Monday, 18 February 2019

Oasis Terraces: HDB's first new-generation neighbourhood centre opens in Punggol

HDB launches first of its new neighbourhood centres
Centre in Punggol developed by HDB after taking in residents' feedback
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2019

The first of a new generation of neighbourhood malls, developed by the Housing Board with the feedback of residents, has opened in Punggol.

Oasis Terraces, a seven-storey mall next to Oasis LRT station, has more open spaces for people to gather and a tenant mix meant to address the needs of those living in the neighbourhood.

Based on feedback gathered in 2014 during early planning stages, the waterfront development includes family-friendly eateries, playgrounds, a 24-hour fitness centre and a supermarket that stays open until 11pm.

More of such projects are in the pipeline. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who opened Oasis Terraces yesterday, said there will be five more coming up in the next three years.

Citing his experience growing up in Marine Terrace, he said HDB centres foster a special sense of emotional connection as people frequent the same shops and children play with neighbours in the community spaces.

"It's what planners call a third place, a place outside of home and work where people get together, socialise, and you can build that sense of community. That's why HDB neighbourhood centres are special, and that's why we are committed to building them," he said at the new mall's community plaza.

Oasis Terraces marks the comeback of HDB in building and developing these retail spaces in the heartland, called neighbourhood centres. In 2000, it allowed private developers to take the lead to tap their expertise in developing suburban commercial malls.

But in 2015, HDB decided to take over again, as the private developers were not keen to build in new towns until a critical mass of residents moved in. This meant those who moved in earlier did not have sufficient amenities.

Mr Wong said that as master planner, HDB can ensure new centres are well integrated with transportation nodes and the overall plans for the towns. And unlike a private developer, HDB is not out to maximise commercial returns, so the centres are designed with more community spaces for residents to mingle in.

Oasis Terraces, for instance, has community gardens and a fitness corner on the rooftop, besides its 106 shops.

Shops are allocated to tenants through a tender process, and decisions are based not just on price but also on qualitative factors such as the business concept and operating model, said Mr Wong. This allows HDB to better manage the tenant mix to address residents' needs so centres are not dominated by a certain type of shop or service, he said.

Of the five more new-generation neighbourhood malls being built, Buangkok Square in Hougang will start operating this year. Canberra Plaza in Sembawang will see works completed this year, Hougang Rivercourt in Hougang and Northshore Plaza in Punggol will be completed next year, and Anchorvale Village in Sengkang by 2022.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

How to take feedback seriously

Public responses to incidents are a valuable source of feedback. While negative feedback may cause discomfort, it is important for policymakers to learn to process and respond better to such views.
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2019

It is a common practice these days for people to assess or react to a product they buy, a service they receive, or performance or activity they took part in. Giving feedback has become very much a way of life.

Feedback is not restricted to customer service or performance appraisal situations. It can also refer to public reactions to an incident, expressed as evaluations, emotions and concerns.

People may have views on an incident, and also how they perceive the incident was handled or is being handled. Some recent cases come to mind - such as national servicemen training deaths, the SingHealth cyber attack and the HIV Registry data leak.

Public expressions on these matters are valuable feedback that reflects and reveals much. They are unsolicited real-life reactions to actual specific incidents and how they are handled. We hear the reactions in informal conversations. We read the public comments written in mainstream media and posted on social media, with a mix of reflective and visceral reactions.

A noteworthy commentary is a recent editorial in the local Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao that raised serious questions of leadership complacency, accountability and public trust in Government. The commentary, together with others, elicited a response from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat last Saturday, published in both Lianhe Zaobao and The Straits Times.

Mr Heng stated that the Singapore Government has not "gone slack", such as becoming complacent and failing to hold senior people accountable when things went wrong. He reiterated that its leaders "will not flinch from taking a hard look at ourselves each time there is a failure, and doing whatever is necessary to put things right".


Earlier this week in Parliament, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong responded to questions on the recent soldier training deaths and the HIV data leak, respectively. The ministers provided some additional details to what were already made known to the public since the news broke.

The critical information on how the training deaths of the two national servicemen (Liu Kai last November and Aloysius Pang in January) occurred, and why, are currently not known. Hopefully, the two committees of inquiry will provide thorough and clear answers, and soon.

For the HIV data leak, we can expect differences in views among the public on the Health Ministry's "judgment call" in decisions and actions on when and what to tell who, with regard to the data leak. The ministry's statements also spark debate on the security of personal data the public entrusted to the Government. It also raises the issue of HIV and the stigma around it, which influenced decisions on whether to inform the individuals affected and the general public of a data leak.

Some will continue to have questions on how the event unfolded, the coordination among government agencies involved and their interactions and investigations with the two individuals in the centre of the data leak - American Mikhy Farrera Brochez and Singaporean Ler Teck Siang.

The HIV data leak incident is still evolving, with fresh information to emerge, and possible further public exposure of the leaked data. Also, not all of the affected individuals have been informed that their personal data was leaked.

Public reactions to the soldier deaths and data leak incident will continue. And they may become more negative or positive. The Government and its related agencies will have to decide how to respond to the evolving reactions to these recent adverse incidents, and future ones. Will the impending government-public interactions make things better or worse? It is useful to take a hard look at the feedback process applicable to previous and future exchanges.

Day in the life of a postman: Two slices of bread and a toilet break between 12 hours of work

That is the gruelling pace of a postman as The Sunday Times follows him on his rounds. SingPost delivers three million mail items daily, which works out to 3,000 pieces by each of the 1,000 postmen.
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 17 Feb 2019

Mr Rajab Abu Noh has been a postman for 43 years. He started as a 22-year-old, weaving among kampung huts and farms on a motorbike, avoiding chickens.

Today, at the age of 65, he wields a smartphone and navigates high-rise buildings while dodging dogs.

It remains a tough - if not even tougher - slog, given the drastically changed nature of mail delivery, as Singaporeans fall in love with the convenience of online shopping.

SingPost, the national postal service provider, seems hard-put to keep pace with the developments. On Feb 7, it was fined $100,000 for failing to meet standards on the delivery of basic letters and registered mail here over six months in 2017. It comes after a string of delivery lapses, such as a postman being arrested for mail found discarded.

SingPost has since vowed to lighten its postmen's workload and review their pay, among other measures, to improve service quality.

To better understand how such service lapses could have occurred and the gruelling pace that postmen undergo, The Sunday Times followed Mr Rajab around as he goes about a usual workday.


It is 6.30am on a Wednesday, and he is at the sorting area at Serangoon North Regional Delivery Base, one of seven across the island.

He scarfs down his breakfast - two slices of bread with butter and kaya and a cup of coffee. That would have to fuel him through the next 12 hours of work as he opts not to stop for lunch. Save for a 10-minute trip to the toilet at 3pm, he takes no breaks.

Mr Rajab's daily route takes him through 38 condo blocks of about 1,750 residential units in the Yio Chu Kang/Sengkang area.

At 7.30am, he begins to carefully sort the mail according to the floors in their respective blocks. Any error means he will later have to double back to the correct block or level during delivery.

At 9am, the postmen gather for a briefing. The inspector of post reminds them of complaints about missed deliveries or articles damaged when the bulky items were squeezed into letter boxes.

He tells them to report back if letter boxes are full so that residents can be reminded - by slipping notices under their door - to clear them. He also reprimands the postmen for leaving the master lock for letter boxes unlocked in four instances in one neighbourhood.

The meeting ends. Mr Rajab looks at the mountain of mail - a mix of letters and packages - piled high in a trolley and quickens his pace.

There is no way he can put it all into the storage box on his three-wheeler scooter without its heavy weight affecting his balance. So he takes half of it and will collect the rest later at a SingPost storeroom at an HDB block along his route.

He departs the base at 11am.

Changes to Polytechnic Admissions for A-Level graduates from Academic Year 2019

Exemptions, earlier entry for A-level grads opting for poly
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2019

Students armed with an A-level certificate who want to further their studies at the polytechnic can apply for course exemptions, potentially shaving six months off three-year diploma programmes.

In announcing this yesterday, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said A-level students can apply for a place in August. If they secure a place and the exemption, they can start their diploma studies in the second semester in October.

Currently, most A-level graduates apply for and enrol in a polytechnic only one year after getting their A-level results in late February or early March.

This is because most polytechnic admission exercises would have closed by the time students receive their A-level results.

This year's results will be released next Friday (22 Feb).

A-level graduates who are eligible for the one-semester exemption, and who are not enlisting in national service, will be able to enter the polytechnics in the same year that they receive their A-level results.

MOE said that about 200 A-level graduates take up diploma studies every year.

These students are usually keen to pursue an applied pathway at the polytechnics that matches their area of interest.

Giving further details on the course exemptions, MOE said they will be available for 110 out of the 230 courses at the five polytechnics.

While these requirements may differ for specific courses, they would have generally been covered in the A-level syllabus.

For example, A-level graduates taking up Ngee Ann Polytechnic's diploma in information technology may be exempted from the modules on computing mathematics and programming 1, if they have obtained passes in H2 computing or computing science and H2 mathematics.

The ministry assured school leavers that places for A-level graduates will be separately catered for, and there will be no impact on places available for O-level graduates or Institute of Technical Education graduates.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Digital Defence to be Singapore's sixth pillar of Total Defence, signalling importance of cyber security

Addition of new pillar after 35 years signals the threat posed by cyber attacks and disinformation
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2019

The Republic will introduce digital defence as the sixth pillar in its national defence framework Total Defence, signalling the threat cyber attacks and disinformation pose, and the importance of cyber security.

It is the first time a new pillar has been added to the framework since it was launched 35 years ago.

In his annual Total Defence Day message yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stressed that cyber-security threats and disinformation are a serious danger to Singapore, and emphasised the need to be vigilant against them. "Security threats can be real and physical like terrorism or, just as damaging, can come through the cyberworld."

"Malicious malware can cripple our systems. Fake news can cause racial riots and divide our people," added Dr Ng in his message, which was uploaded on Facebook.

The digital defence pillar will be officially launched today by Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security. It joins the other five pillars of Total Defence: military, civil, economic, social and psychological defence.

In his speech, Dr Ng reiterated that the purpose of Total Defence Day, which falls on Feb 15, is to remember the Japanese Occupation.

On Feb 15, 1942, the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, who occupied the country until Sept 12, 1945.

"Our parents and grandparents suffered in the 3½ years of deprivation and humiliation that followed.

"We remember those events of the Japanese Occupation to teach every new generation of Singaporeans about the price of failure to defend this country," he said.

Total Defence was launched in 1984 as a national defence initiative to rally all citizens behind the Singapore Armed Forces during wartime. It was also envisaged to build a sense of determination for Singaporeans to defend the country under all circumstances.

The framework has since undergone reviews and changes, but this is the first time a pillar outside of the original five conceptualised is being added.

Total Defence is now contextualised to address new threats, and applied to address non-military challenges too, such as economic recessions, pandemics and natural disasters.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing also commemorated Total Defence Day yesterday at an inaugural Maritime Nation Forum held at the Singapore Maritime Gallery.

After leading a pledge recitation, he held a dialogue with about 100 forum participants on the challenges that Singapore faces as a maritime nation.

He noted that it was the first time professionals from the maritime industry, Republic of Singapore Navy servicemen and tertiary students were coming together to mark Total Defence Day.

Emphasising the importance of the national defence framework, he said: "When there are external pressures on our country to give in to external demands, Singaporeans must continue to be psychologically resilient and stay together to keep Singapore strong."

Friday, 15 February 2019

Caregiver Support Action Plan: Raft of measures to help relieve burden of caregivers announced in Parliament on 13 February 2019

Aid ranging from new grant to respite care services to be rolled out over two years
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2019

A slew of measures will be rolled out over two years to help Singaporeans who care for the old, the sick and the disabled.

These include a new $200 grant to offset costs of care, more respite care options and the loosening of restrictions on Medisave funds for people to help pay for their siblings' care.

The announcement was made by Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong at a marathon seven-hour Parliament session yesterday, during which 25 MPs and six office-holders spoke at length about the importance of helping Singaporeans age well and ensuring their caregivers receive adequate support amid a greying nation.

Many shared anecdotes of personal encounters with burnt-out caregivers who sought their help.

The measures in the new Caregiver Support Action Plan come four months after the Health Ministry said it was going to review the caregiver support system.

At least six measures to help ease the burden on caregivers will be launched under the plan, including a means-tested Home Caregiving Grant to be introduced by the end of this year.

The $200 monthly grant will replace the existing $120 Foreign Domestic Worker Grant, and will give caregivers greater flexibility in how to use the money. Anyone with permanent moderate disabilities will be eligible, regardless of age.

By the end of this year, people can also use their Medisave funds to pay for the healthcare expenses of their Singaporean siblings.

The Agency for Integrated Care, which coordinates eldercare schemes, will also launch three pilot schemes to expand respite care options. These include a night service for caregivers of dementia patients and a home-based service for cancer patients receiving palliative care.

It will also try out a pre-enrolment system at certain senior care centres and nursing homes so that respite services can be activated at short notice, if necessary.

The ministry will also set up more caregiver support networks and make it easier for people to access the services they need, said Mr Tong. More details will be given in the coming months.

By 2030, one in four Singapore residents will be 65 and older, and informal caregiving arrangements will grow as the population ages.

Given Singapore's demographic profile, Mr Tong said his speech focused mainly on help for those caring for the elderly "as a start".

But there is a "broad range of caregivers who operate in a variety of different circumstances and a very broad landscape", he added.

"Their needs are diverse, as with their own particular family or caregiving circumstances, so over time we will need to look carefully at what these needs are, and whether further assistance might be needed."

At yesterday's session, the MPs also recounted stories about seniors living their golden years with energy and aplomb as they discussed how to help this group age in good health and with financial stability.

Suggestions they made included providing more work and volunteering opportunities for seniors who want them and assisted living options in both Housing Board and private housing developments.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin neatly summarised the main thrust of the debate by noting how there has been much talk about the impending multi-billion-dollar Merdeka Generation Package to help Singaporeans born in the 1950s with their healthcare expenses.

"I think it is instructive to remember that merdeka means freedom and independence, and that is an aspiration I think we are all aspiring to, in the way we realise our older years as a nation," he said.

Trophy for coming in 8th?: National School Games changes for primary school students from 2019

Recent changes to the National School Games Junior Division will see more participants in sport being recognised. But does giving out broad-based awards blunt the competitive edge and the drive for excellence in sport?
By Nicole Chia, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2019

Rafael Nadal, at 1.85m and 85kg, is afraid of the dark, dogs and thunderstorms. On losing, however, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has this to say: "Losing is not my enemy… Fear of losing is my enemy."

When his four-year unbeaten streak at the French Open ended in 2009 after a shock fourth-round defeat by world No. 25 Robin Soderling, Nadal said at the post-match press conference: "Sometimes you need a defeat to give value to your victories."

Perhaps, as the Spaniard uttered those words, one particular victory from the year before might have come to mind: his maiden Wimbledon title.

In his book Rafa, published in 2011 and co-written with John Carlin, Nadal describes how he "cried incessantly" for half an hour in the dressing room after his five-set loss in the 2007 Wimbledon final.

The Spaniard also admitted that the defeat had left him "utterly destroyed", and that it had continued to haunt him even as he contested another Wimbledon final a year later.

But the start of the fifth set during the 2008 final was when Nadal realised: "This was the moment in the match when that experience of defeat proved most valuable… (Back then) I hadn't been prepared to cope with the inevitable nerves and tension with the due measure of mental calm."

Armed with the memory of that defeat and its lessons, Nadal went on to win his first Wimbledon title in a nearly five-hour match.

Losses, no matter how painful, do not mean failure. There is value in defeat and there are lessons to be learnt from losing.

And the merit of these lessons must not be diminished with the changes taking place at this year's National School Games (NSG) junior division for children aged nine to 11.

The changes are part of an ongoing review of the NSG competitions, which started in 2015 and was completed last year.

One change, announced by the Ministry of Education (MOE) last month, will see recognition awarded to the top eight positions in some sports, instead of the top four. This is to provide more opportunities for student-athletes to experience success.

Criterion-based recognition will also be introduced for some sports, such as timings for track and field and the number of pinfalls in bowling. This is to "promote self-improvement, mastery and the importance of striving for goals based on objective targets", MOE said.

On the review of the NSG, Mrs Tan Chen Kee, MOE's divisional director of its student development curriculum division, said: "The review was started because, first, we wanted to look at our students' initial encounter with sports and how we can strengthen that - how we can make it a lot more enjoyable, less competitive and how we can adopt a long-term athlete-development view of things and... help the children slowly ease into the competition and the sports."

While making sport enjoyable is a worthwhile goal, some observers have questioned the wisdom of reducing the competitive element in school sports. Everyone can participate in sport, but if everyone is a winner, then no one learns from losing.

Admittedly, the stakes of the junior division competition are far lower than that of a Grand Slam tournament. But there is so much that even a child who places ninth can gain from competition, such as developing resilience and building strength of character.

There will also be changes in areas such as game formats, equipment and the use of substitutes. These changes were conceptualised and customised for schools in consultation with the National Youth Sports Institute, relevant national sports associations and Sport Singapore.

In implementing the changes to the award and recognition system, however, it is important to maintain a balance between recognising effort and coddling, and this responsibility should be shared by parents, teachers and coaches.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Why the bicentennial matters: Tan Chuan-Jin

When history leaps from textbooks onto our streets and into our lives
Take a pause. Take stock. And take part in activities to mark the bicentennial. Singaporeans should step up to own their collective journey from the past to the present.
By Tan Chuan-Jin, Published The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2019

Since taking office in Parliament just over a year ago, I've been jogging along the Singapore River whenever I can, familiarising myself with the sights.

Then in January this year, I noticed how the lone statue of Sir Stamford Raffles was joined by four others: Sang Nila Utama, Munshi Abdullah, Naraina Pillai and Tan Tock Seng. Not a moment too soon, I thought, given how the Singapore Bicentennial is going into full swing. The event commemorates 200 years since Raffles' arrival in 1819 that kick-started the development of modern Singapore.

The figures of all these pioneers sit just 20 paces from my office window in Parliament House. And they are just 100m shy of an archaeological dig round the corner at Empress Place, where archaeologists have dug up 700-year-old timber planks and pottery shards.

In fact, few may know that our Parliament grounds have also yielded artefacts from China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, with some going back to the 11th century. A few of these sit in a glass case that all our MPs file past on their way into the Parliament chambers.

All around me is a constant reminder of history made, or in the making. And it can be quite moving, imagining how life unfolded through the centuries, around the places I work each day.

Clearly, even before Raffles and the East India Company capitalised on the potential of our little island, our forebears, along with scores of others in the region, also discovered Singapore as a place of refuge or opportunity, and similarly made their way here, whether 700 years ago or even earlier.

While so many passed through our shores, some stayed and made Singapore home, and yet others moved on. And for every encounter made on this island, surely, we have gained from the traded stories, journeys and shared experiences. I like to think that we have survived and flourished because of our openness to the people who came in, transited or remained.

As a former student of history, I do often consider: What if no one saw our potential as a landing point, a site for trade and exchange, a home? What if we hadn't appeared useful, to anyone? What if the economic issues of the time had tripped us up along the way? Or the weight of commerce had shifted and rendered our geopolitical position worthless?

The vagaries of fortune and opportunity could easily have relegated us to the backwater of history, irrelevant and forgotten except as a fascinating footnote.

I believe that at this juncture in our journey as Singaporeans, it is important for us to pause - for recall, reflection and renewal. This is critical for us to continue to move ahead. It informs us for the future.

This is why I'm looking forward to the slew of bicentennial events planned. They may seem to have flooded us in all directions, overwhelming at times, and perhaps indulgent to some, but I welcome them, if only because I'm convinced there is something in the entire package for everyone.

There are exhibitions and tours, talks and seminars, which promise a rich feast for the senses. Some of us may access our history and legacy better through a light show, some through a documentary or a research tome. The medium matters much less than the opportunity - and I'm hopeful the events and experiences will trigger rich reflection for all. But we must first take note of them and take part in them.

Should we commemorate our subjugation as a British colony? Should we be confident enough to remember this founding as a critical milestone and marker in our history? Did we not set in motion the pace of development that led to independence in 1965?

And in looking back to our past, why stop at 1819? Should we not go further back and give more credit to Sang Nila Utama, or Parameswara? Or should we dig even deeper into the annals of the early South-east Asian histories and study the intrigues and machinations that led to our being?