Last Week in Parliament

Here are some of the parliament questions that were filed for last week's Parliament sitting that was not covered in the media. This sitting focused on the issue of the development of places of worship and how it related to the Sengkang Fernvale issue that went viral about a month ago. Another PQ was also filed on the matter of intellectual property which became a flashpoint over the Dr. Ting vs Mindef saga. (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.) 
The development of places of worship
Mr Seng Han Thong
(a) what are the criteria for awarding tenders for the development of places of worship; and 
(b) whether a for-profit organisation is allowed to participate in the tender process for such developments. 
Er Dr Lee Bee Wah:
(a) what are the current criteria to determine the winning bid of tenders for places of worship; 
(b) whether it is the practice to allow non-religious business entities to bid for such projects; and 
(c) whether the Ministry will review its criteria on who can qualify for such projects so that religious groups can have a fair chance to compete in the bidding. 
Ms Lee Li Lian
(a) how many commercial companies are operating in land zoned for religious use; and 
(b) what are the considerations used by the Ministry to award such land to commercial entities. 
Minister Khaw Boon Wan
Places of Worship or PWs serve the spiritual needs of our people and are essential community facilities. That is why the (MND) Master Plan has reserved and zoned specific land sites for PWs to be built. We tender out such sites to meet new demand and invite religious organisations to bid in such tenders. We have also opened such tenders to participation by companies. This is because some religious organisations form companies to enable and facilitate their ownership and development of such PW sites. This has been the practice since 1991 when State Lands were put up for tenders for PW use. The assumption is that only companies affiliated to religious organisations would participate in such tenders. 
For each tender, the highest bid among eligible bidders will win, as this is a fair way to allocate the site. Since 1991, 7 sites have been won by companies, all affiliated to religious organisations. 
Until the recent case of the Chinese temple site in Sengkang, the Government has never awarded a PW site to a company that is not affiliated to a religious organisation. We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land Pte Ltd (EPL), is actually a private company without any religious affiliation. From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site. This is not in line with our plan for the PW site. 
The Master Plan sets aside and provides sites for private columbaria. We have occasionally tendered such sites as “columbarium”, but not as “place of worship”. The tender documents are differently worded. 
The Sengkang site is not intended for a commercial columbarium. HDB awarded the site to EPL, under the impression that the company is a vehicle for a religious organisation to build and own a Chinese temple. 
We will ensure that the land is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple. We are in discussion with EPL on how this can be achieved. 
The intent of a Chinese temple was clearly stated in the Master Plan and the HDB’s marketing brochures for their BTO flats there. Many temples provide an incidental columbarium service for their members and devotees. Whether the eventual temple in Sengkang will also provide such a service is a decision for the temple trustees to make. But to minimise disamenity to residents, there are clear URA planning guidelines for such ancillary facilities. 
Late last year, we launched a review to improve our land tender process for places of worship, for example by tightening eligibility requirements for tenderers. We have been engaging religious groups on the review. The Sengkang temple case has highlighted the necessity for such a review. I will provide more information when the review is completed.
On issues regarding intellectual property
Mr Gerald Giam, Non-Constituency MP: To ask the Minister for Law since 2001 (a) how many times have our Ministries, agencies and statutory boards, or government-linked companies (GLCs) applied to the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) for revocation of patents, registered trademarks or registered designs belonging to local intellectual property (IP) owners; (b) how many revocations have been granted; (c) what are the main reasons for revocation; and (d) how many complaints has the Government received from local IP owners about our Ministries, agencies and statutory boards, or GLCs infringing their IP rights. 
  1. There have been two revocation applications made since 2001.  These were not made to IPOS but in the High Court, in the context of counterclaims to proceedings. 
  2. The first case was Mobilestats Technologies Pte Ltd v Attorney-General. The plaintiff claimed in court that the defendant had infringed its patent.  The Court held that the plaintiff’s patent was invalid and revoked it.  
  3. The second case was Yiap Hang Boon v Housing Development Board. The court held that the patent was invalid and revoked it.
  4. The Ministry of Law and IPOS have not received any other complaints which allege that the Government has infringed the IP rights of local IP owners.

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