Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A few steps? HDB to make homes more elderly-friendly

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2016

Older residents who have to climb a small flight of steps to get into their Housing Board flat may soon have one less obstacle to overcome.

The Housing Board plans to expand its Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme to include subsidies for ramps more than one step high, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

The goal is to make HDB estates more elderly-friendly, given the ageing population, he told reporters after visiting Nee Soon GRC's Kebun Baru ward. "You'll see more of these needs emerging - mobility, access, connectivity but also community. You want (the elderly) to stay active," he said, adding that expanding EASE is one way to help seniors.

The scheme, launched in 2012, has subsidised about 90,000 households to fit their flats with elderly- friendly features such as grab bars and slip-resistant treatment for toilet tiles. Eligible home owners - those with an elderly household member aged 65 and above, or 60 to 64 years old for those who require assistance in daily living - pay only a small part of the cost.

Currently, only ramps that can overcome a one-level difference within the flat or at its entrance are subsidised. This is because ramps that cover two to three steps may be put at too steep an incline to be useful, or end up obstructing the common corridor, said Mr Wong.

But the Housing Board has been looking for space-efficient solutions that would not cost residents too much money or time to maintain, the minister added.

"Once we have identified a good solution, we hope to expand the EASE programme so that more residents can benefit," he said. "I hope it can be done as soon as possible."

The multi-step entrance was a feature of some flats built in the 1970s and 1980s to give residents a greater sense of security and privacy.

MHA warns against distributing radical works

By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent and M Abul Kalam Azad, Chief Reporter, The Daily Star, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2016

Those who distribute publications that promote radical leanings will be dealt with firmly under the law, the authorities here warned.

"Anyone found doing so will be investigated for purveying extremist ideas," a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman said yesterday.

"The authorities take a very serious view of the distribution and propagation of radical teachings and ideology," the spokesman added in a reply to The Straits Times.

He was asked whether hardline material was being handed out here, after an English newspaper in Bangladesh, the Dhaka Tribune, reported on Saturday that books spreading radical teachings were being distributed to Bangladeshi workers in Little India this month.

The report comes six months after Singapore announced the arrest of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers. The men, who were sharing militant books and videos, met weekly and were recruiting other workers. They were nabbed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in November and December last year.

All have since been deported, and 14 were arrested by the Bangladeshi authorities upon their return.

A second group of radicalised men were picked up between late March and early April. Another eight Bangladeshi workers were arrested for being members of a clandestine group that called itself the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB).

They were planning to foment violence back home to topple the government, and set up a caliphate under the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

Six were charged with financing terrorism - four were sentenced to between two and five years in jail this month and two have claimed trial. Another two remain in detention under the ISA.

Five others who were not involved in ISB but had shared radical material were deported, and arrested on arrival in Bangladesh.

The two waves of arrests have prompted Singapore leaders to warn that while those arrested were funding and plotting attacks on targets back home, they could easily have turned their attention to Singapore targets.

Just last week, the Ministry of Communications and Information banned Al Fatihin, a hardline newspaper published by Furat Media, a media agency linked to ISIS.

The ban makes it an offence to distribute the newspaper, largely in Bahasa Indonesia, by any means.

There are an estimated 160,000 Bangladeshi nationals here, mostly work permit holders doing manual jobs at construction sites and shipyards.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Efforts to fight terrorism 'must involve every Singaporean'

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2016

Fast-response police officers trained to tackle terrorism have started their patrols, and more will continue to be deployed in the coming months. But Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam also stressed that counter-terrorism is a "national project" that must involve every Singaporean.

He was speaking to reporters at the Esplanade yesterday after observing officers from the new Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) on a patrol.

The unit, made up of land division officers, was commissioned in June, two months after it was first announced at the annual Police Workplan Seminar and Exhibition in April.

"The police have done very well in doing this in a very short space of time. Over the next few months, the deployment will continue, and the number of forces would be increased," Mr Shanmugam said, adding that morale is high among the officers.

"They know they are doing something extremely important for their country."

Since last month, ERT officers, who are specially trained in counter- assault skills and armed with HK-MP 5 submachine guns, have been patrolling public areas such as shopping centres and theatres.

They have also been engaging building owners and managers to come up with joint response plans, including how to work together during emergencies.

Asked whether Singapore had received threats recently, Mr Shanmugam said he did not want to get into specifics.

But he added that "from time to time, we receive credible reports on threats and, depending on the nature, some are more serious than others".

He also talked about the important role the public plays in countering terrorism.

Besides the police response, said the minister, "there is also the social response", especially how the community responds the day after any attack.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Singapore refutes Indonesia claims of attempts to 'thwart' tax amnesty scheme

Singapore is respected, successful and ‘we don’t live in fear of anyone else’: Shanmugam
Law and Home Affairs minister responds to “taunts” from Indonesian minister
TODAY, 23 Jul 2016

Singapore may be small, but it is respected and successful, and “we don’t live in fear of anyone else”, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, in response to ‘taunts’ by an Indonesian minister.

In a Facebook post on Saturday (July 23), Mr Shanmugam said he did not understand why “there is this constant attempt (by Indonesian ministers) to put us (Singapore) down and taunting us that we are small”.

He said that both countries benefit from good relations over the last 50 years and have cooperated on many matters. But he noted, “every now and then, someone in Indonesia will tell us that we should know our place, a little red dot.”

Yes, we are a little red dot. We may be small. But we are respected and successful. And our people lead meaningful lives. And we don’t live in fear of anyone else,” Mr Shanmugam wrote.

His remarks came after Indonesia’s Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro was quoted in Indonesian media on Tuesday saying that he was “not afraid of Singapore which is just a small country like that”.

Mr Brodjonegoro and other Indonesian ministers this week have made several remarks about Singapore as their country attempts to recover millions stashed by Indonesian citizens overseas via a tax amnesty programme. Several Indonesian media reports have accused Singapore and its banks of coming up with a special scheme for Indonesians to leave their assets in Singapore instead of repatriating them home.

The Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) refuted these claims on Saturday.

“Recent claims in the Indonesian media that Singapore is implementing policies to ‘thwart’ Indonesia’s tax amnesty programme are untrue. Singapore has not cut tax rates or changed any of our policies in response to Indonesia’s Tax Amnesty Programme,” said the MAS and MOF in a joint statement.

“We subscribe to internationally agreed standards for combating money laundering and for exchange of information. If there is any case of suspected cross-border tax evasion, concerned authorities can approach Singapore – we have assisted and will continue to assist in line with the international standards,” the two agencies added.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Multiculturalism - Let's Think About It

Let’s Think About It – Multiculturalism
21 Jul 2016

Why is Royston so passionate about keeping the kampong spirit alive? Why does Denise Keller find the HDB experience awesome? Why does Taufik find weddings and funerals at the void deck interesting? What brings our communities together, and what forces threaten to pull them apart?

Find out more in the new season of “Let’s Think About It”. Catch Taufik Batisah, Royston Tan, Denise Keller, Saleemah Ismail and Sharada Selvanathan as they share their views and stories with Minister Yaacob Ibrahim on multiculturalism in Singapore.

PUB officer faces over 700 charges of cheating

Sum involved was about $2m in total; he also faces nine counts of money laundering
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2016

A technical officer with national water agency PUB was yesterday hit with more than 700 charges of cheating, involving a total of about $2 million, and nine counts of money laundering.

Mohamed Sa'ad Mohamed Ali, 42, is accused of deceiving various PUB employees into believing that the quotations he produced for contract work were genuinely sourced from the open market - when in fact they were from businesses he controlled.

In doing so, he is alleged to have dishonestly induced the employees to approve quotations for various purchase orders worth a total of $1.98 million. They were subsequently awarded to businesses controlled by him.

Most of the alleged offences took place between 2009 and 2012, and mainly involved small value purchases.

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for Aug 18.

Sa'ad is out on $80,000 bail and his passport has been impounded.

In a statement, the PUB said that in mid-2012, its internal audit discovered anomalies in the small value purchases of mechanical equipment and general maintenance work at Choa Chu Kang Waterworks. The PUB reported this to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in August that year.

Sa'ad was then suspended without pay.

He joined the PUB in 2000 and had been supervising the mechanical maintenance work at Choa Chu Kang Waterworks since October 2004.

'Pervasive' lapses found in Workers' Party town council; At least 18 months needed for AHTC to fix lapses: KPMG

Weaknesses cover key areas of governance, financial control and reporting, among others: KPMG
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2016

Auditors of the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) had harsh words for the way it was managed, saying they found "pervasive" control failures in its accounts and work processes over the past five years.

These weaknesses cover key areas of governance, financial control, financial reporting, procurement and records management, KPMG said in a report on Wednesday.

In all, KPMG flagged six areas where AHTC's control environment had failed to set the foundation for discipline and structure for its internal workings. These include the lack of communication and enforcement of integrity and ethical values. For instance, "highly irregular" methods were used to process over $60 million worth of payments, and temporary accounts used for more than one million transactions were not cleared swiftly.

Also, several payments were made using a dummy code that meant duplicate or fictitious payments could be made without being detected. The town council's audit committee also did not meet as often as it should to address the issues raised by AHTC auditors as well as the Auditor-General.

"There is an issue larger than the sum of individual lapses at AHTC," KPMG said in its report, which the Workers' Party (WP) released on Wednesday night.

The lapses were a systemic problem and fixing them means town councillors have to "reset the tone at the top of AHTC" to emphasise competence and accountability.

KPMG estimated that the town council will take at least 18 months to rectify all the lapses and weaknesses that have been found.

AHTC chairman Pritam Singh said it accepts all the recommendations in full, and its MPs "will immediately lead an exercise to review" governance, controls and other key areas identified in the report.
Last night, the Housing Board noted "with grave concern" the findings, including the town council's slow progress in remedying the lapses after "a long and protracted process for AHTC to appoint an independent accountant following orders by the Court of Appeal".

"It is imperative that AHTC takes immediate steps to reset its tone from the very top," it added.

"As large sums of public monies are at stake, AHTC also needs to account to its residents and the public whether any monies have been lost as a result of these lapses," it said.

The monthly report by KPMG is its fourth on the state of AHTC, which hired it to look into its books following significant lapses in governance flagged by its own auditors and the Auditor-General in a special report in February last year.

The new report completes one part of KPMG's work, which is to identify where AHTC did not comply with the Town Council Act.

Watch out for these 'stealth bikes': Men in black have errant road users in their sights

Traffic Police's month-old 'stealth bike' team clamping down on reckless motorcyclists
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2016

Dressed in black jackets and riding black motorcycles, these "bikers" give motorists a shock when they turn on their lights and sirens and reveal their true identities.

The covert officers have been on their bikes on Singapore's roads since last month in the latest attempt by the Traffic Police to clamp down on road offenders - particularly errant motorcyclists.

Explaining the initiative, TP commander Sam Tee said it was not easy for officers to go after motorcyclists in unmarked cars, as they can lose sight of them in heavy traffic.

The 900cc "stealth bikes", on the other hand, are much more manoeuvrable. "Our strategy has evolved. We are matching vehicle type for vehicle type," said Senior Assistant Commissioner Tee.

Bikers are an area of concern for the TP. They have held community events and media campaigns to warn them about the dangers of reckless riding in the past year.

TP statistics show that last year, 4,875 motorcyclists and pillion riders were injured, a 5 per cent rise from 2014. This group also accounted for almost half of all road deaths last year - 72 out of a total of 152.

To address the problem, the TP have increased enforcement to target what they call a "small minority" of motorists and motorcyclists who misbehave.

In their first month of operations, TP's stealth motorcycle officers detected more than 700 violations - including offences such as using a mobile phone while riding and reckless riding. Covert operations - which also included officers in unmarked vehicles - detected 2,653 violations in the first six months of this year, up from 1,048 in the same period last year.

Michelin Guide Singapore 2016: Hawkers join celebrity chefs on Michelin list

Pork noodle, soya sauce chicken eateries among 29 establishments awarded stars
By Eunice Quek, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2016

A pork noodle stall and a soya sauce chicken stall were made Singapore's first Michelin-starred hawkers in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide, in a list that was dominated by celebrity chefs.

At the launch of the guide last night in Resorts World Sentosa, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in Chinatown Complex were among 29 establishments awarded stars. They each received one star.

Tai Hwa owner Tang Chay Seng, 70, said: "I was very happy when I heard the news. In Singapore, there are a lot of things that are delicious and I feel very lucky to have won."

Mr Chan Hon Meng, 51, owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, said: "I hope hawkers will appear every year in the Michelin Guide."

Mr Joel Robuchon, the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world, added five more to his collection. Joel Robuchon Restaurant at RWS was the only one here awarded three stars, given to restaurants that serve "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey". His L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, also at RWS, garnered two stars, given to restaurants with "excellent cooking, worth a detour".

Friday, 22 July 2016

BCA SkyLab: PM Lee launches $4.5 million Building and Construction Authority research centre

Revolving lab to test ideas for 'energy' buildings
BCA SkyLab to test technologies that can create buildings that make more energy than they use
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2016

A revolving laboratory, perched on a roof eight storeys high, will take Singapore closer to constructing buildings that not only make as much energy as they use, but also produce more energy than they consume.

The 132 sq m research centre - the size of two three-room flats - was launched yesterday and is the brainchild of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

It will be used to test-bed technologies to bring more "positive energy" buildings to life.

Positive-energy buildings are those that can produce more energy than they consume by, for instance, harnessing solar energy, while cutting energy use with more efficient air-conditioning or lighting systems.

The medium-term aspiration is to develop such positive-energy low-rise and medium-rise buildings that are energy self-sufficient, and energy-efficient high-rise buildings, said Dr John Keung, chief executive of BCA.

Launching the BCA SkyLab at the BCA Academy in Braddell, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that as the Republic's economy developed, its building activities grew in scale and complexity, and the focus is now on environmental sustainability.

"The BCA SkyLab that we are opening today will play an important role in our environmental sustainability drive," he said.

The $4.5 million rotatable lab, which takes 30 minutes for one round to be completed, will allow researchers to test new systems with actual weather and climatic conditions, as opposed to simulating them using historical data that may not be accurate due to climate change.

More to benefit from IT aid scheme

NEU PC Plus Programme
5,000 more families to get subsidies for PCs, broadband access after changes
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2016

A scheme that makes computers and broadband connectivity more affordable for needy people with disabilities and students has been enhanced to benefit more people.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday announced two changes to eligibility criteria for the Infocomm Development Authority's (IDA) NEU PC Plus scheme, which offers beneficiaries new computers with three years of free broadband access, at a cost subsidised by up to 75 per cent.

From Sept 1, the monthly household income cap will be raised from $3,000 to $3,400. This is expected to benefit another 5,000 families over five years.

In addition, special education (SPED) students on the Ministry of Education's SPED Financial Assistance Scheme will automatically qualify for the subsidies.

Other criteria have also been tweaked to help more low-income families (see table).

For applicants who cannot afford to pay even after the discount, they currently can earn their computers by doing community service, such as sorting books at school libraries.

The monthly household income cap to qualify for this will also be raised from $2,300 to $2,500 from Sept 1.

More people with disabilities tapping enhanced tech fund

Fivefold jump in Assistive Technology Fund beneficiaries since changes made last year
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2016

More than 1,100 people with disabilities have benefited from a fund that helps them to pay less for assistive technology, mobile apps and devices such as hearing aids since criteria to qualify for the subsidies were changed in August last year.

This is more than a fivefold jump from the figure over the one-year period before the changes were made - and has exceeded expectations, The Straits Times has learnt.

When announcing the changes to the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) in March last year, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said that he expected the number of beneficiaries to double from 200 to 400 a year.

The ATF subsidises up to 90 per cent of the cost of the equipment. Three enhancements were made to the funding scheme:

• Previously, the fund could be used to buy assistive technology devices only for use in school or at work. It can now be used to pay for devices for more purposes, including those that help with daily living.

• The monthly household income per capita cap for eligibility was raised from $1,500 to $1,800, to help more families to benefit.

• The lifetime cap for subsidies was doubled to $40,000, as people may need money to replace devices or buy new ones when their needs change as they age.

Mr Tharman had said the Government wanted to encourage and support the use of assistive technology by people with disabilities.