Thursday, 17 January 2019

CPF Life payouts: Minimum age for withdrawal stays at 65

Parliament: Minimum age for CPF payouts will remain at 65; priority is reviewing retirement, re-employment ages, says Josephine Teo
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2019

The minimum age to receive monthly payouts from Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings will not be lowered for now as it was raised to 65 only last year, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Employees appear to be more concerned about being able to work longer and save more, she told Parliament, which is why her priority this year is to build a new consensus between workers, employers and the Government on the retirement and re-employment ages.

She was replying to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who said retirees have approached her asking for an earlier CPF payout, as they lack money but are healthy and cannot appeal on medical grounds.

In fact, said Mrs Teo, more than half of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, which are developed nations, have set their pension withdrawal age at 65 or older.

Some are raising it in the light of increasing longevity, she added.

For example, The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are raising their respective pension withdrawal ages gradually to reach 67 by 2021, 2022 and 2029.

"So against such a backdrop, we must really ask if it is wise to lower our own PEA (payout eligibility age)," Mrs Teo said, referring to the minimum age at which CPF members can start receiving their monthly CPF Life payouts.

However, permanently incapacitated or terminally ill CPF members, for example, can apply to withdraw their savings or start their payouts before age 65 under the Medical Grounds Scheme. Most applications - about 65 per cent - in the past three years were successful.

Mrs Teo also disclosed the payout eligibility age was not a major concern for workers during feedback sessions held by the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers.

The group, of which she is an adviser, began its review of the retirement and re-employment ages, plus the impact of CPF contribution rates on retirement adequacy, last year.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Singapore-Malaysia sea and air disputes: Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 14 January 2019

Singapore to discuss issues with Malaysia calmly, but will guard its turf: Vivian Balakrishnan
Countries can expect consequences if they embark on 'antics' against Republic, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2019

Singapore will do its best to discuss all outstanding bilateral issues with Malaysia in a calm, reasonable and focused manner, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday. But he warned of "consequences" if other nations embarked on "adventures and antics" against it.

Dr Balakrishnan also said he does not expect a quick or smooth resolution to these issues with Malaysia, which include disputes over maritime and airspace boundaries.

Last October, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. It has also objected to the implementation of new landing procedures for Seletar Airport.

"Both of these sets of sudden actions upset the status quo that has been in place for many years," Dr Balakrishnan said in his statement, where he set out the facts of each issue and highlighted steps that both sides have taken to find a constructive way forward. "These actions did not bode well for our bilateral relationship. They created the risk of a dangerous downward spiral of measures and counter-measures."

On Malaysia's extension of port limits, he said it goes beyond even the territorial sea claims in its 1979 map, which Singapore has rejected consistently. "The inescapable conclusion is that the new Johor Baru port limits transgress into what are indisputably Singapore territorial waters," said the minister, highlighting how Singapore has long exercised sovereignty and patrolled the disputed waters without any protest from Malaysia.

He also pointed out that daily intrusions into these waters by Malaysian government vessels since November have continued despite the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry declaring that it would take "all effective measures" to de-escalate the situation on the ground. "These intrusions do not help Malaysia's legal case. All they do is to raise tensions and endanger navigational safety in the area," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart had agreed last week to form a working group to discuss matters and de-escalate the situation in the waters off Tuas.

While Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation is best resolved through negotiations, it is prepared to settle disputes via an appropriate international third party dispute settlement procedure if such negotiations fail, he said.

Replying to a question from Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) on what actions Singapore could take if there were further intrusions into its waters, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We will always take appropriate measures to safeguard our interest, and any country dealing with Singapore must not assume that it is cost-free to embark on any adventures or antics against us. There will be consequences."

He also addressed the 1962 Water Agreement, which Malaysia wants to revise. The attorneys-general on both sides had met last month to better understand each other's position on whether Malaysia still had the right to review the price of water, but it was overshadowed by other issues that subsequently arose. They will meet again to continue discussions, he said.

The transport ministers from both countries have also agreed to meet later this month for further discussions on the airspace dispute.

MPs had filed 14 questions on the disputes with Malaysia, and seven members had supplementary questions for Dr Balakrishnan.

Concluding his speech, he said: "The strength of Singapore's diplomacy depends on domestic unity and resilience, and the fact that we cannot be intimidated or bought."

This is why Total Defence and investment in the Singapore Armed Forces are so important, he added.

Resilience, he said, includes improving Singapore's water supply infrastructure, namely Newater and desalinated water, strengthening food security by diversifying food sources, and ensuring a strong, diversified labour market.

As a small state with limited resources, the quest for security and resilience has been "a constant, relentless imperative" since independence, Dr Balakrishnan noted.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Govt will help workers cope with job changes and economic restructuring, says PM Lee Hsien Loong; Singapore's labour crunch: Why it's happening and what more can be done

30,000 got new jobs in 2018 through Adapt and Grow
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2019

Amid anxiety over jobs and the state of the economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's message to Singaporeans is that resources and the resolve are in place to help them train and take on new jobs.

The journey is not easy, and many people are anxious and might worry about their career prospects, job security and families, he said. Older people may be more worried about new technology, he noted.

"We have the resources, the plans and the resolve. We will help everybody to get through difficulties. We will help you, walk together with you, to overcome these troubles," he said on a visit to Workforce Singapore's Careers Connect at Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar. It lets jobseekers meet career coaches and tap a wide range of resources.

Yesterday, PM Lee met workers who had changed or were changing jobs, employers and career coaches, and spoke to them about their experiences for around 21/2 hours.

"A lot of good work is done, there is a lot of passion," he told reporters at the end of his visit, adding that Singaporeans should have confidence that they can cope with economic transformation.

Singapore has made a lot of progress in its restructuring journey, he noted, citing how employment rates have gone up, particularly for women and the elderly.

The journey is not over, he said. But if it is done right, in 10 years, Singaporeans will be in a better position than they are in today, he said.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Singapore's flourishing religious minorities a lesson for the world

By Peter Welby, Published The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2019

In a decade of work in the field of religion and global affairs, I have never come across a religious minority so comfortable in its own skin, and so conscious of the vital role it plays in the wider national tapestry, as Muslims in Singapore.

A conference held last November marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), jointly organised with the Forum for Promoting Peace, led by Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, one of the world's leading Islamic scholars. Its theme was the engagement of Singapore's Muslims in the country's unique secular, plural system and whether there were lessons for the rest of the world.

As Shaykh Abdallah said: "Every citizen has exactly the same rights and responsibilities as every other citizen." This is a phenomenon to be praised - but also to be emulated.

MUIS is an unusual body, virtually unknown in other similarly minority contexts: It is indisputably a government organisation, set up by statute in order to advise the President on Islamic affairs and administer the key areas of Muslim religious life - charity, worship, religious education and pilgrimage. But at the same time it is a service body, set up for the benefit of the country's Muslims, not as a means for their control; and a community body, largely funded by Singapore's Muslims and managing community assets.

This set-up could be a consequence of history: Muslims in Singapore have not always been a "minority community". The brief period of Singapore's merger with Malaysia put those who follow Islam in the national majority. MUIS was set up three years after the end of the merger experiment, and the trauma of the experience makes the current set-up all the more impressive.

The recent conference was the culmination of years of activity - a culmination that reaffirmed the Muslim community's integral place in the state. The keynote speech was given by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in testimony to the good relationship between Singapore's Muslim community and the state.

What made this conference unique was the picture it painted of Singaporean society: a society at ease with itself. In much of the Western world, societies are increasingly ill at ease with the interaction between citizenship and identity, particularly around religion and culture. Islam in particular is seen by many, both inside and outside the faith, as something alien to Western society - to be kept at arm's length and possibly even dangerous. Debates around securitisation and extremism are often perceived as part of this alienation.

Not, seemingly, in Singapore.

The Republic is unique for a host of reasons. For one thing, there are few remaining fully independent city states in the world and Singapore is the only one of those to have emerged from colonialism. The end of the colonial period and the early post-colonial era were times of great hardship for the country. Out of that, its leaders determined that the answer to its external weakness must lie in internal strength: a nation made up of many ethnicities and religions, but in national vision, one.

Many claim to be defined by a principle of unity in diversity; in Singapore, it feels real.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Committee of Inquiry on SingHealth cyber attack public report; IHiS sacks 2 employees, imposes financial penalty on CEO

Probe report on SingHealth data breach points to basic failings
COI releases key findings on cyber attack, and makes 16 recommendations with priority for 7
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2019

Staff who fell prey to phishing attacks. Weak administrator passwords. Not applying a patch that could have stopped the hacking. And an IT cyber-security team that could not even recognise a security incident.

These were among the basic failings that opened the door to Singapore's worst data breach, according to the public report by a high-level panel tasked to probe last June's cyber attack on SingHealth.

And such lax cyber-security practices were no match for the sophisticated cyber attackers, believed to be state-linked. In fact, the Singapore authorities contacted foreign law enforcement agencies for information on the users behind servers linked to the attack.

The 453-page report also offers 16 recommendations - seven of them classified as "priority" - to shore up defences at organisations responsible for critical information infrastructure (CII) systems.

Among other things, CII owners including SingHealth must set rules, to be reviewed at least once a year, to protect their systems against cyber-security threats.

All administrators must use two-factor authentication, and the use of passphrases instead of passwords should be considered. The industry and the Government should also share threat intelligence.

One key recommendation is that SingHealth appoint its own cyber-security "risk man" rather than rely solely on its IT management vendor, Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), for such oversight.

At present, all the domain expertise and resources to detect and manage cyber-security risks lie with IHiS, which the Committee of Inquiry (COI) said is "difficult to sustain" in the long run.

The report also provides a blow-by-blow account of the events that led to the cyber attack.

Despite the attackers being sophisticated, the COI said, the data breach could have been averted if not for "a blanket of middle-management mistakes" at IHiS, Singapore's central IT agency for the healthcare sector.

For instance, a middle manager of cyber security at IHiS had misconceptions of what constitutes a cyber-security incident, and delayed reporting the network intrusions for fear that additional pressure would be put on him and his team.

Also, the key technology "risk man" at IHiS - cluster information security officer Wee Jia Huo - displayed "an alarming lack of concern" when it was clear that a critical system had been potentially breached.

These lapses contributed to successful data exfiltration from SingHealth's electronic medical records system from June 27 to July 4 last year. Hackers stole the personal data of 1.5 million patients and the outpatient prescription details of 160,000 people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The attacker had a clear goal in mind, namely, the personal and outpatient medication data of the Prime Minister in the main, and also that of other patients," the report said.

But it also noted: "The attacker was stealthy but not silent, and signs of the attack were observed by IHiS' staff. Had IHiS' staff been able to recognise that an attack was ongoing and take appropriate action, the attacker could have been stopped before it achieved its objectives."

Monday, 7 January 2019

Singapore supplies additional treated water to Malaysia at Johor's request

Additional 6 millions gallons per day (mgd) of treated water supplied between 2 and 4 January 2019
Production at Johor's water plants was disrupted recently due to pollution in river catchment
By Grace Leong, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2019

Singapore's water agency PUB has, at Johor's request, supplied additional treated water to Malaysia after production there was disrupted due to pollution.

In response to media queries, PUB said yesterday that an additional six million gallons per day (mgd) of treated water was supplied between Jan 2 and Jan 4.

PUB said production at Johor's water plants was disrupted recently by pollution in the river catchment. PUB's Johor River Waterworks was not affected by the incident.

"At Johor's request, PUB helped to tide Johor residents over the water supply disruption by turning on PUB's Pasir Gudang offtake and supplying an additional six million gallons per day of treated water between Jan 2 and Jan 4, 2019," a spokesman said.

The 6 mgd was on top of the 16 mgd that Singapore usually supplies Johor.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is required to supply Johor with 5 mgd of treated water.

In practice, the Republic has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at its request.

Last year, Singapore also supplied additional water in excess of the usual 16 mgd for 20 days at the request of Johor, PUB said.

PUB added that it has supplied all the additional treated water above 5 mgd on "a goodwill basis" at the same price as under the 1962 Water Agreement, that is, 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

This is a fraction of the cost of treating the water, and "has been done without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement".

The agency said there has been long-standing cooperation between the water agencies of the two countries.

"PUB has thus far been responsive in assisting Johor residents to reduce the impact of their water disruptions, in the spirit of good neighbourliness."

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Are MediShield Life payouts lower than subsidised fees?

Either the national health insurance claims limits are too low, or public health institutions are charging fees that are too high for those procedures. Time to square the circle.
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2019

Good healthcare is not cheap.

To ensure that all Singaporeans can afford the medical treatments that they need, the Government provides generous subsidies for people opting for basic medical care without frills.

Since 2015, it has added another layer of "safety" with the launch of a compulsory national health insurance - MediShield Life - that provides cradle-to-grave protection against big medical bills at subsidised government centres.

For those who still can't afford to pay for healthcare in spite of the subsidy and insurance, there is further help in the form of Medifund, an endowment fund set up by the Government to pay for medical treatments for the poor.

With all these schemes in place, the healthcare needs of Singaporeans should be well taken care of.

Unfortunately, in practice, things do not always work out as planned.

When MediShield Life was launched, people were promised peace of mind for their big hospital subsidised bills, although there is a $100,000 cap on claims each year.

People need to take care of the smaller bills themselves - hence they must pay a yearly deductible of $1,500, $2,000 or $3,000, based on ward class and age, before insurance kicks in. They can only claim from MediShield Life after paying that sum from their own funds, usually from their Medisave.

The problem is also not with the annual insurance cap of $100,000. It was explained that this was to keep premiums affordable. For people with such huge subsidised bills who need help, there are other sources, such as Medifund.

No, the problem lies in something less visible to patients: how much public institutions charge and what the Ministry of Health (MOH) allows MediShield Life to cover. The catch lies in what is "claimable" from MediShield Life.

MediShield Life covers 90-97 per cent of the "claimable" bill after the annual deductible has been paid by the patient. Many would take the "claimable" amount to be the subsidised rate charged to patients.

Of course, if someone covered by the basic MediShield Life opts for private care, you'd expect the person to pay more out of pocket. But in a public hospital, you'd assume that what a fully subsidised patient is charged for a procedure is what he can claim.

The problem arises when the subsidised fee turns out to be much higher than what you are allowed to claim from MediShield Life. And you realise that you have no coverage beyond the claimable amount, and must pay the rest yourself.

This was what happened to Mr Seow Ban Yam, 83, last year.

His subsidised bill at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) to unblock the flow of his tears was $4,477.

But the Central Provident Fund, which runs MediShield Life, said only $3,005 of that bill was claimable. The rest was above the limits set by the MOH.

Since Mr Seow is over 80 years old, he has to pay the deductible of $3,000 himself. That left $5 of the bill, for which MediShield Life paid 90 per cent, or $4.50.

The problem was this: The subsidised fee for his surgery alone was $4,271. The "claimable" amount from MediShield Life for the surgery he went through was $2,800. This amount is stated in the MOH's table for surgical procedures but there is no explanation of how this amount was arrived at.

The difference of $1,471 is not claimable, so Mr Seow has to pay that himself. Mr Seow had enough Medisave funds, so he could dip into his personal Medisave account to do so.


The question here is: Why are public institutions charging subsidised fees far higher than what MOH will let you claim under the national insurance scheme?

MOH sets the maximum reimbursable amount for more than 2,500 subsidised procedures.

Shouldn't these limits - set out in the table of surgical procedures - match what public institutions charge fully subsidised patients?

Yet in Mr Seow's case, the subsidised SNEC bill was 45 per cent higher than the limits set by MOH for insurance cover and Medisave claims.

Based on the replies The Straits Times received from both MOH and SNEC, Mr Seow's case is not unique.

Thousands of patients probably find themselves in the same boat each year, facing bills from public institutions which are higher than what MOH allows MediShield Life to cover.

How does MOH arrive at the claimable limits set out on its table? How do they stack up against what patients are actually charged at public hospitals?

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Stop seeing people as problems. They're assets who build social capital

In Singapore, social services help those at the margin. But there's a different way to do things: Create an environment of mutual help where no one feels displaced, rather than one that helps the displaced fit in.
By Gerard Ee, Published The Straits Times, 3 Jan 2019

In the 1980s when I was a youth worker, young people who did not have the benefit of succeeding in school got on in life by taking up a trade. If they were willing, it would not have been difficult, by word of mouth, to find plumbers, carpenters, electricians or other craftsmen to take them on as apprentices. Most of the youth who came to my programmes started off as painters and along the way picked up other skills that served them well in blue-collar work. Regardless of their personal or family challenges, they were optimistic that they would find a way to make a living and to build a life.

These youth were more than aware of their low-income background, their lack of formal education and their challenges with the English language, our lingua franca, but they believed that with the support of family and friends they would make progress. This was a belief rooted in the strength of social capital.


Today, the structure of our economy and the demographics of our country are very different, and these realities exacerbate the disadvantages faced by our fellow citizens who lack formal education, those who are in the lower social economic strata, let alone those with ill health or disabilities.

Caring for our fellow citizens on the margins is a perennial challenge, but the challenge I would like to highlight is the way we have been dealing with it in recent years.

According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development website, there are currently more than 10,200 people employed in the social and community service sector and "it is a growing one with ample employment opportunities". The proliferation of services competes with natural support networks, replaces the notion of a caring community and its self-directed problem-solving, and does nothing to weave the social fabric that binds us as a cohesive society. Nor does it comfort those on the margins that they actually have a relationship or a bond with the mainstream, as service consumption is often experienced as being problematised, fenced out and contained in isolation.

The current social service ecosystem is designed on the basis of helping people to cope with their environment. There is a focus on psychology and it operates on the belief that problems require treatment or intervention provided by professionals or programmes.

There is little focus on the context, circumstances or structural issues that sustain these problems. There is also no acknowledgement that Singapore's need for immigration to compensate for low birth rates and a shrinking workforce, on the other hand, contributes to a plural society that further stresses those on the margins and reinforces their sense of displacement within their own country.


If social services are to serve as an important pillar for nation-building, then social inclusion and integration must be understood as efforts in creating an environment where no one feels displaced instead of simply trying to get the displaced to fit in.

We must regard social issues not simply as problems to be fixed, but also as opportunities to rally society towards a common good as well as a shared future that is mutually satisfying and meaningful. It is an opportunity to weave and strengthen the social fabric among people from different backgrounds and reduce the threats and ill effects that a plural society presents.

To achieve this, we must re-imagine the role of the social sector as one that increases the social capital within our country, rather than one that simply services those on the margins.