Thursday, 28 May 2015

2 Singaporean youths radicalised by ISIS arrested, one of them detained under ISA for planning terror attacks

Singaporean teen aimed to join ISIS or launch attacks here
Student, 19, detained under ISA; he even thought of assassinating leaders
By Wong Siew Ying, The Straits Times, 28 May 2015

A SINGAPOREAN post-secondary student who made plans to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and carry out attacks here has been detained under the Internal Security Act since last month.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement yesterday that M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 19, is the first known self-radicalised Singaporean to harbour the intention of carrying out violent attacks in Singapore.

His detention comes amid growing concern globally that young people are being radicalised by ISIS - increasingly via the Internet - to take up arms in Syria.

Over 20,000 foreign fighters have already joined the ongoing battle in Iraq and Syria, including more than 600 from South-east Asia, and the group has been gaining ground in its recruitment as it makes gains on the battlefield.

The MHA said Arifil revealed that if he was unable to join ISIS in Syria, he intended to carry out violent attacks here. "He gave considerable thought to how he would attack key facilities and assassinate government leaders.

"If he was unable to carry out these plans, he planned instead to carry out attacks in public places in order to strike fear within our society, using easily available weapons such as knives."

Meanwhile, another Singaporean youth, aged 17, was arrested this month for further investigation into the extent of his radicalisation. He was not named. The MHA said his family will be kept informed of the investigation.

“Singapore too, faces real threats of radicalisation”: DPM Teo Chee Hean stresses that terrorism is also a problem that is close to home, following the arrest of two youths for terror-related activities.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said terrorism remains a serious global threat and the arrests showed that young people in Singapore are also vulnerable to being radicalised.

"It is not just a problem that is 'over there' in some other countries. It is also a problem that is 'over here', in our region, and in Singapore as well," he added.

The MHA said Arifil was radicalised around 2013 after he started viewing terrorist propaganda online and soon began to support ISIS' radical ideology and violent tactics.

He also befriended individuals online who he thought could help him join the group.

He actively looked up travel routes to Syria online and researched ways of making improvised explosive devices.

The MHA said Arifil's plans for attacks here were corroborated by several people whom he tried to recruit to help with the plans. While they were not swayed, they also did not alert the authorities.

"Fortunately, another person who knew Arifil noticed the changes in him and brought him to the attention of the authorities, who were then able to investigate... and take action before he could carry out his violent attack plans in Singapore," said the MHA.

Work demands getting in the way of family time: Survey

Family ties - good; family time - not so good
55% of respondents in survey say work demands eat into family life
By Priscilla Goy And Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

FAMILIES in Singapore are doing well but there are challenges and emerging trends that could be addressed, in particular by employers and policymakers.

These include fewer people being satisfied with their marriages, and more people, especially men, saying work gets in the way of their desire for more family time.

The trends were drawn from data collected in national surveys and compiled by academics.

Figures from the 2013 Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans were shared for the first time last week by Institute of Policy Studies researcher Mathew Mathews, who compiled the data with National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan.

Dr Mathews spoke last Friday at a conference in which about 450 people discussed how to better support families.

The proportion of Singaporeans who were satisfied with their family life increased for those who were married or single, both by 6 percentage points, to 95 per cent and 90 per cent respectively, between 2009 and 2013.

But for people who were divorced, separated or widowed, the proportion fell from 83 per cent to 78 per cent over the same period.

While most people were more satisfied with family life, the trend reversed when asked about married life. About 92 per cent of married respondents said they were satisfied with their marriages in 2013, down by 4 percentage points from 2009.

However, Dr Mathews said not to read too much into the four-point drop in marriage satisfaction, which he called "fairly small" and "normal" for surveys.

The survey was conducted annually from 2001 to 2003, then every three to four years.

Brisk sales and hefty gains at Pinnacle@Duxton

By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

SINGAPORE'S tallest public housing project Pinnacle@Duxton is defying the sluggish property market with brisk sales - and hefty windfall gains - thanks to its prime location and sweeping views.

More than 60 units at the 50-storey project have been sold in the five months since owners started meeting the five-year minimum occupation period in December last year.

Last month, a five-room unit on the 29th storey went for $1.06 million, the highest resale price to date. Of the 17 transactions for five-room flats since January, six were sold at $1 million and above.

Four PropNex property agents spotted the project's potential as a hot spot for people looking to move to the central area. They teamed up last June and have been knocking on doors to persuade owners to capitalise on the sale of their flats.

Last November, the agents - Mr Alvin Lim, Mr Adrian Lim, Mr Lawrence Tan and Mr Ray Lim - started conducting tours of the project for interested buyers.

They have since sold 24 units.

The Straits Times joined one tour on Sunday as eight potential buyers viewed four units.

Building trust in SkillsFuture scheme

By Andrew Yeo, Published The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

"I DIDN'T do well in school. I think employers won't want the kind of qualifications I have."

That statement sums up the sentiments of many of my peers, and I sympathise as I, too, went to a neighbourhood school near my home in Ang Mo Kio, then to a polytechnic before getting a degree through a private education institution in Singapore.

Last year, I completed my master's degree in social policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Late bloomers like my peers and me have struggled in a system that has, for years, rewarded those who did well early on in life, and was less than forgiving towards those who did not. That is so despite the latter group possibly having the skills, initiative and mindset that will make them employees of choice.

How does this play out in the local job market?

An intense paper chase has seen the share of residents aged 25 to 34 with university degrees soar from 7.2 per cent in 1990 to 52 per cent last year.

Singapore may have mistakenly assumed that "lecture-driven knowledge" leads to prosperity, when as author Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his book, Antifragile, it is wealth that leads to the rise in education levels.

Related to this is that Singapore's well-qualified workforce seems to be struggling to raise productivity, with this year being the third consecutive year of decline.

What do the head honchos say is impeding productivity gains?

The results of a 2014 survey of 150 chief financial officers in Singapore by human resource consulting firm Robert Half rated "motivating employees" (54 per cent) as the top factor in raising productivity of their teams.

Other factors such as "improving training and development of employees" (40 per cent) or "better adoption of technology" (25 per cent) ranked lower.

It is possible that career schemes that fast-track new hires based on academic qualifications disenfranchise others who could punch above their weight with the right grooming and motivation.

But change is afoot with a new national push to encourage the workforce to hone deep and specialist skills, to equip themselves for an economy continually disrupted by new technology and innovation. Under the SkillsFuture scheme announced earlier this year, over two million Singaporeans aged 25 and above will get an initial $500 to use on courses such as early childhood education, culinary skills and language lessons.

Hospitals, polyclinics leave more patients satisfied

By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

HOSPITALS and polyclinics continue to please, with 79.1 per cent of patients last year saying service was either good or excellent, up from 77 per cent in 2013.

An annual survey by the Ministry of Health also found that 81 per cent received better service than they had expected, up from 79 per cent the previous year.

In fact, 82 per cent of respondents said they were likely to recommend public healthcare institutions to others.

The ministry said that respondents cited quality of doctors, quality of nurses and waiting time as the three most important factors when giving their ratings.

The survey of more than 11,000 people between September 2014 and January this year found that patients were happy with service attitudes and found healthcare staff to be "knowledgeable and professional".

It looked at all public hospitals, polyclinics and specialist centres.

"Respondents were also happy with the transfer of their medical information from one service point to another, as well as the follow-up by staff after they were discharged," added the ministry.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) topped the hospital category with 86 per cent of patients happy with the service there, while Changi General Hospital received the least votes with 71 per cent saying they were satisfied with the service there.

Free Pre-Peak Travel extended till 30 June 2016

Free pre-peak MRT rides to go on for another year
Sustained drop of 7-8% in morning peak-period commuters, says LTA
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2015

COMMUTERS who are early risers will enjoy free or discounted MRT travel for another year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that the free pre-peak travel scheme that has been running for two years since June 2013 will be extended to June 30 next year.

Good news for all you early birds, Free Pre-Peak Travel on the rail network will be extended by another year to 30 June...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Monday, May 25, 2015

The extension could cost taxpayers another $10 million, on top of the $10 million spent in the first year of the scheme, and $7 million in the first nine months of the second year to March this year. The amounts exclude the $5 million that train operator SMRT Corp contributes each year.

The scheme was meant to decant some of the peak load that the rail network experiences between 8am and 9am on weekdays. On certain stretches, commuters sometimes need to wait for three trains to pass before they can board during peak hours.

Under the scheme, commuters who end their journey before 7.45am at 18 designated MRT stations in the city will get a fare waiver. Those who exit at these stations between 7.45am and 8am get a discount of up to 50 cents.

Since the introduction of the scheme two years ago, the LTA said there has been "a sustained reduction of 7 to 8 per cent in the number of train commuters during the morning peak period".

PM Lee visits SMRT's Bishan Depot

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Let's Think About It – Our Future as a Global City

Let's Think About It – Our Future as a Global City
26 May 2015

Is Singapore merely a stepping stone to greener pastures for many foreigners here? Are Singaporeans truly confident of taking on the world?

In this final episode of “Let’s Think About It”, Vernetta Lopez, Diana Ser, Edmund Koh, Grace Sai and Ong Keng Yong share views and stories with Minister K Shanmugam on Singapore’s future as a global city.

As graduate numbers grow, a hard truth: Not all degrees are equal

Even though large numbers of graduates are able to land jobs, some are underemployed, be it by choice or circumstance, according to anecdotal evidence from graduates and human resource experts.
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 23 May 2015

After graduating with a second-class upper degree in human resource management, Mr Tan, 30, took some time to land a full-time job and he is currently doing administrative work — buying office supplies and processing claims. “I wished that we were taught more skills in university instead,” he said.

Another graduate, Mr Tang, 27, who has a chemistry degree, has been working in an admin support temporary position for the past 18 months. “Unlike our parents’ time, it seems like there are many people holding a degree now but the fact is there are many jobs out there that do not require a degree holder to do the work.”

On the other hand, there are graduates who have, by their own volition, ventured into careers that have little to do with what they had studied for in university. A PhD holder in biomedical sciences, Dr Christopher Yang, was a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine when he made the switch into the financial sector four years ago.

The 41-year-old said his biomedical career was going well, having received a grant to advance immunology research. But a series of circumstances — including the outlook of the industry, and the birth of his fourth child — led to him making the career switch. “I had to seriously think about my career path and prospects,” said Dr Yang, who is now an accredited financial adviser.

In Asia, Taiwan and South Korea have been experiencing an oversupply of graduates, with double-digit youth unemployment rates. In contrast, Singa­pore enjoys close to full employment, and more than 80 per cent of graduates from publicly-funded universities and the more-established private institutions are able to find jobs within six months of graduation.

Nevertheless, policymakers are keeping a close eye on the situation. Anecdotal evidence from interviews with graduates and human resource experts shows that even though large numbers of graduates are able to land jobs, some are underemployed, be it by choice or circumstance.

Underemployment occurs when highly-skilled people work in low-paying or low-skilled jobs, as well as when part-time workers prefer to be employed full-time.

First smart HDB homes in Punggol to go for as low as $28,000

HDB to launch high-tech flats in Punggol
Punggol Northshore estate to be a test bed for smart technologies
By Janice Heng and Amos Lee, The Straits Times, 26 May 2015

THE first "smart" Housing Board flats will be launched tomorrow, with prices starting at $28,000 for two-room flats after grants.

The new flats at Punggol Northshore, from two- to five-room flats, have additional infrastructure so that smart systems can be installed easily.

Extra power points and data sockets will allow home owners to install systems that monitor energy consumption, for instance.

Another possibility is a monitoring and alert system for elderly occupants who are home alone.

Such smart systems will have to be bought from commercial firms, as the flats will not come fitted with them.

After taking into account grants, prices for three-, four- and five-room units start at $132,000, $249,000 and $354,000 respectively.

Buyers are likely to be attracted by the waterfront setting and seamless connection to the LRT, said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim. "Considering the attractive features, the prices are very affordable," he added, as the four- and five-roomers are $130,000 to $170,000 cheaper than older resale flats of comparable size not near the waterfront.

Smart flats are just one high-tech aspect of Punggol Northshore, the first new HDB estate to be a test bed for smart technologies. Residents will encounter smart fans in the neighbourhood centre, which respond to wind speed and temperature conditions, and sensor-controlled lighting in common areas.

A carpark management system will make more visitor spaces available during non-peak hours - when residents with season parking tickets are likely to be out - and fewer visitor spaces available in the evening.

A smart pneumatic waste conveyance system will monitor waste disposal and recycling, and sensor-based irrigation will maintain greenery while saving water.

The 1,402 units in Northshore Residences I and II are among 4,040 flats to be offered in the upcoming Build-To-Order exercise.

The rest are in mature estates Clementi and Tampines, and the non-mature estate of Sembawang.

P1 registration: Child must live at declared address for at least 30 months from July 2, 2015

New P1 admission rule: Live at address for at least 2-1/2 years
Parents back rule for those who gain priority admission based on distance
By Amelia Teng and Ong Kai Xuan, The Straits Times, 26 May 2015

A NEW rule requiring children to live for at least 21/2 years at the addresses they used to apply for primary school has been introduced, with parents largely supportive of the change.

Beginning this year, those who gain priority admission to schools based on distance need to live at the address for at least 30 months from the start of the Primary 1 registration exercise.

Those with a yet-to-be-completed property also have to live at the new address for as long, but this can start only from when they move in and not from the registration, subject to certain limits.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) did not set any specific time period previously. If this condition is not met, MOE may transfer the child to another school.

When asked, MOE said the distance priority has always been given with the expectation that the family will live at the address declared for Primary 1 registration.

While the MOE's intent is that this should be for as long as the child is in primary school, it "recognised the practical challenges of imposing an explicit 'minimum stay' that would meet the policy intent while not making it overly onerous and rigid".

The news, reported by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao yesterday, has sparked a lot of discussion. Parents felt the rule would deter people from renting homes and moving away shortly after their children get spots in schools, and said it will not affect them as they do not plan to move soon.

But some who rented properties near schools may be stuck if their leases do not last 30 months.

For Primary 1 registration, schools conduct a ballot when the number of applicants exceeds available places. Those who live nearer the school - usually within 1km - get priority in the ballot.

Mr Lee makes historic speech in KL

By Ho Ai Li, The Sunday Times, 24 May 2015

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made a landmark speech against Malay political dominance in the Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur in May 27, 1965 which so angered UMNO leaders that many felt Singapore had to leave.

Then Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman later called the speech the straw that broke the camel's back, while Singapore's former Cabinet minister Lim Kim San called it the speech that changed history.

"I had not expected my speech to play so crucial a part in the Tunku's decision to get Singapore out of Malaysia," Mr Lee wrote in his memoirs.

Before the fateful speech, tension between Mr Lee's People's Action Party (PAP) and Malaysia's ruling Alliance coalition headed by UMNO had already been escalating. Mr Lee was making a good impression on the international media.

The PAP had formed the Malaysian Solidarity Convention (MSC), an opposition alliance whose members included parties from Sabah and Sarawak. This did not sit well with some UMNO members.

As Mr Lee noted in his memoirs, he made his most important speech in the federal Parliament to "a hostile and tense audience, including a large number of Malay MPs fed daily with anti-PAP, anti-Lee Kuan Yew and anti-Chinese propaganda".

Mr Lee expressed regret that the King's Address at the opening of Parliament "did not reassure the nation that it would continue to progress in accordance with its democratic Constitution towards a Malaysian Malaysia".

Taking economic stock at 50

Singapore has benefited from 'extensive growth', adding more labour and capital to boost the economy. But future constraints compel it to shift to innovation-driven growth.
By Linda Lim, Published The Straits Times, 26 May 2015

IN THIS year of retrospection, what does the recent slowdown in the Singapore economy tell us about where we have been, where we are now, what brought us here, where our future lies, and what will bring us there?

The most important reason for the slowdown in Singapore's GDP growth, exports and job creation is the slowing global economy.

China's slowdown has been the most significant, with its ripple effects on other emerging economies and commodity exporters now integrated into China-centric global supply chains.

But stagnation in Europe, Japan and even the United States (in the first quarter of this year) have added to the sluggishness of global growth.

For modern Singapore, the adverse consequences of extreme openness to global market forces are nothing new.

Our economy has been subject to externally-induced boom-and- bust cycles since being "born global" in 1819.

The first three decades after independence in 1965 were unusual in that recessions occurred relatively infrequently - about once a decade - and rapid growth was quickly restored.

But since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 downturns have been both more frequent and more severe, even as the trend rate of growth itself has fallen.

This greater volatility is partly explained by global forces - particularly worldwide financial-market liberalisation and the increased globalisation of capital flows, which most heavily impact the most open and financial-sector-dependent economies like Singapore.

ASEAN's quest for power: AT WHAT PRICE?

Region's choice of fossil or renewable energy will affect climate-change fight
By David Fogarty, Assistant Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 26 May 2015

TO MOST of its South-east Asian neighbours, Singapore's electricity grid is the stuff of dreams. Reliable power to every home and abundant supply to industries that keep the economy growing and provide plenty of jobs. Blackouts on any scale are almost unheard of.

Not so in many other parts of the region. One in five of Southeast Asia's 600 million people does not have access to electricity. Chronic power shortages and blackouts blight some of the region's most populous nations, stifling economic growth.

That is a politically toxic problem for regional leaders who are struggling to meet the needs of investors, business and populations clamouring for better lives.

South-east Asia needs power, and lots of it, very quickly. But in the rush to build new power stations, it faces a stark choice, one that the United Nations, green groups and energy analysts say risks long-term consequences for the region and the planet.

This is the choice of technology to generate the vast amount of electricity the region needs. Large-scale coal-fired power stations and big hydro dams are still favoured because they are seen as the incumbent technologies.

But the UN and others say a huge roll-out of coal power could lock in decades of rising carbon dioxide pollution - CO2 is the main greenhouse gas blamed for climate change - while huge hydro dams, such as those planned for the Mekong river basin, disrupt farming and fishing and risk wiping out many species.

To meet soaring electricity demand, South-east Asia is fast becoming one of the world's top growth centres for energy.

Virtual CashCard aims to solve ERP woes

By Rachael Boon, The Straits Times, 26 May 2015

THAT sinking feeling motorists get as they approach a gantry and realise their CashCard is too low on funds to cover the toll can now be a thing of the past.

In what could be the next big thing in cashless payments here, a new virtual wallet from NETS will save the day for those who forget to top up.

It allows motorists to pay electronic road pricing (ERP) charges even when they have no physical CashCard in their in-vehicle units (IUs) or if a CashCard is there but has run low on funds.

NETS is launching the vCashCard with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Thursday.

NETS chief executive Jeffrey Goh said in an exclusive interview: "It's time to implement a virtual CashCard to bring convenience to motorists, so that they don't have to worry about administrative fees."

Motorists caught with insufficient funds or without a CashCard in their IUs pay an administrative fee of $10, on top of the ERP charges they owe.

To use the new service, motorists should register for a vCashCard account via the NETS website at

This account is first topped up with $50 from the registered credit or debit card or bank account.

ERP charges are deducted directly from the vCashCard account when there is no physical CashCard in the IU.

If you have a card in the IU when passing through a gantry, it works as usual and ERP charges will be deducted from it.

When funds in the vCashCard fall below $10, the virtual wallet will automatically be topped up with $50 from one of your accounts linked to the wallet. Mr Goh said: "It's worry-free, there's no monthly maintenance fee except for a top-up fee from time to time when you run out of cash."

Wanted: Seniors with heart

Even as Singapore ages rapidly, volunteerism rates among older folk have declined in recent years. In the third part of a series on ageing well, our correspondent speaks to seniors who are happily bucking the trend
By Radha Basu, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 24 May 2015

Every Monday morning, retiree Che Ah Chiew, 69, visits a very special friend. At 101, Madam Yoe Boh Toh is hard of hearing and sometimes forgets names and faces.

But she always recognises Mr Che, her craggy face breaking into a wide toothless smile each time he arrives at her doorstep.

On a recent morning, she greets him with a warm hug before settling into an old sofa for their weekly rendezvous.

He tells her about his week, she describes her breakfast. They play cards. But in half an hour, she begins to doze off and the visit is cut short.

"She tires easily, so we can't chat for very long," says Mr Che.

"But I love coming here just to see the smile on her face."

The former wanton-noodle seller began visiting Madam Yoe in her Bukit Batok flat last year as part of a befriending programme initiated by NTUC Health to bring cheer to lonely old folk stuck at home.

A volunteer since he retired a decade ago, Mr Che now spends around 24 hours a week helping others in Jurong, Bukit Batok and Hougang.

But Mr Che may be among a shrinking group of senior volunteers in Singapore.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Compassion should start in our own backyard: Tan Chuan-Jin

By Yvonne Lim, TODAY, 26 May 2015

While Singaporeans may seek to help the needy in other countries, they should not forget the underprivileged in their own backyards, said newly-appointed Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

Mr Tan, who took over the portfolio last month, reminded some 200 students at Ngee Ann Polytechnic today (May 25) that there are many members of Singapore’s society who are struggling.

“In our own neighbourhood, there are those who need help, and there are things we can do, even at the very simple level. We don’t need to go to another country to repair villages and help the poor,” he said.

He made these remarks during a 50-minute forum, which was part of a seminar themed “What will you give up for a better society?”, organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies. Aimed at encouraging students to build a better society, it features speakers from social enterprises and organisations.

In his opening remarks, Mr Tan said that the Government cannot mandate a compassionate and caring society, but these are values essential for building a great nation.

“It is not just about economic success. Deep down, building a great nation is about having the right values. This defines who we are, it is about our soul. These are things you cannot mandate. If a nation doesn’t care, but is just being driven by individual ambition and materialism, I’m not sure if the basis of that nation will last very long,” he said.

In response to a question from the floor about what Mr Tan, in his new capacity, plans to do to help families who are struggling financially, the minister said that he would direct efforts more “upstream”, and in doing so, try to prevent social problems before they can occur.

The reasons families end up in difficult financial situations are varied, ranging from divorce, incarceration, drug addiction and overspending, and there is no “one size fits all” solution.

One example of dealing with the problem “upstream” would be to reach out to young children from broken families and support them as they grow, to give them a fighting chance to take a different path as an adult.

Are youth really not volunteering enough?

By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

VOLUNTEER work in Singapore ranks only at No. 15 on the list of important goals for young people here, a recent survey found.

Only 12 per cent of the 2,843 young people in Singapore aged 15 to 34 polled by the National Youth Council (NYC) in the 2013 National Youth Survey marked it as "very important" to them.

First on the list was maintaining strong relationships, selected by 74 per cent of respondents.

This was followed by having their own home, at 70 per cent, and then learning new skills and knowledge, at 65 per cent.

Given this mindset, it would seem that youth here probably do not carry out much volunteer work.

But 41 per cent of respondents in the survey did think that it was very important to help the less fortunate and 39 per cent thought contributing to society was also very important.

In fact, a significant portion of young people in Singapore, especially those who are schooling, participate in volunteer activities.

They are more likely to do so than their peers in other developed nations, and their numbers are growing.

An Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found that 43 per cent of those aged between 15 and 24, and 28 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 served as volunteers in 2012.

These rates had risen from the 2010 figures of 36 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.

The volunteerism rates among youth here appear to be higher than those in the United States and Britain - countries whose volunteerism programmes the NYC studied when it was setting up Singapore's national youth volunteer corp.

Charity drive for needy homes off to a flying start

Keat Hong residents donate more than 1,000 unused household items
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

KEAT Hong residents have been dropping off unused household items, to be given to needy neighbours, at their residents' committees. Underprivileged families then pick them up from a newly set-up corner in Keat Hong Shopping Centre in Chua Chu Kang, run by volunteers.

So far, more than 1,000 items, including household appliances, toys and books have been donated at eight residents' committee collection points in the area under the "Give and Take@Keat Hong" initiative.

The drive, which started two months ago, was officially launched by Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad yesterday.

One in five of the donated items has already been taken.

Programme organiser Jefferson Neo, who is also the chairman of the Keat Hong Citizens' Consultative Committee, said a team of 20 committee members and resident volunteers came up with the idea for the programme last year.

The estate is home to at least 150 financially strapped families, who hope for items such as sofas and refrigerators.

"We spoke with needy families and better understood their needs after doing home visits. So, we came up with this idea and shared it with other residents, and they gave us their support," said Mr Neo.

In fact, the volunteers were almost overwhelmed by the generosity. "We were surprised by the volume of donated items, and we now have to look for storage space near the shopping centre," said Mr Neo.

The drive also helps reduce wastage. "Instead of throwing out good products such as travel bags, storybooks, shoes, clothes and mattresses, we can give them a new home," he added.

Appetite for local produce growing

Rising demand for eggs, vegetables produced here despite higher prices
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

THE go-local food movement here has found more supporters. Demand for vegetables and eggs farmed in Singapore is seeing healthy growth, despite the produce being pricier.

New Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) figures show that 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables, such as cai xin and kang kong, consumed here last year were home-grown, up from 9,300 tonnes in 2010.

In terms of proportion, the amount of locally produced leafy greens eaten here last year was 12 per cent of the total vegetable consumption - an increase from the 7 per cent in 2010.

This means the long-term AVA target of raising local production of such vegetables to 10 per cent of consumption has been met.

The appetite for locally farmed eggs has grown too, with about 433 million eaten last year. This was 25 per cent of total egg consumption, up from 22 per cent, or about 340 million eggs, in 2010. The target is 30 per cent.

Currently, there are about 200 food farms in Singapore. Of these, three are hen layer farms, about 50 are leafy vegetable farms and about 130 are fish farms.

There has been a push to help farmers here boost yields so that Singapore is less vulnerable to food import disruptions caused by external issues such as climate change and disease. The country imports 90 per cent of all food consumed here.

A $30 million Food Fund was launched in 2009 to help farmers improve technology and upgrade production capability. A second fund, the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund, was announced last year to develop local farms and landscape nurseries.

In January, the AVA set up a task force to promote demand for key food items that have been grown, harvested or reared here.