Covid-19 panel that decides on relief for firms, individuals to wind down

The Sentosa Cove area is now officially part of Sentosa after Parliament amended the Sentosa Development Corporation Act. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - In yet another sign of Singapore moving closer to treating Covid-19 as endemic, a panel that determines whether urgent relief to businesses and individuals unable to fulfil their contractual obligations during the pandemic will be granted will wind down.

The winding down of the Panel of Assessors for Covid-19 (Temporary Relief), or Pact, and its registry was part of a package of legislative amendments passed by Parliament on Monday.

It was among a series of legislation amended in a consolidated Bill which also covered changes to legislation such as the Extradition Act and Protection from Harassment Act. The amendments were passed without debate as no MP spoke on them.

On Monday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Law Rahayu Mahzam said in Parliament that the panel was formed in April 2020 to help businesses and individuals affected by Covid-19.

She said: "Since Pact was set up around 2½ years ago, it has issued about 1,070 determinations. This helped parties avoid costly and time-consuming litigation, relating to contractual disagreements arising from Covid-19.

"With the Covid-19 situation having stabilised, these urgent reliefs, introduced during very exceptional times, have run their course and are no longer necessary."

The relief was granted to firms with construction, supply, event and tourism-related contracts and applied for certain periods, the last of which ended on Feb 28.

Ms Rahayu said that applications which remain pending will be deemed to be withdrawn. There are 20 such outstanding applications and the withdrawal does not affect the parties' rights, she added.

On Monday, legislation such as the Road Traffic Act and Customs Act were also amended to abolish the need for an accused person who fails to attend court to show cause as to why he should not be punished with a fine or jail.

This ensures consistency with other statutes such as the Criminal Procedure Code 2010, which do not have a similar show cause procedure, said Ms Rahayu.

Even without this provision, the courts will be able to issue a warrant of arrest to secure the accused person's attendance, she said, adding that failure to attend court will ordinarily be taken into account by the court as an aggravating factor, which may justify an increase in the sentence for their offence.

The Extradition Act was also amended in Parliament, giving the authorities the power to re-arrest fugitives who have consented to their surrender if they escape during their arrest or from custody.

The Protection from Harassment Act was also updated to provide volunteers who frequently interact with the public and provide services similar to those of public service workers with the same protection against harassment as public service workers.

Ms Rahayu said: "The Government is working to identify the classes of volunteers who qualify as public service workers, and target to bring this amendment into force in 2023."

And, in an unusual amendment, the upscale Sentosa Cove residential area is now officially part of Sentosa under the law, after Parliament amended the Sentosa Development Corporation Act.

Part of Sentosa Cove used to be a separate island from Sentosa. But the channel between both islands was reclaimed, and the definition of Sentosa is now expanded to include islands joined to Sentosa through land reclamation, said Ms Rahayu.

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