Friday, 1 July 2016

SAF Day 2016 Message and Interview with Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

- SAF sets up high readiness unit in the face of new threats

- SAF to improve capabilities with new armoured fighting vehicles

- SAF must do more with less; Defence Minister says SAF will overcome manpower issues through technology

- Pre-enlistees entering national service from 2017 can indicate vocation of choice

Thursday, 30 June 2016

After Brexit, the People's Spring is inevitable: Marine Le Pen

By Marine Le Pen, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

If there's one thing that chafes French pride, it's seeing the British steal the limelight. But in the face of real courage, even the proudest French person can only tip his hat and bow. The decision that the people of Britain have just made was indeed an act of courage - the courage of a people who embrace their freedom.

Brexit won out, defeating all forecasts. Britain decided to cast off from the European Union (EU) and reclaim its independence among the world's nations. It had been said that the election would hinge solely on economic matters; the British, however, were more insightful in understanding the real issue than commentators like to admit.

British voters understood that behind prognostications about the pound's exchange rate and behind the debates of financial experts, only one question, at once simple and fundamental, was being asked: Do we want an undemocratic authority ruling our lives, or would we rather regain control over our destiny? Brexit is, above all, a political issue. It's about the free choice of a people deciding to govern itself. Even when it is touted by all the propaganda in the world, a cage remains a cage, and a cage is unbearable to a human being in love with freedom.

The EU has become a prison of peoples. Each of the 28 countries that constitute it has slowly lost its democratic prerogatives to commissions and councils with no popular mandate. Every nation in the Union has had to apply laws it did not want for itself. Member nations no longer determine their own Budgets. They are called upon to open their borders against their will.

Countries in the euro zone face an even less enviable situation. In the name of ideology, different economies are forced to adopt the same currency, even if doing so bleeds them dry. It's a modern version of the Procrustean bed, and the people no longer have a say.

'Death squad' Duterte becomes Philippine President and he has promised a 'bloody' term

Scared Philippine drug dealers, addicts surrender
By Raul Dancel, Philippines Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2016

Thousands of drug dealers and addicts across the Philippines are surrendering to police, as a mayor known for backing extrajudicial killings of criminals takes office today as the nation's 16th president.

In Bonuan Gueset, a coastal district in Dagupan city, 200km north of the capital Manila, over 500 confessed drug addicts turned themselves over to their village chief early this week and signed notes pledging to get themselves rehabilitated.

They fear for their lives, Mr Ricardo Mejia, the village chief, told The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

They have a good reason to be afraid: Mr Rodrigo Duterte.

Mr Duterte will be inaugurated today for a six-year term as Philippine President, ushering in a new government that has promised a brutal war on crime.

Since Mr Duterte swept to victory in the May 9 elections, police and unnamed vigilantes have killed at least 54 suspected drug lords and dealers.

That works out to one killed a day, an escalation from the first four months of the year when the rate was about two a week, according to a Reuters report last week.

Fearful that they may also end up in body bags, some 300 peddlers and users of narcotics in an eastern suburb of metropolitan Manila and over 4,000 more in the vast southern region of Mindanao were reported to have surrendered to police this week.

Mr Duterte had warned addicts: "If I can't convince you to stop, I'll have you killed…"

The 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao carved a menacing reputation as a tough-talking, gun-toting maverick who does not shy away from using means outside the law when dealing with criminals.

He has been accused of unleashing "death squads" in a bruising, two-decade war on crime in Davao, now regarded as one of the nation's safest cities. He has said his term would be "bloody".

Even before he was elected, he had already promised to send the bodies of tens of thousands of criminals to the bottom of Manila Bay.

In recent weeks, he has cheered on security forces with offers of a 3 million peso (S$86,000) bounty and a medal as the body count rose.

"I believe in retribution. Why? You should pay. When you kill someone, rape, you should die," he said on Monday.

Over 600 guests have been invited to Mr Duterte's inauguration at noon today at Malacanang Palace, the seat of political power here.

Skills gap between younger and older Singapore workers: OECD study

Young Singaporeans rank high in OECD study while older ones lag far behind
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

Singapore's younger adults rank highly in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving skills, a major international study has found, but the older generation lags considerably behind. While this reflects the progress in education and training over the decades here, this "skills gap" also highlights that more needs to be done to upgrade the skills of older workers, said experts.

The study of 34 economies by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which included Singapore for the first time, also linked higher skill levels to better wages here, another reason for older workers to keep improving themselves.

Still, employers place more premium on qualifications, and a better balance should be found, believes OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher.

The results of OECD's Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which also involved countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, were released yesterday. Those aged between 16 and 34 in Singapore ranked second behind the Finns in problem-solving using digital tools, fifth in numeracy, which was also topped by Finland, and ninth in literacy, which was led by Japan.

But older adults here aged 45 to 65 performed lower than the OECD average. They were ranked 31st in literacy and numeracy skills and 18th for problem-solving.

The difference in scores between the younger and older generation here is also among the widest when compared with other countries. One reason for the gap, OECD said, could be the survey being conducted in English here. Almost eight in 10 respondents aged above 35 here said they were not native speakers.

Mr Ng Cher Pong, chief executive of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, believes the difference reflects the marked improvement in Singapore's education and training systems over the last 50 years - including the ramp-up in schools and programmes.

But it is "hugely important" that Singapore finds ways to upgrade the skills of older workers, such as through schemes like SkillsFuture, said Dr Schleicher.

SkillsFuture is a national initiative to equip workers with skills. Doing so could "dramatically raise" Singapore's productivity and keep them employable, he said.

Nine in 10 teen boys in Singapore exposed to porn: Survey

Corresponding ratio for teen girls is less than one in 10; figures up since 2014 survey
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

Nine in every 10 teenage boys in Singapore have watched or read sexually explicit materials within the past year, a survey has found, with some first exposed to it even before they start primary school.

In contrast, only 8 per cent of girls - less than one in 10 - admitted to viewing pornography last year, either intentionally or by accident.

Conducted by Touch Cyber Wellness, the main agency that gives online safety talks in schools here, the survey polled 921 students aged 13 to 15 to examine teenage exposure to pornography.

It did the first such survey on teenage exposure to pornography two years ago and followed up with a second one earlier this year.

Compared with the first survey, there is an increase of 6 to 14 per cent of the boys and girls who have been exposed to pornography.

The main mode of accessing pornographic materials is through personal mobile devices.

Of those who viewed such content, 88 per cent of boys and 73 per cent of girls saw it on their smartphones or tablets. This is an increase of 6 per cent to 8 per cent compared with the 2014 survey.

The earliest age of exposure is upper primary and below for 52 per cent of the boys who accessed such material, and 28 per cent for the girls.

Experts say the findings are worrying as such content can affect children's studies, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and their attitudes and behaviour towards love and sex. If addiction sets in, it may lead to various forms of dysfunction and sexual crimes.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

PSLE: Switch to holistic assessment may add pressure on students

Government's plan to change current methods of assessment to reduce emphasis on academic achievement may be undermined by the fact that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given
By Lye Kok Leong, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The winds of change are blowing hard against the Singaporean obsession with examination results that deprives the young of their childhood and propagates despair in society's pressure-cooker environment.

In April, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be scrapped, and replaced with wider scoring bands from 2021. This will be similar to grading at O and A levels.

The current system involves working out a child's aggregate T-score based on component subject scores - English, Mother Tongue, mathematics and science - weighted against the range of scores within each cohort.

The MOE has also hinted that it will review the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to realign it with its original intent, presumably to recognise achievements and talents in specific areas instead of general academic ability.

The DSA scheme has been criticised for evolving into a channel for students to secure places in sought-after Integrated Programme schools whose students bypass O levels. Some parents also try to boost their kids' chances by sending them for DSA preparation classes and enrichment programmes.

The PSLE review was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013. It is meant to reduce the overemphasis on academic results and allow students more time and space to develop holistically.

Hence, the envisioned brave new world is one where the child can be "holistically assessed" from primary school all the way through to tertiary institutions. Presumably, this relieves the competitive pressure our children face within the school system.

Will it work?

1-hour PSI: NEA creates bands to simplify PM2.5 readings

Descriptors for one-hour readings will help the public understand figures, plan activities
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has introduced bands and descriptors for one-hour concentration readings of fine particles called PM2.5 to help the public make sense of the readings and plan their immediate activities.

While the agency has been publishing such one-hour readings since 2014, it is now providing breakdowns of what constitutes normal to very high levels of one-hour PM2.5 concentrations.

For instance, the range of 0 to 55 micrograms per cubic metre (mcg/m3) is described as "normal", while anything above 250 mcg/m3 will be described as "very high".

The Straits Times understands that the bands and descriptors were introduced after members of the public suggested having a guide to PM2.5 readings after last year's haze episode. Still, the bands do not state what levels are healthy or not, unlike the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which is used by the authorities here as the reference for health advisories.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who made the announcement yesterday, said there is "no strong medical study" to show the impact of short-term exposure to PM2.5 particles on one's health.

"In any case, if you are sensitive to such particles, or you have some form of ailment that makes you sensitive to such particles, consult your doctor," he added.

PM2.5 pollutants are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, or a 30th of the diameter of a human hair.

It is one of six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, the PSI measures. Long and regular exposure to PM2.5 is linked to higher risk of death from complications such as lung cancer or heart disease.

With the roll-out of bands and descriptors for one-hour PM2.5 readings, the three-hour PSI reading will be phased out by the year end.

PM Lee lauds Al-Islah Mosque's community programmes

By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol is only a year old, but it has built close ties with neighbouring institutions and residents.

It partners nearby schools to distribute food to poor families in the neighbourhood. On the third week of each month, it conducts free guided tours around its premises.

Yesterday, about 350 people gathered at the mosque to celebrate iftar, or the breaking of fast, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

At sunset, mosque volunteers, community and religious leaders, and foreign workers who work nearby, had a meal of fruits, dates, curry porridge and rice.

PM Lee, at his first official iftar this Ramadan, applauded Al-Islah's community programmes, such as inviting grassroots leaders and non-Muslim residents to the mosque to break fast with them and learn more about Islam.

Relating Mr Lee's remarks to reporters later, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said: "This is what Singapore is all about. We may be a mosque, a temple or a church, but we are in Singapore. We fulfil the needs of our congregants, but we must also try to integrate ourselves into the wider community."

Before the meal, PM Lee was given a tour of the mosque, which was constructed at a cost of $16.5 million from the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

SAFTI plays key role in Singapore's security: PM Lee Hsien Loong

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2016

The SAFTI Military Institute started out in a primary school, but has gone on to become a key institution of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and plays an important role in Singapore's security, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

PM Lee, who was himself trained in the institute, lauded it for producing past and present military leaders who have built and transformed the SAF.

Speaking at the commissioning parade of a new batch of officers, he recalled how then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had said, at the first commissioning parade in 1967, that the SAF can make up for its lack of numbers by "the standards of discipline, training, dedication and leadership".

PM Lee said: "This has become part of the SAF's ethos and spirit, and enabled the SAF to perform its duties to keep Singapore safe and secure."

SAFTI, which now has a sprawling camp in Jurong, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Around 70 of its pioneer batch of 117 officers were at yesterday's parade.

PM Lee thanked them for volunteering as cadets at a time of great uncertainty, when Singapore had just separated from Malaysia. "The first batch knew what was at stake, and... persevered through blood, sweat and tears, out of a love for... this country."

This has inspired generations of officers, who have together built up the SAF from just two infantry battalions to today's tri-service fighting force with the latest equipment, technology and tactics, he said.

To the 547 new officers, he added: "It is your duty to ensure that Singapore will always be secure, so that your families, and all Singaporeans, can always be confident of our future together."

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act: Sovereignty, jurisdiction and international law

Singapore's transboundary haze pollution law is consistent with international law principles, which do permit a country's laws to have extraterritorial jurisdiction in some instances.
By S. Jayakumar and Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

In 2014, Singapore enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which came into force on Sept 25, 2014. Essentially, the Act makes it an offence for any entity to engage in conduct, or to condone conduct, causing or contributing to haze pollution in Singapore. Apart from criminal liability, the Act also creates statutory duties and civil liabilities.

The Act is unusual but not unprecedented in targeting conduct that occurs outside Singapore, and which causes or contributes to haze pollution in Singapore.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, speaking in Parliament in August 2014, said the Act "is not intended to replace the laws and enforcement actions of other countries, but it is to complement the efforts of other countries to hold companies to account". He added that "we, in Singapore, cannot simply wait and wishfully hope that the problem will be resolved on its own. The Singapore Government would want to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm our environment and put at risk the health of our citizens".


There were mixed reactions to this law in Indonesia. Some parties expressed support for Singapore's law. Others, including some Indonesian ministers, criticised the law on the grounds that it was a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty. A typical comment was: "As it happened in Indonesia, it is part of Indonesia's jurisdiction. If Singapore could easily try Indonesian citizens, it could be a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty."

The Singapore Government responded that the law was consistent with international law. It was drafted with the advice of international law experts and did not violate the sovereignty of any country.

The issue is whether it is permissible for a country to enact legislation that would have extraterritorial reach. The answer to this question turns on a proper understanding of the established principles of international law.

Brexit: UK votes to leave EU in historic referendum

David Cameron Resigns As UK Prime Minister After Brexit Vote

Turmoil as Britain votes to leave EU
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor (Global Affairs) In London, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain is faced with negotiating a tricky exit from the European Union and picking a new leader after the hotly contested referendum on remaining within the EU produced a stunning Leave verdict.

Prime Minister David Cameron, whose decision to call the vote is now regarded as a blunder, announced yesterday that he would quit office by October. He leaves a party and nation badly divided over issues of immigration, identity and the economy.

Asian markets were roiled after the results showed a 51.9 per cent vote for Leave against 48.1 per cent for Remain, defying predictions of pollsters and bookies. The result threatens to unravel the European project and even the United Kingdom, with every voting district in pro-Europe Scotland voting Remain and Northern Ireland also voting decisively to stay. Wales voted to Leave.

"This is Independence Day," said Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who, along with former London mayor Boris Johnson, spearheaded the Leave campaign. "See EU later!", crowed the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun tabloid, which had vigorously campaigned for Brexit.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit poll: a sobering lesson for Asia

Politics let loose can be a dangerous thing; this region needs to resist a tide of xenophobia and isolationism
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, Global Affairs, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

LONDON • A young British MP is brutally murdered in her constituency by a neo-Nazi type because she spoke up for immigrants and favoured her nation staying in the European Union. Days later, in Miri, Sarawak, a prominent opposition politician is gunned down in broad daylight as he waits in his car at a traffic intersection, a new edge added to Malaysia's troubled politics.

In the United States, the presumptive Republican Party frontrunner for the US presidential election is coarse of tongue, deeply divisive in his positions, stokes suspicions about Muslims and is on record saying he thought the United Kingdom should leave the EU because migration had been a "terrible thing" for the country.

In the UK, Mr Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party that campaigned for Britain to exit the EU, publishes a poster captioned "Breaking Point". It has a picture of a wave of anxious refugees, many with beards. The picture was apparently taken last year in Slovenia, whose border is some 1,600km from London. But the message was unmistakeable and shocked many Britons. J.K. Rowling called it "Nazi propaganda".

It is "nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren't flocking to the 'Leave' cause, or that they aren't, in some instances, directing it", the celebrated author of Harry Potter books wrote on her blog.

A referendum, like an election, is a celebration of the democratic process. Inevitably, some base instincts surface in these things as private ambitions of a Himalayan scale are pursued.

Even so, the fight witnessed over Brexit can only be said to have raised mirrors to the darkest sides of the human personality. The tribal instincts, nationalism, xenophobia, isolationism and yes, violence, that it unleashed will linger on and be examined closely around the world.