PARLIAMENT: Budget 2019 debate

Parliament: When River Hongbao fireworks got tangled up in red tape

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) recounted his experience as chairman of the River Hongbao organising committee and how the festival's fireworks display almost did not take place because a PUB executive had refused to issue a permit for the fireworks as
Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) recounted his experience as chairman of the River Hongbao organising committee and how the festival's fireworks display almost did not take place because a PUB executive had refused to issue a permit for the fireworks as late as a fortnight before the event.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

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) was one of two MPs to make better government communication the focus of their speeches yesterday, the second day of the Budget debate.

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

The chief executive of ComfortDelGro Taxi gave examples of four agencies and how their rules have hampered businesses, such as the Land Transport Authority's tedious certification process for new cars.

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

Mr Ang recounted his experience as chairman of the River Hongbao organising committee and how the annual 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 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 had to be cancelled? What if I was not able to appeal to the higher authority? It appears that we need the intervention of higher authority... for 'exceptions' to be made and before things can move ahead," he added.

Mr Ang said unhelpful regulations should be struck off, but many companies do not speak up against their regulators for fear of repercussions.

He called for a neutral channel to encourage feedback.

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

TRUST IN GOVT IMPORTANT: MP

Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) said communication is key in a climate when trust in governments worldwide is declining: "We have to continuously strive to ensure that trust in our Government is not and will not be eroded... Once lost, it is difficult to bring back."

She said it was unfortunate that several recent incidents have shaken this confidence in the Government. She cited a recent case of a senior citizen whose MediShield Life payout was only $4.50 for a post-subsidy bill of nearly $4,500. She was glad that the Health Ministry came out quickly to explain the matter, and promised to review the MediShield Life insurance claim limits. "This is how the matter should be handled," she added.

Ms Cheng also cited the misunderstanding among some that the Government had shifted the payout age for the Central Provident Fund Retirement Sum to 70.

The payout eligibility age is still 65 for those born from 1954 onwards - as has been the case since 2007.

It shows "we should work harder at our communication and make it more easily understood", she said.

She urged the CPF Board to come up with ways for the elderly to have face-to-face appointments with an officer more easily.

"We cannot afford to have our people confused, or their trust and confidence in the Government would be affected," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2019, with the headline 'When River Hongbao fireworks got tangled up in red tape'. Print Edition | Subscribe