Friday, 13 December 2019

Singapore policy changes in 2020

Policy changes that will affect you from January 2020
By Prisca Ang, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2019

From Jan 1, subscribers to Netflix and other overseas digital services will have to pay a 7 per cent goods and services tax. Prisca Ang highlights nine other policy changes that will affect you in 2020.

INCREASE IN CPF RETIREMENT SUM PAYOUTS

Some Central Provident Fund (CPF) members will see an increase in monthly payouts in their retirement.

Payouts through the Retirement Sum Scheme (RSS), the main CPF retirement payout scheme for members born before 1958, will last till age 90, instead of the current 95, from next year.

More than a third of members on the RSS who are currently receiving payouts, or some 60,000 people, will see a rise in payouts, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced in Parliament last month.

The new rules will apply to all RSS members who turn 65 from July 1. They will take effect from Jan 1 for those who are currently receiving payouts.



HIGHER BASIC HEALTHCARE SUM

The Basic Healthcare Sum - or estimated savings required for basic subsidised healthcare needs in old age - will be raised from $57,200 to $60,000 for CPF members under 65 from Jan 1.

Those who turn 65 next year will have the sum fixed at $60,000, which will not be changed.

Those who are 66 and above next year will see no changes to their cohort's Basic Healthcare Sum.

MINIMUM AGE FOR SMOKERS TO BE RAISED TO 20

The minimum age for smoking will be raised to 20 on Jan 1, as Singapore intensifies efforts to get people to stub out cigarettes.

The minimum age was raised from 18 to 19 in January 2019, and will be raised to 21 on Jan 1, 2021, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced last year.

TIGHTER FOREIGN WORKER QUOTA

Companies in the service sector will have to rely even less on foreign workers.

The Government is tightening the dependency ratio ceiling, or the proportion of foreign workers a firm can employ, from 40 per cent now to 38 per cent on Jan 1 next year, and to 35 per cent on Jan 1, 2021.

For the subset of S Pass workers - mid-skilled foreigners earning at least $2,300 a month - the quota will be cut from 15 per cent now to 13 per cent on Jan 1 next year, and to 10 per cent on Jan 1, 2021, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced during the Budget speech in February.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Outsourced workers to get better rest areas with new advisory by tripartite partners

Tripartite partners issue guidelines to benefit cleaners and security officers, among others
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2019

Workplaces are poised to become more comfortable for thousands of outsourced workers such as cleaners and security officers if an advisory by tripartite partners is widely adopted by companies.

These workers should all have access to proper rest areas with spaces to keep their belongings safe and drinking water, according to the advisory.

The guidelines were developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

They were made public by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad yesterday and set out good practices that various companies can follow.

On a visit to Ikea Alexandra, which provides rest areas for its outsourced workers, Mr Zaqy advised companies to treat such workers as extended family, which would motivate them to do a good job.

There are about 77,000 resident workers in the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors.

The advisory, which is part of the Workcare initiative that Mr Zaqy launched in April, now recommends that they be given access to comfortable rest areas that also offer them a measure of privacy. The areas should have proper ventilation and lighting, with facilities such as lockers and drinking water.

More than 600 stakeholders, including property owners, service providers and workers, were consulted, and the MOM visited over 200 work premises such as foodcourts and shopping malls before the advisory was set out.



Mr Zaqy noted that 70 per cent of these work premises had rest areas for their outsourced workers, but some of the areas were not up to the mark in terms of quality.

The MOM added in a statement that some of these rest areas were unhygienic, had poor ventilation or lacked shelter.

"Minimally, rest areas should provide access to drinking water, proper seating areas for workers to rest and not be in the prying eyes of the public," said Mr Zaqy.

Given the maturity of Singapore's economy and society, he said, more could be done for the well-being of outsourced workers. But he wanted the initiative to look after these workers to come from companies themselves.

"We want employers to come on board because they care for workers, not because the Government regulates it. Most employers are willing, but the issue is practicality."

Mr Zaqy said some companies have space constraints or cost concerns, "but we are really just asking for a safekeeping area, seats and cool water".

New book details how Israel helped build up the Singapore Armed Forces

Beating the Odds Together: 50 Years of Singapore-Israel Ties
Its launch is to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Israel
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2019

In October 1965, a senior officer from the Israel Defence Forces was dispatched to Singapore to meet then Defence Minister Goh Keng Swee in secret.

Newly independent Singapore, which had only two under-strength infantry battalions, an ageing wooden gunboat and no aircraft at the time, needed to build an army virtually from scratch.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had given Dr Goh the go-ahead to approach Israel, after Egypt and India - both of whom Singapore sought help from to build up its defences - had not offered aid a few weeks after being asked.

During his visit to Singapore, Major-General Rehavam Ze'evi travelled incognito by taxi to familiarise himself with the country's terrain.

He then assembled a team that developed The Brown Book - a masterplan for the building up of the Singapore Armed Forces.

The plan, which Singapore accepted, assessed that the "only viable solution" was to build up a citizen army of conscripts trained and led by a small regular force.

Soon after, both countries signed a one-page agreement stating that Israel would provide defence advisers to Singapore. The first batch of Israeli military advisers were described as "Mexicans" to disguise their presence.

The details of how Israel helped to build up Singapore's military in the early years are captured in a new book launched yesterday to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.


Among the book's contributors was Mr Peter Ho, a former top civil servant who was permanent secretary for defence from 2000 to 2004. Mr Ho gave the account of Israel's military aid during the early years.

Other contributors include former foreign minister George Yeo, Singapore Ambassador to Israel Winston Choo, world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie and Rabbi Jean Pierre Fettmann of the Chesed-El Synagogue.

The two countries formally established diplomatic relations in 1969. Today, the bilateral relationship goes beyond security and stretches across many areas, from trade to culture and research.



Speaking at the book launch at The Arts House, Mr Yeo said the bilateral relationship is sustained not only by common strategic interests but also by the sharing of "a certain kindred spirit" of having to survive under difficult odds.

He added: "Our bilateral relationship now extends beyond defence to many other fields, and it has always been our fervent hope that Singapore can be a benefit to Israel, to whom we owe a deep, eternal debt of gratitude."

In the book's foreword, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong noted that the depth of the relationship has rarely been publicised because of political sensitivities, and said the book "will fill this lacuna".

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Outram Community Hospital opens next to Singapore General Hospital

It has facilities resembling a public estate to help patients adapt before returning home
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 8 Dec 2019

The Republic's ninth community hospital was opened yesterday in Outram, the first community hospital providing step-down care in southern Singapore where government figures show there is a higher proportion of patients aged 65 years and older.

Outram Community Hospital (OCH) has been designed and furnished to resemble a public estate, so patients can learn how to adapt before they return home.

For example, the hospital has facilities that resemble the interiors of buses and trains, for patients to learn to navigate the public transport system using a wheelchair.

When the hospital is fully opened over the next three years, it will add 545 beds to the healthcare system, the Health Ministry said.

Speaking at its soft opening, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong said hospitals are seeing more frail patients who require a longer period of care.

Community hospitals, he added, play the important role of enabling patients to recover their functions and assist them to transit easier from acute hospitals to home.



Patients at OCH can perform rehabilitation exercises at the hospital's rooftop garden, where they can work on navigating different terrain such as stairs, slopes and rocky paths. There are also simulated pedestrian crossings there.

Retired cashier Tng Sai Choo, 76, chose to recuperate at OCH after her knee replacement surgery last month because it is closer to her five-room flat in Telok Blangah, where she lives with her nephew and his wife.

She is expected to be discharged by the middle of this month.

Her other option was to go to Bright Vision Hospital off Yio Chu Kang Road, a choice that would have added 30 minutes in travelling time for her sister Thng Lay Choo.

Ms Tng, who is single and works part-time at a McDonald's outlet in Alexandra Retail Centre, said in Mandarin: "My siblings live near my block, and it is easier for them to visit me at Outram Community Hospital."

Madam Thng, 63, a retired principal of a kindergarten, said: "I visit my sister almost every day... This hospital is more convenient to get to for me."

At the hospital's groundbreaking ceremony in 2015, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had said that the Bukit Merah area, which the hospital is close to, has the second-highest number of residents aged 65 and above in Singapore.

The profile of patients visiting Singapore General Hospital (SGH) is also getting older, he had said then. About 40 per cent or 32,000 of SGH's inpatient discharges involved patients aged 65 and above.

Mr Tong said that inpatient hospitalisation was often episodic and short when the population was younger so the Government concentrated its efforts on building acute hospitals.

But as the population ages, the Government is responding by building community hospitals to meet changing healthcare needs.

Singapore and United States sign agreement for RSAF fighter training detachment in Guam

Territory's vast training airspace will allow air force to hone capabilities, readiness: MINDEF
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In Washington, The Sunday Times, 8 Dec 2019

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) will set up a fighter training detachment in the United States territory of Guam under an agreement inked by Singapore and the US on Friday, in a sign of deepening defence ties between the two countries.

The permanent fighter training presence at Andersen Air Force Base will be the RSAF's sixth long-term unit overseas and the closest geographically to Singapore.

There are currently three other such detachments in the US - two in Arizona and one in Idaho - as well as one in Queensland, Australia, and one in Bordeaux, France.

Singapore's tight airspace constraints leave little room to train its fighter pilots at home.

The Defence Ministry said that the vast training airspace in Guam will allow the RSAF to conduct realistic training to hone its capabilities and readiness. The pact was reached after in-depth studies with the US were done on a number of factors, including the suitability of the training area, infrastructure and other types of support, MINDEF added.

"This agreement is indicative of the strong bonds between the United States and the Republic of Singapore, particularly with respect to our defence cooperation," said US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper after he and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen signed the agreement in California.

Friday's deal follows closely after the renewal in September of a key defence pact allowing American forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years.

Dr Ng, who is in California this weekend to attend the seventh Reagan National Defence Forum, thanked the US for Singapore's training opportunities and said that the Guam agreement would allow the RSAF fighter force to achieve operational readiness.

"It reaffirms Singapore's position that stability of our region, the Asia-Pacific region, requires influence and presence of the US," he added.

Mr Esper thanked Singapore for the support it provides to US forces in the region, saying: "This is especially important during a time when the longstanding international rules-based order is being challenged.

"Fortunately, many nations in the region, including Singapore, are committed to upholding the rules, norms and values that underpin our mutual security and our prosperity."

The two defence ministers discussed the strong ongoing cooperation between Singapore and America's defence establishments, including in the areas of defence technology and military-to-military cooperation, MINDEF said in a statement.

They also spoke about a wide range of geopolitical developments, including the need to work closely with Asean countries on regional security issues such as counter-terrorism.



The agreement covers the deployment of RSAF's F-15SG and F-16 fighter aircraft and other supporting assets such as the G550 Gulfstream to Guam for training, said MINDEF.

News that Singapore was exploring the possibility of a training facility in Guam was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2016 visit to the US, marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean roughly four hours east of the Philippines by plane, is a staging base for American military activity in the Asia-Pacific. It is closer to potential hot spots in Asia, such as the Korean peninsula, than other US bases in Hawaii and Alaska.

The proximity of the Guam detachment, along with other fighter units that train in the region - including in Australia, India and Thailand - allows assets to be quickly redeployed back to Singapore when needed, said MINDEF. Guam is 4,700km from Singapore.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

The zero-waste movement is on the march in Singapore

From repurposing solid waste as construction material to getting companies to reduce unnecessary packaging, Singapore is en route to its goal of becoming a circular economy with zero waste. This requires consumers to support such initiatives.
By Tan Meng Dui, Published The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2019

With climate change and urbanisation, much attention is focused on our consumerist lifestyle, and how all the waste we generate is destroying the planet and our children's future.

For a small city state like Singapore, a conversation on waste is particularly pertinent, given the shortage of land for landfills. It is also timely, with the projection that our only landfill at Semakau will be full by 2035, a mere 16 years from now.

Cities have become increasingly desensitised to the amount of waste that they generate. This is not helped by the explosive growth of e-commerce and food delivery services in recent years, which generate an enormous amount of packaging waste.

Based on data in 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that if food wastage were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon-emitting country in the world.



THE PROBLEM WITH 'INVISIBLE' WASTE

In Singapore, we have a clean and efficient waste management system built on the shoulders of our public-health pioneers, who ensured a high standard of environmental health. Alas, this has also made our waste problem "invisible".

Our trash "disappears" once we throw it into this magical hole in the wall known as the rubbish chute. Within a few days, most of it ends up as incinerated ash on Semakau Landfill, where the picturesque lush greenery and thriving wildlife further belie the urgency of the waste problem.



Discussions on the security and resilience of cities tend to focus on their food, water and energy needs. While these inputs are imperative to keeping any city going, outputs such as waste are also critical for land-scarce Singapore. Our waste infrastructure operates round the clock. It is constantly on the move, akin to a conveyor belt, carrying waste from households to Semakau Landfill. Without a landfill, the conveyor stops.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY APPROACH TO WASTE

To address our waste challenges, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources designated this year as the Year Towards Zero Waste and launched the inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan in August. The milestone Resource Sustainability Bill was then passed in Parliament to provide legislative framework for the measures in the masterplan.

The masterplan outlines Singapore's key strategies for becoming a zero-waste nation. As a society, we need to break away from the linear economy of "take, make, use and throw", and shift towards a circular economy, where resources are kept in use for as long as possible.

The masterplan focuses on three priority waste streams - e-waste, food waste and packaging waste, which includes plastics. There is a growing global momentum to reframe the waste challenge into an opportunity to create economic growth, while ensuring environmental sustainability.



A 2015 Accenture report estimated that the circular economy could unlock US$4.5 trillion (S$6.1 trillion) of global economic growth, driven by uncertainty in the future supply of many natural resources and the volatility of commodity prices.

Singapore has done well in closing its water loop, and is making steady progress in closing the waste loop too. While our overall recycling rate can be better than the current 60 per cent, we have done well with waste streams like construction and demolition waste, where the recycling rate is almost 100 per cent.

What is required to drive a circular economy? We can think in terms of three areas: ensuring sustainability in production, waste management and consumption. Efforts to drive such actions will require effort from the private, public and people sectors.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Cross Island MRT Line to run directly under Central Catchment Nature Reserve

Direct route cuts travel time and is cheaper to build; tunnel will be 70 metres deep to protect reserve
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent and Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2019

The MRT Cross Island Line (CRL) will run directly under Singapore's largest nature reserve, instead of skirting around it.

Announcing its decision yesterday, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) said the direct alignment will see the tunnel going 70m, the height of a 25-storey HDB block, below the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Initial plans called for a tunnel at a depth of around 40m.

Both options - going directly under or skirting around the reserve - were considered viable after an in-depth study, but nature groups had strongly called for the skirting alignment to avoid affecting flora and fauna in the gazetted reserve near MacRitchie Reservoir.

The MOT said the direct alignment will result in total travel time being six minutes shorter than for the skirting option. For those travelling through the middle segment of the line, the direct alignment will also result in lower fares. The construction cost is expected to be $2 billion less for the direct route.

The ministry added that the direct route will be more environmentally friendly in the long run as it "has lower energy consumption".

The 50km CRL will run from Changi to Jurong, and will serve estates such as Pasir Ris, Ang Mo Kio and Clementi. It is expected to have an initial ridership of 600,000 a day when it is completed by 2031.

The line was announced in early 2013 and preliminary plans showed it running under primary and secondary forests in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.



Nature groups, alarmed by the potential environmental harm from the construction and operation of an underground MRT line right across the reserve, suggested that it be built along Lornie Road, skirting the reserve.

The Land Transport Authority commissioned a two-phase Environmental Impact Assessment for both alignment options in 2014.

Yesterday, the MOT also outlined measures to mitigate the line's environmental impacts. Tunnelling as deep as 70m below the reserve will ensure work is carried out through hard rock, far from flora and fauna on the surface. No surface works will be done in the reserve, it said, noting that MRT tunnels are typically 20m to 30m underground.

There will be two worksites outside the reserve: one along Island Club Road and another on the western edge of the reserve across from the Pan-Island Expressway.

In a Facebook post, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the Government had agonised over the alignment as the reserve is "a special part of Singapore", but skirting the CRL around the nature reserve would "cost taxpayers and commuters dearly".

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min told reporters "the environment assessment has shown that both alignments are feasible", but the skirting option would result in longer travel time, additional construction cost and expected higher commuter fares.

"We have therefore decided on the direct alignment," he said.



Asked about a potentially unfavourable effect the direct alignment would have on network capacity factor - a fare adjustment component which takes into account the capacity of a transport service vis-a-vis actual usage - because it goes through nearly 4km of unpopulated area under the nature reserve, Dr Lam said: "That is a separate issue... We will address that subsequently."

Former diplomat Joseph Koh, who is a nature lover, said he would have preferred the skirting alignment, but "it is reassuring that some of the measures we have advocated have been spelt out". These include tunnelling deeper.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

PISA 2018: 15-year-old students in Singapore express greater fear of failure compared to their peers overseas

China pips Singapore to top spot in PISA education ranking
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 4 Dec 2019

Students in Singapore are more afraid of failure compared with their 15-year-old counterparts overseas, the results of a study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released yesterday show.

The Republic had one of the highest proportions of students - more than 70 per cent - who expressed concern about failure in a questionnaire that was part of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).



Students were asked to indicate how they felt about failure through three statements. These related to whether they were worried about what others thought of them if they failed, or that they might not have enough talent. The third statement concerned whether failure made them doubt their plans for their future.

In comparison, the OECD average was slightly more than 50 per cent. In response, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday that an excessive fear of failing could be "disabling" and that it is making changes to dial back the obsession with grades.


Mr Sng Chern Wei, MOE's deputy director-general of education (curriculum), said the results suggest students are "a bit worried about not doing well in different parts of school life, and worried about how others view them when they experience setbacks". "I think we can help more students to view such setbacks as a natural part of learning and growing, and to view them constructively."

Secondary 4 student Adeline Leong, 16, said she is afraid to fail in subjects that she has consistently done well in, such as history.

"I would be pressured to keep up the streak of doing well. But if it's a subject that I know I'm not strong in, I would not have that high expectations for myself and I would not be so afraid."



The latest PISA study also showed that 60 per cent of Singapore students had a "growth mindset" - meaning that they believe their intelligence can change with effort that they put in. The opposite is a "fixed mindset", where people think their talent or intelligence is limited.

While Singapore's figure is slightly lower than the OECD average of 63 per cent, it is higher than those of most other top-performing Asian systems like China, South Korea and Hong Kong.

Said Mr Sng: "Where we think we can do better in is actually encouraging more students to have a growth mindset, and also helping them to see failures constructively.

"(Having a) growth mindset is important because that's a mindset where students believe that through their efforts, they could improve their intelligence, which will then actually prepare them better when they face challenges in life."