Sunday, 19 August 2018

National Day Rally 2017: One Year On

A better pre-school education, a fight against diabetes and a drive to be a Smart Nation were highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at his National Day Rally last year as efforts that could benefit Singapore in the long run. A year on, The Straits Times looks at progress and challenges in these areas.

Diabetes: Cheaper screening, low-sugar options in war against disease
Multi-pronged diabetes fight includes helping expectant mums and healthier food choices
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2018

At last year's National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of the need to tackle diabetes here.

The silent killer increases people's risk of contracting other serious medical problems such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

About 400,000 people here have the disease, though not all are aware of it as there are no symptoms in the early stages. This makes Singapore the developed country with the second-highest rate of diabetes, after the United States.

If nothing is done to curb the disease, the number of diabetics is projected to rise to one million by 2050 - and cost the country $2.5 billion a year in treatment and lost productivity, up from about $1 billion now.

Since the Prime Minister flagged the need to fight diabetes in August last year, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has made it cheaper for people to screen for this and other chronic ailments.

For a flat fee of $5 - it is $2 for Community Health Assist Scheme card holders and free for pioneers - eligible Singaporeans can be screened for up to five conditions, including diabetes.

The fee covers the follow-up consultation should the person have any of the conditions.

By May this year, more than 45,000 people had been screened.

The HPB also funds food manufacturers to encourage them to come up with products containing less sugar.

White rice is a major source of sugar intake here, so the HPB is also pushing for more people to turn to brown rice, which does not spike blood sugar levels as much.

It also works with hawkers to offer healthier options such as brown rice noodles and to add some brown rice in rice cakes and glutinous rice.

It has already become a must for water to be served at all government and People's Association functions, instead of just the ubiquitous syrup drinks.

He is hoping to make drinking water the default. Today, about 100 million cans of sweetened soda are sold here every month - or more than one billion cans a year.

Police probe Facebook graphic of Singapore flag being ripped apart to reveal the Indian flag underneath

Image widely shared online after being posted by Indian PR, whose employer, DBS Bank is also looking into it
By Ankita Varma, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2018

The police are investigating a Facebook post showing a black T-shirt with a graphic of the Singapore flag being ripped apart by a pair of hands to reveal the Indian flag underneath.

The image, which is believed to have first surfaced on Aug 14, one day ahead of India's Independence Day, was widely shared online when it was posted onto the Singapore Indians and Expats page on Facebook by Singapore permanent resident Avijit Das Patnaik. The page has over 11,000 members.

Mr Patnaik, who has been living in Singapore for a decade, posted it alongside a caption in Hindi that said, "Phir bhi dil hai…", which roughly translates to "Still my heart is…" and alludes to a popular Hindi song that talks about always feeling love for the motherland, India.

But he told The Straits Times that he did not design the image. He had first seen it posted on various individual accounts on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Many netizens who saw the post deemed it offensive, with some complaining that the image is disrespectful to Singapore as it shows the Singapore flag being ripped to shreds.

The Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act states that no person shall treat the flag with disrespect. The penalty is a maximum fine of $1,000.

The image has since been taken down.

The police confirmed that a police report has been lodged and that they are looking into the matter. DBS Bank, which is Mr Patnaik's employer, also commented in a Facebook post that it is looking into the matter.

When contacted, Mr Patnaik apologised and said that he did not mean to cause offence.

"I did not design the image and had already seen it being circulated widely... which is why I assumed it was okay for me to post the image. " he said.

"I love Singapore deeply and am always singing praises about this country, so my intention was never to cause so much grievance. I just felt that the image represented that deep inside, the heart also beats for our motherland," he added.

Secretary Tan Chor Bee, 52, who saw the post online, said that it should not be surprising that Singaporeans are angry.

"If you post an image which defaces a national flag, then you should expect this result," she said.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Rules eased for SMEs bidding for government projects

Changes include scrapping need for some firms to produce audited financial statements
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2018

More small businesses may start bidding for government projects as long-standing rules are being changed to make it cheaper and easier for them to do so.

Companies with yearly revenues below $5 million no longer have to produce audited financial statements to take part in government tenders, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat said yesterday.

This makes the process of bidding cheaper for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he said on the sidelines of a Singapore Business Federation (SBF) meeting.

This change got under way in June.

Come October, businesses will also not have to affix company stamps on government forms, including on tender-related documents submitted through government procurement portal GeBiz. This is unless the stamps are required by legislation.

Stamps were needed for identity verification, but the digitalisation of services has meant that other forms of checks such as digital platforms and signatures are available.

The change follows a review by the Ministry of Trade and Industry's (MTI) Pro-Enterprise Panel, which found that it is "cumbersome and time-consuming" for companies to download, print, physically stamp, then scan and send documents back to agencies via e-mail.

"Upon receiving the feedback, the Pro-Enterprise Panel worked with 28 regulatory agencies and got their agreement to do away with this requirement," said Mr Chee.

"When technology changes, we also have to change the way we regulate, and the rules that we have."

On whether the relaxation of rules on financial statements involved risks, Mr Chee said the risks were manageable. He said smaller companies tend to bid for lower-value contracts and will have to build up a good track record before bidding for bigger contracts.

The change is expected to benefit some 3,900 suppliers here, based on the number of registered suppliers who have participated in past government tenders.

Of the 200,000 SMEs here, an estimated 160,000 or so earn an annual revenue of below $5 million a year.

"It brings cost savings, and more importantly, I think it brings a lot more participation from SMEs in the procurement process or tender process as well," said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

Mahathir Confessions: Pakatan Harapan made promises without expecting to win General Election 2018

Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad's first 100 days back in power
Pakatan made pledges without expecting to win polls: Mahathir
The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2018

PETALING JAYA • Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that Pakatan Harapan (PH) made too many election promises because it did not expect to win the 14th general election in May.

The coalition chairman told PH and Parti Warisan Sabah MPs at a closed-door meeting in Petaling Jaya on Monday night that this was why the new administration was facing a tough time meeting its manifesto pledges.

Tun Dr Mahathir also warned about the possibility of a backlash against the new government, according to several sources present at the dinner function.

"Actually, we did not expect to win, and we made a thick manifesto with all kinds of promises... We need to make sacrifices to fulfil our promises. If we can't fulfil them, we will need a good reason that is acceptable to the people," said Dr Mahathir.

"If we fail to deliver on our promises, the opposition will use it against us and we may be defeated" in the next general election, he added.

One example he gave was PH's promise to make the position of opposition leader equal to that of a minister.

The Prime Minister said that the promise was made with the expectation that PH would be in the opposition.

"But we won, and now it feels uncomfortable to give the opposition leader an equal rank to a minister," he said.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Mahathir says Singapore should pay at least 10 times more for Malaysian raw water in Associated Press interview on 13 August 2018

Singapore-Malaysia Water Agreements: Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad wants to raise price of raw water sold to Singapore by more than 10 times
The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2018

PUTRAJAYA • Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he wants to increase the price of raw water supply to Singapore by more than 10 times to reflect the higher cost of living.

The current water agreement, which expires in 2061, sees Singapore drawing up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River, and Johor entitled to 5 mgd of treated water from Singapore.

Singapore pays 3 sen (1 Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons. Singapore has said this price is heavily subsidised and below the cost of treating the water.

Malaysia chose not to review the price when allowed to in 1987, but talks took place when Tun Dr Mahathir, who was then prime minister, raised the issue in 1998. The talks did not result in a new pact.

In an interview with the Associated Press published yesterday, Dr Mahathir said Johor sells raw water to another Malaysian state Melaka at 30 sen per 1,000 gallons, which he described as "charitable".

"To a foreign country, we need to get more than that," he said.

Since his comeback as the world's oldest prime minister after leading the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to victory in the May general election, Dr Mahathir has in recent interviews criticised the 1962 water deal as "too costly" and "ridiculous", and said Malaysia would approach Singapore to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Dr Mahathir had served a previous stint as prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said last month that Singapore has been clear and consistent in its position that Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the 1962 Water Agreement in 1987.

The statement came as Malaysia's national news agency Bernama cited Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah as saying in an interview that "the agreement says the content of the agreement can be reviewed after 25 years".

MFA said Singapore's position was set out in Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's remarks in Parliament on July 9 where he said Dr Mahathir had noted in 2002 that Malaysia did not ask for a review when the water pact was due as it knew any revision would also affect the price of treated water sold by Singapore to Malaysia.

The water issue has been brought up on several occasions in Malaysia since the PH government took over.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Sengkang General Hospital to open on 18 August 2018

It is the biggest new hospital with 1,000 beds; attached community hospital opens on Aug 28
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 12 Aug 2018

Singapore's biggest new hospital with 1,000 beds will open on Saturday.

When it is fully open, Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) will significantly bump up the total number of public-sector acute beds from just over 8,600 now.

The next public general hospital to open will be in Woodlands, in 2022. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will then take a pause to plan for future healthcare needs, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

SKH will start with 260 beds and increase to 500 in six months. The hospital is within walking distance of the Sengkang MRT station and linked directly to the LRT station.

The 400-bed Sengkang Community Hospital attached to SKH will open on Aug 28, as it takes a while for patients from the general hospital to need rehabilitation at a community hospital.

Announcing the dates at the SKH Campus Community Health Fair, Mr Gan said that as Singapore's population ages, there will be increased demand for healthcare services.

The Government has been building more facilities across various sectors to meet this growing demand, he said. Since 2011, it has added 1,700 acute hospital beds and 1,200 community hospital beds. The hospitals in Sengkang will add another 1,400 beds to this.

They are part of the new generation of public general hospitals, starting with the 660-bed Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) in Yishun which opened in 2010, and the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East in 2015.

The Woodlands general hospital will add another 1,400 beds. It will be part of the Woodlands Health Campus, which will also have a community hospital and other healthcare facilities.

"Beyond Woodlands, we will take a bit of time to plan for future needs," said Mr Gan.

"Healthcare needs will expand, given the ageing population, but the care model may change. It is important to take a bit of time to plan for... future needs."

Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport, and MP for Sengkang West, said MOH is pushing for more ambulant care with shorter hospital stays, which could cut the need for hospital beds.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

PayNow Corporate: Cashless payments to businesses, government from 13 Aug 2018

Fund-transfer service will be extended to reduce the reliance on cash and cheques
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times. 11 Aug 2018

The push for a cashless society will take a big step forward when PayNow Corporate is launched next week, allowing businesses to receive funds directly from local accounts at participating banks, businesses and banks said yesterday.

This means, for instance, that individuals, who have become used to paying one another directly through PayNow on their mobile phones, will have the same convenience when they buy goods and services from businesses or make and receive payments to and from the Government.

Businesses will also be able to make and receive payments to and from each other.

PayNow Corporate, which goes live on Monday, allows the unique entity numbers of firms and government agencies to be linked to their local bank accounts.

This would help reduce the reliance on cash, long a key form of payment by consumers, and cheques, which are still commonly used between businesses.

The move to go cashless is part of the national drive towards a Smart Nation.

With PayNow Corporate, consumers would launch their banks' mobile banking apps or e-payment apps and scan a QR code to pay the company directly from their bank accounts. The cashless transfer is almost instant, and works 24/7. It saves time and cuts costs as cheques take up to two days to clear, and Giro, up to three days.

So far, banks have received an "overwhelming response" from businesses in signing up to the new system, an OCBC Bank spokesman told The Straits Times. Nine in 10 of its new business banking customers have pre-registered for PayNow Corporate since April. The service was announced by the Association of Banks in Singapore in June.

Friday, 10 August 2018

NDP 2018: Happy 53rd Birthday Singapore!

Celebrating a shared Singapore
25,000 spectators celebrate diversity and shared Singaporean past at 53rd birthday bash
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2018

Lifting their heads to the sky, the 25,000 people at Singapore's 53rd birthday bash raised their voices to sing Majulah Singapura as fireworks in the formation of five stars shot up into the night sky.

The triumphant pyrotechnic show that ends every National Day Parade was an emotional coda to a day when Singaporeans celebrated their unity in diversity, their home and country, and felt like the sky, indeed, was the limit.

The ninth parade to be held at the Marina Bay floating platform stoked the exhilaration, utilising the elements that have made it a crowd favourite - of sky, sea and that gleaming downtown backdrop.

Making their aerial debut were divers from the Republic of Singapore Navy, who drew thunderous applause as they jumped out of a plane in freefall, opening their chutes to land in the calm waters with their operational gear and fins on.

The cheers got even wilder with the act that followed them, the skydiving Red Lions, who landed gracefully on the platform.

Sports instructor Debbie Poh was thrilled to see the Red Lions and divers together at the show.

"This couldn't have been done elsewhere because the floating platform is right next to the water," said Ms Poh, 30. "It's the perfect venue."

President Halimah Yacob attended the parade for the first time as Singapore's head of state. The crowd rose to its feet as one, cheering and waving flags at her arrival.

Singapore's first female president, with her trademark warmth, stayed after the parade was over to mingle with fellow Singaporeans.

At home, Singaporeans watching the sundown parade on TV got the best view when spectators in the stands held up red and white placards from their funpacks, to form the sentence "WE (heart) SG".

It was a smart idea, said student Jasdev Singh, 14. "The coordination required is really cool and the results turned out awesome... It shows how each one of us can play our part and contribute."

Also contributing were more than 3,000 participants, who performed in the spectacular mass displays of song and dance that showcased home-grown creativity.

We are Singapore, said the 2018 National Day Parade. It was also the year's theme song - a 1987 classic by Hugh Harrison made new by musician Charlie Lim, but still familiar and beloved.

Ms Doris Lim, 40, who works in the IT industry, said the remade version was refreshing. Of the new lyrics, she said: "They are as meaningful as the old ones."

The affection for a shared Singaporean past was palpable, as the audience sang heartily along with the combined schools choir - back after five years - to National Day favourites such as Chan Mali Chan and Munnaeru Vaalibaa.

Like the parades of previous years, this one melded people's favourite things about Singapore into a satisfying whole.

The past was very much with the present, when Singaporeans planted their feet and stood together, and looked to the future.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

RSAF50@Marina Barrage: Republic of Singapore Air Force to Celebrate 50th Anniversary with Aerial Displays over National Day weekend on 11 and 12 Aug 2018

Two helicopters to perform for the first time in RSAF's largest aerial show of the year
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2018

This weekend, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will be showcasing more than 20 aircraft in its biggest aerial display this year. It will also feature two of its helicopters doing aerial manoeuvres together for the first time.

A pair of RSAF AH-64D Apache attack helicopters will perform 10 synchronised manoeuvres at the Marina Barrage on Saturday and Sunday. The RSAF50@Marina Barrage event, organised to commemorate the air force's golden jubilee this year, will feature a total of 29 aircraft - 25 from the RSAF and four from the Singapore Youth Flying Club.

There will also be an unmanned aircraft for the first time - the Heron 1 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - in a pre-show segment.

The public can watch two 30-minute shows each day at 10am and 2.30pm. The aerial display will also be streamed live on the RSAF's Facebook page.

The RSAF did a full rehearsal at a media preview yesterday, witnessed by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen. The full sequence for the show is: A sequential flypast, a helicopter and fighter jet aerial display and a finale bomb burst manoeuvre.

Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Wong, chairman of the flying display committee, said: "This time, we are trying to do something different - new profiles and display segments - and this shows the professionalism and capabilities of the air force as well as the ability to work together as a team."

Nineteen RSAF combat aircraft and four Singapore Youth Flying Club DA40 trainer aircraft will perform the flypast in five formations.

The formations will fly at different altitudes between 500ft (152m) and 2,000ft, about 60 seconds apart.

Ministers not paid enough; harder to attract people to government in the future: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong

ESM Goh responds to 'heated reactions' to remarks on ministerial pay, says salaries not starting point in talent hunt
He welcomes feedback, says key factors such as character, selflessness matter too
By Elgin Toh, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2018

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has acknowledged the "heated reactions" from Singaporeans to his comments on ministerial salaries last week.

Mr Goh had said at a forum with residents from the South East District last Thursday that Cabinet ministers are not paid enough, and that it would become harder to attract good people to join the Government in the future.

His words have attracted mainly critical feedback online from Singaporeans.

Some said high salaries may attract people for the wrong reasons. Others noted that the salaries of ministers are already among the highest in the world.

Responding through a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Goh said he saw a silver lining in the comments: "It shows Singaporeans care deeply and hold leaders to account for their words and performance."

"I welcome diverse and dissenting views. I hope to engage them, perhaps through a forum in due course," he added.

On his point about ministerial salaries, Mr Goh stuck to his guns, explaining in his latest post why he sees pay as important.

"In times of prolonged crisis and upheaval, I have no doubt that Singaporeans will step forward to serve. Money would not be a key vector.

"In peace and prosperity, however, there are no dragons to slay. Personal aspirations, freedom, privacy and lifestyle take precedence," he said.

Singaporeans, he added, "know quality costs money - from durians to clothes to football players to military weapons".

He said: "Having run Singapore for 14 years as prime minister, my main concern remains how to bring Singapore forward. Leadership is key."

Mr Goh also addressed another remark that some people have taken issue with, in which he appeared to say that those who are not able to command a high salary are "very, very mediocre" people.

In his post yesterday, he said: "I do not mean nor believe that Singaporeans at whatever level of income are mediocre. Those who have worked with me know people matter the most to me. That is what I am in politics for."

He said some Singaporeans have written to him directly to express their views.

He published an excerpt of his reply to a final-year medical student in an overseas university, in which he argued that a person's abilities, competence and performance are reflected in his salary.

But other attributes not reflected in the salary matter too, Mr Goh also said in the reply.

He wrote: "Salaries are not our starting point in looking for ministers. Character, motivation, commitment, selflessness, practical abilities, competence and proven performance are the main attributes we look for. The first four attributes are veto factors."

The student "seemed to be persuaded by my response", and has offered to volunteer at Mr Goh's Meet-the-People Session in Marine Parade GRC, he noted.

"I hope more Singaporeans will think deeply about how to ensure Singapore succeeds," he concluded, adding: "Singapore deserves the best. Happy National Day!"

Focus on right measures of income inequality

Zeroing in on income of the top 10 per cent will yield suggestions of Robin Hood taxes on the rich. But, in fact, inequality has remained stable here, and the poor are making progress
By Nitin Pangarkar, Published The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2018

I read with interest Professor Linda Lim's article about income inequality and its debilitating effects on Singapore's growth ("How inequality and low wages can stall growth"; July 21). While I agree with several of her points, especially that too much inequality can have adverse consequences, I disagree with her on many others.

While Prof Lim alludes to the Gini coefficient, a fair bit of the data she cited - including from the World Inequality Report 2018 by a group of researchers, including French economist Thomas Piketty - is about the income garnered by the top 10 per cent of the population. The income garnered by this group is a flawed measure of income inequality and has very little bearing on how the average person is faring.

The Gini coefficient - which measures income distribution across a population as a whole - is a much more appropriate and widely accepted measure. A society of prefect equality where everyone earns the same income would have a Gini coefficient of 0; one where one person earns everything would have a Gini coefficient of 1. If 1 per cent of the population owned 50 per cent of a country's wealth, it would have a Gini coefficient of 0.49 or higher, depending on the distribution of wealth across the remaining 99 per cent.

To derive insights and policy implications from the Gini coefficient, one should also look at the trend over time and in combination with growth in income levels. Many analysts make the error of looking at the Gini coefficient in isolation and without considering time-based trends.

For example, income inequality may be high now but declining over time, which would be a sign of progress. This might happen when average incomes are growing, making the average person better off today than yesterday, which should reduce - though not eliminate - concerns about income inequality. If incomes are growing and the Gini coefficient is falling, it would mean that a country is making good progress and concerns about inequality should become less over time.

Looking at Singapore, I found data on the Gini coefficient between 1981 and 2014, published by the Government, using two alternative ways of calculation. The data shows that using the more stringent method - which gives higher values of the coefficient - there was an increase from 0.46 to 0.48 between 1981 and 2014.

The values based on the other definition of the Gini coefficient - used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development group of developed nations - are lower, ranging from 0.40 to 0.43. Admittedly, the coefficient did go down until 1990, after which its rise was faster, to a peak of about 0.48, before 2008.

If we look at the aggregate picture, the rise in the Gini coefficient has been hardly alarming, rising by 0.02 in 33 years. The above values do not take into account the effect of taxes and transfers, which should further soften the impact of a high Gini coefficient.


Thus, it seems that for the past three decades or so, Singapore was in a situation of rising per capita income levels with somewhat high Gini coefficient values before taxes and transfers. This is hardly a situation of the poor getting poorer. The rich may be getting richer, but the poor are also making progress.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Ben Davis playing for Fulham as an English national, not as a Singapore citizen: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen explains why MINDEF rejected footballer's application for National Service deferment

Thailand born Ben Davis, 17, is playing for Fulham as an English national, not as a Singapore citizen

His father, Harvey Davis had "consistently refused to indicate" when his son would return to serve National Service

Harvey Davis had also indicated that Ben would still sign the contract with Fulham if deferment were not granted and would consider the option for his son to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his football career

Parliament: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen explains why request from Ben Davis was rejected
Minister sets out fundamentals of NS policy and lists 3 reasons for denying deferment request
By Muhammad Sazali Abdul Aziz, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2018

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday laid out in Parliament the fundamentals on which the national service (NS) policy is based to explain why the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) turned down young footballer Ben Davis' request to defer his NS so that he could play for Fulham Football Club in the English Premier League.

He said that in order to ensure Singapore's national security, every male Singaporean must serve NS, and at the time required to under the Enlistment Act, without regard to his personal convenience and considerations: "The Enlistment Act is blind to 'personal convenience and considerations', no matter how talented the individual, no matter how exceptional his circumstances."

To preserve equity for all national servicemen, MINDEF will defer individuals very selectively, and only if their deferment serves Singapore's interest first and foremost, never their own, he added.

Dr Ng was responding to MPs' questions sparked by the public debate on Ben's case. The 17-year-old signed a two-year professional contract with Fulham in June after his deferment request was rejected.

Speaking on the long-term deferment for swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen and sailor Maximilian Soh to train and compete at the Olympics, Dr Ng said their deferment was not open-ended or unconditional. Clear expectations were laid out on the standards required for their training.

"They will have to return to serve NS, and if they do not meet the standards agreed upon, deferment will be curtailed. These strict conditions are necessary because even for these individuals who can bring glory to Singapore, there are detractors who think it is unfair for anyone to be deferred."

In Ben's case, Dr Ng listed three reasons for MINDEF's rejection of his NS deferment application. The first is that he is playing for Fulham as an English national, not as a Singapore citizen. He was born in Thailand to an English father and Thai mother before moving to Singapore with his family when he was five. He became a Singapore citizen in 2009.

The former student of the Singapore Sports School left the Republic to join the London-based club's academy last year. In his profile on Fulham's website, the youth is said to "hail from Singapore", but his nationality is listed as English.

The second reason is that Ben's father, Mr Harvey Davis, had "consistently refused to indicate" when his son would return to serve NS, if it is deferred. He had said Ben could be offered a new contract or sold or loaned to another club, so the family could not "commit to a date" for his return.

Third, MINDEF said Mr Davis indicated that Ben would still sign the contract with Fulham if deferment were not granted - as he did - and would consider the option for his son to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his football career.

"MINDEF could not find any valid grounds to approve the application for deferment by Mr Harvey Davis for his son. There is no commitment to serve Singapore or our national interests," said Dr Ng.

"To grant deferment to Mr Ben Davis to pursue his personal development and professional career would be unfair to the many others who have served their NS dutifully as required, and not at a time of their choosing.

"The application by Mr Harvey Davis for his son's deferment is to further his son's professional career first and to the longest extent possible. Singapore and her interests, including his son's NS obligations, are secondary considerations, if at all."

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

New videos on race dialogues launched: One People, Many Voices to groom harmony ambassadors, hold public talks
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2018

Is the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) race categorisation model still relevant in Singapore?

In a new video conversation series by, a ground-up national body that promotes racial and religious harmony, participant Brendon Fernandez, an actor and presenter, said he believes it reduces people to just four boxes.

Mr Fernandez, an ambassador for, said it also results in people labelling and categorising others. For example, some landlords in Singapore are known for preferring certain racial groups over others as tenants.

The conversation on CMIO - led by Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, the chairman of - will be launched today on the organisation's website.

The conversation, to be run in several episodes, also discusses how the CMIO system, at the other end of the spectrum, looks out for minorities and is one way to develop a sense of personal identity.

Two videos have been filmed so far. One is on CMIO while the other tackles the topic of casual racism and where the line should be drawn.

Another three conversation topics will be added to's stable by March next year.

The series, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, is designed to serve as a model to the public on how such conversations can be conducted respectfully within their own groups and networks. director Ramesh Ganeson said the new series promotes dialogue and "allows us to go beyond the superficial and forge deeper understanding".

"It is really about the creation of the space to talk about such issues in a constructive manner... Usually such conversations are held within closed quarters resulting in echo chambers," he added.

Psychologist Sharifah Mariam Aljunied, who is a facilitator featured in the video, said that if people avoid talking about such issues, negative stereotypes and perceptions might fester. "Such conversations can make a person more aware of his own subconscious stereotypes about other races, see other people's perspectives, and see the impact of negative racial stereotypes on other people," she added. is encouraging the public to watch the videos. It is also extending the dialogue to them via monthly public discussions called Experiential Conversations. Attendees will get to participate in surveys on the spot and the findings will help inform the facilitated discussion that follows. The next discussion will be on Aug 18 at the office in Toa Payoh.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Lessons from Venezuela's calamity

Spending without saving and refusing to heed expert advice are among the factors that drove a rich country to poverty in less than a decade
By Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2018

One of the most eye-popping headlines last week was that Venezuela's inflation rate is headed for a million per cent by the end of the year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Imagine what that means. It means if you have $10,000 in cash, a year later, you'd be left with one dollar's worth of purchasing power. You might be able to buy a cup of coffee, if you're lucky.

Bloomberg's Cafe con Leche Index, which tracks the price of a cup of coffee at a bakery in eastern Caracas, found that the price soared to 2,000,000 bolivars last week from 1,400,000 bolivars the week before. Back in late April, the price was 190,000 bolivars.

The bolivar is Venezuela's official currency, and it has gone to hell. At the start of this year, one US dollar fetched 10 bolivars. On July 30, it fetched about 173,000. By the time this article is printed, it would probably be closer to 200,000.

The minimum wage is the equivalent of just over US$1 (S$1.30) a month at the free-market exchange rate.

Reports of day-to-day life for the average Venezuelan are horrifying. The moment people get paid, they run to the nearest store to buy whatever they can. Oftentimes, they can't find what they need. Essentials like food and medicine are usually gone from the shelves. People are losing weight because they can't get enough to eat - many families survive on one meal a day. Imports are exorbitant. Toilet paper, toothpaste and shampoo have become luxury goods. There are queues for everything. Public services have collapsed. Hospitals resemble those in war zones, with people lying in corridors, on the floor. Outages of electricity and water are frequent.


People are resorting to ingenuity to survive. Car mechanics make their own car parts by melting down metals pulled from garbage dumps and then reshaping them in workshops. Beer-makers smuggle essential ingredients like hops and barley in their personal luggage when they get a chance to travel. Internet-savvy entrepreneurs use bitcoin for their transactions wherever possible. The financially savvy use the stock market as a hedge against inflation, buying shares as a means to deposit money and selling them to withdraw it. People barter their services for goods and vice versa. Craftsmen stitch handbags and baskets out of worthless bolivars to sell on the street.

But the vast majority of the population - about 80 per cent - live in poverty. Venezuelans have become the world's poorest billionaires. According to IMF estimates released on July 23, the country's gross domestic product will crash by 18 per cent this year and will have fallen by almost 50 per cent since 2016.

Singapore uses at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year: Singapore Environment Council

Most are plastic bags from supermarts, under 20% recycled
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 1 Aug 2018

Singapore uses at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year, or almost one item per person per day. But fewer than 20 per cent of these are recycled, according to the Singapore Environment Council (SEC).

The bulk of these items are plastic bags taken from supermarkets, according to an online survey it did from last December to May this year.

The non-government organisation yesterday said the poll of more than 1,000 people found that 820 million plastic bags are taken yearly from supermarkets.

Only 2 per cent are recycled by consumers. Two-thirds are used for the disposal of waste.

It also found women are almost twice as likely to take a reusable bag to the supermarket as men, and those aged 41 and older are most likely to take at least six plastic bags from the supermarket on each shopping trip.

The survey, done with the help of global consultancy Deloitte, also found that Singapore used 467 million polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles - like those that hold soft drinks - and 473 million plastic disposable items like takeaway containers a year.

The survey did not include plastic bags given out by establishments other than supermarkets.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Number of elderly suicides hits record high in 2017 as Singapore population ages; Consider legalising euthanasia

129 seniors took their own lives last year, even as figures dropped for other age groups
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 30 July 2018

The number of seniors taking their own lives hit a record high last year even as the total number of suicides dipped - raising concerns among counsellors that seniors may not be getting access to the support they need.

According to a breakdown of government statistics provided by suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), 129 people aged 60 and above committed suicide last year - the highest number recorded for this age group since suicide numbers began to be tracked in 1991.

The suicide figures for every other age group fell and the total of 361 suicides reported last year was 15.8 per cent lower than the 429 in 2016.

That meant that the proportion of suicides committed by those aged 60 and above - typically somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent each year - hit 35.7 per cent last year.

"It is very worrying that many of the elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles, when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years," said Ms Christine Wong, executive director of SOS.

"With the elderly population in Singapore increasing steadily, suicides in this population may be expected to continue rising."

Another cause for concern: usage patterns of SOS' 24-hour hotline showed that calls made by seniors dropped by 18 per cent - from 6,904 calls in 2016 to 5,652 calls last year.

Said Ms Wong: "We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available help resources."

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Singapore long-term care workers earn less than overseas peers: Lien Foundation report

Many eldercare workers underpaid, contributing to high turnover
Low pay and high turnover could make it hard to meet workforce growth target: Lien Foundation
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2018

Workers who care for the elderly in nursing homes, daycare centres and at home are paid a lot less than their peers in other countries with similarly ageing populations.

Their pay is also lower than those in other jobs in Singapore that require similar educational qualifications, such as receptionists and sales assistants.

The low pay, coupled with a high turnover rate, could make it difficult for Singapore to meet its target of growing the long-term care workforce by 45 per cent between 2017 and 2020, said a report released yesterday by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

"Despite concerted efforts to raise pay, redesign jobs and improve skills and productivity, the sector seems afflicted by constant churn," the report added.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and older, up from one in eight in 2016.

The six-month study commissioned by the Lien Foundation involves interviews with 35 local and overseas industry practitioners, about 250 long-term care workers and 50 hospital workers. It also compared Singapore with Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea - four advanced economies in Asia-Pacific with fast-ageing populations.

Singapore ranks lowest among them on wages for long-term care workers - despite its median wage across all occupations in the economy being second only to Australia.

A Singaporean nursing aide earns $1,350 a month on average after taxes, compared with $3,750 in Hong Kong and $3,290 in Australia.

While wages in the sector have risen by one-third since 2012, salaries for local and foreign workers lag behind other jobs requiring similar qualifications. Receptionists earn $1,000 more than nursing aides, who help the elderly with activities such as eating and bathing.

Low wages could account for higher turnover rates, which are double those in hospitals, the report said, with workers in the sector staying with employers for 3.4 years on average. Higher wages in other countries could be drawing talent away from Singapore, it said.

Of the five economies, Singapore relies most on foreigners, who make up 70 per cent of such workers here, compared with 32 per cent in Australia and below 10 per cent in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Last year, there were 11,000 workers in the sector, of whom 8,300 were direct care workers. The Ministry of Health (MOH) aims to increase direct care workers by 3,700 between 2017 and 2020. Last year, 1,000 locals joined the sector through recruitment initiatives.