Changes to harmony Act, pre-school subsidies on Parliament agenda

Parliament will sit on Sept 2, 2019.
Parliament will sit on Sept 2, 2019.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

Proposed changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act will be introduced in Parliament for the first time in 30 years when it sits on Monday.

MPs will also raise a range of issues, including the dengue situation, the study of mother tongue language in schools and increased subsidies for pre-school education, according to the agenda for the sitting issued by the Clerk of Parliament yesterday.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in announcing the impending introduction of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill, said although the Government never had to invoke its powers under the Act, the situation has changed significantly in the past three decades, with the proliferation of social media.

The potential religious fault lines in Singapore have to be managed, especially when intolerance and extremism are prevailing trends around the world, he said at the 70th anniversary dinner of the Inter-Religious Organisation.

The need to update the Act was highlighted by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam last month, when he noted the new environment where identity politics is prevalent and hate speech on social media is not uncommon.

He also said the Government had discussed the matter with religious groups and their leaders, and they all agreed with the legislative move.

The upcoming increase in subsidies for pre-school education has prompted Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) to ask the Minister for Social and Family Development how the ministry can prevent pre-school operators from raising their fees unduly.

Operators may see it as "a good time to adjust their fees", said Mr Choo. "Now that they know the quantum will be significantly increased, we must guard against profiteering."

 
 
 

Questions on dengue for the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources were filed by at least five MPs, including Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC).

As of Aug 2, there have been 9,135 cases of dengue this year, which is about five times more than the total in the same period last year.

Mr Tan wants to know why there is a continuing rise in cases, despite the increase in mitigation efforts in reported dengue clusters.

"Singaporeans I've spoken to are concerned why this is happening," he said. "There have been increased efforts in inspections and fogging... but the numbers in some areas have not gone down in the last few months." He added: "I would like to know what more can be done."

As for the issue of exemptions for mother tongue language examinations, some MPs question the principle behind the allocation of scores for exempted pupils. Under the new PSLE scoring system starting in 2021, exempted pupils will receive scores based on their performance in English, mathematics and science. It would allow them to have PSLE scores comprising four subjects, for their Secondary 1 posting.

Another proposed legislation to be introduced in Parliament is the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill.

Seven Bills are up for debate, including the CareShield Life and Long-Term Care Bill, which aims to provide long-term care financing support for the severely disabled.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2019, with the headline 'Changes to harmony Act, pre-school subsidies on House agenda'. Print Edition | Subscribe