Last Week in Parliament #1

singapore parliament
 
There was a lot of important matters that were covered in this week's parliamentary sitting. Here are some highlights in their entirety for your perusal. (Note: we report the parliamentary Q&As as is as opposed to the MSM's abridged versions to help give you, our readers, a clearer idea on what is being done in the house in your name.)
 
On the hot topic of hecklegate
 
Ms Denise Phua Lay Peng: To ask the Minister for National Development
 
(a) whether Hong Lim Park is for the sole use of Speakers' Corner participants; 
 
(b) what designated spots in Hong Lim Park are meant for Speakers' Corner activities; 
 
(c) what is the list of activities permitted for Hong Lim Park; 
 
(d) when and for what activities can the adjacent Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre facilities such as the stage be allowed for use by Hong Lim Park users; 
 
(e) what standard operating procedures pertain to the use of Hong Lim Park and the adjacent Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre's facilities; and 
 
(f) how the recent incident pertaining to the use of the same ground by YMCA and advocates of the Return-My-CPF group can be avoided. 
 
Answer: Hong Lim Park is a public park. It houses two lawns which have been designated as the Speakers’ Corner. However, these lawns are not for the sole use of Speakers’ Corner participants. Like any other park in Singapore, Hong Lim Park is a shared space for all Singaporeans to use, and to conduct community events or other activities for the residents. 
 
The Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre and its outdoor stage are adjacent to the Hong Lim Park. Hong Lim Park users can apply to the Community Centre for the use of its facilities and the stage. Usage is subject to the usual terms imposed by the Peoples’ Association. For example, the stage should not be used for political or religious activities. The park and CC facilities have been used for different types of events such as concerts, family days, sporting activities and other community events. Generally, the stage can be booked for use from 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm, as these are the opening hours of the CC, but special arrangements can be made to use the stage earlier. For the Speakers’ Corner, Singaporeans can speak, hold demonstrations and performances after seeking NParks’ approval. 
 
Multiple events have been conducted on many past occasions by different groups at the same time at Hong Lim Park. There had been no untoward incident arising from this arrangement until the 27 September incident. As Police investigations and legal proceedings are on-going in relation to the 27 September incident, it is not appropriate to comment on the incident or to give a view on what could or could not have prevented such an incident.
 
Note: The last bit where the minister says that it is not appropriate to comment on ongoing investigations/court cases is a standard answer provided by various ministers whenever they are asked about pending cases.
 
On price differences between flats and private properties
 
Mr Gan Thiam Poh: To ask the Minister for National Development: 
 
(a) what is the average percentage difference in price between HDB BTO flats, HDB resale flats and private property in Singapore's (i) core central region; (ii) rest of central region; and (iii) outside central region, respectively; and 
 
(b) how do these prices compare to that of 10 years ago. 
 
Answer: In the past 10 years, new HDB flats were mostly built in non-mature estates with some in the mature estates where land was available. The non-mature estates are all located in the OCR (outside central region). The few BTO projects in the mature estates straddle both the OCR and the RCR (rest of central region). OCR and RCR are terms used by the industry to group private properties in Singapore. They do not coincide with the HDB classification of mature and non-mature estates. Moreover, given the wide range of housing types in the private housing market, from shoe-box units to luxurious penthouses, price comparison between the public and the private housing markets should therefore be interpreted with care. 
 
As most BTO flats were built in the OCR, I will provide the price comparison for this region. Generally, the average price difference between HDB resale flats and BTO flats is 31%. It was 18% in 2004. Between private residential properties and HDB resale flats, the difference is 158%. It was 118% in 2004.
 
The unemployment rate for Degree Holders
 
Mr Yee Jenn Jong: To ask the Minister for Manpower in light of the 2013 Labour Force Survey report which states that the unemployment rate for degree holders below the age of 30 is 7.4% (a) what are the reasons behind this relatively high unemployment rate; and (b) whether the Ministry is taking any measures to address this issue.
 
Answer: When Mr Yee alludes to the unemployment rate of 7.4% and said this was very high, I am not certain what his reference points are but there are a few perspectives. Does he mean that it is high compared to other countries? Or is it high because it is higher than the overall unemployment rate? Or is it high because it has increased significantly from the past? Let me address these three perspectives.
 
Across all educational levels, our youth unemployment rate has remained low by international standards. Whether compared with the advanced economies, such as the US and EU, which are facing youth unemployment rates in the double-digits, or with the other developed Asian economies such as Hong Kong and South Korea.
 
The youth unemployment rate across all countries is typically significantly higher than the overall unemployment rate. This pattern is similarly reflected in our unemployment rate of 7.4% (seasonally unadjusted) for degree holders below the age of 30, compared to the overall unemployment rate amongst degree holders of 3.6% (seasonally unadjusted) in June 2013. We find this pattern repeated across all the different countries. There is a reason for this. This is mainly due to new graduates joining the job market, as well as the higher incidence of job switching amongst young graduates as they figure out what that want to do, rather than any systemic difficulty in securing employment. So we find these trends typical across most, if not all countries. About nine in ten of our young degree holders from the local autonomous universities are able to secure a job within six months of graduation. The median duration of unemployment for resident degree holders below the age of 30 is also not long, at about 5 weeks.
 
Thirdly, the rate has actually come down from 2009 and has remained largely stable for the recent few years1. The Government will continue with a comprehensive approach to keep both our overall unemployment and youth unemployment rates as low as we can. First, it is crucial and I think it is important that we need to maintain a strong and vibrant economy so that businesses have a conducive environment to operate in and in turn create the quality jobs for all Singaporeans. Second, we need to ensure that our education and training system continues to equip Singaporeans with industry-relevant skills to prepare them for the job market. We know that trends are evolving; technologies are evolving quickly, so this is where the commitment to lifelong learning at every educational level is particularly important.
 
MOM will continue to monitor the underemployment rate and unemployment rate of young degree holders and for Singaporeans at every level and will work closely with tripartite partners to help young degree holders access quality jobs, and facilitate their career development and progression.
 
Graduate Unemployment
 
Ms Foo Mee Har: To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) how can the issue of graduate underemployment be mitigated; and (b) what measures does the Government plan to put in place to ensure that the situation does not worsen. 
 
Answer: Graduate underemployment is an issue that many governments worldwide are grappling with, including in developed economies where graduates are experiencing challenges in securing jobs which match their skills and expertise.
 
In many countries, graduate underemployment is due in a large part to a high or increasing proportion of degree holders entering the workforce, at a time where their economies are unable to generate sufficient good jobs for these graduates. This is exacerbated in cases where there is a mismatch between the courses of study and the skillsets required of the jobs available. The disruptive effect of technology on the nature of jobs also means that graduates who are unable to update and upgrade their skills may face challenges staying relevant in their fields.
 
Singapore’s resident graduate underemployment rate1 is low and stable, at 2.3% in June 2013. While we are not facing the unemployment and underemployment problems in other countries, we will not be immune to these trends. The proportion of degree holders in our workforce has been increasing. We are seeing increasing access to private educational institutions or alternative routes which offer degrees of varying quality despite their slick packaging. Those who spend time and money going to these institutions may bear the greater risk of underemployment. Actually the market has begun to differentiate between degrees that carry their full worth in knowledge and skills, and those that are essentially paper qualifications. We should therefore encourage our young to pursue their interests, and go for substance when considering their education and career paths.
 
We will also need to keep up our efforts at ensuring that graduates have the skillsets to take on quality jobs. Our first strategy is to keep our economy vibrant and competitive as that is the time when quality jobs can be created. This means we must press on with our restructuring efforts, as well as to continue to grow industries which offer good jobs for graduates and all Singaporeans. We need to attract the right companies to invest and grow their businesses here.
 
At the same time, we need to help individuals to equip themselves with the skills to take on the quality jobs of today and also of tomorrow. The SkillsFuture Council will help spearhead efforts on this front to develop an integrated system of education, training and career progression for Singaporeans. This involves helping individuals to make informed choices on education and training, and strengthening the linkages between education and training institutions and industry needs. Employers also have to recognise the value in investing in the training of their workers and help them achieve mastery of skills. Overall, we have to create a culture where workers are motivated and able to continually acquire relevant skills and experience that will help them advance in their careers. This includes degree holders, who must also take ownership of their individual career and training development throughout their lives.
 
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