Friday, 24 October 2014

S'pore 'must learn to fight dark forces of prejudice'

Global religious, ethnic issues set to worsen before improving: Tharman
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

EVEN as Hindus in Singapore celebrated Deepavali yesterday, the ominous winds of intolerance and prejudice were blowing around the world, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

That is why people everywhere, especially in Singapore, must learn to fight those dark forces and forge societies based on mutual understanding and openness, he said.

Wishing all Hindus a happy Deepavali in a Facebook post, Mr Tharman, who was in Beijing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Finance Ministers' Meeting, took the chance to reflect on the deeper meaning of the occasion.

He said Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the "triumph of the light of learning and understanding over the darkness of ignorance and bigotry".

Unfortunately, the winds are blowing the other way today, with a rise in religious and ethnic tensions and conflicts around the world, he said.

"The headlines are about the Middle East - the growth of Islamist aggression against the Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, in defiance of the long history of Muslim civilisation that was, in fact, relatively free of the persecutions and holocausts that marked other civilisations; the surge in Sunni-Shia rivalry within the Muslim world; and the denial of Palestinian rights to co-existence," he noted.

And there are problems elsewhere too, said Mr Tharman, such as the continuing rise of the religious right in Hinduism and Christianity, as well as discrimination against minorities and the rise of ethnic nationalism in parts of Europe and Asia.

These problems are likely to worsen and last many years before they get better, he warned, adding: "We cannot just hope for a better world."

Cycling can be viable transport mode: Khaw

By David Ee, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

CYCLING should not be just a recreational pursuit, but also a viable transport option for short trips around Singapore, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

He wrote on his blog that the Government wants Singaporeans to be able to cycle "to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station".

"To do so, we must make such trips safe and pleasant," he said. "Cities are increasingly finding it important to make themselves friendly to pedestrians and cyclists."

He praised both European capitals as good examples of cities with "active mobility", where walking and cycling make up over half of all modes of transport.

In contrast, cycling makes up just 1 per cent to 2 per cent of transport modes here, he noted.

Rising tide of litter on S'pore's shorelines

One group nets 14,400kg worth so far this year
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

A SINGLE environmental programme's volunteers have picked up 14,440kg of trash from the shores of Singapore and Pulau Ubin since the start of the year. The haul by volunteers of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) is just 8kg shy of the rubbish they cleaned up from the coasts for the whole of last year.

This is despite fewer volunteers and shorter distances canvassed so far this year, going by ICCS statistics. The figures also seem to show that the littering has become worse over the past decade, with the average weight of rubbish collected per volunteer rising from 3.1kg in 2002 to 4.2kg last year.

The average weight of trash picked up per metre of coastline is even more stark, tripling from 0.25kg to 0.74kg in the same period.

Environmentalists said the efforts of groups such as the ICCS and Nature Society have pushed back the tides of rubbish, but more can be done.

Mr Eugene Tay, who recently won the National Environment Agency's (NEA) EcoFriend award, said the waste's sources are still unclear. "I think the NEA should study the sources, such as whether fish farms are dumping the rubbish, and how much of it comes from beachgoers and Singaporeans littering into drains and canals going into the sea," said the founder and director of Green Future Solutions consultancy firm.

Temporary booms placed in some of the island's waterways to intercept floating waste going out to sea could indicate how much of the unsightly coastal trash is coming from inland, he suggested.

More seniors servicing private mortgages

Figure triples over 6 years to 15,500, but group still forms a minority
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

THE number of elderly home owners servicing private mortgage loans has ballooned in the past few years, as more people buy homes in their later years for investment.

According to data from Credit Bureau Singapore, there were 15,506 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 65 and above with outstanding mortgage loans from financial institutions in July this year. This is almost triple the July 2008 figure of 5,190.

These older home owners also make up a growing proportion of all residents holding bank mortgage loans: 3.15 per cent now, up from 1.84 per cent in 2008.

Retiree mortgage debt has been a cause for concern in countries such as the United States, where 30 per cent of people aged 65 and above had outstanding mortgages back in 2011.

But while there could be cause for concern, experts are not worried about the situation here, because older borrowers with outstanding mortgage loans still form a minority here.

At the same time, not everyone with an outstanding private home loan at age 65 or above is in financial difficulty, they said.

"(The increase) is a cause for concern only if loan holders aged 65 and above face a higher risk of difficulty in servicing their mortgage payment (during) retirement and are 'underwater' on their mortgages," said Singapore Management University economist Phang Sock Yong.

Instead, some retirees might have taken out mortgage loans for investment properties, which yield rental income, she said.

Experts also note that cooling measures aimed at limiting the tenure of a private loan will also prevent the numbers from rising much further.

Singapore maths is travelling the world

More countries use textbooks based on S'pore approach to teach subject
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE mathematics is going places, and there are no signs of it slowing down.

From India to France and Chile, more countries have, in recent years, turned to the famed Singapore approach to teaching the subject, using visual means such as objects, pictures and diagrams to teach concepts.

Education officials and publishers abroad are paying closer attention to the way maths is taught here after Singapore students emerged tops in maths and problem-solving in international tests.

A total of 10 countries - including South Africa, Brunei and the Netherlands - are using customised textbooks based on Singapore maths produced by publisher Marshall Cavendish Education.

This is up from just two countries - Thailand and Libya - five years ago.

These books are based on a series of maths textbooks, called My Pals Are Here! The principal author of the books is Dr Fong Ho Kheong, 66.

Marshall Cavendish Education's maths materials are being used in 42 countries, where 40 to 100 per cent of schools use its textbooks.

The publishing giant has also partnered Oxford University Press to publish a new series based on Singapore maths for Britain next year.

Another publisher, Scholastic Australia, has also adopted Singapore maths in its new series called Prime Mathematics, used in Australia. The textbooks also incorporate good practices from South Korea and Hong Kong.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

President Tony Tan on first state visit to Britain by a Singapore leader

Royal pageantry marks start of President's UK visit
Booming gun salutes and stately carriage procession all part of day's splendour
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

THE red-and-white flag of Singapore flew proudly alongside the British Union Jack in central London yesterday, as President Tony Tan Keng Yam officially began his state visit to the United Kingdom to much fanfare.

Booming gun salutes and a stately carriage procession flanked by Royal Horse Guards were all part of the day's pageantry for Dr Tan, the first Singaporean president to make a state visit to Britain.

The morning began with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greeting Dr Tan at the Royal Garden Hotel where he was staying.

It was the first public appearance of Prince William's wife, Catherine, in over two months, and she appeared healthy and cheerful. The royal couple are expecting their second child in April next year, and the Duchess has been suffering from acute morning sickness.

Dr Tan and his wife, Mary, together with the royal couple, then went in a car procession to the Horse Guards Parade ground, where they were received by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. A 103-gun royal salute was fired from Green Park, a royal park, and from the Tower of London, a royal palace and fortress, as part of the ceremonial welcome.

The Queen, who wore a navy blue coat and matching hat, presented dignitaries to Dr Tan. These included British Prime Minister David Cameron, secretaries of state, senior military officials, and top officials from London.

Dr Tan then inspected the guard of honour, who were in their signature red tunics and towering black fur hats.

The President and his wife then boarded gilded state carriages - Dr Tan rode with the Queen while Mrs Tan rode with the Duke of Edinburgh - that brought them to Buckingham Palace, where they will stay until tomorrow.

Escorted by over 100 members of the Queen's household cavalry mounted on horses, the procession moved off to rousing renditions of the Singaporean and British national anthems, Majulah Singapura and God Save The Queen.

Lonely Planet picks Singapore as top travel spot in 2015

By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

GLOBAL travel company Lonely Planet has named Singapore the world's No. 1 country to visit next year, thanks to the line-up of events for its golden jubilee.

Its latest guidebook, Best In Travel 2015, published yesterday says that multicultural Singapore "is always celebrating something" and has more reason to when it turns 50 next year.

New attractions opening to coincide with the anniversary include the National Gallery Singapore, which will house art of 19th- and 20th-century Singapore and South-east Asia. The Singapore Sports Hub, which will host the 28th South-east Asia Games, will hold its official opening ceremony next year.

National Day, which falls on Aug 9, is expected to be "celebrated with ultra-extravagant fanfare", the popular guide said.

Best In Travel 2015 is Lonely Planet's 10th collection on top destinations, experiences and travel trends, curated by its staff, authors and contributors. The book is available in eight languages and is on sale in over 100 countries.

Strong anti-ISIS stand 'a responsible move'

But it may also make Singapore a target for extremists, says Masagos
By Toh Yong Chuan In Irbid (Jordan), The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE is taking a firm stand against militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because it is the responsible thing to do, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

But the move may also make Singapore an ISIS target, he added.

Mr Masagos, who is on an official visit to Jordan, made the point at a closed-door dialogue on Monday in Irbid city, barely 20km from Jordan's border with Syria and less than 100km, or two hours' drive, from where ISIS is fighting in Syria.

"Singapore has to be a responsible player on the world stage," he told about 70 Singaporean students studying in Jordan.

"It is about the rule of law... They (ISIS extremists) are acting as a non-state player, they obey no rules that the world has set for itself."

For example, ISIS does not comply with the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war and it executes "people who are probably innocent", he added.

But while Singapore's stand "will have consequences", he believes that "whether or not we participate (in the fight), Singapore is a prized target".

His comments follow Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's statement in Milan last Friday, after the Asia-Europe Meeting of country leaders, that Singapore is seriously considering how it can be a helpful partner in the fight against ISIS.

Despite the ISIS attacks in neighbouring countries, Singaporean Taufiq Yahya, who is studying Arabic in Jordan's capital Amman, feels safe in the country.

"The reason is that Jordanians take security seriously," said the 30-year-old, a former enrichment centre owner who attended the dialogue with Mr Masagos.

More SMEs head abroad to grow their businesses

Fewer firms expanding here given cost and manpower issues: Survey
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

INCREASING numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are trying to grow their businesses overseas while fewer are expanding their presence here, according to a survey released yesterday.

It found that 20 per cent of SMEs plan to try their hands on foreign shores, up from 14 per cent in the same poll last year.

The survey of 2,836 firms in seven sectors also noted that only 8 per cent are expanding their presence here, down from 17 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, 15 per cent of SMEs this year are loss-making, up from 13 per cent, according to the poll by DP Information Group.

"Prevalent domestic issues, such as rising business cost and manpower challenges, have eroded SMEs' confidence in the local market," said Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation yesterday.

The survey also revealed that more SMEs are doing business overseas, but the proportion of revenue generated from these operations is falling.

The percentage of SMEs generating less than 30 per cent of their sales overseas rose to 53 per cent from 43 per cent last year.

But those earning more than 70 per cent of their revenue overseas fell to 21 per cent from 26 per cent.

Liquidity has also fallen with average cash reserves down 24 per cent between 2012 and 2013, continuing a three-year downtrend that leaves the 2013 figure of $718,310 at half of its level of $1.37 million in 2010.

Scientists make leap in reversing paralysis

Cell transplant procedure shows strong results in case of injured man
The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

LONDON - A Bulgarian man who was paralysed from the chest down can now walk with the aid of a frame after receiving pioneering transplant treatment using cells from his nose.

The technique, described as a breakthrough in a study in the journal Cell Transplantation, involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells from the patient's nose into his spinal cord and constructing a "nerve bridge" between two stumps of the damaged spinal column.

"We believe... this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury," said Professor Geoffrey Raisman from University College London's institute of neurology, who led the research.

Mr Darek Fidyka, 38, was paralysed after suffering stab wounds to his back in 2010. He has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs, after 19 months of treatment.

"When there's nothing, you can't feel almost half of your body. You're helpless, lost," the patient, who is now recovering at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre in Wroclaw, Poland, told BBC's Panorama programme.

"When it begins to come back, you feel you've started your life all over again, as if you are reborn," he said.