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.

POOR NOT GETTING POORER

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

OnePeople.sg 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 OnePeople.sg, 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 OnePeople.sg, 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 OnePeople.sg - 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 OnePeople.sg'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.

OnePeople.sg 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.

OnePeople.sg 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 OnePeople.sg 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.

SURVIVAL THROUGH INGENUITY

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.