Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Video-recorded statements, protection of vulnerable victims among proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act

More protection for victims under criminal code revamp
Earlier gag orders on identity of abuse victims and closed-door hearings among proposals
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

The courts will wrap an extra layer of protection around victims of sex crimes or child abuse to spare them any further trauma, if the sweeping changes to improve the criminal justice process are pushed through.

To prevent such vulnerable victims from being identified, a gag order will kick in the moment a case of sexual or child abuse is reported to the police, it has been proposed.

Vulnerable persons will also be able to testify in closed-door hearings, and physical screens can be used to shield them from the accused person.

These are among the 50 changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act proposed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) which were announced yesterday.

In a first for Singapore, investigators will also be given the power to take statements from suspects and witnesses in a video recording, instead of relying only on written statements.

Victims of sexual crimes may be able to video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person in court, while video recording will be made compulsory for suspects in such crimes.

This will give the court a sense of the suspect's demeanour and help it to gauge how voluntarily the statements were made.

The amendments are aimed at enhancing the fairness, accuracy and equity of the criminal justice system, said MinLaw.

Currently a gag order on the identities of vulnerable victims is issued only when the case goes before a court, but MinLaw wants it to kick in as soon as a police report is made.

Closed-door hearings will also be automatic, unless the victims wish to give their evidence in open court.

To prevent misuse of video-recorded statements, these may be viewed only at police stations or approved places.

Lawyers will also be barred from probing a victim's sexual history unless they obtain permission from the court. This would lessen the ordeal faced by such victims, said lawyers and academics.

Terrorists have Singapore in their sights, warns PM Lee Hsien Loong

Community leaders must ensure social cohesion is not affected
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

Singapore remains a target of terrorists, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he highlighted how South-east Asia is on the front line of the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

"They have us in their sights, and we have to know that," said PM Lee, in a speech at ITE College Central where he called on about 300 community leaders to ensure social cohesion is not disrupted by the terror threat.

Singapore might be an "oasis of peace", but it is not disconnected from the rest of the world, he said.

His speech comes a week after he held a dialogue with Malay/Muslim leaders on the issue, to hear their concerns and let them know the Government is on their side as they counter extremism and protect the social fabric.

The fight against terrorism is not theirs alone, he added yesterday, saying: "We are all in this together."

PM Lee pointed out that while ISIS is on the defensive in the Middle East, its followers could disperse and return to South-east Asia. Prominent ISIS fighters have been recruiting more from Malaysia and Indonesia and directing attacks on countries, including Singapore.

In a report last week, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the terror network responsible for the ongoing siege of Marawi in the Philippines had urged militants to attack targets in Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, among other places.

PM Lee said ISIS has been using the fighting in Marawi as propaganda to recruit more fighters, and directing them to the Philippines, where it hopes to set up a wilayat, or province. And it is "unrealistic" for Singapore to think it will be unaffected by this, he said.

He cited a foiled plot by an ISIS-linked group last year to launch a rocket at Marina Bay Sands from Batam. "We know that there are others out there, and we also know of other attacks that had been planned but have not been carried out," said PM Lee. "Singapore is a target, we know it, they've said it, and they've acted on it."

The developments in Singapore are just as worrying, said PM Lee, highlighting three trends.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Why is state funding needed for our arts scene to thrive?

By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2017

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a country in possession of a First World reputation must also have a thriving arts scene.

But when it comes to paying for the arts, people are less quick to reach for the bill. And lately, the dreary economic climate means an increasing reluctance to open wallets.

The arts - which comprise theatre, dance, traditional arts, visual arts, music and literature - in Singapore are mainly funded by the state, unlike in other countries such as the United States, where they are largely supported through private donors and foundations.

In 2015, according to the Singapore Cultural Statistics report, 80 per cent of arts and heritage funding in Singapore, or $595.7 million, was provided by the Government through state agencies such as the National Arts Council (NAC).

This includes $79.4 million under the Cultural Matching Fund, which was set up by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to match private cash donations to arts and heritage charities and Institutions of Public Character dollar for dollar.

The Government's support for the arts takes various forms, from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing.

In the 2015/2016 financial year, for instance, $70.9 million was disbursed through the Grants Framework and $7.4 million through the Arts Housing Scheme, which was implemented in 1985 to provide affordable spaces to arts groups and artists.

An NAC spokesman said investing in the creation and appreciation of the arts "does not only add to the national canon of artwork we can be proud of, it also allows the arts on an individual level to entertain and inspire, and provide an avenue for self-expression, learning and reflection". "On a community and international level, the arts can connect our communities and position Singapore globally," the spokesman added.

The remaining support for arts and culture comes from corporate sponsors and individuals.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Racial Harmony Day in Singapore: 20 years on

July 21 is Racial Harmony Day, which schools started observing in 1997. On the 20th anniversary of Racial Harmony Day, Senior Correspondent Toh Yong Chuan reports on efforts to build and boost trust among people of different races and religions in Singapore. Here are 20 items on issues and policies to do with racial and religious harmony.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017


A couple of riots broke out in Singapore in 1964 - the first of which took place on July 21, which is today marked as Racial Harmony Day.

Amid rising communal tensions following the Malaysian general election in May that year, a procession celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday was disrupted by clashes between Chinese and Malays.

The first day of rioting saw four killed and 178 injured.

The authorities imposed night curfews island-wide and set up goodwill committees of community leaders to calm the situation.

But clashes continued through July, and by the time the situation calmed down in early August, 23 had died and 454 were injured.

The calm did not last long.

On Sept 2, 1964, fighting broke out after a Malay trishaw rider was found dead in Geylang Serai.

The fighting that lasted over a week left 13 dead and 106 injured.

In 1997, the Ministry of Education began marking July 21 as Racial Harmony Day. On this day, schools hold activities to teach students the importance of maintaining racial and religious harmony.

Restrictions on Indian IT professionals moving to Singapore; Wrong to have total free flow of people: DPM Tharman

It's not just wrong politics but also wrong economics, DPM says at a forum in New Delhi
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017

Singapore has been one of the strongest advocates when it comes to the free flow of goods and services, but there must be limits to the movement of people.

Otherwise there will be less push for businesses to be more productive, and "more fundamentally, you become a society where people don't feel it's their own society", said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday at an economics forum in India.

"This is a reality not just because of (President Donald) Trump in the US or Brexit in UK. It is a reality all over the world,'' he said when asked a question about tighter restrictions on Indian professionals moving to Singapore.

Noting that a third of Singapore's workforce is already made up of foreigners, he added: "It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and constrain the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics."

Mr Tharman, who is in India on a three-day visit ending today, was speaking at the Delhi Economics Conclave held by the Indian Finance Ministry.

Earlier this year, India had expressed concern that curbs on the movement of Indian professionals to Singapore violate the terms of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed by the two countries in 2005. A review of the agreement to update the terms has been under negotiation for more than six years as India seeks more access for its professionals and banks.

India's National Association of Software and Services Companies said earlier this year that the movement of Indian software professionals to Singapore has been "reduced to an insignificant trickle" and that it was becoming tough for Indian software firms to operate in the Republic. Its president, Mr R. Chandrashekhar, estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 Indian software workers in Singapore.

The topic of the CECA review came up yesterday when Mr Tharman called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who "expressed support for the expeditious conclusion of the Second CECA Review", said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore last night.

The two leaders discussed the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, agreeing that cooperation between the two countries should be deepened in future. A small team of officials from Singapore and India will be formed to explore new areas of cooperation in digital finance, while there is also scope to strengthen air connectivity between the two countries.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Stricter rules for jackpot machines in clubs to guard against problem gambling

Tougher rules soon to curb jackpot machines in clubs
Measures to protect vulnerable from ills of gambling will be rolled out over next 2 years
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

The number of jackpot machines in Singapore could go down sharply as the football and social clubs operating them will soon have tougher rules to contend with.

The new regime, to be rolled out over the next two years, will raise the bar for securing jackpot machine permits, and there will be tighter quotas for the number of machines a club can operate.

The minimum age for entering jackpot rooms will be raised from 18 to 21, and their operating hours will be restricted as the measures aim to protect the vulnerable from the ills of gambling.

The new rules were announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday and target machines outside the two casinos.

They could have a major impact on the fortunes of some of the clubs running jackpot machines - including football clubs that have earned millions from this while not even fielding professional teams.

The aim is to ensure that jackpot rooms provide no more than an ancillary part of wider activities at clubs with a real social purpose and genuine membership, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a briefing yesterday.

"Our sense is that some (operators) sort of pay lip service to the need to provide other services and focus on the jackpot machines as their primary objective. That, we cannot allow," he added.

Mr Shanmugam also said that the quota for jackpot machines will also be cut over the next two years, without giving details of the reduction.

There are now about 82 jackpot venues and almost 1,900 jackpot machines. The number of machines could drop by around a third with the new rules, said MHA.

Currently, a club may operate jackpot machines if it has at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors.

In future, to renew such permits or apply for fresh ones, a club will have to show that it provides a "suitably wide range" of social and recreational services to members. The amount of income that a club derives from jackpot machines, compared to its total income, will also be examined. Those that do not meet the tighter criteria will have to stop operating such machines by April 30 next year.

All private clubs with such machines will also need to adopt a self-exclusion scheme from next May that allows individuals with a serious gambling habit to bar themselves from entering jackpot rooms.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Singapore a rare, precious example of harmonious multiracial, multi-religious society: PM Lee

Telok Ayer Street a nod to Singapore's religious diversity
Singapore's racial harmony a rare and precious thing, PM says on tour of area
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Telok Ayer Street was once part of Singapore's shoreline, and migrants who arrived by sea built their places of worship nearby.

The area displays remarkable religious diversity even now, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He went on a walking tour of five places of worship along the street on Wednesday, and met leaders of the church, temples, mosque and shrine that have been there for more than a century.

Race, language and religion are faultlines that have torn many societies apart, Mr Lee noted in his post, which came on the eve of Racial Harmony Day.

"Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together," he wrote.

"This is not by chance. The government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen."

The Harmony in Diversity Gallery, which houses exhibits and interactive features that highlight the common thread among the different religions, is one such collaboration, said Mr Lee.

He stopped at the gallery in Maxwell Road, where he met members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and wrote: "Long may we live peacefully and harmoniously in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."

HDB helping young couples get their flats sooner with two new options

Get flat faster under two new schemes
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

A total of 1,000 Build-To-Order flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun will be made available to home buyers quicker, with a wait time of 2½ years compared with the typical three to four years.

They will be put up for sale in the second half of next year, and buyers can begin collecting their keys between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Board said this is aimed at helping young couples get their flats faster.

This is achieved not by speeding up the construction. Instead, HDB will begin building the selected projects before the flats are sold. This is unlike the usual process where they are built to order, that is, after they have been bought.

A tender for this batch of 1,000 flats will be called this month. Construction is expected to start at the end of the year.

Another measure to reduce the wait for home buyers is the doubling of the number of times a year when they get a shot at buying unsold units from previous sales launches.

A new sales mode, known as the Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF), will pool unsold units from past Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises. ROFs will take place every February and August. This is on top of SBFs, which are alongside BTO exercises in May and November.

The first ROF will take place next month, with 1,394 units. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to select and book a flat if there are available units. At least 95 per cent of the units will be set aside for first- timer families.

"This will help those with more urgent housing needs and/or are less particular about location and attributes to have quicker access to a flat," said HDB.

The two measures were first announced during the debate over the Ministry of National Development's annual budget in March.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday: "I hope the wider range of options and more regular offer of flats will help home buyers find a home that best suits their needs."