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Parliament in brief: 3 things you should know

SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions on how government agencies decide whether to disclose the personal data of individuals who publicise false information, if new citizens affect the citizen unemployment rate, and if private hospitals are ready to handle life-threatening emergencies.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said that government agencies sometimes need to disclose an individual's personal data to counter inaccuracies about the Government’s processes or policies, especially when the person has called public attention to the case.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said that government agencies sometimes need to disclose an individual's personal data to counter inaccuracies about the Government’s processes or policies, especially when the person has called public attention to the case.

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SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MPs) raised questions on how government agencies decide whether to disclose the personal data of individuals who publicise false information, if new citizens affect the citizen unemployment rate, and if private hospitals are ready to handle life-threatening emergencies.

Here are some extracts of what were debated during the Parliament sitting on Monday (Feb 3).

1. Public disclosure of individual’s personal data

Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Walter Theseira asked what were the considerations taken on when government agencies publicly disclose the personal details of individuals. These are people who publicise complaints or submit petitions to the agencies where the content may contain inaccuracies.

He also wanted to know what safeguards are there to ensure only the minimum personal information is disclosed to establish the facts of the case. 

Assoc Prof Theseira’s question comes slightly over a month after the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board revealed the identity of a 45-year-old woman who told socio-political website The Online Citizen under a pseudonym that she attempted suicide several times and her family would be able to retrieve her CPF savings in her account as a lump sum in the event she succeeded.

A joint-statement by the CPF Board, Housing and Development Board, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Social and Family Development on Dec 19 later revealed the woman’s identity.

It said that the article on The Online Citizen’s website on Dec 17 had omitted to mention that several government agencies are actively supporting her.

The woman later publicly disputed the authorities’ statement about what it claimed had happened to her.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, said on Monday that in view of public interest, government agencies sometimes need to disclose personal data to counter inaccuracies about the Government’s processes or policies.

This is particularly so when an individual has called public attention to the case.

However, he said that such disclosure is limited in scope and to safeguard personal data from unnecessary public disclosure, there are three considerations that government agencies follow.

  • Personal data is disclosed only if the agency’s clarifications would be “disputable or insufficiently clear” without the disclosure of such data.

  • The personal data disclosed is specific enough to provide a full picture of the issue. This is to allow the relevant individual to challenge the Government’s account of the case, based on the facts provided, if need be.

  • There will be no disclosure of personal data that is irrelevant to the case.

There may be occasions though, where it will be necessary to disclose the identity of the person involved in a case even when the publicised complaint is anonymous.

“This is to remove any ambiguity in the Government’s statement of the facts, and settle any doubts over the matter conclusively in the minds of the public,” he said.

NMP Anthea Ong asked if the Government has channels for citizens who wish to seek redress against it for what they deem as unfair public disclosure, since the Government is not bound by the Personal Data Protection Act.

Dr Puthucheary said that they may approach their MPs, the service centres of the respective government agencies or by online channels such as the OneService mobile application.

He added that they could even have a public discourse, should they wish to pursue the matter.

“None of this prevents or is meant to discourage a citizen from seeking redress from a complaint,” he said.

“It is merely that should a complaint occur in the public space and as a result of that complaint, the public has been misinformed (and) inaccuracies have been stated, then those inaccuracies need to be stated in public in a way that is unambiguous and robustly explains the facts to everybody.”

2. New citizens and citizen unemployment rate

The addition of new citizens does not change the citizen unemployment rate significantly, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in response to a question by Mr Leon Perera, Non-Constituency MP from the Workers’ Party (WP).

Mr Perera was referring to the recent fourth-quarter labour market report, which announced that Singapore’s citizen unemployment rate grew from 3 per cent in 2018 to 3.3 per cent last year.

Ms Teo said that the report is based on the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Force Survey, which asks for the respondent’s citizenship but does not require the person to indicate when they obtained their citizenship.

“It is not possible to break down the unemployment rate by duration of citizenship,” she said. “In any case, the addition of new citizens does not change the citizen unemployment rate in any significant way.”

To illustrate her point, she gave an example of a citizen unemployment rate of 3 per cent with a labour force of 100 citizens. In this scenario, three of them would be unemployed. 

“Suppose an employed person becomes a citizen, this translates to a 1 per cent growth in the citizen labour force,” she said. “There are now 101 citizens in the labour force, but still only three who are unemployed.”

Ms Teo said that as a result, citizen unemployment rate falls by 0.03 percentage point to 2.97 per cent. “Compared to 3 per cent, the effect is mathematically very small,” she said.

She also pointed out that out of 3.5 million Singapore citizens, significantly less than 1 per cent received their citizenship within the past year. 

“Some are working adults, while others have yet to join the labour force or have retired. This means that the impact to the citizen labour force and unemployment rate is essentially negligible.”

3. Private hospitals’ readiness for large-scale emergencies

Private hospitals in Singapore are not configured to provide the full range of emergency and trauma services required to manage all life-threatening emergencies or situations involving multiple patients with serious injuries, Mr Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Health, said.

Ms Joan Pereira, MP for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency, and Associate Professor Daniel Goh, Non-Constituency MP from WP, had asked questions on the involvement of private hospitals for such scenarios.

Mr Tong said that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has had ongoing discussion with private hospitals on their capabilities related to these.

Over the last four years, MOH has been collaborating with Raffles Hospital for the management of non-life-threatening as well as urgent Singapore Civil Defence Force ambulance cases.

At public hospitals, all their accident and emergency (A&E) departments are equipped and capable of providing adults and children with resuscitation, stabilisation and initial treatment for all life-threatening emergencies, including trauma cases.

“Public hospitals must also fulfil MOH’s standards of trauma care,” Mr Tong added.

“Overall, the eight public hospital A&E departments, spread out across Singapore, provide adequate coverage to cater to emergency services for Singapore.”

Responding to a question from Ms Pereira about the details of emergency specialists here, Mr Tong said that there are about 180 emergency medicine specialists and 240 general surgeons on the island.

“MOH carefully manages the training pipelines for emergency medicine and surgical specialists to ensure that there are sufficient capabilities to meet national needs.”

Related topics

Parliament personal data PDPA employment hospitals MOH citizenship

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