Friday, 2 December 2016

Singapore leads global trade ranking for the fifth time: Global Enabling Trade Report 2016

Singapore tops global trade rankings
One of the world's most open, says World Economic Forum report
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2016

Singapore continues to top global rankings when it comes to enabling trade amid an uncertain period for exporters, according to a new report. The Global Enabling Trade Report 2016 found that the domestic market here is one of the world's most open, with 99.7 per cent of goods entering duty-free, while border clearance processes are the world's best in terms of efficiency, predictability and transparency.

The private sector ranks third for its transport services, and second for its operating environment, with especially high marks for efficiency and trust in public institutions.

But Singapore lags behind on access to foreign markets, said the World Economic Forum's biennial report. Mr Richard Samans, a member of the World Economic Forum's managing board, said in the report: "The year started with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), bright hopes for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, signs of progress in the World Trade Organisation, and a positive mood among world leaders.

"By November, anti-trade rhetoric in the United States election, the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union, and stark divides among World Trade Organisation members had brought progress on these fronts close to a halt."

The TPP's fate is uncertain after US president-elect Donald Trump called it a "potential disaster" for his country, vowing to pull out of it.

Mr Samans noted that "less globalisation or less open borders" are not the solutions."What the world needs instead is a more inclusive globalisation to help those made worse off by it. This implies better redistribution policies and social safety nets, active labour market policies, and new industrial policies."

On the upside, trade liberalisation has continued in regions like Asia and Africa. "Amid the uncertainty, business and governments are looking for signs to show them which aspects of trade policy and practice are working well, and which aren't," said Mr Samans.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted: "Singapore has a long list of free trade deals signed, and others waiting to be signed. If TPP dies, we may have to resume negotiations with Canada and Mexico."

Tharman named chairman of G-30, a group of leading global economists

DPM appointed next chairman of G-30, which seeks to deepen understanding of economic and financial issues
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2016

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has been appointed the next chairman of the prestigious global body of top financial experts known as the Group of Thirty (G-30).

The Washington-based private group is made up of leading economists and policymakers from around the world, and seeks to deepen understanding of international economic and financial issues.

Mr Tharman's term will begin on Jan 1 and run for five years, the G-30 said in a statement yesterday.

He succeeds outgoing chairman and former European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet.

Mr Tharman, 59, is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

He said of his appointment: "It will be a real privilege to succeed Jean-Claude Trichet, whose knowledge, wisdom and warmth have made him a role model for so many of us, in the G-30 and beyond.

"I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in the group as we continue to inform and influence dialogue within the global economic and financial community."

G-30 board of trustees chairman Jacob A. Frenkel welcomed Mr Tharman's appointment, saying: "We are confident that Tharman will successfully pursue the group's mission: to deepen understanding of key international economic and financial issues and, thereby, contribute to the quality of public policy decision-making."

Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) expanded to spur lifelong learning

By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2016

The push towards lifelong learning will soon get another boost, when the use of the Post-Secondary Education Account (PSEA) is extended to a wider variety of courses, including shorter ones.

The expansion, announced by Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung yesterday, will support those looking to develop specific skill sets, without the need to sign up for a full diploma or degree course, which may take years to complete.

Explaining the move, Mr Ong said: "This is the way learning will become. When we become adults, we learn in bite sizes."

The PSEA, set up in 2008, is meant to encourage young Singaporeans to complete their post-secondary education, where fees are much higher.

An account is opened automatically for eligible Singapore citizens aged seven to 20. It is closed when the account holder turns 30, and unused funds go into the CPF Ordinary Account. From April 1 last year to March 31 this year, 232,603 account holders used their PSEA.

Currently, courses covered under the PSEA include most full-qualification programmes offered by publicly funded institutions, as well as Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications courses and government-supported special education (SPED) schools.

The expansion will also allow students to pay for more courses beyond those subsidised by the Ministry of Education (MOE), including those offered by arts institutions Lasalle College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Mr Ong said the expansion reflects "the diverse options we have in skills training".

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Living donor not at higher risk of kidney failure: Study

By Carolyn Khew. The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2016

A kidney donor may have only one kidney after a transplant but it continues to function well, with four in 10 regaining 75 per cent of their pre-donation kidney function after five years.

In fact, donors lead healthy lives and are not at a higher risk of kidney failure or dying compared to the general population, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Duke-NUS Medical School - believed to be the largest of its kind in South-east Asia.

The study looked at about 180 living kidney donors at SGH from 1976 to 2012. These patients had an average follow-up period of 11 years during which doctors looked at their blood pressure, urine test and kidney function during medical check-ups. It was also noted that kidney function in donors also stabilised after about a decade.

Which is why authors of the study are hoping that their findings will persuade more to consider being a living donor.

"The kidney function is actually not declining. We've removed your kidney but the kidney function tends to gradually increase... It's a very gradual, slow process and then it tends to stabilise. After stabilising, there will not be a dip," said Duke-NUS Programme in Health Services' Professor Tazeen H. Jafar, who was involved in the study.

Singapore is among the top five countries in the world with the highest incidence rates of kidney failure. In the last reported figures from the Renal Registry, 1,730 people suffered from kidney failure in 2014.

Kidney transplant from a live donor remains the best option for patients with end-stage kidney failure. Patients who undergo a transplant tend to have higher survival rates than those who undergo dialysis.

However, the latest figures from the National Organ Transplant Unit, Ministry of Health, show that while the waiting list for kidney transplants was 310 for the first half of this year, the number of kidney transplants from living donors stood at 16 as of the same period.

Race to be fintech hub

Having strong partnerships among government agencies, financial institutions and start-ups is proving to be a promising formula for the fintech scene.
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2016

The sheer scale of the recently concluded Singapore Fintech Festival was a good reflection of how seriously the Republic views the potential of this burgeoning industry.

The week-long festival schedule was packed with two conferences, an exhibition, a forum, a hackcelerator, an innovation lab crawl featuring over 20 labs and several networking events, attracting 12,000 participants in all, from across the globe.

It was a big bang, designed to show the world just what a formidable fintech hub Singapore could be and, indeed, already is.


It has to be said that over the past two years, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has made great strides to put the little red dot on the global fintech map.

The regulator set up a dedicated fintech and innovation group last year, under a chief fintech officer, and committed to invest $225 million in fintech over five years.

This year, it followed up with a partnership with the National Research Foundation to set up a fintech office, to provide a one-stop point-of-contact for all fintech matters.

The MAS also has its own innovation lab, Looking Glass, to spur collaboration among the regulator, financial institutions, start-ups and technologists, and facilitate consultations for start-ups by industry experts.

Last year, in one of his first major speeches about Singapore's fintech ambitions, MAS managing director Ravi Menon said that even as it strives to promote safety and security, the MAS wants to build a regulatory regime that is conducive to innovation and encourages the adoption of new technology.

Speaking at the Fintech Festival earlier this month, he noted that this is a fine balance to strike. "It is important to keep pace with what is going on, assess what the risks might be, and continually evaluate whether it is necessary to regulate or leave things to evolve further."

This is a particularly tricky line to walk, but past actions have shown that the MAS takes this task seriously and will take its time to fully consider the issues at hand.

Singapore students top maths, science rankings: TIMSS 2015

Key global study also shows improvements in reasoning, applied learning and progress made by weaker students
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2016

Students here have been ranked the world's best in mathematics and science by a key global study.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) also showed improvements by Singapore students in reasoning and applied learning, and progress made by weaker students.

The results, said the Education Ministry, show that moves to trim syllabuses in 1998 and 2003, and give more time to higher-order thinking skills are paying off. Programmes that cater to students' different learning needs are also bearing fruit, it said.

This is the second time that students here outdid those from all other countries across all four categories in TIMSS, which takes place every four years. The last time this happened was in 2003.

The latest test was conducted here in 2014.

A total of 12,600 Primary 4 and Secondary 2 students across all 179 primary schools and 167 secondary schools, and academic streams, were included in the sample. They were among over 582,000 students from 64 education systems tested.

Primary 4 pupils here had the highest mean score of 618 in maths, with those in Hong Kong coming in second with a score of 615. The same pupils also attained the best score of 590 in science, beating those in South Korea, which had 589.

Sec 2 students who sat the test were also ranked first with top scores of 621 and 597 for mathematics and science respectively, beating students in South Korea and Japan which came in second.

The proportion of students with the lowest score of below 400 was also much smaller than the international average. Just 1 per cent of Singapore students scored below 400 for Primary 4 maths, for instance. The global average was 7 per cent.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Vigilant and responsive to air threats: Air Defence Task Force

Multi-agency exercise tests readiness in event of strikes
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2016

When most of Singapore was asleep at 2am yesterday, a pair of F-15SG fighter planes were scrambled from Paya Lebar Airbase, racing to intercept a "threat" flying over the South China Sea.

Back on land, surface-to-air missile systems, manned by Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) units, were placed on high alert.

The threat - a commercial airliner suspected of being hijacked - may have been a simulated one, but the exercise was a real demonstration of how Singapore would respond to potential air threats, such as a Sept 11-type terror attack.

Called Vigilant Shield, it involved about 400 participants from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the Changi Airport Group and the Singapore Police Force.

Collectively, they work together under a round-the-clock Air Defence Task Force (ADTF).

ADTF's commander, Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, said: "On a daily basis, we do investigate aircraft that may not have a very clear identity or intent, and where the situation requires, we will respond to it." He said some of the incidents investigated could be categorised as potential terror threats, and are taken "very seriously". "And where needed, we will activate our air defence responses to deal with them."

Besides F-15SG fighters, the RSAF also deployed its AH-64D Apache helicopters, along with GBAD missile systems - such as the I-Hawk, Spyder and RBS-70 - for yesterday's exercise.

The RSAF works with the CAAS to clear the affected airspace of civilian air traffic. "This allows the fighters to scramble out in the most expedited departure route to intercept the suspicious aircraft," said an F-15SG pilot, Lieutenant Julian Low, from the 149 Squadron.

Besides using radio communications, the fighters also fly as close as 660ft, or 201m, to the suspicious aircraft, to signal them visually.

Major Zanna Lee, chief planner for Exercise Vigilant Shield, said: "Our primary response is always to make sure they remain compliant and land in Singapore. If not... (it) is to turn them away."

Yishun Community Hospital gives glimpse of future care

Such facilities are cheaper to run and build and can ease the crunch at acute hospitals
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2016

The template for the future of Singapore's healthcare system was on display yesterday as the Yishun Community Hospital was officially opened to take the load off the neighbouring Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

Community hospitals will play a bigger role in caring for patients in the future and are part of the transformation under the Healthcare 2020 Masterplan to "shift the centre of gravity from acute hospitals to the community", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

As he officially opened YCH, Mr Gan said: "Over time, we see community hospitals expanding their roles to provide more short-term inpatient care for geriatric, dementia and palliative patients."

YCH, which is linked to KTPH, has cared for more than 1,400 patients since it became operational in December last year.

YCH, which has opened 238 of its 428 beds so far, is currently 60 per cent full, while the adjacent KTPH faces a bed crunch, with occupancy hovering at around 90 per cent.

It is much cheaper to run a community hospital, where the nurse-to-patient ratio is one to 16, which means one nurse can look after four times the number of patients compared with a general hospital. This is largely because, while its patients still need care, their conditions are stable.

Community hospitals are also cheaper to build, at roughly half the cost of an acute hospital.

That is why all future acute hospitals in the public sector will have a community hospital next door to allow patients to "transit smoothly from the acute hospital to the community hospital and eventually back home".

Aside from KTPH, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Changi General Hospital, and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital all have community hospitals next door. Outram Community Hospital, expected to open in 2020, is being built on the Singapore General Hospital campus.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Our Tampines Hub: Six government agencies under one roof

First-of-its-kind Public Services Centre a key feature of new lifestyle and community hub
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2016

A new community and lifestyle hub in Tampines with some services operating round the clock was officially opened yesterday.

A key feature of the sprawling Our Tampines Hub, which sits on 5.3ha of land - the size of about seven football fields - is a first-of-its-kind Public Services Centre housing six government agencies under one roof.

This means residents can register for People's Association (PA) activities or pay Housing Board-related fees like mortgage payments or parking fines at a 24-hour e-lobby.

For more complicated tasks like job matching or getting financial assistance, several officers from PA, HDB and the other agencies - North East Community Development Council, Workforce Singapore, Ministry of Social and Family Development and ActiveSG - will be on duty, some up to 10pm.

These agencies were picked based on how often Tampines residents used their services, and more may come on board if needed.

Other 24/7 offerings at the hub include an 800-seat hawker centre, which has 42 stalls and an automated tray return station.

The hub, which was five years in the making, also houses a shopping mall, community health centre, the first HomeTeamNS clubhouse in the east and a community auditorium with 20 badminton courts - and is an example of how future community hubs could look like.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Plans to develop Jurong Lake Gardens Central and East unveiled

Chinese, Japanese Gardens to get major upgrade
Features include waterfront promenade, water gallery trail but iconic landmarks to be retained
By Adrian Lim, The Sunday Times, 27 Nov 2016

Masterplans for the central and eastern segments of the Jurong Lake Gardens development were unveiled yesterday - the final pieces to complete a 90ha national garden in the heartland.

The proposed plans will see the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, built in the mid-1970s, receive an upgrade with new community spaces, tropical and aquatic gardens, as well as food and beverage outlets.

Along the eastern shore of Jurong Lake, residents will be able to enjoy a new waterfront promenade and a "water gallery trail" for leisure boaters to explore nature and art.

Yesterday, a public exhibition to gather feedback on these proposed concepts was launched at Canopy @ J Link, Jurong East by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

The plans were developed by a team comprising Liu & Wo Architects and landscape architecture firms SALD and Landscape Design Inc, which were chosen last month via a tender.

Mr Wong assured residents that while the Chinese and Japanese Gardens will be refurbished, iconic landmarks such as the pagoda, connecting bridge, tea house and bonsai garden will be retained.

"Many of our Jurong residents would have fond memories of climbing up the seven-storey pagoda to see the skyline of Jurong. Some of you have taken your wedding photos at the Double Beauty Bridge that connects the Chinese and Japanese Gardens," he added.

Mr Wong said that Jurong Lake Gardens will be Singapore's third national garden, joining the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay.

Connecting mums in jail with their kids

Charity provides updates, tapes them reading children's stories so kids can hear their voices
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Nov 2016

Salma (not her real name) was racked with guilt, self-loathing and anxiety about her four children's well-being while she was in jail.

She was incarcerated for close to five years for drug trafficking in 2010.

After she and her husband were arrested for drug offences, her children were split up and cared for by two different relatives.

The children were then between 20 months and 10 years old.

Salma, who was released last year, said: "I was a horrible mother as I caused my children to suffer. I had no news of them and I thought of them every day (when I was in jail)."

The 51-year-old housewife saw them only thrice in the first four years of her sentence - her second for drug offences.

Her children were too young to visit her on their own and volunteers took them to the Changi Women's Prison on Mother's Day.

It meant the world to her when volunteers from New Life Stories - a charity that helps incarcerated mothers and their children - visited her in jail regularly, encouraged her and updated her with news about her children.

They also taught her to read children's stories, taped her reading and passed the voice recordings to her children so they could hear her voice and know that she loves them.

Ms Saleemah Ismail, who co-founded the charity in 2014, said the biggest source of anguish for incarcerated mothers was being separated from their children.

"Some had no news of their children at all, while others said their children rejected them as they felt abandoned by their mums," she said.

"We thought if we could help to heal strained ties between mother and child, this would help the women to change for the better and stay out of trouble."

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Employers must report retrenchments to Manpower Ministry from Jan 2017

Retrenched workers to get faster help with new MOM rule
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2016

Help for retrenched workers will come sooner under a new rule that takes effect on 1 Jan 2017.

They will get guidance earlier on jobs that could suit them and be asked to attend workshops on handling interviews, among other things.

The quicker help follows the new rule which requires employers to inform the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) within five days of laying off workers and give details of the employees told to go.

It applies to all companies with at least 10 workers, and which are retrenching five or more employees in any six-month period.

They must report the move once the fifth worker is notified, and must report every subsequent retrenchment as well.

Currently, companies with at least 25 employees report only the number retrenched in the MOM's mandatory quarterly surveys.

Employers who flout the new rule will get warnings and, on conviction, could face penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000.

With the long-term unemployment rate creeping up and the rate of re-entry into employment slowing, helping people get back to work is a top concern, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday when announcing the rule.

"The sooner employers report to us, the sooner we can reach out to retrenched workers, and the sooner we can put them under employment support," he said when visiting the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

He foresees professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) being in the majority of those laid off amid the global economic slowdown and economic restructuring in Singapore.