Published: 06 July 2021
1. Mr Speaker, I thank Members for their support and thoughtful feedback on this Bill.
2. To summarise, this Bill will bring about three key benefits:
First, the Bill will provide greater convenience to Singaporeans through streamlined registration processes.
Second, the Bill will cater for an expanded scope of registration scenarios.
Third, the Bill will strengthen ICA’s enforcement powers.
3. Please allow me to address the questions from the members in turn.
Bringing Greater Convenience to Singaporeans
4. I thank members for their support of the digitalisation of our registration regime. Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim said that the new digitalised process would reduce errors. This will indeed be the case. This will also save time for members of the public and the public sector. We estimate that a total of about 18,000 hours per year can be saved by members of the public and the relevant Government agencies from not performing over-the-counter death registrations.
5. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked whether we will still keep a hard copy of the registration records in case the electronic system fails, and the data is lost. While ICA will not be keeping hard copy records for registrations done digitally, measures are taken to ensure that the data of the digital records are backed up at alternate secured sites and retrievable in the event of system failures.
6. Mr Zhulkarnain and Mr Derrick Goh asked whether there will be any extra charges or costs to be borne. ICA will not be charging extra fees. The public hospitals have also committed to not charge extra fees for death registration under the streamlined process. While the Government is not able to dictate the fees charged by private hospitals and general practitioners who make house visits to certify deaths, we note that private hospitals and general practitioners will continue to use the same ICA e-service which they are already using to certify deaths online currently. Hence, we do not expect the costs incurred by private hospitals and general practitioners to increase.
7. Mr Goh asked if fees would be imposed for extracts from the registers given that they will be issued digitally. To clarify, the digitalisation of documents will start with birth, death and stillbirth certificates that will be issued when the new Act comes into force. The issuance of digital extracts for births, deaths and stillbirths that are registered before the new Act comes into force will be introduced in a later phase. Regardless of the format of the extract, there is still a need to recover the costs for providing this service. ICA is reviewing the fee amount. If the costs have come down, the fees will be revised accordingly.
Expanding the Scope to Cater to More Scenarios
8. Mr Zhulkarnain raised questions regarding the categories of responsible persons and their duties to report births and deaths under the Bill.
Under clause 7, where a birth occurs in any premises other than in a hospital, the child’s parents and the occupier of the premises who knows of the birth in the premises are responsible for the reporting of the birth. Under the Bill, an occupier for any premises includes a person who has control of, or is managing, the premises. For example, the management of a mall who knows of a birth in the mall, or the owner of an apartment who knows of a birth in the apartment, will be responsible for reporting the birth. In most cases, we would expect the parents to be responsible for reporting the birth.
Under clause 22, where a death occurs in any premises other than in a hospital, the relative of the deceased person who is present at the death, and the occupier of the premises who knows of the death in the premises are responsible for reporting the death. In most cases, we would expect the relatives to be responsible for reporting the death.
9. Mr Zhulkarnain highlighted that for births that occur in a place other than hospitals, premises and conveyances, the responsibility falls squarely on the parents only. However, for the reporting of deaths in any other place, the responsibility falls on, inter alia, every relative of the deceased person who knows of the death. He asked for MHA’s rationale for this difference. He also asked whether the relatives of a child should also be included as responsible persons who should report the child’s birth under clause 7(2).
10. The situations surrounding births and deaths are different. For a newborn child, the parents are the responsible persons who will need to care for the child. Hence, they are legally required to report the birth. Under the current Act, ICA occasionally encounters birth registrations by persons other than the parents, such as a relative of the child. While ICA will continue to accept reports of births from relatives who are aware of the births, we do not want to burden the relatives with the legal obligation to report or be penalised for failing to report the birth. This responsibility falls on the child’s parents.
11. For a deceased person passing away in any other place, the circumstances of death and the persons who may know of the death may be vastly different for each case. A deceased person could have died alone or in the company of a relative or non-related person. Hence, the provision under clause 22(2)(d) provides for a wider scope of responsible persons than that for births under clause 7(2)(e).
12. As for the scenario mentioned by Mr Goh of a jogger who finds a dead body, the death will fall under purview of the Coroners Act as a reportable death since it is likely that the death occurred under suspicious circumstances. For a reportable death, the jogger is obligated under section 5 of the Coroners Act to report it to a police officer as soon as possible. As the death is not under the scope of clause 22 of the Bill, the jogger does not need to report the death to a medical practitioner.
13. Mr Zhulkarnain asked if it would be useful for ICA to still retain some powers to investigate non-reporting offences in cases where there are multiple responsible persons who can report. Under clause 22(4), as long as a responsible person reports a death, the duty of every other responsible person is discharged. This is because once a report has been made and a medical practitioner is alerted to the death, the purpose of the reporting requirement is met. However, if no responsible person reports the death, all responsible persons, who do not have a reasonable excuse, shall be guilty of the offence of failing to report the death. This provides sufficient deterrence against the failure to report a death while achieving the aim of ensuring that each death is reported by at least one responsible person.
14. To answer Mr Goh’s query on overseas deaths, yes, the RG may register the overseas death of a Singapore citizen or permanent resident under clause 28 if the death is not registered overseas. This is provided that the body of the deceased person is brought to Singapore, and an application is made by a relative of the deceased person within three months of the death, accompanied by a document issued by a medical practitioner that certifies the cause of death and other death particulars of the deceased person.
15. Mr Gan asked about death registration for missing persons. In the past five years, the Police receives an average of about 1,700 missing persons reports per year. The next-of-kin of a missing person who wishes to have the missing person presumed by law to be dead will need to apply to the Court for the necessary order. This process is governed by the Evidence Act and will remain so. Once the next-of-kin obtains the Court order, they can inform ICA to update the person’s status in its systems. This information will be shared with other agencies to facilitate other post-death matters. ICA will also issue a letter of acknowledgement to the next-of-kin when they report the presumption of death to ICA. In the past five years, ICA encountered an average of five reports per year in relation to such Court orders.
16. Mr Gan asked about newborn children whose births are not registered by the child’s parents or who have been abandoned by their parents. In 2020, 72 births were not registered within 42 days. This makes up less than 0.2% of total births in Singapore. Out of these 72 births, most parents do come forward to register the births after reminders from ICA. Due to ICA’s efforts to trace the parents, the number of cases of parents who fail to register their child’s birth is very low. Nevertheless, the Bill will provide powers for the RG to register such births on his own volition when the parents fail to do so despite ICA’s efforts to contact and remind them.
17. As for abandoned babies, such cases are relatively rare in Singapore. The Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Child Protection Service will initially place the abandoned baby under its foster care service. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the child may subsequently be returned to the parents or put up for adoption.
18. Mr Louis Ng asked how ICA will follow up with the responsible persons for a child in cases with incomplete birth particulars. ICA will do its part to contact and remind the responsible persons. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the responsible persons, such as parents, to register their child.
19. Mr Ng also asked about the naming of a child whose birth is registered by the RG on his own volition. The RG will give the child an identifier which will be a single-worded name. The responsible persons for the child can subsequently apply to the RG to replace the identifier with another name within seven years of the child’s birth. The responsible persons can of course do so much earlier.
20. Mr Gan asked whether birth registration and citizenship will continue to be independent of each other. The answer is yes. All births in Singapore have to be reported and registered regardless of the nationalities of the child’s parents. However, the policy remains that a birth that is registered in Singapore does not automatically confer Singapore citizenship on the child. In the past three years, about 17% of total births in Singapore are those of children born to parents who are both foreigners and therefore do not qualify for Singapore citizenship by birth. There is also a small number of children born to at least one Singaporean parent but are not granted Singapore citizenship, for reasons such as the parents not being legally married at the time of the child’s birth. In 2020, such births make up less than 0.15% of total births in Singapore.
21. Mr Ng asked about children who are stateless. To clarify, children are only classified as stateless when the parents fail to obtain citizenship (Singapore or otherwise) for the child after the child’s birth. A child is not classified as stateless at the time of the birth, nor at the point of the birth registration. It is the responsibility of the parents to obtain the appropriate citizenship for their child. ICA does not keep track of the citizenship status of non-citizen children.
22. Mr Ng asked about children born to single unwed mothers. For privacy reasons, ICA does not specifically share information of such births with MSF.
23. Sir let me address some of the questions asked by the honourable member Mr Leon Perera, whereby he raised a few issues. One is about surnames.
24. For surnames we can have double-barrelled of different races. On what kind of surnames that are not allowed, we follow the same guidelines as for names. As long as names are not offensives like ‘Stupid’ or ‘Satan’, then it will be alright. We are very mindful of that, because we want to protect the dignity of the child.
25. For double-barrelled race, parents are allowed to register as long as they have different registered race – need not be across the CMIO categories. This change can be done online for those that were previously registered with a single-barrelled race.
26. On the suggestion of having more ethnic characters or multiple types of ethnic characters, it is something we can look into. However, as you know, there are some constraints, which we have to take into consideration like space availability on the IC and birth certificate.
27. You also asked about whether we have engaged the undertakers. Essentially, we have been working very closely with the stakeholders. It is not only about engaging them, we received feedback from the different stakeholders at different points in time and even from the public. We will continue to engage them even after the Bill is passed. Essentially, it is a continuous engagement and we are mindful that this is about birth, death, very sensitive. We want to give as much convenience to the families. We often receive feedback from the public, the undertakers. We will continue to engage all these stakeholders.
28. You raised issues relating to potential delays by medical practitioners certifying death at home under the new death registration process. Essentially, the medical practitioner will be using the same online system which they are doing today. So, there is no change. We have not heard much of an issue about delay. We feel that it will be business as usual. Nevertheless, we will continue to keep a lookout if there is any delay.
29. You also raised issues relating to the abuse of ICs of deceased. For now, we don’t see that as a big issue. We will monitor. In fact, we have high penalties for this and I think that in itself is a deterrent for people who want to use this, whereby under the National Registration Act, anyone abusing ICs is liable for a fine of up to $10,000, or imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both.
30. You also asked for data and trends of mixed parentage. I don’t have the data on hand now. You might want to submit a PQ. You also raised the non-digitally savvy. Relatives of the deceased may request the hospital or medical practitioner to help to print out a copy of the digital death certificate. Nevertheless, we will take note of this feedback. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that everyone enjoys the convenience as a result of this.
31. In fact, when it was first read, I received many positive feedback from even some of the stakeholders who are very involved in such an area. They shared with me that it is very much welcomed, especially on death registration, where they find that it is something that will make it easier, and enhance the process of preparing for post-death matters. And we want to make it convenient for them. Birth is a celebration and also now, like what you shared earlier, it’s about having all the different parentage and I think it is about how we can continue to make ourselves relevant. We will continue this process.
Strengthening ICA’s Enforcement Powers
32. I also want to cover an area raised by Mr Zhulkarnain, where he asked whether ICA will be forming a new department to undertake the enforcement of the Bill. Investigation officers from ICA’s existing Enforcement Division, which currently already investigates offences under Acts such as the Passports Act and National Registration Act, will be appointed as “authorised registration officers” to conduct searches and investigations into suspected offences under Part 8 of the Bill. Therefore, ICA will not need to form a new department.
Paragraphs in Malay
33. Mr Speaker, allow me to speak in Malay.
34. Rang undang-undang ini akan memperkemas dan mendigitalkan proses laporan dan pendaftaran untuk kelahiran, kematian dan kematian sewaktu lahir. Ini akan meningkatkan kemudahan dengan ketara untuk orang awam. Khususnya, untuk kematian, apabila seseorang meninggal dunia, pengamal perubatan akan memeriksa mayat dan mengesahkan punca kematian secara dalam talian. Butir-butir kematian akan dihantar secara elektronik ke Pendaftar Agung Kelahiran dan Kematian yang akan mendaftarkan kematian tersebut secara automatik. Ahli keluarga si mati tidak lagi perlu membuat pendaftaran kematian di hospital, Pusat atau Pondok Kejiranan Polis atau Penguasa Imigresen dan Pusat Pemeriksaan (ICA). Ahli keluarga kemudian boleh memuat turun sijil kematian digital daripada lelaman My Legacy.
35. Ahli-ahli menanyakan sama ada bayaran atau kos tambahan akan dikenakan di bawah proses pendaftaran kematian yang diperkemas ini. ICA tidak akan mengenakan bayaran tambahan. Hospital-hospital awam juga komited untuk tidak mengenakan bayaran tambahan bagi pendaftaran kematian di bawah proses yang diperkemas ini. Walaupun Pemerintah tidak dapat menentukan bayaran yang dikenakan hospital-hospital swasta dan pengamal-pengamal perubatan am yang melakukan lawatan ke rumah untuk mengesahkan kematian, kami maklum bahawa hospital-hospital swasta dan pengamal-pengamal perubatan am akan terus menggunakan khidmat elektronik ICA yang mereka gunakan kini untuk mengesahkan kematian secara dalam talian. Oleh itu, kami tidak menjangkakan kenaikan kos yang akan ditanggung hospital-hospital swasta dan pengamal-pengamal perubatan am.
This Bill will streamline and digitalise the birth, death and stillbirth reporting and registration processes. This will help to significantly improve the convenience for members of the public. In particular, for deaths, when a person passes away, a medical practitioner will examine the body and certify the cause of death online. These death particulars are sent electronically to the Registrar-General of Births and Deaths, who will automatically register the death. The relatives of the deceased person no longer need to register the death at the hospital, a Neighbourhood Police Centre or Post, or ICA. The relative may then download the digital death certificate from the My Legacy website.
Members asked whether there will be any extra charges or costs to be borne under the streamlined death registration process. ICA will not be charging extra fees. The public hospitals have also committed to not charge extra fees for death registration under the streamlined process. While the Government is not able to dictate the fees charged by private hospitals and general practitioners who make house visits to certify deaths, we note that private hospitals and general practitioners will continue to use the same ICA e-service which they currently already use to certify deaths online. Hence, we do not expect the costs incurred by private hospitals and general practitioners to increase.
36. Mr Speaker, in conclusion, I am confident that this Bill will provide greater convenience for Singaporeans when dealing with births, deaths and stillbirths.
37. With that, I beg to move.