Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Competition (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 8/2018]
Sir, a welcome amendment is that relating to the provision, on application, of confidential advice by the Competition Commission on whether an anticipated merger is likely to lessen competition within any market in Singapore and therefore falling foul of Section 54 of the Act.
I understand that this seeks to codify an already available procedure. Statutory force is likely to further assure businesses approaching the Commission for such advice that such an approach will be treated on a confidential basis.
Sir I only have one clarification for this Bill. The one aspect of the proposed amendments that is of concern is the powers of persons entering into premises with, or without a warrant for the purposes of investigations.
Investigation powers relating to persons found on premises
Currently, investigating officers, inspectors and other authorised persons may enter into premises with or without warrants for the purpose of carrying out investigations. Persons on the premises can be required to:
These are specific questions relating to documents relevant to the investigations.
If the Commission or inspector wishes to ask other questions on matters relevant to the investigation, the person must be served with a notice in writing under Section 63.
The new Section 63(4A) allows a person found on the premises to be orally examined and required to provide answers relevant to the investigation.
The statement has to be recorded in writing read over in a language understood by the examinee and signed by him under the new Section 63(4B).
However, there is no need for such an examinee to be served with a notice under Section 63 even though the examinee can now be made to answer a broader scope of questions equivalent to that under Section 63.
My concern is that notices will never be served on persons found on premises when they are questioned on relevant matters beyond documents relating to the investigation.
The requirement for notice allows time for a person required to act under it to consider the request made, and perhaps seek legal advice on it.
Why deprive persons found on premises entered into for the purpose of investigations? Can Minister clarify why we are making this amendment?
Sir notwithstanding the above clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
CCS (Competition Commission of Singapore)’s current enforcement powers include the authority to require the production of specified documents orinformation, and the authority to enter and search any premise. This is provided for under sections 63 to 65 of the Competition Act. The second key amendment is to empower CCS to conduct general interviews during such inspections or searches of premises.
Occupants of the premise being inspected or searched by CCS, are currently required to only provide an explanation of the documents produced or seized on the premises, or information uncovered during the inspection. CCS is not empowered to ask general questions in relation to the same investigation, without first serving a written notice, as provided for under section 63 of the Act, on the occupier of the premises or the individuals it wishes to interview. This limits the efficiency and effectiveness of CCS’s investigations. In addition, it results in confusion for the individuals being interviewed, as they may have to give their statement more than once, and on the same issue as well. The occupier may also be puzzled as to why CCS has to serve two separate notices for the same investigation.
Clause 9 amends section 63 to empower CCS enforcement officers entering any premises for the purposes of an investigation, to orally examine any individual on the premise. The amendment does not increase CCS’s enforcement powers, but addresses an administrative gap in the investigation process. CCS’s scope of questioning is still limited tothe subject matter and purpose of the investigation. The proposed amendment also brings CCS’s practices in line with that of the European Union.
In addition, Clauses 10 to 11 make technical amendments to sections 64 and 65, to provide further clarity on CCS’s investigation powers, such as the power to require the production of a document at such a time and place, and in such form and manner, as may be required.