Sunday, 26 May 2019

Merdeka Generation to start getting cards from 2 June 2019

By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 25 May 2019

The first batch of about 80,000 Merdeka Generation Package welcome folders will be available for collection at community events from June 2, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced yesterday.

The rest of the 500,000 or so folders will be sent out by SingPost later in the month, she said.

Dr Khor was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the factory where the folders were being prepared by Medialink Printing Services.

The folders include personalised Merdeka Generation cards which qualify holders for outpatient care subsidies at general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) from Nov 1, regardless of income or the value of their homes.

The Merdeka Generation Package was announced earlier this year by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat during his Budget speech and is aimed at offsetting healthcare costs that come with ageing.

It includes an annual $200 top-up to the Medisave accounts of eligible Singaporeans for five years, from this year to 2023. The first top-up will be automatically credited in July.

The term Merdeka Generation generally refers to Singaporeans born between Jan 1, 1950, and Dec 31, 1959, plus others born in this period who became citizens by the end of 1996. Singaporeans born before this may also be eligible if they did not receive the Pioneer Generation Package.

Dr Khor said: "Our Silver Generation Office started their outreach to the Merdeka Generation seniors from April this year. To date, they have engaged close to 40,000 seniors, mostly through house visits and face-to-face engagements."

She added that engagement sessions are likely to continue until the end of next year and that all of the welcome folders should be sent out by the end of July.

Dr Khor co-chairs the Merdeka Generation Communications and Engagement Taskforce with Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Communications and Information Sim Ann, who was also on the visit.

The folder will also contain a list of six CHAS clinics nearest to the home address of the person receiving it, said Ms Sim.

The list will include four GP clinics and two dental clinics.

Ms Sim added that the folder will also contain - printed in all four official languages - a thank-you card from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a booklet detailing the Merdeka Generation Package benefits and a leaflet on courses and activities that seniors can sign up for using the one-off $100 top-up for their PAssion Silver cards.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Single elderly Singaporeans need $1,379 a month to meet basic living standard: Study

Researchers from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy calculate sum needed for basic standard of living after focus group dialogues
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019

For the first time, researchers in Singapore gathered people aged 55 and above to talk about what they considered to be their basic standard of living, and calculated that a single man or woman aged 65 and above would need at least $1,379 a month to sustain it.

A couple aged 65 and above would need $2,351.

The researchers, from different institutions, based their calculations only on items that all participants agreed were necessary to them - which they had to justify - and which included occasional inexpensive meals out with family or friends, safe and comfortable homes, and an annual holiday to a nearby place costing about $500.

Left out of the list were things deemed too extravagant, like air-conditioning and a car.

Published yesterday, the household budgets study, "What older people need in Singapore", raises a range of policy concerns, said the researchers, as to how the older population would have enough to meet their aspirations.

Among other things, it may not be sustainable for coming generations to rely on family support as a source of retirement income, while basic retirement payouts from the Central Provident Fund (CPF) alone may also be inadequate.

The qualitative study, led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and including Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, involved focus group discussions with 103 participants from diverse backgrounds.They included people who lived in rental flats as well as private property and a larger representation of some groups, such as minorities and women, for a diversity of views.

In defining a basic standard of living, participants went beyond housing, food and clothing, and included opportunities to education, employment, work-life balance and healthcare. It should also enable a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence and include freedom to participate in social activities, and engage in one's cultural and religious practices.

The list, said researchers, reflected the norms and values held by Singaporeans today.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

NDP 2019 theme song: Our Singapore

Stars come out to sing NDP 2019 song
Line-up of 27 across generations among 300 people featured in music video
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019

It is a treat to the ears when some of Singapore's biggest pop stars and acts lend their voices to this year's National Day Parade (NDP) theme song.

Rahimah Rahim, who has been part of Singapore's entertainment scene since the 1960s, and Stefanie Sun, one of the most recognisable home-grown songbirds, are among a star-studded line-up of 27 artists who have recorded Our Singapore, a mash-up of National Day tunes such as We Will Get There (2002) and Our Singapore (2015).

The song composed by creative director and singer-songwriter Dick Lee is aimed at recognising the contributions of earlier generations and signalling the passing of the nation-building baton from one generation to the next.

The music video, released yesterday, features nearly 300 Singaporeans aged between five and 93 from all walks of life.

Other big names include Kit Chan, Taufik Batisah and JJ Lin, rappers Sheikh Haikel and Shigga Shay, veteran radio DJ Brian Richmond, jazz drummer Louis Soliano, and rock icon Ramli Sarip.

The song is one of the ways that Singapore's 54th birthday bash will focus on the Singapore Bicentennial commemoration and the theme of collective ownership of the Singapore Story.

Brigadier-General Yew Chee Leung, chairman of the NDP 2019 executive committee, said the theme - Our Singapore - is simple to understand and complements the Bicentennial celebrations.

"We want to emphasise the collective ownership of Singapore, just as early generations believed in Singapore, took ownership and put in their blood, sweat and tears to build Singapore to what it is today," said the Chief Armour Officer.

This year's parade returns to the Padang for the first time since 2015 to mark a significant milestone - the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore.

The Padang was also the site of post-independent Singapore's first NDP in 1966.

This year's show will include a Bicentennial segment featuring eight floats of organisations that have contributed to building various aspects of Singapore society since the 19th century.

Protecting Singapore’s vulnerable: Will tougher laws make a difference to those at risk?

Recent changes to the Penal Code have introduced tougher penalties against those who abuse domestic workers, children and people with disabilities, and identified new groups of vulnerable persons. Tan Tam Mei and Cara Wong look at whether harsher punishments would translate into better protection for five groups of vulnerable people.
By Tan Tam Mei and Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 21 May 2019

A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members and Singapore's move to recognise more vulnerable groups who need protection is a reflection of a more compassionate nation, say experts.

Under laws passed in Parliament earlier this month, those who abuse vulnerable victims will face up to twice the maximum punishment for similar crimes against others.

For instance, offenders who cause grievous hurt face up to 10 years' jail with a fine and caning, but if the crime is committed against a vulnerable victim, the jail term can go up to 20 years.

The scope of those considered vulnerable will also be widened under the new laws.

Besides the existing vulnerable categories of domestic workers and people with mental or physical disabilities, three groups will be added: children under 14, victims in close relationships with their offenders, and victims in intimate relationships with their offenders.

The need to deter abuse of the weak through extra legislative protection was first recognised more than 20 years ago.

In 1998, the Penal Code was amended, introducing 11/2 times the maximum punishment for certain offences committed against foreign domestic workers.

Last year, similar enhanced punishments were introduced for abusers of vulnerable adults - defined as those aged 18 and above who are unable to protect themselves due to disabilities - under the Vulnerable Adults Act.

During the Bill's debate, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said the changes were borne out of the desire to deter abuse.

He also said the move was an opportunity "for this House to register our strongest condemnation against acts that harm the most vulnerable among us".

The new laws are encouraging, said experts like Mr Norman Kee, an early childhood and special needs education lecturer at the National Institute of Education, who was of the opinion that the law now gives these "silent groups" a voice.

He said: "The changes do signal the need to move towards a more humanistic, compassionate and inclusive society... (It is also a) representation of their distressing and 'unbearable' suffering."

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the move to recognise victims in intimate or close relationships with their abusers signals that such acts, which are sometimes dismissed as "domestic problems", cannot remain private if they involve abuse.

"It is a recognition that we have a responsibility to raise the alarm and not close one eye... that we must feel outraged and act to prevent or stop abusive behaviour," he said.

But on the ground, welfare and social service groups say the new laws will not necessarily translate into better protection.

Under-reporting is also common when it comes to abuse cases, said the experts who noted that published statistics could represent just the tip of the iceberg.

To be effective, the new laws must come in tandem with measures to protect and educate the victims and those around them, say the various organisations who look out for the vulnerable.

In Parliament, Mr Amrin acknowledged that the law has its limits.

"The law can shape social norms, but it is only one factor," he said, adding that while the legal direction is now clear, the Government needs to work with community partners, including non-governmental organisations, to be effective.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

DPM Heng Swee Keat at the 49th St Gallen Symposium

Dialogue key to fostering trust between Government and people: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent In St Gallen (Switzerland), The Straits Times, 10 May 2019

For Singapore, the key to fostering trust between the Government and the people lies in dialogue, partnership and always keeping the promises it has made to the citizens, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

This is a legacy, he added, handed down from founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had said the Government must never, in an election, pledge what it cannot deliver.

"Credibility is important. What we promise, we must do our very best to deliver," said Mr Heng, who had been the late Mr Lee's principal private secretary.

The DPM, whose appointment to the No. 2 position this month signals his standing as the next prime minister, was responding to a question at the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland on how the Singapore Government builds trust with its citizens when in other countries, this trust has broken down.

One key element is dialogue and interaction with the people by MPs at weekly Meet-the-People Sessions, and via platforms like Our Singapore Conversation, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

He hoped the next round of the conversation will focus on imbuing in people a take-charge attitude when they see a problem that needs fixing. This, in turn, will require leaders at all levels of Singapore society, he added.

Building trust also involves working in partnership, like what is being done in Singapore's tripartite system, the DPM said.

For instance, when the Government was working on restructuring the economy, it gathered together business leaders, business chambers, large trade associations and unions to talk about what should or can be done, he said.

Trust is also about honesty, even when undertaking difficult decisions, like raising the goods and services tax from 7 per cent to 9 per cent. This is to take place some time between 2021 and 2025.

"Some people said, 'You are mad to announce a tax increase so far ahead'. I said our projection is that we have an ageing population; if we want to keep our healthcare system sustainable, we each have to do more to take care of our seniors."

He added: "We believe it is better to be honest with our citizens than to say we have solved the problem."

Mr Heng was speaking at a public dialogue with the symposium's chairman Dominic Barton, a former managing director of consulting firm McKinsey.

He attended the symposium as part of a five-day study trip to Switzerland, where he visited Swiss companies and research institutes to learn more about productivity, R&D and industry development efforts there.

Rules on CPF usage and HDB housing loans updated to ensure homes for life

Buyers can use more from CPF, get bigger HDB loans if lease covers them till age 95; rules will kick in on 10 May 2019
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 May 2019

As society ages, there is a risk that some people could outlive their home leases. Rules have now been updated to strike a balance between giving property buyers more flexibility, while ensuring their leases are long enough and their retirement funds sufficient.

Buyers can now use more from their Central Provident Fund (CPF) and get bigger Housing Board loans for ageing flats, so long as the property's remaining lease covers the youngest buyer till the age of 95.

The changes, announced yesterday by the ministries of Manpower and National Development, mark a shift in how the Government regulates CPF usage and disburses public housing loans. Instead of looking only at a flat's remaining lease, the focus is on whether a property can last its home owner for life.

But restrictions will still be in place to ensure buyers have sufficient funds for retirement: HDB flats must have at least 20 years left on their leases - down from 30 years - for CPF monies to be used for the purchase. HDB flats are sold with 99-year leases.

Also, CPF members aged 55 and older must have properties with leases that cover them till age 95, before they can withdraw their CPF savings in excess of the Basic Retirement Sum. This effectively means their property must have a remaining lease of at least 40 years, up from the old requirement of 30 years.

"The updated rules will provide more flexibility for Singaporeans to buy a home for life, and will apply to both public and private properties," Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post last night.

The announcement comes on the back of many public discussions about depleting leases of ageing HDB flats. Apart from announcing steps like a second round of improvements for ageing flats, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last August that the Ministry of National Development (MND) is looking to "improve the liquidity of the resale market, making it easier for people to buy and sell old flats".

OrangeTee & Tie research head Christine Sun said the move would widen the pool of buyers who can use CPF to buy an older flat, and increase demand for such flats.

Some older buyers, who had not been able to use CPF for buying homes, might now be able to do so, she said.

It may also deter younger buyers from purchasing flats whose lease they may outlast.

MND said most buyers will not be affected by the changes, as 98 per cent of HDB households and 99 per cent of private property families have a home that will cover them to age 95. But older buyers can now buy ageing flats and face less restrictions on CPF usage.

Singaporeans living in private property can apply for government help: Indranee Rajah

Asset-rich but cash-poor: Govt aid available to all regardless of housing type
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 9 May 2019

Citizens who live in private property can apply for government aid should they need help, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday in Parliament.

She also cited broad-based schemes that are for all Singaporeans, regardless of the type of housing they reside in.

These include education assistance and being able to go to polyclinics for healthcare, as well as the Merdeka Generation Package to help citizens born in the 1950s with their healthcare costs.

So, she added, it would be "too much of a generalisation to say that there is nothing for them at all in the Budget".

Ms Indranee was responding to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who asked whether the Government could do more to help asset-rich but cash-poor Singaporeans.

Mr Lim cited residents' feedback and said a number of those who live in private homes noted that it was inequitable that they do not qualify for GST Vouchers, among other initiatives.

As a result, they feel disadvantaged because of their residence type, he added.

Ms Indranee said the Government has more targeted initiatives, like the GST Vouchers, that subsidise the expenses of the lower-income group, besides broad-based schemes.

"The ones who don't benefit from the broad-based schemes, we would encourage them to apply (when they have) a genuine need because the system does allow for appeals and consideration of particular circumstances," she said.

"They may have specific difficulties. We will address those on a case-by-case basis."

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Singapore Fake news law passed by Parliament on 8 May 2019

Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was passed with 72 Members saying "yes", all nine Members from the opposition Workers' Party (WP) saying "no"
It is not a political tool but about shaping a society that keeps lies out, says Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 May 2019

After a marathon two-day debate that stretched late into last evening, Parliament passed a comprehensive piece of legislation to combat fake news.

The proposed law is not a political tool for the ruling party to wield power, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, but is about shaping the kind of society that Singapore should be.

Summing up the often fractious debate on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, he painted a picture of a society in which lies are kept out and there are honest debates among people based on truth and honour.

"(Debates) should be based on a foundation of truth, foundation of honour, and foundation where we keep out the lies, that's what this is about. It's not about the Workers' Party or the PAP or today, it's about Singapore," he said responding to the 31 MPs who spoke during the debate on the draft law aimed at protecting society from fake news that harms public interest.

At around 10.20pm, the Bill was passed with 72 MPs saying "yes", nine Workers' Party (WP) MPs saying "no", and three Nominated MPs abstaining.

WP chief Pritam Singh, whose party had strenuously objected to the new law for giving ministers too much powers, had called for a division in which each MP's vote is recorded. The opposition party wanted the courts, instead of the ministers, to be the arbiters of falsehoods, and accused the Government of creating a self-serving law that can be abused to quash critics.

Rebuttals came from many of the People's Action Party (PAP) MPs as well as Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Mr Shanmugam, who stressed that a minister's decision under the new law is subject to court appeal and judicial review.

The new law is designed to give the Government the tools to deal with falsehoods on the Internet that can go viral in a matter of minutes and cause untold harm, said Mr Shanmugam, who spent much of his speech addressing WP MPs' claims.

There was no way to guarantee that the courts would be able to respond within hours each time a falsehood needed to be dealt with, he added. He also stressed that the Bill narrows the scope of the Government's powers, instead of broadening them.

"There is no profit of any sort, including political profit, in trying to allow these lies to proliferate and damage our infrastructure of fact. It will damage our institutions and, frankly, no mainstream political party will benefit from it.

"It will damage any party that wants to consider itself mainstream and credible. You've seen what happens in the US, you've seen what happened in the UK, the centre gets hollowed out, it's the extremes that benefit," he said.

MPs had asked for clarifications on technical aspects such as how the law defines falsehoods and public interest, and also raised practical concerns like whether people who inadvertently forward fake news will run afoul of the law.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that orders to put up corrections or remove content would mostly be directed at technology companies.

The man in the street who does not purposely manufacture falsehoods to undermine society need not fear, he added.

During the debate yesterday, Mr Ong addressed the concerns of academics, some of whom had sent him a letter last month about their fears that academic work would be caught under the law.

He said their main concern was that the law would be abused to stifle political discourse "because not all researchers are just researchers, they may also be activists". He assured them that criticism based on facts and not falsehoods would not come under the new law.

Mr Iswaran, meanwhile, spoke about how the Government was fighting the fake news scourge from other fronts, such as working with technology companies on a code of practice that will prevent their platforms from being misused to ramping up media literacy through education.

"Ultimately, our first and most important line of defence against online falsehoods is a well-informed and discerning citizenry, equipped with the tools to combat online falsehoods," he said.