Monday, 19 August 2019

National Day Rally 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong unveils plans to secure Singapore's future
The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2019

* More support for pre-school, tertiary fees

* Moves to raise retirement age, CPF rates

* Steps to defend against climate change



 




PRE-SCHOOL, TERTIARY EDUCATION TO BE MORE AFFORDABLE

Eight in 10 pre-school places will be government-supported in five to six years' time, bringing it to the same ratio as public housing.

The monthly income ceiling to qualify for additional subsidies for pre-school education will be raised from $7,500 to $12,000 next year. The quantum of subsidies will also be increased.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that these are part of the Government's plan to make quality early-years education more affordable and accessible.

He said that in the future, 80 per cent of pre-school places will be government-supported, up from the 50 per cent currently.

With 30,000 more households qualifying for additional subsidies, pre-school expenses should come down to the costs of primary school education.



Touching on tertiary education fees, PM Lee said the Singapore Institute of Technology and the Singapore University of Social Sciences will lower their yearly tuition fees next year - from $8,000 to $7,500 for general degree courses.

Government bursaries for university, polytechnic, Institute of Technical Education, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Lasalle College of the Arts students will also be enhanced.

"Anyone who works hard will have a chance to succeed, regardless of starting point or family background," PM Lee said.







RETIREMENT AGE AND CPF RATES FOR OLDER WORKERS TO GO UP

As Singaporeans are living longer and many want to work longer, the retirement age will be raised gradually from 62 to 65, and the re-employment age will go up from 67 to 70.

The process will start in 2022, and be completed by 2030, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates will also go up for workers aged 55 to 70, so that the full rate of 37 per cent is extended to those aged up to 60 before it tapers off.

This process will start in 2021 and take place gradually over 10 years or so, depending on economic conditions, said PM Lee at the National Day Rally.



He added that these recommendations had been made by a tripartite workgroup, and the Government accepted them, in full.

The Government will take the lead as a major employer to raise retirement and re-employment ages in the public service in 2021, a year ahead of schedule, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce a support package to help businesses adjust to these new arrangements in next year's Budget, PM Lee added.

He also stressed that there are no changes to CPF withdrawal policies or withdrawal ages - CPF members can still withdraw some money at age 55 and start their monthly payouts from age 65.


LONG-TERM BATTLE TO SAFEGUARD SINGAPORE FROM RISING SEA LEVELS

It may cost $100 billion or more over the long term to protect low-lying Singapore against rising sea levels, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

There are good engineering solutions to the problem which could include reclaiming offshore islands and connecting them with barrages. But they come at a cost.

"How much will it cost to protect ourselves against rising sea levels? My guess is probably $100 billion over 100 years, quite possibly more.



"If we only have 10 years to solve the problem, we won't have the time or resources to do it," PM Lee said in his National Day Rally speech. "But because this is a 50-to 100-year problem, we can implement a 50-to 100-year solution.

Climate change defences should be treated like the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) - with utmost seriousness, he added.

"Both the SAF and climate change defences are existential for Singapore. These are life and death matters. Everything else must bend at the knee to safeguard the existence of our island nation."



Saturday, 10 August 2019

NDP 2019: Singapore celebrates its 54th birthday at the Padang

Stand up, stand up for Singapore
27,000 spectators mark nation's 54th birthday with moving celebration at NDP
By Kor Kian Beng, Defence & Security Editor, The Straits Times, 10 Aug 2019

The lyrics "Stand up for Singapore" took a literal turn last evening when spectators at the Padang spontaneously rose to their feet, time and again, moved by the emotion of marking the nation's 54th birthday.

The National Day Parade (NDP), which also marked the bicentennial of an event that changed Singapore's history, turned out to be an occasion to express gratitude and respect. The mood seemed to wash over the 27,000-strong audience at the Padang, where Singapore held its first NDP in 1966.

Like every year, the crowd stood up solemnly when President Halimah Yacob arrived, when the National Anthem was played and when the Pledge was recited.

Gratitude for the Merdeka Generation - those born in the 1950s and who comprised the earliest batches of national servicemen - was particularly evident when 39 of them appeared as part of a mobile column.

As the 171 vehicles from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team drove past, the masters of ceremonies asked spectators from the Merdeka Generation to stand up so that others in the crowd could acknowledge them. This they did with roaring applause, and some felt moved to stand up as well.



Many in the crowd also rose to their feet when sound engineer and music producer Danial Bawthan - who has muscular dystrophy and goes by the moniker Wheelsmith - came on stage with other performers and rapped "Stand up, Lion City, stand up" - from a wheelchair.

Retiree Alvin Lim, 62, said watching fellow servicemen reminded him of his national service years as a signaller. "Seeing how we have progressed from those days makes me proud," he told The Straits Times.



This year's Parade was the first held at the Padang since 2015, with previous years' NDPs held at the Marina Bay Floating Platform and the National Stadium.

The venue was apt, given the bicentennial. The Padang, which has served as a gathering spot for many since the 1880s and has witnessed several historical milestones, was picked to show how far the country has progressed since Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in 1819.



Together with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attending at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, spectators and those watching the telecast were shown glimpses of Singapore's history since then.

These included eight floats honouring organisations that have existed since the 19th century and contributed to Singapore's progress. Among them were Singapore Post, Singapore General Hospital and The Straits Times.

At one point, screens played a video showing Singapore's first mobile column in 1969, which featured only 18 AMX-13 tanks. Pride must have swelled in the hearts of many as they looked on at the size of the mobile column last night.

During the show segment, tribute was paid to Singaporeans who have made a difference, such as retired healthcare adviser Iris Verghese, who had reached out to Singapore's first Aids patient in 1985 amid a climate of fear.



The Parade ended on a soulful note with a unique rendition of Majulah Singapura by 66-year-old rock pioneer Ramli Sarip. Right behind him was 25-year-old Wheelsmith.

Amid uncertainties about the global economy and friction between major powers, the image of a young man in a wheelchair and a seasoned senior singing the National Anthem sent a powerful message about Singaporeans' commitment to unity and harmony.

Right after, Stand Up For Singapore blasted through the speakers again as part of a medley, and the crowd was back on its feet, united in song.

Friday, 9 August 2019

National Day Message 2019: Singapore must prepare for a very different future, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee says world is entering troubled period, but past proves nation can overcome challenges
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Aug 2019

Singaporeans need to prepare for a "very different future", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, pointing to the grave challenges that global upheavals had thrown up.

Speaking on the eve of National Day, he said he was confident that the country would overcome the challenges. But he pointed to the task at hand.

The world is fundamentally entering a more troubled period, he noted. Trade and globalisation are under pressure and friction between the major powers is growing, while global warming and rising sea levels pose existential threats.

"Singapore will not be immune to these global problems... They will disrupt supply chains, alter trade patterns and shift investment flows. We must get ourselves ready for a very different future," he said.

Singapore has taken steps to renew and reinvent itself, he added in his annual National Day message delivered from Changi Airport's Jewel, which he held up as symbolic of the country's spirit to dare to do the new - and do it first.

Singaporeans have gone through many ups and downs over the years, he noted. Today, economic uncertainties and the threat of climate change are grave challenges, PM Lee said.

"But our past gives us confidence. Throughout our history, when trials and tribulations have beset us, we picked ourselves up and worked together to overcome them. Each time, we reinvented and renewed our economy, our people and our city, and we thrived again. And this is what we must keep on doing."



Giving an indication of what he will focus on at this year's National Day Rally on Aug 18, PM Lee said pre-school and tertiary education will be made more affordable, especially for lower-and middle-income families. The retirement and re-employment ages will be raised to help older Singaporeans who wish to work longer, he added.

While he did not give any forecast of growth figures for the year, he noted that the economy has slowed. Global demand and international trade have weakened, affecting Singapore's manufacturing sector and trade-related services.

"We have experienced such slowdowns before, and we will take this one in our stride," said PM Lee. "Should it become necessary to stimulate the economy, we will do so."

Singapore is making good progress in transforming its industries, and in its efforts to reskill and upgrade the workforce, he noted.

The technology and start-up scenes are flourishing, with agencies helping entrepreneurs and companies scale up and expand into the global market.

Meanwhile, the SkillsFuture scheme is helping Singaporeans to be more productive and prepared for new jobs that are being created. "All these structural measures will not only address our longer-term challenges, but also help see us through a more immediate downturn."



PM Lee pledged that the Government will keep on investing heavily in Singaporeans and help everyone achieve their potential and give their best to Singapore.

But he also stressed that this is a joint endeavour. "Each one of us must strive to improve ourselves, do our best and chase our dreams."

PM Lee compared Singapore to Jewel, saying the gleaming new complex shows how Singaporeans have the creativity and daring to reinvent themselves, as well as the passion and competence to turn dreams into reality. "As you might expect, other cities and airports are already planning to emulate Jewel, and perhaps do it bigger and better," he said. "But we dared to attempt the new, and we did it first."

Other projects to remake the city include Changi Terminal 5, Tuas Megaport and the Jurong Lake District, as well as the redevelopment of Paya Lebar Airbase and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

These will keep Singapore busy and create new opportunities for Singaporeans for decades to come, he said. But he added: "To stay in front of the pack, we must constantly come up with fresh ideas, always be ready to break new ground.

"What limits our possibilities is not the physical size of our island, but the ingenuity of our people and the boldness of our spirit."



In a spirited call to Singaporeans, he urged them to be as intrepid as the first settlers who arrived here from distant lands, and as tough as the earlier generations who endured war and occupation, rebuilding their lives afterwards.

"Let us be as resolute as the Pioneer Generation who fought for independence and founded our nation, and be as united as the Merdeka Generation, who took up the baton and brought Singapore from Third World to First.

"Let us continue to work together as one united people to thrive in an uncertain world, challenge ourselves to explore new horizons, and commit our hearts and souls to Singapore and its future," PM Lee said, wishing Singaporeans a happy National Day.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Singapore Convention: 46 countries sign UN mediation treaty named after Singapore

PM Lee Hsien Loong hails signing of UN treaty as powerful statement in support of multilateralism
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Aug 2019

A landmark United Nations treaty that aims to promote the use of mediation in settling cross-border commercial disputes was signed by 46 countries yesterday, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailing it as a powerful statement in support of multilateralism.

The Singapore Convention on Mediation, the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore, provides a uniform international framework to enforce mediated agreements. Its aim is to give businesses more confidence in opting for mediation to resolve disputes, ultimately facilitating international trade.

"Today, a group of states have come together to recommit ourselves to multilateralism and to declare that we remain open for business, we are prepared to make binding commitments, and we are committed to preserve our relationships," said PM Lee.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat added last night: "The signing of the convention is a clear signal of our commitment to a rules-based international order."

Singapore was the first to put ink to paper yesterday, followed by some of the biggest economies in the world including the United States, China and India. Delegates from 70 countries gathered in Singapore for the historic occasion, which also saw an orchid named the "Aranda Singapore Convention on Mediation".

Speaking via video conference at the ceremony, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed PM Lee's remarks, saying the convention would contribute towards strengthening the rule of law and multilateralism.

Multilateralism has come under stress in recent years from growing inequality brought by globalisation.



PM Lee suggested multilateral institutions should be reformed and brought up to date as the alternative - a world without international rules, where might is right - disadvantages all. "Such a world would be especially challenging for countries like Singapore," he added.

PM Lee said the convention, drafted and negotiated by a working group chaired by a Singaporean, is the latest example of Singapore's commitment to the UN and the international community. "We may be a small country, with limited manpower and no natural resources, but nevertheless we do our best to contribute our part."

The Singapore Convention is seen as the missing third piece in the international dispute resolution enforcement framework.

Awards resulting from arbitration and court judgments are already enforceable across borders under other conventions. While mediation is a less costly and less adversarial option, it has been limited as resulting agreements are only contractually binding.



The Singapore Convention will give the process teeth, with signatory countries required to enforce mediated agreements in their courts.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Stephen Mathias, who declared the treaty open for signature, said the convention would "bring legal certainty for fair settlement of disputes through mediation in the same way (the) New York Convention did for arbitration".

Senior advocate Sriram Panchu, who was instrumental in developing mediation as part of India's legal system, said it will also go some way towards creating a climate of confidence when businesses want to invest in a signatory country.

More than 100 delegations, including country representatives and inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, had worked for three years on the treaty, which was named after Singapore in recognition of the key role Singaporeans played in the process. For the treaty to come into force, at least three countries have to sign and ratify it.



Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, describing the response to it so far as "astonishing", said Singapore is likely to ratify it fairly quickly. He added: "If it is signed up to by a large number of countries, and it is enforced by a large number of countries, then you can imagine mediation will become very attractive because it is now enforceable. That's why this 46 as a start is a flying start."

Kallang velodrome, hotel among 15 recommendations to boost sports industry

Plan to transform Kallang into vibrant precinct by 2025
Up to 30m visitors a year being targeted; six developments including velodrome on cards
By Low Lin Fhoong, Assistant Sports Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2019

The area around Kallang is set to be further enhanced as a destination for sport and world-class entertainment after Sport Singapore (SportSG) yesterday announced plans to develop the precinct by 2025.

In a bid to inject vibrancy into the area, six developments will be built to complement the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub, which includes the 55,000-seater National Stadium, OCBC Aquatic Centre and Singapore Indoor Stadium.

In a first for Singapore, a velodrome looks set to be built to cater to the community and serve as the national training centre for track cycling. The indoor track would be part of the Youth Hub, which would be developed with the National Youth Sports Institute and include spaces for non-traditional sports like speed climbing and parkour.


The other five are the Kallang Football Hub, Singapore Tennis Centre, Benaan Kapal Green, Alive Gateway and Loop, and a redevelopment of the Kallang Theatre. The entire project is called Kallang Alive.

Located at the Kallang field, the football hub will house the national training centre and ActiveSG Football Academy.

The new tennis facility, which will have open and sheltered courts, will also function as the national training centre and ActiveSG Academy.

The iconic Kallang Theatre and its adjoining areas will be redeveloped into an integrated sport, entertainment and lifestyle centre. Among the ideas proposed for the facility are a multi-purpose arena capable of hosting e-sports events, a themed hotel and an international sports medicine centre.



While SportSG declined to reveal the project's cost, chief executive officer Lim Teck Yin said that development would be carried out in phases and be completed in five to six years' time.

The Kallang area attracts 12 million visitors annually, and SportSG deputy chief executive Chiang Hock Woon said that it is targeting up to 30 million visitors when the project is completed.

"As part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority Masterplan, Kallang Alive is a very exciting opportunity for us to reimagine what the space can be and it's important that we create an environment where different segments of the population can enjoy the space, in particular our youth," he said at the Vision 2030 review yesterday.

SportSG is completing a feasibility study for the velodrome and Mr Lim pointed out that there is increased interest in cycling here, adding that building it "isn't as expensive an endeavour if we size it the right way".

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

PMD rules tightened to boost safety, lower fire risk; Ban on PMDs at void decks, common areas to kick in on 1 Sept 2019

Parliament: PMD safety certification deadline brought forward to July 1, 2020; mandatory inspection for all e-scooters from April 2020
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 6 Aug 2019

Regulations on e-scooters are being tightened to minimise the risk of fires and step up safety for pedestrians on shared paths.

The Land Transport Authority is bringing forward by six months - to July 1 next year - a deadline for devices to comply with mandatory safety requirements. And there will be compulsory inspections for registered e-scooters from next April.

In addition, $50 million is being set aside to widen footpaths and install speed-regulating strips and warning signs in the next few years.


The 15 People's Action Party town councils will also require PMD users to dismount and push PMDs in void decks and common corridors of Housing Board blocks.

And four town centres in Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Batok and Khatib, along with a neighbourhood centre in Tampines, will take part in a trial of pedestrian-only zones, where PMD users will have to dismount and push their devices.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min announced these measures in Parliament yesterday in response to questions from MPs concerned over recent fires involving motorised personal mobility devices (PMDs) as well as over accidents involving pedestrians.



Dr Lam said his ministry is "deeply concerned" about the risks posed by PMDs and their irresponsible use, but it is also mindful that the devices benefit "tens of thousands of Singaporeans" daily.

"The vast majority of them use PMDs responsibly," he stressed.

"A PMD is just a machine. It is the rider who decides whether it is beneficial or detrimental to our lives."

Monday, 5 August 2019

Racial and religious harmony in Singapore: Goodwill takes years to build, but only seconds to destroy, says Indranee Rajah

By Indranee Rajah, Published The Straits Times, 5 Aug 2019

Anger begets more anger. So said Mahavira, the 24th tirthankara of Jainism, more than 2,500 years ago.

Those words are still true today as demonstrated by the now infamous epaysg advertisement and the video response by YouTuber Preetipls (also known as Preeti Nair) and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair.

In case you missed what happened, here's a quick summary. E-payment website epaysg engaged an ad agency to do an advertisement. The storyboard involved showing people from different races all using e-payment to demonstrate that e-payment is for everyone.

So far, so good.

The problem was that instead of having actors from different races to portray the multiracial characters, Mediacorp artist DJ Dennis Chew, who is Chinese, was engaged to play the characters of all races - including appearing as a Malay lady in a tudong and an Indian man, with visibly dark skin or "brownface".

In earlier decades, something like this may have passed without comment. Some might even have found it funny. Older Singaporeans will recall the Black And White Minstrel Show which was quite acceptable back in the 1960s and 1970s. But societal attitudes have changed.



In this day and age, one would think the creative team would have known better but apparently not. Unsurprisingly, there was a backlash against the "brownface" portrayal. The ad was then pulled. It could - and should - have ended there but it didn't.

In response, Ms Nair and her brother made a video with a rap insulting Chinese Singaporeans, using four-letter words and vulgar gestures directed at Chinese and posted it online.

In the video Ms Nair wears a T-shirt with the words "Yes, it's because you are Chinese", referencing an earlier video of an altercation between a Chinese passenger and a Malay Gojek driver which went viral.

The "brownface" ad was distasteful. But the video went further and crossed the line.

At that point, the authorities stepped in - the Infocomm Media Development Authority issued a notice to the video's publishers to take it down, with which they have since complied. The public has been advised not to further circulate it.

The police are now investigating the matter.

Some may ask why it is necessary to do this - after all it's just one video; the rap is a parody of an existing song and it's just a bit of fun. Isn't the Government overreacting? But that's the point. It wouldn't be just one video. Parody or not, its content is offensive. But more than that, it doesn't take any great leap of the imagination to see where the Preetipls video would lead: Those taking offence at this video would then want to make further retaliatory videos targeted at Indians or other races and so on.

If you allow one, you have to allow others. There would be a ratcheting up of the decibel level. Words would be spoken that cannot be unsaid; hurts would be inflicted that cannot be easily healed. And that would be the start of the downward spiral to hate.

We see this happen time and time again in other countries. We are determined not to go down that route. We have racial and religious harmony in Singapore but this does not mean that there are completely no issues. Issues of race, religion and cultural differences do exist, as reflected by the various surveys from time to time. But the way to address them is not by hurling abuse and generating more anger. As Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary pointed out, two wrongs do not make a right.

Anger and hate are easy to rouse. But the damage caused takes a long time to repair. Conversely, goodwill and peaceful relations take a long time, decades, to build. But destroying them can be done in a matter of seconds. The peace and harmony we enjoy in Singapore is not because we are lucky. It's also not because everyone acts with awareness and scrupulous care not to give offence to others - as the recent incidents show. It is because we work hard at it, intervening directly if need be.

Maintaining racial harmony is hard work. It requires constant monitoring and maintenance. It requires all races to make a conscious and concerted effort to be mindful of the feelings of other races, to make sure that we act fairly and without discrimination. It requires strict laws and the willingness to enforce them. When in the wrong, it requires the ability to recognise that and apologise with sincerity.

It also requires something more, which is reflected in the complete quote of Mahavira which is this: "Anger begets more anger, and forgiveness and love lead to more forgiveness and love." To be a truly multiracial and harmonious society, we need to focus on the latter, not the former.

Padang and three bridges at Singapore River to be designated national monuments

Padang has witnessed many historic events and the bridges reflect nation's growth: DPM Heng
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 4 Aug 2019

Singapore's de facto town square and the site of this year's National Day Parade, the Padang, as well as the Cavenagh, Anderson and Elgin bridges in the vicinity, will be gazetted as national monuments.

The Padang will be the first green, open space to join the Republic's stable of national monuments. Likewise, this will be the first time the National Heritage Board's (NHB) Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM) division is adding bridges to its list.

The gazetting of the two new monuments - the bridges will be protected as an ensemble - will bring the total number of national monuments in Singapore to 74. The move is part of the authorities' commemorative efforts for the Singapore Bicentennial. This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The Padang is chock-full of history. Some evidence suggests that this was where negotiations between the British, Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor took place in the lead-up to the 1819 treaty that allowed the British East India Company to set up a trading post here.

DPM Heng said the Padang is a very special location and noted that the site has witnessed many historic events.

In 1959, when Singapore became a self-governing state, the Yang di-Pertuan Negara, who went on to become the first President of the Republic, Mr Yusof Ishak, was inaugurated at the Padang.

It was also where the National Coat of Arms of Singapore was launched, and, in 1966, the first National Day Parade was held.

He said: "So these are important events that mark our progress as a nation, and we are going to designate it as a national monument."


Ms Jean Wee, the director of NHB's PSM division, noted that the Padang has been a gathering point for the people of Singapore since the 1800s. During the colonial period, Chinese New Year, royal birthdays, jubilees and coronations, and occasionally Thaipusam were commemorated at the green space with displays of fireworks.

Going back further, the Padang was said to have been the site where Palembang Prince Sang Nila Utama spotted a beast, which led him to name Temasek as Singapura or Lion City.

A national monument gazette is the highest form of recognition for a structure or site's significance. Evaluation factors include its historical, architectural and social importance to Singapore's built heritage. The Padang, which is state land, is approximately 4.3ha - about the size of five football fields. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) currently has guidelines on the site's usage to ensure its protection.