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Anthea Indira Ong Lay Theng] (王丽婷; Wáng Lìtíng; born 1968) is a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) for the 13th Parliament of Singapore. Ong is also a full-time entrepreneur and social advocate, being the founder of social organisations including Hush TeaBar and A Good Space.

Background[]

In her youth, Ong attended Cedar Girls' Secondary School and National Junior College. She earned a business degree in the National University of Singapore.

Professional career[]

Ong is a certified life coach by the International Coach Federation. She has served over 30 clients from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines, Japan, France, Portugal, Spain, UK and the USA.[1]

In her corporate career, Ong held leadership roles with multinational organisations including Pearson Plc, New York Institute of Finance, The Terrapinn Group and United Overseas Bank.[2]

Between 2002 and 2008, Ong founded the Singapore-based education and technology consultancy, Knowledge Director Group.[3]

From 2008 to 2013, Ong was Managing Director (Indonesia, Malaysia & Singapore) at Omega Performance Inc, a Washington DC-headquartered strategy and performance-improvement consulting group for banks and financial institutions.[4] Additionally, she was also the Asian Lead of the Global Corporate Responsibility Board for Informa Plc. [5]

In December 2013, Ong left the corporate world to focus on her social entrepreneurship and advocacy efforts.[6]

Social advocacy[]

In 2013, Ong founded the social project Playground of Joy, introducing an educational programme that integrates mindfulness into its curriculum.[7] Ong is working on expanding her Playground of Joy project to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, while also serving children with special needs and financial assistance within Singapore.[8]

In 2014, Ong founded the social enterprise Hush TeaBar, Singapore's first silent tea bar.[9] Through its employment of the deaf and individuals with mental health issues, Hush seeks to bridge the gap between the hearing and non-hearing world.[10] Through Hush, Ong hopes to address the epidemic of mental health issues faced by most Singaporean workplaces and schools.[11]

In 2017, Ong co-founded A Good Space, a not-for-profit initiative, with the support of National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC).[12] Through naturing a community of changemakers, A Good Space looks to improve volunteerism for social causes in Singapore.[13]

Within the same year, Ong founded Our Tree Stories, a social movement where Singaporeans are asked to share their stories about their favourite trees.[14] The movement was created to encourage Singaporeans to humanise trees, in an attempt to improve awareness about climate change and conservation.[15]

In May 2018, Ong founded Workwell Leaders Workgroup together with 25 prominent Singaporean work leaders, including representatives from Johnson & Johnson, DBS Bank, Deloitte and National University Health System. The workgroup looks to champion mental well-being as a leadership priority in workplaces.[16]

In December 2019, Ong launched the first-ever public consultation on mental healthcare in Singapore, intending on utilising the findings to support her Budget 2020 speech.[17]

In February 2020, given the "overwhelming response" that they have received for their public consultation on mental healthcare, Ong and her team of volunteers launched the community initiative "SG Mental Health Matters", through a website meant as a "coalescing point" for advocacy efforts in mental wellness within Singapore.[18]

Ong was one of 3 Singaporean women[19] who went on an expedition to Antarctica to study climate change in 2018, funded by the 2041 Foundation.[20]

Additionally, Ong served as the president of the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (WINGS) from 2010 to 2017, an organisation helping women embrace ageing with confidence [21] From 2014 to 2016, she was also a Founding Board Member of Daughters of Tomorrow, a registered charity that supports the empowerment of women through individualised coaching.[22]

Political career[]

Ong was one of the 9 Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) chosen in September 2018 for the 13th Parliament of Singapore.[23] Speaking to The Straits Times after her appointment was announced, Ong said that she intended to speak on issues of social inclusion, mental health and volunteerism.[24]

November 2018 Parliamentary Sitting[]

Ong's maiden speech involved a call to make mental health a national priority.[25] In response to the Employment (Amendment) Bill, to which she lauded the reference to employee well-being,[26] she stressed that mental well-being should be a whole-of-government priority with the recognition that "subjective well-being” is key in ascertaining one's quality of life. In her speech, she also states her wish that policies act empower rather than enable Singaporeans to be ready for challenges ahead.[27]

January 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

Ong spoke[28] on the Payment Services Bill, which sought to create separate regulatory frameworks for major payment institutions and smaller players in the market. She emphasised the need to be inclusive, and for payment institutions and the Government to consider the banking and payment needs of the migrant worker community in Singapore. This, she argued, could be achieved by diversifying e-payment and e-banking options for the migrant worker community, rather than their current options of remittance. She expressed her view that these measures will help migrant workers save time, prevent profiteering by remittance agencies and other illegal activities associated with remittance.

In response to the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill, Ong expressed her support for the introduction of section 11B, targeted at reducing inter-generational drug use through combating the stigma associated with the societal reintegration of drug offenders.[29]

February 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Singapore Food Agency Bill, Ong focused on food waste legislation in light of Singapore's aspiration to be a Zero Waste Nation. She emphasized the need to transform the economy of food waste into a circular one, minimising waste through recycling and reusing. In addressing both food waste and food insecurity, Ong argued for more lenient regulations on "best before", "consume by" and "expiry" labels, potentially extending the shelf life of certain foods. She also suggested making it more costly for businesses to throw away edible food. Instead, this could be donated to charities, if incentivised.[30] Ong based these propositions on her consultations with advocacy organisations, including Climate Conversations, SG Food Rescue and Lepak in SG.

Ong also spoke up for the psychosocial support given to financially vulnerable caregivers, drawing from her consultations with the Lien Foundation and AWARE Singapore. She emphasized the fact that most of the population will be a caregiver at a point in their lives.[31]

Budget 2019[]

Ong spoke[32] on the importance of mental health and urged the government to establish mental wellness a national priority.[33][34] She emphasized that the battle for mental well-being must be an ongoing national and whole-of-government priority, and the population's quality of life is not only defined by markers of economic growth and material well-being, but also depends on our subjective well-being. She pushed for future national policies to be underpinned by the drive to enable citizens to thrive mentally as empowered citizens.[35] As more Singaporeans are affected by mental health than by diabetes, she continued, and as the government has already declared a war on diabetes, making mental health a government priority could also lead to a strong and united Singapore.[36] She called for the need to destigmatise the topic, as that can prevent people from seeking help, and further exacerbates the issue.[37][38] An advocate for mental health,[39] Ong has regularly focused on improving mental well-being in the workplace, with the conversation being led by leaders.[40]

She continued with a call to mandate mental health education in schools.[41] To address the jump in the number of youths who sought help for stress and depression in 2018, Ong called for the provision of support structures for parents and families that can contribute to destigmatising the issue of mental health in society.[42]

To emphasise the need to focus on citizen wellbeing,[43] she addressed the recent public service lapses, urging the government to ensure that the public service builds a culture of accountability, transparency and empathy.[44]

In response to other Budget debates, Ong responded to 8 ministries, including speeches such as calling for better regulation of private homecare and daycare services.[45] She added that it may be time to consolidate existing healthcare legislations, ensuring continuity through the entire specturm of healthcare services.[46]

Ong also advocared for free childcare for low-income families.[47] Although fees for low-income families may be as low as S$5 a month, they may still face multiple hurdles in getting the maximum level of subsidies, including having to meet certain requirements for work. Red tape is also a "disincentive" for childcare operators to enrol children from low-income homes.[48]

On the issue of migrant worker employment, Ong also raised the issue of employers who were reportedly taking a cut of recruitment fees, thus incentivising the hiring of new foreign workers instead of retaining more experienced ones.[49] She urged the government to take action against such employers. Ong also added that psycho-social well-being should be included in the definition of employee well-being in all regulations, statutes and policies for employment in Singapore.[50]

In response to the ongoing Rohingya crisis,[51] Ong asked questions such as whether ASEAN can consider developing refugee and asylum policies to include guidance for action when internal issues of a member state spill over to neighbouring states, as in this particular case.[52]

On the role of the financial sector in acting against climate change, Ong noted that the financial sector can play a key role as a force for good[53] in the drive for these green standards.[54]

May 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Criminal Law Reform Bill, Ong spoke favourably about[55] on the enhanced punishments for offences against vulnerable persons, the abolishment of immunity against marital rape, changes to definitions of rape and consent, and the decriminalisation of suicide.[56]

On the Protection From Harassment (Amendment) Bill, she spoke on the continued gaps of enforcement despite streamlining the processes and enhanced punishments for offenders.[57][58]

Together with 2 other Nominated Members of Parliament Walter Theseira and Irene Quay, Ong submitted 4 amendments[59] to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in May 2019.[60] In coming up with the proposed amendments, they consulted with representatives from online media, civil society activists, lawyers and academics. In a joint statement, the NMPs stated[61] that they agreed with the “legislative intent” of the “far-reaching” bill, and have made suggestions for changes that will “preserve the ability of the Executive to act against online falsehoods in the public interest, while ensuring that such decisions are subject to good governance.”[62]

Since independence, Ong's intervention was the first time that Nominated Members of Parliament had successfully submitted amendments to a Bill in the Parliament of Singapore.[63] The Bill was passed on 8 May without acceptance of the amendments,[64] to which Ong, alongside Theseira and Quay abstained from voting.[65]

July 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, Ong spoke about the rights of elderly and disability populations in making use of public roads, and the need for inclusivity in sharing spaces democratically.[66] She pushed for a culture of sharing spaces that protects all persons without compromising on accessibility.[67]

August 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Fire Safety (Amendment) Bill, she spoke on fire safety measures that pertain to elderly and vulnerable segments of the population.[68] She advocated for the training of foreign domestic workers and caregivers in fire prevention, as well as emergency measures in the event of fire.[69] In response to her statement that hearing-impaired residents cannot be notified by pre-existing audio alarms in public housing, the Ministry of Home Affairs (Singapore) will provide households constituting hearing-impaired residents with alarms that provide visual alerts. Public education and community involvement will also be further encouraged to instil fire safety habits in all residents.

On the Home Team Science and Technology Agency Bill, she spoke[70] about the use of technology to keep Singapore safe as a double-edged sword. In her speech, she highlighted her worries about how the impact of constant surveillance on mental health, the potential for unwarranted algorithmic biases that perpetuate discrimination, and the importance of fostering a culture of respect for privacy.[71][72]

On the Point-to-Point Passenger Transport Industry Bill, she highlighted[73] the lack of cohesion of various transport schemes for vulnerable communities in Singapore. She spoke about the need for public transport authorities to work with the private sector to leverage their technologies, facilitating access to the same convenience of booking apps for vulnerable communities. She also addressed Singapore's responsibility in climate change issues, proposing a carbon emission-based tiered pricing strategy in nudging passengers to consider the ecological footprint of their transportation choices.[74]

September 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Resource Sustainability Bill, Ong spoke [75] on the need to signal greater urgency in taking action against anthropogenic climate change by encouraging public accountability and setting smart targets. She suggested that these could be accompanied by establishing incentives such as tax rebates for firms, ensuring sustainability and affordability for businesses. In response to her question about encouraging the adoption of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) practices,[76] the Ministry of Finance (Singapore) indicated that public procurement processes practised by the Government, alongside financial incentives to promote green financing models will set examples for industry actors to follow.

On the Children and Young Persons Bill, she lauded the efforts of the Bill in recognising emotional harm as a form of ill-treatment, although she raised concerns about the continued use of mechanical restraints.[77] She also spoke about the need for the Government to invest in support for supporting familial care over residential homes, as the latter are unable to replicate the "therapeutic effects" of kinship ties.

Speaking on the CareShield Life & Long-Term Care Bill, she stressed the importance of long-term caregiver support, alongside the need to expand the definition of disabilities to include mental health conditions.[78] She talked about the "cliff effect" that occurs with a stringent focus on severe disability as the eligibility criteria for financial schemes, which acts to limit accessibility alongside issues of gender and age discrimination. Additionally, through her Parliamentary Questions (PQ), she asked for more support for caregivers within the domains of employment,[79] skills and finances.[80]

On the Work Injury Compensation (Amendment) Bill, she expressed her concerns with the lack of regulatory oversight of insurers in compensation processes, delays in receiving medical treatment and the need to safeguard mental health, issues pertaining to the vulnerable demographic of migrant workers.[81] To improve the transparency of the work compensation process, the Ministry of Manpower (Singapore) agreed to look into improving the transparency of the claims process, particularly in providing accident reports free-of-charge to all workers.[82]

October 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill, Ong spoke of the urgent need to update what she saw as outdated definitions of disabilities and incapacitation, in respecting all differently-abled and vulnerable Singaporeans within all laws and policies.[83] She also talked about the need to engage the private sector more extensively in championing community causes, through improving the accessibility and coverage of tax rebates.

In a Parliamentary Question (PQ), Ong highlighted her concerns about potential legal liabilities arising from a cancelled Yale-NUS College course on dissent.[84] Minister K Shanmugam from the Ministry of Law (Singapore) responded by asking Ong for her views on how hate speech on online spaces should be further regulated.[85] Ong clarified her position on the matter, indicating that the narrative must move past Yale-NUS students and faculty as "troublemakers", urging the Government to review its attitudes towards dissent and advocacy, while arguing that leeway should be given to those who undertake these actions "from a place of good faith".[86]

Ong also spoke on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill, on the importance of protecting the LGBT community who regularly experiences hate speech and institutionalised discrimination. She also expressed her concerns about the overreach of a Minister's powers in issuing Restraining Orders.[87] She also noted that the non-religious should be included within the scope of religious harmony, and that they should be invited to participate in interfaith initiatives. In response, through a post on Facebook, K Shanmugam indicated that the law protects those who are non-religious and those who are LGBT.[88]

November 2019 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Women's Charter (Amendment) Bill, Ong commended the efforts of the Government in acknowledging the exploitation of sex workers, whilst she pointed out the inappropriate definitions utilised in referring to vulnerable groups such as those with mental health conditions alongside the lack of conditional immunity for sex workers that deter those who are exploited from coming forward.[89]

Through Parliamentary Questions (PQs), Ong queried the Ministry of Manpower (Singapore) on its plans to communicate new safety requirements for the recently amended Work Injury Compensation Act,[90] alongside guidelines educating migrant workers on heat stress.[91] In response, Minister Josephine Teo indicated that information on heat stress is being distributed through its Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) website alongside collaterals such as heat stroke cards.[92] Teo also assured Ong that close to 2000 employers have been briefed in collaboration with the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), coupled with the Ministry's own active engagement efforts.[93]

Ong chose to abstain from voting on the parliamentary motion that called on Workers' Party (Singapore) MPs Sylvia Lim and Low Thia Khiang from all financial matters at the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC), questioning the need for a non-binding motion that relates to matters which have not been concluded in court.[94]

On the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, Ong spoke in support of the Bill in safeguarding fundamental liberties and constitutional supremacy, while urging Parliament to consider the security of tenure in ensuring the full independence of the judiciary.[95]

January 2020 Parliamentary Sitting[]

On the Banking (Amendment) Bill, Ong advocated for a greater focus on green bank and financing initiatives, stressing the need for more robust data collection to reflect long-term risks associated with climate change and ensuring banks comply with the disclosure of climate-related risks in their portfolios.[96]

Ong, along with Nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira, engaged with Minister S Iswaran on recent applications of the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) being disproportionately utilised against opposition politicians. Iswaran replied that these occurrences happened to be an "unfortunate convergence or coincidence", while reassuring Parliament that applications of the Act were not biased towards specific organisations or individuals.[97]

February 2020 Parliamentary Sitting[]

Ong expressed her concerns with the Central Provident Fund's (CPF) disclosure of the identity of Ms Sua Li Li, who was not allowed to access her CPF savings on medical grounds and subsequently lodged a public complaint. She sought clarifications on why the government agency had done so in the name of "public interest".[98] In response, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Communications and Information, indicated that Ms Sua had already divulged her identity in emails to Government agencies and the media, and divulging her identity will allow the public to not be misinformed and maintain their trust in public institutions.[99]

In response to a parliamentary question (PQ) asked by Ong, Minister Chan Chun Sing replied that the Singapore Civil Service has removed any declaration questions on mental health from its job application forms, in line with the latest guidelines from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).[100]

Ong spoke on the Shared Mobility Enterprises (Control & Licensing) Bill and Active Mobility (Amendment) Bill, expressing her concerns about the recent ban on personal transporters and personal mobility devices (PMDs) on footpaths. She questioned the safety of PMD users on sharing roads with vehicles, whilst emphasising the impact of the ban on the livelihoods of delivery riders and their families.[101]

On the Hazardous Products (Amendment) Bill, Ong asked for clarifications on Singapore's compliance with the Basel Convention on the handling and disposal of hazardous waste.[102] She also issued a call to the Government to clamp down on the shipping of illegal waste by Singaporean firms, while encouraging the Government to develop initiatives for a circular economy to reduce waste.[103] In response, Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor, for the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, indicated that 150 Basel permits were issued for the transport of waste to other countries per year on average, and the destination of most waste was to OECD countries meant for recycling.[104] Khor also indicated that Singapore has not ratified the Basel Convention as it intends to develop its local recycling industries, which will require significant transports of waste over international boundaries.[105]

Budget 2020[]

In what Ong termed as likely her "last Budget speech", she implored the Government to take action on mental health, improving the "Affordability, Accessibility and Quality" (AAQ) of mental healthcare within Singapore.[106] Her speech was supported by a recent public consultation that she and her team of volunteers had conducted, receiving responses from almost 400 Singaporeans on the state of mental healthcare in Singapore.[107]

Ong took issue with the lack of parity between the Medisave and Medishield Life limits imposed on treatment for physical health compared to mental health conditions, citing a difference of sevenfold of the former against the latter.[108]

She commended the Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) from the Institute of Mental Health (Singapore) for their services for youth, praising their free and confidential mental health screenings alongside their subsidised referrals for public mental healthcare services.[109]

She implored the Government to hire more mental healthcare professionals while recommending that policymaking for all mental health initiatives should be supported by public consultations.[110]

She ended her Speech in making a call for all Singaporeans to begin viewing mental health as a public health issue, as mental health is a continuum that is experienced by all.[111]

In his response, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Heng Swee Keat acknowledged that healthcare facilities and services should continue to be developed, with priorities including mental health integral in building a strong national foundation for community well-being and resilience.[112] During subsequent Committee of Supply (COS) debates, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Ministry of Health (Singapore), indicated that the Government is proceeding with a whole-of-Government review of the mental healthcare system in Singapore, alongside a review of Medishield Life claim limits for mental health conditions.[113] Khor also announced that a structured system of support for caregivers of people with mental health conditions will be piloted.[114]

Publications[]

Ong has published a book titled "50 Shades of Love: Unearthing Who We Are". Within the book, she penned 50 shorts explaining how love in its different forms has lifted her up throughout different seasons in her life.[115] In her free time, Ong is an avid writer of poems and composer of tunes.[116]

Ong has written commentaries and opinion-editorials for media platforms including The Straits Times, Today (Singapore newspaper), The New Paper and Business Times, covering pertinent social issues in Singapore including mental health, multiculturalism and homelessness.

Book[]

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Commentaries[]

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See also[]

References[]

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External links[]

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