Sunday, 20 January 2019

Singapore student takes on Mahathir at Oxford Union dialogue session on 18 Jan 2019

Darrion Mohan presses Malaysian Prime Minister on disputes between the 2 countries
The Sunday Times, 20 Jan 2019

A Singapore student at Oxford University took on Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last Friday, asking the elder statesman candid questions on the prickly diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Mr Darrion Mohan, a second-year history and politics undergraduate, began by saying that Singapore and Malaysia were "again embroiled in an unnecessary and potentially internecine maritime dispute", referring to the Johor chief minister's recent intrusion into waters off Tuas.

He then asked Tun Mahathir, who had earlier given his address at Britain's prestigious debating society, the Oxford Union, if any action would be taken against the chief minister.

"Would you not agree actions like this contribute to the perception that your government is pugnacious, that your government acts in bad faith and that your government... wants a return to the days of confrontational diplomacy and barbed rhetoric?" he asked.

Dr Mahathir did not immediately answer Mr Mohan's questions, and instead asked if he was a Malaysian.

Mr Mohan then sought to bring the discussion back to the issues he raised, listing the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project, the airspace dispute over Seletar Airport, the proposed "crooked" bridge between Johor Baru and Singapore, calls to revise water supply prices and the maritime dispute as indicators that Dr Mahathir wanted a return to the "fraught relations with Singapore" seen during his first stint as premier between 1981 and 2003.

Dr Mahathir responded by saying that the 1962 Water Agreement between the two countries was unfair to Malaysia.

Singapore pays 3 sen (1 Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons for its supply of raw water from Johor, and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons. It costs Singapore RM2.40 to treat every thousand gallons of water. By selling at 50 sen, Singapore is providing a subsidy of RM1.90 per thousand gallons of water.

On the maritime dispute, Dr Mahathir confirmed that "the Menteri Besar went without our permission", adding that "he thought it was Johor waters, that's why he went there".

However, Dr Mahathir said Singapore's reaction to the intrusion was quite severe, "as if you are going to war", and described the waters off Tuas as international waters. "It is not Singapore water either, it is international water and the Menteri Besar can go into international water without Singapore sending warships to chase him away," he said.

Despite his questions not being fully addressed, Mr Mohan graciously surrendered the microphone to someone else to ask questions, but not before clarifying that the waters were not neutral and were Singapore's according to a 1979 map that Malaysia had tabled.

Dr Mahathir was later asked if he believed it was right for Malaysia to expel Singapore in 1965. Singapore merged with the Federation of Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah in 1963 to form the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore left the federation in 1965.

"But the fact is that Singapore was a part of Malaysia before. It is our country," he said. "Normally, when a country decides to decolonise, the land goes back to the owner of that land, to the country that owns that land, that happened to Hong Kong and Macau and other places."

Dr Mahathir added: "But in our case, we find that people in Singapore are not compatible with the people in Malaysia. They have a different viewpoint, different ideas about how a country should be ruled, so it is for that reason that they were asked to leave Malaysia, and I think it was a wise decision at that time."

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Singapore selects F-35 jets to replace ageing F-16 fighters

RSAF may first buy a small number to evaluate their capabilities before deciding on a full fleet
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2019

Singapore has identified the United States F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the most suitable aircraft to be its next-generation fighter jet.

The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said this yesterday as it revealed that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Defence Science and Technology Agency have completed their technical evaluation to select the replacement for the ageing F-16s. The F-35 JSF has been dubbed the world's most advanced fighter jet.

MINDEF said the evaluation concluded that the RSAF should first purchase a small number of F-35 JSFs for a full evaluation of their capabilities and suitability before deciding on a full fleet.

In the next phase, MINDEF will enter into talks with relevant parties in the US before confirming its decision to purchase the fighter jet.

No further details were given on the exact number or variants of the F-35s - manufactured by Lockheed Martin - that will be acquired.

The F-35 has stealth functions that make it difficult to detect by enemy radar. It also has network capabilities in fusing information from other F-35s and friendly forces to build up a picture of the battle space.

There are three variants of the aircraft, including a short take-off and vertical landing version that can land like a helicopter.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote that the talks with US counterparts could take nine to 12 months before a decision is made.

"Even then, we want to procure a few planes first to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the full acquisition of a full fleet," he added.

"We must prepare well and cater enough time to replace our F-16s."

Dr Ng pointed out that the RSAF's F-16s, in service since 1998, will have to retire soon after 2030 even after their mid-life upgrades.

"That is not very far away, just over 10 years, to acquire their replacement and, just as important, to build the logistic support and train pilots individually and as a fleet to guard our skies," he wrote.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

CPF Life payouts: Minimum age for withdrawal stays at 65

Parliament: Minimum age for CPF payouts will remain at 65; priority is reviewing retirement, re-employment ages, says Josephine Teo
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2019

The minimum age to receive monthly payouts from Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings will not be lowered for now as it was raised to 65 only last year, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Employees appear to be more concerned about being able to work longer and save more, she told Parliament, which is why her priority this year is to build a new consensus between workers, employers and the Government on the retirement and re-employment ages.

She was replying to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who said retirees have approached her asking for an earlier CPF payout, as they lack money but are healthy and cannot appeal on medical grounds.

In fact, said Mrs Teo, more than half of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, which are developed nations, have set their pension withdrawal age at 65 or older.

Some are raising it in the light of increasing longevity, she added.

For example, The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are raising their respective pension withdrawal ages gradually to reach 67 by 2021, 2022 and 2029.

"So against such a backdrop, we must really ask if it is wise to lower our own PEA (payout eligibility age)," Mrs Teo said, referring to the minimum age at which CPF members can start receiving their monthly CPF Life payouts.

However, permanently incapacitated or terminally ill CPF members, for example, can apply to withdraw their savings or start their payouts before age 65 under the Medical Grounds Scheme. Most applications - about 65 per cent - in the past three years were successful.

Mrs Teo also disclosed the payout eligibility age was not a major concern for workers during feedback sessions held by the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers.

The group, of which she is an adviser, began its review of the retirement and re-employment ages, plus the impact of CPF contribution rates on retirement adequacy, last year.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Singapore-Malaysia sea and air disputes: Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan Ministerial Statement in Parliament on 14 January 2019

Singapore to discuss issues with Malaysia calmly, but will guard its turf: Vivian Balakrishnan
Countries can expect consequences if they embark on 'antics' against Republic, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2019

Singapore will do its best to discuss all outstanding bilateral issues with Malaysia in a calm, reasonable and focused manner, Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Parliament yesterday. But he warned of "consequences" if other nations embarked on "adventures and antics" against it.

Dr Balakrishnan also said he does not expect a quick or smooth resolution to these issues with Malaysia, which include disputes over maritime and airspace boundaries.

Last October, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. It has also objected to the implementation of new landing procedures for Seletar Airport.

"Both of these sets of sudden actions upset the status quo that has been in place for many years," Dr Balakrishnan said in his statement, where he set out the facts of each issue and highlighted steps that both sides have taken to find a constructive way forward. "These actions did not bode well for our bilateral relationship. They created the risk of a dangerous downward spiral of measures and counter-measures."

On Malaysia's extension of port limits, he said it goes beyond even the territorial sea claims in its 1979 map, which Singapore has rejected consistently. "The inescapable conclusion is that the new Johor Baru port limits transgress into what are indisputably Singapore territorial waters," said the minister, highlighting how Singapore has long exercised sovereignty and patrolled the disputed waters without any protest from Malaysia.

He also pointed out that daily intrusions into these waters by Malaysian government vessels since November have continued despite the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry declaring that it would take "all effective measures" to de-escalate the situation on the ground. "These intrusions do not help Malaysia's legal case. All they do is to raise tensions and endanger navigational safety in the area," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan and his Malaysian counterpart had agreed last week to form a working group to discuss matters and de-escalate the situation in the waters off Tuas.

While Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation is best resolved through negotiations, it is prepared to settle disputes via an appropriate international third party dispute settlement procedure if such negotiations fail, he said.

Replying to a question from Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) on what actions Singapore could take if there were further intrusions into its waters, Dr Balakrishnan said: "We will always take appropriate measures to safeguard our interest, and any country dealing with Singapore must not assume that it is cost-free to embark on any adventures or antics against us. There will be consequences."

He also addressed the 1962 Water Agreement, which Malaysia wants to revise. The attorneys-general on both sides had met last month to better understand each other's position on whether Malaysia still had the right to review the price of water, but it was overshadowed by other issues that subsequently arose. They will meet again to continue discussions, he said.

The transport ministers from both countries have also agreed to meet later this month for further discussions on the airspace dispute.

MPs had filed 14 questions on the disputes with Malaysia, and seven members had supplementary questions for Dr Balakrishnan.

Concluding his speech, he said: "The strength of Singapore's diplomacy depends on domestic unity and resilience, and the fact that we cannot be intimidated or bought."

This is why Total Defence and investment in the Singapore Armed Forces are so important, he added.

Resilience, he said, includes improving Singapore's water supply infrastructure, namely Newater and desalinated water, strengthening food security by diversifying food sources, and ensuring a strong, diversified labour market.

As a small state with limited resources, the quest for security and resilience has been "a constant, relentless imperative" since independence, Dr Balakrishnan noted.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Govt will help workers cope with job changes and economic restructuring, says PM Lee Hsien Loong; Singapore's labour crunch: Why it's happening and what more can be done

30,000 got new jobs in 2018 through Adapt and Grow
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2019

Amid anxiety over jobs and the state of the economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's message to Singaporeans is that resources and the resolve are in place to help them train and take on new jobs.

The journey is not easy, and many people are anxious and might worry about their career prospects, job security and families, he said. Older people may be more worried about new technology, he noted.

"We have the resources, the plans and the resolve. We will help everybody to get through difficulties. We will help you, walk together with you, to overcome these troubles," he said on a visit to Workforce Singapore's Careers Connect at Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar. It lets jobseekers meet career coaches and tap a wide range of resources.

Yesterday, PM Lee met workers who had changed or were changing jobs, employers and career coaches, and spoke to them about their experiences for around 21/2 hours.

"A lot of good work is done, there is a lot of passion," he told reporters at the end of his visit, adding that Singaporeans should have confidence that they can cope with economic transformation.

Singapore has made a lot of progress in its restructuring journey, he noted, citing how employment rates have gone up, particularly for women and the elderly.

The journey is not over, he said. But if it is done right, in 10 years, Singaporeans will be in a better position than they are in today, he said.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Singapore's flourishing religious minorities a lesson for the world

By Peter Welby, Published The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2019

In a decade of work in the field of religion and global affairs, I have never come across a religious minority so comfortable in its own skin, and so conscious of the vital role it plays in the wider national tapestry, as Muslims in Singapore.

A conference held last November marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), jointly organised with the Forum for Promoting Peace, led by Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, one of the world's leading Islamic scholars. Its theme was the engagement of Singapore's Muslims in the country's unique secular, plural system and whether there were lessons for the rest of the world.

As Shaykh Abdallah said: "Every citizen has exactly the same rights and responsibilities as every other citizen." This is a phenomenon to be praised - but also to be emulated.

MUIS is an unusual body, virtually unknown in other similarly minority contexts: It is indisputably a government organisation, set up by statute in order to advise the President on Islamic affairs and administer the key areas of Muslim religious life - charity, worship, religious education and pilgrimage. But at the same time it is a service body, set up for the benefit of the country's Muslims, not as a means for their control; and a community body, largely funded by Singapore's Muslims and managing community assets.

This set-up could be a consequence of history: Muslims in Singapore have not always been a "minority community". The brief period of Singapore's merger with Malaysia put those who follow Islam in the national majority. MUIS was set up three years after the end of the merger experiment, and the trauma of the experience makes the current set-up all the more impressive.

The recent conference was the culmination of years of activity - a culmination that reaffirmed the Muslim community's integral place in the state. The keynote speech was given by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in testimony to the good relationship between Singapore's Muslim community and the state.

What made this conference unique was the picture it painted of Singaporean society: a society at ease with itself. In much of the Western world, societies are increasingly ill at ease with the interaction between citizenship and identity, particularly around religion and culture. Islam in particular is seen by many, both inside and outside the faith, as something alien to Western society - to be kept at arm's length and possibly even dangerous. Debates around securitisation and extremism are often perceived as part of this alienation.

Not, seemingly, in Singapore.

The Republic is unique for a host of reasons. For one thing, there are few remaining fully independent city states in the world and Singapore is the only one of those to have emerged from colonialism. The end of the colonial period and the early post-colonial era were times of great hardship for the country. Out of that, its leaders determined that the answer to its external weakness must lie in internal strength: a nation made up of many ethnicities and religions, but in national vision, one.

Many claim to be defined by a principle of unity in diversity; in Singapore, it feels real.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Committee of Inquiry on SingHealth cyber attack public report; IHiS sacks 2 employees, imposes financial penalty on CEO

Probe report on SingHealth data breach points to basic failings
COI releases key findings on cyber attack, and makes 16 recommendations with priority for 7
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2019

Staff who fell prey to phishing attacks. Weak administrator passwords. Not applying a patch that could have stopped the hacking. And an IT cyber-security team that could not even recognise a security incident.

These were among the basic failings that opened the door to Singapore's worst data breach, according to the public report by a high-level panel tasked to probe last June's cyber attack on SingHealth.

And such lax cyber-security practices were no match for the sophisticated cyber attackers, believed to be state-linked. In fact, the Singapore authorities contacted foreign law enforcement agencies for information on the users behind servers linked to the attack.

The 453-page report also offers 16 recommendations - seven of them classified as "priority" - to shore up defences at organisations responsible for critical information infrastructure (CII) systems.

Among other things, CII owners including SingHealth must set rules, to be reviewed at least once a year, to protect their systems against cyber-security threats.

All administrators must use two-factor authentication, and the use of passphrases instead of passwords should be considered. The industry and the Government should also share threat intelligence.

One key recommendation is that SingHealth appoint its own cyber-security "risk man" rather than rely solely on its IT management vendor, Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), for such oversight.

At present, all the domain expertise and resources to detect and manage cyber-security risks lie with IHiS, which the Committee of Inquiry (COI) said is "difficult to sustain" in the long run.

The report also provides a blow-by-blow account of the events that led to the cyber attack.

Despite the attackers being sophisticated, the COI said, the data breach could have been averted if not for "a blanket of middle-management mistakes" at IHiS, Singapore's central IT agency for the healthcare sector.

For instance, a middle manager of cyber security at IHiS had misconceptions of what constitutes a cyber-security incident, and delayed reporting the network intrusions for fear that additional pressure would be put on him and his team.

Also, the key technology "risk man" at IHiS - cluster information security officer Wee Jia Huo - displayed "an alarming lack of concern" when it was clear that a critical system had been potentially breached.

These lapses contributed to successful data exfiltration from SingHealth's electronic medical records system from June 27 to July 4 last year. Hackers stole the personal data of 1.5 million patients and the outpatient prescription details of 160,000 people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The attacker had a clear goal in mind, namely, the personal and outpatient medication data of the Prime Minister in the main, and also that of other patients," the report said.

But it also noted: "The attacker was stealthy but not silent, and signs of the attack were observed by IHiS' staff. Had IHiS' staff been able to recognise that an attack was ongoing and take appropriate action, the attacker could have been stopped before it achieved its objectives."

Monday, 7 January 2019

Singapore supplies additional treated water to Malaysia at Johor's request

Additional 6 millions gallons per day (mgd) of treated water supplied between 2 and 4 January 2019
Production at Johor's water plants was disrupted recently due to pollution in river catchment
By Grace Leong, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2019

Singapore's water agency PUB has, at Johor's request, supplied additional treated water to Malaysia after production there was disrupted due to pollution.

In response to media queries, PUB said yesterday that an additional six million gallons per day (mgd) of treated water was supplied between Jan 2 and Jan 4.

PUB said production at Johor's water plants was disrupted recently by pollution in the river catchment. PUB's Johor River Waterworks was not affected by the incident.

"At Johor's request, PUB helped to tide Johor residents over the water supply disruption by turning on PUB's Pasir Gudang offtake and supplying an additional six million gallons per day of treated water between Jan 2 and Jan 4, 2019," a spokesman said.

The 6 mgd was on top of the 16 mgd that Singapore usually supplies Johor.

Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is required to supply Johor with 5 mgd of treated water.

In practice, the Republic has been supplying 16 mgd of treated water to Johor at its request.

Last year, Singapore also supplied additional water in excess of the usual 16 mgd for 20 days at the request of Johor, PUB said.

PUB added that it has supplied all the additional treated water above 5 mgd on "a goodwill basis" at the same price as under the 1962 Water Agreement, that is, 50 sen per 1,000 gallons.

This is a fraction of the cost of treating the water, and "has been done without prejudice to our rights under the 1962 Water Agreement".

The agency said there has been long-standing cooperation between the water agencies of the two countries.

"PUB has thus far been responsive in assisting Johor residents to reduce the impact of their water disruptions, in the spirit of good neighbourliness."