By Rachel Chang
STIFF measures to combat loan sharks and their assistants are set to be introduced when Parliament sits on Monday.
These are to be spelt out in amendments to the Moneylenders Act, with an eye on penetrating loan shark syndicates to stop their unrelenting and ruthless methods in getting borrowers to pay up.
This loan shark problem was raised in Parliament in August, when MPs like Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) noted a rise in their terrorising ways.
She said harassment incidents in her ward had risen from one every four months to one every fortnight.
Nationally, too, the figures have gone up. In the first half of this year, the number of loan sharking and harassment reports went up to 9,395, from 4,759 in the same period last year.
Senior Minister of State (Law and Home Affairs) Ho Peng Kee told Parliament then that advances in communications technology and money-transfer methods had led to loan shark syndicates becoming larger and more sophisticated.
Measures to penetrate these operations would be studied, he promised.
Madam Phua told The Straits Times yesterday that since August, the police had taken very firm action on loan shark runners in her ward.
The level of harassment activity had since fallen markedly, she added.
MPs interviewed yesterday also expressed the hope that the proposed amendments would get to the heart of the problem.
'Illegal money-lending is, in fact, organised crime, and needs to be dealt with as such,' said Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who also raised the issue in August.
'What I hope to see in the new initiatives is how we can reach beyond the runners and go upstream to target the root of that supply of money into the market,' he said.
Another major topic for Monday is the property market, in particular, the rising prices of HDB flats.
Several MPs, including Mr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Marine Parade GRC), have tabled questions on the availability of HDB flats for new couples, and the effectiveness of measures to cool the market.
Opposition MP Chiam See Tong wants to know the profit margin the Housing Board adds to the cost of flats it builds before selling them to the public.
The outcome of the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Singapore is also on Monday's agenda.
Bills scheduled to be debated include the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, which aims, among other things, to let businesses claim losses against three previous years of income instead of just one.
Amendments to the Singapore Armed Forces Act, to create a scheme for soldiers to specialise in such fields as maintenance, engineering, nursing and intelligence, will also be debated.
This story was first published in The Straits Times.
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