Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Organ donations remain low despite changes to law

Average wait for kidney transplant still 9 to 10 years, and 1 to 2 years for liver or heart
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 23 May 2016

Singaporeans are still not donating their organs despite several legislative changes made over the years to enlarge the donor pool.

"The numbers of deceased organ transplantation for kidney, heart and liver (have) remained low for the past 10 years," said a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman.

There were 58 such organ transplants last year, compared with 69 in 2006, the latest figures from the National Organ Transplant Unit show. These numbers are a far cry from those in other developed countries such as Spain and Norway, which have eight times the number of cadaveric kidneys for every million people.

Donations from living donors - which are much better for recipients than cadaveric organ donations - have seen only modest growth. Last year, 58 people donated their kidneys and livers, up from 34 in 2006.

Despite legislative changes, such as including Muslims as donors, the average wait for a kidney is still nine to 10 years and one to two years for a liver or heart. Many people with heart and liver failure here die each year, and thousands with kidney failure are on dialysis.

The availability of organs for transplantation is influenced by factors such as public awareness, and societal views and religious beliefs, said the MOH spokesman.

"Even with legislation aimed at improving deceased organ donations, there is a need to continuously engage the public to raise awareness about the issues around organ donation and transplantation, including the benefits of transplantation," she added.

Last year, 334 people were on the waiting list for kidney transplants, with 54 people waiting for a liver and 23 for a heart.

Indonesia needs to stop acting as a “big brother”: Johannes Nugroho

High time Jakarta treats Singapore and other South-east Asian countries as equals
By Johannes Nugroho, Published TODAY, 22 May 2016

Tensions between Indonesia and Singapore are simmering as a kerfuffle is developing over the decision by a Singaporean court to grant a warrant to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for an Indonesian businessman suspected of involvement in last year’s forest fires. The warrant was obtained after the businessman, whose identity remains hidden, failed to turn up for an interview with the Singaporean authorities while he was in the city-state.

The saga took an interesting twist as Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied its counterpart’s repeated claims that a formal complaint against the warrant had been lodged by the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore.

The reason for Indonesia’s umbrage remains unclear, although implicit in the protest was the notion that Singapore had tried to force Indonesia’s hand in acting against responsible parties for last year’s environmental disaster, which saw much of South-east Asia engulfed in a haze. Jakarta’s reaction suggests that it deemed Singapore to have overstepped its scope of action. By contrast, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) felt that it had every right to prosecute those deemed responsible, based on the 2014 Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

To be fair, Singapore’s move was both logical and laudable. However, it was an inadvertent slap in the face for the Indonesian government. Chiefly, politicians in Jakarta were worried that, if successfully pulled off, it was bound to be seen by the public as a derogation of sovereignty: that an Indonesian national could be arrested and even tried in a foreign country.

To Airbnb or not to Airbnb...

Can Singapore make room and rules for Airbnb and other home-sharing offerings?
As URA continues to study issue, residents and hospitality players remain divided
By Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From stylish apartments to cheerful single rooms, tourists in search of alternative lodgings in Singapore are spoilt for choice.

The website of Airbnb, a leading player in the home-sharing market here, has options such as a Kallang shophouse for $249 a night, a Tiong Bahru flat for $114 or a room in East Coast with queen-sized bed and balcony for a mere $48.

According to Airbnb, there are about 6,000 properties listed on its website here.

Other home-sharing websites have set up here as well, such as PandaBed and Roomorama.

Yet, it is currently illegal for private and public home-owners to lease their properties for less than six months.

While a few home-sharing site listings are for long-term options, most are for short stays, which means they are breaking the law.

The authorities are still trying to decide if rules should be relaxed for private properties.

From January to April last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) held a public consultation to assess if this short-term rental policy for private properties needed to be reviewed.

But last Wednesday, more than a year on, the URA said it needs more time to consider the issue.

In the meantime, enforcement action will still be taken, it added.

Under current rules, private home-owners who lease their units for less than six months can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to a year.

Monday, 23 May 2016

F-35: The future of the RSAF?

The F-35 has been billed as the world's most advanced fighter jet. It flies at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth capabilities and is armed with a supercomputer. But production has been hit by flaws, delays and ballooning costs. Has Lockheed Martin done enough to persuade Singapore that this jet is the future of its air force? The Sunday Times examines the issue
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent In Dallas Fort Worth, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

Welcome to Dallas Fort Worth, where production of what has been labelled the world's most advanced fighter jet is continuing apace.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can travel at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth features that make it tough to detect by enemy planes and radars, and high-tech systems which let it strike the enemy first before being spotted.

But the plane, which Lockheed Martin started developing in 2001, has also become a lightning rod for criticism. It has faced delays, ballooning production costs and a series of production flaws, such as a fuel tank prone to exploding, a vulnerability to lightning strikes and even a faulty ejection seat which could snap a pilot's neck during ejection.

But that has not stopped 11 countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan, from buying the F-35, with Denmark possibly joining the list after its defence ministry made a pitch to Parliament two weeks ago to opt for fifth-generation aircraft.

Now, Lockheed is looking to sew up a multibillion-dollar deal with Singapore, which is in the final stages of considering if it will also go down the F-35 route and buy both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B, which takes off from shorter runways and can land like a helicopter.

Sisters' Islands to be heart of marine life conservation

Plans include nursery for corals, turtle hatchery and facilities where people can get close to nature
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From Singapore's first sea turtle hatchery to a floating pontoon with see-through panels, detailed plans to transform Sisters' Islands into the heart of the country's marine life conservation efforts were revealed yesterday.

Announcing these yesterday on St John's Island, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee highlighted how, despite covering less than 1 per cent of the world's surface, Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of hard corals, a third of the world's total.

"We may be small, but we are large in our marine richness," he said, as he highlighted the need to ramp up conservation efforts and to raise awareness among Singaporeans of the life in surrounding waters. "The marine park is meant for Singaporeans, and we hope our people will love it, grow it and take ownership of this park."

The 40ha Sisters' Islands Marine Park, first announced in 2014 and about the size of 50 football fields, comprises the two Sisters' Islands - which are a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier - surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor. Its ecosystem supports corals, anemones, seahorses, fish and other marine life.

With the help of a $500,000 donation from HSBC, a turtle hatchery will be set up on Small Sister's Island by the end of next year.

The island will be a dedicated site for marine conservation and research. It will have a coral nursery where rare corals can be grown before being transplanted onto Reef Enhancement Units (REU) on the reef. Yesterday, HSBC also donated $180,000 for nine REUs under the new Seed-A-Reef programme.

Open to the public, donations of at least $20,000 will pay for an REU - an artificial scaffolding to which corals attach and grow.

To encourage Singaporeans to take ownership of the marine park on the islands, they will be able to also "sponsor" a coral for $200 in the new Plant-A-Coral initiative.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

HDB launches fund to help promote community bonding

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

A new fund which residents can tap has been created to encourage community bonding in public housing estates.

The Housing Board has set aside $500,000 over the next five years for the new HDB Friendly Faces, Lively Places Fund, which aims to spur residents to initiate ground- up, community-building projects. They can propose activities and apply for a grant of up to $10,000.

This is an increase from the $1,000 available for each activity under another scheme to encourage neighbourliness - the Good Neighbours Project.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who announced the new fund at the start of HDB's Community Week at the new Bedok Town Plaza yesterday, encouraged residents to apply for the fund and foster greater neighbourliness. They can do so on HDB's website at any time of the year. To qualify, activities must involve diverse groups and individuals, and be free and open to the public.

Mr Wong said: "Now that there is more funding and a longer window to apply, please spread the word around. I encourage everyone to make full use of this opportunity and come up with something meaningful for the community."

​SMRT and NTU launch joint research laboratory to boost rail reliability

SMRT-NTU lab to help tackle rail woes
$60m Corp Lab to focus on real-time monitoring systems for trains, tracks and power supply
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

Transport operator SMRT and Nanyang Technological University have set up a research laboratory to develop ways to fix rail engineering problems even before they arise.

The $60 million SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (Corp Lab) was launched yesterday, with equal funding from the two parties, along with $20 million from the National Research Foundation.

Although the lab is its first rail-related research venture, NTU is confident that its track record stands it in good stead.

NTU vice-president for research Lam Khin Yong cited the university's collaboration with companies such as ST Engineering, Rolls-Royce and BMW Group.

For Singapore's rail system, Corp Lab will work on a suite of real-time monitoring systems for trains, tracks and power supply.

For trains, these systems will continuously monitor vibration, wheel axles and gearboxes, as well as door mechanisms. Door faults often lead to trains stalling as a result of a safety design.

Sensors will also be embedded into the running rail and the power-supplying third rail.

Elbowgate: Trudeau says sorry for manhandling opposition

Canadian PM will accept any punishment for 'elbowgate' and grabbing a lawmaker's arm
The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

OTTAWA • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under fire over an unprecedented physical fracas in Parliament, said he was only human and apologised for a third time for manhandling an opposition legislator and accidentally elbowing another in Parliament.

Mr Trudeau, who led his Liberals to power last October with a promise of "sunny ways", said he was in a high-pressure job, but promised there would be no repeat of his actions. He said he would accept any punishment meted out by a committee examining the incident which took place on Wednesday.

"I think people understand that there is a tremendous amount of pressures that come with this job and I am human," Mr Trudeau, 44, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "But I think, at the same time, a big part of recognising strengths and weaknesses is when you make a mistake, you admit it, you make amends, you ask for forgiveness and you make sure it never happens again."

The affair was a rare public loss of control for Mr Trudeau. Telegenic and tattooed, he has gained a rock star level of celebrity, thanks partly to an avowed feminist stance, and he is often swarmed by fans seeking selfies.

Mr Trudeau is in no immediate political danger since the next election is not due until October 2019 and opinion polls put him far ahead of his rivals.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

PM Lee Official Visit to Russia

PM Lee: Room for greater cooperation between Singapore and Russia in many areas
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

SOCHI - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is cautiously optimistic that a free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) can be completed in the next two years.

He is also positive about Russia's business potential, saying many opportunities exist for Singapore companies.

These can be found in Moscow as it redevelops and upgrades the city, transforming outdated industrial estates into modern business parks, cultural centres or education centres.

The changes, in turn, create opportunities in urban masterplanning and transport.

But to pursue them, businesses need to invest time and energy to understand the country, how its systems operate and how best to fit in, Mr Lee told Singapore reporters in an interview on Friday, at the end of his four-day working visit to Russia.

In the short term, Russia faces challenges such as shrinking growth, low energy prices and the impact of Western sanctions, Mr Lee noted. But for the long term, it is "the place we ought to be", he said.

"Russia is a country with a long history, with deep roots and powerful science and technology capabilities, determined to be an influence in the world - somebody we can cooperate with in many areas," he said.

"Our trade with them has been growing, still modest but growing quite rapidly over the last decade. We co-operate with them in science and technology, education and culture. Even our investments back and forth have increased noticeably over the years."

"It is an account which we would like to develop and grow," said Mr Lee.

On its part, Russia has shown a new keenness in building economic ties with ASEAN countries like Singapore.

At the ASEAN-Russia summit on Friday to commemorate their 20 years of dialogue, President Vladimir Putin stressed to ASEAN leaders that his country wants stronger business links with the regional grouping.

Singapore has right conditions for start-ups: Forbes CEO

By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Singapore is now the "Mecca for entrepreneurship", thanks to favourable government policies that have created an environment conducive to business start-ups.

Forbes chief executive Michael Perlis offered this description of the Republic's great strides in the field of start-ups yesterday at the inaugural Forbes Under 30 Summit Asia.

"This is a community that can have a great deal of Silicon Valley-like aspects. There are inhibitors - business costs can be high - but there are also extraordinary motivators," he told The Straits Times.

"There is a youthfulness and can-do attitude at the government level that is very motivational for starting businesses."

The Under 30 Summit Asia named and invited 300 Asia-Pacific entrepreneurs and innovators - including 24 from Singapore - aged under 30 to a forum held at The South Beach. It is part of Singapore's Smart Nation Innovations Week.

Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, a speaker at the forum's opening, noted that the start-up scene is "booming" in Singapore.

"Forty per cent of start-up acquisitions in Asia are here, which is incredible, given our size. There were 230 start-ups last year at Bash by Infocomm Investments, and 60 per cent of them are getting follow-up funding," Dr Puthucheary said, referring to Build Amazing Start-ups Here, a facility in one-north that provides business venues for start-ups at low rental rates.

Education also plays a key role, Dr Puthucheary added, as the Government works on exposing students to industry mentorship at an early stage.

All this is being done as Singapore seeks to reinvent itself into a smart economy with jobs and growth driven by innovations.

Traffic police to deploy new speed laser cameras at 44 hot spots

Warning: Better slow down at these hot spots
New speed cameras can take better images and capture video
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Speed demons beware, the Traffic Police have a new gadget to nab those who break the speed limit.

Yesterday, the TP unveiled a new portable speed laser camera that will be deployed at 44 speeding hot spots, including West Coast Highway, Braddell Road and Changi Coast Road.

It is the first time the older cameras are being replaced since speeding enforcement operations began in 2004.

Manned by a single officer, the new camera can capture higher-resolution images, works better in low-light conditions and has a battery life of eight hours - double that of the older model.

It can also capture video, unlike the older model.

Officers will be stationed on overhead bridges or by the roadside.

Signs will be placed about 200m before the speed laser cameras.

"The intent is to let motorists be aware that they are entering an accident-prone area, so slow down and drive carefully," said TP deputy commander Devrajan Bala.

The new speed laser cameras will complement existing efforts to curb speeding with the TP's other cameras on the roads, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Devrajan said.

When asked why it took 12 years for the TP to replace the speed laser cameras, he said: "The technology has improved tremendously. We were looking for something that would be a game changer, in terms of camera capabilities.

"In the past, (cameras performance was) dependent on light conditions... The current ones are very reliable."

Food waste raises a stink for recycling

Contamination of recyclables complicates the process and hikes cost of maintaining facilities
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Singapore households have a dismal recycling rate of just 19 per cent and up to half of all items put into the blue recycling bins at the foot of every housing block go to waste because people dump trash like used diapers or soft toys into them, the National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times.

Such poor recycling practices not only complicate the process at materials recovery facilities - where workers manually separate plastic from paper, and paper from glass - but also increase the cost of maintaining the facilities, say public waste collectors.

Food waste, in particular, is corrosive and attracts pests like rats, said a spokesman for Veolia, one of Singapore's four collectors. On average, 35 per cent of the 12,000 tonnes of waste the company collects each year must be discarded.

At SembWaste, the average contamination rate is higher, at around 40 per cent of the 16,000 tonnes of waste collected each year, peaking at 50 per cent on bad days.

Such items end up wasting even more resources than regular trash.

Said Mr Lim Chin Khuang, senior vice-president of asset management at Sembcorp Environment: "First, you are bringing in waste into a recycling plant, which should not be the case, and this waste will have to be reloaded onto a truck and sent to the incineration plant.

"This is counterproductive."

As it stands, Singapore's only landfill on Pulau Semakau is expected to run out of space by 2035, and is under tremendous strain, said the NEA. Last year, the Republic disposed of 8,284 tonnes of waste a day - enough to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools.