Firstly, stray cats. I've been pigeonholed as "championing" animal welfare -- I think thanks almost entirely to TODAY, who, in their news report on the appointment of the NMPs, singled out the low-income and animal welfare as the two issues I stood for, based on my essay.
But those of you who have read it will know that I wrote about much more than that. And it's been alternately galling and amusing, when people asked me about animal welfare. It's not that it's not important to me -- it is, thanks to my absolutely adorable pets (all adopted strays) -- but given limited time and opportunities, there are other issues that assume higher priority on my list.
Still, the marathon Budget sessions meant that eventually my question on stray cats was aired in Parliament, even though it was not reported in the media. I would thank the Minister of State for hearing me out and her balanced response, even though I disagree with the position taken and the Ministry's view on the effectiveness of sterilisation as opposed to culling. Also, she did not seem familiar with the Guernsey example (search the archives for stores on "stray cats" in 2004), and I was a little surprised that she did not address a research study by the Singapore Veterinary Association in Bukit Merah. I have asked for the figures on repeat complainants that she offered, but am still waiting for her response.
I must thank the Cat Welfare Society and the SPCA for helping me with background information on this issue, and I am sure that I will raise animal welfare issues again.
The second question was about the 170,000-odd new jobs created in Singapore. One of the interesting nuances in the media coverage on this was that the reports always talked about "locals" getting XXX number of the new jobs and "foreigners" getting YYY number.
And this was really because the data released by the Ministry was on those terms. There was no breakdown in how many of the "locals" who got these new jobs were Singapore citizens and how many were PRs (and I knew that citizens + PRs = locals).
So I decided to ask.
I think the Minister basically dodged the question, in particular the follow-up portions about extrapolating the numbers from income tax and CPF data. I believe that the MOM doesn't have those figures, and I suspect it is because they are not set up to collate the numbers that way.
It is easy to do a local-vs-foreigner split, simply because the foreigners need employment passes, S-passes and work permits. But from the MOM's perspective, there is no differentiation between citizens and PRs, and no way for them to collect data.
It's different for CPF and income tax though. It would be possible to correlate that (although for income tax, the figures would be 2 years old). But I think it would require a massive undertaking, and I am honestly not sure if the cost is justified. So I didn't push the Minister on it. Plus I see the merit in his response, even though I think it does fail to address the very important issue of the quality of jobs going to locals.
Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Minister for National Development (a) for each year from 2002 to 2006 (i) what was the stray cat population in Singapore; (ii) how many complaints concerning stray cats were received by Government agencies and town councils in total; and (b) whether there is any statistically-valid empirical evidence that culling has been an effective long-term solution in managing the stray cat population in Singapore.
The Minister of State for National Development (Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien) (for the Minister for National Development): Mr Speaker, sir, the AVA estimates that there are 60,000 stray cats in Singapore. The total number of complaints concerning stray cats received by AVA, HDB and the town councils averaged at 10,000 per year for the period from 2002 to 2006.
Cats can breed two to three times a year, producing litters of two to five kittens each time. Stray cats here breed prolifically due to the conducive living environment, such as plentiful supply of easily available food. The presence of a large uncontrolled population of stray cats can pose public health and environmental problems, and gives rise to public complaints of nuisances.
AVA is not aware of any empirical evidence that culling is an effective long-term solution in managing the stray cat population in Singapore. AVA adopts a pragmatic multi-pronged approach to address the problem of strays here. A balanced approach is needed to take into account the good intentions of cat lovers, as well as the genuine interest of people who are affected by the nuisance caused by stray cats.
Culling, sterilisation and public education are three necessary parts of a balanced control and management strategy on stray cats. Culling is an acceptable and necessary means of reducing the stray cat population, as sterilisation alone will not effectively control the number of stray cats.
Public education is also an important part of AVA’s strategy for controlling the number of strays because selfish and irresponsible people who abandon unwanted pets, allow them to breed freely and indiscriminately feeding strays also contribute to adding more strays to the environment.
Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Sir, three supplementary questions. First, I would like to ask the Minister of State whether the HDB, Town Councils and AVA keep records on whether the complainants make repeat complaints.
Second, is with reference to the Minister of State's statement that stray cats breed prolifically, and she has also mentioned culling in her answer. Is the Minister of State aware that there is empirical evidence that sterilisation in the form of the trap, neuter and release strategy is effective in controlling the stray cat population? The example being the island of Guernsey which has managed to control its stray cat population so effectively that it had to import stray cats from other areas so as to allow cat lovers to adopt them.
Sir, my third supplementary question is with respect to the balanced approach that the Minister of State has described. Does the AVA advocate such a balanced approach to the Town Councils which I understand to be primarily responsible for controlling the stray cat problem? Because my understanding is that some Town Councils adopt a purely culling-based approach.
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: Sir, on the first question whether AVA, HDB and Town Councils track the number of repeat complaints, at this moment, I do not have the information. I believe that they do keep a record of the people who complain but, in compiling statistics, I do not think they eliminate repeat complaints. I will check on this and, if necessary, provide an answer to the Member.
As to the empirical evidence of sterilisation, some years back, in 1998, we embarked on a programme of sterilisation and release. I believe this is what the NMP is referring to. In 2003, ie, five years later, we did a review of that programme. Actually, the Town Councils found that the programme had not been effective in controlling the stray cat population. The complaints on food remains and cat waste continued and, surprisingly in some cases, they actually reported an increase in the number of complaints despite the programme to sterilise. It is for this reason that AVA thinks that it is not just an enforcement issue but also a public participation issue. Therefore, AVA is quite happy to work with the community to control the number of strays in their area.
As regards Town Councils' action, I believe that the Town Councils take a very pragmatic approach. They will act on complaints. We have actually been discussing with the Town Councils of taking a balanced approach. Of course, while they would act only on complaints and when there is a complaint, they would have to show that they act on it as well. Town Councils do have a responsibility towards its residents to ensure that the place is kept clean and the environment conducive.
Mr Siew Kum Hong: Sir, the Minister of State mentioned that the relevant agencies do not keep statistics on repeat complainants. My understanding is that, very often, it is the few people who just absolutely hate cats for some reason who keep complaining. I would tie this in with the Minister of State's reply to my third supplementary question about how AVA works with the Town Councils and how the Town Councils react in response to complaints. That being the case, I would like to ask the Minister of State what kind of programmes does the AVA have to ensure that Town Councils do not adopt only an immediate response and instead have a long-term holistic approach.
Ms Grace Fu Hai Yien: Sir, I think I have answered earlier that between the three agencies - AVA, HDB and Town Councils - they receive an average of 10,000 complaints per year, which is actually 30 complaints per day. Granted, there could be people who feel passionate about this issue and probably complain more than once, I think 30 a day is probably more than what a few people could do, unless they do it on a full-time basis.
As regards to programmes, as I said, we have the interest of the animals at heart. AVA does quite a few programmes on public education. We will look into specific issues if the NMP feels that Town Councils have taken action that is perhaps too harsh for the cat lover.
STATISTICS ON JOBS CREATED
Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Minister for Manpower (a) how many of the jobs created in 2006 were taken up by Singapore citizens, permanent residents and foreigners respectively; (b) what is the Government estimates of these statistics if it does not track them for Singapore citizens and permanent residents; and (c) whether it can derive such statistics using income tax and CPF contribution data and, if so, what are these statistics.
The Minister for Manpower (Dr Ng Eng Hen): Mr Speaker, Sir, our employment data is based on the resident or local population which captures Singapore citizens and permanent residents as a single group. In other words, our system enters it as one component. We do not separate them as at this moment.
If we wanted a sense amongst the local population - what proportion of Singapore citizens vis-a-vis PRs - as a snapshot, we do have the breakdown of proportions within the general population – we take the census or when we do our surveys - for example, in June 2005, out of a total population of 4.34 million, the Department of Statistics said that 72% were citizens, 10% were permanent residents and 18% were non-residents. So if it is 10% PRs out of a population of 4.34 million, we have 430,000 PRs, and we assume that some of them are children and housewives, and assume that a number are working and then try to minus the number of what you get from our labour data, you could come up with a guesstimate, but it is just a guess work. It would be difficult to extrapolate this to derive accurate employment data for the various groups, because we must also take into account the change in employment numbers. The employment numbers fluctuate and we are not sure which group is changing at that point of time - foreign workers and PRs moving in and out of Singapore as well as the fact that PRs change their status and become citizens across periods.
What we can say is that for locals, 2006 was a record year for employment creation. Another way of looking at it and addressing the NMP's point is whether there were adequate jobs created for Singaporeans. Out of a total of 173,300 jobs, which was a record year, we know that more than half were for locals - 88,200. But our average shows that each year, we only add about 33,000 locals for the past. In other words, for the last two years, especially for last year, we have exceeded that to about two or three times what the average number of jobs created for locals.
I think a better way of measuring this would be to move towards employment data. I will speak a little bit more about this during the Committee of Supply. That will give us a better sense of all available citizens within an age band how many are working. That number is quite determinate and that is where most countries are moving towards to give accurate employment data.