Sunday, 19 August 2018

National Day Rally 2017: One Year On

A better pre-school education, a fight against diabetes and a drive to be a Smart Nation were highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at his National Day Rally last year as efforts that could benefit Singapore in the long run. A year on, The Straits Times looks at progress and challenges in these areas.

Diabetes: Cheaper screening, low-sugar options in war against disease
Multi-pronged diabetes fight includes helping expectant mums and healthier food choices
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2018

At last year's National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of the need to tackle diabetes here.

The silent killer increases people's risk of contracting other serious medical problems such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

About 400,000 people here have the disease, though not all are aware of it as there are no symptoms in the early stages. This makes Singapore the developed country with the second-highest rate of diabetes, after the United States.

If nothing is done to curb the disease, the number of diabetics is projected to rise to one million by 2050 - and cost the country $2.5 billion a year in treatment and lost productivity, up from about $1 billion now.

Since the Prime Minister flagged the need to fight diabetes in August last year, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has made it cheaper for people to screen for this and other chronic ailments.

For a flat fee of $5 - it is $2 for Community Health Assist Scheme card holders and free for pioneers - eligible Singaporeans can be screened for up to five conditions, including diabetes.

The fee covers the follow-up consultation should the person have any of the conditions.

By May this year, more than 45,000 people had been screened.

The HPB also funds food manufacturers to encourage them to come up with products containing less sugar.

White rice is a major source of sugar intake here, so the HPB is also pushing for more people to turn to brown rice, which does not spike blood sugar levels as much.

It also works with hawkers to offer healthier options such as brown rice noodles and to add some brown rice in rice cakes and glutinous rice.

It has already become a must for water to be served at all government and People's Association functions, instead of just the ubiquitous syrup drinks.

He is hoping to make drinking water the default. Today, about 100 million cans of sweetened soda are sold here every month - or more than one billion cans a year.

Police probe Facebook graphic of Singapore flag being ripped apart to reveal the Indian flag underneath

Image widely shared online after being posted by Indian PR, whose employer, DBS Bank is also looking into it
By Ankita Varma, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2018

The police are investigating a Facebook post showing a black T-shirt with a graphic of the Singapore flag being ripped apart by a pair of hands to reveal the Indian flag underneath.

The image, which is believed to have first surfaced on Aug 14, one day ahead of India's Independence Day, was widely shared online when it was posted onto the Singapore Indians and Expats page on Facebook by Singapore permanent resident Avijit Das Patnaik. The page has over 11,000 members.

Mr Patnaik, who has been living in Singapore for a decade, posted it alongside a caption in Hindi that said, "Phir bhi dil hai…", which roughly translates to "Still my heart is…" and alludes to a popular Hindi song that talks about always feeling love for the motherland, India.

But he told The Straits Times that he did not design the image. He had first seen it posted on various individual accounts on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Many netizens who saw the post deemed it offensive, with some complaining that the image is disrespectful to Singapore as it shows the Singapore flag being ripped to shreds.

The Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act states that no person shall treat the flag with disrespect. The penalty is a maximum fine of $1,000.

The image has since been taken down.

The police confirmed that a police report has been lodged and that they are looking into the matter. DBS Bank, which is Mr Patnaik's employer, also commented in a Facebook post that it is looking into the matter.

When contacted, Mr Patnaik apologised and said that he did not mean to cause offence.

"I did not design the image and had already seen it being circulated widely... which is why I assumed it was okay for me to post the image. " he said.

"I love Singapore deeply and am always singing praises about this country, so my intention was never to cause so much grievance. I just felt that the image represented that deep inside, the heart also beats for our motherland," he added.

Secretary Tan Chor Bee, 52, who saw the post online, said that it should not be surprising that Singaporeans are angry.

"If you post an image which defaces a national flag, then you should expect this result," she said.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Rules eased for SMEs bidding for government projects

Changes include scrapping need for some firms to produce audited financial statements
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2018

More small businesses may start bidding for government projects as long-standing rules are being changed to make it cheaper and easier for them to do so.

Companies with yearly revenues below $5 million no longer have to produce audited financial statements to take part in government tenders, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said yesterday.

This makes the process of bidding cheaper for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he said on the sidelines of a Singapore Business Federation (SBF) meeting.

This change got under way in June.

Come October, businesses will also not have to affix company stamps on government forms, including on tender-related documents submitted through government procurement portal GeBiz. This is unless the stamps are required by legislation.

Stamps were needed for identity verification, but the digitalisation of services has meant that other forms of checks such as digital platforms and signatures are available.

The change follows a review by the Ministry of Trade and Industry's (MTI) Pro-Enterprise Panel, which found that it is "cumbersome and time-consuming" for companies to download, print, physically stamp, then scan and send documents back to agencies via e-mail.

"Upon receiving the feedback, the Pro-Enterprise Panel worked with 28 regulatory agencies and got their agreement to do away with this requirement," said Mr Chee.

"When technology changes, we also have to change the way we regulate, and the rules that we have."

On whether the relaxation of rules on financial statements involved risks, Mr Chee said the risks were manageable. He said smaller companies tend to bid for lower-value contracts and will have to build up a good track record before bidding for bigger contracts.

The change is expected to benefit some 3,900 suppliers here, based on the number of registered suppliers who have participated in past government tenders.

Of the 200,000 SMEs here, an estimated 160,000 or so earn an annual revenue of below $5 million a year.

"It brings cost savings, and more importantly, I think it brings a lot more participation from SMEs in the procurement process or tender process as well," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

Mahathir Confessions: Pakatan Harapan made promises without expecting to win General Election 2018

Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad's first 100 days back in power
Pakatan made pledges without expecting to win polls: Mahathir
The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2018

PETALING JAYA • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that Pakatan Harapan (PH) made too many election promises because it did not expect to win the 14th general election in May.

The coalition chairman told PH and Parti Warisan Sabah MPs at a closed-door meeting in Petaling Jaya on Monday night that this was why the new administration was facing a tough time meeting its manifesto pledges.

Tun Dr Mahathir also warned about the possibility of a backlash against the new government, according to several sources present at the dinner function.

"Actually, we did not expect to win, and we made a thick manifesto with all kinds of promises... We need to make sacrifices to fulfil our promises. If we can't fulfil them, we will need a good reason that is acceptable to the people," said Dr Mahathir.

"If we fail to deliver on our promises, the opposition will use it against us and we may be defeated" in the next general election, he added.

One example he gave was PH's promise to make the position of opposition leader equal to that of a minister.

The Prime Minister said that the promise was made with the expectation that PH would be in the opposition.

"But we won, and now it feels uncomfortable to give the opposition leader an equal rank to a minister," he said.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Mahathir says Singapore should pay at least 10 times more for Malaysian raw water in Associated Press interview on 13 August 2018

Singapore-Malaysia Water Agreements: Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad wants to raise price of raw water sold to Singapore by more than 10 times
The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2018

PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he wants to increase the price of raw water supply to Singapore by more than 10 times to reflect the higher cost of living.

The current water agreement, which expires in 2061, sees Singapore drawing up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River, and Johor entitled to 5 mgd of treated water from Singapore.

Singapore pays 3 sen (1 Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons. Singapore has said this price is heavily subsidised and below the cost of treating the water.

Malaysia chose not to review the price when allowed to in 1987, but talks took place when Tun Dr Mahathir, who was then prime minister, raised the issue in 1998. The talks did not result in a new pact.

In an interview with the Associated Press published yesterday, Dr Mahathir said Johor sells raw water to another Malaysian state Melaka at 30 sen per 1,000 gallons, which he described as "charitable".

"To a foreign country, we need to get more than that," he said.

Since his comeback as the world's oldest prime minister after leading the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to victory in the May general election, Dr Mahathir has in recent interviews criticised the 1962 water deal as "too costly" and "ridiculous", and said Malaysia would approach Singapore to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Dr Mahathir had served a previous stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said last month that Singapore has been clear and consistent in its position that Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement in 1987.

The statement came as Malaysia's national news agency Bernama cited Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah as saying in an interview that "the agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years".

MFA said Singapore's position was set out in Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's remarks in Parliament on July 9 where he said Dr Mahathir had noted in 2002 that Malaysia did not ask for a review when the water pact was due as it knew any revision would also affect the price of treated water sold by Singapore to Malaysia.

The water issue has been brought up on several occasions in Malaysia since the PH government took over.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Sengkang General Hospital to open on 18 August 2018

It is the biggest new hospital with 1,000 beds; attached community hospital opens on Aug 28
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 12 Aug 2018

Singapore's biggest new hospital with 1,000 beds will open on Saturday.

When it is fully open, Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) will significantly bump up the total number of public-sector acute beds from just over 8,600 now.

The next public general hospital to open will be in Woodlands, in 2022. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will then take a pause to plan for future healthcare needs, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

SKH will start with 260 beds and increase to 500 in six months. The hospital is within walking distance of the Sengkang MRT station and linked directly to the LRT station.

The 400-bed Sengkang Community Hospital attached to SKH will open on Aug 28, as it takes a while for patients from the general hospital to need rehabilitation at a community hospital.

Announcing the dates at the SKH Campus Community Health Fair, Mr Gan said that as Singapore's population ages, there will be increased demand for healthcare services.

The Government has been building more facilities across various sectors to meet this growing demand, he said. Since 2011, it has added 1,700 acute hospital beds and 1,200 community hospital beds. The hospitals in Sengkang will add another 1,400 beds to this.

They are part of the new generation of public general hospitals, starting with the 660-bed Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) in Yishun which opened in 2010, and the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East in 2015.

The Woodlands general hospital will add another 1,400 beds. It will be part of the Woodlands Health Campus, which will also have a community hospital and other healthcare facilities.

"Beyond Woodlands, we will take a bit of time to plan for future needs," said Mr Gan.

"Healthcare needs will expand, given the ageing population, but the care model may change. It is important to take a bit of time to plan for... future needs."

Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport, and MP for Sengkang West, said MOH is pushing for more ambulant care with shorter hospital stays, which could cut the need for hospital beds.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

PayNow Corporate: Cashless payments to businesses, government from 13 Aug 2018

Fund-transfer service will be extended to reduce the reliance on cash and cheques
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times. 11 Aug 2018

The push for a cashless society will take a big step forward when PayNow Corporate is launched next week, allowing businesses to receive funds directly from local accounts at participating banks, businesses and banks said yesterday.

This means, for instance, that individuals, who have become used to paying one another directly through PayNow on their mobile phones, will have the same convenience when they buy goods and services from businesses or make and receive payments to and from the Government.

Businesses will also be able to make and receive payments to and from each other.

PayNow Corporate, which goes live on Monday, allows the unique entity numbers of firms and government agencies to be linked to their local bank accounts.

This would help reduce the reliance on cash, long a key form of payment by consumers, and cheques, which are still commonly used between businesses.

The move to go cashless is part of the national drive towards a Smart Nation.

With PayNow Corporate, consumers would launch their banks' mobile banking apps or e-payment apps and scan a QR code to pay the company directly from their bank accounts. The cashless transfer is almost instant, and works 24/7. It saves time and cuts costs as cheques take up to two days to clear, and Giro, up to three days.

So far, banks have received an "overwhelming response" from businesses in signing up to the new system, an OCBC Bank spokesman told The Straits Times. Nine in 10 of its new business banking customers have pre-registered for PayNow Corporate since April. The service was announced by the Association of Banks in Singapore in June.

Friday, 10 August 2018

NDP 2018: Happy 53rd Birthday Singapore!

Celebrating a shared Singapore
25,000 spectators celebrate diversity and shared Singaporean past at 53rd birthday bash
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2018

Lifting their heads to the sky, the 25,000 people at Singapore's 53rd birthday bash raised their voices to sing Majulah Singapura as fireworks in the formation of five stars shot up into the night sky.

The triumphant pyrotechnic show that ends every National Day Parade was an emotional coda to a day when Singaporeans celebrated their unity in diversity, their home and country, and felt like the sky, indeed, was the limit.

The ninth parade to be held at the Marina Bay floating platform stoked the exhilaration, utilising the elements that have made it a crowd favourite - of sky, sea and that gleaming downtown backdrop.

Making their aerial debut were divers from the Republic of Singapore Navy, who drew thunderous applause as they jumped out of a plane in freefall, opening their chutes to land in the calm waters with their operational gear and fins on.

The cheers got even wilder with the act that followed them, the skydiving Red Lions, who landed gracefully on the platform.

Sports instructor Debbie Poh was thrilled to see the Red Lions and divers together at the show.

"This couldn't have been done elsewhere because the floating platform is right next to the water," said Ms Poh, 30. "It's the perfect venue."

President Halimah Yacob attended the parade for the first time as Singapore's head of state. The crowd rose to its feet as one, cheering and waving flags at her arrival.

Singapore's first female president, with her trademark warmth, stayed after the parade was over to mingle with fellow Singaporeans.

At home, Singaporeans watching the sundown parade on TV got the best view when spectators in the stands held up red and white placards from their funpacks, to form the sentence "WE (heart) SG".

It was a smart idea, said student Jasdev Singh, 14. "The coordination required is really cool and the results turned out awesome... It shows how each one of us can play our part and contribute."

Also contributing were more than 3,000 participants, who performed in the spectacular mass displays of song and dance that showcased home-grown creativity.

We are Singapore, said the 2018 National Day Parade. It was also the year's theme song - a 1987 classic by Hugh Harrison made new by musician Charlie Lim, but still familiar and beloved.

Ms Doris Lim, 40, who works in the IT industry, said the remade version was refreshing. Of the new lyrics, she said: "They are as meaningful as the old ones."

The affection for a shared Singaporean past was palpable, as the audience sang heartily along with the combined schools choir - back after five years - to National Day favourites such as Chan Mali Chan and Munnaeru Vaalibaa.

Like the parades of previous years, this one melded people's favourite things about Singapore into a satisfying whole.

The past was very much with the present, when Singaporeans planted their feet and stood together, and looked to the future.