Sunday, 21 April 2019

Going up in flames: Are Singapore's oldest buildings fire safe?

Authorities say all buildings have to undergo regular checks, comply with safety code
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2019

The Arts House, built between 1826 and 1827 as a residence but used as a chamber and courthouse, is likely the oldest standing building in the country.

Singapore's old monoliths, many of which are national monuments, also include temples and churches where incense and tea light candles are burned almost daily.

A few buildings date back to the 1830s, including the Armenian Church, Thian Hock Keng temple and Masjid Jamae.

What measures are in place to prevent an inferno in these historic buildings in the wake of the Notre-Dame fire in Paris that destroyed the roof of the historic cathedral and caused its spire to collapse?

Just like a new building, Singapore's oldest structures have to meet the same stringent requirements issued and regulated by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, the BCA said Singapore buildings are required to undergo structural inspections at regular intervals.

Building owners must appoint a professional engineer to inspect residential blocks once every 10 years, and for other types of buildings, once every five years.

The engineers are to carry out a visual inspection of the condition, loading and any addition or alteration to the structure of the building.

Said the BCA spokesman: "This is to ensure that structural defects can be detected and rectified early, so that buildings continue to be structurally sound for occupation."

Under the Fire Code, which was introduced in 1974, all new buildings and existing ones undergoing addition and alteration works must comply with SCDF requirements.

Specific requirements are imposed on owners or occupiers of buildings designated for conservation and those who wish to preserve the use of timber flooring during addition and alteration works.

For example, the SCDF requires the installation of fire-rated floor boards to prevent the spread of fire between floors, and automatic fire alarms if the building exceeds three storeys.

The SCDF has said it will amend the Fire Safety Act later this year. It will require owners of selected older buildings to carry out certain fire safety upgrades.

The SCDF said it recognises that older buildings which have not implemented newer fire safety measures may face higher safety risks.

It will prioritise high-risk industrial buildings, public buildings and hospitals, working closely with building owners.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) said there have been no fire incidents at Singapore's 72 national monuments or NHB's six-storey Heritage Conservation Centre, which houses more than 150,000 artefacts from the National Collection.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Why the retirement age is irrelevant for Singapore

To retire or not to retire - employer flexibility is the answer.
By Sumit Agarwal, Published The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2019

I am turning 50 next year. This means I have only 12 more years to work, given that Singapore's minimum retirement age is 62. In my middle age, I start questioning why retirement is even necessary. I love what I do and going to work gives me a greater sense of purpose every day.

While the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers is contemplating raising the statutory retirement age, I believe the policy should be scrapped altogether because of Singapore's ageing population.

THE CASE AGAINST A MINIMUM RETIREMENT AGE

There are four main reasons why we should not have a retirement age.

Historically, a retirement age helps an economy manage and align its workforce with population growth. In a country where there are more young people than an elderly population, not having a retirement age means the young working-age population may not be able to get jobs and as a result, unemployment will rise.

Furthermore, higher unemployment can make or break an election and as a result, is a major point of contention in a democracy. Take India, for example, where 30 to 40 per cent of the population is under 25 years of age. There, a statutory retirement age would make sense. Without it, many of these young working-age adults would be unemployed. However, in ageing economies with low population growth such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore, one questions how a retirement age is still relevant since older workers are not a threat to unemployment.

Second, life expectancy today is longer. Traditionally, retirement is viewed as a rite of passage where employees stop working in order to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Back then, life expectancy was shorter. However, today, the average life expectancy is relatively higher due to advancements in technology, healthcare and lifestyle.

In Singapore, for example, the health-adjusted life expectancy is projected to be 76.7 by 2030. As people live longer, their retirement savings in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) need to sustain them until death. Therefore, they need to continue working.

Research also suggests that retirees are more likely to die sooner than expected due to idleness. The research by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States found a robust 2 per cent increase in male mortality after the age of 62, which is when Americans can claim their social security payments. The increase in male mortality is related to being retired from the labour force and associated changes in lifestyle.

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

While Singaporeans can work beyond the retirement age of 62, some employers are using the minimum retirement age as a mechanism to push out older workers. The common perception is that older workers cost more to retain and are less productive. Many employers would rather bring in younger staff who cost less and can be trained. As a result, older workers who do find re-employment are working in sub-optimal jobs.

In the US, where there is no retirement age, the economy has very low unemployment, high wages and high productivity. It is a process of natural selection among older workers, where some choose to continue working, some opt to retire, while others are laid off because they are not as productive.

To avoid a missed opportunity, employers should develop and adopt new strategies on how to use older and more experienced staff to increase productivity, enhance organisational culture and bring additional value to the organisation at the salary paid to them.

In addition, keeping the older and more experienced workers in the workforce would also not jeopardise opportunities for younger workers, given Singapore's low population growth. Eliminating retirement age would also likely result in Singapore importing fewer foreign talent.

U.S. Engagement in Asia: A Conversation with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at The Brookings Institution on 15 April 2019

United States must continue to take lead in setting global rules, says Heng Swee Keat
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2019

The United States should continue to take the lead in setting global rules and maintaining the rules-based multilateral international order, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Washington on Monday.

South-east Asia also wants to see the US and China manage their relationship and not let their competition get out of hand, he said in a speech to the American foreign policy community at the Brookings Institution think-tank.

"The US-China relationship is a key determinant of global peace and prosperity, and the most important bilateral relationship in the world," said Mr Heng, who arrived in Washington last week for the International Monetary Fund and G-20 meetings of global finance chiefs which addressed the heightened trade tensions between the US and China.

Any dispute between the US and China should be resolved in accordance with international norms and through existing multilateral frameworks instead, he said.

"No country wants to choose sides," he added.



To keep their competition healthy and constructive, both sides need a better understanding of each other - no small task as they have "very different DNA" and very different, complex systems, he said later during a question-and-answer session.

Illustrating his point, he said that even Singapore spends a lot of time trying to understand the complexities of China despite the fact that many of Singapore's leaders speak the same Mandarin language as the Chinese government.

Mr Heng, a former principal private secretary of the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, recalled how the Suzhou Industrial Park faced competition from a local rival, which Chinese local officials had promoted despite Suzhou's backing from Singapore and the Chinese central government.

The explanation Singapore's officials received was that China had many layers of government, said Mr Heng, adding: "The official term used in those days was that the mountains are high and the emperor is far away, so don't assume that edicts by the emperor will be implemented on the ground."

The US and China can also come together to resolve global problems such as climate change, which threatens them both, he said.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Smart water meters to be rolled out to 300,000 properties here to help save water

Firms, homes to get smart meters to track water usage
Users can keep tabs on how much water is being used via an app; eventual goal is to install them islandwide
By Cheryl Teh, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2019

The water meters you see outside your home may be on their way out. Their better and brighter cousins, smart water meters, will soon be coming to town to update you on just how much water you are consuming.

For a start, 300,000 smart meters will be installed on residential and commercial premises here.

Singapore's national water agency PUB announced yesterday that the installation process will be completed by 2023, with the eventual goal of having such devices installed islandwide.

There are currently some 1.6 million water meters on premises across the island. These are read manually once every two months.

Customers are billed every month, with their water consumption estimated every alternate month.

PUB also expects that smart meters will help people and companies keep tabs on their water usage via a smartphone app.

This is because the smart water meter will allow for water consumption to be read automatically several times a day, and transmitted accurately and remotely back to PUB on a daily basis.

Through a mobile application or online portal, customers will have ready access to their daily water usage data. They will also receive high-usage notifications and leak alerts promptly.

Pilot trials in Punggol and Yuhua earlier had shown promising results. A total of 800 households reported an average of 5 per cent in water savings, said PUB.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Jewel Changi Airport to open on 17 April 2019

$1.7 billion Jewel opens doors to give Changi Airport added sparkle
Complex an investment in airport's future; 500,000 to get a preview over six days from April 11 to 16
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2019

Jewel Changi Airport, the $1.7 billion investment to help secure Singapore's premier air-hub position, welcomed its first public visitors yesterday.

After the project was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech in 2013, it took four years to transform an open-air carpark into a 10-storey complex with shops, leisure attractions and facilities for travellers and visitors.

Over six days, from 1pm yesterday to 10pm on April 16, about 500,000 people who had signed up for free preview tickets are expected to visit.

When the 135,700 sq m Jewel, with more than 280 shops and restaurants, opens its doors to all from April 17, travellers will be able to access an early check-in lounge serving passengers of 26 airlines, including Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot. This covers 60 per cent of all departing flights.



Located next to Terminal 1, Jewel is connected to Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 via air-conditioned travelators, and there will also be facilities for all travellers to store their luggage round the clock.

Mr Shukor Yusof, aviation analyst at Endau Analytics, said: "Jewel is an extension of Changi's constant move to stay relevant and profitable. It is a new landmark for the best airport in the world."

About a third of Changi's 65.6 million passengers last year were on transit flights, and Jewel will offer them new opportunities to dine, shop and entertain themselves, apart from attracting local visitors.

With the demand for air travel in Asia expected to grow strongly in the coming decades and competition increasing among airports, Jewel is a key part of Changi's strategy to improve the airport experience and grow traffic, said Changi Airport Group's (CAG) managing director for airport operations management, Mr Jayson Goh. He told The Straits Times: "If you are flying through Asia and looking to make a stopover, you can choose from several airports. We want to make sure Changi Airport continues to provide the capacity, attractions and amenities to cater for this growth."

Hong Kong International Airport, for example, is developing a 25ha Skycity mega integrated development, set to be completed in the coming decade.



Jewel's highlights include a 40m-tall indoor waterfall and a five-storey garden with more than 2,000 trees and palms, and over 100,000 shrubs. Shops and outlets include famous New York burger chain Shake Shack and American fast-food chain A&W.

Jewel - a joint venture between CAG and CapitaLand - will also offer play attractions from June 10, including a 50m-long suspended bridge with a glass flooring that will allow visitors to look down at the greenery below, a 250m-long bouncing net, mazes and slides.

It will also host the first Pokemon Centre outside of Japan.

Those flying through Singapore will have to exit the transit area to visit Jewel and clear immigration again before their next flight.


Jewel will also house the first Yotelair in Asia, with 130 cabins that can be booked for short daytime layovers or overnight stays.

Mr Lee Chee Koon, president and group chief executive officer of CapitaLand, said: "The combined catchment of residents and Changi Airport's growing passenger traffic makes Jewel a compelling proposition to draw international brands to Singapore and empower home-grown retailers to connect with a global audience."

Jewel was designed by a consortium led by Safdie Architects, helmed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who also came up with Marina Bay Sands.




Beware 'class warfare' approach to taxes

Imposing more taxes on the rich ends up hurting the middle class
By Dan Mitchell and Donovan Choy, Published The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2019

Singapore is one of the world's most impressive economic success stories. Decades of strong growth produced economic convergence with rich nations in North America and Western Europe. Given how few nations have made that jump, this is a remarkable achievement.

What's even more noteworthy is that Singapore's economy then continued to expand at a healthy pace. Based on measures such as per-capita economic output, residents of Singapore are now significantly better off than their counterparts in almost every nation in the so-called rich man's club of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

For all intents and purposes, Singapore has shown that conventional theories about economic growth need to be updated to reflect that growth doesn't necessarily need to weaken once a nation becomes prosperous. Singaporeans should be thankful for the sensible governance that has made the nation a role model.

Unfortunately, some people are willing to threaten the country's prosperity by urging higher tax burdens on the wealthy. They risk national competitiveness by advocating additional layers of tax on income that is saved and invested.

This "class warfare" approach is deeply misguided, especially in a globalised economy. Singapore's policymakers should remember these six observations as they contemplate fiscal policy issues.

1. GOOD ECONOMIC POLICY PRODUCES GOOD RESULTS

Singapore's prosperity is not an accident. The country routinely ranks near the top of all indices of economic freedom and competitiveness. Small government, open markets and rule of law are a great recipe for national prosperity and Singapore is a powerful example of how a nation can become very prosperous with the right approach.

2. SINGAPORE AVOIDED THE TRAP OF "WAGNER'S LAW"

What makes Singapore special is that it avoided the mistakes other nations made when they became rich. Countries in North America and Western Europe created costly welfare states once they became relatively prosperous. This is known to academics as Wagner's Law, and it has serious consequences since larger public sectors reduce competitiveness and lead to less growth.

While poverty is a serious issue to be addressed carefully, it is noteworthy that most academics agree that there is no incidence of absolute poverty in Singapore.

Even the poorest in Singapore are comparatively far better off than the poor in other developed countries because it has largely avoided this mistake.

3. BY IMPOSING BAD POLICY, RICH NATIONS CAN BECOME POOR NATIONS

In some cases, rich nations completely reverse the policies that are associated with prosperity.

After World War II, Argentina was one of the world's 10 richest countries. But it then fell victim to populism under Juan Peron.

Politicians not only expanded the fiscal burden of government, but they also imposed protectionism, subsidies and other forms of intervention. The Argentine economy has continuously lost ground ever since.

4. GOOD POLICY IS PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT FOR DEALING WITH DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES

An ageing population is the greatest challenge in almost every prosperous nation. It is good that people are living longer, of course, but when you combine increased longevity with falling birth rates, this puts a lot of pressure on welfare states.

Indeed, this is one of the reasons for Greece's recent collapse (and Italy's looming collapse). Singapore, by contrast, is in a relatively strong position to deal with demographic changes, thanks to a self-funded welfare system that has traditionally promoted self-reliance and self-responsibility, as well as a tax code that does not penalise saving and investment.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

9th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat on 9 April 2019

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mahathir affirm commitment to cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship
Singapore and KL to begin maritime boundary talks within a month
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor (Politics) In Putrajaya, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2019

Singapore and Malaysia will begin negotiations to delimit their maritime boundaries in a month, as both countries have taken steps to de-escalate tensions at sea.

This measure was one of several that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad welcomed at their Leaders' Retreat yesterday, the first under the Pakatan Harapan government.

Speaking at a joint news conference, PM Lee said he and Tun Dr Mahathir affirmed their commitment to a cooperative and forward-looking bilateral relationship.

"The relationship between our two countries is rooted in our long history, and strong family and business ties," he said. "This remains unchanged even with the new Malaysian government."

The leaders also discussed current bilateral issues, including airspace and maritime boundaries.

Dr Mahathir said: "We agreed that the fundamental principle is to resolve issues of concern in a friendly and constructive manner."

Both PMs welcomed the progress made in implementing recommendations to resolve the maritime dispute. Dr Mahathir said: "As the saying goes, good fences make good neighbours. We will now proceed to maritime boundary delimitation in the area."

Ultimately, Malaysia believes it is important to delimit all outstanding maritime boundaries between Malaysia and Singapore, he added.



Malaysia and Singapore had mutually suspended the extension of their overlapping port limits on Monday, reverting to what was in place before Oct 25 and Dec 6 last year, respectively.

Earlier yesterday, a Singapore Foreign Ministry spokesman said there were no Malaysian government vessels anchored in the area previously covered by overlapping port limits as of midnight. "We will continue to exercise sovereignty and take appropriate enforcement actions in the area," he said.

Dr Mahathir also said at the news conference that Malaysia wants to take back control, in stages, of its airspace over southern Johor that has been delegated to Singapore.

PM Lee said Singapore is willing to discuss this matter with Malaysia, and stressed the key considerations include the safety and efficiency of air traffic operations.

On water, Dr Mahathir said resolving the issue of the price of water sold to Singapore under the 1962 Water Agreement is a priority.

Singapore, on its part, is concerned about pollution of the Johor River as well as its long-term yield, PM Lee said.



Beyond these bilateral issues, the broader Singapore-Malaysia relationship continues to grow, PM Lee said. For instance, the Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia is working to further cooperation on multiple fronts.

PM Lee also invited Dr Mahathir and his wife Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali to this year's Bicentennial National Day Parade at the Padang on Aug 9. Dr Mahathir said he was glad to accept the invitation.

Then Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak and his wife had attended the National Day celebrations in 1969, on the 150th anniversary of modern Singapore's founding.

Asked if the recent maritime and airspace disputes will have lasting damage to bilateral ties, PM Lee said: "If it is managed well, then it can be productive for both countries and the overall relationship can prosper. If it is not managed well, it can cause a lot of trouble and poison the overall relationship."

PM Lee said he wrote a letter to Dr Mahathir in December as he was worried that things were not going in the right direction. He asked Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to deliver it in person and explain his concerns to Dr Mahathir.

PM Lee said he is very happy that Dr Mahathir took in what they said and took action, which enabled ministers from both sides to meet and turn things around gradually.



In a Facebook post last night, PM Lee said issues will crop up from time to time between close neighbours bound by history and kinship.

"When this happens, we need to keep channels of communication open, build trust, and tackle the issues pragmatically and with an eye to both sides' concerns. Then we can move beyond solving problems to cooperating for mutual benefit," he said.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

15 percent of Singaporeans find Muslims threatening

Probe ripples under surface calm of 'racial harmony'
Issues like Islamophobia in Singapore require us to confront uncomfortable truths about ourselves and have honest dialogues
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2019

Racial and religious harmony is an ideal deeply ingrained in our national consciousness. When an issue disrupts our self-image of a socially harmonious society, you can expect Singaporeans to react strongly.

So when a recent survey showed that 15 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) find Muslims threatening, it drew an overwhelmingly negative response online.

Many commenters labelled that finding “fake news” and said it stirred up issues where there were none. Some even asked for a Straits Times article on it to be taken down.

The finding was from a recent Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study on religion based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,800 residents late last year. One question was: “Do you consider those belonging to the following groups as threatening or non-threatening?”

Buddhists were seen as the least threatening; 2.8 per cent of respondents found them very or somewhat threatening, followed by Hindus (4.2 per cent ), atheists (5.1 per cent), Jews (5.3 per cent), Christians (6.5 per cent), and Muslims (15.6 per cent).

An ST article on the finding shared on Facebook attracted hundreds of “angry” reactions and now has over 1,600 irate comments.

A typical comment was: “Who even allowed this to be published? Irresponsible journalism. In this climate, such an article is totally uncalled for. Please take it down!”

Several said publishing the finding was “dangerous”, “divisive” and “insensitive”.

Such reactions, to my mind, point to a certain desire to be protective of racial and religious harmony, and a perception that the finding is inimical to it. To be sure, the intensity of the sentiment is not a bad thing in itself. We are, understandably, fiercely protective of an ideal that has guided diverse Singaporeans to co-exist peacefully for years.

But beneath the desire to protect “harmony”, I wonder if the angry response to the finding is also the result of Singapore having been “too” successful in maintaining social peace, so much so that any negative fact or feeling around race and religion proves highly discomfiting.

When the surface of a lake is too calm, any ripple can cause unease. Indeed, two-thirds (66 per cent) of those surveyed in a different 2016 Channel NewsAsia-IPS study felt that talking about racial issues causes “unnecessary tension”.

ISLAMOPHOBIA IN SINGAPORE

The value of the IPS survey is that it confronts Singaporeans with an unpalatable truth: That Islamophobia is a fact of life in Singapore.

Seeing Muslims as threats is a classic example of Islamophobia, or prejudice based on an irrational fear of Islam and Muslims.

It was not just that 15 per cent here found Muslims threatening. This figure was more than double the number of people who found Christians threatening, and about thrice the respective numbers for Hindus, atheists and Jews.