or the Municipal Services Office’s OneService application.

PROGRESS OF NATION-WIDE COVID-19 VACCINATION PROGRAMME

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Health in relation to the COVID-19 vaccination programme for seniors aged 70 and above that commenced in late January 2021, whether steps will be taken to proactively identify and help seniors who may find it difficult to make bookings for injections or have mobility issues to receive injections.

Dr Janil Puthucheary:

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Mr Speaker, the safety and well-being of Singaporeans remain our top priorities for the vaccination programme. Only vaccines that meet strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness will be used for our population.

For our vaccine programme to be successful, education and outreach play a crucial role. Singaporeans need to understand why vaccination is important in the fight against COVID-19 and be confident that the vaccines we are using are safe and effective. We must also communicate clearly when and how they can get vaccinated.

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We have made good progress in our vaccination programme. As of 31 January 2021, yesterday, more than 155,000 individuals have received their first dose of the vaccine.

More vaccination centres will be set up over the next few weeks to ensure that everyone can conveniently receive their vaccinations. The vaccination centres will be located in high population catchment areas as well as along public transport routes for greater accessibility. In total, we are planning to set up around 40 vaccination centres, with each vaccination centre planned for an estimated capacity of about 2,000 vaccinations per day on average.

Besides the vaccination centres, the polyclinics and selected Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) will also serve as vaccination sites. Currently, vaccinations are performed at nine polyclinics and around 20 PHPCs. From 1 February 2021, today, all 20 polyclinics across Singapore will also begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations. Our polyclinics and PHPCs are wheelchair accessible. To reach out to seniors with more serious mobility issues we have set up mobile vaccination teams.

We have begun vaccinations for seniors in the community. All seniors will receive personalised letters inviting them to make an appointment for their vaccinations. They will also be able to make appointments online, or they can visit selected Community Centres near them to book an appointment in-person.

Community volunteers from the People’s Association and our Silver Generation Ambassadors will be conducting house visits to answer queries and to help our seniors to book an appointment if necessary. We are very grateful for the support and participation of the community in this important national effort.

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… Further details on the vaccination roll-out to the rest of Singaporeans and long-term residents will be announced later on.

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the hon Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary for his comprehensive answers to the 12 Parliamentary Questions. I have a supplementary question in relation to donees under the Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) and deputies appointed by the Court under the Mental Capacity Act, in respect of seniors citizens aged 70 and above. For these groups of people, I wonder whether MOH or any other Government body could provide some additional assistance, perhaps developing FAQs for them so that they are able to understand what their duties are under the respective LPAs and under the Court orders and kind of juxtapose it with the requirements under the vaccination programme.

Dr Janil Puthucheary: Mr Speaker, I thank Mr Murali Pillai for the suggestion and we will look at it. It is a good idea. I would just suggest that it is not too different from the current duties and responsibilities for donees and deputies with respect to the medical care for the people under their guardianship.

So, there is not going to be a lot of difference from that. But the specific information as to how they would exercise those duties and responsibilities, indeed, we should make very clear and we should do so.

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Murali Pillai

Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.