Monday, 30 April 2018

HDB to fit ramps for flats with multi-step entrances

Applications to open in second half of 2018; Government will foot up to 95% of the bill
By Felicia Choo, The Sunday Times, 29 Apr 2018

Seniors who are wheelchair users living in Housing Board flats with multi-step entrances can soon get ramps to make their homes more accessible.

The costs of the ramps - which will be portable or customised fixed ones - are still being worked out, but the Government will foot up to 95 per cent of the bill.

Previously, only flats with a single step at their main entrance were eligible for subsidies for ramps fixed at the entrance, under the Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme by the HDB.

Applications for ramps for multi-step entrances will open in the second half of this year.

Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong made this announcement yesterday. He said: "For single-step (entrances), it's easy. We already have a solution. But for the multi-step (entrances), it's more difficult... because some of these spaces, there's not a lot of access or corridor space."

He added that ramps for these spaces are not readily commercially available, so the HDB worked with engineers over two years to come up with the designs. He was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to Tampines Changkat division in Tampines GRC. Mr Desmond Choo, adviser to Tampines Grassroots Organisations, hosted the visit.

A portable ramp is suitable for corner units or those with enough space at the entrance, while a customised fixed ramp can be used for corridor units with a 1.2m clear width after installation.

Commercially, a portable ramp costs up to $700, while a customised fixed ramp costs around $1,600.

For flats which lack corridor space for ramps, the HDB will be piloting the use of a lightweight and compact mechanical wheelchair lifter, also in the second half of the year. HDB will evaluate later whether it will be offered as part of the EASE programme.

There are an estimated 170,000 flats with multi-step entrances. These flats were designed to offer residents, especially those living in units in common corridors, greater privacy and security, as their windows are raised above eye level.

32nd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, 25 to 28 April 2018


ASEAN must find new areas, fresh commitment to work together: PM Lee Hsien Loong
If each state acts unilaterally, the grouping will become less relevant to members and others
By Charissa Yong, Regional Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 29 Apr 2018

ASEAN needs to find new areas and fresh commitment to work together so that the grouping can remain central to the region's architecture and future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this yesterday, as he made the point that the grouping can only maintain its centrality "if it is a substantial endeavour, if its members see value in the shared enterprise".

Spelling out the challenges facing the grouping, including worrying trade tensions between the United States and China, PM Lee set out why ASEAN has to speak in a collective voice to be effective as it reacts to these major external trends.

If each member state were to fend for itself and go its own separate way, the grouping would be less relevant to its own members and to other powers, he said at the opening ceremony of the 32nd ASEAN Summit, which Singapore is hosting as this year's chairman.

"Individually, the ASEAN member states will find it hard to make much impact on their own. But when we speak in one collective ASEAN voice, we can be effective," said PM Lee.

This is why it is important for ASEAN to redouble its integration and community-building efforts.



At the summit, ASEAN leaders also discussed regional developments.

On the disputed waters of the South China Sea, PM Lee called the situation "relatively calmer".

But negotiations between ASEAN and China on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which began last month, will "take some time".

He outlined the various difficulties involved, such as whether the code of conduct would be legally binding, how to define exactly what ASEAN and China were disagreeing about, and should the code be binding or legally binding - how these issues will be arbitrated, where and by which authority.

"These are all very difficult issues. They will take a long time to crystallise, never mind agree upon," he said.

"But it's better that we spend our time talking about the code of conduct constructively... than not to try and to just take unilateral measures that just lead to escalation and unpredictable consequences."

During the summit, Myanmar briefed its fellow ASEAN members on the situation in its Rakhine state, from where more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled amid a military crackdown.



At a press conference afterwards, PM Lee said that ASEAN encourages Myanmar and Bangladesh to continue to carry out the voluntary return of displaced persons in a "safe, secure and dignified way without undue delay".

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Green-arrow turns; LTA to install more safety measures, including red-amber-green arrow lights at right-turn junctions

Plan to allow turns only on green arrow at junctions
LTA to boost road safety after recent fatal accidents; two drivers involved arrested
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2018

Motorists will have to wait for a green arrow sign before making a right turn at a vast majority of Singapore's 1,600 junctions, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday, announcing a programme to nearly eliminate the use of discretionary right turns that some blamed for two recent fatal accidents.

Responding to letters published in The Straits Times' Forum page and other media outlets questioning the safety of junctions with discretionary right turns, the authority said it has already introduced red-amber-green arrow lights at 200 junctions. The rest will be completed in five years.

For junctions where it is not feasible to install the lights, LTA said it will look into other features to boost road safety. These will include turning pockets, lighted road studs, integrated pedestrian countdown timers, dashed pedestrian crossing lines and "Give Way to Pedestrians" signs.

LTA added that it does regular reviews to identify accident-prone locations, and beefs up safety in such areas with special lights, signs or road markings.

The announcement comes in the wake of two fatal traffic accidents in Clementi and Bukit Timah in the past week.

In both cases, one vehicle involved made a discretionary right turn. The accidents sparked an online petition requesting the LTA to review whether it is still safe to allow drivers to use their own discretion to turn when the traffic light is green, "given the growth in sizes of junctions".

The petition has garnered nearly 16,000 signatures so far.

In a separate statement yesterday, the police said it had arrested a 54-year-old taxi driver involved in the Clementi accident and a 24-year-old woman involved in the Bukit Timah one. The police also reminded motorists to slow down and exercise extra caution when approaching junctions.

"When making a right turn at a traffic junction, motorists must always give way to oncoming vehicles. They should not attempt to make the right turn if their views are obstructed," it said.

The police said that it had received 36 reports of fatal accidents so far this year, which resulted in 38 deaths.

One of the most recent occurred on Monday, when a lorry hit three pedestrians waiting at a traffic light. All three - a father, his daughter and their family friend - were pronounced dead at the scene.

"Pedestrians will always be a vulnerable group of road users," the police said. "While motorists must always keep a lookout for pedestrians, pedestrians can also play their part in keeping our roads safe by staying alert and by looking out for vehicles even if they have the right of way."

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Singapore Cabinet reshuffle April 2018: Fourth-generation leaders to helm 10 of 16 ministries

PM Lee Hsien Loong says leadership transition well underway, as 4G leaders come to the fore
Three veteran ministers to retire; Indranee Rajah to be full minister, the third woman in Cabinet
By Li Xueying, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced the biggest shake-up of his Cabinet in recent years, involving all ministries but one.

The fourth-generation ministers will come to the fore, with two-thirds of ministries - 10 of the 16 - to be helmed by them.

This is up from eight previously.

Three veterans with a collective experience of 66 years on the front bench will retire from the Cabinet: Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang, 64; Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say, 63; and Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, 62.

Their successors are, respectively, labour chief Chan Chun Sing, 48; Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, 49; and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, 55.

The change of guard at these ministries, which takes effect next Tuesday, underscores what PM Lee described as a leadership transition that is "well under way".

He noted in a Facebook post yesterday that this year's reshuffle - the third since the 2015 General Election - is more extensive than usual.

Giving some insight into his thinking behind the changes, he said he decided to stretch the younger leaders, giving many of them two ministries and additional responsibilities. "The younger ministers will progressively take over more responsibility for governing Singapore."

Among them are Ms Indranee Rajah, 55, the only one to be promoted to full minister. The Senior Minister of State will be appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and be Second Minister for Finance and Education.

This means there will be three women in the Cabinet, along with Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, 54, and Mrs Teo.



Meanwhile, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, 48, gets an expanded role at the ministry, taking charge of the entire swathe of education policies. He relinquishes his role as Second Defence Minister.

Fellow Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, 49, will be appointed Minister in the PMO, following an announcement on Monday that he will move to the labour movement, where he is expected to eventually take over as the National Trades Union Congress' secretary-general.

Overall, the new Cabinet will be a somewhat more youthful one. Its average age will be 55, down from 56 currently. It will also be slightly trimmer, with 19 members, down from 21.

The last major Cabinet change was after the May 2011 General Election, in which the People's Action Party received its lowest vote share since independence. In what PM Lee then called a "radical change" so as to have a fresh start, 11 of 14 ministries saw new leaders in charge.

This time, the focus is squarely on leadership succession.

Living in the gaze of the Smart Nation and its sensor-enabled lamp posts

By Adrian W. J. Kuah, Published The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2018

Someone remarked to me the other day that to call the ubiquitous device that is never far from our hands a "smartphone" is a bit of a misnomer, given that we mostly use it for every purpose other than telephony. We use it to surf the Internet, stream movies and music, text, e-mail, do business, take pictures and so forth. And only rarely, it seems, do we talk on it.

In the same way, to refer to the latest Smart Nation offering as "smart lamp post" makes it sound as though it is merely a street lamp with a camera tacked on to it. Given its powerful and far-reaching surveillance capabilities, it does rather a lot more than that.

Technology is central to Singapore's Smart Nation project. It is true there are other crucial aspects of realising the Smart Nation vision, such as transforming society's prevailing mindset, culture, processes, structures and so forth. But really, it is the technology that stands out if for no other reason than it is tangible, visible, and frankly, impressive.

The smart lamp post, an integral part of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform, has come across as more shock than awe because of its ability to give the Government the ability to obtain highly granular information about people, based on geospatial mapping, facial recognition and artificial intelligence capabilities mapped onto Singapore's ubiquitous national identity card system. A person's identity, location, race, gender, age, and even behaviour, can be pinpointed.

Predictably, there have been adverse reactions stemming mainly from privacy concerns and how such information might be abused or compromised.

Apart from privacy intrusions, surveillance technologies give rise to even more insidious applications: the ability to discipline and punish.

English philosopher Jeremy Bentham's 18th century idea of the "panopticon" - a single tower in a prison yard that enables the prison warden to monitor prisoners - is particularly apt, given how it is evocative of the all-seeing smart lamp post.

The panopticon works on the principle that while the prison guard can see what all the prisoners are doing, the prisoners cannot see what the prison guard is doing. Because of this asymmetry, the prisoners cannot know if they are being watched, and therefore behave in the desired way just in case they are being watched. Replace "panopticon" with "surveillance technology" and "situational awareness", and the similarities become uncomfortably stark.

Asbestos found on St John's Island, more than half of the island sealed; Asbestos also on Kusu Island, Sisters' Islands and Pulau Ubin

Risk to St John's Island visitors low, says expert
Asbestos-linked diseases affect mainly those with long exposure to high levels of substance
By Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Apr 2018

Debris containing a potentially toxic mineral was recently found on St John's Island, leading the authorities to seal off more than half of the island as a safety precaution.

Traces of asbestos were detected on April 16 in construction debris such as roof tiles around the island's campsite, lagoon and holiday bungalow area, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) said at a media briefing yesterday.

Even though the risk of visitors developing asbestos-related diseases is low due to short-term exposure to the mineral, SLA said it took the precaution of cordoning off the affected areas the following day. SLA, which manages the island, also closed off the campsite and cancelled about a dozen bookings for the holiday bungalow.

The two long-term residents on St John's Island, whose homes are within the affected areas, moved to the mainland last Wednesday. SLA said they were found to be in good health.

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was once a popular component in construction materials.

Due to its links to health problems such as lung cancer, its use in buildings was banned in Singapore in 1989, but many earlier structures still contain the substance.

Structures containing asbestos pose no risk to humans if they are intact. However, when there is damage or disturbance - such as sawing and cutting - fibres may be released into the air and inhaled.

In this case, the asbestos was found in construction debris such as roof tiles. SLA is investigating how the debris came to the island.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Security in water, food and energy

By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2018

Climate change is wreaking havoc on global food and water supply and Singapore, a tiny city state without natural resources, is at risk of bearing the brunt of the damage.

Sea levels are rising, and droughts and extreme storms are getting ever more frequent. In turn, farming and fishing communities are disappearing as repeated extreme weather events wipe out entire crops and fishing grounds.

The lack of rain has also caused rivers and dams to dry up, even in neighbouring Malaysia in previous years, cutting water supply to communities.

Singapore gets the lion's share of its raw water from across the Causeway, largely from Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which can meet 60 per cent of Singapore's water needs during times of normal rainfall. The country also imports more than 90 per cent of its food.

At the same time, global warming is pushing up demand for electricity, where conventional generation of it using fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions - the most significant driver of climate change.

How then can Singapore ensure a reliable supply of water, food and energy that can be sustained for generations to come?

The answer is astute planning, learning and innovation.

WATER

If you go by numbers, it would appear Singapore does not stand a chance at water independence.

It is 460 times smaller than Malaysia by land area. Its 17 freshwater reservoirs combined are but a fifth the size of Linggiu Reservoir.

But when a dry spell in 2014 led the reservoir's water levels to drop to new lows, which at its worst was just 20 per cent in October 2016, it was Singapore that supplied Malaysia with additional potable water to help tide it over.

The Republic has defied the odds out of sheer necessity, bolstered by a strong political will, effective water management laws and an experienced and motivated people, said water experts.

Singapore can draw up to 250 million gallons of water a day from the Johor River under the 1962 Water Agreement. The treaty, however, expires in 2061.

This, along with the expectation that water demand will rise as the country's population grew, pushed its leaders to plan ahead. After more than 50 years of unceasing efforts, Singapore has made strides towards self-sufficiency in water supply, and established itself as a world leader in water treatment technology.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Are online vigilantes going too far?: The lure of the shame game

Online vigilantes instigating others to go too far to exact revenge on alleged wrongdoers
By Calvin Yang, The Sunday Times, 22 Apr 2018

Self-styled online vigilantes, who attempt to execute social justice for perceived wrongdoing by digging up all they can on perpetrators and spreading the information online, are turning out to be instigators - spurring others to go too far to exact revenge on their targets.

The Sunday Times has found that victims - whether mistakenly targeted or not - often suffer depression or anxiety.

This comes even as experts warn of real-world ramifications for victims of such online witch-hunts. Some have lost their jobs, received death threats and left the country with their families to escape the relentless persecution.

One victim said he has been "punished enough" from having his photos plastered in online posts to being harassed at home.

In the latest episode of online vigilantism gone wrong, keyboard warriors took matters into their own hands, but ended up jumping to wrong conclusions.

About a week ago, a driver had his name dragged through the mud for reportedly refusing to pay the full cost of petrol wrongly pumped into his BMW at a Caltex petrol pump in Tampines. He claimed to have asked for only $10 worth of petrol, while the pump attendant thought he had wanted a full tank and so pumped $135's worth of fuel.

The attendant then told the cashier that he would bear the rest of the bill, according to a Facebook post on the matter. This led Caltex Singapore to assure the public that the attendant "did not bear any financial obligation" for the incident.

CSI GONE TOO FAR?

Even though the case was later established by the police as a misunderstanding, the damage had already been done.

Incensed by the driver's actions, online vigilantes trawled through various sites to dig up whatever details they could get on him. These included his mobile number, LinkedIn profile, usual parking spots, road tax details, company he worked at, and even photos of his family. Fearing for his family's safety, the driver - who said he had received "many nuisance calls, SMSes and WhatsApp messages" - lodged a police report. He has since switched off his phone and is on leave from work.

This is not the first time an online "investigation" has gone wrong.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Singapore tackling inequality early from pre-school: K. Shanmugam

Stepped-up spending in sector to give every child a good start and chance to succeed
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2018

Just as it casts its shadow over the rest of the world, inequality also remains one of the most serious issues now facing Singapore - with one difference.

Here the Government wants to tackle it early and believes that the best chance of addressing it is during a child's pre-school years, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

The idea is to give every child a good start and the chance to succeed right from the beginning, he said. That is why the Government is levelling the playing field by providing more assistance to those in danger of being left behind during the pre-school years.

It will double spending on the pre-school sector to $1.7 billion by 2022 and open 40,000 more childcare places by then, said Mr Shanmugam.

Explaining the rationale behind this approach, he said that while Singapore remains wedded to meritocracy, children have different starting points in life.

"At the point of birth, there is already a gap. That gap widens because of the difference in the families. And inequality will manifest itself in many intangible ways," he said. "Therefore, the pre-school years are crucial - the best chance that the Government has to give our children a good start… and a decent chance to succeed in life and to close the inequality gap."

Those from less privileged backgrounds have limited networks and fewer opportunities to develop their talents.

The Government is now stepping in to offer these opportunities.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Singapore's 23 key industries to be grouped into 6 clusters as economy begins next phase of transformation: Heng Swee Keat

Six industry clusters to drive economic transformation
Heng outlines plan to position Singapore as key node for technology, innovation and enterprise
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2018

The next phase of Singapore's economic transformation will involve deepening linkages between complementary industries by grouping them into clusters, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The aim is to position Singapore as a key node for technology, innovation and enterprise in Asia and around the world.

The latest move comes after the Government rolled out 23 sector-specific road maps for transforming key industries, called Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). A total of 23 road maps covering 80 per cent of the Singapore economy have been launched.


These sectors will now be grouped into six clusters to maximise opportunities for collaboration, Mr Heng said at a media briefing yesterday.

The six clusters - each helmed by a minister and at least one private-sector or union representative - will be unveiling plans in the coming months to promote innovation and encourage partnerships within these sectors.

The clusters are: manufacturing, built environment, trade and connectivity, essential domestic services, modern services and lifestyle.

Such an approach will help bring diverse capabilities together, said Mr Heng. For example, in the lifestyle cluster, there is scope to explore how firms in hotel services and food services can work together to bring major events and conferences to Singapore, as well as improve experiences for tourists.

Citing hawker centres as an example, he added: "In a hawker centre, stalls sell different food and are competing but at the same time they are cooperating - people know that hawker centres will always have a great variety of good food.

"This is what I hope Singapore companies can also do. Everyone is good at something, and together we can build a reputation as the best 'hawker centre' in town."

The aim is to cement the Republic's position as a "global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise", said the minister.

This means making innovation pervasive, building deep capabilities in companies and among workers, as well as developing strong partnerships locally and around the world.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

New Singapore jobs portal MyCareersFuture.sg uses technology to better match jobseekers and employers

By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2018

A high-tech national jobs portal was launched on Tuesday (April 17) to better match local jobseekers with employers.

It can prioritise search results according to the relevance of a jobseeker's skills, and filter results to show those under government schemes that support training, among other key features.

The new portal, called MyCareersFuture.sg, is developed by Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).

It replaces the interface of the existing Jobs Bank for users, and WSG said it aims to roll out the function for employers to post jobs by the end of this year.

For now, employers will still post jobs on Jobs Bank, and the posts will be shown on MyCareersFuture.sg

A pilot run of the new portal was conducted with 100 users in the last three months of 2017, and the site went live in January this year. It has received 280,000 visitors as of the first week of April.



Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo told reporters on Tuesday that the portal is aimed at providing jobseekers a “smarter and faster way” to find the right opportunities in the next phase of their careers.

“Today, some jobseekers send out many resumes, not knowing whether there is a good job fit and whether they have the skills employers are looking for. Employers also have a similar problem – they have to sieve through a lot of CVs (curricula vitae), and sometimes it is hit and miss, they may not find who they are looking for,” she said at Suntec City mall, on the sidelines of a roadshow on government job schemes

The portal is timely because new jobs keep coming up and the skill profiles of jobs are changing very quickly, said Mrs Teo. She added that with the portal showing the level of skill relevance to jobs, even those who are currently working can see areas where they can enhance their skills.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

It's not just America: Mark Zuckerberg has to answer for Facebook's actions around world

By Karen Attiah, Published The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is in the hot seat in Washington. The social media platform now admits that the data of up to 87 million profiles may have been improperly used by data firm Cambridge Analytica. US lawmakers are demanding answers - and rightfully so.

But while Facebook is facing the most heat in the United States, it is a multinational corporation and, some would argue, a sort of nation-state unto itself.

In many countries around the world, Facebook is the Internet. And with little ability to influence how the social media site operates, such nations are vulnerable to any policy action - or inaction - the company decides to take.



So while Mr Zuckerberg struggles to answer for how his company is affecting Americans, let's not forget that he has a lot more to answer for.

ELECTION INTERFERENCE

Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal is truly global in scope, with countries in almost every continent affected by the data breach.

In Britain, law enforcement officials raided the offices of Cambridge Analytica and have opened an investigation into Facebook after news of the leak broke. Former Cambridge Analytica data scientist and whistle-blower Christopher Wylie testified before British lawmakers last month (Mr Zuckerberg declined a request to appear before Parliament). Mr Wylie alleged the social data Cambridge Analytica improperly collected was used by the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.



Lawyers from Britain and the United States have now filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, arguing that the data breach "effectively abused the human right to privacy" and "undermined the democratic process".

But the damage is also palpable in developing democracies, where ethnic tensions remain some of the most potent political issues. In India, where Cambridge Analytica may have improperly accessed the data of over half a million Facebook users, politicians from both of the major parties have accused the other side of using the data for campaign purposes.

Friday, 13 April 2018

St Andrew's Secondary hockey players lose match but win admiration for sportsmanship

St Andrew's Secondary hockey team requests umpire not to count a goal, earning opponents' respect for fair play
By Natalie Choy Ching Mun, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

The St Andrew's Secondary hockey team lost a match and a potential medal, but won widespread respect following an act of sportsmanship.

During the Schools National B Division boys' bronze-medal play-off on March 29, the score was tied at 1-1 in the third quarter of the game when Northland Secondary's Muhammad Raihan Adris went down with a sprained ankle.

After a time-out, the umpire blew the whistle to resume play. The Saints defenders threw the ball to the other side of the pitch for their opponents to start, but a miscommunication saw one of their forwards taking the ball and scoring a goal, giving them a 2-1 lead.

The Saints then requested that the umpire overturn the goal when they realised the ball should have been in Northland's possession and their opponents were not ready.

The score reverted to 1-1 and remained unchanged until the end of regulation, resulting in a penalty shoot-out which Northland went on to win 4-3, taking the bronze.

"It wasn't the right thing to do, to let the goal be counted, because it wasn't fair. We scored even though it was supposed to be their ball," captain and centre-back Sean See, who made the decision, told The Straits Times.

"It was too sudden. They (Northland) were caught off guard, they weren't ready. So I asked the umpire not to count the goal," added the Secondary 4 student, who said that his teammates supported his decision.

The Saints may not have won the match, but their act of sportsmanship earned them the respect of their opponents, who clapped and thanked them for playing fair.

The boys also won praise from umpire Miskarmalia Mohd Ariffin, who said she had "never seen anything like this" in her 12 years of umpiring.

"I was honestly very impressed by the boys. It shows that they have been really brought up well, by their parents, teachers and coaches," she said.

Foreign interference in Singapore politics: ACRA rejects company application from Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han; says it has foreign funding links to George Soros

Purposes of proposed firm clearly political in nature: ACRA
It rejects company application, saying it has links to foreign funding from group with political agenda
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

An application by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han to register a company has been rejected on the grounds that the registration would be contrary to Singapore's national interests.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) said yesterday that the purposes of the proposed company, OSEA Pte Ltd, "are clearly political in nature".

OSEA Pte Ltd, it said, has links to foreign funding from a group led by billionaire George Soros, which was set up to pursue a political agenda the world over.

ACRA noted that OSEA was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of a British-registered company called Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK).

OSEA UK has received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from a Swiss charitable entity, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said ACRA.

FOSI is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), founded and led by Mr Soros, it added.

In a statement, the authority said that what happens in other jurisdictions is not the concern of the Singapore Government.

"OSF and FOSI, and other foreign philanthropies and groups, can fund whatever causes they like elsewhere," it said.

"In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics. The registration of OSEA Pte Ltd would therefore be contrary to Singapore's national interests.


ACRA said an application was made to register OSEA Pte Ltd on Feb 8. Dr Thum - a research fellow and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford - was cited as its director and Ms Han its editor-in-chief.

Its proposed activities included organising discussion fora, workshops and other events in Singapore, such as "Democracy Classroom" sessions.

Another of its objectives was to provide editorial services to a website named New Naratif, which both are involved in.

ACRA said New Naratif has been publishing articles "critical of politics" in the region, such as articles claiming that certain governments are using violence to maintain political control, had manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have "rigged" their electoral systems.

"The purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature," said ACRA.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

PM Lee Hsien Loong, Chinese President Xi Jinping express support for open global trading order at Boao Forum for Asia 2018

By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2018

BOAO, HAINAN - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping both expressed support for an open global trading order during their meeting on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia on Tuesday (April 10).

The rules-based multilateral trading system has benefited countries big and small.

The two leaders also agreed that any trade dispute should be resolved within the World Trade Organisation framework, said a statement by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Earlier on Tuesday, PM Lee delivered a speech at the Boao conference on trade tensions between China and the United States, and why China should uphold openness and multilateralism.

At the meeting with Mr Xi, the Chinese leader said he welcomed PM Lee's speech.

"PM Lee stressed that if unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalated into trade wars, the multilateral trading system that had brought prosperity to other countries for decades would be severely undermined," said the PMO.

Both leaders reaffirmed the "special and forward-looking relationship between the two countries" based on the foundation laid by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

They also welcomed the success of the three government-to-government projects, namely, the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Mr Xi mentioned his intention to elevate the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City to a state-level project, which was welcomed by PM Lee, said the PMO.

The two leaders reviewed the progress made under the various bilateral platforms, and said they looked forward to the conclusion of the Singapore-China Free Trade Agreement upgrade negotiations this year.

"They also welcomed the improved situation in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the steady progress made in the negotiation of the code of conduct," said the PMO.



PM Lee congratulated Mr Xi on the successful conclusion of China's 19th Party Congress last year and the recent "lianghui", or legislative meetings, which saw Mr Xi reappointed as President.

"You have set directions for China to play a constructive and stabilising role in the region and in the international system," PM Lee said, adding that Mr Xi has laid out a clear vision and long-term goals for China.

Mr Xi thanked PM Lee and said that since their last meeting in September, both countries have "consolidated their longstanding friendship".

"Your visit to China again and attendance at the Boao Forum demonstrates the importance you attach to China-Singapore relations," Mr Xi said. He added he was willing to work with PM Lee to exchange views on bilateral ties and common concerns.



In his opening remarks, PM Lee noted that with a fresh team of leaders at the helm in China, and with Singapore also in a period of leadership transition, this was a "timely meeting for us to take our partnership forward".

"I brought along several of my younger ministers, my younger colleagues, on the trip, in order to establish ties with their counterparts and be able to bring our relations further forward," he said.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Tackling the real issue of fake news

By Ang Yiying, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2018

Discussions on how to combat fake news have surfaced in Parliaments in different countries, including Singapore in the last two years, as widely spread falsehoods have resulted in very real consequences.

For instance, the lead-up to Brexit, the shock result of a 2016 referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union, was seen to be rife with false claims from the "leave" camp, such as Britain sending the EU £350million (S$649 million) a week, or that Turkey would soon be admitted to the EU and many of its largely Muslim citizens would head to Britain. Last year, Britain started a probe into whether there had been Russian interference in the Brexit vote.

There has been concern too over whether fake news affected the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election, which was won by property tycoon Donald Trump.



Q WHAT IS "FAKE NEWS"? ISN'T IT A CONTRADICTORY TERM?

A Fake news is an oxymoron because it is seemingly contradictory. After all, news is generally defined as information or reports of recent or previously unknown events, which means it has to be true.

However, the term has now entered popular lexicon - to the extent that Collins Dictionary named "fake news" its word of the year for 2017, saying that it saw an "unprecedented usage increase" of 365 per cent since 2016.

It did not elaborate on what contributed to the uptick in usage. But media outlets such as The Guardian have observed that US President Trump has helped popularise the term, and it has been increasingly used by other world leaders as well.

In a statement on its website, Collins defined fake news as "false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting".

Some academics and those who work in the media or related industries have pointed out that the use of the phrase "fake news" was problematic because it was imprecise.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Owners of older motorcycles will get up to $3,500 for de-registering bikes on or before 5 April 2023

Owners get incentives to deregister older, more pollutive motorcycles
NEA offering up to $3,500 over next 5 years in effort to cut emissions, improve air quality
By Ervin Tan, The Straits Times, 7 Apr 2018

Owners of older and more pollutive motorcycles are being offered up to $3,500 to deregister their vehicles over the next five years, an incentive from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to improve air quality.

NEA said yesterday that those who own motorcycles registered before July 1, 2003, are eligible for the incentive if their vehicles have a valid 10-year certificate of entitlement (COE) as of April 6 this year, and are deregistered on or before April 5, 2023.

Around 27,000 motorcycles are eligible, said the agency.

The incentive scheme does not apply to owners of motorcycles on the five-year non-renewable COE, or those on the Classic Vehicle, Vintage (Restricted) Vehicle and Revised Vintage Vehicle schemes as of April 6 this year.

Older motorcycles will also have to meet tighter in-use emission standards from April 6, 2023, and will no longer be allowed on the road from July 1, 2028, unless they are on the above schemes.

NEA said the latest incentive has two components, provided owners deregister their motorcycles on or before April 5, 2023.

An owner will receive $3,500 if the motorcycle's COE is not renewed on or after April 7 this year, while an owner will receive $2,000 if the motorcycle's COE is renewed on or after April 7 this year.

The owner will also get a rebate for the unused COE period, upon its deregistration, as part of the existing Preferential Additional Registration Fee and COE rebates when motorists deregister their vehicles before 10 years.

NEA said that the new incentives have been introduced to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide and ozone released into the air, which are known to impair respiratory functions. Carbon monoxide is also known to be toxic at high concentrations.

Singapore's last Chinese hostess bar: Sin Po Po Bar

Sin Po Po, which was in the news recently over a crime committed in 1980, is the last true Chinese hostess bar in Singapore
By John Lui, Film Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 8 Apr 2018

Where do lounge hostesses go when the bloom of youth is gone? Where can they turn when cheeks become a little hollow and laugh lines appear, and customers drift away in search of younger companions?

They might come to where I am now: Sin Po Po Bar (新宝宝高级半夜酒廊).

Here, in this windowless space, it is dark, darker than any cinema. That makes it harder to see the skin that sags, the bodies grown less firm. Sin Po Po is a forgiving place.

Four or five women, painted and primped, are scattered around the booths, their faces lit by mobile phones, reading glasses perched on heavily powdered noses.

They wait for customers that might never come. Because their clients, like them, are ageing out of the game.

A few times a year, a newcomer will walk in, mistakenly expecting this place to be like other girly bars. He thinks a young cutie will sit at his arm, pouring his drinks.

That is when everyone holds his breath. The best the management can hope for is that he will leave quietly, without mocking laughter, a shout of disgust or, worse, a cruel jibe about being served by hags.

The women on its employment roll - 19 in all, though not all work at the same time - put up with insults quietly. Where else can they go? What else can they do? The older they got, the narrower their options became, until they found themselves in this dim, threadbare room, half-hidden behind a tree in Tanjong Katong Road.

Sin Po Po is perhaps Singapore's last true Chinese hostess bar. A nightclub consultant I will call Peter explains why it is the last of its kind.

Today, you will find women prowling the pubs and karaoke lounges of Orchard Towers, Joo Chiat, Katong and Geylang. They encourage guests to buy high-priced drinks.

But they are not hostess lounges, Peter explains. In a booth at Sin Po Po, while sipping mugs of hot chrysanthemum tea, he rattles off the differences.