20 Nov 2018

Second Reading Speech of the Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill - Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs

  1. Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move, "that the Bill be now read a second time".

     

    Introduction

     

  2. The Civil Defence Act, or CD Act, provides for the establishment, maintenance and discipline of the Singapore Civil Defence Force, or SCDF.

     

  3. This Bill seeks to amend the CD Act to achieve three objectives - first, to enhance SCDF’s operational response and efficiency; second, to codify the powers and protection that SCDF officers need to do their work effectively; and third, to strengthen SCDF’s disciplinary and human resource processes.

     

  4. The Bill will also amend legislation pertaining to other Home Team Departments, or HTDs, where a similar change is being proposed for the CD Act. These amendments will allow the Ministry of Home Affairs to standardise certain policies across the different HTDs.

     

  5. In this speech, I will be using the term “SCDF officers”, to refer to SCDF regulars, National Servicemen and volunteers of all ranks.

     

  6. Mr Deputy Speaker, I will now elaborate on the key amendments.

     

    Enhance Operational Response and Efficiency

     

    Public Warning Sirens and Other Civil Defence Emergency Devices

     

  7. On the first objective of enhancing operational response and efficiency, let me start with the proposals related to SCDF’s Public Warning System, or PWS.

     

  8. The PWS is a network of outdoor sirens located on roof-tops throughout Singapore. The sirens provide warning of threats such as aerial bombardments, natural disasters, terror attacks, and other home-front emergencies. They alert members of the public to take actions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

     

  9. Many PWS sirens are located on HDB blocks or other Government-owned buildings. Some have to be installed on privately-owned buildings. Today, SCDF gets permission from building owners before the sirens are installed on their premises. Unfortunately, there have been occasions when permission is not granted.

     

  10. Some owners cite concerns about noise pollution, even though the sirens are typically sounded for only about six minutes in total in any year, and only during the day. Others tell us bluntly that they are not obliged to cooperate, since there is no law that requires them to.

     

  11. As a result of their refusal to cooperate, SCDF has to look for alternative locations. But this may lead to sub-optimal placement of sirens, which may result in members of the public in some areas not being able to hear the sirens as well. More sirens may even have to be installed to ensure sufficient reach, at increased costs to the public.

     

  12. Mr Deputy Speaker, an effective PWS is critical to save lives in times of emergency. We cannot allow public safety to be compromised.

     

  13. New section 103B inserted by Clause 20 of the Bill will therefore make it an offence for building owners to not comply with a direction from Commissioner SCDF to provide SCDF with space and access to the premises, for the installation of prescribed civil defence emergency devices such as PWS sirens. Non-compliant building owners will be liable for a fine of up to $10,000 and an imprisonment term of up to three years, as well as a further fine of up to $1,000 for each day of non-compliance after conviction.

     

  14. New section 103C inserted by Clause 20 will also provide SCDF with the power to enter premises to conduct assessment, maintenance and repair work for the devices.

     

  15. New section 103D provides that any wilful removal, destruction, damage or tampering of the devices will be an offence. An offender is liable for a fine of up to $50,000 and an imprisonment term of up to three years.

     

  16. These penalties are aligned to those for similar offences involving telecommunications equipment under the Telecommunications Act.

     

  17. SCDF plans to enhance the PWS in the coming years, by installing new types of public warning devices, such as equipment that broadcasts emergency alerts within buildings. New section 103B read with the new definition of “prescribed civil defence emergency device” also allows SCDF to require building owners to allow SCDF to install devices for the monitoring or detection of a civil defence emergency. The types of devices will be set out in the regulations.

     

  18. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to assure members that SCDF’s preferred approach remains to work with building owners to come to mutually acceptable arrangements.

     

  19. The PWS is a long-term initiative, and we hope that building owners recognise the importance of PWS and come on board willingly. Legal action will be taken only as a last resort, against building owners who refuse to cooperate for no good reason.

     

    Access to Fingerprints and Other Identifiers of Unconscious Patients

     

  20. Next, I will speak about SCDF’s ambulance services. These are formally known as Emergency Medical Services, or EMS.

     

  21. In 2017, SCDF attended to some 165,000 EMS patients. SCDF was unable to confirm the identities of about eight per cent, or 14,000, of them. Typically, these patients were unconscious or unresponsive, and did not carry any identification documents.

     

  22. If such patients could have been identified, the ambulance crew would have been able to expeditiously obtain the relevant health information from Ministry of Heath (MOH), and deliver more appropriate and timely medical interventions.

     

  23. For instance, crew members can avoid administering drugs to which the patient has known allergies. Or, if they know that a patient with breathing difficulties has a history of asthma, they can administer the relevant drug immediately. They can also share the patient’s identity with the hospital, so that preparations can already be made at the Emergency Department even while the patient is being conveyed there by SCDF.

     

  24. New section 101A(2) inserted by Clause 18 therefore proposes to empower SCDF officers and other authorised individuals attending to EMS calls to obtain the fingerprints or other personal identifiers of a patient whose identity is not known, and is unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate, for example individuals who are having a seizure.

     

  25. Clause 25 amends section 36B(2) of the Immigration Act to allow the Minister for Home Affairs to authorise the disclosure of identifying information belonging to an EMS patient, for the purpose of providing him with urgent medical care.

     

  26. MHA will work with MOH to grant the authorised personnel access to the relevant health information, strictly on a need-to-know basis.

     

  27. To safeguard the information, SCDF will put in place robust IT security systems and processes. For example, the devices to capture the fingerprints will be password-protected, and the information encrypted.

     

  28. Clear guidelines will also be developed, to determine the access rights of the personnel involved and the circumstances under which the information can be accessed. All access to the database will be logged, and penalties will be imposed for any misuse.

     

    Provide Necessary Powers and Protection

     

    Powers for Non-Fire Peacetime Civil Defence Operations

     

  29. I would now like to address the second objective, to provide SCDF officers with the powers and protection they need to do their job well. SCDF officers often perform emergency and rescue operations which require swift and decisive action.

     

  30. To reach and extricate persons in emergency situations, SCDF officers may have to enter private premises and remove obstacles that block their way. For example, SCDF officers often have to break down doors and window grills in their rescue operations. To allow such operations to proceed efficiently and safely, SCDF officers may have to close roads near the incident site, as well as shut gas, water or electricity supplies to affected premises.

     

  31. For some types of operation, SCDF officers have been relying on the common law to justify the use of the requisite powers. This is the case for EMS and rescue operations, as well as operations involving hazardous materials, or HazMat for short.

     

  32. Clause 18 places on an explicit legislative footing the requisite powers for these operations in the CD Act. SCDF officers will be allowed to exercise such powers for the purpose of protecting lives and preventing injury and harm to human health.

    Protection from Legal Liability

     

  33. In such time-critical and dangerous situations, SCDF officers are also often required to take calculated risks. For example, in a rescue operation arising from a road accident, SCDF officers may need to cut open vehicles, to extricate trapped victims. This risks damage to the vehicles, and even injury to the people inside.

     

  34. At present, SCDF officers do not have statutory protection from legal liability, when they take calculated risks during EMS, rescue and HazMat operations. This is not ideal. SCDF officers ought to be allowed to focus on the job at hand, on saving lives, without being distracted by concerns about whether they may be charged or sued for damages caused while performing their duties.

     

  35. New section 101C inserted by Clause 18 provides SCDF officers with legal protection for actions undertaken in the execution of the CD Act, including during any civil defence operation. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to stress that this does not mean SCDF officers can now act with wanton disregard. The protection applies only where SCDF officers act within the scope of the CD Act, and only when they have acted in good faith and with reasonable care.

    Extension of Powers and Protection to Non-SCDF Officers

     

  36. So far, I have been speaking only about SCDF officers, and what is needed to allow them to do their job more effectively. But SCDF officers are not the only people performing civil defence operations.

     

  37. Today, SCDF engages ambulances run by PAOs, short for Private Ambulance Operators, to augment its ‘995’ fleet. SCDF also has an arrangement with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for the training of SAF medics, under which SAF medics are attached to SCDF ambulances.

     

  38. PAO crew members and SAF medics attending to EMS calls perform the same role as their SCDF counterparts, and should be given the same powers and legal protection to do their jobs well.

     

  39. Hence, the new section 101B inserted by Clause 18 extends the requisite powers for EMS operations and protection from legal liability to PAO crew members and SAF medics, when they are attending to EMS calls.

     

    Strengthen SCDF’s Disciplinary and Human Resource Processes

     

  40. I will now move on to the third objective, which is to strengthen SCDF’s disciplinary and other human resource-related processes.

     

    Voluntary Extension of Service for SCDF NSmen

     

  41. I will begin with voluntary extension of service for SCDF NSmen. Under the Enlistment Act, the maximum service age for SCDF NSmen is 40 years for those holding the rank of Senior Warrant Officer and below, and 50 for those holding the rank of Second Lieutenant and above.

     

  42. The new section 9A inserted by Clause 7 allows SCDF NSmen to serve beyond the stipulated maximum service age, if they are willing to do so and their services are required by SCDF. This will allow SCDF to continue tapping their valuable expertise, honed through many years of experience. It is in line with what SAF and Police NSmen are currently allowed to do.

     

  43. With this amendment, motivated individuals such as Mr Jorge Lau will be able to extend their NS with SCDF on a voluntary basis. Mr Lau was an outstanding SCDF NSman. He was a Deputy Division Commander, holding the rank of Colonel (NS) when he reached the age of 50 last year.

     

  44. Mr Lau has had a unique NS experience. He underwent his Basic Military Training with SAF, before becoming a Police NS Inspector, and later served the rest of his Operationally Ready National Service in SCDF. He has held several key appointments in SCDF, including Company Commander, Head of Operations, and Battalion Commander, of a Rescue Battalion.

     

  45. The wealth of operational experience he has acquired over many years of NS puts him in a good position to mentor younger SCDF NS commanders. With the Voluntary Extension of Service Scheme, SCDF will offer him the opportunity to continue serving.

     

  46. These volunteers will have the same powers, protection, recognition and benefits as Operationally-Ready NSmen, and will be subject to the same disciplinary regime. Certain provisions of the Enlistment Act will also apply to these SCDF volunteer ex-NSmen. Among other things, the volunteers are protected from the loss of civilian remuneration and unfair dismissal, and employers are required to grant these volunteers leave of absence during the period of service.

     

    Medical Examinations and Treatments

  47. Next, I will cover the new service offence for SCDF and Police officers.

     

  48. In the course of their work, these officers may be exposed to health hazards, such as toxic substances and pathogens. If the need arises, SCDF and Police must have strong levers to compel their officers to go for medical examinations and treatments, including vaccinations. The objective is to protect the health of our officers and prevent the spread of diseases.

     

  49. The new section 32A inserted by Clause 12 makes it a service offence under the CD Act for an SCDF officer not to comply with an order from Commissioner SCDF to go for a medical examination or treatment. Clause 30 amends the Police Force Act to create similar provisions for Police officers. Similar provisions for SAF personnel already exist in the SAF Act.

     

  50. For the rest of this section, I will speak about the key amendments to SCDF’s summary trial process. There are four of them. They involve changes to how service offences are detected, tried and sanctioned within SCDF.

     

    Three-Year Time Bar for Summary Trials

     

  51. The first amendment concerns the time bar for summary trials. At present, an SCDF national serviceman cannot be subject to a summary trial, if the offence was committed more than three years ago. To address situations where offences may only come to light later, Clause 11 amends section 19(1) to provide for SCDF National Servicemen to be tried within three years, from the day the offence was reported or discovered. This change will align SCDF’s practice with the Police.

     

    Recall of NSmen for Summary Trials

     

  52. The second amendment pertains to the recall of NSmen for summary trials. Today, SCDF issues recall orders under S14 of the Enlistment Act, to compel its NSmen to answer disciplinary charges levelled against them. Such recall orders enable NSmen to claim for the loss of their civilian remuneration under the Enlistment Act.

     

  53. Clause 10 amends section 18 to allow SCDF to issue orders under the CD Act to compel NSmen who have committed service offences to report for summary trial. With this change, SCDF will not have to make up for the loss of civilian remuneration by affected NSmen. Those who do not show up for their summary trial will be deemed to have committed another service offence. Such provisions for SAF NSmen already exist in the SAF Act.

     

    Appeals

     

  54. The third amendment concerns appeals against outcomes of summary trials. At present, SCDF National Servicemen below the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel who have committed service offences are tried by SCDF Disciplinary Officers, or DOs, while those with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel or above are tried by a Disciplinary Board. There are currently no avenues of appeal against the decision of the DO or the Disciplinary Board.

     

  55. To strengthen the summary trial process, Clause 15 inserts a new section 76A which provides a new mechanism for SCDF National Servicemen to appeal against the findings or award of punishments. The conduct and procedures of an appeal will be set out in regulations. Commissioner SCDF will be the appellate authority. He will determine the outcome of an appeal. In section 81 as amended by clause 16, Commissioner SCDF will also be given the authority to review any findings and award of punishment.

     

    Maximum Fine Quanta

     

  56. The last amendment in this section concerns the maximum fine quanta for disciplinary offences committed by SCDF National Servicemen. Clauses 13 and 14 align the maximum fine quanta for disciplinary offences committed by SCDF NSmen with those for SAF National Servicemen. Clauses 27 and 28 do the same, for disciplinary offences committed by Police National Sservicemen.

    Unauthorised Production, Distribution and Use of Home Team Uniforms and Insignia

     

  57. Finally, I would like to cover the unauthorised production, distribution and use of Home Team uniforms and insignia.

     

  58. With the powers and protection conferred on SCDF officers, there is a need to deter abuse by impersonators. Clause 22 will make it an offence for any person to impersonate or misrepresent himself as an SCDF officer. The penalty will be a fine of up to $2,500 and an imprisonment term of up to six months. In addition, any person who manufactures or sells SCDF uniforms or insignia without authorisation from SCDF will be liable for a fine of up to $10,000 and an imprisonment term of up to three years.

     

  59. Clauses 26 and 31 create similar criminal provisions in the Immigration Act and the Prisons Act, for acts relating to immigration officers and prison officers respectively. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Prison Service are the other uniformed Home Team Departments that currently do not have such provisions.

    Conclusion

                                                      

  60. In conclusion sir, while SCDF has done well in its mission, this Bill will ensure that it can become an even more effective Life Saving Force.

     

  61. Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.

 

Last Updated on 20 Nov 2018
Last Updated on 20 Nov 2018
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