Wednesday, 2 September 2015

GE2015: Future of Singapore at stake in this general election, PM Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore is at a turning point, question is which way we go: PM Lee
General election will answer this question, he says, adding that he does not think his party will have 'an easy election'
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

There may be a celebratory SG50 mood sweetening the ground, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear yesterday (Tuesday) that the ruling party does not think it is headed into "an easy election" on Sept 11.

Factors like the electorate's aspirations and "outlook in a new world" will make this election a hard-fought one, he said, emphasising that it is not guaranteed that the People's Action Party will be returned to power.

It is the first time since independence that all parliamentary seats in Singapore are being contested.

"I think there's a lot at stake because this is an SG50 election," said PM Lee, speaking at a customary post-Nomination press conference yesterday. "The country is at a turning point. Question is, in what direction do we now go?"

Regional neighbours, foreign powers and international investors are also watching the polls, he said, for signs on whether Singapore will remain politically stable and open.

PM Lee and senior members of his team rubbished the suggestion that opposition breakthroughs in the 2011 General Election had resulted in the PAP "working harder".

PM Lee repeated Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's argument that "the world did not begin in 2011" and widened it, noting that the Government has, actually, gradually built up stronger social safety nets since the days of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Secondly, he said the thinking that opposition votes put pressure on the ruling party to please the people reduces the relationship between Government and people into a "game".

This undermines and repudiates the system that has allowed Singapore to become one of a kind - a "unicorn" among nations, he said.

"It's not a game where 'I threaten you a little bit, and then you do a bit more,' " PM Lee said.

"(Or) on the other hand, the Government threatens back a little bit, and then the voters shrink back. "If you play that kind of game, you will very soon be in the same kind of jam as other countries which do this."

Singapore has not followed that formula of contention and antagonism in its politics and that is how it has carved out its place in the world, said PM Lee.

GE2015: Ng Eng Hen unfazed by jeers from Workers' Party supporters

Minister says his team will improve the lives of all Singaporeans, including WP backers who heckled them
By Melody Zaccheus and Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

When faced with jeers from supporters of the Workers' Party (WP) while delivering his speech yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stood firm and took them on.

"Even if you jeer us, we will improve your lives ... because we believe in Singapore!": Ng Eng Hen and his Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC team for #GE2015 address People's Action Party supporters at the Nomination Centre.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Monday, August 31, 2015

"We have educated Singaporeans who behave in a way that is right, not like these supporters who are just jeering. All they can do is jeer!" said Dr Ng, who is contesting with four other People's Action Party (PAP) members in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

"Even if you jeer against us, we will improve your lives! And the more you jeer, the more we will improve even more because we believe in Singapore," he said at the Raffles Institution nomination centre.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is leading a six-man team against the Reform Party's six candidates in Ang Mo Kio GRC, was not spared the jeering from the opposition supporters.

The crowd at the nomination centre in Bishan was split into two large groups, with the WP and PAP on either side of the field and mostly keeping to themselves until the candidates came up to speak.

It was then that some party supporters would jeer at candidates they opposed.

SPP’s Chong-Aruldoss plans to make managing town council her priority

Looking after residents living conditions come ahead of being their voice in Parliament
By Lee Yen Nee, TODAY, 31 Aug 2015

If she is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Mounbatten, Mrs Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss aims to ensure that an “orderly” handover of the town council will be done within the first 30 days, and a procurement committee with at least one chartered public accountant will be set up within 60 days.

These are among her plans for the single-seat ward, which are listed in the manifesto launched by the 52-year-old lawyer today (Aug 31).

Mrs Chong-Aruldoss, a Singapore People’s Party (SPP) candidate, told reporters that while an MP has the dual roles of managing the town council and representing the people’s voice in Parliament, she plans to make the former role her priority.

“If elected, I will take seriously ... the role of chairman as town council because our living environment is something that residents face on a daily basis. We have to put that as priority to get the house in order,” she said at the launch of her manifesto in an open-air amphitheatre at Kampong Arang.

On the issues that she will champion in Parliament, Mrs Chong-Aruldoss said accountability and transparency will take centre stage.

GE2015: TV forums in English and Mandarin

PAP, Opposition in spirited debate on cost of living, foreign manpower issues
By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 2 Sep 2015

Members of the Opposition and the People’s Action Party (PAP) clashed live on television yesterday in an energetic debate over issues such as the high cost of living and the influx of foreign manpower.

In back-to-back televised forums - one in Mandarin, one in English - on MediaCorp channels yesterday, election candidates from the Workers’ Party (WP), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Reform Party (RP), National Solidarity Party (NSP) and Singaporeans First (SingFirst) hit out at what they called the PAP’s failure to address these issues, while accusing the party of riding on past successes.

The PAP - represented by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong and Ms Denise Phua in the English forum — responded by laying out the measures it has taken to address the issues, while arguing that some of the moves advocated by the various parties would do more harm than good.

GE2015 Nomination Day

No walkovers, 2.46m to vote on Sept 11
PAP, WP to hold rallies today as campaigning kicks off, with several 'hot contests' expected
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2015

All Singaporeans eligible to vote will be able to cast their ballot in a general election for the first time in the nation's history next Friday.

Nomination Day yesterday saw 181 candidates file their papers successfully to contest all 89 seats in 16 group representation constituencies (GRCs) and 13 single-member constituencies (SMCs).

With no walkovers, it means all 2.46 million eligible voters will soon receive polling cards to let them vote on Sept 11.

Campaigning begins in earnest today, with the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) the first to hold rallies - the PAP in Tanjong Pagar GRC with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking, and the WP in Hougang.

Candidates from both parties and seven other opposition parties will also be fanning out across their constituencies to start wooing voters.

The PAP is the only party with candidates for all seats. Hot contests are anticipated in at least five GRCs - Aljunied, East Coast, Marine Parade, Holland-Bukit Timah and Tanjong Pagar.

At least five SMC contests will be closely watched - Fengshan, Punggol East, Sengkang West, Mountbatten and Potong Pasir. Three SMCs will see three-cornered fights.

The largest opposition party, the WP, is fielding 28 candidates in five GRCs and five SMCs.

The polls come soon after Singapore celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday described it as "an SG50 election" with much at stake.

Speaking at an evening press conference at the PAP headquarters in Bedok, he said voters will be choosing not only the Government for the next five years, but also the leaders to set the direction for the country in the next 50 years.

"There is a lot at stake and we have to take very seriously people's concerns, people's aspirations, their outlook in a new world, and also the way the election is going to be fought. We take this as very likely to be a hard-fought election," he said.

Integrity critical in political parties: Ng Eng Hen

Safeguarding public monies is something all parties must do, not only the PAP, he says
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 31 Aug 2015

The People's Action Party expects its candidates to have high standards of integrity, and to go out of their way to send a signal that even the slightest whiff of wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

"When it comes to issues of integrity, if there are questions raised that certain things were missed, even if it's within the law, if we find that our processes are not up to scratch, we do not hide behind the law," said party organising secretary Ng Eng Hen yesterday.

"We will tell our candidates, we expect you to have higher standards," he said, adding that this should be the case for all political leaders regardless of their party affiliation.

Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, was replying to a question on the Workers' Party-run town council, which has come under fire from the Ministry of National Development (MND) for overpaying its former managing agent, FM Solutions and Services (FMSS).

MND had written to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman Sylvia Lim on Saturday and issued a statement to say a regulatory review of FMSS' auditor found it had been grossly profiteering off its sole client, AHPETC.

In reply, Ms Lim, who is WP chairman, said payments made to FMSS were in accordance with contracts, and cannot be overpayment.

Dr Ng said yesterday that when things go wrong, it is not enough to simply comply with the letter of the law. Instead, it is crucial to tackle the issue thoroughly in order to send the signal that high standards of integrity must be upheld.

"When things go wrong... the way you address it is crucial not only for Singaporeans but for the own people you lead, your own organisation, the signals you send," he said.

"Are they just going to comply with the letter of the law or are they going to go the extra mile to not only be doing the right thing, but be seen to be doing the right thing?"

He stressed that his call to keep to higher standards was not specific to AHPETC, but applied more broadly. "Whenever we are in charge of public monies or have public trust, let's go the extra mile in reassuring Singaporeans that we're going to keep to the high standards of honesty, integrity, accountability that our founding fathers put in place."

Dr Ng, a cancer surgeon, also said that once people are lax, things start to slide, and likened corruption to cancer, which must not take root.

"If you let corruption or cancer grow, by the time you try to take the cancer out it's already metastasised ... So you nip it in the bud, you catch it very early, you root it out systematically with full force," he said.

The PAP and all its 89 candidates, who have been unveiled over the past fortnight, see honesty and integrity as the core foundation Singapore was built on, he added.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Workers' Party town council managing agent FMSS has been "grossly profiteering" off AHPETC: MND

AHPETC faced losses while agent's profits jumped 300%: MND
Such levels of profit margin are abnormal, says MND, which also says there was "gross profiteering" on the part of FMSS from its only client
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

The Ministry of National Development (MND) yesterday produced figures which show that in one year, the managing agent for the Workers' Party (WP) town council made a 300 per cent jump in profit after tax.

Its profit was around $510,000 in financial year 2012/13, and rose to over $2 million the following year.

But in this same period, the revenue of FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) rose by only 30 per cent, from $6.7 million to $8.8 million.

The ministry also noted that total payments by the town council to FMSS owners, who were at the time also senior officers of the town council, amounted to 22 per cent of the revenue in financial year 2012/2013 - and 36 per cent a year later.

Such levels of profit margin are "abnormal", said MND, which also said there was "gross profiteering" on the part of FMSS from its only client: the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

"Had the town council not overpaid FMSS, it might well have had been able to break even."

FMSS, which was appointed by AHPETC from July 2011 until last month, is owned by long-time WP supporters Danny Loh and his wife How Weng Fan. Both were senior officers at the town council.

Two hours after MND issued its statement, Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters at a community event that AHPETC has stayed silent on related party transactions involving FMSS.

To prove his point, he pointed to statements by WP MPs that show their stance on the matter, including remarks by Mr Pritam Singh during a parliamentary debate in February on the findings of a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office. It detailed major lapses in accounting and governance at AHPETC.

Several other People's Action Party (PAP) leaders have also weighed in on the issue of AHPETC's financial mismanagement, which is shaping up to be a hot-button issue at the Sept 11 General Election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is PAP secretary-general, said at the launch of the party's manifesto yesterday morning that if an opposition party runs a town council like AHPETC, "I don't know where your service and conservancy charges (S&CC) money is going to go. Surpluses will turn into deficits. You will have problems for many years to come".

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, PAP's second assistant secretary-general, also underlined the gravity of the town council lapses last Friday, when he unveiled the PAP's slate for Aljunied GRC.

MND's statement came two days after the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) submitted its findings of an ad hoc review into FMSS' auditor, Teo Liang Chye & Co, to look into the quality of the managing agent's accounts and audit process.

The ministry had written to ACRA on July 9, shortly after getting AHPETC's financial statements and reports for FY2013/2014. It asked ACRA if it had any concerns about the quality of FMSS' accounts and the audit process. It did so after noting that AHPETC's auditors for FY2013/2014 found that AHPETC's then deputy general manager Yeo Soon Fei, who owns shares in FMSS, had certified FMSS invoices totalling $2.1 million on behalf of the town council. He subsequently approved related payment vouchers by the town council to FMSS, with no segregation of duties.

"This reinforced MND's concerns about the town council's state of financial management and, in particular, whether payments made by the town council were valid and proper," the ministry said.

ACRA started its review on Aug 14, after giving FMSS' auditor the required one month's notice, and submitted its report to MND on Aug 27.

MND then wrote to WP chairman Sylvia Lim to ask, among other things, if she was aware of the extent of profiteering in FMSS and, if so, when she had known and what she had done about it. It also asked how she intends to recover the monies lost due to overpayment.

"As FMSS was paid using S&CC collections from residents and operating grants from the MND, public monies are at stake," MND said.

"What happened between the town council and FMSS is not a private matter, but one which MND needs to look into."

The former managing agent of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has sent a letter of demand, saying the...
Posted by The New Paper on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Monday, 31 August 2015

GE2015: PAP launches manifesto, With You, For You, For Singapore

Vote for party you want to form govt: PM
Election not about 'sending a message' to ruling party, he says, but picking leaders
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked voters to back the People's Action Party (PAP) if they wanted it to form the government and not "live dangerously" by giving their vote to the opposition even while hoping that the PAP would be returned to power.

Launching the ruling party's campaign manifesto and slogan yesterday, he refuted the opposition line urging voters to cast dissenting votes to send a message to the Government to work harder.

Cautioning that the Sept 11 polls were not a by-election but a general election, in which every seat would be contested and the party forming the government was not guaranteed, he said in Mandarin: "If you support the PAP, vote PAP. If you support opposition, vote opposition.

"But if you think that by voting for the opposition, you can get the PAP to work harder - when you regret it, it might be too late."

Speaking in English later, he said: "Be very careful not to live dangerously (by) wanting one party but voting for a different one. Please take this GE very, very seriously."

Mr Lee also quoted Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say's response when asked last week about the thinking that a vote for the opposition would "send a message" to the PAP.

Mr Lim's East Coast GRC team saw a 9 percentage point drop in vote share in 2011 and garnered just 54.8 per cent of the vote to beat a Workers' Party team.

He said last week: "We do not need another drop of 5 percentage points for us to continue to improve. In fact, if there's another drop of 9 percentage points, we won't be their MP any more."

Mr Lee yesterday emphasised the possibility that "I won't be here to receive the message", if enough voters used their ballots that way.

He said opposition parties used such psychological tactics knowing that they would not win votes if they said they wanted to form the government, given their lack of credibility.

Mr Lee spoke plainly when he referred to lapses in governance and compliance found at the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and reminded voters that the opposition candidates they voted in would be responsible for running their town council.

"And when they run it like AHPETC, then I don't know where your S&CC money is going to go," he said, referring to the service and conservancy charges which residents pay to the town council. "Surpluses will turn into deficits. You will have problems for many years to come.

"The opposition asked to be given a chance to prove themselves. But the one place where they are given the responsibility and the chance to prove themselves, they have failed the voters.

"And do you really want to give them more responsibility, and trust them with more of your hard-earned money?

"If you vote for the opposition and they win many constituencies combined, enough to run the government, then I think Singapore is sunk."

GE2015: PAP not taking vote of Pioneer Generation for granted

Slew of goodies for the over-65s comes amid shifting political landscape, Insight finds
By Aaron Low, Deputy News Editor and Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

It was more than 50 years ago, but Mr Sayuti Dahlan - then in his 30s - still clearly remembers standing in the jostling crowd, his whole body drenched in sweat.

He was listening to a young man with fierce eyes telling them why the people of Singapore should stand up to the mighty British.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew would stand on an open-top lorry, shout to all of us and say in Malay: The British think we are stupid. But we will have freedom and I will show you how," says Mr Sayuti, 82.

Cycling from Pasir Panjang to Tanjong Pagar, Mr Sayuti would make it a point to listen to the late former prime minister, whenever he gave speeches.

"The speeches were always powerful; we believed him and we followed. After Singapore was formed, I voted for him. No problem," says the Tanglin Halt resident.

Mr Sayuti belongs to a group of voters who went through the uncertain pre-independence period, weathered the economic shocks of 1984 and 1997, and retired in a global city completely transformed.

These voters aged 65 and up have traditionally given their support to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and are seen as its bastion. But they are also a bloc of voters that the PAP is not taking for granted, judging from the raft of policies that have been targeted at them.

The most substantial of the lot was the $8 billion Pioneer Generation package rolled out last year. The huge package, paid for upfront by surpluses generated by the Government, greatly subsidises healthcare for seniors and will benefit 450,000 people.

All Singaporeans above the age of 65 as at last year are eligible for the subsidies, regardless of income.

Last week, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong introduced a $3 billion package to help seniors age well.

The new Action Plan for Successful Ageing will open senior centres for social activities as well as daycare in at least 10 upcoming HDB projects, among others.

The Government also implemented a state-funded income supplement for low-income seniors.

Current and future low-income senior citizens will receive these payouts under the Silver Support Scheme, a permanent initiative which aims to help the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above. They will receive between $300 and $750 every three months in payouts.

Mood swings can lead to vote swings

Research says a negative mood has a stronger impact on elections than positive sentiment
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-large, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

Here is a numbers quiz: 70, 74, 78, 65, 63, 61, 65, 75, 67, 60. (Hint: It is not about maths.)

If you have been following the political news closely, it is not hard to guess that the figures represent the People's Action Party's (PAP's) percentage share of the valid votes in past elections.

With campaigning for the Sept 11 General Election set to intensify in the coming week, this numbers game will be making the rounds. How many seats will the PAP and opposition parties get, how much share of the popular vote, and what sort of swing will we see, if any?

While the general election is serious business about issues concerning Singapore's leadership, the future of multiparty politics, and even about the next 50 years, the reality is that when the ballots are finally counted, all eyes will be on these numbers.

And indeed when you look closely at the 10 numbers listed, they tell quite a story.

Here is one observation: There were four large swings in those 10 general elections.

In 1984, the ruling party suffered a 13-percentage-point swing against it, down from 78 per cent to 65 per cent.

That was the year it failed to regain Anson, which the Workers' Party (WP) represented by Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam had won in a by-election in 1981, and it lost Potong Pasir to the resolute Mr Chiam See Tong.

Its share of the votes then continued to fall in the next two general elections.

But it bounced sky high to 75 per cent in 2001, a huge swing of 10 percentage points.

This was followed by two other large swings, but this time downwards, of 8 and 7 percentage points in 2006 and 2011.

Here are the numbers again with those swings in brackets: 70, 74, 78, 65 (-13), 63, 61, 65, 75 (+10), 67 (-8), 60 (-7).

What can we draw from this?

To what end, all the President's Scholars?

By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

When the A-level results of my cohort were announced in 1973, I was named the top science student. I did not expect it and was pleased and surprised. I remembered feeling that I had performed extremely inadequately after completing every paper.

My results also earned me a President's Scholarship. I don't know where the scroll is now, nor does it matter. I wonder as well now whether the scholarship had a positive effect on my life's journey subsequently. That may astonish some, given the acute prestige associated with being a President's Scholar. Yet, the same prestige exerts extra pressure on the recipient to perform. Winning the scholarship attracts jealousy as well, and I have experienced both.

I was among 11 students in the class of 1972 who received the scholarship. Since then, I am aware of the progress of six. Three - Teo Chee Hean, George Yeo and Lim Hng Kiang - were also Singapore Armed Forces scholars. As many Singaporeans know, the trio became household names after they entered politics and rose to become senior Cabinet ministers. A fourth boy, Chan Seng Onn, is currently a Supreme Court justice.

As for the female recipients I know, Lee Bee Wah and Yap Hui Kim, like me, joined the medical faculty of the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore). After obtaining our basic degree, all three of us specialised in paediatrics. 

Bee Wah and Hui Kim were inseparable best friends who had studied in Methodist Girls' School and National Junior College. By contrast, I was dubbed a "Martian" - a term medical students in the 1970s coined to describe students who went it alone. While I knew my classmates, I did not forge deep friendships until after medical school.

I don't know how others felt about me when I graduated top of my class with MBBS Honours. But I certainly knew that news of the only examination I have ever failed, a requisite part of the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) which led to a post-graduate diploma, spread swiftly here as soon as the results were announced in Edinburgh where I had sat the test. People were glad that I failed and subsequently decided I was likeable after all.

In my contacts with other President's Scholars over the years, I discovered that some did as well as they expected while others did not. One observation that dawned on me was that several of these scholars as well as their circle of family, friends and community expected comparable achievements to continue by default. If a scholar did not do well, or as well as perceived, a sense of betrayal over what was deemed an entitlement to success crept in.

'Expect more to be self-radicalised', warns DPM Teo

Anyone susceptible to ISIS rhetoric and more will be drawn to violence, warns DPM Teo
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

The persistent conflict in Syria and Iraq will draw more individuals to violence and more self-radicalised cases can be expected in Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean warned yesterday.

He was speaking at an appreciation lunch for volunteers from the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) and Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) who have provided religious and social rehabilitation to radicalised individuals detained for terrorism-related activities.

Terima kasih kepada para relawan Kumpulan Jagaan Lanjut Antara Agensi (ACG) dan Kumpulan Pemulihan Keagamaan (RRG). ...
Posted by Teo Chee Hean on Saturday, August 29, 2015

Such individuals or "lone wolves" pose a growing threat in many countries, including Singapore, he said.

In the last few months, the Internal Security Department has detained two people and issued a restriction order against another.

A 51-year-old Singaporean who was on his way to Syria to join militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was detained last month. In April, a 19-year-old student was detained for making plans to join ISIS in Syria, and in June, a 17-year-old was placed under a restriction order for the same reason.

Mr Teo said this shows that anyone is susceptible to the appeal of online extremist rhetoric by ISIS.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

GE2015: PAP unveils Aljunied GRC team

PAP team has a fighting chance, says Tharman
Candidates can stand up to WP with 'mindset of being underdogs'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

The People's Action Party's Aljunied GRC team has a fighting chance of winning the constituency back from the Workers' Party, second assistant secretary-general Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday as he unveiled its candidates.

The team comprises four-term veteran MP Yeo Guat Kwang who moves in from Ang Mo Kio GRC, insurance firm manager Victor Lye, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai, private banker Chua Eng Leong and former teacher Shamsul Kamar.

"I think this team has a fighting chance. They go in with the mindset of being underdogs because they've got incumbents at present. They go in with a mindset of being humble at everything they do," said Mr Tharman, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Former PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng also suggested why the PAP reckons the team can stand up to the WP's "A" team of incumbents that includes WP chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim.

Mr Lim recounted how residents in the GRC were hostile to PAP activists in 2011, after the WP won Aljunied at the polls with 54.7 per cent of the vote.

But things have not been going well in the GRC, he said at a press conference at the PAP's Serangoon branch, citing issues from town council finances to estate maintenance.

Residents have noticed and have become friendlier and more welcoming towards the PAP, he added.

"People told us that they were disappointed with the performance of their (WP) MPs in Parliament. They didn't make any major contributions to the creation of national policies in Government," said Mr Lim.

The PAP candidates zoomed in especially on the WP's management of town council finances as being an issue that is of concern to residents. Asked if such lapses have gained traction with residents, Mr Lye said that going by feedback from residents and non-residents that he met on walkabouts, they had.

"There is obviously a sense on the ground, not only in Aljunied but throughout Singapore, that something isn't quite right," he said.

Although it is difficult for most people to understand the nitty-gritty details of the town council accounts, those who are able to do so "came away with a very different sense that there is indeed something wrong", he added.

Mr Tharman also underlined the gravity of the town council lapses.

"I think you know me. You know my personality, you know my views. You know that I've never been against the idea of an opposition in Singapore. People know," he said.

"So when I speak about an issue, it is because I'm really worried. It is not because I'm trying to put an opposition down or the WP down.

"The town council issue is, for us, not a political game. I want to make sure we have responsible and honest politics in Singapore."

This applied to the PAP and the opposition alike, he added.

"When the Government does wrong, expose us, criticise us. We must get it right and we expect the same of everyone else," he said.

On a similar note, Mr Lye urged voters to apply the same standards when weighing candidates from the PAP against those from the WP.

Voters should look at the WP's performance since the 2011 polls and "go by their performance as you would go by our performance", he said.

"Be objective, recognise the sacrifices and the willingness of our candidates to serve you and do better for you. Don't be taken in by other people's ambitions. You have done it for 41/2 years. It's time to bring us home to Aljunied."

He added: "I only ask that you measure all of us by the same yardstick that you measure others. It's only fair."

Targeted GST Voucher criteria benefit Singaporeans

Mr Stewart Christopher Bernard ("Exclude home value from GST Voucher criteria"; Wednesday) asked whether overseas Singaporeans are eligible for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Voucher and also suggested removing the Annual Value (AV) component as a criterion to determine eligibility for the scheme.

The GST Voucher scheme is aimed at benefiting less well-off Singaporeans who incur GST on their living expenses in Singapore. To identify those permanently residing overseas, we have used the place of residence registered with the Government.

If we discover that an individual appears to be living overseas permanently but continues to have his registered place of residence in Singapore, we conduct further inquiries to reassess his eligibility for the GST Voucher.

The use of both income and the AV of one's residence as criteria for a person's eligibility for the GST Voucher is not perfect, and does not capture every individual's situation accurately.

But it provides us with a fair and practical basis to administer a large national scheme, reaching 1.6 million beneficiaries.

Among Singaporeans with the same income, those who live in private homes are generally better off than those who live in HDB homes. Likewise, those with no income (such as retirees and housewives) living in higher-end homes are generally better off than the same group living in lower-value homes.

The current AV threshold of $21,000 covers 80 per cent of homes in Singapore, including all HDB flats and some private properties. Nonetheless, we recognise that not all Singaporeans living in homes in the top 20 per cent of the AV range are well-off, and some may experience instances of financial hardship.

The best way to help them is not by changing the rules across the board.

We can instead use more flexible forms of support, such as ComCare, which allows for a more detailed assessment of a person's situation.

Low-income families may approach their nearest Social Service Office for an assessment of their needs.

We thank Mr Bernard for his feedback and will continue to review the criteria for the GST Voucher scheme regularly.

Lim Yuin Chien
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Finance
ST Forum, 29 Aug 2015

Jobs and skill mismatch

Are non-graduate jobs 'upgrading' to give the graduates who do them more autonomy?
By Craig Holmes, Charoula Tzanakou, Daria Luchinskaya and KenMayhew, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

In an ideal world, everyone investing in their skills through education and training would enter the labour market and find a job which took full advantage of those skills. Concerns that this has not been the case for successive cohorts of university graduates are longstanding, particularly in Britain following the rapid expansion of the higher education sector in the early 1990s. However, there is wide disagreement about the extent of the problem, or how much it has changed over the past decades.

It is commonplace to hear people refer, often interchangeably, to "over-education", "under- employment", "over-qualification", "over-skilling" and "under- utilisation". But ultimately these terms apply to two aspects of graduate work: Whether a person needs to possess a degree to get a job, and whether they need the skills learnt through studying for a degree to actually do the job.

Given the increase in the number of graduate applicants for jobs, it should not be surprising to find that more and more jobs require a degree to get through the recruitment process. As the Higher Education Funding Council for England has pointed out, 65 per cent of recent graduates report that having a degree was either a formal requirement or an advantage in securing jobs once out of university.

The more substantial issue is whether the job, once secured, requires skills learnt at university, or if the degree was simply a way for employers to screen candidates. All too frequently, the two points are conflated.

Singapore 'most at risk of facing high water stress'

It tops list of 167 nations likely to face shortage in 2040: World Resources Institute
The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

WASHINGTON • The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades against the backdrop of climate change and a rapidly growing population.

Thirty-three countries, including Singapore, have been singled out as those likely to face extremely high water stress in 2040 in a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think-tank in Washington.

Singapore was ranked first among the countries at the highest risk of high water stress in 2040, alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Territories, according to the report, which evaluated 167 nations.

The ranking was based on an index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2020 to 2040. Singapore was ranked as one of the highest risk countries in each decade.

"The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources," said Ms Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses innovative methods to manage water resources.

Singapore relies heavily on imports from neighbouring Malaysia, but has well-founded plans for enhancing future supply and self-sufficiency. Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas and the recently built US$226 million (S$317 million) Marina Barrage is among the highlights of the nation's water management plan.

In the WRI rankings, the Middle East was identified as the least water-secure region in the world, with limited surface water and high demand. It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces "exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future", the WRI report said.

One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away," Ms Otto said.

Singapore has a system in place for water recycling as part of its Newater programme.

Let's talk about living and dying well, today

People should talk to loved ones in advance about how they want to die. Such conversations are always too early - until one day when they might be too late.
By Raymond Ng, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

Death and dying engender complex emotions in people. To some, death is a remote event far removed from life's daily pursuits or a taboo subject to be avoided, yet, to others, there is peaceful acceptance of death as a final chapter of the natural cycle of life.

As a palliative care physician treating patients with advanced illness, I have witnessed an entire gamut of emotions and reactions to death and dying.

However, my first personal experience with death was not with my patients.

It was when my mother died when I was 18 years old. She had advanced ovarian cancer and battled the disease for five years through multiple operations and cycles of chemotherapy.

Those years were like a blur as we tried to have a normal family life, and I coped by burying myself in my studies. Though she grew cachectic and weak and was literally wasting away nearing the end, death was a taboo subject which never surfaced in our conversations. It just hit one day when I received a phone call during my basic military training at the army camp. It was only then that I knew she had died and was gone forever. My mother died without the family's presence and with a certain degree of pain in the final stage. My only goodbye was a tender kiss on her cheek as she lay lifeless on her bed.

Perhaps my parents wanted to shield us from the spectre of dying, or perhaps her doctor didnot adequately prepare us. Death and dying were issues that we did not talk about. It was not just about death and dying, there were many things I would have liked to say to or ask her, if only I knew.

After my mother's death, I entered medical school and found my way into palliative care some years after graduation. My experience with my mother was one of the reasons why I chose this speciality. Many have asked if it is a depressing practice. Personally, it has been a rewarding experience of professional and personal growth. I have been privileged to journey with many patients in their final act of life and to be let into their life stories and deepest thoughts.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Our Retirement Journey - Let’s Think About It

Let’s Think About It: Our Retirement Journey
27 Aug 2015

Should there by a retirement age or a range of retirement ages? Is a comfortable retirement possible?

What's the rule of thumb for retirement saving? Watch “Let’s Think About It” Gurmit Singh, Gerard Ee, Henry Tay and Stephanie Phua will share views and stories with Minister Chan Chun Sing on their retirement plans and journey.