Thursday, 17 April 2014

Nasty comments mar Filipinos' Independence Day preparations

Filipino group gets online flak over event
By Royston Sim And Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

ORGANISERS of a plan to celebrate Philippine Independence Day here had to remove a Facebook post about the event, after it drew a storm of vitriol and protests from netizens.

The online response came as a shock, they said, though they still intend to proceed with the celebration on June 8 at Ngee Ann City's Civic Plaza, pending approval of permits from the authorities.

The Pilipino Independence Day Council Singapore (PIDCS), a group of Filipino volunteers, put up a post on Facebook about the event last weekend and drew fire almost immediately.

Negative comments from Singaporeans flooded in, with Facebook page "Say 'No' to an overpopulated Singapore" urging locals to protest on the PIDCS page.

The page, which has 26,000 "likes", is against the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day here and said that festivities should be confined to the Philippine Embassy compound.

It took issue with the PIDCS for using the Marina Bay skyline in a logo for the event, which is meant to celebrate the Philippines' independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.

It also opposed the PIDCS using the terms "two nations" and "interdependence" in posters for the event.

The PIDCS decided to take down the Facebook post after it drew hundreds of anti-Filipino comments, with many slamming the PIDCS for holding the celebration in Orchard Road.

Its co-chairman Rychie Andres said the vitriol took him by surprise and that it was "sad and disheartening".

He said the intent of the event is to celebrate by reaching out in the host country, and added that the slogan about interdependence had been misunderstood.

"We are not saying that we are trying to take over. Our drive is to be part of the community and try to open up to other nationalities," he said. "Interdependence doesn't mean Singaporeans depend on us, but that we all help each other."

In the run-up to the celebration, the PIDCS organised a blood donation drive and a visit to an elderly home. Mr Andres said the council has held celebrations in past years at Hong Lim Park and Suntec City, but has never received criticism on this scale.

Ms Cecilia Lim, 28, a self- employed Singaporean, felt some of the online comments were excessive. She said: "People should have the right to celebrate their independence day if they are granted the permits, just as we celebrate Singapore Day overseas."

Some bosses 'reluctant' to give maids weekly day off

Some maids also forgo rest to work for more cash, say agents
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

ONLY about a third of maids here get their weekly day off and both they and employers are responsible for the poor record.

Since January last year, bosses are required to give maids a weekly day off or payment in lieu. But most bosses are reluctant to give the day off, especially if they have had constant help at home, said employment agents.

They are supported, in some cases, by maids who prefer to be compensated for work rather than resting because they want to earn more money.

"Most employers get a maid not as a luxury but because they need the service for their family, for example, to take care of aged family members," said Ms Carene Chin, managing director of maid agency Homekeeper.

Mr Jack Khoo, owner of WorldAsia Employment Agency, said seven in 10 employers ask him whether they can withhold giving the day off. "But when we tell them it's a rule, they'll comply," he said.

Some employers use the $5,000 security bond as an excuse, saying that if the maid goes out and misbehaves, they will lose the money, said Best Home Employment Agency owner Tay Khoon Beng.

"But it's not a good reason, because certain aspects of the rules have been relaxed," he added.

The Manpower Ministry said in Parliament on Monday that of 2,000 maids surveyed who had come to Singapore to work for the first time last year, 37 per cent were receiving a weekly day off, and 61 per cent received at least one day off per month.

The low figure may also be because maids themselves request to work and get extra cash instead of taking the day off. This is especially prevalent in their first year of work as they want to pay off the placement fee, agents said.

"Most of them are very happy to get compensation in lieu and not go out at all, especially when they are still clearing their loan," said Madam Netty Chu, who owns Great Helpers.

MP defends Bill on human trafficking

He highlights 'practical difficulties', assures added protection to victims
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

MEMBER of Parliament Christopher de Souza has defended his proposed Bill to tackle human trafficking here, saying it is "actually very generous to the victim".

He was responding to civil society groups, which in an open letter yesterday, lamented the "serious limitations" of the planned legislation, highlighting three key issues: The Bill on the Prevention of Human Trafficking fails to clearly define who is a victim of sex trafficking. It also does not appear to address "exploitative practices", such as poor living and working conditions of migrant workers.

Third, the proposed measures to protect victims fall short as they do not include "finding alternative employment or arranging a temporary stay visa", wrote Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim on behalf of several other groups and activists.

Mr de Souza, who is an MP for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, told The Straits Times that he appreciated the intention behind the letter. But he added that since proving trafficking cases could take as long as two years, "hard-wiring extreme rights may present practical difficulties". But "we will pull out the stops if it is a case of genuine trafficking".

He is "exploring parallel guidelines to assist helpless victims" beyond counselling and temporary shelters, which are part of the proposed Bill.

He said additional protection and rehabilitation measures could be provided without having to be legislated. These could be overseen by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, for instance.

Mr de Souza also explained that the Bill will address situations in which victims are deceived into providing services beyond what they had originally agreed to, such as women hired for waitressing but tricked into prostitution.

The Bill will also stick to definitions of trafficking which are internationally accepted.

How David Hoe fought his way to university

He helped mum sell tissues at age 7, landed in Normal (Tech) stream, now has teaching scholarship
By Wong Kim Hoh, The Sunday Times, 13 Apr 2014

Turning Point: Selling tissues with my blind mother -RazorTV

Mr David Hoe has a radical teaching idea which he hopes can be realised one day.

"Wouldn't it be great if teachers here could get one year to teach whatever they wanted to teach?" asks the 26-year-old.

"The whole idea is for them to show their students what passion is, how to help them find something they like and pursue it passionately."

The economics undergraduate at the National University of Singapore floated the idea on his Facebook page.

"I just wanted to see what sort of response I would get. Some said there would be chaos. But some said they would go back to school because the level of creativity in the students would shoot through the roof," he says.

The reaction from the second group excites Mr Hoe, who has a scholarship from the Ministry of Education and will undergo training to become a teacher after he graduates next year.

Not everyone thrives academically in school, he says. "But if they get the right motivation and direction, there's still hope. I see value in young people, especially those who feel lost, and I think we should invest in them and give them hope."

He should know. He did so badly in the Primary School Leaving Examination that he landed in the Normal (Technical) stream, meant for the weakest students. But good friends and encouraging teachers changed his life by rescuing him from the academic wilderness.

Today, he is a well-respected youth and student leader, a bright economics undergraduate who has gone on exchange programmes in Harvard as well as Tecnologico de Monterrey, one of the top universities in Mexico.

"People have invested in me and I want to give back. I want to teach because teaching is not just about imparting knowledge but affecting and shaping lives," he says.

Help under way to get special needs students ready for work

New scheme to give students access to job training and opportunities
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

A NEW school-to-work transition programme will give students with special needs greater support when they move on to the workplace, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed yesterday.

His ministry will work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and agency SG Enable to develop the pilot progamme, which will begin this year.

At yesterday's official opening of the Association for Persons with Special Needs' (APSN) Delta Senior School, Mr Heng said the plan is to have "more customised training pathways to benefit more special education students".

Currently, only Delta Senior School and Metta Schools - both for students with mild intellectual disabilities - offer national vocational certification programmes.

These have enabled one in four special education (SPED) graduates to find work, he said, adding that the new transition programme will give students access to job training and opportunities.

There are 20 SPED schools here catering to 5,000 students, aged from seven to 18, who have intellectual disabilities, autism or visual and hearing impairments. A multi-agency committee will work with a few SPED schools this year, Mr Heng told the audience.

The team, he said, will "study the critical success factors, processes and resources needed for effective transition support for students with the potential to work".

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Indonesian Armed Forces chief apologises over naming of warship

Commander-in-Chief’s apology during CNA interview the first from senior Indonesian official
By Sujadi Siswo, TODAY, 16 Apr 2014

JAKARTA — The Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces has apologised — the first time a senior Indonesian official has done so — over the naming of an Indonesian warship after two marines who carried out the bombing of MacDonald House in Singapore in 1965.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia that was aired yesterday, General Moeldoko said: “I apologise. We have no ill intent whatsoever to stir emotions. Not at all.”

However, he stressed that the name of the frigate, Usman Harun, will remain — a decision he said the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) had made in December 2012 after a long process.

The episode — which caused a diplomatic row between the two countries — has been a learning process, he said.

Nevertheless, he is confident that future ties between the two militaries would grow even stronger.

Adding that relations between Singapore and Indonesia are on the mend, Gen Moeldoko said: “There have been communications among leaders. Singapore’s Chief of Defence and I have spoken.”

Usman Mohamed Ali and Harun Said were the marines who carried out the MacDonald House bombing, as part of former President Sukarno’s Konfrontasi campaign.

Three people were killed and 33 injured in the attack.

Gen Moeldoko said the TNI had not foreseen that the naming of the warship would spark an emotional reaction from Singapore.

He said: “Indonesia didn’t think that ‘Usman Harun’ would eventually turn into a polemic such as this. Why? It’s because from the onset we did not have the tendency to stir emotions of the past. Not at all.

“However, there are sensitivities that we did not foresee and it escalated. It is my responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief of the TNI to offer clarification and to take steps to ensure that the situation does not escalate.”

Parliament Prorogues Until 16 May

Parliament to kick off second half on May 16
Govt to map out strategies during break for remainder of five-year term
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2014

PARLIAMENT will reopen next month, after taking a mid-term break, to discuss new strategies for creating a brighter future and a better Singapore for all.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this yesterday as the House was prorogued, or closed midway through the Government's term, for members to take stock of their work.

The new session will start on May 16, with President Tony Tan Keng Yam setting out the Government's key priorities for its second session until the general election, which must be held by January 2017.

A debate on the President's address traditionally follows in a week or so.

Since Independence, Parliament has been prorogued 10 times. The recess is a time for the Government to map out the agenda and policies for the remaining years of its five-year term.

Mr Lee yesterday gave a hint of things to come in a Facebook post, saying Parliament had been busy in the past 21/2 years debating the White Papers on ministerial salaries and population, and also passing Budgets that had included "major economic and social policies".

The first session had, in fact, been marked by significant shifts in these areas as the Government moved to address issues of stratification in society.

Mr Lee had flagged it as a priority in 2011 when, after the general election, he opened the 12th Parliament with a promise to help low-income and disadvantaged families "take the next step".

Key policies of the past three years have reflected this focus.

The GST Vouchers scheme, Workfare enhancements and the Pioneer Generation Package are examples of its effort to level the playing field via subsidies.

MPs interviewed cited them, saying the measures show how the Government had put in stronger social safety nets.

Parliament Highlights - 14 Apr 2014

More checks on security barriers at checkpoint
Leaking hydraulic fluid to blame for barrier's failure to stop car: DPM Teo
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2014

SECURITY barriers at the Woodlands Checkpoint will get new hydraulic components, and will be checked daily, as more measures are put in place to prevent a repeat of the recent security breaches there.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean revealed this in Parliament yesterday as news emerged that yet another driver had been arrested for trying to evade clearance at the checkpoint on Sunday, following two security breaches there in recent months.

On March 8, a 64-year-old man drove through a barrier, barely two months after a former teacher from Malaysia sneaked into Singapore by tailgating another car at the checkpoint.

Yesterday, Mr Teo explained for the first time why the cat-claw barrier, which flips out and damages car tyres, had failed to stop Malaysian Tan Chu Seng on March 8, despite being activated.

It turned out that leaking hydraulic fluid was to blame.

Responding to questions from MPs, Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said the hydraulic fluid in one of the barrier's cylinder seals had leaked out. The cylinder seals are the components that raise and keep the barrier in place.

Thus, the barrier could not maintain its position. That was why Tan managed to drive through the barrier, damaging it in the process, after he was stopped for a routine boot inspection that day. He has since been charged with committing a rash act and with vandalism.

Yesterday, Mr Teo also said the barrier had failed despite having been serviced on Feb 18, less than a month before the incident.

To prevent a repeat, security barriers at the checkpoint will now be checked daily, instead of once every three months, he said.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will also be deploying tracking vehicles, which will chase down those who manage to leave the checkpoint without clearing immigration and Customs checks, he added. He acknowledged yesterday that five hours - the time taken to find and nab Tan - was a "long time".

These are on top of measures already put in place to strengthen security at the checkpoint following the recent incidents. For example, the ICA had also tightened coordination with the police and deployed mobile crash barriers.

NTUC proposes changes to MediShield Life scheme

By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2014

THE labour union has proposed a slew of changes it would like to see to the new compulsory MediShield Life insurance scheme to make health care "affordable and accessible to all".

The national insurance scheme, which will cover everyone for life, is expected to start by the end of next year.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) wants it to remove the higher deductibles that people over the age of 80 currently pay, so they will be on a par with everyone else.

Over-80s going for day surgery presently have to pay the first $3,000 of the bill before insurance kicks in. Younger patients pay only the first $1,500.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said older people feel discriminated against because they are already paying the highest amount in premiums.

More than 300 union members, who took part in eight focus group discussions from the end of last year, also called for more drugs to be subsidised and for patients to pay a smaller share of big bills.

The NTUC has passed on recommendations to the MediShield Life Review committee, which has already suggested halving the co-payment, so patients will need to pay only 10 per cent of the claimable amount for small bills and 5 per cent when claims exceed $5,000.

However, the NTUC would like the patient's share to go down even further - to 3 per cent for claims exceeding $10,000, which account for less than one in 20 bills.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Big decision ahead for MediShield Life

By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2014

IS MEDISHIELD Life the best way ahead for Singapore health care?

MediShield, the current national health insurance scheme, stops covering people when they turn 90.

That means more than 10,000 people aged 90 and older have no medical insurance, even though the older you are, the more health care you need.

Coupled with the fact that Singaporeans are living longer, the Government will end up supporting a rising number of elderly folk who have run out of money to pay for their health-care costs.

Some countries do just that, but the rising burden eats heavily into government expenditure and that usually results in higher taxes for the working population.

Singapore has decided to go a different route with MediShield Life, which will be launched next year. It will cover everyone, even those with pre-existing diseases, for the rest of their lives.

By doing this, the burden is shared among society as a whole as well as the individual patient.

The Government provides heavy hospital subsidies, society pays the bulk of the remaining bill through insurance premiums while the individual patient is responsible for the deductible and co-payment.

The deductible is the initial amount of a bill the patient has to pay before insurance kicks in. Under the basic MediShield plan, patients also have to pay a portion of the bill - currently between 10 and 20 per cent - beyond the deductible.

How is having compulsory insurance for all different from levying heavier taxes to pay for health care? With taxes, only the working population and richer individuals pay. With insurance, everyone contributes.

The Government uses taxes to provide subsidies that cover as much as 80 per cent of a hospital bill, after which the bulk of the remaining cost is spread among the population. This is very much like the goods and services tax which each person pays when he buys something, rather than income tax which is paid according to how much a person earns.

Patients still have to pay part of the bill, and this makes it fairer. The person needing treatment pays a larger part of the tab in the form of the deductible and co-payment. Those who keep healthy and out of hospital pay only the annual premiums.