Saturday, 15 December 2018

Inconvenient truth: Climate change low on voters' priorities

By Charles Lane, Published The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2018

This year, California recorded its deadliest wildfire in state history. The combined intensity and duration of the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans' tropical storms and hurricanes reached a new recorded high. Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are projected to break another record this year.

It's time to take a clear-eyed look at the science behind these developments - the political science. The data shows that, for all the evidence that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous, and despite wide public acceptance of those propositions, people in the United States do not necessarily want to stop climate change, in the sense of being willing to pay the cost - which is the only sense that really matters.

"The public's level of concern about climate change has not risen meaningfully over the past two decades and addressing the problem with government action ranks among one of the lowest priorities for Americans," according to a comprehensive review of public opinion literature published last year by associate professors Patrick Egan of New York University and Megan Mullin of Duke University.

In a series of open-ended Gallup surveys this year asking Americans to name the "most important problem facing the country", environmental issues never scored above 3 per cent.

Even before the recent riots against French President Emmanuel Macron's climate change-related fuel tax hike in France, there was a quieter backlash of sorts in the US: Anti-fossil fuel referendums lost in Colorado, Washington and Arizona during last month's election.

Undoubtedly, there have been well-funded efforts to sow climate change scepticism in recent decades, as Prof Egan and Prof Mullin note.

US President Donald Trump is now amplifying that message. This could not have helped the climate change movement, even if scholars have yet to identify a "causal link" between such campaigns and individual attitudes, according to Prof Egan and Prof Mullin.

Of course, the climate change movement was not exactly silent during recent history.

What's crucial, after accounting for the battle between the movement and its opponents, is the inherent nature of climate change as a political issue: It requires voters to accept "upfront costs that, if successful, will stave off never-to-be experienced long-term damage - policy for which election-oriented politicians can easily foresee receiving blame instead of credit", Prof Egan and Prof Mullin note.

Slashing carbon emissions is a cause that "has no core constituency with a concentrated interest in policy change", while "a majority of people benefit from arrangements that cause" climate change.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Singapore-Malaysia maritime and airspace disputes: Officials of both countries to meet in the second week of January 2019

Singapore acts to prevent unilateral third-party arbitration amid maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia
Negotiations best option; both sides to agree on terms if it comes to third-party settlement
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Dec 2018

Singapore is taking steps to ensure that no country can unilaterally initiate third-party arbitration or adjudication on maritime boundary disputes against the Republic.

Likewise, Singapore has committed itself to not starting such proceedings against any other party on its own.

Singapore has informed Malaysia that it has filed a declaration under Article 298(1)(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as it hopes to resolve such issues through talks.

"Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best resolved through negotiations, in order to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all of the parties," said a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"However, if this cannot be achieved, Singapore is prepared to settle such a dispute by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure, on terms mutually agreed to by the parties."

This would include the specific issues to be decided.

Asked why Singapore prefers to take the negotiation route first, the MFA spokesman said: "Settling maritime boundaries through negotiations allows the parties to reach an outcome which is acceptable to them in the long term."

The declaration was lodged with the United Nations in New York, and it comes after both Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to meet next month to resolve a dispute regarding Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. The neighbours signed UNCLOS in 1982.

The MFA spokesman also said: "Should a dispute arise that cannot be resolved through negotiations, Singapore will work with the other States Parties to agree on the choice of forum and the specific issues to be decided, in order that the matter can be submitted to arbitration or adjudication. This is preferable to one party taking another unilaterally to arbitration or adjudication without prior mutual agreement on these key issues."

The spokesman noted that many countries that have signed UNCLOS, such as France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Thailand, have made similar declarations.

International law experts told The Straits Times that making such a declaration helps Singapore avoid being taken by surprise should a unilateral claim be lodged against it.

The latest dispute began on Oct 25, when Kuala Lumpur unilaterally gazetted extended port limits for Johor Baru port, which encroached on the Republic's territorial waters. While a section of those waters has yet to be delimited, Singapore agencies have been patrolling them for decades.

Singapore has responded by extending its own port limits, and insisting that Malaysia withdraw its government vessels and return to the pre-Oct 25 status quo, without prejudice to its claims.

Kuala Lumpur has said it cannot do so, but is committed to de-escalate the situation.

Singapore has said it welcomed Malaysia's moves to defuse tensions, and officials from both sides are expected to meet in the second week of next month to discuss the port limits issue.

The MFA spokesman said: "Singapore hopes that by engaging each other, the two governments will reach a swift and amicable resolution, in accordance with international law."

The spokesman added: "Singapore will continue to uphold international law and remains committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law."

Hip cafe run by seniors has the recipe for active ageing: SASCO @Khatib

They pick up new skills, build new ties at cafe that forms part of VWO's senior activity centre
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2018

In a brightly lit space right next to Khatib MRT station, baristas togged out in striped aprons pull espresso shots and steam milk to create latte art.

Meanwhile, customers sip their brew as a large poster near the entrance greets patrons with cheeky puns: "How do I feel when there is no coffee? Depresso, Kopiless, Lattegic."

The trendy cafe is located in a 356 sq m space at the void deck of a multi-storey carpark at Block 813 Khatib Court. The cafe is part of a senior activity centre which SASCO Senior Citizens' Home opened in October last year.

The voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) aims to help senior citizens remain relevant in the community by helping them learn new skills, and having a cafe means that new relationships and community networks can be developed across generations as well, said Ms Germaine Ong, head of the home's social enterprise department.

She added that the cafe was designed by employees of the VWO.

SASCO, or the Singapore Amalgamated Services Co-operative Organisation, was established on Nov 16, 1933, as a coordinating body for 12 thrift and loan cooperatives.

The VWO under the cooperative runs a shelter for the elderly destitute, four daycare centres for the aged and two senior activity centres.

Of the cafe, Ms Ong, 39, said: "We wanted to make this a hip space where seniors can be seen differently, and help seniors elevate their sense of self-worth by staying on top of trends, such as the popularity of gourmet coffee these days."

A total of 15 retirees aged between 54 and 77 now serve as senior volunteers at the cafe. They are paid a token sum for performing tasks such as brewing coffee, serving buns from a popular Japanese bakery and manning the cash register.

Daily operations at the cafe, which is open from 9am to 9pm from Monday to Saturday, are customised to meet the seniors' needs, said Ms Ong.

For instance, a bun and a coffee set costs $3.50, so that the seniors do not have to figure out the different prices.

They go through basic training in food hygiene and customer service before they embark on their shifts, which are structured around their schedule and needs. Most live near the senior activity centre, which offers free or subsidised classes for senior citizens, such as English and baking classes.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Singapore Bicentennial: Journeying back 700 years

Creative NDP veterans promise 'cinematic and engaging' Bicentennial showcase
Story of Singapore will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 9 Dec 2018

They have staged four National Day Parades between them.

Now, theatre director Beatrice Chia-Richmond and media consultant and playwright Michael Chiang are hard at work putting together one of the biggest events of next year - the Bicentennial showcase at Fort Canning Centre.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, they promised a "cinematic and engaging" experience for Singaporeans as they take them on a journey beginning in 1299.

Mrs Chia-Richmond, 44, who was creative director of the 2011 and 2016 National Day Parades, said it will be unlike traditional classroom history lessons which tend to involve giant, dusty tomes and the memorisation of key dates, facts and who did what.

Instead, the story of Singapore over 700 years will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia.

All that Singaporeans have to do is turn up and enjoy the show.

"From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience @ Fort Canning" has been split into two main sections: The Time Traveller and Pathfinder.

The Time Traveller segment is divided into five acts.

The first will depict the "epicness" of the first 500 years of Singapore's history starting from 1299.

Mr Chiang, 64, who was the scriptwriter for the 2010 and 2014 National Day Parades, said one highlight is the depiction of the fierce naval battles which took place off the coast of Changi between the Portuguese and Dutch over trade in Asia in 1603.

They noted that the naval battles show that Singapore was already in the forefront of global and regional events.

Mrs Chia-Richmond said that while Singaporeans are used to the retelling of history from the Singaporean perspective, the showcase as a whole will look at the island's history from the point of view of the rest of the world.

The next act delves into the events surrounding the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Act 3, which covers 1900 to 1930, aims to portray the dynamic city that was being built, and its underlying tensions. Visitors will get to sit in a rotating rotunda with props such as a recreated pilgrim ship. They will get to watch and experience its bustling port, cars running on the island's freshly built roads, and the arrival of the first trains running between Singapore and Malaya which transported local products.

Act 4 depicts Singapore under siege during World War II while Act 5 tackles the story of modern Singapore.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Singapore and Malaysia dispute over airspace and territorial waters

* Singapore-Malaysia officials to meet in the second week of January 2019 to discuss maritime dispute

Khaw Boon Wan tells Malaysian ships to back off as Singapore expands its own port limits and says it will act firmly if Malaysian vessels continue to intrude
Transport Minister urges dialogue on maritime row, but vows firm action to protect sovereignty
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2018

Malaysia should "back off" and leave Singapore's waters.

That was the firm message from Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday, as he urged Singapore's closest neighbour to pursue dialogue instead of "blatant provocation" to resolve the row over port limits and territorial waters.

Mr Khaw revealed that in the past two weeks, there have been 14 incursions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore's waters.

Three of these vessels were still in Singapore territory yesterday, he told the media. Singapore decided to expand its own port limits in response to Malaysia's action, he said.

And while the Republic has so far responded with restraint against the "aggressive actions" by the Malaysian vessels in its waters, it will not hesitate to act firmly to protect its territory and sovereignty, if necessary, Mr Khaw said.

"My main message today is... Back off. Leave our waters while we pursue sit-down dialogues and try to resolve it."

Mr Khaw outlined how the incursions stemmed from Malaysia's unilateral decision in October to extend the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters, a move which the Republic protested.

"Malaysian government vessels have since been continually intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas," Mr Khaw said.

Singapore's expansion of its port limits, with immediate effect, is well within its own territorial waters, he added. "It is... a reaction to this provocative action on the part of Malaysia, but we do it properly, in accordance with international law, and certainly do not infringe on our neighbour's rights."

In the meantime, he added, Singapore's security agencies will continue to patrol the area and respond to unauthorised activities.

They have so far responded with restraint. "But Singapore cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created," Mr Khaw said. "Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we will not hesitate to take firm actions against intrusions and unauthorised activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty."

Mr Khaw noted that since at least 1999, Singapore has been exercising its jurisdiction in the waters now covered by the recent extension of the Johor Baru port limits.

"Malaysia has never laid claim to these waters, or protested our actions there. Now, out of the blue, Malaysia is claiming these territorial waters that belong to Singapore," he said.

"This is a blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law."

On Wednesday, Malaysia argued that Singapore cannot claim the area as its territorial waters on the basis of its reclamation works in Tuas in recent years.

But Mr Khaw responded that Malaysia had published a map in 1979, when no reclamation in Tuas had taken place. The new, purported, Johor Baru port limits now extend even beyond Malaysia's own territorial claim line, into Singapore's waters.

Malaysia had replied to say its vessels were patrolling its own territorial waters - a claim Singapore rejected. Malaysia had also proposed that the two sides meet to resolve the issue. "Singapore naturally agrees to this and will follow up," Mr Khaw said.

But he added: "This violation of Singapore's sovereignty is a serious new issue in our bilateral relations with Malaysia," he said, adding that Singaporeans have to be fully aware of these developments.

"While we seek cooperation and friendship with other countries, we must never let other countries take advantage of us. When our national interests are challenged, we have to quietly but firmly stand our ground and stay united as one people."

Monday, 3 December 2018

Kampung Admiralty wins World Building of the Year 2018 award at the World Architecture Festival

Integrated retirement village in Woodlands beats 535 projects from 57 countries to clinch Building of the Year
By Goh Yan Han and Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 3 Dec 2018

An integrated retirement village in Woodlands has clinched one of the world's most prestigious architectural awards.

Designed by WOHA Architects, Kampung Admiralty won Building of the Year at this year's World Architecture Festival, considered the Oscars of the architectural world.

The entry beat 535 projects from 57 countries to snag the top prize, announced at a gala dinner last Friday in Amsterdam.

The newly developed Kampung Admiralty retirement community has been held up as an example of what the Government is doing to transform education, healthcare and housing to improve lives.

The 11-storey complex by the Housing Board comprises public housing for seniors, integrated with healthcare, wellness and eldercare facilities, and a childcare centre. It took in its first residents in August last year.

At his National Day Message in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described it as a "high-rise kampung where residents are out and about, socialising with family, friends and neighbours, and yet never too far from home".

He added that it is a model for future public housing.

Mr Paul Finch, programme director of the World Architecture Festival, said: "The judges admired the project for the way in which it dealt with the universal condition of longevity and health treatments, social housing provision, and commercial space, which enabled substantial public-realm benefits.

"This hybrid building also incorporates a huge amount of greenery in a series of layered levels which have generated welcome biodiversity."

The winner was selected by a "super jury" of four highly respected representatives of the global architectural community - Mr Li Xiaodong, Ms Nathalie de Vries, Mr Frederick Cooper Llosa and Ms Lesley Lokko.

The building has won multiple awards, including a commendation for commercial architecture at this year's International Chapter Architecture Awards, as well as the Best Commercial Mixed-Use Future Project award at the 2016 edition of the festival.

Singapore Institute of Architects president Seah Chee Huang said the momentous win is a big achievement not only for WOHA, but also for Singapore.

"It demonstrates the talent and quality of Singapore architects, to shine on the world stage and do our nation proud," he said.

"I also see the award as an affirmation by the global architectural fraternity of our country's success in championing urban-social alchemy, through the synthesis of people, density, greenery, wellness and liveability."

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Singapore's next Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

Heng Swee Keat picked as 4G leader, with Chan Chun Sing as deputy
People's Action Party (PAP) appoints Heng Swee Keat as First Assistant Secretary General, indicating he will be Singapore's fourth PM
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57, has been chosen to lead the fourth-generation (4G) team of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), paving the way for him to become Singapore's next prime minister.

Mr Heng is now the party's first assistant secretary-general, with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, playing a key role as second assistant secretary-general and his deputy.

The announcement of their roles yesterday in the new slate of office-holders for the PAP's highest committee marks a major point in Singapore's leadership transition and answers the pressing question of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking at a media conference at the PAP headquarters in Bedok yesterday evening, Mr Heng said the younger team chose him as their leader, and he accepted it.

He then asked Mr Chan to be his deputy, saying the former army chief and labour chief has many strengths and would complement him very well.

Mr Heng said: "Leading the party and governing Singapore are massive and complex tasks. No one person can do it alone." It was a point both he and Mr Chan reiterated several times at the press conference.

"I am heartened that I have the backing of a strong team," he added.

A group of 30 younger PAP MPs issued a statement yesterday saying they reached the consensus that Mr Heng will lead the team and endorsed Mr Chan as his deputy.

In a Facebook post last evening, PM Lee, the party's secretary-general, said he supports their decision and is happy with the outcome.

Mr Heng and Mr Chan have complementary strengths and make a strong pairing, PM Lee added.

"I am confident that they will continue to grow in experience and touch, and steadily win the confidence and trust of Singaporeans."

The Prime Minister also said he will announce changes to the Cabinet in due course, and observers expect Mr Heng to be appointed deputy prime minister.

Both Mr Heng and Mr Chan entered politics in 2011 and have held various key portfolios.

Mr Heng was made education minister, and chaired key initiatives like a national conversation series to engage citizens and a committee tasked with devising strategies to grow Singapore's economy in future.

But his political future came under serious doubt when he suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in May 2016. He, however, made a miraculous recovery and returned to work about three months later.

Yesterday, Mr Heng gave the assurance that his doctors have given him a clean bill of health, and said he is in even better shape than before. "I would not have taken up this appointment if I do not have the confidence that my health allows me to do it," he added.

On why he picked Mr Chan as his deputy, Mr Heng said they complement each other well in their styles and areas of expertise.

He cited how they have good experiences working together, including setting up the Early Childhood Development Agency.

Mr Chan has been doing a lot of groundwork with various organisations, including the labour movement, the People's Association and the party itself, he noted, adding: "It is important that we pool together our strengths to mobilise."

On his part, Mr Chan said he has great respect for Mr Heng's capabilities, particularly his considerable international experience and knowledge of financial markets.

"As a team, we will complement one another, leveraging our respective strengths to do our best for Singapore," he added.

The PAP's 4G team has strengths in different areas and a range of skills to deal with a complex set of internal and external challenges, Mr Heng said. "I am confident that we will work well together to take Singapore forward and to improve the lives of Singaporeans."

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Employment Act: Laws to protect workers' rights expanded to cover all employees from April 2019

Employment Act changes give workers greater protection
Updates reflect changing profile of Singapore's labour force, workplace practices: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2018

The law that protects workers' rights has undergone a major transformation to include all private-sector employees, a move that will entitle them to rights such as paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave of seven to 14 days and protection against wrongful dismissal.

This means the Employment Act (EA) will no longer have a salary cap of $4,500 a month.

The move is among four categories of major changes Parliament approved yesterday and which will take effect in April next year.

The others are: Giving extra protection to more rank-and-file workers, improving the employment dispute resolution framework and giving employers greater flexibility to, say, compensate staff for working on public holidays.

With no salary cap, the Act will cover the growing pool of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). But it will not cover public servants, domestic workers and seafarers, who are covered separately under other laws.

A major change in the expanded law is protection given to more workers under the section known as Part IV. This section sets out extra protection for rank-and-file workers in areas such as working hours, and payment for overtime work and rest days.

For rank-and-file white-collar workers, or non-workmen, the monthly salary threshold has been raised from $2,500 to $2,600, a move that brings another 100,000 workers under Part IV protection.

But for workmen - manual or blue-collar workers - Part IV protection will continue to cover those earning up to $4,500 a month.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, in introducing the Employment (Amendment) Bill for debate yesterday, said the updates - work on which began in 2012 - were to reflect the changing profile of Singapore's labour force and employment practices.

Back in 1968, when the law came into existence, managers and executives were a very small part of the workforce, she noted.

"Today, with the proportion of PMETs... expected to make up two-thirds of our local workforce by 2030, it is timely to make a more fundamental change to the coverage of the EA," she said.

This is why the salary cap of $4,500 will be removed, and this will benefit an additional 430,000 managers and executives.