Parliament: Govt needs to listen more to firms, cut red tape, says MP Ang Wei Neng

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) said the River Hongbao's fireworks display almost did not take place, as a PUB executive refused to issue a permit for the fireworks as late as a fortnight before the opening ceremony.
Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) said the River Hongbao's fireworks display almost did not take place, as a PUB executive refused to issue a permit for the fireworks as late as a fortnight before the opening ceremony.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An MP has criticised several government agencies for imposing "onerous regulations" on many businesses, and failing to take in their feedback without interventions from higher authorities.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), speaking on the second day of the Budget debate on Wednesday (Feb 27), also offered several suggestions on how the Government can work with the private sector to strike a better balance between protecting society and enabling businesses.

While acknowledging that some regulations are necessary, he noted that in other areas, "the amount and nature of regulation might be adding more red tape and making lives miserable for businesses".

Mr Ang, who is the chief executive of ComfortDelGro Taxi, gave several examples, including a lengthy certification process for new cars, which require motor vehicle traders to input 52 safety items - double that in close rival Hong Kong - as well as go through many rounds of clarification with the regulator Land Transport Authority.

Industry players have made many requests to simplify the process. But, Mr Ang quipped: "LTA is quite happy to keep the process lengthy."

Even for situations in which there is no apparent financial gain, the red tape can be alarming.

Mr Ang recounted his recent experience as chairman of the River Hongbao event, which took place earlier this month. The festival's popular fireworks display almost did not take place.

 

"For some reason this year, a PUB executive refused to issue a permit for the fireworks as late as a fortnight before the opening ceremony, for which the Prime Minister was the guest-of-honour," he said, adding that the approval of the national water agency had been sought months earlier.

He appealed to a "higher authority" and within a day, the approval was given, he said.

"My concern for members of the public is: What if I had no recourse? Would the fireworks have to be cancelled? What if I was not able to appeal to the higher authority? It appears that we need the intervention of the higher authority... for 'exceptions' to be made and before things can move ahead."

Mr Ang urged agencies to "review regulations and strike them off when it becomes more of a hindrance than a help".

They can best do so by getting feedback, but he noted that many companies are afraid to speak up against their regulators for fear of repercussions.

"Many companies have told me that they experience additional hindrance when they voice out too strongly against their regulators. Some companies told me they refrain from giving genuine feedback, as they do not want to bite the hand that feeds them, especially when they have to bid for contracts from their regulators.

"In fact, all the companies that have provided me with feedback to the cases cited above have asked me not to name their organisations," he said.

He called for a neutral channel, similar to the whistle-blower policy, to encourage feedback without fear or repercussion.

Another suggestion Mr Ang made is for more regular work exchange programmes, in which government officers work at the private sector organisations they regulate for a period of time, and vice versa.

Doing so would help to develop more relevant regulations, enforcement policies and better incentive schemes for the private sector.

"The staff exchange efforts between public and private sectors have so far been ad hoc. Perhaps, the head of civil service can consider a more structured, scalable and sustainable programme for such work exchanges between public and private sectors," he said.

He referred to Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat's announcement on Tuesday that the authorities are looking at how to simplify regulations for the food industry.

"This is good news... For Singapore to strive in this uncertain world with constant technological and geopolitical disruptions, the Government has to keep listening," Mr Ang said.