Madam Speaker, I stand in support of the Bill and I am glad that the government is proposing amendments to enhance the protection of mentally incapacitated persons and also help Singaporeans and residents better plan for the future.
With the rising number of singles and increased number of elderly living alone, it is timely to introduce professional donees and deputies, as this group of people might not have family members who can help them.
There are, however, a number of issues I would like to raise.
Ensuring family support remains priority
We must continue to focus on family support as the priority. As emphasised by respondents during the public feedback exercise, the use of professional donees and deputies should be a last resort as family members should ideally be involved in making these important decisions for the person.
I understand it might not be easy to verify this but can the Minister provide details on what steps MSF can take to ensure that family members were unwilling, unable or unavailable to help especially before a professional donee is appointed?
More clarifications on professional donees and deputies
Can the Minister also clarify if all professional donees will be registered with the public guardian since not all donees might be deputies?
Next, Section 25A(2) states that “The public guardian may register a person as a professional deputy upon being satisfied that the person meets all the prescribed criteria”. May I ask what these criteria will be and will it be released to the public?
Helping singles and elderly living alone
As mentioned, we have a rising number of singles and increased number of elderly living alone. What is the government’s plan to encourage this group of people especially those without family members, to make a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA)? It is difficult for the elderly to understand what an LPA is, let alone how to apply for one.
Could the Pioneer Generation Office perhaps help with the outreach and provide advice to them on LPAs?
I appreciate that the LPA forms have been simplified and for Singapore Citizens, the $50 application fee for the most common LPA form used is waived. This has probably resulted in the 160% increase in applications for LPAs in 2015, as compared to 2014.
But for the elderly group of people mentioned earlier, I doubt these measures will result in an increase of LPA applications from this group. We need to really reach out to them and make them aware of the LPA in the first place.
Also, the professional donees and deputies will clearly be charging for their services. Can the Minister give an idea on what the costs will be?
As the demographic of people who might need this professional service will tend to be single, elderly and without family support, I am concerned that the use of this service might result in a financial strain on them as they might already have limited financial resources.
I understand that MSF does already on a case-by-case basis waive the application fees for the LPA for those who cannot afford the fees. Will MSF or the Office of the Public Guardian also consider providing financial assistance to those who are unable to afford the fees of a professional donee or deputy?
Will MSF also consider working closely with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) in the social service sector to develop the professional deputies and donees industry?
Working with the non-profit sector rather than the for-profit sector in this case might result in lower professional fees and better services. Staff members or volunteers of these VWOs may already be providing services to these individuals and will already be familiar with their needs and preferences.
Parents of children with intellectual disability
Lastly, parents of children with intellectual disability have to apply to the Court to appoint themselves as deputies for their children.
Will MSF consider allowing parents of children with intellectual disability to be deputies by default? I believe this will help them save valuable time, energy and financial resources.
I understand that MSF has reviewed this recommendation and has decided against it. It is instead working on simplifying the process. Can the Minister provide an update on how it is making the process easier for parents of children with intellectual disability to be their deputies?
In conclusion, this Bill makes important amendments and will undoutedly benefit Singaporeans. Madam Speaker, my request for the government to review the above notwithstanding, I support the Bill.