Friday, 18 October 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Forbes Global CEO Conference 2019 Meeting of Minds dialogue

Singapore guards itself against populist forces by focusing on basic needs: PM Lee Hsien Loong
This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, he says
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

Populism has become an issue in many countries, and Singapore has tried hard to guard itself against this by having a government which focuses on the basic needs of its people, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, as well as ensuring Singaporeans have opportunities to upgrade themselves and cope with new demands, PM Lee noted.

"So, in many ways, we have tried to make sure that people have (their) basic needs met, aspirations (are) achievable and a sense that this is theirs. This is their country... they have every reason to be proud of it, they will defend the system."

If this is achieved and Singaporeans feel that the system works for them, they will not vote for a political team which will pull the system down, he said during the 19th Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel.

He added that such a system calls for political leaders with conviction, commitment and a belief that they are doing this for a purpose, rather than to further their own careers and make a fortune, along with a civil service of high quality.

Populism has become an issue in many developed countries, because of a divide between the elite and the masses, he noted. The latter feel the system has not been fair to them, and they are left behind.

PM Lee was speaking during a dialogue moderated by Mr Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.

During the hour-long dialogue, which covered a broad range of topics, including the US-China trade tensions, the political unrest in Hong Kong, and Singapore's role in South-east Asia, he was also asked how the Republic balances immigration and growth.

To secure the country's future, Singaporeans need to have more babies to maintain the core citizen population, he said, adding that the Government is working hard to promote marriage and parenthood.

The resident total fertility rate was 1.14 last year. PM Lee said if the rate can be pushed to 1.3 or 1.4, this is "two-thirds" of what Singapore needs, and the remaining third can be topped up with immigration.

"We have now about 32,000 to 33,000 babies born in Singapore a year, citizens. We bring in about 30,000 permanent residents.

"So, it is almost one to one; but of those permanent residents, we have about 20,000 who become citizens a year.

"So, we are producing more of our own kids than we are having immigrant new citizens. So, I think that is not a bad balance. If I can have a few more of my own kids, I think it would be better," he noted.

In the workforce, there are around 2.1 million to 2.2 million resident workers and about one million non-resident workers - a ratio of about two to one.

PM Lee said there is flexibility to have more or less, depending on the needs of the economy and the business cycles.

These non-resident workers bring vibrancy to Singapore and also contribute in various sectors, such as in the arts and culture, and business and economy, he said. At the same time, the Singaporean core and identity should be retained.

Mr Forbes also asked when the next elections will be held.

"Any time within the next 18 months. So, just keep your eyes peeled," PM Lee replied.

He reiterated that he will hand over the premiership "some time soon after the next election" to his successor, whom he hopes will have time to build up his team and build mutual trust and confidence with the population, to take the country forward and win the subsequent elections.

"I think it is very important to try to plan ahead and to arrange for orderly political succession," he added.

"So that whatever may happen to you personally, the country is assured of a leadership team which is competent, which is experienced, which is in touch with the population and in sync with the times and is in a position to take the country the next step forward with the next generation of Singaporeans."

ComCare cash assistance: $127 million disbursed to 37,400 households or 75,200 individuals in FY2018

30% seeking shorter-term government aid rejected
Applicants either had enough money, withdrew applications or could not be reached, says MSF
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

About 30 per cent of those applying for short-to medium-term government financial aid were rejected in the past three years, although almost all the requests for long-term assistance were approved.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) gave these figures to The Straits Times, and this is believed to be the first time such data has been made public.

Last Friday, it released its ComCare annual report for its 2018 financial year, which ended in March this year, but the percentage of rejected applications was not contained in the report.

ComCare is a key social safety net providing a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

About 37,400 families were on the various ComCare schemes in its 2018 financial year - the lowest in four years. In that period, some 72 per cent, or 27,122, of these families received Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA), while 11 per cent, or 4,261 households, were on Long-Term Assistance (LTA).

The MSF spokesman said it had approved about seven in 10 applications for the SMTA in the past three years. Applicants were rejected as they had sufficient income or savings for their basic living expenses, or they withdrew their applications or became uncontactable despite attempts to reach them, she added.

Last year, 10 per cent of the rejected SMTA applications, or 1,551 applications, were not approved because the family was deemed to have sufficient savings.

The MSF said those asking for financial help for the first time are typically assessed for the SMTA, where the amount given and for how long vary from case to case.

Its spokesman added: "Depending on the applicant's circumstances and needs, our Social Service Offices will recommend Long-Term Assistance to those who are assessed to be permanently unable to work and have little or no family support. The majority of LTA beneficiaries are elderly with limited family support."

Those on the LTA scheme are given monetary help each month for the long run. A one-person household, for example, on the LTA would receive $600 a month.

Meanwhile, those on the ComCare schemes have had less savings over the past three years.

Each household member in families who received the SMTA had an average of $246 in cash savings last year, down from $283 in 2017 and $335 in 2016.

The amount refers to the savings they had when they applied for help. This is also the first time the MSF has revealed this information.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave the information in a parliamentary reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong on Oct 7 as she had asked about the savings that ComCare applicants have, among other questions.

Mr Lee said the Social Service Offices look at the applicants' income, assets such as savings, and expenses. In considering their savings, the MSF looks at factors such as their savings for emergency expenses and their family size.

Mr Lee said about the applicants' savings: "There is no hard threshold and the Social Service Offices can exercise flexibility, taking into account the applicants' circumstances and needs."

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Singapore's 4G leadership lays out plans to take relationship with China 'to a higher level'

4G leaders stress broad plan to engage China economically
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat says Singapore's new political team aims to build on past foundations and scale new peaks in bilateral ties
By Tan Dawn Wei, China Bureau Chief In Chongqing and Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

Singapore's fourth-generation leadership has a comprehensive plan for engaging with China economically and plugging into the East Asian giant's rapid development.

Ten members of the 4G cohort drove home the point yesterday as they spoke to Singapore media at the end of a bilateral meeting in Chongqing that was of particular significance as the Singapore team was composed completely of this new generation of political leaders.

The delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who co-chaired the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level platform for discussions between Singapore and China.

Mr Heng, who took over the reins from former deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean earlier this year, said his first meeting in the new role was forward-looking and productive.

He also took the opportunity to "understand China's development priorities and direction in the coming years, and to look at how we can build on these priorities", he added.

As Singapore transitions to a new political team and marks three decades of diplomatic relations with China next year, the vision of the 4G crew is to build on the foundation of the past decades and "scale new peaks" in ties with China, he said.

An emerging area of collaboration is smart cities, which address today's trends of rapid urbanisation and digitalisation, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

The two sides yesterday signed an agreement on a smart cities initiative in Shenzhen that would, among other things, help promote talent flow in both directions.

Another area is the environment, with both sides "at the forefront" and joining forces to fight climate change on the world stage, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

The two nations are also applying technology to achieve zero-waste cities at Tianjin Eco-city, Singapore's second flagship project with China, added Mr Masagos.

The frequent visits to China by Singapore ministers and officials show the relationship "is not static and monolithic", noted Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

These also show they are keen to keep pace with China's developments and understand the different priorities of various provinces as well as the central government.

Mr Chan outlined three priority areas Singapore will focus on in its partnership with China: Internationalisation of the Chinese economy, plugging into the mainland's regional development strategies, and non-physical aspects of the new economy, such as professional services and data flows.

"All these are intangibles, but they all play a part in the new economy, and this is also what the Chinese are focused on," he said.

The Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area economic blueprint is of particular interest, as the ministers spoke about plugging into the masterplan with such existing projects as the Guangzhou Knowledge City and the new smart city agreement for technology capital Shenzhen.

The continued emphasis on ensuring that cooperation is updated to match China's priorities has served the partnership well.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo noted that the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, the third flagship bilateral project, has been elevated to a strategic national-level project and given high priority, as it catalyses the development of China's western region and links up the Belt and Road routes, while fulfilling broader economic integration between China and South-east Asia.

Mr Heng said another important area of cooperation is capital market connectivity, and the development of a more resilient financial system able to channel capital to productive uses across the different areas.

He recounted a Chinese official noting on Monday that Singapore was unique in that it has many cooperation platforms with China.

"The phrase he used was duyi wuer (unique and unmatched)," Mr Heng added. "This is something that both sides value, and we would like to take this forward."

Workers won't be alone as economy transforms: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference 2019

Government will help them train for new roles to remain employable
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

As industries transform and Singapore charts an uncertain future, workers will not be left to fend for themselves, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He reiterated the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) promise to always stand with workers and do its best for them, just as it has since early independence.

Speaking at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference, PM Lee pointed to the challenges ahead as the economy enters a new phase.

Technology is transforming many industries, and established players are being disrupted.

Workers have to be ready for change, and the Government has to help them "to train for new roles, to cope with the rapid changes in their industries and to remain employable", said PM Lee. "It will not be easy, but rest assured, we will walk with you all the way."

PM Lee noted that elsewhere in the world, there has been widespread unhappiness as workers lose jobs or feel they have been left behind by progress.

The social compact has been fractured, and this has given rise overseas to populist movements which divide societies.

In Hong Kong, underlying factors behind the protests include the sense that serious economic and social concerns have not been addressed. This social division can befall Singapore if it is not careful, PM Lee said, noting that the country is not immune to such forces.

"If it happens to us... we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries," he told the audience at Orchid Country Club. "Only worse, because we are that much more vulnerable."

He said such circumstances would destroy confidence in the country. "Singapore will be finished," said PM Lee.

The "symbiotic relationship" between the PAP and NTUC is key to helping Singapore avoid the dire outcomes seen overseas, he added.

The PAP Government, which represents workers' interests, will always remain close to its roots in the labour movement, PM Lee said. That is why many of its MPs come from NTUC, and the labour chief sits as a full minister in the Cabinet.

In his speech, PM Lee traced how the PAP and NTUC forged close bonds, which have been renewed by successive generations.

He stressed that these bonds between the PAP and NTUC have to be sustained and strengthened.

The PAP's fundamental objective is to advance the well-being and future of workers, he said, pointing to how the Government has built affordable homes and delivered quality healthcare, education and public transport services.

Most of all, it creates jobs and opportunities for workers, to enable all citizens to improve their lives through their own efforts, he said.

"This is far better than having a populist government that gives vent to the frustrations of the population, or panders to short-term passions at the expense of long-term interests."

Meanwhile, NTUC has been an "equal and constructive" partner in creating prosperity and growth.

"Workers have enjoyed a fair share of the fruits of your efforts," PM Lee said. "You have influence and interests within the system. You do not have to go outside it, work around it, or worse, try to pull it down and replace it.

"This is your system. Make it succeed, and take pride in it."

Concluding, PM Lee said generations of PAP and union leaders have worked closely to keep Singaporean workers at the centre of the country's economic and social development efforts.

The PAP Government, he said, will "ensure that no Singaporean, regardless of family background or life circumstances, will ever be shut out from opportunities, or left behind".

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Racial harmony: Five critical steps to keep the peace

To continue to live in harmony here, we must carefully manage race and religious issues, not leave them to chance
By K. Shanmugam, Published The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2019

At a recent forum on race issues organised by and CNA, and supported by Roses of Peace, I spoke about how we have been careful and deliberate in our policies and how we managed race relations.

Cultural xenophobia is increasing across the world. According to Professor Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert in sociology and religious studies, this is brought on by globalisation, instant worldwide communication and the easy mobility of populations. People now fear losing their identity and sense of belonging.

These fears, coupled with the global economic slowdown and growing social inequality, are manipulated by hard-line nationalists and politicians.

In the United States, the FBI reported that the white supremacy movement was behind the majority of domestic terrorism cases involving a racial motive. The shootings in El Paso, which killed 22 people, is a recent example.

Increased immigration from Mexico and Asia to the US has led to some Americans feeling displaced. Some have capitalised on these concerns by attacking immigrants and religious minorities. These then feed the deeply disturbed minds, like those of the El Paso shooter.

And in May, BBC News highlighted the increasing support for right-wing nationalist parties across 17 European countries. In Hungary, Fidesz, a far-right nationalist party and key member of the ruling alliance government, won more than 49 per cent of the votes in the 2018 national elections. In Switzerland and Austria, nationalist parties won more than 25 per cent of the votes.

In Asia, we are seeing more instances of violence instigated by religious extremists. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, nationalist Buddhist monks have made fiery speeches, inciting violence against minority groups.


Singapore is not immune to identity politics, and ethnic and religious nationalism. The Institute of Policy Studies and conducted a comprehensive survey on race, religion and language in 2018. Most of the findings were positive. About 80 per cent were comfortable to have someone of another race as their neighbour, colleague, employee, boss, and as a close friend.

But the survey also pointed out pockets of concern. Racial stereotyping is quite alive. One stereotype that struck me was that more than half of the Chinese respondents felt that it was unlikely that members of the minority races would return their wallet if they found it in a shopping mall. Similarly, more than four in 10 Malays and Indians agreed that someone's race gave them a good idea of what the person's behaviour and views were like. We are far from a post-race Nirvana.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry Singapore's 50th anniversary dialogue on 10 October 2019

Singapore can learn from Japan ways to tackle ageing issues: PM Lee
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2019

Japan's ageing society has key lessons for Singapore, which will similarly face a greying society in about 15 years' time, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at a dialogue to mark the 50th anniversary of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Singapore (JCCI), he said: "We are looking carefully at all the things you do, all the technology you've invented. Devices for old folks, spoons and forks which old people can use, machines to give old people showers.

"All sorts of very clever devices that make life more pleasant and more practical for people," he said.

PM Lee was responding to Mr Takehiko Koyanagi, of financial publication Nikkei Asian Review, who was moderating the dialogue at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Central.

He also said Singapore needs to learn how Japanese companies have adapted their practices to cater to older people in the workforce.

"Your companies have been very good at adjusting the jobs, the requirements, even the technology, so that old people can be productive and keep on working. We need to do a lot of that."

The Prime Minister also lauded Japan's cohesion in times of crisis, as seen in its response to natural disasters such as the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami that led to an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Japan's Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Jun Yamazaki, noted in his speech the progress made in the relationship between the two countries since the post-war period, when it was "tense".

"Despite the difficult situation, investments and technology transfer from Japan grew steadily after that time. This growth of Japanese investment in Singapore has resulted in Japan being the top Asian investor in Singapore today, in terms of FDI stock," he said, referring to foreign direct investment.

He attributed the win-win relationship partly to the "extraordinary leadership demonstrated by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew".

Moving forward, both countries need to work "even closer together" to deal with global issues like climate change, he added.

PM Lee, elaborating on Singapore's battle to boost its birth rate, puts its low birth rate partly down to the increased education levels of women here, with many pursuing careers.

"If they are working, they will have to assess the impact on their careers and whether they can manage their children and work at the same time," he said. "I can well understand that this is not easy to achieve."

He said the Government has been trying to "make it easier to be a mother in Singapore", by promoting flexible employment practices and improving the infant care and pre-school childcare sector.

The JCCI, which has about 820 member firms, aims to promote trade and investments between Singapore and Japan, along with cultural and social development.

Global Ready Talent Programme launched to train young talent for overseas postings

New scheme to help young people, firms gain global exposure
Overseas internships, management associate positions on offer
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2019

More support is now available for young people keen to work abroad and for companies to train their staff through stints overseas.

The Global Ready Talent programme announced in this year's Budget was launched yesterday by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

There are 60 local enterprises from industries like lifestyle and consumer, media, and manufacturing and engineering offering 110 overseas internship positions and 86 overseas management associate positions under the programme.

The Government aims to have 5,000 overseas placements over the next five years.

Mr Chan told around 100 students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and local universities as well as about 130 business people at the launch event that the most competitive economy will be one that can master its talent best.

"We keep urging (enterprises) to innovate their products and processes, and expand their markets. But in order for the enterprises to do that well, talent is a critical enabler," he noted.

Mr Chan also encouraged young people to build up their skills and international knowledge through gaining overseas exposure.

"Live there... understand the intricacies of how other societies work and how they are similar or different from us," he said. "Once you have done that, the benefits will last a lifetime."

Companies can receive up to 70 per cent funding for the allowances or salaries of participants.

They can offer local and overseas internship placements to students from ITE, polytechnics and local universities, or post fresh graduates or young employees with up to three years of work experience to markets in South-east Asia, China and India, under the management associate track, for at least one year.

Enterprise Singapore, which is running the scheme, will partner trade associations and chambers, and institutes of higher learning, to facilitate internship placements and evaluate companies which want to join the programme.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Fare Review Exercise 2019: Bus, train fares to rise by 7% from 28 Dec 2019 but more to enjoy concessions

Hike capped at 4 cents per trip for 1 in 2 Singaporeans
Enhanced Concessions for Polytechnic and other Diploma Students;  Increased Assistance for Lower-Income Groups
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

Bus and train fares will rise by 7 per cent from Dec 28, although the hike will be cushioned for more than one in two Singaporeans who are eligible for concessionary fares.

For the first time, this group will include polytechnic students, who will enjoy student concessions.

The rise is the maximum allowed in this year's formula, and the biggest percentage jump since 1998 - driven largely by a spike in fuel and energy costs.

Adult card fares will rise by nine cents per trip.

Senior citizens, low-wage workers, persons with disabilities and school students will see the smallest rise of four cents, the Public Transport Council (PTC) said yesterday.

On the other hand, those who pay by cash or buy single-trip tickets - mostly visitors or infrequent users - will pay 20 cents more per trip, believed to be the single biggest increase so far.

The majority who use adult ez-link cards - accounting for nearly two-thirds of all trips - will see each ride costing nine cents more. Those who buy monthly concession passes will fork out $1 to $5.50 more, while frequent users who buy adult monthly passes will incur $8 more per month.

Polytechnic students will, however, see their commuting cost fall. After years of lobbying, polytechnic students will now have student concessions. They will now save up to $1.54 per trip.

In total, PTC chairman Richard Magnus pointed out that "close to two million people, or more than one in two Singaporeans, enjoy concessionary fares on our public transport system".

He said this was 35.4 per cent more than in 2013, when there was a comprehensive review of the concession schemes.

Actual average travelling cost had also fallen because of better rail connectivity. For instance, a ride from Bukit Panjang to Bugis cost $1.93 in 2015 because of several transfers. But today, with the Downtown Line, the same trip will cost $1.72 from Dec 28.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post yesterday that in any fare adjustment, the Government tries to keep the increase as low as possible so that it affects as few people as it can.

"Fortunately, more than half of Singaporeans receive substantial discounts from the normal fare," wrote Mr Khaw.

The Ministry of Transport will also step in to help lower-income families. Mr Khaw said that this year, the Government will extend 50 per cent more public transport vouchers and increase the value of each voucher to $50, from $30.

The 7 per cent fare rise translates to an increase of about $132.5 million in total fare revenue. Of this, SBS Transit will get $18.8 million, while SMRT Trains will get $40.2 million. Both are for train rides. SBS Transit and SMRT will contribute about $1.88 million and $2.01 million, respectively, to the Public Transport Fund, which helps needy families cope with fare rises.

The remaining $73.5 million in fare increase will go to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which administers bus contracts. These contracts are up for periodic competitive tenders, and the winning operator is paid a fixed amount for a parcel of routes. All fare revenue then goes to LTA.

Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said this year's increase was largely driven by a "sharp rebound in energy prices".

"That was somewhat expected because energy prices were depressed below their longer-term trends for a few years.

"But it does highlight the strength and weakness of our fare formula. The strength is that it tracks changes in operating costs continually, but the weakness is it can expose commuters to sharp fluctuations."