Thursday, 5 March 2015

Football legend Fandi Ahmad star of video filmed to promote SEA Games

The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad is the star of the first of three videos filmed specially to promote the June 5-16 SEA Games in Singapore.

"Ordinary" tells the story of Fandi's rise from Kaki Bukit kampong boy to one of Asia's most talented footballers and among a handful to earn a European contract in the 1980s. His European stint is best remembered by his Uefa Cup goal for Dutch side FC Groningen against Italian giants Inter Milan.

In one of the scenes in the 12-minute film, which also features cameos from his sons Irfan and Ikhsan, a young Fandi is seen crying when he was not selected for the Milo football scheme.

But he never gave up and was picked to join the elite football programme on his second attempt, before going on to represent the National team at the age of 17.

Fandi, currently coach of the LionsXII, told Malay daily Berita Harian: "I hope this film will be an inspiration to the younger generation to work hard to realise their dreams."

"Ordinary" is directed by local filmmaker, Nicole Woodford. The film's theme song, which also goes by the same name, is written by composer and lyricist Amir Masoh and performed by The Sam Willows.

The song is inspired by the Games' key message that "it's never meant to be easy when you're trying to be more than ordinary", the song highlights much of an athlete's struggle in the pursuit of his dream. It is one of three official theme songs on the 14-track Songs Of The Games. The other two are "Greatest" and "Unbreakable".

The songs can be previewed free of charge on the official SEA Games songs website (, Spotify, AMPED, and Deezer.

Train disruptions: SMRT faces several constraints, says analyst

NUS' Professor Lee Der Horng says the demands on the public transport system means operators have less than 4 hours to carry out maintenance work. This is compounded by the complexity of the work and manpower constraints.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 4 Mar 2015

Two disruptions brought SMRT trains to a stop on Tuesday (Mar 3), bringing the number to five - in the space of just one week. While commuters and the Land Transport Authority have expressed dissatisfaction, one analyst has said SMRT faces several constraints.

The train operator’s woes started on Feb 23, when services were disrupted for over four hours on the North-South Line, due to damaged train equipment. On Feb 24, the Bukit Panjang LRT was also hit by a train fault. Meanwhile, on Feb 27, an intruder was spotted on the tracks of another section of the North-South Line, forcing SMRT to stop services along the stretch.

The two disruptions on Tuesday were on the Circle Line and East-West Line.

Professor Lee Der Horng from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, said SMRT faces several challenges. He said the demands on the public transport system means operators have less than four hours to carry out maintenance work.

This is compounded by the complexity of the work and manpower constraints. Land scarcity is also a factor.

Relook GST calculation for dutiable items: CASE

It wants tax computed on pre-duty price to avoid 'double taxation'
By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

THE consumers' watchdog has called for a review of the way the goods and services tax (GST) is calculated for items that also attract duty.

Currently, products like petrol, cigarettes and cars have duty added to them before the GST is calculated.

However, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) would like to see tax calculated on the pre-duty price.

The Ministry of Finance claims the current practice is common in countries other than Singapore.

But CASE believes it places an extra burden on customers.

"Imposing GST on the excise duty is tantamount to double taxation," CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon said. "We have checked with the GST department and it said that if the excise duty is priced into the product, GST is payable. This is not only for cars and petrol - it applies to cigarettes and liquor as well.

"It is time the authorities looked into this issue. GST is to be imposed on goods and services - and tax is not goods and services."

As an example of the current system, assuming a litre of non-premium petrol has a wholesale price of 55 cents a litre and the oil company has a gross profit margin of 80 cents on the litre, the GST of 7 per cent at this point would work out to be 9.45 cents.

But if the GST is calculated after the petrol duty of 56 cents is added, the tax comes up to 13.37 cents - more than 40 per cent higher.

In dollar terms, the difference for cars is huge.

Assuming a vehicle has an open market value of $30,000, it should attract $2,100 in GST. But after the 20 per cent excise duty is applied, the car costs $36,000, and its GST becomes $2,520 - $420 more.

Hong Kongers protest at mainland shoppers

HK-mainland ties take another hit
Protests in Hong Kong over parallel traders latest in spate of conflicts
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

WHEN website editor Lao Zhenyu's extended family held its Chinese New Year reunion dinner in Guangzhou this year, two usual faces were missing. His female cousins from Hong Kong declined to make the trip, saying they were not in the mood to celebrate with their mainland brethren.

"The cross-border relationship is becoming worse and worse," said a worried Mr Lao, 36.

Tensions between people on both sides of the border have been on the rise, following recent conflicts over parallel traders, tourists and the Occupy movement.

Over the past month, protesters have organised demonstrations in three border towns in Hong Kong's New Territories, heckling mainland visitors.

On Sunday, 38 demonstrators were arrested in clashes with the police.

The targets are parallel traders buying goods - cheaper and deemed safer than those in the mainland - to sell across the border, annoying local residents who have to contend with suitcase- toting crowds and local shops being driven out by high rents.

Radical activists have largely become the face of the protests, carrying pro-independence banners and abusing mainlanders in general. This has led to a backlash on the other side. A shrill chorus of voices has arisen on social media, tarring Hong Kongers as "ingrates", calling for mainlanders to "boycott Hong Kong" and the central government to "cut off their water and electricity supply".

ASEAN integration remains an illusion

The grouping's members have diverse political, economic and legal systems and are at different levels of economic development
By Barry Desker, Published The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

FOR the ASEAN member states, the benchmark of successful regionalism has been ASEAN's effectiveness in bringing the region closer.

ASEAN has provided a forum for closer consultations while promoting the habit of cooperation.

The lack of intra-state conflict in a region derided as a cockpit of war and the Balkans of the East during the 1950s and 1960s has been credited to ASEAN's success in moulding a greater regional consciousness among policymakers.

Still, in the first 40 years of its existence - from 1967 to 2007 - only 30 per cent of ASEAN agreements were implemented. I was therefore sceptical of the impact of the ASEAN Charter when it was adopted in November 2007.

At that time, I criticised the codifying of existing norms instead of breaking new ground.

I was disappointed that the ASEAN leaders reacted conservatively to the recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group report, which presented groundbreaking and innovative proposals for ASEAN integration, including a proposal that the ministers who handle security, economic and sociocultural issues report directly to the ASEAN Summit.

I argued against the stress on consensus decision-making, which resulted in a conservative, lowest common-denominator approach. This "ASEAN Way" has now become embedded in regional institutional structures and is an obstacle in community-building efforts.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Parliament Highlights - 3 Mar 2015


MPs back Budget, but warn about spending
Programmes to help middle class must be sustainable, they say
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Mar 2015

THE ''shift to the left'' in the Government's social policies dominated the first day of debate on this year's Budget, sparking some soul-searching yesterday among Members of Parliament over the consequences.

Most welcomed the largesse of new programmes such as the Silver Support Scheme to give the poorest elderly a basic pension.

The opposition Workers' Party (WP) said it supported the leftwards shift and suggested that it should have come sooner.

But several backbenchers worried that the Government is nearing a ''red line'' of social spending that could lead to the deficit ridden, debt-laden economic situation of developed countries in the West.

Almost half of the 25 MPs who spoke in Parliament yesterday expressed this concern to varying degrees, with Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong summing it up thus: ''I fear that if we lean too far to the left, we will have nothing left.''

Some spoke urgently about their discomfort with the direction of greater social spending not just on the lower-income, but also on the middle class.

''While I am happy for those (getting more support), I am ill at ease over the ability of future governments to sustain such programmes,'' said Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC), referring to schemes like generous childcare and domestic helper support.

Noting that spending is a ''one-way street'', Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) cautioned that the Government has few levers left to pull in plugging its deficit - contrary to popular belief that it has unlimited means.

Referring to the inclusion of Temasek Holdings' gains in the calculation of projected returns that it can use for spending, he said: ''After Temasek, there is no 'next'.''

As long as the mindset among Singaporeans is that the Government must have the solution to everything, the country's social contract will always be under pressure to be rewritten for the benefit of one or more groups, he said.

But MPs yesterday still largely welcomed the moulding of the social contract that this Budget, together with the few before it, had accomplished.

Rather than a ''Robin Hood'' move, this year's Budget is Singapore's ''New Deal'', said Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), referencing the massive expansion of social support in the United States after the Great Depression.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) argued that there is room to raise taxes on the rich further, beyond the 2 percentage point hike from 2017 announced in this year's Budget.

''To a very large extent, the way we raise national revenue and allocate expenses says something about our values as a nation,'' she said, adding that in its leftwards shift, ''perhaps the Government realises that it has been too calculating with the people, and is now making adjustments''.

Mass fish deaths: Lab test sheds further light on algal bloom

By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 4 Mar 2015

Laboratory tests of a seawater sample taken off Pasir Ris have zeroed in on the type of algae that wiped out massive quantities of farmed and wild fish in recent days.

The species of algae behind the mass fish deaths off Pasir Ris likely belongs to the Gymnodinium group. It is suspected to be Gymnodinium mikimotoi, according to the experts at DHI Water & Environment, but the exact species can only be confirmed through further genetic tests. Gymnodinium mikimotoi, also known as Karenia mikimotoi, is not toxic to humans, but has been associated with massive kills of wild and farmed fishes in Japan and Korea.

TODAY commissioned the laboratory test yesterday (March 3) using a water sample provided by a fish farmer operating off Pasir Ris. The sample was taken last Saturday when most affected fish farmers reported the sudden deaths of their stocks.

The test showed concentrations of the algae at 88,529 cells per millilitre – a “very, very high” concentration, according to Dr Hans Eikaas, head of environmental technology and chemistry at DHI, a not-for-profit group offering consultancy and water-modelling services.

Concentrations above 10,000 cells per millilitre are considered a full algal bloom by any international standard, he said. Seawater in normal conditions contain 200 to 300 cells per millilitre and comprise 100 or more different plankton species. Dr Eikaas said the algae bloom was the main cause of the fish deaths, with the algae likely clogging up the gills of the fish.

China's smog problem gets a popular airing

Ex-CCTV journalist's online documentary garners 100 million views
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief, In Beijing, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2015

AN ONLINE documentary by a former CCTV celebrity journalist on China's air pollution went viral over the weekend and has triggered inconvenient questions for the environmental protection authorities and state media.

Titled Under The Dome, the 104-minute documentary produced and funded by Ms Chai Jing has won praise from even a government minister and has also prompted local governments into disputing the statistics she cited.

There is also debate on whether the documentary's release ahead of the annual legislative session opening this Thursday - where pollution is set to be among the key talking points - could signal possible policy changes to fight China's smog problem, which boiled over in January 2013 with PM2.5 levels 40 times that recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Key causes are China's dependence on coal-powered plants for its energy needs, its heavily polluting industries such as steel mills, and rising carbon emissions as the vehicle population balloons. Lax implementation of environment protection laws is also a factor.

Others say her film, which was released online on Saturday afternoon, has also shown up state broadcaster CCTV, with state media and netizens pointing out that it took a former journalist to tackle the hot-button issue in an in-depth, no-holds-barred style.

Best A-level results since curriculum change

91.4 per cent of cohort score at least three H2 passes and pass in GP or KI
By Pearl Lee And Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 3 Mar 2015

THE class of 2014 has set a record. When the A-level examination results were released yesterday, 91.4 per cent of the 14,185 students who took the exam scored at least three H2 passes and a pass in General Paper (GP) or Knowledge and Inquiry (KI), a benchmark set by the Education Ministry.

This is the country's best showing since the curriculum was revised in 2006 to allow students to take a wider range of subjects. The results this year slid past last year's old record of 91.1 per cent.

Under the new curriculum, students take at least three H2 subjects and one H1 subject. They can choose to take subjects at the H3 level too. The level of difficulty increases from H1 to H3.

Of the first batch of 13,053 students to take the A-level exams in 2007 under the revised curriculum, 87.5 per cent got at least three H2 passes and a pass in GP or KI, and the performance has been improving almost every year since.

The Education Ministry declined to comment on the improved performance, saying only that the year-on-year fluctuations in results are due to differences across cohorts.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Lithuania has lessons for Singapore: Ng Eng Hen

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE can learn "many lessons" from Lithuania and must maintain its strong defence capabilities, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday in a Facebook post.

Dr Ng was referring to how the Baltic country's Defence Ministry distributed a 98-page manual recently to help its three million citizens prepare for the possibility of invasion, occupation and armed conflict amid the current tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

He said: "There are many lessons that Singaporeans can draw from Lithuania. We must keep up our strong defence if we are to avoid being in their precarious and hapless situation."

Lithuania's manual, titled "Things to know about readiness for emergency situations and warfare", gives advice on things such as setting up basement shelters and handling hostage dramas.

It also includes instructions on how to respond in a "hybrid war" situation, which Dr Ng said is an obvious reference to alleged Russian insurgents assisting rebels in Ukraine.

Helping patients get on with life after stroke

They learn about conditions, give peer support at regular meetings
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2015

AFTER two strokes paralysed the right side of his body and affected his speech, retired accountant Wong Siew Cheong grew despondent and did not go for therapy for three years.

But things improved last year after the 73-year-old joined a pilot project called Life (Learn, Interact, Flourish, Engage) After Stroke.

Eighteen stroke survivors gathered for weekly meetings at a senior care centre in Serangoon to learn about their conditions, provide peer support and take part in social activities such as cooking, art and music therapy.

Mr Wong's son, music producer Wong Ping Loong, who is in his 30s, said interacting with other stroke survivors in the three-hour sessions motivated his father to go back to physiotherapy, as well as speech and other treatments.

The elder Mr Wong has also improved his diet, cutting back on chocolates and sweet food.

"After an art therapy session, he started drawing and expressed his feelings through pictures - something we hadn't seen from him before," the younger Mr Wong told The Straits Times. "(The session) also allowed my mother to connect with other caregivers."

Life After Stroke was started by the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) together with National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Health last October to support and empower stroke survivors in the community.

The 12-week pilot was deemed successful by SNSA and NTUC Health as well as participants.

Life After Stroke will thus become a permanent feature at NTUC Health's Silver Circle Senior Care Centre in Serangoon Central from this Saturday.

Why no Pioneer Generation benefits at A&E

MR DANAM Raphael asked if the Pioneer Generation card could be used at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments at public hospitals ("Pioneer Generation card not accepted"; Feb 14).

The Pioneer Generation Package provides health-care benefits for all pioneers, for life.

Pioneers who require non-emergency treatment can enjoy special subsidies at Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) clinics, and an additional 50 per cent off the bill for subsidised services and medications at public hospital specialist outpatient clinics and polyclinics.

Pioneers will also receive yearly Medisave top-ups and special MediShield Life premium subsidies at the end of this year to help offset medical costs.

The Pioneer Generation benefits do not apply to A&E departments at the public hospitals, which serve patients with critical, life-threatening medical conditions or have suffered accidents which require emergency attention.

The charging practices at the A&E are kept simple, as the focus is to ensure that patients receive vital emergency treatment that they require. Patients who need to be admitted for further medical treatment or investigation are able to pay the A&E fee as part of their inpatient bill with Medisave and/or MediShield coverage.

Pioneers may also use their yearly Medisave top-ups to further offset the remaining bill.

Patients who face difficulties in paying for their A&E and inpatient fees can approach the medical social workers in the public hospitals for assistance.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health
ST Forum, 2 Mar 2015

Singapore is 'not delaying progress on Rapid Transit System link with Malaysia'

Rail link: S'pore refutes KL reports
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2015

THE Ministry of Transport has refuted Malaysian news reports claiming that Singapore is delaying progress on the Rapid Transit System (RTS) link between the two countries.

It added: "Singapore informed Malaysia in June 2011 that the RTS terminus in Singapore would be located at Woodlands North near Republic Polytechnic.

"However, to date, Singapore has not received official confirmation of the location of Malaysia's RTS terminus in Johor Baru.

"Only upon confirmation... can both countries proceed to finalise the alignment of the crossing between Johor Baru and Singapore."

Malaysian reports had quoted Datuk Hasni Mohammad, Johor state executive committee member for public works, rural and regional development, as saying that Singapore is holding back on deciding the alignment for the RTS link.

But the transport ministry's spokesman said that at a meeting last month, Singapore and Malaysia agreed the second phase of the joint engineering study on the link would begin after the terminus location in Johor Baru has been confirmed by Malaysia.

"We look forward to official confirmation from the Malaysian government on the location of the RTS terminus in Johor Baru," the statement added.

"Singapore remains committed to working closely with Malaysia on the RTS link, which will provide a boost to cross- border connectivity."

The RTS, which will connect Johor Baru to the upcoming Thomson-East Coast MRT line, is targeted to be completed by 2018 and operational by 2019.

E-learning portal launched to guide investors on unlisted Specific Investment Products

Channel NewsAsia, 2 Mar 2015

An online e-learning portal on unlisted Specific Investment Products (SIPs) has been launched by the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) and Securities Association of Singapore (SAS).

SIPs are investment products which contain derivatives or have features and risks that are relatively more complex, said the joint media release on Monday (Mar 2).

An industry initiative, the e-learning portal - - can be accessed for free by investors for them to better understand the features and risks of the unlisted SIPs. The two associations said that the portal complements the existing e-learning module developed by the Singapore Exchange for listed SIPs.

The portal offers five modules and advises investors on product suitability before they make an investment decision. There will be an assessment at the end of each module. However, investors will still be able to invest in unlisted SIPs with suitable advice without undergoing this assessment, said the joint release.

The five modules consist of:
- Foreign Exchange Margin Trading
- Contracts for Difference
- Structured Deposits and Dual Currency Investments
- Unit Trusts and Investment-linked Insurance Policies
- Structured Products

Monday, 2 March 2015

Succession planning 'part of Govt's DNA'

Next team that will lead Singapore taking shape, says ESM Goh
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015

Succession planning has long been a part of the Government's DNA, and the next team of leaders who will helm the country is taking shape, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

A key tenet of governance here has always been to ensure that good people will be in charge, he said after attending a Chinese New Year lunch with grassroots leaders from Geylang Serai constituency.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew has always emphasised political succession, and when I took over, likewise, I planned for succession," he said. "Prime Minister Lee is also working very hard to plan for succession."

His comments to reporters came as the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) said in its risk rating update last Thursday that health issues affecting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew have put political succession in the spotlight.

Mr Goh, who succeeded Mr Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister in 1990 and handed over to Mr Lee Hsien Loong in 2004, said the People's Action Party and the Government "always worked on the assumption that you must have people ready to take over".

"In financial institution terms, we call it 'key-man risk'. In other words, if you are running a bank, there can be many risks... One of the important risks will be the key-man risk: Something happens to the key man, what will happen to the company, to the bank? The way we run the Government, we are very conscious that life is fragile. Anything can happen...

"And when that happens, does the country carry on, with good people in charge?"

Succession planning ensures that "when health intervenes, the people who are there, well, they can take over. And then, maybe after one, two years they will find their own feet, and the whole place will still be governed well. So that's a key tenet of the governance that we have in Singapore, taking into account the health".

PM Lee's announcement before Chinese New Year that he needed surgery for prostate cancer was an illustration of life's uncertainties, said Mr Goh, who had surgery for the same illness last November.

Then, less than a week later, came news that the elder Mr Lee, 91, had been warded since Feb 5 for severe pneumonia.

PERC said both cases were a "vivid reminder that Singapore's leadership will also have to undergo important changes".

"It is hard for many Singaporeans even to imagine an island without a member of the Lee family at either the helm or being groomed for it, but that is another reality Singapore will have to face," it added.

"In our risk model, we have not changed any of the grades due to questions surrounding the role of the Lee family in Singapore politics. Our own view is that Singapore already has the systems and institutions in place to deal with this change without much difficulty. It will not fundamentally change risks."

But PERC raised the weightage for systemic risk "since many people, especially Singaporeans, will still be worrying more about what the future holds... for the Republic without the Lees integrally involved in the running of the country".

"There is a difference between worrying about something and its actual impact, but the 'worrying' on its own will hang like a shadow over Singapore at least until the next elections are held."

What's needed for home care to work

As the country gears itself up to care for more people in the comfort of their own homes, Janice Tai and Priscilla Goy take stock of home-care efforts and look at whether they can be ramped up successfully
The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015

Jenny (not her real name) was months old when her father walked out on the family. Her mother, who was in and out of prison for drug offences, was mostly absent too.

She had her first taste of family life only when a foster family took her in. She was cared for by three such families in her first nine years. Otherwise, she would have been placed in a children's home.

Jenny, now 19, said: "You get to realise the joy of being loved by a family. Though it felt strange at first, it felt right to call them 'mum' and 'dad' as we became closer."

Receiving care at home is more beneficial than being in institutions because people feel more comfortable in a familiar setting.

Home care also frees resources in institutions for people in greater need - Singapore's limited land and burgeoning population mean that it cannot keep building new ones.

So it is following a global trend in shifting the care of more vulnerable people - abused or abandoned children, the frail elderly or the disabled - from institutions to homes.

Two-thirds of these children grow up in children's homes and a third live with foster families - a ratio the Ministry of Social and Family Development hopes to reverse in the next five years. To do so, it wants to double the number of foster parents to 500 and will start an $8 million, three-year pilot to set up agencies that better support them.

It also started a pilot initiative last year to provide the disabled with services such as therapy and personal hygiene in their homes.

While baby steps are being taken towards home care for children and the disabled, significant strides are being made in this area for seniors.

From the early 2000s, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been investing heavily in expanding home-care services by public hospitals and voluntary groups.

Since then, all public hospitals have started home-care programmes for some of their patients.

In five years' time, MOH expects home-care providers, mostly voluntary groups and private players, to be able to serve some 10,000 seniors with home-based health-care and 7,500 of them with home-based personal care each year, up from 6,500 and 1,250 now, respectively.

Help for special needs kids in mainstream schools

Trained educators provide support for children with special needs in mainstream schools
By Lea Wee, The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015

When Montfort Secondary School normal academic student Eidren Loy emerged second in the school's academic ranking last year, he did not show any feeling.

But his allied educator June Yeo was "very proud of him".

Madam Yeo, 52, who provides learning and behavioural support to children with special needs at Montfort Secondary, says: "It's hard enough for a child with autism to cope in a mainstream school, but to be able to do better than so many of his peers academically, that's something worth celebrating."

Eidren, now 15, is one of 13,000 students with mild special educational needs in mainstream schools, or about 2.7 per cent of the total student population. Those with more moderate and severe symptoms are supported by special education schools.

In mainstream schools, students with dyslexia form the largest group of students with mild special educational needs. As they have a very good chance of overcoming their literacy difficulties with early intervention, the ministry, in 2012, piloted the School-based Dyslexia Remediation programme for Primary 3 and 4 pupils in 20 primary schools.

Under the programme, now expanded to 42 more primary schools with more in the pipeline, students attend a 45-minute literacy session four days a week after school. They are taught by allied educators specialising in learning and behavioural support.

There are about 400 allied educators across primary and secondary schools since they were introduced under the system 10 years ago.

Armed with a diploma in special education from the National Institute of Education, they are trained to provide learning and behavioural support to students with special educational needs, such as dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. They also teach these students social and behavioural skills and, when necessary, counsel them on emotional issues.

Madam Yeo, who works closely with 20 such students under her charge, says: "It's tiring because the job scope is wide. Besides dealing with the special needs student, you need to liaise with his teachers, parents and external parties such as psychologists to ensure that he has holistic care."

Part of her job requires her to ensure the student has a smooth transition from primary to secondary school and from secondary school to higher education.

Social workers sound alert on young drinkers

Kids are starting to drink alcohol earlier than before and it's worrying, experts say
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015

Ben had his first drink of whiskey and cola when he was 13 and in Secondary One. It was with a group of friends, after school at a staircase near his Redhill home.

It was not a big deal, insists Ben (not his real name), now 18. "My older brother was already drinking and my father drank at home all the time," he said.

He is part of a new generation of teenagers who are beginning to drink younger, say social workers concerned about a trend they started noticing about four years ago.

"In the past, most teenagers would start drinking at 15 or 16, but now we are seeing 12- or 13-year-olds," said Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society.

One of the main reasons is a growing tolerance for social drinking. "Nowadays, it's not uncommon for adults to drink socially in front of children," said Dr Balhetchet.

That was how a seven-year-old girl had her first drink.

"The mother was drinking wine and left it unfinished on the table, the girl just went up and took a sip," she said.

Figures for alcohol abuse among youth are mostly anecdotal, with VWOs saying they deal with between five and 10 cases each year.

The National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) deals with 10 to 15 cases of problem drinking among youth aged 19 or below each year.

Dr Gomathinayagam Kandasami, a NAMS consultant and head of addiction medicine at the Institute of Mental Health, said that while some teenagers might miss classes because of a drinking binge or argue with their parents, they are unlikely to experience the serious loss in functioning long-time alcoholics grapple with.

"Younger people may not experience the full range of alcohol-related problems," he said.

Many of them only get help for their drinking habits when the law catches up to them for other offences.

More mirrors for buses and heavy vehicles

LTA to enforce use of blind-spot mirrors meant to give drivers a better view
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 1 Mar 2015

Buses and heavy goods vehicles will have to be retrofitted with additional blind spot mirrors to give their drivers a better view of pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will enforce the change through regular inspections from Oct 1.

Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said at a community event yesterday that the changes came after the Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Committee studied safety standards in other countries, including Japan.

"Having additional mirrors in larger vehicles can expand the drivers' field of vision and reduce their blind spots," he said.

The number of fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles increased by one to 44 from 2013 to last year, according to Traffic Police data.

Biggest Chingay parade for jubilee year

Chingay for all amid sea of lights and colours

By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

Nine hundred dancers showed off skirts made of plastic "We Love SG" flowers at the opening of this year's Chingay on Friday night, transforming Marina Bay into a sea of lights and colours.

The 800,000 flowers were made by 500,000 residents and households using recycled plastic bags, an effort started nearly a year ago by Chingay's main organiser, the People's Association.

Dating back to 1973, the year's street parade featured participants from various ethnic backgrounds and went from the F1 pit building to the Singapore Flyer.

Spectators were wowed by the performances of some 11,000 people, the largest contingent yet.