Sunday, 22 October 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong's interview with CNBC, 19 October 2017

Next prime minister likely from current Cabinet: PM Lee
Strong team has been assembled, but it will take a while to work out successor, he says
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Singapore's next prime minister is "very likely" to be one of the current Cabinet ministers, but it will take a while to work out who, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The country's next generation of leaders will, in time, have to reach a consensus on who should lead the team, beyond him, PM Lee told US news channel CNBC in an interview released yesterday ahead of his visit to the United States.

He spoke about Singapore's relations with the US and China, the North Korean nuclear threat, political succession and domestic issues during the wide-ranging interview.

PM Lee said he has assembled a strong team of younger ministers, who have to establish themselves among their peers, work out their relationships and assess one another. They will also have to gain the public's confidence and show their calibre, he added.

Asked if he is close to finding the next prime minister, he said: "I think it is very likely that he is in the Cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out."

Political watchers have identified Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, labour chief Chan Chun Sing and Education (Higher Education and Skills) Minister Ong Ye Kung as among front runners for the post.

PM Lee reiterated that he is ready to step down some time after the next general election, but said he has to make sure a successor is ready to take over from him.

This entails building up the next generation of leaders to ensure they can work and carry things forward after he leaves. "They are doing that by being hands-on, by having responsibility for major policies, by taking charge of important, spiky ministries," PM Lee said.

Asked if the next general election - due by early 2021 - could be called in the next two years, he replied: "Yes, of course. Any time."

On whether he will remain behind the scenes after stepping down, he said it is up to the next prime minister.

Singapore PM: Would like to grow 2% to 3% annually to ensure 'quality of life' from CNBC.

Asked what he hopes to achieve on his visit to the US from today to Thursday, PM Lee said Singapore hopes to further develop its deep and multi-faceted relationship with the US, which is based on a strategic congruence of views and close cooperation in areas such as defence.

On relations with China, PM Lee said both countries hope to do more together. While there will always be issues where they do not see eye to eye, there are no basic conflicts in perspectives, he added.

As for North Korea's ongoing nuclear provocations, PM Lee said its actions pose an immediate danger to the region, and could shift the strategic balance in North-east Asia in the longer term as South Korea and Japan mull over nuclear capabilities.

Mr Lee also addressed whether Singapore, as a developed economy, still needs the Government to act as a "nanny". Noting that Singaporeans have very high expectations of the Government and its performance, he said: "If you ask a Singaporean - on one hand, they will say let us do our own thing. On the other hand, whenever an issue comes up, they will ask, 'What is the Government doing about it?'... So, we have to keep that balance."

Asked about life without Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015, PM Lee said: "We miss him, we think of him often, we read his old speeches and we say, 'Well, that is still relevant to us today'... At the same time, we have to build on that and move forward."

And if he were still alive, his advice would be to press on and not look at the rear-view mirror, PM Lee said. "Remember what has happened, understand how you got here, but look forward and press forward."

Saturday, 21 October 2017

New HDB Resale Portal from 1 Jan 2018 to cut resale flat transaction time by half to 8 weeks

HDB to halve time taken for resale transactions
Upgraded portal from next year will make it easier to file applications, check eligibility
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2017

The time it takes to buy or sell a resale flat will be cut from 16 weeks to about eight from next year, with a revamped HDB resale portal.

Part of the country's Smart Nation push, the upgraded portal will also reduce the number of appointments needed to complete a deal from two to one, and will tap the Housing Board's (HDB) trove of resale transactions to do away with most professional valuations.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday that the new platform is "an example of how digital technology can be applied in practical ways to streamline existing processes and make citizens' lives more convenient".

Yesterday, HDB announced the changes to its resale portal, promised during March's debate on the National Development Ministry's budget.

It will go online on Jan 1, and make it easier to file applications and conduct eligibility checks.

The one-stop service will mean that buyers and sellers' financial documents can be uploaded and verified online, thus requiring only one appointment to sign the final legal documents.

Currently, the first appointment is for working out how much sellers will receive from the sale and assessing buyers' financial plans.

Buyers and sellers will also save time by having all the eligibility checks - such as for housing grants or whether they are within a neighbourhood's ethnic quotas - available on one page, instead of having to look up multiple e-services spread across the HDB website.

The updated portal will minimise the need for buyers and sellers to manually key in their data, as it will pull in common information used by government services, such as names, identity card numbers and addresses, for the relevant forms.

The HDB will also do away with valuations for most flats, eliminating the need for professional valuers to inspect a flat, thus speeding up the process. Instead, buyers will get the HDB to approve the proposed price of the flat directly.

Prosecutions must keep up with public interest: Attorney-General Lucien Wong

AGC's goals have to change over time to tackle emerging issues, says Lucien Wong
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2017

Emerging problems in Singapore's society, such as fake news and offences against elderly victims, must be tackled with "resolute prosecutorial action", said Attorney-General Lucien Wong at the annual Singapore Law Review Lecture yesterday.

Making his first major speech since taking the post in January, Mr Wong listed these areas as examples of how the goals of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) will have to change over time as public interest, which permeates all its decisions, evolves.

Explaining the menace from fake news, he noted that more news is now being delivered through social media, messaging apps and blogs where stories are written anonymously, and many are untrue or deliberately fabricated to achieve a specific end.

Underlining the "vital public interest to stop the flow of lies", he said the AGC will continue to use existing laws to act firmly and decisively against those who seek to distort the public narrative for their own ends.

Mr Wong referred to the recent action taken against fake news purveyors, such as the proprietors of the now-defunct The Real Singapore socio-political website.

Singaporean Yang Kaiheng, 28, and his wife Ai Takagi, 24, an Australian of Japanese descent, were convicted under the Sedition Act last year for deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners through a series of articles on their website. Yang was sentenced to eight months' jail while Ai received 10 months.

On protecting elderly victims, Mr Wong said the rapidly ageing population made for a "highly vulnerable group" who had amassed substantial savings for retirement and is a ripe target for fraudsters.

"We will robustly prosecute those who exploit the elderly, in order to deter such offences and give the full protection of the law to some of the most vulnerable members of our society," he added.

Mr Wong was giving a talk, titled Prosecution in the Public Interest, at the National University of Singapore's law faculty, providing insights into how prosecutorial discretion is exercised, which involves who to charge, the appropriate charges and sentences that prosecutors call for.

"Prosecution of a crime is more than just to punish the wrongdoer or offender - each prosecution is done with the public interest in mind," he said.

He added that prosecutions are conducted in the name of the public; offences are prosecuted for the good of the public; proceedings are held according to values expected by the public; and action is taken in the eye of the public.

But he said that even as prosecutors pursue important objectives like maintaining a secure Singapore environment or promoting a culture where rights are respected, this does not mean that every offence must be prosecuted.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Counter-terrorism exercise at Changi Airport Terminal 3: Airport a high-profile target for terrorists, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Crucial for security forces to be well prepared; agencies urged to cooperate closely and practise crisis response
By Danson Cheong and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Changi Airport is a "high-profile target" for terrorists, and it is crucial that security forces here are prepared to react to an attack there, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He added that they would have to do so in a way that will neutralise the attackers decisively, while minimising casualties. He made the remarks after observing a counter-terrorism drill at the airport, held as part of ongoing efforts to hone the multi-agency response to terror threats.

The hour-long exercise, dubbed Northstar and in its 10th edition, involved a simulated attack with gunmen shooting people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomb explosion in Terminal 3.

Speaking to reporters, PM Lee said: "If you look around the world, more than one airport has had a terrorist attack... It is completely plausible that something like this would happen in Singapore.

"If it does happen, we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where."

PM Lee urged the various agencies to cooperate closely and have ample practice.

Yesterday's exercise involved more than 650 people from the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and also ministries and agencies including Changi Airport Group, SMRT and the Health Ministry.

The simulated attack on what was supposed to be a busy Saturday afternoon started with two gunmen firing at people as they alighted from a train at Changi Airport MRT station.

Within moments, police officers from the Public Transport Security Command responded, killing one gunman. The other fled to the T3 departure hall. This initial strike was followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest in the departure hall, before three other gunmen stormed the terminal.

Crack troops from the Airport Strike Force and Rapid Deployment Troops from the Special Operations Command swooped in. The gunmen were later taken down inside the transit area of T3, where combat engineers from the SAF's chemical, biological, radiological and explosives defence group later disarmed an improvised explosive device.

School fees for foreigners, PRs to increase from 2018

School fees going up for foreigners and PRs
Hike for next 3 years applies to local primary, secondary schools, and pre-university level
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Foreigners and Singapore permanent residents (PR) will have to pay more over the next three years to enrol their children in local schools.

Monthly fees for PRs attending a primary school will increase from the current $130 to $155 next year, $180 in 2019, and $205 in 2020.

For international students, monthly fees will increase by $50 each year, from $600 now to $750 in 2020.

Secondary school fees for PRs will nearly double from the current monthly fee of $200 to $380 in 2020, with an annual increase of $60 in monthly fees.

The revision in fees - which applies to primary and secondary schools, and the pre-university level - will take effect from January each year. This will be the third consecutive year that school fees have gone up for non-Singaporeans.

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said yesterday that it conducts regular reviews of school fees and makes adjustments when necessary. "The fee increase sharpens the differentiation between Singapore citizens, PRs and foreigners, to reflect the privileges of citizenship," said the spokesman.

"Having said that, even with the increase in school fees, our fees for international students remain competitive compared to international and private schools."

From 2018 to 2020, school fees will increase by $25 to $60 a month for PRs, and by $25 to $150 a month for international students.

MOE said it released the fee schedule for the next three years "to provide greater certainty and enable parents to plan for the financing of their children's studies in MOE schools".

The fees for Singapore citizens remain unchanged. Primary school education is free for Singaporeans, while those in secondary schools and at the pre-university level pay monthly fees of $5 and $6 respectively.

Affected parents said they were thankful that their children even have places in local schools.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

MRT tunnel flooding: SMRT maintenance team failed us, says Khaw Boon Wan

North-South Line flooding was preventable: Khaw Boon Wan
He says SMRT team in charge of maintaining anti-flood system at Bishan failed commuters
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2017

An MRT tunnel flooding incident which left a section of the North-South Line (NSL) inoperable for 20 hours earlier this month was "preventable", and the SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood measures "has failed us".

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said this yesterday during a press conference together with officials from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and train operator SMRT, which runs the NSL.

"Our findings are that the anti-flooding system there had been poorly maintained... The SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood system at Bishan has failed us," he said, adding that the incident "should not have happened" and "we are all sorry that it did".

Apologising to commuters, SMRT and SMRT Trains chairman Seah Moon Ming took a bow, as SMRT group chief executive Desmond Kuek and SMRT Trains CEO Lee Ling Wee looked on.

Mr Seah said the incident will have an impact on the bonuses of the SMRT maintenance team. Mr Kuek said SMRT was taking full responsibility and looking into tackling remaining "deep-seated cultural issues" within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture.

"Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so," said Mr Kuek.

Investigations after the Oct 7 incident found that a storm water pit in the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell MRT stations - designed to collect and pump out rainwater - was likely close to full before the recent flooding incident.

It was also found that due to the maintenance lapse, sludge and debris had accumulated in the lower compartment of the water pit, which could have affected the operational capabilities of pumps and float switches. They were to be inspected and maintained last month, but this was postponed as the maintenance team claimed it could not get a slot for track access during engineering hours.

The failure of the float switches resulted in water flooding the tunnel between Bishan station and the underground Braddell station. The water had to be manually pumped out through the night, with help from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and PUB.

NSL services in both directions, between Ang Mo Kio and Newton MRT stations, were down from 5.30pm on Oct 7, and resumed only at 1.36pm the next day. A quarter of a million commuters were affected.

Mr Lee said SMRT will conduct checks on water pumps and flood sensors more rigorously - on a monthly basis instead of every quarter currently. The flood-prevention devices that failed were last inspected in June.

SMRT will also work with LTA to improve the redundancy of flood prevention measures, including additional radar sensors to activate pumps. On top of alerts sent to the operations control centre, SMS messages will also be sent to SMRT staff when water in the storm pit reaches a certain level.

The pump control panel will also be re-located so that track access is not required to manually activate the water pumps, said Mr Lee. LTA added that it will send the failed float switches for further testing.

Mr Khaw said that MRT tunnels are designed to handle Singapore's weather and cope with very extreme storms. "(The) bottom line is that MRT tunnels should not be flooded. Full stop," he said.

MP Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said he hopes SMRT can strengthen its system of "checks and balances". "It cannot be that just because one department or a group of people didn't check the water pump, the whole system fails," Mr Sitoh said.

Mr Seah said SMRT has added more staff to its inspectorate teams, which check all work done and reports independently to an audit and risk management committee.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Kampung Admiralty stirs to life as residents move in

Singapore's first 'retirement kampung' is self-contained with many practical features
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2017

Every time a new resident moves into Kampung Admiralty, Mr Heng Gee Choo would rush out to greet them.

The 64-year-old, who is one of the first to move in to his studio apartment at Singapore's first "retirement kampung", said: "This is actually better than a kampung. The people who live here are our age, and have more time on their hands, and it's easier to communicate with them. When new neighbours move in, I quickly go over to say hello. We hope to organise more events such as gatherings and having tea together."

Located next to the Admiralty MRT station, Kampung Admiralty is self-contained. The two HDB blocks house the two-level Admiralty Medical Centre - managed by the Alexandra Health System - a hawker centre, rooftop vegetable and community gardens, and an active-ageing hub. The hub is co-located with a childcare centre and both will be ready in February.

"We've already found a place for our granddaughter at the childcare centre," said Mr Heng.

The couple look after their granddaughter on weekdays while her parents are at work.

As of this month, about 20 households have moved in, out of 30 which have received their keys. All of the 104 flats at Kampung Admiralty were snapped up after they were first offered in the July 2014 Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise.

For the past two weeks, Mr Heng and his wife have busied themselves with furnishing their new home, caring for their 20-month-old granddaughter, and getting to know their neighbours.

Mr Heng, the semi-retired owner of a renovation company, said he and his wife decided to downsize from a four-room flat in Marsiling for the sake of convenience and practicality. The couple can also visit the active-ageing hub which will offer programmes for well and healthy seniors. It will also offer daycare and rehabilitation services for those with greater needs, and help homebound elderly residents at their homes.

People from the active-ageing hub can help seniors with groceries, household chores or personal hygiene if necessary. Residents can also activate an emergency alert system in their studio apartments to call them for help.

The complex is the first of 10 similar Housing Board build-to-order projects with childcare and elderly centres housed in the same area.

Monday, 16 October 2017

10 CPF hacks to grow your nest egg

By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

It is never too early to start preparing for retirement - think of it as a lifelong journey, one that in Singapore is inevitably linked to our Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Whether you're starting work, about to buy a home, raising a family or nearing retirement, small steps like CPF transfers and cash top-ups can help build up your nest egg and secure a desired future lifestyle.

The CPF Board has been organising the CPF Retirement Planning Roadshow series in the past few years to raise awareness on how the system helps retirement planning.

Last year, more than 80,000 CPF members visited the five roadshows held islandwide.

The first one this year kicked off in August at the Toa Payoh HDB Hub and featured a wide range of interactive exhibits, including an augmented reality experience booth.

Not to be left out, young CPF members are encouraged to try out a mobile game app called Ready, Get Set, Grow. The app encourages them to take action today via CPF-related messages based on the three basic needs of retirement - housing, healthcare and income.

The Sunday Times highlights 10 hacks to "game" the CPF system.