Monday 30 April 2012

My Heartland Memories

Residents from Teck Ghee drew scenes or took photographs of neighbourhood life, which were then put together into a mural
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

When 47-year-old Robert Arokiasamy passes a coloured wall near his heartland home in Teck Ghee, Ang Mo Kio, he smiles with pride. On it is a 10m-long photo-art mural he and his neighbours helped to create.

My Heartland Memories, a community project that saw more than 50 Teck Ghee households depicting various scenes of neighbourhood life through more than 200 sketches and photographs, was unveiled during a welcome party at Teck Ghee Vista last Saturday.

The carnival-like event was held to celebrate the move of residents into newly upgraded homes in Teck Ghee Vista, under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.

The mural wall can be found on a rooftop garden above a multi-storey carpark, in between Blocks 307A and 308A in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.

New comics frontier awaits, Colin Goh

By Colin Goh, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

A few days ago, I was informed that my column will end on May 13 (see below). To me, that e-mail was the proverbial Fall of the Other Shoe that I'd been anticipating for ages.

When The Straits Times first approached me to write a column, I was sceptical. At the time, as the public face of and an outspoken advocate of Singlish, I was somewhat controversial. 'It's probably a joke, so I'll accept,' I told the Wife. 'Anyway, I'm sure they'll fire me after two months.' That was in 2003.

I'm not very sentimental about letting go of this column. Nine years is a pretty long time to be doing anything. I'm grateful for having been given the privilege to air my views in the country's flagship paper, despite disagreeing, often publicly, with its official stance on many issues. I've learnt over the years that The Straits Times is not quite the monolithic state newsletter as its detractors claim and its journalists are not all yes-sir- yes-sir-three-bags-full-sir types. Like any media company nowadays, it is a complex organisation buffeted by even more complex forces.

The ending of this column has also come, felicitously, as I am about to launch into a brand-new phase of my life. I say brand-new, but ironically, it involves returning to my first love - cartoons and comics.

The man who helped the Internet go global, Tan Tin Wee

S'pore pioneer came up with solution that enabled multilingual Web, e-mail addresses
By Grace Chng, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

Associate Professor Tan Tin Wee looks at the men and women recently honoured alongside him at non-profit organisation Internet Society's inaugural Hall of Fame and says: 'My contributions pale before theirs.'

But ask Professor Bernard Tan what he thinks of the biochemist who became an unlikely Internet champion, and the former National Internet Advisory Committee chairman says right away: 'His breadth of knowledge and never-say-die attitude have made him a highly effective crusader for the Internet.'

He calls Prof Tan, 50, a 'towering figure for Singapore in regional and international Internet committees and forums'.

Friends and long-time associates describe him as an ideas man, driven, motivated, generous and inspirational. To think that Prof Tan started out as a young biochemist who was only looking for a way to gain electronic access to research information for his own work.

But that interest led him to promoting the use of the Internet among other academics and researchers, and then pushing for it to become accessible to everyone in every language.

Thorough and independent probes on death of national servicemen

THE Ministry of Defence (Mindef) would like to respond to issues raised in Forum and Forum Online letters following the recent death of a national serviceman ('NSF dies after collapsing during training exercise'; April 18).

Mindef offers its deepest sympathies to the bereaved family.

We take a very serious view of every incident resulting in injury or death. When these occur, the procedures in place mandate that relevant safety features are reviewed vigorously at all levels - from the top leadership to junior commanders - to prevent a recurrence.

Every incident involving the death of a national serviceman, whether training-related or otherwise, is thoroughly investigated by an independent committee chaired by a senior public servant from outside Mindef, with a senior doctor from the public sector as one of its members.

The investigation will look into the cause of death and recommend improvements to procedures, where applicable.

Jurong Lake Park will be part of island-wide green corridor

By Claire Huang, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Apr 2012

Jurong Lake Park will be one of the key nodes of the Round Island Route.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the vision of "an island-hopping playground" Saturday morning at a community event.

It is one of three destination parks announced by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month.

Together with recreational attractions like Gardens by the Bay and Southern Ridges, Jurong Lake Park will be part of the Round Island Route - a seamless green corridor that goes all round Singapore.

The 150-kilometre route was announced in February this year.

It was mooted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2008 and will connect natural, historical and cultural attractions to the parks and park connectors.

When completed, Jurong Lake Park will be a destination park with unique features.

New council to help newcomers fit in

PA Integration Council will be led by MP Fatimah Lateef
By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

Integration efforts will get a boost on July 1 when the People's Association (PA) Integration Council is formed.

The aim of the council is to provide strategic direction and focus to PA's efforts to integrate new immigrants into the community.

This move was announced yesterday by Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, at the Integration Carnival 2012.

Do more to help foreigners adjust: DPM Teo

Teo Chee Hean urges Singaporeans to do their part at annual community dialogue
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2012

As more Singaporeans go out into the world to study, work and live overseas, more foreigners are moving here and helping to make Singapore cosmopolitan and vibrant.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday noted this reality of globalisation as he highlighted the need for Singaporeans to do more to welcome and help foreigners integrate here.

One measure of Singaporeans overseas is that there are 280 Singapore clubs in 120 cities worldwide, 'a network of little red dots'.

He was in New York two weeks ago and met 5,000 Singaporeans at the Singapore Day festivities, which included hawker food, updates on national service and a rousing rendition of the National Day song, Home.

'I am sure the sights, sounds and smells brought back many fond memories for the Singaporeans who attended the event, but we also want to make sure that Singapore is not just their home from the past, but also a place in their hearts and where they want to build their future,' he said.

Addressing 600 community leaders at the annual National Community Engagement Programme Dialogue at the Regent hotel, he said the flip side of Singaporeans moving elsewhere was the arrival of foreigners drawn here.

But a greater number of people of different races and religions in a dense city like Singapore could result in greater consciousness of the differences in behaviours and norms, he said.

'When we live close together on a sustained basis, it is so much easier to dwell on the differences, rather than build upon the commonalities,' he said.

'And those differences when accentuated can quite easily develop into fissures in our society, and weaken our unity as a country.'

Social media is a double-edged sword: DPM Teo at National Community Engagement Programme (CEP) Dialogue 2012

By Qiuyi Tan, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Apr 2012

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said social media is a double-edged sword for social cohesion.

He was speaking at the annual dialogue for the Community Engagement Programme, a national social cohesion and crisis response network.

DPM Teo said the very same Internet that connects Singaporeans can also isolate people and disrupt social harmony.

"Anonymity on the Internet emboldens people, encouraging them to take on more extreme views than they might otherwise. The Internet also amplifies the extreme views even though they might be in the minority, and virtual mobs form to cheer or jeer, which only help to accentuate the differences, polarise and inflame emotions further," he said.

Some 600 community, business and youth leaders, and several government ministers joined the dialogue on Singapore's social challenges.

Online behaviour, especially on social media, was a recurrent theme across all the five dialogue groups.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Traditional media still the best platform for national debate

By Leslie Fong, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

AMID all the hype about the rise of social media, it might be pertinent to ask why some government ministers have chosen of late to make policy announcements on their Facebook pages or in their blogs instead of traditional mass media.

Doubtless they must have done so not just to show that they are keeping up with the changing times, but also because they believe that what they have to say can reach more people, and more effectively, via social media rather than newspapers, radio and television.

But is that really the case?

Online code of conduct? 'No thanks'

Well-known netizens see code as way for Government to control free speech online
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

SEVERAL well-known bloggers and owners of socio-political websites have said no to the Government's call for the Internet community to come up with a code of conduct on responsible online behaviour.

They made their stand clear in statements they posted online yesterday, a day after a closed-door discussion with government representatives.

They are Mr Andrew Loh, editor of, bloggers Ravi Philemon and Siew Kum Hong, and Mr Belmont Lay, editor of the site New Nation.

Socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) also does not support the code. It told The Straits Times that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach would be ineffective. Instead, its editors will offer their moderation policy as a best practice for other websites to adopt.

Punggol Waterway bags top global award

Singapore project is first in Asia to win environmental prize rarely given outside US 
By Chong Ning Qian, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

My Waterway@Punggol, known to some as the 'Venice of Singapore', was awarded the Grand Prize for Excellence in Environmental Engineering in the environmental sustainability category.

The award was presented by the prestigious American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE), held in Washington DC on April 26, 2012.

This is the waterway's first international award within five months of its launch.

My Waterway@Punggol is Singapore's longest man-made waterway, located at the North Eastern edge of Singapore.

The waterway took 2.5 years to complete, costing approximately S$225 million and was inaugurated by Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong on Oct 23, 2011.

More tourists coming... and splurging

Tourism spending rose by 18%, outstripping growth in arrivals, and analysts hail this trend
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

THE drive here to get tourists to splurge is paying off.

Those who came here last year spent $22.3 billion, 18 per cent more than the year before.

Typically, 60 per cent of this expenditure goes into shopping, accommodation, sightseeing and entertainment, of which gaming is a part.

That visitor numbers went up by less - 13 per cent - means Singapore welcomed more of those who were prepared to blow money in their time here.

Giving its annual round-up of figures yesterday, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) announced that 13.2 million tourists turned up here last year, pipping the year's forecast of 12 million to 13 million.

NTUC aims to reduce social downside of economic growth

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Apr 2012

Singapore's labour movement is taking on a new challenge to reduce the social downside of economic growth, even as it pursues the upside of growth, Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Lim Swee Say said.

Another website to help PMEs in job hunt

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

PROFESSIONALS, managers and executives (PMEs) in Singapore have a new website to tap on in their job hunt, the second portal to be set up for them in two months.

It will give job seekers a report on the job outlook, manpower demand in key industries, salary information and occupational guides for seven growth industries, such as health care and aerospace.

The aim is to give them 'useful and timely industry and job market intelligence', said Mr Lee Ark Boon, a divisional director at the Ministry of Manpower, at its launch yesterday.
Called PME Jobs Network, the joint effort between the ministry and professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters can be found at

Last month, the Workforce Development Agency set up a one-stop service centre in the city for PMEs and revamped its website to include a job-profiling tool and the salaries of 343 PME jobs.

The new initiative comes amid a renewed government pledge to help PMEs hit by the restructuring of the economy.

Pro-foreigner job ads top list of grievances

Discrimination against Singaporeans
But fair employment watchdog sees few cases of 'exclusionary practices'
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

LAST week, it emerged that discrimination against Singaporeans for the first time topped the list of grievances that workers here have over unfair employment practices.

They outnumbered complaints about other sorts of discrimination, such as by age or gender.

But exactly what sort of discrimination do Singaporeans face in the workplace?

Giving the breakdown of complaints for the first time, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), Singapore's fair employment watchdog, said that almost half the complaints received were over job ads by companies saying they would rather hire foreigners.

Tafep said that the second most common type of complaint - comprising about one-sixth of the total - involved foreign supervisors who would rather employ candidates from their own country.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 10

Commuters waited 2 hours for shuttle buses
Some buses went to wrong bus stop and some skipped stations
By Maria Almenoar & Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

WHEN the train service broke down last December, some commuters waited for almost two hours before the first of the free shuttle buses arrived.

Even then, it was far from smooth sailing. Some buses went to the wrong bus stop while others skipped stations.

The bus bridging service to ferry commuters during MRT disruptions came under the spotlight yesterday, when four service operations managers gave their accounts of what happened on Dec 15.

It was Day 10 of the public inquiry into the train disruptions on Dec 15 and 17 that affected more than 220,000 commuters on the North-South Line.

The Committee of Inquiry (COI) heard that some vehicles from the SMRT bus division were nowhere in sight for almost two hours despite station staff being told by the Operations Control Centre (OCC) that they had been activated.

Father of PE relives passion for sports: Dr Lau Teng Chuan

By Sanjay Nair, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

HE IS recognised as the father of physical education in schools and pushed for mass participation sports events in Singapore, but Dr Lau Teng Chuan is now fighting a greater battle in his personal life.

The 83-year-old is in deteriorating health as he struggles with Stage 4 cancer of the stomach. But his undeniable passion for sport has shone through, as evidenced by an autobiography which he penned over the last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was among a group of 20 invited guests who were presented with the book at a lunch hosted by Dr Lau yesterday.

Mr Teo - who is also the president of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) - warmly greeted the organisation's former chief, who recounted poignant stories from his earlier years.

'The simple reason as to why I wrote this book was my grandchildren, who told me to put down all my experiences in writing,' said Dr Lau.

'My life has been about volunteerism. We took the risk of training youth leaders over the years, and I'm glad to see it's had a ripple effect since.'

But on a day when his life's work was being celebrated, he continued looking ahead at the Republic's sporting future.

He said: 'The future is good with the considerable progress made over the years, such as the upcoming Sports Hub.

'For me, it's always about taking worthwhile risks. If we continue producing more people willing to do that, we'll be just fine.'

More than 400 copies of his book have been printed. They will be distributed to various sections of the local sporting fraternity.

Cash premiums for HDB resale flats fall about 30% in the first quarter of 2012

Bumper crop of new flats takes buyers away from resale market
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2012

THE cash premiums payable to buy resale HDB flats fell significantly in less popular estates like Pasir Ris and Woodlands last quarter, making them more affordable now to buyers.

Known as 'cash over valuation (COV)', the premiums also fell in mature estates like Hougang, Bedok and Clementi, due to the injection of new flats in these areas over the last few months by the Government, said analysts.

The falls in COV come as prices of HDB resale flats inched up 0.6 per cent in the first quarter of the year, the slowest pace of increase since 2009.

While HDB resale prices are still at an all-time high, the latest rise is less than half the 1.7 per cent clocked in the quarter before.

A total of 5,892 resale flats changed hands in the first three months of the year, down 0.5 per cent from 5,921 in the quarter before.

Most of these flats attracted COV, which is the amount a buyer pays over and above the valuation of an HDB resale flat. As it must be paid in cash, it has a significant impact on affordability.

While HDB has stopped providing a nationwide median of COVs, data collated from real estate agencies showed that overall, cash premiums fell about 30 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared with 10 per cent the quarter before.

This is partly because a bumper crop of new flats has taken buyers away from the resale market, said observers. About 8,000 units have been offered since the year began, with 5,000 more scheduled next month.

A move last month to reserve a higher percentage of new executive condominium units for second-timers also changed buyer behaviour.

Saturday 28 April 2012

No More Cheap Power To The People

Taiwan: Quick switch to energy-saving products
By Lee Seok Hwai, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

TAIPEI: It's lights off when not in use or a NT$10 (43-Singapore cent) fine in Ms Wu Chia-pei's household, in anticipation of higher electricity fees next month.

The stay-at-home mother has also traded in her old refrigerator and washing machine for power-saving models. The thermostat for air-conditioning is set at 26 deg C.

'Two necessities have become more expensive at one go, but what can we do but adapt?' she told The Straits Times, referring to higher oil prices and an expected increase in electricity tariffs.

The government said the scrapping of oil and electricity subsidies is unavoidable in the face of rising coal, natural gas and oil prices. Almost all of Taiwan's oil is imported.

'Made in Singapore' inflation

Inflation is once again rearing its ugly head. But this recent round could yet be the hardest one to tame.
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

THE inflation monster can be a tough one to slay. Fortunately for Singapore, government policies have worked to contain cost increases for much of the city state's history.

Since 1980, there have been only four years in which prices rose by more than 4 per cent on average.

Three of these peaks - in 1980, 1981 and 2008 - were due largely to imported inflation as oil and food prices soared.

The fourth peak was last year, when inflation hit 5.2 per cent. This time though, experts are of the view that a large part of the problem is made right here in Singapore.

SMEs will be hit hard under plan, SBF warns

Concerns over how pay increments are achieved
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

THE debate over a prominent economist's plan to close the wage gap continues to rage, after a major group representing employers criticised the plan by saying it will hit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) hard.

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) warned that the proposal to lift wages of the lowest-paid by more than 50 per cent over three years would have 'untoward consequences'.

It said wage increments must be accompanied by productivity gains to make such a move sustainable.

The SBF said that businesses were not against wage increases for lower wage workers, but added that how such rises are achieved is as important.

May Day Message 2012 by DPM Tharman

Singapore's main focus is to build a better future for Singaporeans
Channel NewsAsia, 26 Apr 2012

Singapore's main focus is on the longer-term challenge of building a better future for its people, Deputy Prime Minister and Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his May Day message on Thursday.

He said everything the government does is aimed at achieving inclusive growth which benefits all Singaporean workers.

Mr Tharman added that the government is working with small- and medium-sized enterprises to help them to upgrade their operations and stay competitive in a tight labour market.

As for lower-wage workers, they can tap on the Workfare Income Supplement and Workfare Training Support schemes, which encourage them to find regular work and help them progress through training and skills upgrading.

Tripartite partners are also urged to promote best sourcing as many lower-wage workers are employed in industries where outsourcing is common, such as the cleaning and security industries.

Mr Tharman said service buyers must outsource responsibly, so that service providers are focused on service quality and productivity, and on improving employment conditions and wages for their workers.

The government, as a major service buyer, will lead by example in best sourcing practices by procuring only from accredited cleaning companies and well-graded security agencies.

$778m oil hub project launched in Johor

But owners stress that it will be complementary to facilities in Singapore
By Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

PENGERANG (Johor): Malaysia has started building a petroleum storage terminal in south-east Johor, in a project that could become a strong competitor to Singapore's facilities on Jurong Island.

The Pengerang Independent Deepwater Petroleum Terminal, which will be built at an initial cost of RM1.9 billion (S$778 million), can store up to 1.3million cubic metres of crude oil and is expected to be completed by 2014. It can be expanded by another 1 million cubic metres if needed.

The terminal is a joint venture between the Johor state government and oil and gas companies Dialog Group from Malaysia and Royal Vopak from the Netherlands. It forms part of the larger Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex, which Malaysia envisions as a top regional oil and gas hub, to drive growth in what has been singled out as a key sector for the country in the coming years.

Analysts have noted several advantages that Pengerang - a previously sleepy fishing village located about 90 minutes from Johor Baru and 20km from beach resort Desaru - has over Singapore. They include its 24m deepwater jetty facilities, which will allow very large carriers to dock and collect or deliver crude oil more easily and cheaply than in Singapore.

The uneasy expats

EPs: High degree of predictability
Letter from Farah Abdul Rahim,
Director, Corporate Communications, Ministry of Manpower
TODAY, 28 Apr 2012

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) wishes to clarify some generalisations in the commentary "The uneasy expats" (April 23).

Having an open, diversified workforce remains an important factor in keeping Singapore's economy strong.

It allows Singapore to remain competitive, and it helps contribute to economic growth, which generates jobs for Singaporeans.

The enhanced Employment Pass (EP) framework announced last year ensures that EP holders are of the right calibre, adding needed expertise and complementing an increasingly qualified local workforce.

The changes to the EP framework include tightened eligibility requirements, such as higher salary requirements and better educational qualifications for foreign talent entering lower- and mid-level professional, managerial and executive jobs.

We had previously communicated that current EP holders will not automatically get their EPs renewed.

Under the enhanced criteria, there will be some who will find themselves no longer eligible for renewal of their EP.

Contrary to anecdotal observations in the commentary, MOM provides a high degree of predictability through the online Self-Assessment Tool (, for employers to assess if potential employees and current EP holders will meet the prevailing eligibility criteria.

This helps to give businesses greater certainty when planning their manpower needs.

Is it going to flood? Check Facebook and Twitter

By Jessica Cheam, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

WHEN the waters rise and a flash flood threatens, putting its reactions under the spotlight, one of the first things the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will do is to turn to Facebook and Twitter.

It will use a range of online tools to broadcast real-time information on water levels as well as CCTV images of flood-prone areas, while also monitoring netizens' messages for updates.

The moves reflect MEWR's increasing use of social media as part of its drive to engage Singaporeans online.

In fact, having learnt lessons from the spate of floods in the last two years, the ministry now has one of the highest number of social media tools and initiatives among government agencies.

Snappy way to report unsafe work practices

MOM's new app allows users to easily report problems - and send praise
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

MEMBERS of the public are being roped in to spot - and report - shortfalls in workplace safety and health with a new cellphone application (app) developed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

When users of Snap@MOM see, for example, a construction worker working at a height without using a harness, they may use their cellphone cameras to snap a shot.

They can next identify their location using the app's Global Positioning System, insert a short description and then hit 'Submit'.

The feedback goes straight to MOM.

If the occupiers of the workplace are registered on the app, they will receive an alert.

$10m boost for childcare education

600 new scholarships will target students yet to enter the industry
By Tay Suan Chiang, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2012

FOR anyone thinking of becoming a childcare teacher, now's the time to do so.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) said it would commit close to $10 million for scholarships and teaching awards in the sector over the next two years.

To attract new teachers, MCYS will offer up to 600 new scholarships that target students who have yet to enter the industry but who want to embark on a childcare career. Current scholarships schemes are focused mostly on part-time training for existing childcare teachers.

With this, the ministry hopes that more people will become childcare teachers, besides raising the quality of the childcare industry.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 9

SMRT's customer service support team under scrutiny
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Apr 2012

The standby customer service support team activated during last December's train disruptions came under scrutiny on day nine of the Committee of Inquiry.

It was revealed that the teams did not go through any formal or structured familiarisation training of the train stations they were assigned to.

The response time of some teams also came into question.

Standby customer service teams were mobilised via SMS and phone calls once the Rail Incident Management Plan was activated on December 15 and 17 to help in crowd control at bus bridging points.

There were 14 of such teams assigned to different zones along the rail system, with 194 members from different departments of SMRT.

One team leader, Sito Wai Kong, who has been with SMRT since 1985 was asked about the standard operating procedures when they are being activated for emergencies.

He said his team was originally assigned to about five stations along the East-West line, including Simei, Tanah Merah and Tampines.

But they were deployed to City Hall and Raffles Place stations to help out during the incident.

Friday 27 April 2012

Some 9,990 workers laid off in 2011

By Qiuyi Tan, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Apr 2012

Amid more moderate economic growth, more workers were laid off in 2011, especially in the fourth quarter of the year.

Some 9,990 workers were laid off last year, up slightly from the 9,800 in 2010.

But the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said seven out of 10 residents who were laid off were re-employed within a year.

This is according to MOM's yearly Redundancy and Re-employment Report.

With a larger employment base, however, the incidence of redundancy dropped.

5.5 workers were laid off for every 1,000 employees in 2011, down from 5.7 in 2010.

Redundancies for the past two years remain substantially lower than the more than 23,000 workers laid off during the recession in 2009.

The moral case for health insurance for all

By Jeremy Lim, Published The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2012

HEALTH insurance is vital for protection against medical bankruptcy. Illness and the often substantial costs associated are unpredictable. Insurance pools monies and enables the many fortunate to support the unfortunate few.

However, voluntary insurance has proven challenging: Healthy individuals opting out of buying insurance reduce the funds available while exclusion of pre-existing conditions by insurers prevents a substantial proportion of society from receiving complete coverage.

Hence, national health insurance covering the entire population through government fiat is increasingly called for throughout the world. Most developed countries already have some form of national health insurance and/or coverage. Even in the United States, Obamacare mandates that all Americans must possess health insurance, and insurers must offer plans even to those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Nobody can tell you the fair value of Sky Habitat

By Andy Mukherjee, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2012

THE strong buyer demand this month for Sky Habitat, Singapore's most expensive suburban condominium, has created a flutter in the blogosphere. A three-bedroom, 99-year leasehold condo in Bishan for $2 million? Isn't that over the top, even if it claims an 'iconic' design?
But then, how does one know what the fair value is? Some bloggers have supplied buyers with useful rules of thumb. Former NTUC Income chief Tan Kin Lian, who contested last year's presidential elections, has advised readers to buy properties that cost 60 months of their salaries or less. So to afford a three-bedroom unit in Sky Habitat, either the husband or the wife has to earn $33,000 a month, he noted on his website.

Rules of thumb help people decide, but they are not scientific gauges of value. Why 60 months of salary? Why not 55, or 65? What will be a better way to value an apartment? I wish somebody could tell us. The trouble is there is no good way to put a 'fundamental value' on an asset.

NDP 2012 to reflect Singaporeans' love for country

By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Apr 2012

This year's National Day Parade (NDP) hopes to be a time for Singaporeans to reflect on their love for the country, with the theme "Loving Singapore, Our Home".

And this year's organisers hope to get Singaporeans to express their love for the country, through video or photo contests.

Singapore 'has lowest youth death rate': The Lancet Adolescent Health 2012

Experts attribute journal's ranking to outreach to the young, absence of ghettos
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2012

THE death rate of male adolescents in Singapore is the lowest among rich countries, better than in the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan, The Lancet has said.

Singapore experts attribute this low rate to factors such as youth outreach, and public housing policies that prevent ghettos, which reduce deaths that can arise from suicide, drug abuse, violence, and other reasons.

The Lancet, a medical journal, published four papers online yesterday supporting a move to put the world's 1.1 billion adolescents in the centre of health policies, arguing that this would impact adult health and economic development.

One paper, in particular, analysed the social factors that influence the health of young people aged 10 to 24 years, and concluded that structural factors such as national wealth, income inequality, and access to education were the 'strongest determinants of adolescent health'.

Also crucial, it added, are safe and supportive families and schools, together with positive and supportive peers.

The report compared the death rate of males aged 15 to 19 years old against national wealth, measured by a country's gross domestic product.

The figures it used for Singapore were from 2006; for other countries, the numbers were taken from various years dating back to 2000.

The report found that Singapore had fewer than 50 deaths per 100,000 adolescents, a third of the United States, less than half of Kuwait and slightly over half of Norway.The Netherlands, Sweden and Japan also had fewer than 50 deaths, but slightly more than Singapore.

The report also noted that cultural, religious and other social factors had a strong moderating effect on structural factors such as wealth.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 8

Same woes surface for both train disruptions
Operations control staff member 'overwhelmed' by second breakdown
By Royston Sim & Maria Almenoar, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2012

THE very problems that SMRT staff faced in the first major disruption to the train service last Dec 15 cropped up again two days later, when another disruption occurred.

One employee told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) in no uncertain terms yesterday that he was overwhelmed by the second disruption on Dec 17, and put this down to being understaffed.

He is from the Operations Control Centre (OCC), the nerve centre for the North-South and East-West lines located in Victoria Street.

The Circle Line and North-East Line have their own OCCs.

Warning Bell for Developed Countries: Declining Birth Rates

There will be a shift in power unless birth rates increase in the developed world
By Lee Kuan Yew, Forbes, 25 Apr 2012

In developed countries today many women receive educations and earn salaries that are on a par with those of men. The fact that women are no longer socially or economically dependent on men has radically altered young people’s lifestyles. A woman can now choose to remain single, marrying only when a man adds value to her life or when she desires to have children within such a framework.

This is creating big changes throughout the developed world. The replacement rate--the reproduction rate that keeps a population stable--for developed countries is 2.1, yet nearly half the world’s population has birth rates lower than that. The U.S. has a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.0--nearly the replacement rate--with Hispanic immigrants leading in birth rates. The U.S. is aging but not as fast as many other countries. A 2010 census showed that 31.4 million Americans live alone--27% of all households (equal to the percentage of childless couples). Living alone allows people to pursue individual freedom, exert personal control and go through self-realization, but these people have fewer children.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Tan Chuan-Jin: Providing a House...Building a Home

by Tan Chuan-Jin, Facebook Note, 26 Apr 2012 

A number of you have forwarded to me a blog post written by netizen “Gintai”. He shares about his conversation on housing issues with two colleagues, before moving on to talk about the perceived inequities between locals and PRs in Singapore. He also asserts that he is not proud to be a Singaporean.

I will address the issue of PRs in another note. Let me just talk about the housing situation in Singapore. Is it really so dire? Is the HDB flat really so out of reach?

For a start, we need to understand why the flat pricing system works the way it does. Gintai seems unhappy that similar sized flats are not priced the same. When determining the prices of flats offered, HDB factors in the costs of building the flat as well as the prevailing market conditions at the time of the offer and the individual attributes of the flats. Therefore, a flat on the 16th floor and one on the 2nd floor would be priced differently. The price of a similar-sized flat in Jurong West and in Queenstown would differ. A flat near key amenities would be valued more than one with less.

Is there really a difference in value? Many Singaporeans who have sold their flats know that these different values would surface immediately in terms of the price their different flats can command. Should we therefore price them all the same? If they were, everyone would just wait for a flat on the top floors in a matured estate. And some would make huge capital gains compared to others when they sell.

Censorship cuts both ways

Former Board of Film Censors chairman Amy Chua opens up on the difficulties of editing films
By Boon Chan, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2012

Not many chairmen see as much sex as Ms Amy Chua during her eight-year tenure at the Board of Film Censors.

From 2004 to March 31 this year, the chairman of the board grappled with much sex, violence and other controversial content in movies - most notably, the explicit antics of sexually adventurous spies (Lust, Caution, 2007), families headed by lesbians (The Kids Are All Right, 2010) and local teenage gangsters (15, 2003).

Lust, Caution (2007) was released in two versions - an edited NC16 version that was nine minutes shorter and an uncut onethat was given an R21 rating.

The Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right was given an R21 rating for its release here in February last year but given a one-print-release restriction for portraying two lesbians and their children as a normal family.

Local film-maker Royston Tan's 15 was released with a R(A) rating with 27 cuts and Ms Chua even found herself the subject of a spoof by Tan in the short film Cut (2004).

But all that is water under the bridge now for her. She stepped down as chairman when her former deputy, Ms Chetra Sinnathamby, was appointed on April 1 as the Media Development Authority's (MDA) director of content and standards for films, video games and arts. These are areas in which the agency continues to directly classify content.

5 Citizen Population Scenarios - NPTD

Population will shrink from 2025 without new citizens
Pool of working age citizens will also drop steadily from 2.1m today
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2012

SINGAPORE needs 20,000 to 25,000 new citizens each year to prevent a decline in its citizen population from 2025, new government projections show.

That assumes no big uptick in the number of Singaporean babies born here. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is now 1.2, one of the lowest in the world.

If it stays put, and the door to new migrants is shut from this year, the citizen population will start shrinking in 13 years' time.

The pool of working age citizens will also drop steadily from today's 2.1 million to about 1.5 million in 2060.

These are some of the five scenarios in a paper that the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) released yesterday.

As the lead agency for the Government on population matters, it is conducting a comprehensive examination of population goals and policies, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced during the Budget debate.

The NPTD is releasing information to spur study and discussion in the lead-up to a White Paper on population matters, due by the year end.

Beefing up the Employment Act

Law must keep up with changes such as rising pay and PME numbers
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2012

JUST four years after its last update, the Employment Act is up for another revamp. The Manpower Ministry (MOM) has pledged to consult unions and employers in its review of the law this year.

The Employment Act protects workers by setting out minimum employment terms and benefits. It also provides redress for workers to recover salaries and to resolve disputes with employers.

The last update in 2008 took place after 13 years. It brought 200,000 more workers under its ambit, covering 1.6 million workers. This time round, a mere four years has seen sweeping workplace changes, making a review timely.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 7

Drivers working on Dec 17 were not briefed on earlier incident
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2012

SMRT train drivers told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday that when they reported for duty on Dec 17, the day of the second big disruption in train service, they were not given the details of the disruption that took place two days before.

They said they were mostly told to be more careful when driving the trains and to look out for irregularities, but received few details about the Dec 15 incident.

The three train drivers were among the 14 who testified yesterday, on Day 7 of the public hearings. The others who took the stand were SMRT station managers, two other train drivers and two commuters caught in the Dec15 disruption.

The five-hour disruption on the North-South line that day and the seven-hour one on Dec 17 hit 220,000 commuters in all. On both days, a section of the third rail sagged, damaging the current collector shoes of nine trains, which stalled.

Train driver Mohamed Redzuan said that his supervisor told him just before his shift began to 'be more alert' when driving the train. He added that he was not told to watch out specifically for problems that could arise from the current collector shoes or the third rail.

Train driver Mazli Abd Nasir said he was not given a proper briefing. But a supervisor told him, also without going into specifics, to watch out for irregularities on the track or the train.

During the hearing, deputy senior state counsel Edwin San sought to clarify the role of a train driver when passengers need to alight en masse from train to platform, or from the train onto the tracks within a tunnel.