Second Reading Speech By Mr Lee Hsien Loong,Deputy Prime Minister / Minister For Finance,On The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2004, at The Parliament, 19 Apr 200421 Apr 2004
1. Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
2. The Constitutional Amendment Bill before the House contains six amendments. The first amendment relates to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. The second amendment concerns the transfer of reserves between entities governed by the Protection of Reserves Framework. The third amendment has to do with the personnel boards of the Public Service Commission. The fourth amendment deals with Singapore's contribution to the International Development Association. The fifth amendment pertains to grant of citizenship by descent. The sixth amendment, pertaining to Article 22P, is technical in nature.
Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority
3. Mr Speaker, Sir, I turn first to the amendment pertaining to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
4. Currently, under Article 18, the Chairman of the Public Accountants Board is a member of the Presidential Elections Committee. As PAB was merged with the Registry of Companies and Businesses to form the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, or ACRA, on 1 April 2004, Article 18 is amended by changing the reference from the Chairman of PAB to Chairman of ACRA.
Transfer of Reserves
5. Mr Speaker, Sir, I turn now to the amendment relating to the transfer of reserves.
6. Currently, Article 22B and Article 22D of the Constitution enables the transfer of reserves from Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Fifth Schedule Government Companies to the Government, and between Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards, without such transfer being regarded as a draw on their past reserves. The Constitution, however, has no provision to enable similar transfers of reserves from the Government to Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Fifth Schedule Government Companies, between Fifth Schedule Government Companies, and between Fifth Schedule Statutory boards and Fifth Schedule Government Companies, without such transfer being regarded as a draw on their reserves.
7. Putting in place a more comprehensive framework for transfer of reserves between protected entities will enable more timely responses by the Government to changing economic or business conditions. For example, reserves may need to be transferred from the Government to new Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Fifth Schedule Government Companies quickly to seize opportunities in new areas of growth, and existing Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Fifth Schedule Government Companies may need to be restructured, merged or corporatised to better deliver public services and manage government assets.
8. Article 22B and Article 22D is therefore amended, and a new article 148I is inserted to complete the framework for the different transfers of reserves between protected entities.
9. The President has been consulted and agrees with the above amendments of the bill.
10. Mr Speaker, Sir, I now move on to the third amendment. This pertains to allowing every Personnel Board to delegate its authority to any of its members.
11. The functions of the Public Service Commission (PSC) were devolved to a system of Personnel Boards by constitutional amendments in 1994. To facilitate decision-making, Personnel Boards often assign individual members the authority to decide on the appointment, confirmation and emplacement, promotion and transfer of the public officers under the Boards' purview. However, as the assigned member is only acting on behalf of the Board, the Board's covering approval is required. Consequently, each and every decision made by an assigned member on the appointment, confirmation and emplacement, promotion and transfer of an officer has to be circulated to all the other Board members for confirmation. If there are no objections after a certain time frame set by the Board, the Board is regarded as having approved and adopted the member's decision as its own.
12. This practice is increasingly impractical. For Personnel Boards that look after large ministries like the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Home Affairs, Board members receive many submissions each month on appointments, confirmations and transfers of officers, mostly straightforward, for their approval. The covering approval of the Board has become a formality and in effect has no material impact, as the decisions of the assigned members have consistently followed the Public Service Division (PSD)'s approved rules on such matters. Since 1995, no Board member has raised an objection to any decision taken by an assigned member because there was no reason to do so as long as the rules have been followed.
13. Article 110D of the Constitution is therefore amended to include three new clauses to empower each Personnel Board to delegate, in writing and subject to such conditions as it thinks fit, its powers to any of its members. The Board's member must exercise that power in accordance with the terms of the delegation. Any act or thing done by the delegate of a Personnel Board will have the same force and effect as if it had been done by the Personnel Board.
14. After the amendment, any deviation from the approved rules and any adverse decisions will continue to be considered by the entire Board and the powers of the delegated member will be limited to following the rules laid down by PSD.
International Development Act
15. Mr Speaker, Sir, next I move on to the fourth amendment. This pertains to the International Development Act.
16. The IDA Act is being amended to allow the Minister to make contributions other than membership subscriptions to the IDA, which is a World Bank lending facility for poverty reduction programmes. To do this, it is also necessary to amend Article 144(3) of the Constitution to add the IDA Act to the list of Acts for other International organisations (IOs), so that future IDA contributions can similarly be made using Article 144(1)(b) of the Constitution.
17. Under Article 144(1)(b), the Government is allowed to make guarantees or raise loans, with the President's concurrence, to the list of statutes under Article 144(3). With this amendment, we will standardise our procedures for contributing to IDA with those applicable to other international organisations.
18. Mr Speaker, Sir, lastly, I move to the fifth amendment. This pertains to relaxing the restrictions on grant of citizenship by descent and increasing the length of time a person may spend away from Singapore when considering the residence period for citizenship applications.
19. Mr Speaker Sir, the Articles in the Constitution on the grant of citizenship have largely remained unchanged since the 1960s. However, the world today is very different compared to then. Growing numbers of Singaporean men and women are travelling overseas to work, study or pursue their personal goals, and starting their families abroad. Between 2000 to 2002, the number of foreigners who were granted Permanent Residence under the sponsorship of their Singaporean spouse increased from about 4,000 to almost 5,800. The number of foreign-born children granted citizenship has also gone up by 41% from about 1,900 in 1991 to about 2,700 in 2003.
20. The Ministry of Home Affairs reviewed our citizenship laws last year. We studied the laws of other countries like the UK, which had addressed these issues. The Remaking Singapore Committee had also separately recommended that the provisions on the grant of Singapore citizenship to a foreign born child be made gender neutral. Let me now highlight the key amendments in this Bill.
Grant of citizenship by descent
21. I sha ll first touch on the grant of citizenship by descent. Article 122 of the Constitution governs the grant of citizenship by descent to a child of a Singaporean, when the child is born abroad. The child is conferred citizenship by descent as a matter of right if the parent applies within one year of the child's birth. Currently, a child is entitled to citizenship by descent only when the father is a male Singaporean who is a citizen by birth or registration. It does not apply when the father is a Singaporean citizen by descent, or when it is the mother who is Singaporean. Female Singaporeans can only pass on citizenship by registration to their foreign-born child, and citizenship by registration is not conferred as a matter of right.
22. The amendments to Article 122 will firstly allow female Singaporeans to pass on citizenship by descent to their foreign born child. This will make the grant of citizenship by descent gender neutral. Sections 12 and 15 of the Third Schedule of the Constitution will be amended consequentially to bring them in line with the gender parity introduced in Article 122(1).
23. Secondly, the amendments will allow Singaporean parents who acquired their Singapore citizenship by descent, to pass on citizenship by descent to their foreign-born children if these parents meet a residency criterion. They have to have stayed in Singapore for a total of 5 years or more before the birth of the child. Alternatively, they have to have stayed in Singapore for a total of at least 2 years out of the 5 years prior to the birth of the child, which is similar to the criterion used for determining Singaporean's eligibility to vote overseas. Currently, a Singaporean who was born abroad and acquired citizenship by descent, then grew up and worked in Singapore, then happened to have a child born abroad while he is temporarily overseas, cannot transmit his citizenship to the child by descent. This is unfair. The amendment overcomes this problem, but imposes a residency requirement on the parent, so that we will not have generations of absentee Singaporeans with no real links to Singapore.
Increase in absence period
24. Currently, Permanent Residents need to meet a residential requirement before they can qualify to be citizens. Section 16 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution allows a person to be away from Singapore for up to 6 months when calculating the period of residence. Recognising that more of our citizens and permanent residents have to travel in the course of their work or study, the Government proposes to increase this to 12 months. For example, Article 123(2) of the Constitution provides that the wife of a Singaporean must be resident in Singapore for at least 2 years before she may obtain Singapore citizenship. With the amendment, she can now be overseas for up to 1 year during the 2-year qualifying period and still be eligible for citizenship.
25. I should stress that citizenship is a privilege that should not be taken for granted. Even with the proposed amendments, Singaporeans living and working overseas must make the effort to ensure that they and their children remain rooted and committed to Singapore. All Singaporeans, whether here or abroad, must continue to have a stake and share in the responsibility for the nation's success and future.
26. Sir, I beg to move.