Friday 31 August 2012

No escape from the law for guilty bosses: Ministry of Manpower

TRANSIENT Workers Count Too expressed concerns about employers who failed to purchase insurance for work injury compensation ("Enforce law requiring work injury compensation insurance"; Aug 22). In fact, the vast majority of permanent incapacity claims are insured. From 2007 to last year, an average of 4,800 permanent incapacity claims were awarded each year. Of these, almost 99 per cent were insured.

Fewer than 60 cases per year were not insured. The reasons for the failure to insure vary.

Many are the result of an administrative oversight; a small number arise due to the companies' financial difficulty.

Over the same period, we prosecuted and convicted 14 employers for non-insurance and non-payment of compensation, while for the remaining cases, employers subsequently paid out the work injury compensation due to workers.

The letter cited anecdotes that we advised workers to sue the employers. This is inaccurate.

Should employers refuse to make good the work injury payment despite our intervention, we will prosecute such employers.

Workers who face difficulty in recovering compensation are advised to approach us for assistance. We have interpreters on hand to better assist workers with their issues.

We do not condone the non-payment of compensation due to injured workers by employers and will not hesitate to enforce the requirements.

Employers are required under the Work Injury Compensation Act to maintain work injury compensation insurance for (i) all employees doing manual work and; (ii) non-manual employees earning $1,600 or less a month.

The malpractices by a small number of employers to save cost by not insuring, as well as not paying the compensation awarded, are not acceptable.

Errant employers face prosecution and are subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 12 months. They also risk having their $5,000 security bond forfeited and being barred from hiring foreign workers.

Farah Abdul Rahim (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 30 Aug 2012

Old Home Affairs HQ Phoenix Park designated as historic site

Phoenix Park, which encloses the colonial era-building, also preserved
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2012

A KEY colonial-era building which once housed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) was yesterday announced as the 91st historic site in Singapore by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

In addition, Phoenix Park, the 5.6ha area that encloses the historic edifice, was designated historic site 92. The site is located off Tanglin Road.

The building was the office of the Commissioner-General for South-east Asia, a nerve centre for British spies and the headquarters of Far East Command which once controlled 70,000 troops during the colonial era.

The central building, which is encircled by other blocks, housed the MHA and the Internal Security Department (ISD) between 1977 and 2001.

That year, MHA moved to the New Phoenix Park complex in Irrawaddy Road in the Novena area. ISD moved there the next year.

Wang Yuegu retires from Table Tennis

Paddler's retirement marks end of Singapore sport's most successful team
By Lin Xinyi, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2012

ON HOLIDAY in Beijing, Wang Yuegu spent yesterday morning going to the market with her mother, and the rest of the day relaxing.

After a table tennis career that spanned over two decades, the 32-year-old is finally living the life she has always dreamt of.

She announced her retirement to The Straits Times yesterday, officially marking the end of Singapore's most successful team.

Together with team-mates Feng Tianwei and Li Jiawei, she won a women's team silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, then a bronze at this month's London Games.

The trio were also part of the team that became world champions for the first time in 2010, when Singapore defeated powerhouses China 3-1 in Moscow.

"Now I'm ready to live like a pig - do nothing but eat and sleep," the world No. 10 said laughingly, in stark contrast to a voice tinged with a hint of sadness just moments earlier, when she revealed that she had quit.

She insisted, however, that she had prepared for the moment, having decided to hang up her bat back in January,when she picked up a serious elbow injury.

"Nobody retires before the Olympics, it's what we train for. I told myself to persevere until London," she added in a telephone interview from the Chinese capital.

"It's the right time to leave. I'm getting old, I've been injured, and I've a family now. It's time to give our youth paddlers a chance.

"If it's still the three of us (including Feng and Li, who has yet to confirm if she will play on) at Rio in 2016, it's not good for the development of Singapore sport."

So while table tennis will continue to be close to her heart, prompting her to watch the China Open on television last week, she is ready for change.

That means spending more time with her mum and her Germany-based Taiwanese husband Gabriel Lee, 29.

That means trying to start a family (she would like to have two kids). And that possibly means hitting the books to study economics and management, or sports psychology.

But one thing is for sure, she sees her future in Singapore.

Fee rebates for older union stalwarts

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2012

FOR MR Chua Kim Soon, leaving the labour force did not mean leaving the labour movement.

The 69-year-old has remained a union member for 48 years, even after retiring in 2010.

Membership costs $9 a month. But under the new scheme, which kicks in next January, those who have been members for 10 to 19 years will get a rebate of two months' fees, or $18.

Members of 20 to 29 years' standing will get four months' fees back.

And those who have been with the labour movement for 30 years or more will get a rebate of six months' fees, or $54.

This is to "thank them for staying with us, and for us to continue serving them in their golden years", NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

More than 10 of NTUC's 61 unions have committed to the rebate scheme so far.

About 7,000 members aged 65 are expected to benefit now, with another 30,000 turning 65 in the next three years.

Staying a union member is not just about benefits, but about sentimental ties as well, said Mr Chua.

But he welcomed the rebate, saying: "Without an income, having to pay the same fee as the workforce is a bit hard on us. Every cent helps."

Social enterprises are means of "active citizenry": President Tan

By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

SOCIAL enterprises are a means of "active citizenry", said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, during a visit to Eighteen Chefs, a restaurant in Simei which employs former offenders.

Such initiatives, he said, encourage Singaporeans to become "people who help themselves and people who help others to help themselves", instead of relying only on government assistance.

Dr Tan said that while the Government can help with resources like the ComCare Enterprise Fund, it is better for social enterprises to be ground-up efforts.

"It's not possible for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), or a group of civil servants, to sit down and think of everything.

"You need to have ideas from the ground and where they're viable, they will receive support from the Government," he said.

Touring the restaurant and chatting with owner Benny Se Teo, 52 and staff, Dr Tan held up Eighteen Chefs as an example of a successful social enterprise. The restaurant has applied for the inaugural President's Challenge Social Enterprise Awards, for which nominations close on Friday.

Eighteen Chefs, which started five years ago, was Mr Teo's brainchild after he experienced difficulty in finding work due to his chequered past. Between 1983 and 1993, he was in and out of prison four times because of heroin addiction. He decided to combine his passion for food with a desire to help those in similar situations by setting up a restaurant.

A future of our own making

by Devadas Krishnadas, Published TODAY, 30 Aug 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech not only hit notes of humility and sincerity, its positive reception was reinforced by his indications that some long sought-after policy adjustments, such as paternity leave, would be finally forthcoming. 

This willingness to shift was underscored by the announcement of a national conversation. This is intended to feed input to the general review of policies to be headed by Minister Heng Swee Kiat. Such a step signals a new "co-creative" model of policy making.

For such a model to work, Singaporeans must play their part. It begins with participation. As one cliche goes, "decisions are made by those who show up". Today, "showing up" can be done virtually as well as physically. However, participation alone is an insufficient threshold to ensure that this experiment succeeds. 

It is critical that the signal-to-noise ratio in communication is well managed. If not, we will have to make sense of a cacophonous crowd rather than a sonorous symphony. There are three requirements for this to be done well. 

Thursday 30 August 2012

Reflections on immigration

By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

ONE of the major themes of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech on Sunday is immigration.

PM Lee explained the imperative for Singapore to welcome immigrants, in order to make up for the deficit resulting from our low fertility and in order to benefit from the brain power and cultural diversity which the highly educated and talented migrants bring with them. The PM called upon Singaporeans to be big- hearted in welcoming them. He also called upon the migrants to make greater efforts to integrate into Singapore.

I have three reflections on the subject of immigration and integration.

First, I wish to remind ourselves that we are an immigrant nation. With few exceptions, most of us are the descendants of immigrants who have settled here from other parts of Asia and the wider world. My grandfather left his home district of Tong An, in China's Fujian province, because of anarchy, poverty and the lack of opportunity. My mother was a first-generation immigrant from Shanghai. On my father's side, I am therefore a third-generation Singaporean. On my mother's side, I am a second-generation Singaporean.

I believe that my family's history is typical of many Singapore families. Since we are almost all the descendants of immigrants, it would be a betrayal of our history if we were to become anti-immigrants or anti-foreigners.

I am optimistic that we will not become such a people. I believe that Singaporeans are generally open-hearted and broad-minded. We are one of the least xenophobic people in the world. If, in recent years, there has been unhappiness, it is because the influx of foreigners had exceeded our absorptive capacity and strained our infrastructure and social amenities. The annual intake of foreigners has to be better calibrated and managed.

Economy can support more graduates: Lawrence Wong

Jump in university places won't lead to unemployed grads, say leaders
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

THE move to substantially raise university places will not undermine the value of a degree or lead to a glut of graduates, government leaders said yesterday.

Figures show the economy is already able to support a fairly large number of university degree holders, said Senior Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong.

Manpower Ministry figures indicate that close to half of Singapore residents in the 25 to 29 age group hold degrees, and 44 per cent of those in the same age group earn at least $3,000 a month, which could be taken as a proxy for graduate-level jobs.

The demand for graduates is likely to rise further as Singapore needs a highly skilled workforce to drive its future economy, he added.

One sign of this is how professional, managerial and executive type jobs are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, going from 27 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent last year.

"Going forward, clearly we can accommodate more university graduates," he said at a press conference to announce details of a plan to expand university places.

But Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was also there, said Singaporeans should not see the expansion of university places as an opportunity for a paper chase. It should be a chance for "our people to deepen their learning, to upgrade and to seize new opportunities".

The assurance came after many expressed surprise at the generous increase in university places announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday.

By 2020, he said, the government will add another 3,000 undergraduate places a year. This will raise the university participation rate of each cohort from the current 27 per cent to 40 per cent, or from the current 13,000 places a year to 16,000.

No homework is not a bad thing: PM Lee

PM 'glad' many share his view on play for children
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is glad many parents and educators shared his view that pre-schoolers should be allowed to play, and learn through play.

In a Facebook post yesterday, he wrote: "We should not force feed our kids, and turn pre-school into a prep course for Primary One.

"I am glad that many parents and educators have agreed with me."

He noted that his phrase "no homework is not a bad thing" was re-tweeted the most from his Twitter account - "maybe by pupils", he quipped.

In his post, he cited a New York Times column pointing to research which suggests that playing certain kinds of childhood games may be the best way to increase a child's ability to do well in school.

"This article gives an idea why this is so, and describes how children will gain much more (educationally) through playing games and fun activities, than through drills and rote learning," he wrote.

His post attracted more than 100 comments in three hours.

This comes two days after he said in his National Day Rally speech that hothousing pre-schoolers can lead to unhappy childhoods.

Citing research by child development experts, he warned against sending kindergarten-age children to tuition, as it can lead to "over-teaching".

Some who responded to Mr Lee's Facebook post yesterday applauded his public effort to dampen academic pressure on pre-schoolers - acknowledging that their children should enjoy the learning process.

Other commenters have suggested that the idea be grounded in reality.

National Day Rally 2012: Strengthening our heartware

Keep spirit of understanding, Singaporeans urged
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2012

SINGAPOREANS are not a xenophobic people and the vitriol hurled at foreigners online is out of character, two government ministers came out to say yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam stressed that most Singaporeans are fair-minded and gracious.

"The vitriol towards foreigners that we see especially in online discussions is quite out of our Singaporean character," Mr Tharman wrote in a Facebook post. "Bad behaviour by a small number of foreigners does not justify spiteful comment about foreigners in general, or all foreigners of a particular race. It does no one good," he added.

Mr Shanmugam said on Facebook that "the small minority, which is highly negative, and hiding behind anonymity, and spewing vitriol, should not be allowed to set the tone for the debate".

In his National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised concerns about the ungracious behaviour of some towards fellow Singaporeans and towards foreigners.

National Day Rally 2012: Reactions to paternity leave

NTUC cheers openness to paternity leave
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2012

THE National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) yesterday welcomed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's willingness to legislate paternity leave - one of the suggestions it made last month.

Paternity leave is now "almost a norm" in the unionised sector, said NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say at the last of the labour movement's National Day ceremonies this month.

"We're very happy that this may become a national norm."

During Sunday's National Day Rally, Mr Lee said paternity leave was one measure the Government was considering to boost birth rates.

The NTUC had earlier called for mandatory paternity leave of two days, along with other family-friendly measures.

But though paternity leave is a "big step", it should not be the only step, said Mr Lim.

"If the Government gives X days of paternity leave, it does not mean that the father only spends the X days to take care of the babies and the other days are the duty of the wife," he said.

Nor should fathers' involvement in parenting end once the babies grow older, he added.

Many of the 1,500 unionised companies already offer two days' paternity leave, NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong told reporters.

Protect the elderly from financial abuse

By Chan Wing Cheong, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

IT WAS shocking news when acting legend Mickey Rooney, who has appeared in hundreds of films, television shows and theatre productions, sought legal protection in the United States last year against two of his stepchildren for elder abuse.

One of the allegations made by Mr Rooney, 90, against his stepson was that he was forced to continue working against his will through the use of threats and intimidation.

By rerouting Mr Rooney's mail, the stepson took control of Mr Rooney's money and used it to finance an extravagant lifestyle.

Elder abuse happens in Singapore as well, but we do not know how prevalent or how serious it is. Like in other countries, many victims of elder abuse do not come forward to seek help.

For some, this could be due to a sense of shame in admitting that a family member (who could be their child or spouse) is abusing them, or fear that if they turn against their abuser, there will be no one else to take care of them or the abuse may get worse.

For others, it could be an unwillingness or inability to admit that they are the victim of elder abuse, or a belief that they are themselves to blame ("This is happening because I wasn't a good parent to my children when they were younger").

The types of elder abuse which come to the attention of outsiders are often ones where physical signs are left on the body (such as bruises or scars, unusual weight loss or dehydration, unsanitary clothes) or when it happens in public (such as abandonment, yelling or humiliation in public).

Financial abuse, on the other hand, can be more subtle and the exploitation may go unnoticed for a long time.

Why are Hong Kongers so unhappy?

Famous go-getting spirit seems to be giving way to collective anxiety
By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

HONG KONG - In Hong Kong, there are nine Fortune Courts, four Rich Courts and three Wealthy Courts - mostly built in the 1980s and 1990s.

In more recent years, in vogue are projects named after overseas locations: Residence Bel-Air, La Maison Du Nord, Sunrise Cannes.

Any marketing student knows that in selling anything, it is essential to pitch it to the aspirations of one's clientele.

So the shift in residential name fads may be a case of evolving aesthetic taste. But it also points to something deeper that has changed in Hong Kong.

A people who used to pride themselves on being go-getters, who believed they could become rich/wealthy/make their fortune if they put their minds to it, have become anxious that they can no longer succeed in Hong Kong. Far better, it seems, to dream of living in a paradise away from here.

As Mr Bernard Chan, an Executive Council adviser to Hong Kong leader Leung Chun Ying, told The Straits Times: "We need to reignite that 'can-do spirit'."

He relates how 10 or 15 years ago, young people talked of wanting to be the next Li Ka Shing. Today, the feeling that the system is "not fair" has dented this drive.

This could help explain the seeming paradox of Hong Kong.

It ranks top or near the top in many lists, for liveability, safety, residents' longevity, free economy, lack of corruption, and so on. Yet Hong Kongers are not happy.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

National Day Rally 2012: Reactions

Moving words aimed at the Singapore soul
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THIS is one National Day Rally that speaks not so much to the head, or even the heart.

But straight to the soul of Singaporeans.

Breaking from the practice in recent years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared the stage with three junior ministers, but all four focused their speeches on values, dreams and aspirations, not on hard data or hard arguments.

So you have Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong recalling words from the Singapore Pledge, where Singaporeans pledge "to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation".

Next, Minister of State Halimah Yacob also recalled the Pledge to build a democratic society, "based on justice and equality".

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who has made values the hallmark of his education policies, stressed the need to go beyond knowledge, to cultivate morals and aesthetic sense in education. The soft-spoken minister lit up visibly when talking of how students' big dreams inspired him.

And when PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke, it was about Singapore as a home with hope and heart.

Outsiders see only the gloss or hear only the gripes of this city-state. But those of us born and bred here, and those who love this place and made it our home, feel the Singapore heartbeat.

Don't be a 'one-eyed dragon': Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

This is an excerpt from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally 2012 Mandarin speech on shedding negative mindsets about Singapore
Published The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2012

IT HAS been almost 50 years since Singapore became independent.

In half a century, Singapore has changed dramatically. We are not yet a fully developed nation, even though we enjoy First World incomes.

Our basic needs have been met; we are now pursuing a better quality of life and in search of new development strategies.

The question is: At our level, what else should we do to scale greater heights? Like climbing a mountain, the higher we go, the tougher the climb.

Our situation is similar to that in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. After 30 to 40 years of rapid development, all the "Four Asian Dragons" are at a critical juncture.

The era of rapid growth is over. We are all searching for a stable new path forward. This requires new strategies and new formulas. No country can say: "We have found the formula."

Hence, many East Asian societies are anxious about the future, a phenomenon that has been highlighted in the news media.

A Taiwanese writer recently wrote an article in the Yazhou Zhoukan, analysing the anxiety felt by the Taiwanese. She said Taiwan's declining economy and shrinking job market have caused the Taiwanese to worry that their children's lives will be worse than theirs.

The writer noted that interestingly, foreign visitors praise Taiwan's economic and social accomplishments, but the Taiwanese are like a "one-eyed dragon", seeing only the negative side of Taiwan.

She added that actually, the people in China, Hong Kong and Singapore have the same worries too.

Recently, Lianhe Zaobao columnist Ng Kin Kang expressed similar sentiments in an article. He observed that Singaporeans seem to be grumbling a lot more these days, comparing Singapore selectively with only the good points of other countries.

He said: "Singapore is not perfect. We are worse than some, but better than others."

I agree with Mr Ng. Singapore is indeed not perfect. But I ask Singaporeans to look at Singapore with both eyes.

In reality, we are better off than many other countries. The media, government and people in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan believe there is more to learn from Singapore.

Resolving Taiwan's collective anxiety

By Alice Yang, Published The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2012

I HAVE made four annual trips back to Taiwan since 2009, but the collective anxiety there has never felt stronger than in my last two trips. Hong Kongers have collective anxiety. Taiwanese have it even worse.

According to a recent poll conducted by China Times, 80 per cent of those surveyed think Taiwan has not progressed. They fear for the next generation and are disappointed with the ruling and opposition parties.

Half the respondents blame it on President Ma Ying-jeou's poor leadership, while 50 per cent say the stagnation is due to the Legislative Yuan's parliamentary inefficiency, and 31 per cent fault the Democratic Progressive Party for its indiscriminate boycotts.

Taiwan has achieved democracy, so the government's actions should not affect the people much. But thanks to six news broadcasters fanning the flames round the clock, the people of Taiwan are easily anxious, feeling defeated, despondent and finicky.

It is not just in Taiwan, as other ethnic Chinese also feel this anxiety. Hong Kongers are anxious, Singaporeans are anxious, mainland Chinese are even more anxious. In his recent essay, Professor Chen Yung-feng from Tunghai University called the anxiety of the Taiwanese the "collective anxiety of post-modern Taiwan".

He thinks that Taiwan has walked the path of modernisation - establishing a Constitution, democracy and strong economic growth - to reach post-modernity. People regard the new-found democracy as a matter of course; but the country's overall goals are lost, the society is divided and values are sharply opposed.

But is Taiwan that bad?

Singapore Tops the 9th International Geography Olympiad 2012

Channel NewsAsia, 27 Aug 2012

Singapore students have come out tops in the 9th International Geography Olympiad (iGeo) held in Cologne, Germany.

The team obtained two gold and two silver medals, which put the team first among 32 countries.

This is the second time Singapore is taking part in iGeo.

The gold medalists are Chua De Xun Samuel and Tan Wei Jie Brendan from Raffles Institution (Junior College). Samuel Chua was also the top gold medalist in the 9th iGeo.

The silver medalists are Wesley Chioh from Raffles Institution (Junior College) and Chee You Jin Eugene from Hwa Chong Institution (College).

This annual competition is organised under the auspices of the International Geographical Union, and consists of written, multimedia and fieldwork tests.

Students are expected to have a good knowledge of topics ranging from physical to human geography.

The teams are also required to apply their geographical knowledge and skills in new and unfamiliar contexts, such as carrying out fieldwork on land use in Rheinau Harbour and waterfront development in the Deutz riverfront in Cologne, Germany.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Revamped Malay Heritage Centre opens on 1st September 2012

Kampong Glam icon will showcase rich Malay legacy in trade, culture
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

VISITORS will be offered a fresh glimpse into Singapore's history at the revamped Malay Heritage Centre.

Exhibits include the piano on which the late composer Zubir Said tinkled the first notes of Singapore's national anthem, and an authentic Mark III rifle used by Malay Regiment soldiers during World War II.

There will also be recovered coins from the Straits Settlements and the Dutch East Indies, reflecting the dynamic trade that thrived in Kampong Glam from the 18th to 20th centuries.

The centre, at Istana Kampong Glam, has been closed since April last year for renovations and refurbishments.

It is now due to be officially re-opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday.

Mr Lee, who mentioned the centre in his Malay National Day Rally speech last night, said it would "showcase our rich Malay traditions to our future generations, other races and foreign visitors".

The heritage centre was first opened by Mr Lee in 2005.

As well as highlighting the Malay community's traditions and customs, it hosted important dignitaries from the region.

Monday 27 August 2012

PM Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally 2012

PM Lee's National Day Rally 2012 Speech in English
PM Lee's National Day Rally 2012 Speech in Mandarin
PM Lee's National Day Rally 2012 Speech in Malay
National Day Rally 2012 Highlights

National Day Rally 2012 Highlights

Help write the next chapter in Singapore story, says PM Lee
He invites all to look beyond present woes to a home with hope and heart
By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2012

THE future is for Singaporeans to create and the Prime Minister has called on everyone to help chart a new, clear direction for the country and to help make the future they want happen.

In his ninth National Day Rally, Mr Lee Hsien Loong last night invited Singaporeans to look beyond present woes, such as those in housing and transport. These, he said, will be fixed.

The future beckons, and the challenge is to make Singapore a gracious home over the next 20 years, one that offers hope to its people.

The Prime Minister posed this question to the 1,500-strong audience at the University Cultural Centre, and the thousands more watching at home: What should the next chapter of the Singapore Story be about?

He hopes many will join in the quest for an answer through the national conversation on Our Singapore, which Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will chair.

"Think seriously about our future, contribute your ideas and work together to make it happen. Singapore must keep improving in such a rapidly changing world. If we stand still, we will fall behind... But if we adapt to changes and exploit new opportunities, we will thrive," he said.

Mr Lee spoke for more than two hours in Malay, Mandarin and English, celebrating as he did in rallies past, the achievements of a diverse group of Singaporeans - from students to a construction worker who cannot read. He received a standing ovation at the end.

Singapore's midlife crisis

The soul-searching over economic primacy and dominance of the PAP has only just begun
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2012

Singapore turned 47 this year. If the tone of public conversations on and offline is anything to go by, the country is in the throes of a midlife crisis.

And about time too.

Midlife in the human context is the period between ages 40 and 60, when many go through a process of re-evaluating their lives.

For some, midlife is a smooth progression from the drive and ambitions of youth through the maturity of middle age straight to the calm satisfaction of old age. For others, it can be a period of discontinuity, characterised by a distinct break, a sharp turn, and then a continuation on a totally different trajectory along the journey of life.

For the latter group, influential Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung's description of midlife will resonate: "Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life… we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve as before.

"But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life's morning - for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie."

After nearly five decades of material progress, Singapore is going through a period of soul-searching unprecedented since Independence.

Like a person going through a midlife crisis, the nation is questioning what once worked. What was once taken for granted as articles of faith, are being disputed.

Two key tenets undergirding the nation's success and stability in the first 46 years are being scrutinised.

A banana in Beijing

How being bilingual, bicultural helps or doesn't help working, living in China
By Sim Chi Yin, Published The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2012

When I got the posting to Beijing in 2007, one of my friends said: "Wah, SCGS girl becomes Straits Times' China correspondent - make history lor."

I guess you could substitute Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls' School, Methodist Girls' School or a fair number of other Singapore schools for my alma mater, Singapore Chinese Girls' School.

It was like "chiak kantang girl goes to China". The Hokkien phrase for "eat potato" is used to refer to a westernised Chinese.

That is what probably struck former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew too when I met him briefly on assignment. It was enough for him to cite me (unnamed) as an example of the success of Singapore's bilingual education policy in the book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, noting how my English was polished from four years at the London School of Economics but how my Mandarin was also, to some ears, "native".

By that time, I had lived in China for a couple of years.

Actually, that is not entirely accurate or the whole picture.

There is another key piece of the bilingual puzzle that we did not get to talk about when I met Mr Lee.

I am probably saved by the fact that I was born to a pair of Chinese-educated parents, both of whom had migrated from Malaysia, determined to give their children a life without being discriminated against as ethnic Chinese.

They were Nantah graduates - having attended Singapore's former Chinese-medium Nanyang University - and they would send my sister and me to very "ang moh" schools to ensure that we would not speak "helicopter English" like them.

But they would go on to lament that we were "bananas" - yellow on the outside and white on the inside - who refused to read even the Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao that they religiously subscribed to. It is true, when I was in school, I would be embarrassed when my parents answered the phone when my friends called and yelled out for me in Chinese.

The trouble with $2,200 bikes and $600 chairs

It's not about the rules for government procurements; it's about the money itself
By Han Fook Kwang, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2012

There's been another ruckus online over government agencies allegedly spending more money than necessary, this time over the purchase of office chairs costing almost $600 each.

What's the connection between this and the questions being raised over the NParks' purchase of Brompton bicycles that is now the subject of a corruption investigation?

If your answer is that both are about how government agencies procure goods and services and whether they follow established policies, you're only partly right.

If that was all, the matter could be resolved quite simply and quickly - tighten the rules, introduce more if necessary, and make sure they are followed.

In fact, that was how the story developed; earlier this month, the Finance Ministry announced new rules to improve the buying process, including lengthening the bidding period from four to seven days.

End of story?

Not at all. That would be the wrong story and ending it this way wouldn't make the problem go away.

To be sure, the issues over rules are important and need to be put right. But they are not the most critical.

So, what's bugging Singaporeans?

I believe it's really about the money itself, not the rules or whether they were followed.

Much ado over a bad haircut

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2012

About a week ago, sales manager Serene Ong got all upset and went to the police after a teacher gave her 12-year-old son a bad haircut.

The story was unusual in various ways. But first, the facts, gleaned from newspaper accounts, because apart from going to the police, the mother went to the media too.

Her son Ryan Ang is dyslexic and has been getting $60 haircuts for several years. His school, Unity Primary in Chua Chu Kang, has school rules about hair length, and he was caught flouting them.

On Aug 14, he was given a letter to take home, telling his parents he needed a haircut by Aug 16, the day of his PSLE oral exam.

He did not show his parents the letter. He did not get a haircut. On Aug 16, just before the oral exam, form teacher Belinda Cheng hauled him up along with two other boys for long hair. She then gave them a haircut herself.

Ryan's mother was furious. Nobody had told her beforehand, she said. The boy could not leave home for two days because of the way he looked and she spent another $60 to fix the bad crop.

According to The New Paper, she found out about the school's letter only when the reporter asked Ryan about it. That's when he produced it from his bag. His mother's response: The boy is dyslexic, and dyslexics are forgetful.

The story of the boy, his $60 haircut and the police report gives us all food for thought. It provides what educators like to call "teachable moments".

Sports scheme for the needy kicks off: SportCares

New initiative, SportCares, will give the poor access to facilities, coaching
By Lua Jia Min, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2012

A new initiative to help the needy by introducing them to sports kicked off yesterday with a charity football tournament and a gala dinner.

The initiative, SportCares, is also the first recommendation under Vision 2030 to be put into action.

Vision 2030 is a national sports masterplan initiated by Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing last year.

Speaking at the dinner held at the Singapore Recreation Club in Connaught Drive last night, Mr Chan, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence, said the tournament underscored the "commitment of both the private and public sectors to use sport as a force for social good".

The game was organised by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), the Football Association of Singapore, Singapore Pools, and Singapore Recreation Club.

A total of 28 teams took part in 93 matches played over eight hours.

Sunday 26 August 2012

DPM Tharman urges new citizens to form ties with S'poreans

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Aug 2012

Nearly 3,000 new citizens will receive their citizenship certificates in island-wide ceremonies to be held by the different GRCs over the weekend.

Speaking at the National Citizenship Ceremony held at the Supreme Court Auditorium, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the basis for the country's success is Singaporeans who live and work as one united people to forge a better future for all.

Presenting certificates to 128 new citizens, Mr Tharman said Singapore's circumstances have changed with each decade and will keep changing.

But Singapore's ability to keep improving as a nation and its ability to overcome problems will continue to depend on the same national virtues that have brought the country to where it is today.

Mr Tharman said: "What are these national virtues? That we each strive to improve in whatever we do, that we make the effort to work together and to make friendships with each other regardless of our diverse origins.

"That we provide real opportunities for Singaporeans, for every Singaporean, to discover his or her strengths or potential and to grow, regardless of their starting point. That we welcome committed people like you, to contribute to our nation."

Participating in the national conversation is one area where new citizens can contribute, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who welcomed another 250 new citizens at a ceremony in Sembawang GRC.