Murali Pillai
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Murali Pillai

November 2020 Parliamentary Questions

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REVIEWING SUSTAINABILITY OF CONVICTIONS AND SENTENCES AFTER AMENDMENT TO LEGISLATION

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Law what steps are taken by the Government to review the sustainability of convictions and sentences imposed against persons arising from a change in the applicable law as determined by a court of law.

Mr K Shanmugam: Under the law, the correctness of a decision is generally determined by reference only to the legal position as it stood at the time of the decision, and will not be affected by subsequent changes in the law. However, in exceptional cases, the Courts may take into account subsequent changes in the law to reassess previously made decisions, even if they were correct at the time they were made.

In 2018, we amended the Criminal Procedure Code to introduce a new statutory framework under which accused persons may apply to reopen concluded criminal appeals. Such applications will only be allowed in exceptional cases, where an accused person shows that there is sufficient material on which the appellate court may conclude that there has been a miscarriage of justice. Such material may include legal arguments based on a change in the law after the appeal had been concluded. This is necessary to strike the right balance between preventing miscarriages of justice and the need for finality in criminal proceedings where all appeals have already been exhausted.

Accused persons who wish to reopen their concluded criminal appeals after a change in the law may apply under this statutory framework. In the recent decision of Gobi a/l Avedian v PP [2020] SGCA 102 (Gobi (Review)), the applicant successfully applied

under the statutory framework to reopen his concluded criminal appeal, after a change in the law. The Court of Appeal set aside the applicant’s conviction on the capital charge, and convicted him instead on a non-capital charge.

In PP v Gobi a/l Avedian [2019] 1 SLR 113 (Gobi (Appeal)), the applicant was convicted of importing diamorphine. The Court of Appeal held that he failed to rebut the presumption under s 18(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), which presumed that he knew the nature of the drugs. At the time of this decision, the law stated that the presumption under s 18(2) encompassed the doctrine of wilful blindness.

In a subsequent decision in Adili Chibuike Ejike v PP [2019] 2 SLR 254 (Adili), the Court of Appeal held that wilful blindness was a mental state falling short of actual knowledge, and therefore was incompatible with a presumption of knowledge. This decision was made in relation to the presumption under s 18(1) of the MDA i.e. that the accused had the drug in his possession and knew of the existence of the drug. The Court expressly declined to decide on the implications of its decision for the separate presumption under s 18(2) i.e. that the accused knew the nature of the drug. The Court noted that in two earlier decisions, it had previously decided that the presumption under s 18(2) encompassed the doctrine of wilful blindness.

In Gobi (Review), the Court of Appeal asked parties to submit on whether the reasoning in Adili extended to the presumption under s 18(2), and if so, what the implications were for Gobi (Appeal). The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) submitted that the reasoning in Adili could extend to the presumption under s 18(2). The Court agreed, and departed from its two earlier decisions by finding that wilful blindness was not compatible with the presumption under s 18(2).

The AGC submitted that there was no miscarriage of justice in Gobi (Appeal) because the AGC’s case at trial and the appeal was consistently one of actual knowledge, and not wilful blindness. However, the Court ultimately characterised the case at trial as one of wilful blindness, and reversed its previous decision.

The AGC studies every decision issued by the Courts in criminal matters, to determine if the decision affects previously decided cases. For instance, where a change in the law could potentially affect prior decided cases, the AGC will assess how the change may affect those cases. Where necessary, the AGC will take the appropriate action to surface these cases to the Courts.

For example, in 2007, the CEO of AirOcean, Mr Thomas Tay, pleaded guilty to, and was convicted on, two charges under the Securities and Futures Act for non-disclosure and misleading statement offences. After the High Court overturned the convictions of three other AirOcean directors involved in the case, the AGC reviewed Mr Tay’s conviction and concluded that his conviction was not safe in the light of the High Court’s findings. On its own motion, the AGC applied to the High Court to set aside Mr Tay’s conviction on the ground that a serious injustice might have been occasioned. The court set aside Mr Tay’s conviction and ordered his fine of $240,000 to be refunded to him.

The AGC is studying the decision in Gobi, and undertaking a review of how the decision may affect previous cases and cases that are currently before the courts.

IMPACT OF 2019 DECRIMINALISATION OF SUICIDE ON NUMBER OF REPORTED CASES AND ON PERSONS TEMPTED TO COMMIT SUICIDE

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Home Affairs since the decriminalisation of suicide in 2019 (a) how many cases of suicide have been recorded; (b) in how many cases of attempted suicide have the Police and SCDF intervened to help such persons as part of the safeguards put in place upon the abolishment of the criminal offence of attempting suicide; and (c) how has the decriminalisation of attempted suicide improved the situation for persons tempted to commit suicide.

The Minister of State for Home Affairs (Mr Desmond Tan) (for the Minister for Home Affairs): Mr Speaker, in 2019, there were 400 cases of death by suicide. From January to September 2019, there were 304 deaths by suicide.

Preliminarily, from January to September 2020, this year, there were 166 cases of death by suicide. I have to qualify that these are preliminary figures. They may change depending on the outcomes from proceedings such as the Coroner’s inquiries to determine the circumstances leading to death.

Attempted suicide was decriminalised via the Criminal Law Reform Act 2019. The amendments came into effect on 1 January 2020. From January to September this year, Police were called to assist in about 1,800 cases involving persons with suicidal ideation or persons who may have attempted suicide.

Before attempted suicide was decriminalised, from 2017 to 2019, Police received about 1,200 reports of attempted suicide per year. For these cases of attempted suicide, the physical and fault elements of the offences under section 309 of the Penal Code must be made out. That means they have to demonstrate intent as well as actually carry out an act to take his own life. This figure is not comparable with the post-decriminalisation figure which covers cases where individuals have suicidal ideation, in addition to persons who have actually taken the further step of attempting suicide.

The criminal justice system is not the best way to deal with persons who attempted suicide. Such persons are often under severe distress. The decriminalisation of attempted suicide reduces stigma and encourages persons who are suicidal to seek help early. The reasons for suicide are multi-faceted and complex. Hence, the Government has been continuing our efforts to prevent suicides.

We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approaches to better assist suicidal persons.

HDB ROOFTOP FARMING IN SUPPORT OF SINGAPORE’S “30 BY 30” FOOD SUSTAINABILITY GOAL

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment with regard to the “30 by 30” goal to secure Singapore’s food needs: (a) how many HDB rooftop farming sites does SFA intend to set up in the next 10 years; (b) what is the expected yield from these sites; and (c) whether SFA will consider incorporating in the tenders for these sites a requirement to engage the community as well.

Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: Singapore aims to achieve our “30 by 30” goal to locally produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, using about 1% of our land. Besides making productive use of our agriland, such as at Lim Chu Kang, agencies are identifying alternative spaces to repurpose for commercial scale urban farming, including the rooftops of HDB MultiStorey Carparks (MSCPs). Commercial farming in alternative spaces contributes to food security as it activates farming. pockets of underutilised space for productive Following the launch of the pilot MSCP urban farm Citiponics in 2019, interest from the industry and public towards urban farming in community spaces has grown.

SFA and HDB awarded the first tender of nine MSCP sites in September 2020 to successful tenderers with innovative and high productivity proposals, such as vertical and climate controlled farming systems. This is in line with HDB’s Green Towns Programme to intensify greening in HDB estates. As urban farms operating from MSCPs are expected to contribute to Singapore’s “30 by 30” goal, farms must commit to and meet a high volume of production. Collectively, the successful tenderers from the first tender can produce up to 1,600 tonnes of vegetable s annually. SFA and HDB are identifying more suitable MSCP rooftops that can be converted for food production and will launch a second tender of sites in the coming months. Agencies will continue to identify more potential MSCP sites and make them available on the level of industry interest. Besides contributing to food security, urban farming in spaces such as MSCP rooftops benefits the community. For example, these commercial farms may offer employment opportunities for residents. They bring the community closer to local production, thereby raising awareness and support for local produce. With the ramp up in local production towards the “30 by 30” goal, we will need the support of all Singaporeans to buy local produce. Local produce is grown close to our homes, and is therefore fresher, lasts longer and is more sustainable as it incurs lower carbon miles. By choosing locally produced food, we can all play a part in contributing to Singapore’s food security and save the planet too.

EXTENSION OF SELF- EMPLOYED INCOME RELIEF SCHEME TO CITIZENS WHO ORIGINALLY RAN BUSINESSES AS SELF-EMPLOYED PERSONS

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Manpower (a) whether flexibility may be exercised to extend the Self-employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) to Singapore Citizens who originally ran businesses as self-employed persons but later injected their businesses into companies incorporated by them with no employees; and (b) if not, what other schemes may be extended to this group of Singaporeans who are affected by the economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic but who do not receive the benefit of SIRS, Jobs Support Scheme or COVID-19 Support Grant.

Mrs Josephine Teo: The Self-employed Person (SEP) Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) helps Singaporean SEPs with less means and family support tide over this period of economic uncertainty. As of end October, close to $1.8 billion has been disbursed to about 200,000 SEPs. Business owners and shareholder-directors of private limited companies may draw a salary from their companies and do not declare trade income.

Instead of SIRS, the Government has extended the Jobs Support wages of employees who are also shareholder-directors if their assessable income in the Year of Assessment 2019 does not exceed $100,000, which is broadly comparable to the income criteria for SIRS. About 50,000 shareholder-directors have benefited from this enhancement. This is in addition to JSS support for other local employees in the company. To help Singaporeans cope with the impact of COVID- 19, we have also provided broad-based help to families, such as the Solidarity Payment and the Care and Support Cash schemes. Those who require further financial support may seek help through the MSF Social Service Offices. MSF has also exercised more flexibility when considering ComCare applications during this period, to ensure affected Singaporeans and their families can get help.

DENTAL SERVICES FOR COMMUNITY HEALTH ASSIST SCHEME ORANGE CARD HOLDERS TO INCLUDE TOOTH EXTRACTIONS AND FILLINGS

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Health whether the range of dental services for Community Health Assist Scheme orange card holders may be widened to include tooth extractions and fillings whilst maintaining the current subsidy limit of $50 to $170.50 per procedure.

Mr Gan Kim Yong: Today, Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) Orange cardholders are eligible for CHAS subsidies ranging from $50 to $170.50 for selected dental procedures, including dentures, root canal treatments and crowns. Subsidies are made available to CHAS Orange cardholders for these dental procedures as they are more costly, whereas less expensive procedures like tooth extractions and fillings are expected to be more affordable.

Singaporeans can also access affordable basic dental care for a wide range of services, including tooth extractions and fillings, at polyclinics. Patients who require more complex dental care or require dental specialist treatment may be referred for subsidised dental care at the National Dental Centre, Singapore or the National University Centre for Oral Health, Singapore.

We will continue to review our subsidy framework regularly, including the coverage of dental services for CHAS cardholders, to ensure continued affordability and accessibility of dental care at the appropriate settings.

PLANS TO BUILD MORE SHELTERED WALKWAYS BEYOND CURRENT PARAMETERS SET BY LTA’S WALK2RIDE PROGRAMME TO ENCOURAGE MORE RESIDENTS TO WALK OR CYCLE

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Transport whether there are plans to build more sheltered walkways beyond the current parameters set by LTA’s Walk2Ride programme, i.e. 400 metre radius of MRT stations and trip generation hubs or 200 metre radius of transport nodes or education facilities, to encourage more residents to walk or cycle.

Mr Ong Ye Kung: LTA’s covered linkway programme is intended to connect large numbers of commuters to major public transport nodes like MRT/LRT stations and bus interchanges. As such, LTA focuses on building covered linkways near these transport nodes. This allows the prudent use of public funds to benefit more commuters.

EXTENSION OF RAINWATER HARVESTING SYSTEMS UNDER HDB GREENPRINTS @ YUHUA PROGRAMME TO MATURE HOUSING ESTATES TO MINIMISE POTABLE WATER USAGE FOR COMMON AREA WASHING AND WATERING OF PLANTS

Mr Murali Pillai asked the Minister for National Development whether HDB can explore the extension of rainwater harvesting systems, first piloted under the HDB Greenprint @ Yuhua programme, to mature housing estates so as to reduce the use of potable water for common area washing and watering of plants.

Mr Desmond Lee: As part of national water conservation efforts, HDB constantly explores new water saving initiatives for both new and existing estates.

The Rainwater Harvesting System (RHS) pilot at Yuhua estate showed that the RHS was not cost-effective, as it involved the installation of a water tank and treatment systems at the ground level of each HDB block. HDB has since developed the Urban Water Harvesting System (UWHS), which integrates the rainwater harvesting tank and treatment system with a detention tank to reduce implementation costs. Besides allowing rainwater to be harvested for non-potable uses like the washing of common areas, the UWHS also slows down stormwater discharge to mitigate flood risk.

HDB has introduced the UWHS to all suitable BTO projects launched from August 2018. In addition, HDB will pilot the UWHS in some existing HDB estates under the HDB Green Towns Programme that was announced earlier this year. HDB is currently working with PUB to identify suitable locations for the pilot, taking into consideration cost effectiveness and technical feasibility. If the pilot is successful, HDB will roll out the UWHS on a wider scale in existing estates, where applicable.

HDB will continue to explore new practical water saving solutions to promote water conservation in HDB estates.

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Murali Pillai

Murali Pillai

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