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.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Ministers, please speak plainly to the people

Plain speech also about telling the hard truth

Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang is correct (Ministers, please speak plainly to the people; June 3): Ministers should, indeed, speak plainly to the people.

This does not only mean using simple language that people understand. It also means telling people the truth.

This is what the PAP government has been doing for close to 60 years. Ministers and MPs spend considerable time on the ground hearing from citizens, answering their questions and explaining policies.

And as Mr Han knows well, this Government has never flinched from telling people “hard truths to keep Singapore going”. He once helped edit a book with that title.

The most recent example is the Budget speech, where Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that it will be necessary to raise the Goods and Services Tax in the next term of Government, and explained clearly why.

Unfortunately, some opposition MPs sought to avoid debating this issue in Parliament, preferring to wait till the heat of the hustings, when emotions, rather than reason, rule.

The injunction to "speak plainly" applies to journalists and commentators too.

Mr Han begins by urging ministers to speak plainly - to use simple language. His column then morphs into a dare to ministers to make sweeping promises.

For example, he wants ministers to assure people that if they had "a full working life in Singapore, in any job... when you retire at 65, you will have enough to live a good and decent life".

"We will make sure it happens," Mr Han urges ministers to say, "don't worry about the details or how we will do it."

But plain speaking about adequate retirement would also entail telling people some "hard truths".

For example, the Central Provident Fund scheme is adequate for most Singaporeans, and Silver Support will help top up for those who did not earn much while working.

However, as people live longer, their needs in old age will go up. Then, we will have to work longer, save more while working, or have less to spend in retirement.

Voters in many countries, developed and developing, have learnt through bitter experience what happens when unrealistic election promises are broken.

Politicians and journalists who advocate simplistic policies lose credibility, faith in democracy is undermined, and ultimately, voters or their children bear the cost.

The easiest five words to utter in politics are: "I promise you free lunches." But that's not plain speech. That's pandering and populism.

Lim Yuin Chien
Press Secretary to the Minister for Finance
ST Forum, 5 Jun 2018

Younger Singapore leaders will build on and improve ties with China: Heng Swee Keat

By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Nanjing, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2018

Even as Singapore undergoes leadership renewal and transition, its younger leaders will continue to build on and improve ties with China, visiting Finance Minister Heng Sweet Keat said yesterday.

In an address to 200 students and faculty members of Nanjing University, Mr Heng pointed to current leaders, like Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who have, over the years, built a "longstanding and close friendship" with their counterparts from China.

He noted that DPM Teo, head of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, has been described by former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli as an "old and good friend".

"It is our hope that as the younger leaders in Singapore step up to the helm, new friends will also become old friends and good friends," said Mr Heng, a member of the fourth-generation (4G) leadership.

Mr Heng, who is on the fifth day of a nine-day working visit to China, left for Shanghai yesterday.

Besides the dialogue, he also visited the university's artificial intelligence lab, and met Jiangsu governor Wu Zhenglong yesterday.

Today, he will travel to Beijing, where he is scheduled to meet Chinese leaders.

During his 40-minute speech in Nanjing, Mr Heng said it was timely to explore how to take the mutually beneficial cooperation between Singapore and China to the next level.

Mr Heng, who co-chairs the Singapore Jiangsu Cooperation Council, one of seven such councils to promote economic exchange and cooperation, also said that linkages between the two countries would be based on each nation dealing with its internal challenges and opportunities and working with each other to advance common interests.

He laid out three of Singapore's important leadership and governance principles.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Do MPs and grassroots volunteers pay for parking?

Clean wage policy has raised questions on how it applies to teachers, MPs and grassroots volunteers
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Jun 2018

First, a news bulletin to clarify some of the information and misinformation swirling on social media about parking for civil servants, MPs and grassroots volunteers.

Do civil servants pay for parking at work premises? In general, yes. If they didn't before, their ministry or the agency they work for is likely to change the rules so they do.

That's one reason why the Ministry of Education decided to start charging teachers for parking in schools. Most other ministries charge staff for parking, and MOE should do likewise, the Auditor-General's Office said.

The decision makes sense when you consider that Singapore maintains a "clean wage" system for public servants - a wage system with no or minimal hidden perks or benefits in kind. But the decision drew much public attention - and flak - from people who felt that making teachers pay for parking somehow devalued their contributions to society.

That debate continues to roil online, but the Government is holding fast to its stand that a clean wage policy means civil servants pay for parking at their workplaces.

So that's clear for civil servants.


Online, there was also much chatter and questions about MPs.

Is it true that they get to park for free at Parliament House?

Intrigued, I asked the Clerk of Parliament. Answer: Yes.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Singapore best country for children to grow up in: End of Childhood Report 2018

Republic, Slovenia score well in 8 key indicators for joint No. 1 in NGO rankings
By Lee Wen-Yi, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2018

Singapore is the best country in the world for children to grow up in, according to the second annual End Of Childhood report published by non-governmental organisation Save the Children.

It tied with reigning champion Slovenia as the first out of 175 countries, performing well across the eight indicators: under-five mortality rate, child stunting, out-of-school children and youth, child labour, child marriage, adolescent birth rate, population displaced by conflict, and child homicide rate.

These indicators represent "life-changing events that signal the disruption of childhood", and demonstrate basic rights that can be quantitatively compared across countries.

Singapore scored 987 out of a possible 1,000. Scandinavian countries Norway, Sweden and Finland rounded off the top five.

The report, released in the lead-up to International Children's Day yesterday, improved on last year's by using national estimates rather than solely relying on United Nations' numbers, making the ranking more accurate, according to Save the Children.

"This is a stunning result for Singapore, where children enjoy some of the healthiest childhoods possible," said Save the Children's Asia regional director Hassan Noor Saadi.

"Singapore is a great place for children to grow up with good access to high-quality education and medical care services, while also being one of the safest countries in the world. Threats to childhood that plague other countries - like early marriage, poor access to education and war - simply don't exist in Singapore, or at extremely low levels."​

Asian countries occupied three of the top 20 spots, with South Korea ranking eighth and Japan 19th. However, they also comprised four of the bottom 10 spots in terms of child stunting.

Child labour and child marriage also remain prolific problems in Asia, which is home to 40 per cent of all child labourers and has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, the report said.

Within Asia, children in the Philippines and Afghanistan were found to face deteriorating childhoods. Afghanistan - affected by "harrowing violence, poverty and disadvantage" - fell from 152nd place to 160th, while the Philippines fell from 96th place to 104th due to increased stunting levels and poor nutrition standards.

Compared with last year, the overall situation for children has improved for 95 of the 175 countries.

However, the world still has a long way to go in addressing issues facing children. More than half of all children - over 1.2 billion - live in countries mired in conflict, poverty or gender discrimination, while almost 153 million children live in 20 countries that are affected by all three.

Countries affected by armed conflict have incidences of child labour 77 per cent higher than the global average and make girls more vulnerable to child marriage, the report added.

DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the 18th Annual Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture on 30 May 2018

Beware social culture of decline: DPM Tharman
Wage stagnation giving rise to sense of 'them and us', he warns in US lecture
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2018

Policymakers must look past the strategies of the second half of the 20th century if they are to deal with the challenges of the 21st, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has said.

He warned of an "ebbing of hope and optimism" and the loss of faith in market-based meritocracy in advanced economies.

And in developing economies outside of East Asia expectations of a catch-up in productivity and incomes with the advanced world have not been fulfilled, he said.

Mr Tharman was delivering the 18th Annual Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture on Strained Bedfellows: What We Can Do To Make Open Economies Inclusive, at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington on Wednesday.

He warned of a social culture of decline resulting from the pessimism.

Socio-economic conditions could perpetuate themselves, and, without an intervention in the workings of the market, depressed areas tend to stay depressed for too long, he added.

"If today's world of productivity and wages is tomorrow's world, it's a terrible future," he said. "I don't see it as socially sustainable."

Even if "productivity optimists" are right, and there is a resurgence of productivity, the way the market works now will see winners taking the most and many more people losing jobs, said Mr Tharman.

Such a situation would also not be socially or politically sustainable. "And it will alter the quality of democracy," he warned.

National Wages Council 2018/2019 Guidelines

NWC recommends monthly wage hikes of $50-$70 for workers earning up to $1,300
More low-wage workers to benefit from pay rises
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent and Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2018

A bigger swathe of low-wage workers should receive higher basic pay increases this year, the National Wages Council (NWC) said yesterday as it urged companies to share the gains from economic and productivity growth with their workers.

The reason is that the NWC has raised the $1,200 basic monthly pay threshold of these workers to $1,300, and recommended that they be given built-in increments of between $50 and $70.

This will cover about 24,000 more workers than last year, when it proposed that those earning up to $1,200 get pay hikes of $45 to $60.

In all, about 150,000 workers will come under the new pay threshold.

United Overseas Bank economist Francis Tan said the recommendation strikes a good balance.

A $50 increment for a worker earning, say, $1,000, would amount to a 5 per cent bump in salary.

This surpasses inflation, which is forecast to be in the upper half of the zero to 1 per cent range this year.

"It is not too low and not too high. If it were too high, then companies' margins would be hit, and if it falls below last year's wage growth, it would be too low," Mr Tan said.

Real wage growth for private-sector workers slowed to 3.2 per cent last year, after factoring in inflation, which was 0.6 per cent, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) data showed on Wednesday.

The NWC, in its annual wage guidelines, made a third recommendation for low-wage workers.

It proposed - for the first time - that companies with productivity gains last year give them a one-off bonus of between $300 and $600, either in a lump sum or over several payments.

The proposal follows healthy growth in the Singapore economy, which grew 3.6 per cent last year, up from 2.4 per cent in 2016, while labour productivity jumped 3.8 per cent, more than double that in 2016.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Malaysia withdraws ICJ challenge on Pedra Branca, ceding rights for future revision to 2008 ruling

Malaysia abandons Pedra Branca case ahead of International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings
It gives up for good the right to dispute ruling that awarded island's sovereignty to Singapore
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 31 May 2018

Malaysia has withdrawn its application to revise a 2008 judgment on Pedra Branca, relinquishing for good its right to challenge the ruling that awarded sovereignty of the island to Singapore.

It will also discontinue a separate application for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to interpret that same judgment issued on May 23, 2008.

The withdrawal comes just two weeks before scheduled hearings for both cases, and it means the 10-year window for revision has lapsed. Under the ICJ's Statute, an application for revision must be made within 10 years of the judgment.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), in a statement yesterday, said Malaysia had informed the ICJ on Monday that it would stop the proceedings it had initiated earlier.

A day later, Singapore told the court it agreed with Malaysia's request to discontinue proceedings.

Malaysia's Solicitor-General had earlier written to inform Singapore's Attorney-General of Malaysia's intention, and Singapore replied to convey its agreement on this count, MFA said.

In letters dated May 29, the ICJ informed both countries it had placed on record the discontinuance of proceedings, and directed that the cases be removed from the court's list.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday that Singapore had been confident of its case and the correctness of the original ICJ decision. "When Malaysia requested to discontinue the cases, without them being argued, we were happy to agree. Both Malaysia and Singapore had gone through the due legal process and put this matter to rest," he said.

Malaysia's withdrawal brings to a close a long-running saga which began in 1979 and was thought to have been resolved when the ICJ ruled in 2008 that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore.

Malaysia applied to revise the ICJ's judgment on Feb 2 last year.

The small island of Pedra Branca - also known as Pulau Batu Puteh - houses the Horsburgh Lighthouse, and is located about 40km east of Singapore's main island.

In 2008, the court also ruled on the sovereignty of two other maritime features near Pedra Branca: It said Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia, but it did not make a definitive ruling on South Ledge, saying it belongs to whoever owns the territorial waters it sits in.

In its application for revision last February, Malaysia had cited three new documents discovered in the British Archives. It based its application on Article 61 of the ICJ's Statute, which states that an application to revise a judgment may be made when there is discovery of a fact which would be a "decisive factor" and not known at the time of judgment.

On June 30 last year, Malaysia submitted a second application asking the ICJ to declare the waters around Pedra Branca to be Malaysian waters - and, by extension, to rule South Ledge belongs to Malaysia. Public hearings on both cases were scheduled over eight days next month from June 11 to 22.

Singapore filed its rebuttal on May 24 last year, contending that the documents Malaysia relied on do not satisfy the criteria for a revision application. On Oct 30 last year, Singapore filed its rebuttal to Malaysia's request for interpretation.

Singapore had earlier said that it considered Malaysia's application for interpretation unnecessary and without merit.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail scrapped, says Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad

#%*@ Roti Prata Alert: HSR postponed, not scrapped, says Mahathir two weeks after axing project
By Trinna Leong, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2018

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the High-Speed Rail (HSR) link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is "postponed", and not scrapped.

Tun Dr Mahathir, in Japan on his first trip abroad since his Pakatan Harapan pact won the general election last month, told Nikkei Asian Review on Monday that the HSR was temporarily shelved due to its high costs.

He reiterated at a press briefing in Tokyo for Malaysian media yesterday that his new administration needs to study the multibillion-dollar rail project.

"In a way, it's postponed. At this moment, we need to re-study and, if we are short of funds, we can delay the implementation of the project or reduce the scope of project," he said.

His comments come less than two weeks after Malaysia announced that it was axing the RM72 billion (S$24.3 billion) HSR project as it moved into austerity mode and sought to slash its RM1 trillion federal debt.

Dr Mahathir had said then that the HSR and other mega projects signed off by the previous administration would be revisited once Malaysia's finances improved.

In his interview with Nikkei, Dr Mahathir acknowledged the need for high-speed rail in the future but said Malaysia "cannot afford it at this moment". "We cannot say we will never have high-speed rail in Malaysia," he told the Japanese publication. The HSR deal was signed by Malaysia and Singapore in December 2016, with the 350km link scheduled to begin services in December 2026. It would cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, from four hours by car currently.

The line was to have eight stations, with one in Singapore's Jurong East.

Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in a statement on June 1, said the Republic has "requested the Malaysian government through diplomatic channels to clarify Malaysia's position on the project".

Mr Khaw said should Malaysia cancel the project, Singapore will study the implications and exercise its rights - including any right to compensation for expenses - in accordance with the terms of the bilateral agreement signed in 2016.

Malaysia had earlier indicated that there was a RM500 million compensation payment to be made if the deal was cancelled.

Monday, 28 May 2018

ElderShield to be renamed CareShield Life with higher, lifetime payouts from 2020

New compulsory CareShield Life replaces optional ElderShield in 2020, will offer wider coverage for severely disabled
Scheme to be run by Government instead of private insurers will include everyone from age 30
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 May 2018

Another piece of the jigsaw to prepare Singapore for its ageing population, a national long-term care insurance to provide financial aid to those afflicted with severe disability, will be launched in 2020.

Called CareShield Life, the government-run scheme will be compulsory, automatically getting everyone who will be between the ages of 30 and 40 in 2020 to start paying premiums. Future cohorts will join at the age of 30.

For them, the scheme replaces the optional ElderShield, offered by private insurers. CareShield's scope of coverage is also wider.

Premiums start at $206 a year for men and $253 a year for women at the age of 30. They will make 38 payments until the age of 67.

Should disability strike and a policyholder require care, he will receive a payout of at least $600 a month, for as long as care is needed.

In contrast, the ElderShield scheme pays $400 a month for up to six years, but with lower premiums paid over a shorter period.

People above 40 in 2020 have the option of sticking with ElderShield or switching to the new scheme in 2021 by topping up their premiums.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that over the past three years, the Government "has been preparing Singaporeans for an ageing population", including providing more nursing home and day-care facilities, the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life.

This review "is another important step in this journey", he said.

"It is an important strategy for us, an important part of our social safety network for Singaporeans in terms of long-term care. It also reflects the inclusive society that we aspire to build."

To ensure premiums are affordable no matter the family's income, Medisave can be used to fully pay for it. There will be permanent premium subsidies of 20 per cent to 30 per cent for people who qualify, and additional support for those who still cannot afford the premiums.

People who are disabled at the age of 30 years will make one premium payment to join, and can start collecting payouts immediately.

Ramadan ad puts spotlight on harmony in Singapore

The Sunday Times, 27 May 2018

The warm public response to an advertisement, put up by McDonald's Singapore for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, is a heartwarming reminder of how much Singaporeans share in spite of the religious and racial diversity here. The advertisement features a McDonald's delivery rider on a typical day in his life during the fasting month. He makes deliveries as usual although he is fasting and goes out of his way to help others, as he is expected to do, especially during Ramadan.

The advertisement ends with his making a delivery to a non-Muslim, who notices that it is time for the rider to break his fast. The customer invites him to do so with a McDonald's happy sharing box. The advertisement ends with the tagline: "Share the spirit of Ramadan."

The advertisement's impact, including internationally, reflects its simple yet deft capture of a slice of the real Singapore. This is a country where freedom of religion is an intrinsic part of the national pursuit of peace and harmony among all the communities. Each faith group takes the others as a living reality without which Singapore cannot be imagined. True to its name, the secular state does not possess a religion of its own and does not privilege one faith over another, but it is not anti-religious. It merely strives to keep the social playing field level for members of all faiths.

In that inclusive national environment, people can reach out to others without fear of the dilution of their own religious identities. That reaching out is a work in progress and should be second nature to Singaporeans. This habitual co-existence forms the bedrock of the religious harmony that sets Singaporeans apart from so many others elsewhere who suffer the punishment of religious exclusivity, extremism and violence every day.

If there is one quality to be cherished particularly among the many blessings of this land, it is that it belongs equally to all, regardless of race, language or religion.