Saturday 31 March 2012

A bank like World Bank on Brics' agenda

Emerging powers' group likely to also take steps to align bourses
By Nirmala Ganapathy, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

NEW DELHI: A development bank along the lines of the World Bank that could fund projects and encourage trade in developing nations will top the agenda when leaders of emerging powers Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (Brics) meet here today for their annual summit.

The Brics countries, which account for about 40 per cent of the world's population, are also expected to look at setting up a common secretariat, take steps to align their stock exchanges and discuss regional and international developments in Syria and Iran.

Although their economies are among the fastest-growing in the world, the five countries have serious political and foreign policy differences. For a start, India and China have a border dispute. China and Russia have also opposed expansion of the United Nations Security Council to accommodate countries like India and Brazil.

But they have similar economic and financial goals. The idea of a multilateral bank to provide a common investment fund for infrastructure and development projects is seen as an attempt to increase Brics' influence in international economic affairs dominated by Western nations. 'It would be a very powerful tool to improve trade opportunities and maybe a major step to support the EU (European Union) to overcome its financial crisis,' said Brazilian Trade Minister Fernando Pimentel.

View CCTV images of flood-prone areas on PUB's website

Channel NewsAsia, 29 Mar 2012

From Thursday, the public can find out which areas have been hit by floods by checking closed-circuit television (CCTV) images on national water agency PUB's website.

The images are from 24 flood-prone areas and hotspots islandwide, including areas such as Orchard Road, Shenton Way, Bukit Timah Road, Upper Thomson, Veerasamy Road, Tampines St 81 and Ang Mo Kio Ave 3.

PUB said the images will be updated every five minutes.

There are currently 65 CCTVs installed at areas which are flood-prone or have recently experienced flash floods.

PUB said the 24 selected CCTVs are located at roads with higher traffic flow.

The agency said the CCTV images will help to improve public preparedness as part of Singapore's overall flood management effort.

Singapore National Games score in social bonding

Strict criteria for teams designed to get residents to mingle
By Teo Wan Gek, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2012

COME April 18, the stakes will be high for engineer D. Eeswaran when he takes to the bowling lanes. The 52-year-old, along with his 10-year-old daughter and two other Sembawang residents, will take on nine other teams from the district in the annual Community Games for the right to represent Sembawang in bowling in the inaugural Singapore National Games.

Fifteen group representation constituencies, or clusters, will choose their finest sporting talents in their own Community Games to slug it out in 10 events in the Singapore National Games from Sept 1 to 9.

Co-organised by the People's Association and Singapore Sports Council, the Games, while celebrating sports, also wants to score in connecting residents.

To encourage community bonding, each team must have residents of different ages, races and social backgrounds. They can be Singaporeans, permanent residents or non-citizens.

For example, a badminton team of eight must have two players aged above 50, three aged 36 to 49 and three below 35. It must also include at least one resident from a private estate, and members must come from at least two races.

Did NUS student Sun Xu get what he deserved for online rant?

Debate rages over whether punishment for Sun Xu was adequate
By Leonard Lim & Bryna Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2012

FIRST, they wanted him punished.

But now that the National University of Singapore (NUS) has meted out the punishment to the foreign student who made derogatory comments about Singaporeans, the debate has turned to whether justice has been done.

Earlier this week, Mr Sun Xu was given an official reprimand, a $3,000 fine, and an order to do three months of community service before he can graduate.

The Chinese national's misdemeanour: He ranted on a blog post last month that there were 'more dogs than humans' in Singapore.

Some are demanding his expulsion, because of Mr Sun's status as a Ministry of Education scholarship holder and the behaviour expected of such individuals.

'It's too light. I'd have sent him home and taken away the scholarship,' said Ms Paramita Bandara, a retired principal and an educator for close to four decades.

'The punishment was a drop in the ocean. It should have been a deterrent, make it so drastic that people are warned.'

Many in the online community have also been asking for his pound of flesh.

'When other people make racist remarks, they may be liable for jail terms,' wrote Mr Sebastian Ng on a Facebook page titled 'NUS should revoke Sun Xu's scholarship'.

Those in this camp also point to last year's case involving Chinese national Wang Peng Fei.

The then 24-year-old was expelled from the private school East Asia Institute of Management for mocking Singaporeans in a four-minute video, and making racist comments against a minority ethnic group.

But some like Tampines Junior College principal Helen Choo felt Mr Sun's punishment was just. 'The school has sent a strong signal showing students that they have to be careful about what they say at all times,' she said.

Some netizens feel the same way.

Navigating a new terrain of Government and Citizens engagement (Bukit Brown)

A passionate attempt to save Bukit Brown Cemetery has not turned out as civil society groups hoped it would. What does the saga teach about engagement between the Government and citizens?
By Grace Chua , Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2012

IF DEAD men could talk, imagine the stories that those buried at Bukit Brown would tell their loved ones this Qing Ming.

Left peacefully alone for decades barring the annual spurts of visits during the grave-sweeping festival in early April, they have, over the past year, been witness to a sudden hubbub of conversation and activity at their resting place.

Government officials have trooped up and down the undulating terrain, overlaid with gnarled roots, to survey the tombs and plant stakes by the 3,746 that would make way for a eight-lane road - in turn, a precursor of the eventual development of the entire cemetery for housing.

Passionate debates over its fate have swirled around the elaborate tombstones, as anthropologists, filmmakers and heritage enthusiasts hauled cameras around to document those affected.

Politicians have paid visits too, most notably Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin.

'No regrets' over Bukit Brown effort: Tan Chuan-Jin

But some things could have been done better, says Tan Chuan-Jin
By Li Xueying & Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2012

THE man at the centre of the Bukit Brown engagement effort, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, says he has no regrets about reaching out to interest groups on various policies, including on the controversial road slicing through the cemetery.

But the Minister of State for National Development acknowledged that there were things he could have done better, like in managing expectations on what the consultation process can achieve.

In his first interview since the authorities announced on March 19 changes to the road in response to feedback, Mr Tan noted that the eight-month-long engagement effort over Bukit Brown started with a mismatch in expectations.

'Everyone came in with their own expectations,' he said in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

The Government was engaging on how to build 'a better road with minimal impact' - not whether to do so - and how affected graves can be documented. But some interest groups thought they could work at undoing the road decision.

Thus, one takeaway is that 'there should be better appreciation of the expectations on all sides so that we can develop a dialogue that is constructive and which moves the issue forward'.

Another learning point, said Mr Tan, is that the Government needs to better communicate the constraints it faces and 'why we make certain decisions'. He had explained that one alternative option, the widening of Lornie Road, would affect the adjacent nature reserve and mean acquiring private property. But some still insisted on it, he added.

Supervised therapy helps stroke patients recover faster

Exercising at home not good enough: Study
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

TWO in three stroke patients drop out of therapy after they leave the hospital, but a study has shown that supervised sessions can pave the way to faster recovery.

The study revealed that patients who performed exercises only at home lagged behind those who also did so under the watch of a therapist in the year following discharge from hospital.

Associate Professor Gerald Koh said the study underlines the vital role therapists play in stroke rehabilitation.

'Often, patients think that doing exercises at home is enough, but the key thing is to go back to the therapist for reviews,' said Prof Koh, who is from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at National University of Singapore.

This is because at every review, the therapist can prescribe a new set of exercises that are more challenging.

'If you keep doing the same exercises all the time, you won't be able to improve as much,' added Prof Koh, who is among the researchers from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health who did the study.

The lower payoff at home is compounded by the fact that only 33 per cent of stroke patients in the study turned up for therapy sessions regularly in the months after discharge.

One year on, only 28 per cent remained on supervised therapy.

Friday 30 March 2012

Holistic care focus helps Singapore face health care challenges

By Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Mar 2012

Focusing on holistic care instead of episodic care will help Singapore face heath care challenges like managing the rise of chronic diseases, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the "Healthcare in Asia" conference on Wednesday.

He said an outcomes-oriented framework has enabled Singapore to develop a health care system that meets the needs of its population.

Mr Gan said the framework involves integrating care for patients to move seamlessly across health care providers.

"In the past, we focused our financing framework to address the needs of inpatients. This was the right approach for that time - our population was young, and the main financial impact was from hospitalisation," Mr Gan said.

"However, an ageing population requires more frequent care and this care should where possible be delivered in the community instead of acute hospitals."

Singapore's health care infrastructure also includes a financing framework that benefits those in the long-term care sector, as well as evidence-based interventions, such as insurance scheme Medisave for chronic disease management.

CPF 'meets retirement needs of majority'

If it tried to cater to high income earners, that would cause problems for others
By Cai Haoxiang, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

THE CPF scheme would run into problems if it sought to provide for the full retirement needs of everyone, rich or poor, the man in charge of running it has said.

As it now stands, the Central Provident Fund scheme 'fully meets the retirement needs of the people who are below middle income', the fund's chief executive, Mr Yee Ping Yi, said in an interview with The Straits Times.

That means the bottom 40 per cent of wage earners.

It also 'substantially meets' the needs of middle-income earners, which means its retirement coverage extends to about 60 per cent of wage earners.

If the CPF tried to meet all the retirement needs of those further up the income ladder, it would risk over-collection and leave workers less for their other needs.

Such a change would also mean a higher CPF Minimum Sum - now at $131,000 - which would result in more people not being able to withdraw any of their CPF savings at age 55.

Gen Y more gracious now: survey

By Hon Jing Yi, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Mar 2012

Young people under the age of 30 appear to have become more gracious, according to the Singapore Kindness Movement's 2012 Graciousness Index.

The group of youths -- commonly called Gen Y -- showed marked improvement in graciousness, with their rating rising from a mean of 5.9 to 6.3.

The Singapore Kindness Movement's General Secretary William Wan said: "The educational level of our young people, their exposure to different people and their opportunities for travel also probably influenced the way they look at life. At the end of the day, graciousness is being aware of the people around you."

Babyboomers, aged above 50, still scored the highest overall. Their mean rating is at 6.7, unchanged from 2011.

On the whole, Singapore recorded a stable level of graciousness.

The index standing for 2012 is at 61, a slight increase from 60 in 2011.

Netizens quick to condemn offensive acts

Experts weigh in on letting Internet users police their own turf
By Kezia Toh & Miranda Yeo, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

THE Internet may be a free-for-all space, but the online community can be quick to condemn bad behaviour when they spot it.

Mere minutes after a screenshot of Nanyang Polytechnic student Shimun Lai's racially offensive tweet was re-posted, there was a deluge of online comments chastising her.

The 21-year-old had made racist remarks on her Facebook and Twitter accounts that insulted Indians.

Netizens - the majority of whom were non-Indians - called her 'racist' and 'a disgrace' after a screenshot of the offending post went viral on Monday.

The comments came fast and furious after the screenshot was uploaded to forums such as and at around 10pm.

It did not matter that Ms Lai's posts were accessible only by her friends; one of them took a screenshot and circulated it.

On one Facebook thread following an article about the incident, 15 out of 25 disapproving posts were made by non-Indians.

Polys, varsities to get racial harmony 'diplomats'

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2012

ALL polytechnics and universities will soon get ambassadors promoting understanding on the twin topics that could trip up relationships among young people: race and religion.

These diplomats, who will spread the message of racial harmony to their friends, are seen as a crucial plank in reaching out to youngsters in the light of recent incidents of racist online postings.

'The best way to reach out to youth is through their peers,' Mr Zainudin Nordin, the chairman of national racial harmony body, told The Straits Times yesterday.

'With a better understanding of racial harmony, these champions can moot initiatives that build deeper connections in their own schools.'

Thursday 29 March 2012

1-year debarment if you cancel HDB booking

By Sumita Sreedharan, TODAY, 29 Mar 2012

In a move to discourage buyers who book a flat but subsequently cancel their booking, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) yesterday unveiled new penalties to "deter non-genuine" buyers and protect the interests of serious buyers.

Flat applicants who cancel their bookings will now be barred for a year from applying, or be included as an essential occupier for a new HDB flat, a Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) or a Executive Condominium (EC) unit, or a resale flat with housing grants.

This requirement will, however, be waived in "exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the applicants".

"Applicants who booked a flat and subsequently cancelled their booking would have deprived someone the chance to book the unit," explained the HDB. "The imposition of the one-year debarment period is intended to deter non-genuine flat applications and cancellations."

Currently, buyers pay a nonrefundable booking fee when they select a unit and a 10 per cent downpayment when they sign the purchase agreement.

The move triggered a reaction from some property agents but was welcomed by genuine buyers.

The HDB also stressed that this revision would not affect serious buyers and would enable the HDB to help those with urgent housing needs. As to what would constitute "exceptional circumstances", the HDB said it would review each appeal on a case by case basis.

President's Challenge 2012 - Initiatives to promote volunteerism, social enterprises

By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Mar 2012 

President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Tuesday announced two new elements to the President's Challenge 2012, to expand its scope beyond fundraising.

These include the President's Challenge Volunteer Drive and President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award.

The initiatives are aimed at encouraging people to go beyond money and give time, talent and business acumen to help the less fortunate.

Govt must not shy away from hard decisions: DPM Teo

Engagement is part of policy process but there are trade-offs, he says
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2012

EVEN as the Government seeks to engage the public as it makes decisions, it must not shy away from making hard decisions if the country is not to be plunged into policy paralysis.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said this last night when addressing a dinner attended by Singapore's top public servants.

'Public engagement should start from the point of policy design and continue even as we implement these policies,' he said.

'But it is often not possible to satisfy everyone. There will be competing interests and demands, some of which contradict one another. Often, there will have to be trade-offs and difficult decisions, which the Government must not shy away from.'

Citing an example, he said that while everyone agreed on the need for facilities for the elderly, these have to be built somewhere.

To have an expanded MRT network, tunnels, tracks and stations would have to be built and this would mean some Singaporeans 'would suffer inconvenience, which cannot be fully mitigated, and come away feeling disappointed'.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

HDB announces bumper launch of 8,000 flats in March 2012 joint BTO and Sale of Balance Flats exercises

Channel NewsAsia. 27 Mar 2012

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will launch a bumper crop of 8,000 flats in Build-to-Order (BTO) and Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises on Wednesday.

The flats are in mature and non-mature estates, and cover a full range of flat types from three- to five-room flats.

HDB is using the ramped-up supply of new flats to help other buyer groups, now that the queue of first-time flat applicants has been largely cleared, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in his latest blog entry on Tuesday.

Slightly more than half of the flats will consist of BTO flats, with about 1,200 flats in Bukit Batok, 860 in Bukit Panjang, 670 in Clementi, 640 in Geylang, 410 in Bedok, 180 in Toa Payoh and 130 in Bukit Timah.

Mr Khaw said that with the wide range of flats offered in the launch on Wednesday, flat buyers will be able to apply for one that best meets their needs, and in an estate of their choice.

As strong demand is expected for flats that are completed or nearly completed in mature estates, Mr Khaw advised those who want to have a better chance of success to widen their options and consider applying for a BTO flat in non-mature estates.

Mr Khaw said he will be monitoring the application rates to see how Singaporeans respond to the new government initiatives, adding that nothing is cast in stone.

Ministers and office-holders to get 2011 National Bonus of 1.6 months

The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2012

MINISTERS and other political appointment holders will be paid a National Bonus this month equivalent to 1.6 months' pay, the Public Service Division (PSD) said in a statement yesterday.

The National Bonus is a new bonus that provides a direct link between salaries of political appointment holders and the socio-economic progress of average and lower-income Singaporeans, and economic growth. It came about after Parliament endorsed the White Paper on 'Salaries for a Capable and Committed Government' in January.

Based on the approved formula, the 2011 National Bonus is 2.625 months.

But since the new salaries took effect on May 21 last year, when the present Cabinet was appointed, the pro-rated amount will be 1.618 months' pay.

All political appointment holders, from parliamentary secretary to deputy prime minister, will get the same National Bonus rate to reflect their joint contributions as part of the Cabinet, the PSD said. The Prime Minister will get twice the rate as he does not receive a performance bonus.

The National Bonus is based on four indicators: real median income growth for citizens, real income growth for the lowest 20th percentile of citizens, unemployment rate of citizens and real gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

Bigger bus bays, more priority on roads to speed up bus rides

By Royston Sim, the Straits Times, 27 Mar 2012

THE Government hopes to implement more measures to give buses priority on the roads to ensure a smoother, faster journey for commuters.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday that this will be on top of an ongoing scheme to transform heavily used bus stops into 'bus hubs'.

These 'bus hubs' have extended bays and shelters to allow up to four buses to pull into them simultaneously. Three such hubs are now ready at Bedok Reservoir Road, Woodlands Centre Road and Commonwealth Avenue West.

Another 32 bus stops will be expanded by the end of next year.

Speaking to reporters after visiting the hub next to Block 121, Bedok Reservoir Road, Mr Lui said the extended bus bay had sped up the alighting and boarding of passengers, resulting in time saved.

But he added: 'This cannot be the only measure to improve bus services. You need to do more with regard to Mandatory Give Way, where possible to extend the use of bus lanes, and so on.'

There are currently 155km of normal bus lanes and 23km of full-day bus lanes, as well as 202 bus stops under the Mandatory Give Way to Buses Scheme.

Of this scheme, Mr Lui said: 'Certainly, this is an area that we are looking at, and I would like to see it expanded... in a greater fashion.'

With 550 new buses coming in from the Government's $1.1 billion bus plan and another 250 buses due from the operators, more has to be done to create space for buses to berth and improve journey times, he reiterated.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Home loans: Weigh your options

Fixed or floating rate? Locked in for how long? Better to think long-term
By Magdalen Ng, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

Property is never far from the minds of Singaporeans. And why not? We all want four walls to call our own. But bricks and mortar can be a minefield - especially when it comes to loans.

A mortgage is a huge commitment, it goes without saying, and the temptation with interest rates so low is to borrow big and go for a posher home. What could go wrong?

Well, the obvious hitch is that rates, which are at rock-bottom levels, can and must go up. That means an affordable mortgage could fast become a millstone around your neck.

Says DBS Bank's head of deposits and secured lending, Ms Lui Su Kian: 'Home owners should understand how rising interest rates will impact their repayments.'

That means a borrower needs a stable income, and knows down to the last cent what his or her monthly cashflow and other outstanding liabilities are.

IBM Smarter Cities Challenge: Jurong Lake District

By Gan Yu Jia, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2012

TECHNOLOGY giant IBM has awarded the Jurong Lake District a grant to help it develop into a commercial hub.

The grant is part of IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge, which will award US$50 million (S$63 million) worth of technology and services to 100 municipalities worldwide over three years.

Jurong Lake District was identified in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) Master Plan 2008 as a new growth area.

These plans were put forward in a proposal that was considered by a panel of global experts for the IBM grant.

Jurong Lake District is the first place here to receive the grant from the programme, now in its second year. There are 32 other recipients around the world this year.

An IBM spokesman said Singapore was primarily chosen for its clear strategic vision, track record of innovative problem-solving and commitment to using technology and open data.

'Singapore is very forward in its use of technology, especially data. It's really about how the city is able to respond to emergencies and things happening, thereby making life better for the citizens.'

Singaporeans first in new P1 registration rule from 2012 onwards

Citizens will get priority over permanent residents no matter where they live
By Cai Haoxiang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2012

SINGAPOREAN children will now have a further edge over permanent residents (PRs) during Primary 1 school registration.

From this year, available places in registration phases where balloting is required will be given to Singaporeans first. The remaining places in the phase will then be open to PRs.

This means that Singaporeans in each phase, regardless of where they live, will automatically have priority ahead of PRs who might be living nearer the school.

If there are more Singaporeans than places available, those Singaporeans living nearer to the school will still get priority, with the rest balloting for the remaining slots. For example, if a school has 50 vacancies in a specific phase and 56 Singaporean and five PR children apply, none of the latter will get a place, even if they live within 1km of the school.

As for the Singaporean children, those who live within 1km of the school will get first bite, followed by those living between 1km and 2km, and finally, those outside 2km.

Balloting will be used to decide who gets a slot for distance categories when there are more applicants than places remaining.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) issued a statement on the change yesterday, following a visit by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat to the Ayer Rajah ward.

Welcoming the move, Member of Parliament and Government Parliamentary Committee for Education chairman Lim Biow Chuan said it sends a clear signal that Singaporeans are valued.

'For some branded schools, balloting takes place for just one or two places, so if you can give Singaporeans priority, it'll go a long way,' he said.

Mr Lim admitted that 'PRs won't be happy' but they 'cannot expect the same degree of priority as citizens'.

The changes will take place from the Primary 1 registration exercise this July.

Monday 26 March 2012

Lessons for Singapore from Japan's struggles

By Leonard Lim, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

The 50m-long corridor was pitch-dark save for a few lights and the heaters were all switched off even though the temperature outside was in the single digits.

It was hardly the welcome one would expect at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), one of the country's most important government departments.

But the gloomy atmosphere - power-saving was being implemented after last year's Fukushima nuclear disaster - seemed an apt metaphor for a once-great country now facing a bleak future.

A mood of pessimism hung over the academics, economists, government officials and men in the street I met or spoke to while on a study visit in the Japanese capital last week.

Many painted a dire picture of the country's economic, fiscal and political situation.

The government is burdened by the largest debt among developed economies, at about twice the size of its US$5 trillion (S$6.3 trillion) economy. On top of that, half of the 2012 fiscal year's budget is being financed by borrowed money.

The twin dangers of an ageing population and low fertility rates loom large. Japan, the world's most rapidly ageing society, expects two out of every five of its population to be 65 or older by 2060. As the population ages, public finances are under intense pressure from growing social security spending. The social security system, which takes up about a third of the annual 90 trillion yen (S$1.4 trillion) budget, is in desperate need of an overhaul and pension rates are expected to have to fall in future.

'The social security system is at a turning point,' Senior Vice-Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare Yasuhiro Tsuji told me. 'The safety net is crumbling.'

The system is being kept aloft by borrowing, pushing the burden to future generations. But this is unsustainable, Mr Tsuji admitted readily.

Meanwhile, for months, the entire country has been mired in a debate over doubling the consumption tax from the current 5 per cent to 10 per cent by 2015. Citizens recognise that the government needs revenues to enhance the social safety net.

'Sooner or later, we know taxes must rise,' said Mr Motoharu Ochiai, a senior analyst at Japan's Institute of Social and Economic Affairs. But naturally, the longer it can be put off, the better.

Bukit Brown and the soul of Singapore

All that sound and fury was not a waste of time; as a people, we all gained something
By Ignatius Low, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

An experiment of sorts in Singapore in civil activism came to an end last week.

Despite a long and loud campaign by interest groups to change the Government's mind, a road will be built across the Bukit Brown cemetery to ease congestion for motorists.

On the same day this was announced, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) published the names of the 3,746 dead whose graves will be exhumed. Works for the project will start at the end of the year.

Seven groups that made a last-ditch attempt to stay the Government's hand formed an intriguing list.

Other than Singapore's Nature and Heritage societies, there was the Singapore Paranormal Investigators, a group that holds 'ghost tours' in various parts of the island.

The rest were the lesser-known All Things Bukit Brown, SOS Bukit Brown, Green Corridor and Green Drinks.

I found myself wondering what they were, and how each might be different from the other.

But I have also asked myself many times during this whole saga whether I was the sort of person who would bother to join one of these groups, attend meetings for hours on end and feel passionately enough to even lead the charge one day.

One answer to that question, of course, is that it depends on what the group is fighting for.

Marine Parade to test new elder-friendly projects

Improved one-stop health screening, plus active role by CC
By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

Marine Parade is focusing on two new areas to help its elderly residents, just as a pilot scheme to prevent falls is paving the way for a nationwide programme, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

An improved one-stop health screening programme is due to start this month, with general practitioners and dentists in the community on hand for follow-up.

It will go beyond detecting chronic diseases, to include screening elderly people for a decline in bodily functions. Ageing usually leads to poorer vision, hearing, leg strength and balance.

The programme will be rolled out to the rest of Singapore in the next three years.

'Whatever you need can be done there. There will be follow-up directions, where to go, who to see,' Mr Goh told reporters after touring exhibits on preventing falls and other elderly issues in Marine Terrace.

He is the lead Member of Parliament of Marine Parade GRC.

The Marine Parade Community Club (CC) will also take an active part in promoting health care among elderly residents. For a start, it will display the exhibits he saw yesterday, Mr Goh said.

Marine Parade, where one in four residents is more than 65 years old, is the test-bed for elder-friendly programmes.

Earlier, Mr Goh visited two elderly widows living alone in their rental flats at Block 51, Marine Terrace.

They are among about 500 Marine Parade residents aged above 70 who have been selected for the pilot scheme funded by the Tote Board.

George Yeo: Time to work together

By Teo Wan Gek, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

Former foreign minister George Yeo yesterday urged Singaporeans of all political stripes to work together for the interests of the country, saying Singapore has been divided since last year's general election.

The election, which saw the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) vote share slip to 60.1 per cent, showed that many had 'lost faith in the Government'.

'That is not a good thing,' he said. 'When a country is divided, many problems will arise.'

He called for all to 'link the hearts together, broaden our minds'.

The effort goes both ways, he made clear, whether for politicians in opposition parties or those within the Government.

'This is an effort everyone must pool together - Government, people, all political parties,' he said.

He cited as example his former grassroots leader, Dr Ang Yong Guan, who crossed over to the Singapore Democratic Party last year. Dr Ang had previously chaired the Punggol Community Club management committee. 'He had served this community for a long time. He has joined the opposition, but never mind, we can all work together... and if we do so, our future will be very bright,' said Mr Yeo.

Mr Yeo was speaking at a dinner at Punggol Community Club last night, organised by the grassroots in Aljunied GRC's Bedok Reservoir-Punggol ward to say thank you and goodbye for his 23 years as their adviser.

He had stepped down on Jan 1, after saying he was retiring from politics in the wake of the PAP's defeat in the GRC in the last election. He was succeeded by grassroots veteran Anthony Loh.

Mr Yeo said: 'After the elections, some of the heartfelt letters sent to me read like obituaries. but I told my wife... I'm not retiring yet. I'll be doing some other things, I still plan to contribute in other ways.'

About 1,000 residents and grassroots volunteers attended the dinner. Other guests included People's Association special adviser Lim Boon Heng.

The night was peppered with moving tributes from grassroots leaders, and performances from residents. Mr John Tan, 59, a hawker, said it was with a heavy heart that he attended the farewell dinner.

Mr Yeo was the first of the five defeated PAP candidates in Aljunied GRC to step down as grassroots adviser and branch chairman. The Sunday Times understands that announcements of the retirement of two others - Mrs Lim Hwee Hua of Serangoon and Madam Cynthia Phua of Paya Lebar from their grassroots and branch posts - are impending.

10,000 pails, 1 message: Save water

World Water Day marked with activities across the island and conservation message
By Kezia Toh, The Sunday Times, 25 Mar 2012

More than 10,000 people toting small blue pails dotted the island yesterday to mark World Water Day. They walked, cycled or paddled with the buckets, symbolic of how people in developing countries trudge long distances to fetch water, and as a reminder to cherish the Republic's water resources.

At the main event at Marina Barrage, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Singapore should not take its water security for granted.

He noted the changes in climate patterns and the ever increasing demand for water.

The Republic has diversified its water sources to end reliance on imported water. Singapore is on track to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2061, when the second water agreement with Malaysia expires.

But such self-reliance still rests on collective efforts to ensure water security.

'We will need the collective efforts of every individual, young and old, not just to conserve water in our daily activities but to also keep our water resources clean for long-term sustainability,' Dr Tan said.

A string of 15 celebrations marked the day, where a record of over 25,000 people attended.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was at Jurong Lake where about 1,000 people took part in a mass water filtration exercise. Participants used material such as sand and cotton wool to filter untreated water.

Fighting fat intake

Trans-fat levels in products will be limited and labelled on packaging from May next year.
By Ng Wan Ching, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2012

Fat is such a dirty word people will pay large sums of money to siphon it out of their bodies.

But everyone needs it in their diets. It provides essential fatty acids, keeps skin soft, helps the body absorb nutrients, and is a good source of energy.

If consumed in excess amounts, fat contributes to weight gain, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

But not all types of fat are created equal. Some types promote health while others increase the risk of heart disease.

The health authorities here have trained its sights on trans fat, one of the worst types of fat around.

Trans fat occurs naturally in small amounts in dairy products and meats. All deep-fried food also contains trans fat because all types of oil can be converted into trans fat under high and prolonged heat.

But the main source of trans fat is vegetable oil that has had hydrogen added to it. This process of hydrogenation hardens the oil for the production of solid fat such as hard margarine and shortening. These are then used in food products including cakes, cookies and pastries.

The Ministry of Health is working with the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) to step up measures to limit trans-fat consumption. From May next year, AVA will require that trans fat be limited to no more than 2g per 100g of fat in oil products supplied to local food-service establishments and food manufacturers, and sold in retail outlets.


Cholesterol is carried in the blood by two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

The LDL or 'bad' cholesterol transports cholesterol throughout the body. In excess, cholesterol builds up slowly in the arteries, contributing to the narrowing of the arteries.

On the other hand, HDL or 'good' cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and prevents cholesterol build-up in blood vessels.

High intake of saturated fat such as lard and butter can raise LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.

Trans fat not only raises LDL cholesterol levels, but also lowers HDL cholesterol levels, thus increasing even more the risk of heart disease, said Ms Loh Yet Hua, head of the department of dietetics at Singapore General Hospital.

That is not all. Trans fat also promotes inflammation and endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the inner lining of a blood vessel does not function normally, said Ms Loh.

The World Health Organisation says trans fat consumption from partially hydrogenated oil contributes to multiple cardiovascular risk factors and increases significantly the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that eating 4g of fat a day raises the risk of coronary heart disease by 23 per cent.

Ms Liong Suet Mei, senior dietitian at the National University Hospital, said a study of 80,000 female nurses showed that eating trans fat doubled the risk of heart disease in women compared with those who rarely eat trans fat.

While the experts Mind Your Body spoke to all agreed that trans fat is the worst type of fat, they pointed out one should also be mindful of saturated fat, which is widely found in food.

Sources of saturated fat include animal fat such as lard, ghee and butter, and plant sources including coconut oil, milk and cream.

Some people claim that virgin coconut oil does not affect blood cholesterol and even helps in weight loss. But this has not been proven in large-scale studies, Ms Liong said.

Other common types of fat found in food are polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat.

They can lower LDL cholesterol if they replace saturated fat in the diet, said Ms Liong.

Monounsaturated fat is present in canola, olives, avocados and most nuts.

Polyunsaturated fat can be found in cooking oil such as sunflower, soya bean and corn oil. Omega3, a type of this fat, can be found in nuts, seeds and oily fish. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the unique types of omega 3 found in fish such as salmon, cod and sardine.

Studies have suggested that EPA and DHA can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing triglycerides and inflammation, said MsLiong.


But even with good fat, moderation is still the best policy.

Ms Loh said: 'As part of healthy eating, one must still watch the total amount of fat that one consumes. Too much fat, even the good ones, will still provide excess calories.'

Dr Kenneth Ng, a consultant cardiologist at Novena Medical Centre, said too much fat can lead to raised triglyceride levels.

All types of fat contain triglycerides. Too much fat will lead to insulin resistance and fat breakdown and increase triglyceride levels, cautioned Dr Ng.

High triglyceride levels can raise the risk of heart disease and may be a sign of metabolic syndrome.

The syndrome is the combination of at least three of these conditions: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, too much fat at the waist, low HDL and high triglyceride levels. The syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

But how much fat is too much?

It depends on how active a person is, his weight, age and, most importantly, the state of his health.

The Health Promotion Board and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend that the average person keeps total fat intake to 20 to 35 per cent of calories a day.

They advise limiting saturated fat to less than 10 per cent of calories, which is about 200 calories for a typical adult diet of 2,000 calories.

The USDA goes further to say trans fat should be limited to 1 per cent of calories - 2g a day for a 2,000 calorie diet. The rest of the fat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Fat facts

Myth: All types of fat are the same and equally bad for you.

Fact: Saturated fat and trans fat are bad for you because they raise your level of 'bad' cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.

But monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat are good for you, lowering your 'bad' cholesterol level and your risk of heart disease.

Myth: Lowering the amount of fat intake is what counts.

Fact: The mix of types of fat eaten, rather than the total amount in the diet, is what matters most. The key is to eat more good types of fat and less bad types of fat.

Myth: Fat-free equals being healthy.

Fact: Many types of fat-free food are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and calories.

Myth: Eating a low-fat diet is the key to weight loss.

Fact: Cutting calories is the key to weight loss and since fat is filling, it can help curb overeating.

Myth: All body fat is the same.

Fact: Where you carry your fat matters. The health risks are greater if your weight tends to accumulate around your abdomen, as opposed to your hips and thighs.

A lot of belly fat is stored deep below the skin surrounding the abdominal organs and liver, and having too much of belly fat is closely linked to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Source: Helpguide, a non-profit website in collaboration with Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health publishing division of Harvard Medical School


Monounsaturated fat

- Olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and sesame oil

- Nuts such as almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and cashews

- Peanut butter

- Avocados

- Olives

Polyunsaturated fat

- Soya bean, corn and safflower oil

- Walnuts

- Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flax seeds

- Soya bean milk and soya bean curd

- Fatty fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardine, trout and tuna


Saturated fat

- Palm and coconut oil and lard

- High-fat cuts of beef, lamb and pork and chicken with the skin

- Whole-fat dairy products such as milk, butter, cream, cheese and ice cream

Trans fat

- Stick margarine and vegetable shortening

- Commercially baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes and pizza dough

- Packaged snacks such as crackers, popcorn, chips and candy bars

- Deep-fried food such as french fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets and breaded fish