Speech by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (Amendment) Bill and the Skills Development Levy (Amendment) Bill (Bills No. 38/2022 and 39/2022)
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang (Nee Soon): Sir, these two Bills will consolidate enforcement powers and offences under the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency Act, regulate abusive funding arrangements as well as offences relating to false or misleading advertising and empower the SkillsFuture Singapore Agency (SSG) to direct refunds for cancelled courses. This will create a centralised system and better support career development for all Singaporeans.
I have three points of clarification on both Bills.
My first point is on the difficulty in determining the competencies, expertise or skills to be advanced by a course or programme. The new section 57E amended by the SSG Bill will make it an offence to publish false or misleading advertising. This includes advertising on the curriculum, modules or subjects to be covered or competencies, expertise or skills that will be advanced. There are good faith reasons for why curriculum, modules or subjects to be covered may change after advertising for a course has started. The subject matter may have evolved, or the curriculum may need to adapt to the interests and proficiency of the class. The competencies, expertise or skills that a course actually succeeds in advancing may also be fairly subjective.
Can Minister share if the Ministry intends to proactively monitor advertising by course providers? Or will the Ministry rely on complaints by the public to identify potentially false or misleading advertisements before intervening?
Can Minister also share if the Ministry will provide guidance to course providers on best practices on advertising and in managing communications with participants especially on changes in course content to avoid any dispute over false advertising in the first place?
My second point is on identifying fraudulent claims at an earlier stage.
In the case of Public Prosecutor vs Ng Cheng Kwee, the Prosecution described most of the fraudulent claims as having been “automatically approved by SSG” and that only “a small proportion of the claims were flagged for a manual check”.
Following this incident of fraud which occurred in 2017, the SSG announced in 2018 that it has strengthened its fraud detection systems using data analytics. This follows the recommendations of an inter-agency task force set up to review SSG’s fraud mitigation capabilities.
Given that it has been four years since these systems were introduced, can the Ministry share how it is monitoring the effectiveness of these fraud detection systems? Can the Ministry also provide an update on how effective these systems have been?
My final point is on the incorporation of a deferred payment model.
The Lambda School in California teaches information technology skills online and charges no tuition fees. Instead, students can agree to pay a percentage of their income after they are employed, and only if they are making more than US$50,000 a year in the first five years. The deal is that students pay back 17% of their income from their first two years of work after, if earnings exceed US$50,000 a year, with a cap of US$30,000 of fees they pay in total. Otherwise, students also have the option of paying US$20,000 in tuition upfront and keeping their future income. The incentive structure is clear. If the training institute does not impart transferable knowledge to trainees that results in a successful outcome, the institute will not benefit.
Can Minister share if the Ministry has looked into such a deferred payment model for certain SkillsFuture courses? If so, what are the Ministry’s findings on the usefulness of such a model in Singapore Sir, notwithstanding these clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.