Friday, 22 August 2014

Singapore strongly condemns 'horrific murder' of US journalist by IS

Channel NewsAsia, 21 Aug 2014

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it strongly condemns the actions of the Islamic State (IS), after the group released a video of one of its militants beheading an American journalist.

"The violent campaigns against minority groups in northern Iraq, the systematic and widespread abuses of human rights, and the horrific murder of American journalist James Foley, attest to the serious and immediate nature of the ISIS threat," an MFA spokesman said in a statement to the media on Thursday (Aug 21).

MFA said it conveys deepest condolences to the families of Mr Foley and other victims, and it is calling for the immediate release of all hostages by IS.

"There is an urgent need for the international community to work together to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups such as ISIS," said the MFA spokesman.

He added that Singapore firmly supports United Nations Security Council Resolution which "condemns in the strongest terms, the terrorist acts and violent extremist ideology of ISIS" and urges all UN member states to take appropriate measures to combat terrorism.

Earlier on Thursday, Singapore's Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim also called on countries to "rally together to stop the group's barbaric acts".

$500m scheme to help SMEs adopt information tech

Govt to get up to 10,000 firms to use IT to enhance their productivity
By Rachael Boon, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2014

LOCAL firms are being urged to start applying for a new $500 million scheme which makes it easier to adopt game-changing information technology.

Applications for the Infocomm Technology for Productivity and Growth (IPG) programme opened yesterday.

It is aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for more than nine in 10 of all firms here, employing more than 60 per cent of the workforce.

Launching the IPG, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, said technology was vital to improving the performance of SMEs.

He cited a traditional coffee shop in Tampines which has already boosted both its business and customer satisfaction by introducing wireless food ordering.

"The coffee shop takes orders with the easy-to-use 'point and click' mobile devices and the orders instantly are sent to the kitchen electronically," he said. "Customers' waiting time is reduced, and there are higher table turns, which meant happier customers and a happier shop operator."

The goal is to help up to 10,000 SMEs adopt such game- changing IT over the next three years, from 500 now, he said.

Interested businesses can apply through the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).

Patient discharge lounges in some hospitals help ease bed crunch problem

By Ng Lian Cheong, Channel NewsAsia, 20 Aug 2014

Some acute care hospitals in Singapore have patient discharge lounges, which free up hospital beds by moving patients for discharge to a separate location. The Health Ministry said on Wednesday (Aug 20) that this will ensure hospitals have enough beds to meet the needs of the ageing population in Singapore.

Patients preparing to be discharged can use the lounge to wait for their medication, documents and family members. The National University Hospital (NUH), Changi General Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital already have such facilities in place. 

NUH sees about 150 admission and discharge cases each day. On average, its patients wait for about 1.5 hours to be discharged. "Under some circumstances when the family members are unable to pick up the patient on time, the waiting time will be even longer - maybe up to two to three hours," said Ms Karen Wong, a nurse clinician at NUH. "We will bring the patients to the discharge lounge and at the same time, we can clean up the beds to receive another new admission or patient."

Foreign Worker Dorms: Move beyond dollars and cents for our guest workers

New dorms for foreign workers are coming up, but employers shun them, preferring to put workers in cheap, makeshift shelters. That is unconscionable and it is time Singaporeans showed more heart to foreign workers.
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2014

NEXT week, the largest dormitory specially built for foreign workers here will open its doors in Tuas South Avenue 1.

Expected to house up to 16,800 workers, the dorm will have foodcourts, a goldsmith shop and a beer garden. There will also be a cricket field, a football field, a basketball court and a cinema.

It will be the first of nine dorms to be built in the next two years, adding close to 100,000 additional beds for foreign workers here. This is on top of the current existing 200,000 beds.

The move to provide decent, low-cost housing is a response to criticisms of the Government's foreign worker policy here, which has left foreign workers languishing in makeshift quarters.

Problems over foreign worker housing have been the public face of many of the issues over foreign workers here.

The Chinese bus drivers at SMRT who went on strike in November 2012 cited unhappiness over living conditions, including bedbugs in their beds.

And when the riots in Little India broke out, there was a lot of attention paid to the welfare of foreign workers, particularly, how and where they were housed.

Ms Debbie Fordyce, executive committee member of workers' rights group Transient Workers Count Too, said non-governmental organisations have long called for more facilities for foreign workers, and she is glad that more dorms will be opening soon.

However, she is sceptical that bosses used to putting up workers in cheap and poor housing will be drawn to the new purpose-built dorms.

6 in 10 polled say current film and arts regulations are balanced

'Most approve of film and arts regulation'
Age, parenthood main factors behind differences in views: REACH survey
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2014

BY AND large, people find the current regulation of film and arts content appropriate, and among those who find it either too relaxed or restrictive, it has to do with their age and whether they are parents.

A poll of 1,500 Singapore residents aged above 15 by government feedback unit REACH showed that six in 10 approved of current regulations, with just 6 per cent finding them either too restrictive or relaxed.

Age and parenthood were the main factors accounting for differences in views, said REACH yesterday. Younger people were more likely to find the current regulations restrictive, while older people, specified as those above 40, find them more relaxed.

Those with children were less likely to feel the regulations were restrictive than those without.

People more likely to feel that current regulations were somewhat restrictive tended to be frequent patrons of film and arts performances, those with no children and those who view content regulation as an important issue.

The agency collected the data in the first quarter of this year through telephone interviews.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Religious rehab group is Berita Harian Achiever of the Year

Group honoured for role in countering religious extremism
RRG plays crucial part in battle for hearts and minds, says PM Lee
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2014

WITH conflicts in Syria and Iraq feeding a terrorist narrative that is drawing fighters from around the world, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) plays a key role in offering a robust ideological counter to the jihadists, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after he presented the group with the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award.

The RRG is the first organisation to win the award, which the Malay daily has given out for the last 15 years.

The group of Islamic scholars and teachers first came together in 2003, in the wake of the Jemaah Islamiah arrests, to counsel those influenced by radical misinterpretations of Islam.

Speaking in Malay and English, Mr Lee said at last night's gala dinner: "RRG's work has been invaluable not only in fighting extremist ideology, but also in maintaining religious and racial harmony in our society, strengthening trust between government and the community and keeping Singapore safe."

And the group's work remains important today, with continued turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa causing some Muslims to become self-radicalised based on what they see and read online, Mr Lee said.

Thousands of foreign fighters have joined the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Malaysians and Indonesians have joined the cause, even carrying out suicide attacks. A few Singaporeans have also gone to fight in the Middle East, while others were planning to go when they were stopped by the authorities.

"The danger is that they learn the techniques of terrorism, they are infected with this radical ideology, and they forge an international brotherhood of fighters and produce a new generation of terrorists," Mr Lee said.

The RRG, he said, plays a crucial role in "the battle for hearts and minds", providing proper religious guidance, and preventing vulnerable Singaporeans from being led astray and drawn into the conflicts.

When under attack, moderates must fight back

Moderation is a political choice. The individual and the state have to defend it in a non-violent way against encroaching radicalism
By Farish A. Noor, Published The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2014

LIVING as we do at a time when violent sectarian currents seem to be growing stronger among most religious communities across the world, there is a need to revisit the idea of moderation, and to locate it in the context of real-life political struggles.

Years ago I penned a short monograph entitled New Voices Of Islam while working at an institute in Leiden, the Netherlands. The work comprised half a dozen interviews with moderate and progressive thinkers from across the Muslim world, most of them academics and activists, who were promoting religion as a progressive force of change and social evolution.

Though they and I were never really comfortable with the label "moderate", they had, by then, come to be known as such. But anyone who thinks that being a "moderate" believer means living an easy, relaxed, cushy life should think again: Of the six intellectuals I interviewed, all of them had been the victims of death threats, abuse and attacks.

One had his house pipe-bombed, another narrowly escaped the gallows, yet another had been under arrest. Throughout their lives they lived in a state of perpetual pressure and harassment, and even after my book was published many of them remained the victims of routine violence. So much for the "comfort" that moderation affords you.

What was true then remains true today. Indeed, it seems to be the dangerous trend emerging in all the major faith communities across the globe.

Malaysia militants aimed to create Islamic state across S-E Asia, including Singapore: Police

The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2014

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysian police have foiled plans for a wave of bombings drawn up by radical Islamic militants inspired by Iraq's extremist jihad group the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a top counter-terrorism official said on Tuesday.

The 19 suspected militants arrested from April-June were formulating plans to bomb pubs, discos and a Malaysian brewery of Danish beer producer Carlsberg, said Mr Ayob Khan Mydin, deputy chief of the Malaysian police counter-terrorism division.

Mr Ayob Khan told AFP the group, all Malaysians, had visions of establishing a hardline South-east Asian Islamic caliphate spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, and planned to travel to Syria to learn from ISIS.

The plotters included professionals and two housewives.

They were only in the early stages of discussing their plans and did not have heavy weapons or bomb-making knowledge, he said.

Seven have already been charged with offences ranging from promoting terrorism to possession of home-made rifles.

They planned "a campaign of violence and armed struggle and to die as martyrs", Mr Ayob Khan said, adding the police believe there could still be co-plotters at large in Malaysia.

Skills learnt in NS may get work certification

Plans mooted to speed up transition to working life after national service
By Lester Hio

THERE are plans to certify skills learnt during national service in the armed forces so that they will be better recognised in the work place.

A Workforce Development Agency (WDA) spokesman revealed this yesterday, after a deal for civil defence servicemen was confirmed.

Under the scheme announced yesterday, certain courses taught by Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to its national servicemen, both full-time and operationally-ready, will earn them Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certification.

The WSQ is a national crediting system that trains, develops and assesses the skills of employees.

It is based on national standards developed by WDA in collaboration with various industries.

The type of courses that fall under the scheme include SCDF's section commander course, the fire fighter course, and the emergency medical technician course.

122 students pick up awards for achievements in academic and non-academic areas

Top of the class despite personal setbacks
By Tjoa Shze Hui, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2014

WHEN Muhammad Asyraf Chumino was 11, he left primary school to care for his mother, who had depression.
It was only two years later, when she got better, that he was able to continue his education.

With no PSLE certificate, he joined Mendaki's Max Out Programme, which helps upgrade the skills of out-of-school youths.

He then entered Northlight School, where he topped his cohort and moved on to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East, where he scored a 3.9 grade point average.

The 20-year-old is now at Singapore Polytechnic pursuing a diploma in hotel and leisure facilities management.

Yesterday, Mr Asyraf was one of 25 students awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Scholarship to Encourage Upgrading (LKY-Step) award, presented to ITE and polytechnic graduates who excel in their school work and co-curricular activities.

Said Mr Asyraf: "I worked as hard as I did for my mum - so as not to be a burden to her.

"Many people have come alongside me in this journey and I want to show them that I won't let them down."

Yesterday's award ceremony was held at the Regional Language Centre auditorium.

Some of the students picked up more than one award.