Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) Speech on Amendment of Vulnerable Adult Bill
1. I rise in support of the amendment.
2. I would also like to put on record my thanks to the MSF officers who work very hard to not just care for the needy, but always proactively consult VWOs as we change the law.
3. Members from the VWO sector whom I spoke to are supportive of this amendment. It strengthens how we protect our vulnerable adults, especially during a crisis.
4. Today, I would like to propose:
a. How we can better stay in touch with vulnerable adults prior to a crisis, and
b. How we can minimise the number of vulnerable adults through the Lasting Power of Attorney (or LPA), by getting as many Singaporeans as possible to pre-determine their caregiving arrangements in the event of mental incapacitation.
Staying in touch with Vulnerable Adults
5. Let me touch on the first point. A collaboration between MSF and Silver Generation Office (SGO) can go far to us to stay in touch with vulnerable adults regularly.
6. I understand that the government has a database called the Developmental Disability Registry (DDR) to track our vulnerable adults and children.
a. This database likely contains a large percentage of them.
b. But it is possible that some of them are not captured by the database.
7. To improve on this matter, during regular SGO’s outreach to seniors, a small group of vetted and well-trained SGA can be assigned to visit the Vulnerable Adults already in the registry. These SGAs can refer them to social workers if necessary, and also update the registry.
8. In addition, when other SGAs chance upon on any vulnerable adults or children in their outreach session, they can also include that information into the registry.
9. SGO’s involvement will go very far to help us know about every vulnerable adults or children in Singapore. And doing can potentially forestall some of the tragedies involving vulnerable adults later on.
The Importance of Lasting Power of Attorney
10. Next, I will speak about getting Singaporeans to do up their LPAs. With our aging population, there will many more adults who, through illnesses or accidents over their lives, grow dependent on their family and friends.
11. If these adults get mentally incapacitated, their caregivers could have difficulties mobilizing enough resources to help them. Without a strong support network, some of these mentally incapacitated Singaporeans will become vulnerable adults.
12. We should tackle the problem upstream, by encouraging all Singaporeans to create Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which identifies and authorize a “donee” to act on his behalf, including on financial matters, when he or her is mentally incapacitated.
13. Should no LPA exist after mental capacity sets in, there are still options to deal with it. But it gets complicated.
a. Family members and friends can apply to be court-appointed deputies, which is a time consuming and costly.
b. MSF’s new Community Kinship Service pilot can get social workers to be Courtappointed deputies, and therefore take charge.
i. But most of us would agree that MSF’s limited resources should focus on only the most pressing of cases.
Making a Major Push for LPA Adoption
14. Therefore, to minimize the number of vulnerable adults ahead of the coming Silver Tsunami, LPAs play a major part.
15. I have assembled a team of lawyers and community leaders to think about this issue.
16. We believe a major LPA adoption drive is necessary, and would like to propose three steps.
17. One. Integrate the LPA into relevant government processes. This will give many Singaporeans are given the chance to think through this issue, and make a decision, and draw up their LPAs. For example:
a. ICA can insert the LPA process automatically within the 55 year old IC re-registration process as well as passport renewal for Singaporeans over 45 years old. b. HDB can insert the LPA process within all deed transfers and name insertions for people above 55.
c. MOH can get hospitals to advise moderate to high-risk and senior patients to get LPA, and offer that process in major hospitals.
18. Two. Minimizing the Cost of LPA. The current LPA process is not costly, but to get mass adoption of LPAs by seniors and retirees, we should try to bring down the cost even more.
a. MSF can extend the waiver of LPA application cost
b. At pre-selected government offices issuing large number of LPAs certifications, we can include an on-site team of certifiers (i.e. lawyers, doctors and psychiatrists).
c. We can further reduce certification cost of lawyers, doctors and psychiatrists by government bulk-contracts.
d. Another option to minimize cost is for well-trained civil servants to act as certifiers.
19. Three. Communication extensively.
a. We can explain about LPAs through videos in different languages. These videos can be made and screened on television, within cinema and online.
b. SGO can explain the importance of LPAs to seniors, and we can also communicate the importance through various community health screenings.
And Consider Other Decisive Action Regarding LPA in Future
20. I am sure a big push will increase the LPA number. We must monitor the adoption very carefully. However, if the situation does not improve within a few years, we should consider even more decisive steps.
21. One way is to make it LPA mandatory. The other way is to revise our Mental Capacity Act to include a default LPA.
22. By default LPA, it means having the law to automatically determine the right person to take charge, in the absence of an LPA made voluntarily.
23. Talking to my team of lawyers and community leaders, the tricky part of the default LPA option is how the law determines the donee.
a. The most obvious way the law can determine the done is to use the succession rules from the Inter-Succession Act.
b. But even if we go down that path, we need to consider whether the default donee should be an individual, or a group of natural heirs with collective responsibilities.
c. And if it is the collective responsibility, how should responsibilities be divided up, and how can differences in views and motives among the natural heirs by reconciled.
24. If we go down the path of default LPA, it would also be good to clarify the powers of donee with regards to utilizing the assets of the donor. This includes clear guidelines on what constitutes as reasonable cost for:
a. Medical and long-term care of the donors,
b. Caregiving of the donor’s direct dependents.
25. I understand that Minister Desmond Lee has set up the RERF committee recently to review family law issues. Perhaps the committee can take the lead to explore the default LPA issue carefully, so we have one additional option to minimise the number of vulnerable adults.
26. To conclude, I warmly welcome and support the amendments. With stronger laws in place, I hope we can improve how we care for our vulnerable seniors. Moving forward, I also hope we can focus on the urgent task of minimising the number of vulnerable seniors. And one good way is to get all Singaporeans to write up their LPAs.
27. Thank you.