Monday, 22 December 2014

How to be a smart city (technology not included)

People's actions matter more in making city a better place to live in
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Sunday Times, 21 Dec 2014

What makes a smart nation smart?

This might seem like a stupid question, but it's worth asking, now that a brand-new agency has been set up to make Singapore one.

That's the recently announced Smart Nation Programme Office headed by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

So what's a smart city?

According to one definition, it's one that uses digital technologies to enhance performance and wellbeing, to reduce costs and resource consumption, and to engage more effectively and actively with its citizens.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, you're probably thinking you heard it before, when it was known as the intelligent, and then, the connected city.

It's now morphed into "smart city", because advances in digital and telecommunication technologies have brought the idea closer to reality.

In areas such as transport, energy, education, health care and waste management, the ability to connect people and machines and figure out, using powerful computers, the most efficient way of doing the work is now possible.

Imagine knowing exactly where every bus or taxi is on the roads and matching them to commuters, or monitoring the health of elderly people at home.

But just as having a smartphone doesn't make you a smart person, a digitally smart city isn't necessarily one that's doing all the right things by its citizens and making their lives more pleasant.

In fact, a smart city with all the computers at its disposal can be doing many dumb things, and doing them even more quickly.

A really smart city (as opposed to being just digitally smart), on the other hand, knows what the right things to do are, with or without technology.

So what's a really smart city?

Singaporeans open wallets and their hearts to charity

Individual donations hit new highs, volunteers give more hours to causes
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

SINGAPOREANS are giving more of their money and time to charity, according to a survey released yesterday.

Individuals donated a record $1.25 billion this year, the highest since the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) started tracking donations through biennial surveys in 2000.

The average number of hours each person volunteered this year also rose to 93, compared with 72 hours in 2012.

However, the number of people donating and volunteering fell. In 2012, 91 per cent of 1,500 interviewees said they gave money to charities, but the number fell to 83 per cent this year when more than 1,800 were polled.

Similarly, only 18 per cent volunteered this year, compared with 32 per cent of those polled two years ago.

The growth in donations and volunteering hours actually came from current donors who dug deeper into their pockets or volunteers who spent more time serving the vulnerable.

For example, the average amount each person gave annually was $379, up from $312 in 2012.

The NVPC and analysts say the data reflects the importance of retaining and engaging volunteers and donors.

"Many regular volunteers committed more to their chosen causes and activities, having formed closer relationships with the non-profits or groups they had worked with over time," said Mr Kevin Lee, a director at the NVPC.

People offer their time and money when they believe that they are making a difference in the cause they identify with.

Over the years, the NVPC surveys have shown that people give the most to religious organisations or informal and civic groups.

More disabled people getting better jobs

They are being employed in higher-skilled, higher-value roles
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

WHEELCHAIR user Timothy Ang was educated up to only primary school level but is now a certified draughtsman.

He uses software to draw up floor plans of bungalows or factories, then - based on details such as the thickness of walls - he visualises them in his head before creating a 3D model on a computer.

It is a far cry from his previous data entry job which paid him up to just $200 a month.

Before that he was unemployed for a decade.

"It has been a breakthrough for me," said the 59-year-old paraplegic who is among a growing number of people with disabilities being employed in higher-skilled jobs rather than manual roles. "I am proud of what I create now."

At least one of five clients of SG Enable, a government-established agency formed in July last year to provide services for the disabled, are placed in jobs that require professional skills, such as accounting, graphic design, engineering and music production. "We expect the number to grow as firms become more aware and open to hiring them to tap their diverse skills and abilities," said its group director Ong Ai Ming.

Non-profit organisation Bizlink, the second-largest employer of the disabled after the civil service, said the number of disabled people employed in higher-skilled and higher-value jobs has increased by around 30 per cent from five years ago.

Stakeholders attribute this growth to an increasing willingness among employers to redesign jobs and offices to cater to this group. Said Mr Abhimanyau Pal, executive director of SPD, an organisation representing the disabled: "More people with disabilities can attain a higher educational level with greater support in the mainstream school system and employers recognise that those with disabilities can be an alternate source of human capital, especially with the tightening of the labour market."

Oral care 'need not be nightmare' for special needs kids

Dental centre: Start them young, teach coping strategies
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

MUHD Syamil Abdur Rahman, eight, has autism, and brushing his teeth used to be a daily struggle. One family member had to hold him still as his mother cleaned as many of his teeth as possible.

Said Madam Norlizan Mohidu, 40, of her son: "He just refused to open his mouth because he didn't like foreign objects in it."

Syamil's case is typical of parents who have children with special needs and who often fear taking them to the dentist because of how unruly they can get.

Last month, the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) hosted a public forum for around 70 parents of special needs children for the first time.

A survey of the group showed that four in 10 had never taken their child to the dentist, while the vast majority feared that their child would not cooperate while there.

About half said that no dentist would see their child, or that they did not know where to look for one who would.

Set maximum sum for CPF members

By Chia Ngee Choon, Published The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

IT IS well known that while a provident fund system is fiscally sustainable, it does not address certain risks faced by members.

They face the risk of not having enough income to live independently with self-respect and dignity. They also face longevity risk, the risk of outliving their resources, and inflation risk as higher costs of living erode their fixed retirement income, if any. In Singapore, Central Provident Fund (CPF) members face these risks.

To raise retirement adequacy, in 1987, an innovative scheme - the Minimum Sum (MS) scheme - was introduced. The MS is the amount that must be set aside at age 55 to safeguard CPF members' retirement nest egg. The decreed sum has increased progressively to yield higher payouts. The amount that can be cashed out if one pledges property is now up to 50 per cent of the MS.

In 2009, CPF Life was introduced. This is a life annuity using the MS. As a payout for life, it addresses longevity risks. But inflation risk remains since the payouts are fixed, with no cost of living adjustment.

The two measures - the MS and CPF Life - help improve retirement adequacy and remove longevity risk. But they are not comprehensive enough.

After 27 years, it is time to fine-tune the Minimum Sum scheme. Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin recently mooted the idea of having different Minimum Sums to cater to different needs.

I agree that the MS framework needs refining.

First, the framework is helpful in postponing lump sum cash withdrawals beyond age 55. It does not, however, address retirement adequacy adequately.

This is because half of CPF members are unable to meet the MS at age 55. There is a clear need to help a large segment of our population set aside more funds for retirement.

Grip of hierarchy strong in South Korea

Respect for authority runs deep in former authoritarian nation, but change is at hand
By Chang May Choon, The Sunday Times, 21 Dec 2014

When Mr Michael Lee was growing up in authoritarian-ruled South Korea in the 1980s, people did as they were told and kneeling was a common form of punishment for misbehaviour in schools.

Thirty years on, the now-democratic country is one of the world's most wired and technologically advanced nations and K-pop is well known around the world.

Some things, however, do not change. For one thing, hierarchy and respect for authority are still deeply entrenched in the South Korean mindset.

Age and seniority determine how people speak and interact with one another, and employees are expected to follow orders, especially in family-run conglomerates, or chaebols, where the owner's word is as good as a royal decree.

"The average Korean has never experienced a life free of hierarchical roles," said Assistant Professor CedarBough Saeji at the department of Korean studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

"You would need to be very confident to talk back in a situation where you know (it) is culturally not acceptable."

Mr Lee, 34, a history teacher at the Singapore Korean International School, said observing hierarchy comes naturally to South Koreans, who nod or bow to show respect.

"Saying 'no' is not easy in Korean culture. People are afraid of losing something - such as money, a job, authority or power - when they say 'no', so they will say 'yes' first to meet the expectations of the leader."

When things go horribly wrong, South Koreans bow deeply to apologise. In extreme cases, kneeling - which dates back to the imperial era under Chinese influence - is required to seek forgiveness.

Earlier this month, Ms Cho Hyun Ah, daughter of Korean Air's chief executive, gained notoriety for forcing a head steward to kneel before her to apologise for a stewardess who did not serve nuts in a bowl on a New York-Seoul flight.

Vision for tomorrow must break out of yesterday's mould

By Barry Desker, Published The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

AS WE move towards 2015 and our 50th year of Independence, there will be a flurry of books and articles recalling the challenges overcome since 1965 and the destiny which awaits Singapore. The bigger surprise has been the number of efforts at crystal-ball gazing, attempting to look 10, 25, and even 50 years into the future.

What is striking is how much our imaginations are prisoners of the present. Even though we want to look beyond today and aim to conceive of a world which will unfold in the years ahead, we are shaped by our experiences. Linear projections are common. We struggle to grapple with the possibility of discontinuities, of changes which break existing moulds.

At the same time, our natural optimism leads us to plot a future which highlights our role at or near the forefront of nation states, a beacon of economic development and political stability. When we discuss the possibility of changes, the tendency is to think in terms of incremental shifts.

But the possibility of paradigm shifts should not be ignored. The emergence of unexpected issues which become the focus of attention by policymakers can be seen in the current debate over the population challenge.

Singapore is an ageing society, with a total fertility rate of 1.19 last year, well below the replacement level of 2.1. In retrospect, high levels of economic growth over the past two decades resulted from increases in capital and foreign labour deployed, not from significant productivity increases. However, the unsustainable sharp influx of foreigners granted permanent residence, as well as employment permits, in recent years has resulted in a backlash, making the issue of immigration politically toxic.

It is not just younger Singaporeans concerned about competition for university places or preferred jobs. Older Singaporeans worry about the changing environment around them, as they have neighbours with alien languages and different lifestyles. While some welcome the influx of new ideas, different cuisines and fresh faces, others are concerned by the disappearance of comfort foods and familiar styles of behaviour.

50 years on, still no clear political alternative

By Sanjay Perera, Published The Straits Times, 20 Dec 2014

AT THE recent party conference of the People's Action Party (PAP), the possibility was raised of it not forming the government after the next general election.

This brings to mind former foreign minister George Yeo's two-word Facebook post after the ruling party lost the Punggol East by-election in January last year: "Whither Singapore?" This came after the May 2011 election when the PAP received its lowest votes in a general election since independence.

In this context, it appears intuitive that here is an opportunity for opposition parties to explain why they should run the country. Yet, none is making a claim for the leadership mantle other than trying to increase the parties' parliamentary presence.

But what if all seats are contested again in the next election, and a large collage of candidates from opposition parties are voted in?

How is the country to be governed if its fate pivots on a sizeable number of oppositionists, but none or few of them are ready to hold office? Singapore faces a peculiar phenomenon where there is talk of challenging the PAP but no party or candidate stands ready to take over the government or be prime minister.

Instead, the opposition is gingerly treading between assuaging those angry with an influx of foreigners and not straying too far from the PAP's way of trying to maintain economic growth and social stability. For the most we are presented with "PAP-lite" with some choice rhetoric thrown in.

Operation Coldstore: The evidence is clear, says PM

No doubt Barisan Sosialis was formed at instigation of Communists, he says
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 21 Dec 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in on a recent debate over the legitimacy of a 1963 crackdown on Communists, saying that British documents and first-person accounts by former Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders confirm the extent of the Communist United Front in Singapore.

They also "leave no doubt" that the Barisan Sosialis was formed at the CPM's instigation, and that detained Barisan leader Lim Chin Siong was a Communist cadre, Mr Lee said yesterday.

His comments in a Facebook post came two days after the Government's detailed reply to a commentary by former Barisan assistant secretary-general Poh Soo Kai which questioned the legitimacy of the crackdown, codenamed Operation Coldstore.

Dr Poh's commentary and the Government response were carried in the Australian National University's New Mandala website.

Mr Lim and Dr Poh were among 113 Communists and supporters arrested and detained without trial during Coldstore - carried out when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister.

Dr Poh said the arrests were directed at the senior Mr Lee's political opponents.

PM Lee's post included a link to the Government's response. He said it was based on evidence from the British archives and CPM sources - all of which confirm that Mr Lee Kuan Yew told the truth.

PM Lee noted that many old Communist and pro-Communist activists have reconciled with their past, and become good citizens.

"But a few hard-core ones still deny these historical facts. They don't want to admit that they had fought on the wrong side, and that luckily for Singapore they lost," he said. "Some 'revisionist' historians make this argument too.

"One motivation: cast doubt on the legitimacy of the PAP government, not just in the 1960s, but today."

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Singapore Government responds to allegations by ex-detainee Poh Soo Kai on Operation Coldstore

Crackdown on leftists in 1963 not political move: Govt
Claim by ex-political detainees and historians 'misleading, disingenuous'
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2014

THE Singapore Government has rebutted recent allegations by former political detainees and some historians that a major crackdown on leftists in 1963 was a political exercise, saying the claim was "misleading and disingenuous".

A full reading of the available evidence would highlight the "serious security threat" which the communists posed, it said.

The crackdown, Operation Coldstore, was a continuation of security operations mounted since 1948 to contain the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

The fact that the operation shattered the CPM's underground network throughout the island was acknowledged by no less than CPM secretary-general Chin Peng in his memoirs, the Government said. "Clearly, Operation Coldstore had not targeted innocent, non-communist 'socialists'."

The Government's comments were made by Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor in a strongly worded letter yesterday to the Australian National University's New Mandala website.

They were in response to a commentary on the website by former Coldstore detainee Poh Soo Kai earlier this month.

Dr Poh, a former Barisan Sosialis leader, was among 113 left- wing politicians and unionists rounded up in Coldstore, which he called a "set-up" against political opponents of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, including Barisan chief Lim Chin Siong.

The Straits Times at the time reported that the arrests of these members of Communist United Front (CUF) groups were aimed at preventing subversives from setting up a "communist Cuba" in Singapore and mounting violence as Malaysia was to be formed.

Dr Poh's commentary follows a bid by some historians in recent years to shed new light on Singapore's political developments in the 1960s, basing their work on confidential and secret records of the British colonial authorities that have been declassified in the past 10 years.

Several academics and officials have rebutted the revisionists' claims, and in October this year, the Government re-issued The Battle For Merger radio talks that Mr Lee gave in 1961 to expose the communist agenda.

A marker to commemorate about 8,000 victims of communist violence in Malaysia and Singapore from 1948 to 1989 was unveiled at Esplanade Park on Dec 8.