Tuesday 31 July 2012

Goodbye NIMBY, hello PIMBY

by Richard Hartung, Published TODAY, 30 Jul 2012

From opposition to facilities for eldercare and the disabled, to construction of MRT station launch shafts near a block of flats, the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome tends to rear its head among Singaporeans whenever something that is perceived to be unpleasant is about to be constructed near a residential area.

But in some communities elsewhere, what may have started out as a NIMBY case may well end up as a PIMBY - Please, (put it) In My Backyard. It is not easy, of course, to get from NIMBY to PIMBY, but it can be done. What it takes is a new approach. 

At the recent Singapore International Water Week, water industry leaders provided great insights into what that new approach could be, when they shared about what worked for them.

Monday 30 July 2012

Not easy when families share flats

Scheme helps families with short-term housing, but conflicts lead to calls for review
By Desmond Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2012

In the seven months that driver Neo Aik Chuan, his wife and two-year-old son have been living in their rented flat in Jurong, they have seen their share of neighbours squabbling.

They are part of a housing scheme for families that need temporary low-cost housing while waiting for more permanent homes. The Housing Board's Interim Rental Housing (IRH) scheme is unusual - under it, two families share each flat.

The families get their own bedrooms but share the living room, kitchen, toilet and shower, and split the utilities bill. Each family is expected to do its part to keep the shared space clean and tidy.

Mr Neo, 40, who is waiting for his three-room Bukit Panjang flat to be ready in 2014, said people often quarrel about sharing the common area in the flat or doing the household chores.

The police are also called in frequently when conflicts get out of hand. He said: 'We have quarrels even living with relatives. What more strangers?'

The Neos live in Block 63 Yung Kuang Road, one of four known as the 'diamond blocks' because of the particular shape formed by their interconnected common corridors.

Of the 456 flats there, 193 are shared rental flats under this scheme. Such rental flats are also found in Havelock Road, Toa Payoh, Bedok, Woodlands and Dover Road and house about 1,500 families needing short-term housing.

The HDB told The Sunday Times that co-sharing helps these families reduce their housing costs, and the operators running the scheme make an effort to pair families 'who are compatible, taking into consideration factors such as their race, household size, and religion'.

'As such, while some friction is inevitable between families who live in the same flat, it is kept to a minimum. Where necessary, our operators will also help to mediate between families,' it said.

It added that 'the majority of the families get along well, and only a minority may have some disagreements once in a while'.

Residents, grassroots leaders and Members of Parliament The Sunday Times spoke to, however, painted a somewhat different picture of life in these shared flats.

Develop netiquette code, MICA Minister urges netizens

By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Jul 2012

Information, Communications and the Arts Minister, Yaacob Ibrahim, urged all netizens to come together to develop an internet code of conduct.

He said a code of conduct is meant to encourage civilised behaviour online.

He also noted that unless there is a code of conduct, when something goes wrong there will be people asking the government to do something about it.

Dr Yaacob said this is worse because having laws would stifle the internet.

He added that a code of conduct would set the parameters for an honest, constructive and rational discussion.

"If you think let's say a certain minister is lousy, that's an opinion, we won't go after you.

"But if you say the minister is corrupt, you must back that with facts because that's an accusation, that's an allegation.

"If you tell me I'm corrupt, I will tell you to justify it, if not I'll see you in court. How then can you say the same thing in the internet and get away with it? Cannot be. It's simple logic. But again, we're not interested in building this code of conduct from the top and then enforce it down.

"We believe as netizens, all of us should come together and develop a code of conduct or what we call netiquette that we can all agree upon. It is supposed to be a bottom up process."

The discussion centred around racial and religious harmony on social media.

Some students asked how they can respond to or stop racism while others asked for the minister's opinion on how to better integrate foreigners into Singapore's society.

In Singapore, Vitriol Against Chinese Newcomers

By Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, 27 Jul 2012

It was bad enough that Ma Chi was driving well above the speed limit on a downtown boulevard when he blew through a red light and struck a taxi, killing its two occupants and himself. It didn’t help, either, that he was at the wheel of a $1.4 million Ferrari that early morning in May, or that the woman in the passenger seat was not his wife.

But what really set off a wave of outrage across this normally decorous island-state is the fact that Mr. Ma, a 31-year-old financial investor, carried a Chinese passport, having arrived in Singapore four years earlier.

The accident, captured by the dashboard camera of another taxi, has uncorked long-stewing fury against the surge of new arrivals from China, part of a government-engineered immigration push that has almost doubled Singapore’s population to 5.2 million since 1990. About a million of those newcomers arrived in the past decade, drawn by financial incentives and a liberal visa policy aimed at counteracting Singapore’s famously low birthrate.

Tensions over immigration bedevil many nations, but what makes the clash here particularly striking is that most of Singapore’s population was already ethnic Chinese, many of them the progeny of earlier generations of Chinese immigrants. The paradox is not lost on Alvin Tan, the artistic director of a community theater company that takes on thorny social issues.

“Mainlanders may look like us, but they aren’t like us,” said Mr. Tan, who is of mixed Malay-Chinese descent and does not speak Mandarin. “Singaporeans look down on mainlanders as country bumpkins, and they look down on us because we can’t speak proper Chinese.”

These days, mainland Chinese get blamed for driving up real-estate prices, stealing the best jobs and clogging the roads with flashy European sports cars. Coffee shop patrons gripe that they need Mandarin to order their beloved Kopi-C (coffee sweetened with evaporated milk). True or not, tales of Chinese women stealing away married men have become legion.

“Singaporeans woke up one day to find the trains more crowded with people who speak Mandarin, and they aren’t handling it very well,” said Jolovan Wham, executive of an organization that helps foreign laborers, many of whom face exploitive work conditions. “The amount of xenophobia we’re seeing is just appalling.”

The curse of the highly successful: Bilahari Kausikan

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dwelt on the delusion of the highly intelligent in a speech at Raffles Institution's 189th Founder's Day last week
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

MY COMRADES and I spent our six years in Raffles Institution waging insurgency against all established authority. At a very tender age, one of our teachers told us we were all born to be hanged. And if that extreme did not come to pass - perhaps I should say, has not yet come to pass - several of us were at least caned. Our then principal failed to achieve his dearest ambition of getting us all expelled only due to our dumb luck.

So here I stand before you, living testimony to the role of chance and serendipity in life; a role more often than not, insufficiently acknowledged if not ignored, particularly by Singaporeans of a certain ilk. And that is my theme.

Eighty-five years ago, an American writer by the name of Thornton Wilder published a short novel entitled The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. The book has never been out of print, but deserves to be better known.

The novel begins at noon on a certain day in 1714 when a bridge in Peru - 'the finest bridge in all Peru', writes Wilder - inexplicably collapses and five people who happen at that moment to be crossing, plummet to their deaths.

The tragedy is witnessed by a devout Franciscan monk, in Peru for missionary work among the natives, who immediately asks himself: 'Why did this happen to those five?'

The monk is convinced that it was not a random event but some manifestation of God's Will for some greater end and vows to investigate so as to prove to the natives the necessity of divine purpose. But his investigation runs afoul of the Inquisition and he is burnt at the stake.

Wilder poses, but never directly answers, the question: 'Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual's own will?' The point, of course, is that it could have been any one of us on that metaphorical bridge.

I do not think that there is any particular meaning, pattern or direction, divine or secular, in the drift of human events. History, as Winston Churchill is reported to have remarked, is just one damned thing after another. The innocent die young and the wicked flourish; and not necessarily in equal measure either because to the wicked, the innocent are often prey.

The world is far too complex a place to be comprehended in any holistic way by the human mind. It is made up of too many moving parts interacting in too many unpredictable ways for human reason to grasp.

I mean, of course, the social world: the world of human interactions, human relationships and human institutions; of love and hatred, politics and economics, war and peace, infused with emotions like anger, pity, joy and sorrow, and not the material world of rocks and stones and trees and the earth's diurnal course.

Sunday 29 July 2012

To Singapore... from an expat returning home

Singapore gets more things right than other countries, even if its citizens disagree
By David Fedo, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

ON THE eve of National Day, after a little more than five years of living and working in Singapore, my wife Susan and I take leave of this amazing country. We will return to our home just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, to take up our old lives among our American family and friends.

But the truth is, after Singapore, our lives will never be the same.

Singapore's impact on most expatriates and other visitors, no matter how long they reside on this island, is often forever. It's the palpable feeling that somehow Singapore gets more things right than most other countries, and that day-to-day life here is on the whole better than in many other places. Not perfect, of course, but better.

Think of the excellent schools, polytechnics and universities, for example, and the fact that there seems to be less unemployment, homelessness and crime here than elsewhere - bugaboos that plague so many other nations in today's volatile economy.

The diverse races and religious groups respect one another. The food is wonderful, with a variety unmatched anywhere, even in Paris, New York or Beijing. Medical care is exemplary. The green spaces, now crowned by Gardens by the Bay, are spectacular. Younger and now even some older Singaporeans may take these virtues for granted; those of us who are foreigners do not.

Watch out for divide between old and young

It is a fault line that can widen and deepen in the very near future
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

THE population question today pits the citizen against the foreigner. Yet the real showdown to come is not between those born in different countries, but those born in different eras.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that a new fault line is forming in Singapore between new and old citizens. The tension is not only over different cultural norms, but that foreign workers and new citizens add to the competition in schools, workplaces, housing market and even for a bus seat.

As long as Singaporeans are focused on this fissure, they may not notice a serious crack forming within the citizen population itself: the divide between young and old.

It is a fault line that will widen and deepen in the very near future. Because it involves the citizen population, it will also be ripe for politicisation and has the potential to cause lasting tears in Singapore's social fabric.

The basics of Singapore's ageing population woes are well-rehearsed. As life expectancy lengthens and the birth rate lingers among the lowest in the world, its population looks set to shrink from 2025.

The likely outcome: fewer working adults will shoulder the responsibility of supporting more retired elderly, most obviously by paying higher taxes. Either state funding in some areas will have to be cut, or new sources of funding will have to be sought.

What sounds like the old story of not enough babies is actually the even older story of not enough resources, especially in the face of diverging and intensifying interests.

In this story, the old citizen will bare knuckles against the younger citizen over limited land and funds. Osteoporosis notwithstanding, the older citizen looks set to put up a fierce fight.

The retired elderly are more likely to plumb for taking the economy to a lower gear, arguing against investments and measures for long-term growth. As consumers rather than workers, they will have little interest in job opportunities or wage levels, but will oppose the inflation that comes with higher levels of growth.

Growing old is not a sin

More should be done to nip ageism in the bud before negative stereotypes of the elderly take root
By Kang Soon Hock, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

GROWING old is a natural human process, yet when I examine the public exchanges earlier this year it seems to have gained the status of sin.

In stark contrast to the strong opposition to the building of facilities and studio apartments for the elderly within some neighbourhoods, one hardly hears a whimper when the newest suburban mall is proposed and built.

Still, I am heartened to see that the authorities have rightly pushed ahead with the projects after taking into account both positive and negative feedback.

The Nimby (not in my backyard) attitudes and reactions to the development and location of elderly-related facilities raise three issues: firstly, population ageing; secondly, the threat of ageism; and lastly, combating ageism.

Figures released by the National Population and Talent Division last year show that more than 9 per cent of Singapore's resident population is aged 65 and older.

With the first of the baby boomer generation reaching age 65 this year and more to follow, this segment is now of upmost importance. As their numbers grow, demand for elderly-related facilities and services will increase.

Adapting the workplace to ageing workers

Many firms prompted to find ways to harness the knowledge of older staff
By Alicia Clegg, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

EIGHT years ago, BMW's business planners came to an uncomfortable realisation - Germany's population was ageing, and so were its assembly-line workers.

BMW fretted that the stiffening joints of employees could eventually stymie its growth plans. Shedding older workers en masse would be operationally difficult and risk hurting industrial ties.

So instead, the managers asked older workers which tasks were troublesome, and redesigned the factories. This involved thinking ergonomically and installing special flooring and chairs, varying tasks and creating exercise areas.

'We developed strategies that would allow people to maintain or even improve their performance,' says BMW's employee communications manager Jochen Frey.

Statisticians estimate that by 2020, the proportion of German workers aged over 50 will climb from 25 per cent to 45 per cent.

Other European businesses face similar challenges, as do those in other countries, including Japan, Singapore and South Korea. In the United States, the Bureau of Labour Statistics says the proportion of over-55s in jobs has risen steadily, suggesting that as pension benefits are pared down, older workers are delaying their retirement.

The result is management dilemmas - from how to benefit from the skills of older workers without letting them take all the best jobs, to debates over workplace design and strategies to ensure that knowledge does not suddenly leave with retiring workers.

An irony of the job market is that while lack of jobs, especially among young people, is the biggest political concern today, analysts expect the exodus of baby boomers to leave employers facing huge skills gaps. The problem is not just the numbers retiring, but the dearth of people aged from 30 to 40 to replace them.

Dr Karie Willyerd, chief learning officer at SuccessFactors, a US-based human resources software business, says: 'If you took every single job that a baby boomer holds and bounced it down to Generation X, you would run out of replacements. So by default, a lot of people with less than 10 years' experience are going to fill jobs vacated by people with over 30 years' experience.'

The world of DRUG MULES

Drug couriers who are not involved in any other drug dealings could potentially be spared the gallows once proposed changes to the mandatory death penalty law are passed later this year. But they also have to be either mentally disabled, or have cooperated with the authorities. Tham Yuen-C speaks to insiders on drug mules and the rules they live by.
The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

A YOUNG man drove from his home in Malacca to Johor Baru town, and pulled up outside a 7-Eleven store.

There, a man he knew only as 'boss' handed him the keys to another Malaysian-registered car, and instructed him to drive it across the Causeway, to a carpark in Bukit Batok.

He was to leave the car there, unlocked, for a few hours, and in return would be paid RM1500 (S$600).

But the Malaysian, who worked in Singapore as a cook, never made it to his destination. He was nabbed at the Woodlands Checkpoint in 2010, with bundles of heroin in his car.

Last Friday, the same story was allegedly played out again. This time, it was Singaporean Danny Ng, 42, who was arrested at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport with 3.5kg, or 15 million pesos (S$450,000) worth of methamphetamine on him.

In drug-trafficking parlance, both of them are known as 'jockeys', the people whose main job is to drive or ride from a start point to the final stop.

These are the couriers at the bottom rung of the drug syndicate ladder, who could potentially be spared the noose by proposed changes to Singapore's mandatory death penalty laws announced in Parliament earlier this month.

Instead of the death sentence, they will now be eligible for life imprisonment if they cooperate with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in a substantive way, or have substantial mental disabilities.

Speak Mandarin Campaign 2012

What's GDP in Mandarin? New app tells you
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2012

A FREE iPhone app is set to come to the rescue of those stuck for business-related words or phrases in Mandarin.

Called iHuayu, it will have the Chinese equivalents of 50,000 terms such as 'hot money' and 'gross domestic product'.

It is the ticket the Speak Mandarin Campaign will use this year to reach professionals, managers, executives and business types, collectively called PMEBs.

Spanning the fields of trade, economics, finance and accounting, the app aims to oil business discussions in English and Chinese. Handily, it will also translate terms commonly used here, such as 'Electronic Road Pricing' and 'void deck'.

An Android phone version will be developed in the coming year.

Speaking at the launch of the 33rd edition of the campaign yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat gave the app his stamp of approval, saying it would give working executives and businessmen a platform to brush up on their vocabulary of commonly- used Mandarin business terms.

'Technology is a great leveller, and can be used to great effect in levelling up linguistic competencies,' he said, at the launch held at the Singapore Management University (SMU). He was addressing MPs and business and clan leaders at a full 300-capacity auditorium on the SMU campus.

Launched with the app was an upbeat campaign theme song composed by Cultural Medallion winner Iskandar Ismail and sung by local singer Tay Kewei.

The campaign was first launched in 1979 by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to persuade Chinese Singaporeans to drop the use of Chinese dialects in favour of Mandarin. Each year, the drive has come up with a different focus, such as youths or families.

7 town councils to increase service and conservancy charges from September 2012

TODAY, 27 Jul 2012

Seven town councils will be increasing their Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) from September.

The town councils are: Bishan-Toa Payoh, Chua Chu Kang, East Coast, Holland-Bukit Panjang, Tanjong Pagar, Tampines and West Coast. The last revision was in 2004.

The increase will be phased over two years. The 1st tier increase, with effect from September, ranges from S$0.50 to S$6.50 per month for HDB one-room to executive flats home-owners.

Commercial property owners and tenants will see an increase ranging from S$0.10 to S$0.40 psm/month while the increase for most cooked stalls is between S$5.00 and S$14.00 per month.

The 2nd tier increase will start in September next year, and will range from S$0.50 to S$5.50 per month for HDB one-room to executive flats home-owners. Commercial property owners and tenants will see an increase ranging from S$0.10 to S$0.30 psm/month. The increase for most of the cooked food stalls is between S$5.00 and S$11.00 per month.

Taxis out of COE bidding process from August 2012

By Hetty Musfirah/Karen Ng, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Jul 2012

Taxis will be taken out of the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) bidding process from next month, as the government also plans to improve taxi availability on the road.

The move is in response to feedback that taxi operators may have influence on COE prices, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew on Friday.

And to ensure that these operators use their fleets better, the number of COEs they are entitled to will be tied to taxi availability standards.

These standards will be introduced next year.

All taxis currently bid under the small car category or Category A of the COE system. But from August, they will be removed from the bidding process permanently.

Instead, COEs used for taxi fleet expansion will be extracted from the quota for Category E, which is usually meant for big cars.

Taxi operators will pay for the COEs based on Category A's Prevailing Quota Premium, which is the moving average of the COE prices over the last three months.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Government seeks feedback on population issue; 2012 Issues Paper: Our Population Our Future

It lays out demographic challenges in paper, launches site to collect views
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

THE Government is ramping up its drive to engage the public on population, a current hot-button issue that it says has far-reaching implications for Singaporeans' opportunities and quality of life.

Yesterday, it released a comprehensive paper laying out Singapore's demographic challenges and dilemmas, and launched a website to collect feedback.

Among the questions posed by the paper are: how to raise birth rates, what immigration to have, and how to ensure a good living environment.

At the heart of the debate is the need to manage population growth, immigration and integration while trying to raise productivity to keep the economy going.

The ultimate aim, said the paper, is to come up with a policy that 'strengthens our social cohesion, provides a good living environment for our people, and maintains our economic vitality'.

The Government is expected to release a White Paper on population by the end of the year which is expected to incorporate the feedback collected.

The population puzzle has become a complex issue, going beyond birth rates to the topic of how many immigrants and foreign workers should be taken in.

The National Population and Talent Division's paper - titled Our Population, Our Future - follows a flurry of research papers in recent months and is the first document to set out Singapore's demographic challenges in full.

Suhaimi Rafdi: Role model to his kids and community

Cathay Organisation Holdings chief exec Suhaimi Rafdi tells Susan Long he wants to help fellow Malays overcome the cultural stigma 'that Malays can only do so much'.
The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

MR SUHAIMI Rafdi, 44, likes to joke that he deserves a cape.

The widower was left to raise two teens aged 10 and 15 after his wife died of bone cancer nine years ago. But he went on to adopt two newborns from broken families.

In between running the household as a single dad and climbing the corporate ladder to become chief executive officer (CEO) of leisure and entertainment giant Cathay Organisation Holdings, he studied at night for two distance-learning degrees to improve himself.

To top it off, he has taken in 23 stray kittens. The cats have a purpose-built room at the back of his 3 1/2-storey terrace house in Loyang, where he lives with his four children and two maids.

He has garnered a clutch of entrepreneur accolades but the one he's proudest of is the recent Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award, which lauds exemplary Malay/Muslim achievers.

It is a badge of honour he wears with pride because Malays tend to be under-represented in top-flight corporate positions, and those who are CEOs tend to be heading companies they founded themselves, he says.

'I am different because I worked for a Chinese employer all the way up for 17 years and gained their trust. They had a choice to hire any CEO but they picked me, which shows that race or religion is not the issue, it's character,' says the man who buzzes with high-octane energy and rapid-fire conversation.

What made him press on all these years was his desire to be a role model to both his children and his community that 'they, too, can do it'.

'I want to transform the cultural stigma that Malays can only do so much. We can go further and be more than what we are today.'

Lee Kuan Yew: China and India Different Trajectories

By Lee Kuan Yew, Published The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

CHINA'S imploding population contrasts with India's increasing one. China currently has 1.35 billion people, and its one-child policy - put into effect in 1979 - is still in force. Every child must have a household registration document, without which education and employment aren't possible.

But China's total fertility rate (TFR, or the average number of children a woman has during her child-bearing years) is around 1.6, and rapidly declining. This spells future problems for China, as the replacement rate needed to keep its population stable is 2.1.

More than 20 of China's top demographers, sociologists and economists have submitted petitions to the government advocating putting an end to the one-child policy.

But even if its leaders wanted to top up the population with immigrants, China wouldn't be able to find the numbers needed to send its population into a stable replacement mode.

The mindset behind the one-child policy dates back to the days following the Cultural Revolution, when China suffered huge shortages in food and resources, and people believed a population explosion loomed.

Unfortunately, the population decline this policy has brought about will be difficult to reverse. There's little likelihood that China's women will return to a TFR of 2.1, as highly educated women who earn large salaries don't want to be burdened with two or more children.

They marry later, in their 30s, and delay childbirth in order to enjoy life, especially travel to foreign countries.

Worse, many women do not marry at all. Some estimates are that 10 per cent of women in China remain single. In Singapore it's 20 per cent.

In every country - developing and developed - the older, more aged the workforce, the lower the overall level of entrepreneurship and creativity.

The contrasts between China and India are stark.

Leaders steer Shenzhen to look to S'pore

City's mayor and Guangdong party chief are fans of the Republic and believe there is much to learn from S'pore
By Peh Shing Huei, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2012

BEIJING - Goodbye Hong Kong, hello Singapore.

After years of looking across the Pearl River for inspiration, Shenzhen now prefers to cast its eyes further south. The major Chinese metropolis has been actively learning from Singapore since 2009, picking up as much as it could from the Republic's success story.

It started with economic restructuring, extended to sanitation and green efforts, and may now even move into laws on social behaviour.

Shenzhen's legislature announced earlier this week that it is planning to introduce regulations that will stiffen punishments for bad social behaviour.

The undesirable traits to be stamped out include littering, vandalism and unauthorised use of public areas.

The proposed penalties are community services, reduced credit rating, and even personal apologies in the media.

'The new forms of punishment are based on the experience of Singapore,' legislature member Dai Guangyu told the People's Daily.

Health experts call on public to get tested for Hepatitis B and C

Channel NewsAsia, 26 Jul 2012

Health experts are urging the public to get tested for Hepatitis B and C. Collectively known as viral hepatitis, they are the leading causes of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The calls from the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (APASL) and the Coalition to Eradicate Viral Hepatitis In Asia Pacific (CEVHAP) come ahead of World Hepatitis Day this Saturday.

Doctors say the number of Hepatitis B carriers is decreasing in Singapore because of a nation-wide immunisation programme that started in 1987.

Still, some 120,000 to 140,000 adults here are Hepatitis B carriers, or about one in 35 adults. Of these, less than 30 per cent are under treatment.

Professor Lim Seng Gee, president of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, said: "I think there's a complacency in the sense that we've got such a good vaccine and the proportion of patients who are infected are decreasing year by year that we feel 'ok, we don't need to do anything more'.

"But 2.8 per cent still represents a large group of people who may need to be actually treated. Now, how many of these 100,000 people are actually on treatment, or seeking treatment, or on follow-up, is questionable."

"So that leaves a large group of people who either don't go for follow-up, or who are not aware that they have Hepatitis B. This is the population we'd like to target to go and get tested," he added.

"We did do a survey a number of years ago. The survey indicated that patients themselves may have certain misconceptions about the disease. For instance, a lot of people feel well, but in actual fact, there are patients who have liver cirrhosis and cancer who are asymptomatic, so symptoms don't occur until the condition advances and by that time, it may not be too late but certainly difficult to treat."

Doctors say carriers can be treated and the condition can be controlled.

Friday 27 July 2012

PRs in the HDB market: Boon or bane?

By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2012

THE Housing Board's recent move to make it harder for permanent residents (PRs) to sublet their flats was a milestone of sorts.

For the first time, PRs - who own some 5 per cent of HDB flats - were singled out for some restrictions in the resale HDB housing market.

Of course, the HDB resale market has never been a purely level playing field for non-citizens. For one, PRs do not get the concessionary loans and grants that Singaporeans do. And when it comes to estate upgrading projects, they have to pay the full cost, unlike citizens.

PRs have also been disproportionately affected by some measures to cool the public housing market over the last few years.

Take the sweeping policy in 2010 that anyone wanting to buy an HDB flat would have to get rid of their private property, including any held overseas, within six months of their flat purchase.

PRs obviously bore the brunt of this, since many have property in their home countries. Still, it was a blanket rule affecting all HDB owners - citizens and PRs - equally. The idea was to discourage people from viewing public housing as an investment.

PRs face tough fight for places: Primary One Registration Exercise 2012

Only 1 out of 28 schools conducting Phase 2B balloting had spot for PRs
By Kezia Toh & Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2012

IF THIS year's Primary 1 registration is anything to go by, children who are permanent residents (PR) face an unusually tough fight for a spot in the most popular schools at Phase 2B.

Phase 2B is where parents try to get ahead of others by volunteering with the school or becoming members of an affiliated church or clan. Parents who are community leaders can also apply under this phase.

But PR parents can no longer enjoy a clear head start by doing so, with a new ruling which gives priority to Singaporeans whenever balloting is required.

This year, 28 schools conducted balloting because they had more applicants than places. Balloting was conducted at these schools yesterday.

Only one of these schools had vacancies for PR applicants. Three PRs had to vie for the one available spot at CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel in Ang Mo Kio.

PR applicants at the remaining 27 schools did not even qualify for balloting.

All places available went to Singaporeans. In each of these schools, even some Singaporeans had to be turned away as applications outstripped places.

Previously, when schools went to balloting, PRs got one ballot slip, and citizens two. That meant PRs could still harbour some hope of getting into popular schools like Tao Nan and Ai Tong.

PRs form about 10 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort.

Thursday 26 July 2012

NTUC to boost hotel staff wages

3,000 workers stand to benefit from job redesigns, productivity measures
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2012

HOTEL workers are the latest group for whom the labour movement wants to raise wages.

Yesterday, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) unveiled a progressive wage framework that will lift the pay of about 3,000 workers - or one-fifth of the industry's local workforce.

It aims to achieve it by promoting productivity-raising measures and job redesigns.

For instance, the pay benchmark for a housekeeper, who now earns $1,000 a month, is $1,300 for a 'room associate' doing an upgraded version of the job.

Another target is to attract more locals to the industry, especially to higher-end jobs.

The hotel industry has 33,700 workers. But with new hotels opening and 10,400 more hotel rooms expected in the next four years, it may need about 7,000 more workers.

To get more Singaporeans into managerial positions, the NTUC launched its Executive Development Programme yesterday.

Hotels have to raise the pay of trainees to $1,800 to get them on the programme. After they have completed it, they will earn $2,000 or more.

NTUC will subsidise up to 70 per cent of their training allowance, capped at $1,400 a month, for a 12- to 18-month management training course.

President’s Award for Nurses 2012: Three receive the nation's top award for nurses

By Melissa Pang, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2012

A LEUKAEMIA-STRICKEN boy's simple gesture of love for his mother, who had a headache, convinced a student nurse that her calling was in oncology.

Remembering that incident now, 19 years later, Ms Lian Siew Bee said: 'He was very ill. Yet he was more worried about his mother, who needed some painkillers.'

She added: 'The little scene showed me just how much care and support cancer patients and their families need. It assured me that oncology was where I could contribute.'

Now 42, the assistant director of nursing and an advanced practice nurse at Singapore General Hospital has done that - and also stood out enough in her field to be named one of this year's three winners of the President's Award for Nurses. The award is the nation's highest accolade for the profession.

Ms Lian, along with Ms Teresa Ng Ruey Pyng, 47, a senior nurse clinician at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), and Ms Poh Chee Lien, 37, a senior nurse educator at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), received the honour from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday.

Each of the winners was presented with a trophy, a certificate and $6,000 for professional and personal development.

Linksters now, baby boomers then

MONDAY'S article ('Generation what next?') portrayed today's youth - the 'Linksters' generation - as exotic, revolutionary or unprecedented.

In truth, they are similar to the generations that came before them. For example, Linksters reportedly take 'material things for granted', 'do not seek affluence', or 'aspire towards loftier ideals'.

In fact, many in the baby-boomer generation of the 1960s - the hippie youth - put their ideals first in a far more principled and radical way than today's relatively conservative Linksters. Baby boomers went beyond saying that money did not matter or that ideals were important: Many left their homes or suspended their university studies in a way that threatened their career prospects and material well-being.

Riots, political protests and sexual revolutions triggered by 1960s baby boomers make one thing obvious: The article's assertion that previous generations were 'reticent' about making themselves heard fails to stand up to actual history. If anything, baby boomers were far wilder, often risking their long-term prospects for their ideals.

MND refers Brompton bicycles purchase to CPIB

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jul 2012

The Ministry of National Development (MND) has referred the controversial purchase of 26 Brompton bicycles to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

MND was responding to media queries on Wednesday.

The ministry had previously issued a statement on Tuesday saying that it had suspended a National Parks Board (NParks) officer after an internal audit found discrepancies in the procurement process.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

NTUC recommends 6 months of paid maternity leave

By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 22 Jul 2012

Another priority for the NTUC is promoting better work-life balance for mothers.

In response to calls by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) for ideas to boost Singapore's falling fertility rate, the labour movement is recommending that working mums be given six months of paid maternity leave, with another optional six months of unpaid leave.

"It's important for us to encourage employers to embrace better work-life (balance). Particularly after delivery, there are certain stresses for women," said NTUC President Diana Chia.

"Many women, because of this difficulty, leave their job to take care of their family. And to get them back to work is also an enormous task. So we're actually looking at how we can phase in this," she added.

"It's good, this will encourage more women to have babies, but it depends on the company. (For) small companies, I don't think they can afford to give six months of maternity leave followed by no pay leave," said one member of the public.

"The main thing is (whether) the employer accepts these rules. Some employers won't allow their employees to take a long break of one year because they have to look for part-time manpower," said another.

Singapore’s CPI-All Items inflation rises to 5.3% in June 2012

Higher side of 3.5-4.5% due to pricier cars, housing
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2012

THE Government now expects inflation is likely to come in at the higher end of its official forecast this year, after prices rose faster than expected last month.

Initially, it had forecast that inflation was likely to ease in the second half of this year and come in between 3.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent for the year.

But car prices that are likely to stay high due to the smaller supply of certificates of entitlement and pricier accommodation have prompted the Government to tweak that estimate.

It now expects inflation to come in 'at the upper half of the 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent forecast range'.

It still expects inflation to ease off in the next few months.

Inflation came in at 5.3 per cent last month compared with the same month last year, beating May's 5 per cent, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Ministry of Trade and Industry said yesterday.

Costlier accommodation and higher private transport costs were the main drivers of the faster-than-expected pace of price increases, accounting for two-thirds of inflation.

Getting real on saving for retirement

By Teresa Ghilarducci, Published The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2012

I WORK on retirement policy, so friends often want to talk about their own retirement plans and prospects. While I am happy to have these conversations, my friends usually walk away feeling worse - for good reason.

Seventy-five per cent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than US$30,000 (S$38,000) in their retirement accounts. The spectre of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers. Almost half of middle-class workers, 49 per cent, will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about US$5 a day.

In my ad hoc retirement talks, I repeatedly hear about the 'guy'. He is a for-profit investment adviser, often described as, 'I have this guy who is pretty good, he always calls, doesn't push me into investments'. When I ask how much the 'guy' costs, or if the guy has fiduciary loyalty - to the client, not the firm - or if their investments do better than a standard low-fee benchmark, they inevitably do not know. After hearing about their magical guy, I ask about their 'number'.

To maintain living standards into old age, we need about 20 times our annual income in financial wealth. If at retirement you earn US$100,000, you need about US$2 million beyond what you will receive from Social Security. If you have an income-producing partner and a paid-off house, you need less. This number is startling in light of the stone-cold fact that most people aged 50 to 64 have nothing or next to nothing in retirement accounts and thus will rely solely on Social Security.

No fair play in fair pay

By Robert Skidelsky, Published The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2012

HOW much inequality is acceptable? Judging by pre-recession standards, a great deal of it, especially in the United States and Britain. New Labour's Peter Mandelson voiced the spirit of the past 30 years when he remarked that he felt intensely 'relaxed' about people getting 'filthy' rich. Getting rich was what the 'new economy' was all about. And the newly rich kept an increasing part of what they got, as taxes were slashed to encourage them to get still richer, and efforts to divide up the pie more fairly were abandoned.

The results were predictable. In 1970, the pre-tax pay of a top American chief executive was about 30 times higher than that of the average worker; today, it is 263 times higher. In Britain, the basic pay (without bonuses) of a top CEO was 47 times the average worker's in 1970; in 2010, it was 81 times more. Since the late 1970s, the post-tax income of the richest fifth has increased five times as fast as the poorest fifth in the US, and four times as fast in Britain. Even more important has been the growing gap between average (mean) and median income: that is, the proportion of the population living on half or less of the average income in the US and Britain has been growing.

Although some countries have resisted the trend, inequality has been increasing over the last 30 to 40 years in the world as a whole. Inequality within countries has increased, and inequality between countries increased sharply after 1980, before levelling off in the late 1990s and finally falling back after 2000, as catch-up growth in developing countries accelerated.