Thursday, 26 March 2015

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Final Trip to Parliament

Mr Lee leaves Istana for the last time
People line streets to watch as gun carriage takes casket to Parliament
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2015

OUTSIDE, thronging the roads, the public were waiting. But inside Sri Temasek on the grounds of the Istana, the family of Mr Lee Kuan Yew gathered after sunrise as the private wake for their pa-triarch drew to a close.

Just an hour later, the casket containing Mr Lee would leave the two-storey house for the journey to Parliament House and four days of lying in state.

But for now, in quiet moments away from the public eye, the extended families of Mr Lee and his late wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, paid their respects.

After them, Mr Lee's immediate family members stepped forward to say individual goodbyes, all dressed in white shirts and black trousers or long skirts.

The first was younger son Lee Hsien Yang, followed by his wife Lee Suet Fern, and their sons Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu.

Mr Lee's daughter Wei Ling, who had lived with her late parents in the family home in Oxley Road, went next.

Last of all came Mr Lee's elder son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his wife Ho Ching, and children Xiuqi, Yipeng, Hongyi and Haoyi.

Over Monday and Tuesday, they had received and hosted more than 5,200 visitors at the private wake held at the official residence of the Prime Minister in the Istana grounds. Mr Lee died early on Monday at the age of 91.

Too soon, 9am came - the hour when the gun carriage waiting in the driveway outside would carry Mr Lee away.

Inside, the Lee family watched solemnly as a team of white-jacketed pallbearers from the defence services and police draped the Singapore flag over the casket. As the officers - their headgear removed as a mark of respect - carried the casket onto the gun carriage, and the strains of Beethoven's Funeral March No. 1 filled the air, the family filed out of the hall and into the public eye.

Among the group of at least 20 people were grandsons Yipeng and Huanwu bearing a portrait of their grandfather, with Yipeng's left arm resting at times on his cousin's shoulder in solidarity.

The ceremonial procession on foot behind the carriage was led by PM Lee, the chief mourner.

Slowly, slowly, the family trailed the carriage to the beat of a military drum, as it descended the hill, for about 70m.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Suet Fern walked hand-in-hand, their heads frequently bowed. Behind them, Mr Lee's grandchildren walked together, hands at their sides. Daughter Wei Ling was not in the procession as she was unwell.

Along the way, through the grounds of the Istana, they passed a military line of honour and representatives from Tanjong Pagar GRC, the constituency where the late Mr Lee was an MP, and the Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC, where PM Lee is an MP.

The gun carriage then went past the main Istana building, where President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and staff paid their respects, while a bagpiper from the Singapore Gurkha Contingent played Auld Lang Syne.

As the first part of the ceremonial procession ended, still within the grounds of the Istana, the Lee family proceeded separately by vehicle to Parliament House, where Mr Lee's casket will lie in state until 8pm on Saturday.

They were there to receive the casket when it arrived just before 10am, bearing silent witness as it was transferred from the gun carriage to its bier. As the pallbearers removed the national flag from Mr Lee's casket and marched off, the family was ushered forward.

PM Lee stood front and centre, his wife beside him. The grandsons placed Mr Lee's portrait on a pedestal before the casket.

Then, as one, the Lee family bowed once in front of the head of their family before departing.

The Lee Kuan Yew I remember

Our chief diplomat to the world
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew was the most famous Singaporean in the world. For nearly half a century, he personified Singapore to the world. During his long tenure as Prime Minister (of independent Singapore), from 1965 to 1990, he was the principal architect of Singapore's foreign policy.

Later, as senior minister and minister mentor, he continued to give his successors valuable advice on our external relations. It would not be wrong to say that he served as our chief diplomat to the world.

Singapore is a very small country. However, it enjoys a role and influence in the world not enjoyed by other countries of similar size. A British newspaper once wrote that Singapore punches above its weight. This is due to three factors: our record of domestic achievements, our skilful diplomacy and the Lee Kuan Yew factor.

Why was Mr Lee so greatly admired by foreign leaders? Because of his intellectual brilliance, his power of analysis and judgment, his eloquence and charisma, and his willingness to share his candid and disinterested views. His longevity also gave him an advantage as he evolved from being the brilliant Prime Minister of Singapore to being a wise elder statesman.

Mr Lee travelled extensively on behalf of Singapore. He befriended and earned the respect of many foreign leaders, in government, business and academia. He had an impressive global network. For example, he was respected by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, German leader Helmut Schmidt, French leader Jacques Chirac and Japanese leader Kiichi Miyazawa. He knew and was respected by every American president, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Two of America's thought leaders, Dr Henry Kissinger and Dr George Shultz, are among his many admirers.

One of the greatest honours the United States can confer on a foreign leader is an invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress. I will never forget Oct 9, 1985. On that beautiful autumn day, Mr Lee addressed a packed joint session of Congress.

At that time, the protectionist tide was running strong in the US body politic. In his speech, which received several standing ovations, he explained why it was in the strategic interest of the US to continue to support free trade and open economies. The senator sitting next to me, Mr Edward Kennedy, confided in me afterwards that he was not previously aware of the linkage between free trade and US strategic interests in the world. The speech did help to stem the tide of protectionism in the US Congress.

Mr Lee's enduring contribution to Singapore's foreign policy can be summed up in the following seven principles.


First, our foreign policy is based on pragmatism and not on any doctrine or ideology. The scholars who have written that Singapore's foreign policy is based on realism are mistaken. If it were based on realism, we would not have attached so much importance to international law or to the United Nations. Our constant lodestar is to promote the security and prosperity of Singapore.


Second, we rely, first and foremost, on ourselves. Believing that the world does not owe us a living, Singapore did not seek foreign aid from the developed countries. We did not want to develop a dependency mentality. Instead, we concentrated our energies on attracting foreign investment and creating jobs for our people. We started building up our armed forces and introduced national service in order to develop a capacity to deter aggression.


Third, we accept the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We have no illusions about the world. We take a clinical attitude towards facts and realities. This does not mean that we are passive and fatalistic. Not at all. We have been extremely proactive in taking the leadership to form such groupings as the Forum of Small States and the Global Governance Group. We know that we live in an unfair and dangerous world. We know that small countries will always be vulnerable to the pressures of bigger countries.

Lee Kuan Yew and his red box

Mr Lee's red box and his unwavering dedication to Singapore
By Heng Swee Keat, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew had a red box. When I worked as Mr Lee's principal private secretary, or PPS, a good part of my daily life revolved around the red box. Before Mr Lee came in to work each day, the locked red box would arrive first, at about 9am.

As far as the various officers who have worked with Mr Lee can remember, he had it for many, many years. It is a large, boxy briefcase, about 14cm wide. Red boxes came from the British government, whose ministers used them for transporting documents between government offices.

Our early ministers had red boxes, but Mr Lee is the only one I know who used his consistently through the years.

When I started working for Mr Lee in 1997, it was the first time I saw a red box in use. It is called the red box but is more a deep wine colour, like the seats in the chamber in Parliament House.

This red box held what Mr Lee was working on at any one time. Through the years, it held his papers, speech drafts, letters, readings, and a whole range of questions, reflections and observations. For example, in the years that Mr Lee was working on his memoirs, the red box carried the multiple early drafts back and forth between his home and the office, scribbled over with his and Mrs Lee's notes.

For a long time, other regular items in Mr Lee's red box were the cassette tapes that held his dictated instructions and thoughts for later transcription. Some years back, he changed to using a digital recorder.

The red box carried a wide range of items. It could be communications with foreign leaders, observations about the financial crisis, instructions for the Istana grounds staff, or even questions about some trees he had seen on the expressway.

Mr Lee was well-known for keeping extremely alert to everything he saw and heard around him - when he noticed something wrong, like an ailing raintree, a note in the red box would follow.

We could never anticipate what Mr Lee would raise - it could be anything that was happening in Singapore or the world. But we could be sure of this: It would always be about how events could affect Singapore and Singaporeans, and how we had to stay a step ahead.

Inside the red box was always something about how we could create a better life for all.

Lee Kuan Yew: Family Man

Devoted husband and caring father
Close-knit family and a small circle of friends - these are the people who got to witness the tender, nurturing side of Lee Kuan Yew
By Robin Chan And Sumiko Tan, Deputy Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was a man with few close friends. Those who knew him best and saw his tender, caring side came mainly from his tight family circle.

But others who interacted with him caught glimpses of the private man away from his public persona as Singapore's hard-driving, straight-talking first prime minister.

At home, he was ever the devoted son who cared deeply for his mother, Chua Jim Neo, even if he upset her once by cancelling her driving licence when he decided she had become too old to drive.

She was an English-speaking Straits Chinese matriarch famed for her Peranakan culinary skills who died in 1980, aged 75. He greatly admired her for standing up to her temperamental, more carefree husband in order to keep the family finances healthy and raise her children properly.

He was less close to his father, Lee Chin Koon, who worked at the Shell oil company first as a storekeeper, then later in charge of various depots in Malaysia, and had a love for card games. He was 94 when he died in 1997.

Mr Lee had three younger brothers and a sister who looked up to him and had regarded him as the man of the house during long periods when their father was away. "He was a wonderful big brother because he was responsible, caring, and when we were young, he'd give us good advice," said his youngest sibling, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

Mr Lee had two sons and a daughter, whose achievements he was proud of. "He was not a demonstrative person, which was common with many of his generation," said younger son Hsien Yang.

Most of all, though, he was a devoted husband in a long, happy marriage. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010 at 89, was the bedrock of his life.

She was a partner of the law firm Lee & Lee, and he had been prime minister, but their home at 38 Oxley Road was a rambling pre-war bungalow filled with furniture from an earlier era.

They had no shower for the longest time, preferring to scoop water from a large earthenware jar at bath-time. It was only after Mrs Lee had a stroke in London in 2003 that their children installed a shower before she returned home.

"It's a very humble house. The furniture has probably never been changed. Some of the pictures are yellow already," said Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, an MP for 20 years in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar GRC, who visited in 2002.

The house had been Mr Lee's home since 1945, and his wife moved in after they were married in 1950. They did not move to the official Sri Temasek residence in the Istana compound after he became prime minister, because they did not want to give their children "a false sense of life".

Their two sons left home when they got married. Daughter Wei Ling still lives there today.

Lee Kuan Yew: The Father

When you needed him, he was there
Lee Hsien Loong, 63, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew's eldest child. He has been Prime Minister of Singapore since August 2004
By Zuraidah Ibrahim And Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong had a habit of tugging his shirt sleeves near his shoulders whenever he was engrossed in a conversation. So did Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

This was one of the matter-of-fact observations the elder Mr Lee made when he was asked if father and son had similar traits. Tugging his own sleeve, he said: "I did not know how much like me he was until I watched him on television one day."

In another interview, he cited the work of British psychologist Hans Eysenck, who said boys tend to follow their mothers, and daughters, their fathers.

"Loong is a different personality from me. He's more, how would I say, equable - less intense than my daughter who takes after me," he said.

As someone who believed deeply in the heritability of genes, it was a subject that intrigued him. However, others were probably more seized by the possibility that the father may have succeeded in transferring all of his political DNA to the son.

Do they share the same political values and instincts? Such questions have been aired in kopitiam circles as well as the conversations of the creme de la creme. At the heart of the fixation for some is the fear that the younger Lee would lack his father's political strength and skill to do whatever had to be done. Others have the opposite fear, that should the time come for change, PM Lee would be unable to break free of his father's legacy.

It is difficult to compare the two, given that they belong to very different periods. Although their years in Cabinet had an extraordinarily long overlap of 27 years, their premierships were separated by 14 years of the Goh Chok Tong administration.

The elder Mr Lee's Singapore was associated with the drama of nation-building and high growth from a lower base. PM Lee's is a more stable Singapore, but one that faces the challenges of a maturing economy and a more demanding electorate.

Despite the differences, such is the senior Mr Lee's hold on people's political imagination that the question continues to arise: How much has he passed on to his son?

Lee Kuan Yew: Unorthodox Leader

Did Mr Lee create a Singapore in his own image?
From cleaning up dirty rivers and city grounds, to reforming the language environment, Lee Kuan Yew nagged and cajoled a nation into improving its social habits. He even tried to tell them whom to marry.
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor And Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was a chain-smoker until 1957, puffing away two packs a day. Then he lost his voice in the middle of campaigning for a City Council election and could not thank voters. He quit cold turkey, suffering withdrawal symptoms for a fortnight.

By the 1960s, he was allergic to tobacco smoke. So smoking was banned in his office and the Cabinet room.

In the 1970s, an anti-smoking campaign banned cigarette advertising in Singapore. Progressively, there was less and less public space for smokers to have their puff.

Question: Did Mr Lee create a Singapore in his own image? Did he socially engineer and shape the behaviour of a nation according to his fastidious preferences?

It is impossible to tease out where a leader's preferences begin, and where a country's values end. The prerogative of a leader after all is to shape an organisation, a country, according to his will.

Mr Lee was notoriously fussy about order and cleanliness. Not surprisingly, Singapore is known the world over for both even today. He believed a tidy city bespoke an orderly government, a people with good social habits, and pride in their surroundings.

In November 1959, leading a mass drive to clean up the city, he said: "This is one of the hallmarks of civilisation. One can be rich and filthy or poor and clean. Cleanliness and tidiness are indications of the level of tidiness of a people. We must improve on our standard as one of the cleanest cities in Asia."

He took a personal interest in cleaning and greening the city state. He was the eyes and ears of the Public Works Department, the National Parks Division, the anti-mosquito unit, the Public Utilities Board.

He noticed when hawkers boarded up drains they had no business covering; when a street-seller rigged up power lines and put up an illicit fridge on a roundabout. He told the story of how an empty patch at Novena housed first a Chinese shrine, a makeshift tent days later, then a fence and eventually a hut. He disapproved, sent a note and got things rectified.

He hit the roof one day in late 1964 when he looked out of his City Hall office across the Padang and saw some cows grazing on the Esplanade. He called a meeting of senior officers, including permanent secretaries, and gave them a shellacking.

Lee Kuan Yew: Master Politician

A life devoted entirely to Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew was obsessive about securing Singapore's success, and compulsive in demanding every ounce of effort from himself and others in shaping its destiny
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, Andrea Ong and Rachel Lin, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

WHEN Singapore split from Malaysia, one major matrimonial asset required more than a little time to divvy up: their joint Malaysia-Singapore Airlines.

The day finally came seven years later in 1972, when Singapore Airlines (SIA) was ready to take to the skies.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had taken a personal interest in the process. But when he spoke to the Singapore Air Transport Workers' Union on the eve of SIA's formation, there was no nationalistic cheerleading.

The airline was not a prestige project, he told them. If they could not turn in a profit, "we should have no compunction in closing a service down", he warned. "The future of Singapore Airlines depends more on the reality SIA leaves behind on their passengers than on their advertisements."

Three decades later, with SIA famed as one of the world's top airlines, Mr Lee refused to be swept off his feet by its glamorous image.

Intervening in 2004 over a dispute between its pilots and management, he told them he would not allow anyone to endanger SIA. "Both management and unions, you play this game, there are going to be broken heads."

Recalling similar squabbles in 1980 when he intervened personally, he declared: "This is a job that has to be finished and I'll finish it."

This was vintage LKY. Cutting through the fluff. Setting no-nonsense targets. And leaving no room for doubt that any "games" would be tolerated - other than the one he had decided was in Singapore's best interests.

The histories of former colonies are replete with politicians who shone in the independence struggle but stumbled in office, when the enemy was no longer the distant imperialist but dysfunction within - corruption, poverty, ethnic or religious conflict.

Mr Lee was a rare case of a leader who never cut himself or his team any slack even after the job appeared done. Perhaps this was because of the unforgiving circumstances the People's Action Party (PAP) found itself in, with freedom first secured as part of an uneasy federation in 1963, followed by unceremonious expulsion in 1965.

He brought to each situation a voracious appetite for information to feed his rational calculations. He knew the value of having differing views within government, which partly explains his obsession with creaming off the most intellectually able to staff the public sector. At the same time, he expected no obstruction from individuals or institutions outside of government.

Not surprisingly, therefore, how people view his political style depended a lot on where they stood - within or outside the trusted establishment.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: Founding Father

First among equals
Lee Kuan Yew led a tiny island nation from Third World to First. In the process, he had to strike a fine balance with the Japanese, British, leftists and communalists
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

THE midnight call from Mr S. Rajaratnam startled Mr Othman Wok. It was Aug 7, 1965.

"'We go to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow,' he said," Mr Othman recalls. "I asked him why. 'Have they arrested PM?' I said."

Mr Rajaratnam did not explain.

The two men were ministers in Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet, and Singapore was then part of the 22-month-old federation of Malaysia.

Mr Othman's asking if Mr Lee had been detained reflected the tense atmosphere of the times; being summoned so suddenly to the Malaysian capital lent itself to gloomy and drastic interpretation.

Rumours that Mr Lee would be detained had circulated furiously for two years. A fundamental disagreement between him and Kuala Lumpur on the issue of race had raised temperatures close to boiling point.

The federal government had indeed drawn up a case, secretly, to have him arrested. Malay extremists had been clamouring publicly for his arrest, when they were not calling openly for him to be murdered.

Mr Othman and Mr Rajaratnam reached the Malaysian capital to find Mr Lee still a free man. What he needed to see them about so urgently was Singapore's impending exit from Malaysia.

Today, the Lee Kuan Yew story is a tale of a man who led a tiny island nation from Third World to First. But what narrative would have prevailed had he been locked up in the 1960s? A tragic hero cut down in his prime? A charismatic leader of great but unfulfilled promise?

In the event, he was not arrested, thanks in part to then British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Through High Commissioner to Malaysia Anthony Head, Mr Wilson threatened that draconian action by Kuala Lumpur would trigger strong reaction from Britain and the Commonwealth.

"Wilson was a good friend," Mr Lee would say years later.

The escape from incarceration was not his first. Singapore Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock contemplated it before the 1959 elections when it appeared that Mr Lee's People's Action Party (PAP), then in the opposition, was on the brink of victory.

Mr Lee's pre-1965 years were a period marked by close shaves and striking the finest of balance between forces he found himself up against - the Japanese, the British, leftists and communalists.

His generation lived through a world war followed by fierce power struggles as the British gradually withdrew as colonial masters. Those early experiences go some way towards explaining Mr Lee's character, his outlook and ideology and his policy choices later on.

Tributes to Lee Kuan Yew

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

SG50: Time for new S'pore story?

By Fiona Chan, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

A BONUS public holiday, free concerts in the park and a bigger-than-usual National Day Parade are some of the special ways Singapore is marking its 50th anniversary of nationhood this year.

But the SG50 occasion is also an opportune time to contemplate the country's journey so far and ponder on ways the Singapore story may evolve in the next 50 years.

This year is "a time to reflect on what makes us Singaporean; to bond as a people and build confidence for our future", Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament this month.

Indeed, the vision that unified independent Singapore in its first 50 years has become less relevant as the country prepares to embark on the next 50 years.

That initial vision was of a nation which did not willingly become independent and had toiled for survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.

But with most Singaporeans now used to stability and prosperity rather than turbulence and insecurity, calls for a new narrative to take the country forward have emerged from various quarters.

In response, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong agrees that the Singapore story needs to move beyond the relatively simple account of a young country making its way in the world.

"I think that for the next phase the narrative cannot be just one single word like nation-building," he said in an interview with the local media in January this year.

In fact, he had signalled in 2013 a "new way forward" for the country, which he said was "at an inflection point".

Speaking at the annual National Day Rally then, he said: "Our society is more diverse, our economy is more mature, our political landscape is more contested."

While Singapore's ideals - of a just and equal society in which every citizen has a chance to succeed regardless of race, language or religion - remain the same, they need to be interpreted again "in this new phase and with a new generation", PM Lee added.

Once upon a time

SINGAPORE'S narrative in its first 50 years of independence was clear. Cast out from Malaysia and left to fend for itself, the infant nation drew on its only resource - its hard-working people - to survive and thrive.

It charted a path of remarkable economic success, going from a Third World economy centred on entrepot trade to a thriving First World industrialised nation in just one generation.

Some call it the "swamp to skyscrapers" fairy tale.

This exceptional story of nation-building is bolstered by a few supporting narratives.

CPF Life plan can be switched, on case-by-case basis: MOM

By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

CENTRAL Provident Fund (CPF) members who have already picked their CPF Life annuity plan can now change their minds - but only on a case-by-case basis, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has clarified to The Straits Times.

The CPF Board is making the concession for this group because from next year, members will no longer have to decide at the age of 55 which of two CPF Life annuity plans they want.

They can delay the decision until they want to start receiving the monthly payouts - which can be any time from age 65 onwards.

The move to defer the decision, announced at the debate on the ministry's annual budget two weeks ago, gives flexibility to future cohorts of CPF members.

But those who have already made their choices are now locked in.

To switch plans, these members must cancel their existing plan or "de-annuitise their savings already committed to CPF Life", according to a spokesman for the ministry, which oversees the CPF Board.

They will then have to rejoin the annuity scheme at age 65.

Previously, CPF members had to pick a plan within six months of their 55th birthday with only a 30-day grace period to change their minds.

When CPF Life annuity plans were introduced in 2009, there were four plans with different amounts of monthly payouts and bequests.

They were simplified to two in 2013 when the scheme became compulsory.

While the option of changing the CPF Life plans is on the table, the ministry discourages members from doing so, pointing out that those who have already committed their savings to CPF Life are not worse off. "The additional interest tiers that apply to the CPF Retirement Account also apply to monies in the CPF Life fund," the ministry said.

From next year, an extra 1 per cent interest will be applied to the first $30,000 of CPF savings for those aged 55 and above, on top of the existing 1 per cent extra interest on the first $60,000 of all savings.

This means that the first $30,000 in savings of a CPF member aged 55 and above earns up to 6 per cent interest, even if they have already committed the amount to CPF Life.

The move to let members switch annuity plans has drawn support.

Helping the needy: 5 fresh fixes

A report released this week highlights the continuing problem of poverty in Singapore and suggests some ways to deal with it. Insight takes a closer look at the recommendations.
The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

AT FIRST glance, a gleaming city-state like Singapore may not look like it has many people who are starving, without a roof over their heads - that is, those in abject poverty.

After all, help for low-income households has been the overwhelming focus of recent policies like the Workfare scheme supplementing low-wage workers' incomes, and Silver Support payouts for the poorest elderly.

But despite these schemes, the issue of poverty and inequality is still a problem - just hidden, say some academics and experts.

A handbook on poverty issues released this week by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation (LCSI) has gathered suggestions from these experts on how to tackle the problem.

In the book, titled A Handbook On Inequality, Poverty And Unmet Social Needs In Singapore, they collate calls for policy changes in the Central Provident Fund savings scheme, education, taxes and wages.

The debate over the exact level and landscape of poverty here has been a long-running one, as Singapore - unlike Hong Kong, for instance - does not have a defined poverty line.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that a rigid poverty line might be polarising, and leave some outside the definition of poor.

Instead, Singapore needs several layers of assistance, as its groups of needy are shifting and multi-faceted, he said.

But social welfare groups argue that the true face of poverty is, ironically, hidden by some of Singapore's successes, such as widespread public housing.

The former chief economist of the GIC sovereign wealth fund, Mr Yeoh Lam Keong, estimates that there are about 110,000 to 140,000 Singaporeans who fall into the categories of working poor, elderly poor and unemployed poor.

Regardless of their positions in the debate, all recognise there are the needy and vulnerable who need help.

Whether Singapore can afford such policy moves to boost assistance-scheme payouts is a debate that society must have, say the experts.

Insight looks at five left-of-field measures proposed in the new book.

More rental flat applicants used to own homes

Reasons for 'worrisome' rising trend include debt, divorce and illness
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

WHEN former disc jockey Gurmit Singh, 59, was diagnosed with a spinal disorder in 2003, doctors advised him to stop working.

But the sudden halt in income made paying the monthly mortgage for his three-room flat in Serangoon a struggle.

In 2009, after racking up a mortgage debt of $18,000, he was forced to sell his flat back to the Housing Board. He then moved into a two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh with his wife and two daughters.

Like him, almost six in 10 public rental flat applicants today are former home owners who had sold their flats.

This is up from 52 per cent five years ago, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman earlier this month, describing it as a "worrisome trend".

Cases like Mr Gurmit's, where unforeseen circumstances such as illness or retrenchment lead to mortgage trouble, are not uncommon, MPs, social workers and tenants told The Straits Times.

They also listed debt, divorce, family conflict and imprudent spending as other reasons.

Roar of approval as Red Lions keep sole use of name

Name captures spirit, efforts of elite paratroopers, says man who coined it
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

WHEN former parachutist Pach Ang saw on Facebook two Sundays ago that Singapore's aquatic athletes had called themselves "Red Lions", he was stunned.

For nearly 20 years, the name was exclusive to the elite paratroopers of the Singapore Armed Forces commandos.

"I thought someone was joking," said the 53-year-old over the phone from Abu Dhabi, where he is based.

"It did not feel right... Even though we did not register the name as a trademark, the Red Lions have become somewhat of an icon that people identify with NDP parachutists," he added, referring to the National Day Parades where the Red Lions have been the annual star attraction.

His unease was echoed by many others - soldiers past and present, and members of the public.

Three days later, representatives from the Defence Ministry met the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) and the latter agreed to scrap the Red Lions tag.

It ended a rebranding campaign which lasted just five days.

Free fitness programme for seniors

They can get fit with aid from trained volunteers in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

A GROUP of 40 seniors from Toa Payoh who got fit on their doorstep have paved the way for thousands more to follow.

In January, they started trying out new exercise equipment such as steppers, cycling machines and back trainers at fitness stations near their flats.

Some of the equipment have adjustable resistance so they can set their targets higher as they progress.

After an eight-week trial, and with help from fitness trainers, four out of five participants have increased their strength, flexibility or balance.

Most could also walk further.

The pilot scheme, which trained seniors in two groups of 20, was such a success that it is now a fixture called Bishan-Toa Payoh Active Living (BiTPAL).

A 12-week free programme will be offered to all Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC residents over 50.

"I feel fitter after a good sweat," said Madam Tan Siew Eng, 63, who took part in the trial. "It's really much better than exercising alone. You exercise in a group and feel more motivated."

Most public fitness areas have equipment with fixed resistance, but having adjustable machines means that older or more frail residents can do lighter exercises while stronger ones can take it up a notch.

Trainers from local company Fitness and Health International (FHI) coached them in hour-long sessions.

Defence Minister and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Ng Eng Hen said at the launch of BiTPAL yesterday: "We want our elderly to live a healthy lifestyle which will translate into better health for them."

Thirty-two elderly fitness stations with new equipment have been built and 40 more will be up by the end of this year.

S'pore No. 7 on global list of tech-friendly cities

Republic is highest-ranked Asian city, ahead of HK, Seoul and Mumbai
By Ariel Lim, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE has been ranked the seventh-most-attractive destination around the world for technology companies.

A new report first identified the 12 cities at the forefront of the technology push.

It then assessed them under five categories - business and tech environment, quality of life, talent pool and real estate costs.

The two top-ranked cities were both in the United States: Austin, Texas and San Francisco.

Tel Aviv, New York, Stockholm and London rounded out the next four places ahead of Singapore at No. 7.

Singapore was the highest-ranked Asian city, ahead of Hong Kong, Seoul and Mumbai.

It did especially well in the business environment category, coming second only to New York in the league table.

The inaugural report by property services provider Savills noted that Singapore led the field in the sub-categories of low business costs and regulations, but it warned that the low staff costs here could be a mixed blessing in that they might attract businesses but deter talent.

Singapore was ranked third in the tech environment category.

Broadband here is the fastest among the 12 cities, with an average speed of around 100Mbps.

Singapore was ranked fifth in the quality of life category, which dealt with factors such as the cost of living, working hours, political stability, crime and pollution as well as "city buzz".

This referred to cultural and social gatherings and activities such as bars, festivals and cafe culture.

Its high rank was due to its comparatively low crime rate, commute times and lack of pollution.

'Moral values among religions are similar'

The Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) turned 66 on Wednesday. In 2012, it moved into its first permanent HQ in Palmer Road, nestled between a Chinese temple and a mosque. IRO president Gurmit Singh, a Sikh, tells Lim Yan Liang about the group's role in promoting religious harmony.
The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

Why is there a need for greater awareness about IRO? Extremism today seems not just an abstract concept, but is here in our own backyard, with organisations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria aiming their crosshairs at South-east Asia?

To defeat extremism, we need to educate people. This means bringing about awareness of the fundamental beliefs of each religion. We do this through lectures, inter-faith dialogues and exhibitions.

These outreach programmes aim to educate Singaporeans of different faiths on the teachings of different religions.

If you attend some of our sharing sessions, you will realise that the moral values found in the 10 religions are extremely similar.

One way some extremist organisations have amplified their voice is through the Internet. How has IRO entered this space to create its own voice?

When you go online, you get a lot of nonsense. People put up all kinds of stuff. 

It's up to the individual to want to find out more about each religion. Which means, if people know about the existence of IRO, they can come here and verify things, instead of taking what they read on the Internet lock, stock and barrel.

So not so much by using the online space but trying to connect people with experts?

Yes, because words online can be interpreted in different ways. But when you speak, and let's say you have a different perspective, I can immediately explain things to you. Whereas with words, any individual can interpret it in 101 ways.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91

Singapore mourns
By Warren Fernandez, Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE entered the post-Lee Kuan Yew era yesterday, with the passing of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, 91.

It was a day that had been widely anticipated, not least since Mr Lee himself had often spoken of the need for leadership succession and had pushed it relentlessly, giving up his own job as Prime Minister in 1990 after 31 years and while still robust at 67.

Yet, when the time finally came - he died at 3.18am yesterday at the Singapore General Hospital where he had been hospitalised since Feb 5 with severe pneumonia - there was a palpable sense of loss in the country, from the halls of the Istana to the streets of Tanjong Pagar.

As soon as the Prime Minister's Office announced the news an hour later, an unprecedented outpouring of tributes and messages of condolence began appearing online, and continued all day.

An emotional Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fought back tears when he appeared live on television from the Istana at 8am to deliver the news that the first Prime Minister, his father, had died. He said he was "grieved beyond words".

"The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won't see another man like him," he said.

To many here and abroad, he said, "Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. Singapore was his abiding passion. He gave of himself, in full measure, to Singapore. As he himself put it towards the end of his life and I quote, 'I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There's nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.'"

PM Lee called on Singaporeans to honour Mr Lee's spirit, even as they mourned his loss, and work together to "build on his foundations, strive for his ideals, and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come".

On hearing news of Mr Lee's passing, people immediately began making their way to the Istana, Tanjong Pagar and Parliament House, their numbers growing through the day. Many, both men and women, were wet-eyed.

At the Istana's Orchard Road gates, the crowd waited patiently to pen heartfelt condolence messages and catch a glimpse of Mr Lee returning to the grounds for the last time. When the silver hearse bearing his casket arrived at about 1pm, applause and cheers broke out, as well as cries of "Thank you, Mr Lee!"

Over at Tanjong Pagar, which Mr Lee represented for 60 years since 1955, thousands more turned out to pay tribute to the man some called the "father of the nation", bowing respectfully before a large portrait of him.

Retired calligrapher Seow Cheong Choon, 80, wept as he recounted how he had once railed against Mr Lee, doubting he would deliver on his promises to house Singapore's slum dwellers and squatters.

"He said he would give us all a house. Not just one or two people, but the thousands living in attap houses," he said in Mandarin. "I was angry with his promises of false hope. Who could believe him? Singapore was chaotic, muddy, full of gangsters."

He was referring to the time Mr Lee had declared at a 1965 grassroots event: "This country belongs to all of us. We made this country from nothing, from mudflats... Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!"

That vision was to become a reality, and one of those who lived through the city's transformation was Mr Seow, who moved into a new three-room flat in Kim Tian Road in the late 1960s.

Mr Lee led a pioneer generation of Singaporeans to overcome similarly daunting challenges, including rebuilding the economy after the sudden pullout of British forces and the oil shocks of the 1970s, and a major economic recession in the mid-1980s.

Little wonder then that he came to be regarded as the man most instrumental in shaping this country, from the time he and his People's Action Party colleagues pushed for self-government in the 1950s to their quest for merger with the Federation of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the new nation Malaysia in the early 1960s, and their efforts to secure the Republic's survival after independence was thrust on it on Aug 9, 1965.

Thousands send good wishes to Lee Kuan Yew

As former PM's health worsens further, people gather at SGH, Tanjong Pagar
By Fiona Chan, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 22 Mar 2015

Thousands of Singaporeans took time out from their weekend plans yesterday to drop off cards and gifts for ailing former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, as word came that his health had weakened further.

A one-line statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) yesterday afternoon said Mr Lee's condition had deteriorated again. An announcement last Tuesday said he had taken a turn for the worse and daily updates since Wednesday said he remained critically ill.

About 1,000 people were at the art gallery of the Tanjong Pagar Community Club (CC) to leave cards and gifts and write messages on a giant banner that said: "Get well soon, Mr Lee Kuan Yew."

Mr Lee, 91, is an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, having represented the area since he won the 1955 legislative assembly election.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, arrived at the CC in the afternoon with his wife, Ms Ho Ching, to thank those present and add their signatures to the hundreds covering the banner. It was PM Lee's first visit to the CC since he accompanied his father there as a child.

He took photos of the cards, soft toys and flowers people had left. He also penned a short message on the banner: "Dear Papa, Hope you get better!"

Well-wishers lined up to take photos with him and to say that they were concerned for his father.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, also signed the banner yesterday. She said Singaporeans are worried about the health of the elder Mr Lee as they feel a bond with him "that goes beyond policies". Older citizens see him as a pioneer and comrade-in-arms, while younger ones grew up reading about him in the news every day. "He gave this nation pride," she said.