Sunday, 24 June 2018

$500 a month on cable TV and cigarettes and this family still wants financial aid?

Helping families find hope and courage to change
What should social workers do with a family that spends $500 on cigarettes and cable TV, yet applies for financial aid? Questioning the poor on their needs and choices is part of helping them.
By Sudha Nair, Published The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2018

In a recent article, sociologist Teo You Yenn painted a bleak picture of the conditions rental flat dwellers live in (Let's talk about meeting needs, not just equality of opportunity; ST May 30). She argued, among other things, that insufficient space can lead to children being open to negative influence and that the process of getting help can cause families living in rental flats to lose their dignity because they are often asked demeaning questions.

As a practising social worker of 32 years, I started my career working with disadvantaged families. In the last five years, my team of social workers and I have worked at the Housing Board's Bedok Interim Rental Housing (IRH) project, also called P4650 after the two blocks the families lived in. These are our experiences with them.

The residents of P4650 comprised three groups: families waiting for a rental flat; families in financial straits and downgrading to smaller flats which were still being built; and families ineligible for public rental flats but unable to afford their own housing.

Many of these families were overwhelmed and left with little family support, having exhausted the goodwill of relatives and friends. Some were living on the beach or in parks before arriving at the IRH. Most were previous home owners who had sold their flats for various reasons, spent the proceeds, and then became homeless.

We had the daunting task of getting these families permanent housing. At least a quarter of the families had deep-rooted, multiple problems such as untreated medical and mental illness, addictions, entrenched financial problems, incarceration and severe family conflicts.

We tried to help these families prioritise their most pressing problems before working on their housing goals.

Another challenge was a group of families who only wanted tangible aid - financial help, food rations, rental and utility vouchers. Put bluntly, they were saying to us: "Just give us what we want and leave us alone."

They resisted discussing their problems. A few became angry and abusive when social workers suggested meetings. It was difficult, but we persevered because these families needed help, too.

At P4650, we learnt the complexities these families presented - lessons that caution against painting a simplistic picture of rental flat dwellers with a broad brush.

FAMILY PORTRAITS

Let me share some of our takeaways.

All parents have dreams for their children. Yet, many disadvantaged families feel that having such dreams is beyond them. Some stay angry and disappointed with their lot in life.

We found that getting parents to express their hopes and vision for their families was critical in bringing about change. For some, it meant saying: "I wish we could have our own flat." For others: "I wish I could afford to send my children for enrichment classes or overseas trips."

Once a parent articulated such hopes, the social workers could discuss options to make seemingly unattainable dreams come true, working out solutions, and identifying the resources needed.

This co-creation of solutions was possible even for the most challenging families. For example, we worked intensively with a jobless and angry mother of three who depended on financial aid and food rations for three years while her husband was in jail. She expressed hope for her children to get a good education. It took some effort to show her that having a job would enable her to buy an HDB flat and provide her children with a more secure environment.

She found work, went on to buy a two-room flat, and stopped relying on handouts. After his release from prison, her husband found work, and the family income rose.

Then there was a father of five who earned $1,600 a month and refused help because he felt it was his duty to provide for his family. To save expenses, he wanted his oldest son to quit school. The boy, a top student at the Institute of Technical Education, was devastated.

We persuaded the father to let his son finish his education, with help to pay the fees.

We worked with Workforce Singapore to get the father started on a diploma course which could help him double his income. He agreed to accept temporary financial aid while he finished his diploma.

Those efforts paid off, and the family left the IRH to move into their own three-room flat. It was small, but it was theirs.

Social workers are sometimes faulted for asking seemingly intrusive questions and for their obsession with genograms and ecomaps (that, respectively, map a person's family and friendship networks) and income and expenditure assessments. Asking good questions and using tools appropriately are in fact relevant and important. They are vital to understanding how families make decisions, and the various roles that family members play.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

New Food Hygiene Recognition Scheme for eateries from late 2020

New scheme to rate eateries' food hygiene from late 2020
Focus on consistency, with ratings based on track records
By Noel Low, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2018

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will replace the existing hygiene grading system for eateries in late 2020, in the first review of its kind in more than 20 years.

The new food hygiene recognition scheme will focus on consistency, with establishments awarded bronze, silver and gold ratings based on their track records.

Eateries with no major hygiene lapses for two years will get a bronze award, and those with a clean record of five or 10 years will get silver and gold, respectively.

Currently, establishments are graded A, B, C or D annually based on a "snapshot assessment" of their premises. This system has been in place since 1997, with 99 per cent of the 36,000 licensees achieving grade A or B at the end of last year, up from 77 per cent in 2006.

The NEA said the existing system has become "less useful in helping consumers to distinguish good performers" with almost all licensees being graded A or B. Operators with good grades have also been linked to food hygiene lapses.

For new establishments that have been operating for less than two years, a label that states "working towards excellent food hygiene track record" will be displayed.

As part of the transition, eateries currently with an A grade can voluntarily apply for the new award from April 1 next year. The new scheme will take full effect from late 2020, to give time for all existing licensees to attain at least a bronze award.

Currently, only a third of eateries would receive an award if the system were to be implemented immediately, with only 5 per cent eligible to receive the gold award.

The NEA said the new scheme was developed in consultation with industry partners such as the Restaurant Association of Singapore, the Singapore Hotel Association, coffee shop associations and hawker associations.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Trump-Kim Singapore summit, 12 June 2018


United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hold historic talks in Singapore





First step on long road to peace

• US and North Korea to establish new relations
• Both will join efforts to build a lasting and stable peace on the Korean peninsula
• North Korea commits to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula
• US and North Korea commit to recovering remains of prisoners of war
By Rahul Pathak, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2018

On Sentosa, an island named after peace, the United States and North Korea yesterday signed a deal that they said would defuse decades of hostility between the two countries.

Calling the meeting between their leaders "historic" and "epochal", the joint statement declared that North Korea was committed to complete denuclearisation of the peninsula, while the US would provide it with security guarantees.

The US will also suspend its war games with South Korea to soothe nerves in the North. It will reset ties with Pyongyang, and North Korea's leader will be invited to the White House at an appropriate time.

The build-up to the summit, and the pact it would produce, had been breathless. Thousands of media personnel had descended upon Singapore and people lined the streets early yesterday to catch a glimpse of the motorcades of US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they made their way from their downtown hotels to the venue.



Mr Trump further hyped hopes of a breakthrough when the two men took a stroll across the lawns of Capella hotel and he was asked about how the talks had gone.

"Better than anybody could have expected, top of the line, really good. We are going right now for a signing," he told reporters before the agreement was unveiled.

But the vague wording and lack of details left observers divided over the document's place in history.

Some - including several world leaders - said it was the first, meaningful step in a long journey that could eventually make the world a safer place.

Others were underwhelmed and said it left key issues unresolved, with neither a timetable for denuclearisation nor the insistence that it be verifiable and irreversible.



Mr Trump, who said he had not slept in 25 hours while the two camps negotiated, dismissed such scepticism.

"It is a great day in the history of the world," he told the media. Facing questions standing on his feet for more than an hour after Mr Kim's motorcade had driven off, he added: "Chairman Kim is leaving for North Korea and as soon as he is back, he is going to start a process to make people safe."

In the meantime, the sanctions that have crippled North Korea's economy would remain, he said.

Interspersing his answers with an acknowledgement of his own abilities and praise for the man he had negotiated with - for 45 minutes in person, two hours with their teams and then over a working lunch of prawn cocktail, Korean stuffed cucumber, beef short rib confit and sweet-and-sour pork - Mr Trump waved away the lack of details in the document.



He said North Korea's denuclearisation would still have to be complete, verifiable and irreversible - something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said, a day earlier, was the minimum condition for a deal. "I wouldn't have signed any agreement if they did not agree to that."

Mr Trump said there had been no time to incorporate those clauses in the document. "I am only here for a day," he added.

Asked about a timeframe in which North Korea would dismantle its weapons, Mr Trump refused to pin down a date. "We will do it as fast as it can mechanically and physically be done," he said. "It could take a long time."

He also touched on details that did not find their way into the short, written agreement. He revealed that Mr Kim had promised to destroy a nuclear missile engine testing site.

"I got that after we signed the agreement. I said do me a favour. You have this missile engine testing site... I said can you close it up. He is going to close it up," said Mr Trump.



The US has decided to put on hold the war games it routinely conducts with South Korea - a development that took some observers by surprise.

"The military exercises that we conduct are tremendously expensive. Our bombers fly in all the way from Guam... It is a very provocative situation (for North Korea). We will also save a lot of money," he said.

The exercises that the US conducts with South Korea have been a sore point with the North, which says they threaten its security.

Yesterday, Mr Trump, who turns 72 tomorrow, was willing to see the point of view of the 34-year-old Chairman of North Korea's State Affairs Commission, whom he once dubbed "Rocket Man".



Saying that Mr Kim was committed to seeing his country become prosperous in return for giving up his nuclear arsenal, Mr Trump said: "He is very talented. They have never had a leader with the ability and confidence to get things done."

The endorsement came just seven hours after Mr Trump had first set eyes on Mr Kim.

The grounds of the Capella hotel were teeming with special agents - one American paired with one North Korean - when the two motorcades arrived in the morning. At 9.05am, the two leaders walked into the hotel courtyard from opposite sides of the colonnade and shook hands for exactly 12 seconds.



Mr Kim then spoke before a global audience for the first time beyond his backyard to say in Korean: "It wasn't easy to get here. We were held back by the past and blocked by old practices and prejudices. But we overcame all obstacles and here we are today."

The serious business of hammering out this agreement was conducted around a 79-year-old teak conference table once used by Singapore's chief justices which was even older than the Korean War between the two countries that broke out in 1950.



By 1.38pm, the document to cap the summit was ready for signing, Before that, a North Korean official wearing gloves appeared to clean and inspect the pen on Mr Kim's side of the table.

Mr Kim declared the agreement as a new beginning, saying the "world will see a major change".

Mr Trump said later that he had known immediately upon meeting Mr Kim that he was willing to make a deal. "My whole life has been about making deals, and I am great at it," he said.


Congratulating both men on their joint statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to them, saying: "It is a crucial first move in the long journey towards lasting peace and stability on the Korean peninsula."

Later, last evening, Mr Trump and Mr Kim boarded planes to their own countries for the next step on the long, sometimes rocky, road to peace.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Trump-Kim summit: $20 million bill to host US-North Korea meeting in Singapore

It's "a cost we are willing to pay", and Singapore must step up and do a good job, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ahead of landmark June 12 summit
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2018

The bill for hosting the historic Trump-Kim summit will come up to about $20 million, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, adding that this is Singapore's contribution to an international endeavour that is "in our profound interest". "It is a cost we are willing to pay," he said, adding that security costs would account for about half that figure.

Speaking to the Singapore media yesterday during a visit to the international media centre, Mr Lee noted that the summit is a very major operation, due to - among other things - its scale, the number of journalists here to cover it and the level of security required.

The security requirements are much higher than for previous meetings because of the profile of this summit and the nature of what is being discussed, he added.



Delving into some of the details, he said it involves not just cordons of policemen around the meeting venue but "all-round protection and in-depth protection - air, sea, land, against attack and against mishap".

"So this is a very major operation, because it's a high-profile meeting and we cannot afford to have anything go wrong."

Mr Lee also said Singapore might be able to recoup some of the costs of hosting the summit. Asked to elaborate, he replied: "If you calculate the price of everything in this world, you will miss out on the real important things. And in this case what is important is that the summit is held, and we are hosting it, not extravagantly but with due consideration to costs, but making sure operational requirements are met."

Besides the security bill, another substantial part of the costs is from facilitating the 2,500-strong contingent of journalists here. A Ministry of Communications and Information source said that this - including the set-up of the international media centre at the F1 Pit Building - comes in at around $5 million.



The $20 million bill for the summit is a fraction of the $150 million spent each year to host past editions of the Formula One race.

The issue of cost has, however, raised questions among some Singaporeans, who have also chafed at having to contend with restricted access and road closures.

Asked about this, Mr Lee said that what is important to keep in mind is the significance of the summit and also what hosting it successfully could mean for Singapore.



It is, he said, not just a whole-of-government effort, but a "whole of Singapore effort", involving people ranging from press officers to bomb disposal unit experts.

It also includes ordinary Singaporeans whose lives have been "a little bit inconvenienced because roads have been cordoned off and traffic jams can happen - I hope you will understand this is for a good cause, it is a national effort, and I hope we will all be able to work together to show the world what Singapore can do".



Yesterday, Mr Lee also visited Singapore Armed Forces troops deployed at Palawan Kidz City on Sentosa, and the Home Team command post in Novena. "The officers have done a good job under very pressed circumstances," he said, pointing to the short notice given. It was only two weeks ago that it was confirmed the summit was going ahead.

It is not easy to find a suitable location to host such a meeting, observed Mr Lee, as both the Americans and the North Koreans must agree on a venue that meets their requirements and is politically and diplomatically acceptable to them.

"Therefore, when the two sides asked us to host the meeting, we cannot say no," he said. "We have to step up... We can do a good job."



The summit is a plus for Singapore, in terms of its reputation, its standing and "how people look at us", he added. "It gives us publicity. The fact that we have been chosen as the site of the meeting - we did not ask for it, but we were asked and we agreed - says something about Singapore's relations with the parties, with America, with North Korea, also our standing in the international community."

Singapore is one of the few countries that have diplomatic relations with both sides. Mr Lee added: "I think people will sit up and say, why is this meeting happening in Singapore, and they will draw their conclusions, and they will see how things are run. And I'm sure that we will be able to show what Singapore can do, so I think it's a plus for Singapore."

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Singapore tops global survey on safety: Gallup's Law and Order Index 2017

Singaporeans feel safest in world: 2018 Global Law and Order Report
Nation tops global poll that asked residents on safety at night and confidence in police
By Noel Low, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2018

For at least the fifth year running, Singaporeans feel safer than residents of any other place in the world, a global study has found.

Research firm Gallup says 94 per cent of adults here feel safe walking alone at night, compared with the global average of 68 per cent.

Singapore tops the list in the Law and Order Index, ahead of Norway, Iceland and Finland. Hong Kong and Uzbekistan are joint fifth.

The result is consistent with other studies. The World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2017-2018 ranked Singapore first for order and security. Singapore was ranked the world's safest city in the 2017 Global Smart City Performance Index published this year.

The 2018 Global Law and Order Report, released yesterday, interviewed close to 150,000 residents in 142 countries and areas last year.

Respondents were also asked about their confidence in the local police, and whether they had been recent victims of crime.

Ms Nicole Naurath, Gallup world poll regional director for Asia, said the result was no surprise as "Singapore emphasises safety and security throughout all facets of society as a means to ensure its prosperity".

Mr Toby Koh, group managing director of Ademco Security Group, said Singapore's reputation for security is a key reason many global firms set up their headquarters here, adding that "safety and security is paramount to top management".

He said that there are also personal considerations - employees bring their families along when they come to work here.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Differentiate between relative and absolute poverty to fight inequality

Associate Professor Teo You Yenn describes the desire for decent jobs, better housing and other conditions as "basic needs" (Let's talk about meeting needs, not just equality of opportunity; May 30). These needs are absolute not relative.

Whether 10 per cent or all of the population have these needs unmet doesn't change the fact that our Government should strive to provide better jobs, better housing and better lives for the people.

Inequality does not change this.

When Singapore was young and undeveloped, there was less inequality, as many people were equally poor - in fact, it was probably even more urgent for the Government to make sure that basic needs were met, because more people could not meet them.

Just because inequality has worsened does not make these priorities any more or less important.

It is important to distinguish between absolute poverty and relative poverty when thinking about inequality because it affects the sort of policies we implement.

If we believe that absolute poverty should be ameliorated, policies should gear towards some redistribution to ensure that those at the bottom of society get a minimum standard of living.

The challenge for all societies is to define what that minimum standard is and how much to redistribute. These disagreements are the reason for divisions in political ideologies and parties.

Relative poverty, or inequality, is a lot more complicated.

One could, for the sake of a thought experiment, imagine a nation of millionaires where everyone's basic needs are met, but a predominance of billionaires causes income inequality to be very high.

In such a scenario, it would be absurd to argue for a redistribution of income to equalise outcomes.

However, it does not mean that all is well in such a state.

Inequality causes division and stratification in society.

In this instance, the right policy will not be redistribution per se, but rather, to reduce stratification.

For example, building better houses per se in such an imagined nation will not be as urgent as ensuring that people of all income levels reside in close proximity with one another, and are forced to interact.

The priority will not be to equalise outcomes, but to ensure that society remains cohesive.

It is, thus, imperative for us to think clearly about inequality and not mistake relative poverty for absolute poverty.

Mixing up the two will result in inappropriate policy responses that solve neither problem.

Calvin Cheng Ern Lee
ST Forum, 6 Jun 2018

Thursday, 7 June 2018

PAP Old Guard minister Jek Yeun Thong dies, aged 87

The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2018

A chapter of Singapore's history came closer to an end on Sunday, when one of only two surviving members of the People's Action Party Old Guard leaders died.

Mr Jek Yeun Thong, 87, died peacefully in his sleep at home, with his family around him, his son Jek Kian Yee, 55, told The Straits Times yesterday.

He also said that in accordance with his father's wishes, the family had a private wake and funeral, which was held on Tuesday.

As a mark of respect, and in recognition of his contributions to Singapore, the state flag on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast today, June 7, the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday.

Mr Jek was among the 10 men who put their names on the Independence of Singapore Agreement on Aug 9, 1965, when Singapore left Malaysia and became independent.

The remaining member of the group is former education minister Ong Pang Boon, 89.



President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday led the tributes paid to the Mr Jek, who had held ministerial portfolios in labour, culture, and science and technology, as well as served as high commissioner to the United Kingdom and ambassador to Denmark.

He made many contributions in his 25 years of public service - from mobilising the Chinese ground to upholding a multi-racial Singapore and advocating a Singaporean identity.

Watch live World Cup 2018 matches for free at 55 community clubs islandwide: People's Association

All 64 World Cup matches to be screened live - and for free - at community clubs
Over 600,000 expected to catch games, many of which will kick off before midnight
By Muhammad Sazali Abdul Aziz, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2018

The People's Association (PA) is expecting more than 600,000 residents to throng community clubs (CCs) around Singapore for live screenings of World Cup football matches, after it announced yesterday that all 64 matches of the June 14 to July 15 Russia World Cup will be shown for free.

The PA started screening World Cup matches at CCs in 2010, and this is the first time all 64 games will be beamed live, although not every CC will show every game.

This year's initiative is in partnership with Singapore Pools, Singtel and StarHub.

Four years ago, when Brazil hosted the World Cup, the public screenings drew a total of 570,000 residents. The PA is expecting a bigger turnout this year as the kick-off times in Russia are friendlier for Singapore fans.

The earliest game is the Group C match between France and Australia, which will kick off at 6pm (Singapore time) on June 16.

There are nine games which will start at 8pm, one at 9pm (Group D clash between Argentina and Iceland), 15 games at 10pm, and 11 at 11pm, including the final on July 15.

The rest of the matches will kick off between midnight and 3am.

In 2014, play started only after midnight, Singapore time.



Ms Pearly Seah, the PA's director for youth and sports, said: "We are excited to be able to offer live screenings of the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia to residents... Although the World Cup only happens once every four years, it unites people regardless of age and race as they cheer on their favourite teams."

Most of the screenings will be held at the CCs' multi-purpose halls, auditoriums, theatrettes and sheltered outdoor facilities, and selected CCs will also make arrangements for food and beverages to be either sold or provided to residents.