Saturday, 22 September 2018

Select Committee on fake news: 22 recommendations unveiled to combat online falsehoods in Singapore

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehood Report - 20 Sep 2018

Select Committee releases 22 proposals to combat fake news
It calls for new laws to give Govt power to quickly disrupt spread of falsehoods
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2018

A parliamentary Select Committee has called for new laws that will grant the Government power to swiftly disrupt the spread of online falsehoods, as part of a broad suite of measures to counter the "live and serious threat" posed by fake news.

The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods made 22 recommendations in all, from enacting legislation to urging technology companies to take proactive steps to tackle fake content and creating a national framework to guide public education on falsehoods.

It submitted a 176-page report to Parliament on Wednesday, almost six months after it held public hearings over eight days in March to listen to oral representations from 65 individuals and organisations.

Responding to the committee's report yesterday evening, the Government said it accepts in principle the recommendation for a multi-pronged response to tackle deliberate online falsehoods.

The 10-member committee, chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong, was appointed in January to examine the phenomenon of deliberate online falsehoods and study what measures Singapore should take to prevent and combat the problem.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, committee member and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary said the phenomenon of deliberate online falsehoods "threatens our national security".

He pointed to how "malicious actors" have been testing the limits of what they can do online.

"They essentially have been looking for different ways to weaponise falsehoods on the Internet. This phenomenon has grown in strength and has resulted in consequences in various parts of the world."

Different governments are taking steps to protect their people and their countries against online falsehoods, he said. "They see and appreciate the need for swift action, and Singapore, too, is doing our best to act early."

There is no one silver bullet to tackle this complex problem, the committee said, as it proposed multiple short-and long-term measures, grouped in five broad areas.

Its recommendations are aimed at disrupting online falsehoods, nurturing an informed public, reinforcing social cohesion and trust, promoting fact-checking and dealing with threats to national security and sovereignty.

Yesterday, the Government said it will study the committee's report closely and work with stakeholders to roll out the non-legislative and legislative measures it recommended over the next few months.

On disrupting online falsehoods, the committee said the Government should have the power to limit or block the spread of fake news, and discredit the sources of such falsehoods. Legislation will be needed to disrupt the spread and influence of fake news, it stressed.

In recommending new laws - a move observers had expected - the committee did not delve into specifics. Rather, it set out the principles any new laws should follow.

For instance, the measures need to be effective in a matter of hours, to achieve the aim of stopping the falsehoods from going viral. These measures could include take-down powers and blocking access.

The committee also suggested that there be laws to cut off digital advertising revenue to those who spread fake news and impose criminal sanctions in serious cases, such as when falsehoods cause public disorder or interfere in elections.

In a nod to concerns about legislative over-reach and stifling free speech, the committee said the new laws should be calibrated, taking into account the context and circumstances of each case.

"It is also important that they be accompanied by checks and balances," the committee said, adding that adequate safeguards need to be put in place to ensure due process and the proper exercise of power.

To bring about a more informed public, the committee recommended creating a framework to guide efforts to improve media literacy among Singaporeans.

It suggested that media organisations and industry partners consider setting up a fact-checking coalition to swiftly debunk fake news, and gave several ideas on ways to ensure accurate journalism.

Technology companies need to be more transparent and accountable, the committee said. It listed steps they could take, including closing accounts that are designed to amplify online falsehoods and banning the placement of advertisements on sites that spread fake news.

It added that the Government should consider both legislation and other forms of regulation to get technology companies to comply.

"Legislation would be needed particularly for measures to be taken in response to an online falsehood, since Facebook, Google and Twitter have a policy of generally not acting against content on the basis that it is false," it said.

The committee devoted the first half of its report to outlining the serious harm of deliberate online falsehoods, which can and have wreaked havoc. Such falsehoods are a "unique phenomenon of an unprecedented scale", and can damage the social fabric of a nation and violate national sovereignty.

Deliberate online falsehoods are a real and serious problem for the world, and Singapore, it concluded.

Mr Chong said all members agreed unanimously on the report.

On why the committee has called for what he described as "strong measures", Dr Janil pointed to the nature of online falsehoods.

"They are more easily believed, they travel further, they travel faster and they are much harder to dislodge. We need measures that have the same degree of strength to counter the asymmetry that exists between the falsehoods and the truth that is out there."

Friday, 21 September 2018

Singapore-China ties: Breaking new ground

New areas of cooperation such as the Belt and Road Initiative and infrastructure financing are being forged in a relationship based on strong foundations
By Teo Chee Hean, Published The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

2018 marks an important milestone in Singapore-China relations. It is the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore in November 1978, just a month before China adopted the policy of reform and opening up.

Coming two years after then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's first visit to China in 1976, this exchange of visits between Mr Lee and Mr Deng planted the seeds of friendship between our countries and laid the foundation for the deep personal ties between successive generations of leaders and our peoples.

Many high-level exchanges were made over the years. Last September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited China, just before the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress and met President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese leaders. In April this year, he visited China again for the Bo'ao Forum for Asia Annual Conference and had good meetings with President Xi and key leaders. We look forward to welcoming Premier Li Keqiang in November this year.

In June this year, I visited six Chinese provinces and municipalities and had good discussions with many senior Chinese leaders, including Vice-Premier Han Zheng, whom I look forward to receiving in Singapore this week to co-chair the 14th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).

We will also co-chair the Joint Steering Councils (JSCs) for our three government-to-government projects - the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park from 1994, as we exchanged experiences in building industrial townships; the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City from 2008, as both countries promoted eco-friendly, low-carbon development; and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI) from 2015, to enhance connectivity for the flow of goods, services and data between Western China, Singapore and beyond.

The JCBC was established in 2004, and is the premier platform to exchange ideas, discuss bilateral projects and set the direction for bilateral cooperation. The JCBC has expanded bilateral cooperation in line with the needs of our countries, in trade and investment, financial services, inclusive and sustainable development, human resource development and people-to-people exchanges. We also review the progress made by our seven joint business councils co-chaired with provincial leaders from Shandong, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Tianjin, Jiangsu and Guangdong.


The JCBC has catalysed several milestones in our bilateral cooperation. The China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) was China's first comprehensive bilateral FTA with another Asian country. It was launched at the 2006 JCBC and completed at the 2008 JCBC, co-chaired by then-Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and then Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, respectively.

The CSFTA reaffirmed our joint commitment to trade liberalisation in the challenging economic environment following the global financial crisis.

Both sides are now working towards concluding a substantive CSFTA upgrade this year which is forward-looking and comprehensive. This will send a strong signal to the global community on our commitment to free trade and an open, rules-based multilateral trading system.

Since taking on the co-chairmanship of the JCBC in 2011, I have worked closely with both co-chairmen, then vice-premiers Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli. Our two countries have enhanced financial cooperation to support China's renminbi (RMB) internationalisation. In 2013, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was appointed as an offshore RMB clearing bank in Singapore, the first outside Greater China. Singapore is now one of the top three offshore RMB clearing centres globally for cross-border RMB receipts and payments with China.

Project Silver Screen: New programme offers senior citizens aged 60 and above basic functional screening for hearing, eyesight and oral health at subsidised rates

More seniors to benefit from functional screening
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

More seniors are set to benefit from health screenings, with the launch of a new partnership between the Ministry of Health (MOH), Temasek Foundation Cares and the business community.

Project Silver Screen was launched at Kampung Admiralty yesterday, and around 200 people from the neighbourhood took the chance to have their vision, hearing and oral health checked.

The programme, which is underpinned by a contribution of $35 million from Temasek and 11 corporate donors, will scale up the number of these checks across Singapore.

It will also help subsidise the cost of the screening and the functional aids some seniors might need.

The programme is free for Pioneer Generation citizens.

For Singaporeans who are 60 and above, it costs $2 for Community Health Assist Scheme card holders and $5 for others.

Project Silver Screen vouchers of between $15 and $200 will also be given to those who need aids such as spectacles, hearing aids and dentures.

This is over and above existing government subsidies and regardless of household income.

Seniors getting the health checks - also known as a functional screening - might then be referred to the relevant community or medical centres for further tests, such as for cataracts or glaucoma, if need be.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the launch that the programme will help seniors stay healthy longer.

"Beyond chronic conditions, we are also concerned about how to help them maintain the functional abilities so that they can remain active, remain engaged and have healthy living and be as independent as possible," he said.

"Through the functional screenings, we hope to be able to detect their conditions early and to prevent early deterioration.

"This way, we will be able to help our seniors stay healthy and stay well longer."

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Singapore's good guide to learning

What is it about Singapore's school system that it aces world rankings and yet is always striving to do better? The Economist homes in on its key features and the lessons it can offer to others.
The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

When Singapore became an independent country in 1965, it had few friends and even fewer natural resources. How did it become one of the world's great trading and financial centres? The strategy, explained Mr Lee Kuan Yew, its first prime minister, was "to develop Singapore's only available natural resource: its people".

Today, Singapore's education system is considered the best in the world. It consistently ranks at the top of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a triennial test of 15-year-olds in the main three categories of mathematics, reading and science.

Singaporeans are roughly three years ahead of their American peers in maths. Singapore does similarly well in exams of younger children, and the graduates of its best schools can be found scattered around the world's finest universities.

The island-state has much to teach the world. But other countries are reluctant pupils. One reason is that Singapore favours traditional pedagogy, with teachers leading the class. That contrasts with many reformers' preference for looser, more "progressive" teaching intended to encourage children to learn for themselves.

Although international studies suggest that direct instruction is indeed a good way of conveying knowledge, critics contend that Singapore has a "drill and kill" model that produces uncreative, miserable maths whizzes. Parents worry about the stress the system puts on their children (and on them, even as they ferry kids to extra classes).

Yet Singapore shows that academic brilliance need not come at the expense of personal skills. In 2015, Singaporean students also came first in a new PISA ranking designed to look at collaborative problem-solving, scoring even better than they did in reading and science. They also reported themselves to be happy - more so than children in Finland, for instance, a country that educationalists regard as an example of how to achieve exceptional results with cuddlier methods of teaching.

Not content with its achievements, Singapore is introducing reforms to improve creativity and reduce stress. This is not a sign of failure, but rather of a gradual, evidence-led approach to education reform - the first of three lessons Singapore offers the rest of the world.

Where other countries often enact piecemeal and uncoordinated reforms, Singapore tries to look at the system as a whole. It invests heavily in education research. All reforms are tested, with the outcomes diligently monitored, before being rolled out. Close attention is paid to how new ideas and results should be applied in schools.

Carefully developed textbooks, worksheets and worked examples - practices often seen as outdated in the West - are used to inject expertise into the classroom. The result is good alignment between assessments, accountability and teaching styles.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Stuck with a smoking neighbour: When neighbours' amity goes up in smoke

MPs say more can be done to help residents enduring smoke from neighbouring flats
By Hariz Baharudin, The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

IT supervisor Azfar keeps a can of scented insecticide in his flat, but it is not for cockroaches or mosquitoes. It is for another kind of pest.

Whenever pesky cigarette smoke from a neighbouring unit wafts into his living room, he will go to the window and start spraying in the culprit's direction.

"That is how I send a message that their smoking is inconsiderate," said the 37-year-old who, perhaps unsurprisingly, declined to give his full name for this report. "If they can blow smoke into my house, then they would not mind some nice-smelling insecticide."

The windows in the living room of his five-room HDB flat in the northern part of Singapore are usually kept closed, even though he, his wife and their four-year-old son spend most of their time there when they are at home.

"Upstairs, left, right, all around me, there are smokers," said Mr Azfar, who lives on the fourth floor. "My wife is asthmatic and the smoke makes her and my son sick."

He stops short of confronting his neighbours because he does not want to risk offending them. "What if they pick a fight and make life difficult for my family?"

He is one of many who want the authorities to do something.

Last Monday in Parliament, several MPs urged the Government to take action against smokers whose second-hand smoke affects their neighbours.

They were speaking during the debate on amendments to the Smoking (Prohibition in Certain Places) Act, which empowers National Environment Agency (NEA) officers to enter places where smoking is prohibited without warrants to investigate violations. On banning smoking at home, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said: "Such an intrusive regulatory approach to tackling neighbourly issues could ultimately be even more detrimental to community harmony."

Following the debate, several people wrote to The Straits Times' Forum page to lament about their neighbours' cigarette smoke.

Video producer Alice Chong, 26, lives on the fourth floor of a condominium in Bukit Timah where smoking is banned in common areas, but not in residential units.

The smoke from her neighbour's unit on the floor below sometimes wafts into her home, forcing her to close her unit's windows. She said: "I don't want to confront them so I just close my windows, but I do wish they would not blow the smoke out of their windows."

Under current laws, smoking is banned in most indoor locations, including entertainment outlets. Smokers also cannot take a puff in the common area of any residential premises or building, including common corridors and void decks.

They can only light up at designated smoking areas and approved smoking rooms or corners, and certain open areas such as beaches, uncovered walkways and on the top deck of multi-storey carpark buildings. They can also smoke at home.

MPs say they get many complaints from residents about second-hand smoke wafting into their homes. Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng, who had spoken in Parliament on this, said such complaints are a "weekly occurrence".

While he is not calling for a total ban on smoking at home, he does hope that more can be done.

"It is ironic that people who smoke do so at the window or balcony because they do not want the smoke to get into their own homes, but in doing so, it goes into the homes of others," he said.

Walk2Ride: LTA completes 200km worth of sheltered walkways under $300 million initiative; Public consultation for Land Transport Master Plan 2040 launched on 19 Sep 2018

New covered walkways to hit 200km mark
Last 150m stretch of added pathways under Walk2Ride scheme to be completed on Wednesday, Sept 19
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

An ambitious programme to provide more covered walkways here will achieve a major milestone on Wednesday with the completion of 200km worth of new paths.

These pathways, which cost $300 million to build, are more than four times the 46km worth of walkways built before the launch of the Walk2Ride programme in 2013.

The last 150m stretch of the 200km of added walkways will be completed outside Tekka Centre in Little India on Wednesday. A ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be held to mark the occasion.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We know that safe, comfortable walkways are necessary to get Singaporeans to #WalkCycleRide and make Singapore car-lite. And in our tropical weather, they have to be sheltered too."

Launched in 2013, Walk2Ride sought to link commuters from MRT stations to residences and amenities such as schools and healthcare facilities within a 400m radius, as well as to bus interchanges, LRT stations and some bus stops within a 200m radius.

Before this, sheltered walkways were provided from transport nodes to schools and healthcare facilities only within a 200m radius. They were also provided within residential estates by town councils.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it will continue to add to the network of sheltered walkways.

To minimise inconvenience to residents, as well as ensure the durability of the walkways, the LTA had prefabricated all materials off-site to speed up the installation process.

The walkways were also standardised to allow modifications later. They were made with galvanised steel and aluminium, which the LTA said are more durable and cheaper to maintain.

In addition, the walkways are supported on one post - as opposed to two - to maximise the space for commuters.

For Fajar Secondary School vice-principal Guinieve Yeo, the sheltered walkways put up at the start of the year near the school in Bukit Panjang have had a noticeable impact on her students: fewer are late now. "Even when it's rainy, they can come to school on time," she said. "They don't have to wait out a storm at an HDB void deck or MRT station."

In addition to connected walkways in the neighbourhood, the LTA "filled in" a 6m-gap between an existing walkway and the school's.

Another beneficiary is full-time national serviceman Ferdinand Ezekial Francis, 21, who can now make his way to South View LRT station from his Bukit Panjang Housing Board flat come rain or shine.

"I don't carry an umbrella, so the walkway has been good."

Asked about the Walk2Ride programme, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who had in March last year raised in Parliament the case of a walkway ending 10m short of Khatib MRT station, said: "All gao dim (taken care of) already."

But she hoped the authorities can move on to a second phase of the programme.

"If we want to encourage residents to walk more, the Government can consider a Walk2Ride extension beyond the 400m radius to even 1km, for some areas."

Singapore one of first countries I will visit as Prime Minister: Anwar Ibrahim at Singapore Summit 2018

Singapore-Malaysia ties have been historically strong but need constant care, he says
By Lim Ai Leen, Assistant Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 16 Sep 2018

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said yesterday that Singapore will be one of the first countries he visits when he becomes prime minister, stressing that the two countries need to forge strong bonds.

The de facto leader of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition was asked to comment on bilateral relations between the neighbouring nations at a conference here.

"Singapore-Malaysia relations... Ada problem ke? (Is there a problem?)," he remarked, drawing laughter from hundreds of business and thought leaders at the Singapore Summit 2018.

Datuk Seri Anwar, who was released from prison in May after receiving a royal pardon, is set to succeed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in two years, as agreed by the PH leadership before May's general election.

Last week, Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat announced he would contest a by-election in Port Dickson, paving the way for him to return to Parliament. "If and when I assume the premiership, then I will make sure that one of the first countries I visit will be Singapore," he declared at the dialogue yesterday.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a photo on Facebook of his meeting with Mr Anwar yesterday. "Glad he is spending some time with our academic institutions, meeting Singaporeans, building bridges, and strengthening ties between our countries," said PM Lee. He also wished Mr Anwar well for the upcoming by-election.

In the four months since PH's historic win at the ballot box, Malaysia has deferred the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail project and raised the prickly issue of how much it charges to supply water to Singapore, indicating the price should be raised tenfold.

Mr Anwar noted yesterday that it was not sensible to create problems between the two countries.

He said that while Tun Dr Mahathir was firm on some of these contracts, "it was confined to that particular problem and we try to resolve it on a bilateral basis, proceed with negotiations..."

In his first public appearance in Singapore since his release from jail, the seasoned statesman played to the crowd with his trademark mix of fiery rhetoric, literary quotes and jokey asides. He even apologised for stumbling over some words in his speech, explaining: "In prison, I only spoke Malay."

He recalled that on one of his visits to Singapore - before he was sacked as deputy prime minister by Dr Mahathir in 1998 - he told Singapore's Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who was then prime minister, that Singaporean leaders were too serious.

"You know, Singapore and Singapore leaders are too serious and business-like. We (Malaysians) tend to, you know, cultural sikit (a little)... relax sikit, give and take sikit. Singapore - (it's) dollars and cents," he said.

A month later, he said Mr Goh invited him to a performance by renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

"He took my words seriously," Mr Anwar exclaimed as Mr Goh, who was in the audience, laughed.

Mr Anwar also stressed that relations between Singapore and Malaysia have been historically strong but need constant care.

He singled out, as an example, PM Lee's visit to Putrajaya soon after PH won the election. "It was very cordial and it was a very (good) gesture for the PM to be the first to come and visit. I think these signals are important because this goes beyond just diplomatic encounters or business deals."

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Singapore must take a long-term perspective to survive in a changing world: Ong Ye Kung at Singapore Summit 2018

Long-term decisions key to Singapore's survival: Education Minister Ong Ye Kung
He lists 4 areas in which Govt is making them, including bringing about new era in education
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 15 Sep 2018

Even as politics elsewhere becomes more short-term and populist, Singapore will have to remain committed to taking long-term decisions if it is to survive as a small state, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

He set out four areas in which it is doing so: Continuing to develop the country's infrastructure, finding new economic engines such as venturing out of Singapore, supporting the ageing population, and bringing about a "new era" in education that emphasises applied learning and cultivating creativity.

Speaking at the opening of the Singapore Summit, he said the business forum is taking place in "tumultuous times". "The tone is quite clear: The world is going to be fundamentally different - we need to understand and, more importantly, need to be able to respond to these trends," he said in his address to about 400 global business and thought leaders attending the two-day meeting.

In the coming decades, competition is less likely to be between countries, but more likely between cities, and Singapore needs to step up to remain at the forefront.

Singapore is doubling its airport and seaport capacities, and developing three business districts outside the Central Business District to better spread activities across the island - Woodlands in the north, Punggol in the north-east and Jurong in the west.

The Government has committed to upgrade homes every 30 years at highly subsidised rates, he said. When flats are around 70 years old, the Government will offer residents an option to buy their units and redevelop the entire estate.

"Housing is a core compact between the people and the Government," he said. "We will not allow an entire residential town to become old and rundown."

To grow the economy, Singapore needs to go beyond foreign direct investment, which has been a major part of Singapore's growth model.

"For our next phase of economic development, we must embrace innovation, develop new products and services, and nurture Singapore-based companies to venture out to the region, bring those products and services to the world and the region, and tap into the vast markets around us," said Mr Ong.

"So, from making things to creating things... this is a major shift in economic strategy," he said.

Mr Ong also said Singapore - which has free trade pacts with ASEAN, the United States, China and others - is investing in research and development as a priority. Other aspects of its value proposition include offering a conducive living environment and a well-regulated yet enterprise-friendly environment.

To tackle the challenge of an ageing population, the Government is introducing policies such as raising the retirement age and new legislation on re-employment to help people work longer if they wish.

Still, Singapore must ensure fiscal sustainability. To fund the expected rise in healthcare costs, the goods and services tax will be hiked from 7 per cent to 9 per cent after 2020.

Finally, Singapore is making changes to its education system.

With technological advancements and industry disruptions, learning is now a lifelong process, he said. Increasingly, it is "human skills", including soft skills, that carry a premium, he added.

In a panel discussion after his speech, Mr Ong discussed the role of fourth-generation leaders, of which he is one, in helping today's youth.

With the younger generation being more entrepreneurial, he hopes Singapore can be a "living laboratory" as well to test ideas that can also be implemented in other cities.