Sunday 30 September 2012

More than 100 facilities for elderly to be built in estates

Sites within neighbourhoods identified for first batch of centres
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

MORE than 100 facilities to provide care for the elderly will be built within communities over the next three years as the country gears up to meet the needs of an ageing population.

The amenities, developed by the Ministries of Health and Community Development, Youth and Sports at a cost of $500 million, will be ready by 2016.

Sites - for 10 nursing homes, 21 of 39 senior care centres, and 45 of 55 senior activity centres - have been identified. The ministries will inform residents before making the exact locations public.

This is just the first batch of facilities. The plan is for every neighbourhood to have its own aged-care facilities.

Announcing this yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "By locating these facilities within the community, seniors can continue to age in place gracefully near their loved ones and within an environment they are familiar with."

He hopes residents living near these new facilities will "welcome and embrace" these amenities and view them as necessary. Mr Gan told The Straits Times that he hopes not to see a repeat of the "not-in-my-backyard", or Nimby, syndrome that had cropped up in some areas.

Job Flexibility for Productivity: New plan to relieve hotel labour crunch

By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

WORK permit holders working in hotels may now hold up to three positions at the same hotel in a government move to relieve labour shortages in the hospitality industry.

The Ministry of Manpower yesterday announced its Job Flexibility for Productivity plan, a pilot initiative aimed at helping hotels and hostels.

Businesses that want to participate in the programme may apply to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) from Monday.

"Hotels can optimise the use of their workforce by deploying their existing workers to perform more functions, instead of hiring more foreign workers," said Mr Lee Ark Boon, the ministry's divisional director of manpower planning and policy.

"The expected productivity improvements should contribute positively to their bottom lines."

Currently, a work permit holder can perform only tasks specific to the position he or she was hired to do. It is illegal, for example, for one hired as a cleaner to work as a receptionist as well.

Under the new initiative, however, approved businesses may deploy such workers to a maximum of two other jobs in the same company for two years.

Singaporean workers can already rotate between roles.

The programme, which the ministry and STB will review over the next two years, is one answer to the hospitality industry's struggle to recruit and retain workers.

Because it relies largely on foreign labour, the sector has been hit hard ever since the Government made it more difficult for employers to hire foreigners.

Singapore: the hyphen connecting the world and Asia

Singapore must continue to be diplomatically neutral and economically opportunistic to thrive
By Parag Khanna, Published The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

WITH the convening of the recent Singapore Summit, the "Little Red Dot" has proven its outsized role and importance on the world stage.

As one participant remarked, never has such a large market capitalisation been assembled in one room. I participated in the full summit, and came away with the view that Singapore's unique position and potential contributions to the world in the decade ahead were capably demonstrated.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered the kind of confidently tech-savvy speech unimaginable from any other head of state, even the BlackBerry-wielding United States leader Barack Obama. He didn't just name drop robotics companies, the online learning portal Coursera and our increasingly social relationships with digital avatars, but used these to highlight the "ruthless competition" Singapore's workers will face as technologies accelerate, rise up the value chain and displace even white-collar labour.

As World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general Pascal Lamy pointed out, the "gravity of proximity" is weakening in both goods and services. Asia will have to defend its gains, while innovating more to maintain growth.

The theme of "Global-Asia", then, has to be viewed not only as a two-way street, but also as a brave and uncertain new world order to which Singapore must rapidly adapt.

S’pore beats 4 cities to be host of top hedge-fund meet

Published The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2012

WHEN Mr Anthony Scaramucci wanted to bring Salt, the largest US annual hedge-fund schmooze fest, to Asia for the first time, he toured five cities looking for a venue.

Singapore won.

Citing its world-class infrastructure and status as a global financial centre, Mr Scaramucci, known in the industry as "the Mooch", ruled out Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai before settling on Singapore's Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino for his SkyBridge Capital's SkyBridge Alternatives Conference on Oct 17-19, an add-on to the firm's annual conference in Las Vegas.

"The attitude in Singapore is that they aggressively want to compete," Mr Victor Oviedo, a SkyBridge Capital partner who toured Asia with Mr Scaramucci, said in a phone interview from the firm's base in New York. "Despite being small, they have managed to compete in a boxer world above their weight class."

Singapore has emerged atop Asia's ranks for business travellers and conventioneers ranging from orchid collectors to financiers and economists such as Mr Michael Milken, Mr Jim Rogers, Professor Nouriel Roubini and Mr Joseph Stiglitz.

They are being lured by the Sands, a two-year-old resort built by US gaming giant Sheldon Adelson, uncongested roads, some of the cleanest urban air in the region and development projects with waterfront parks, luxury shops and high-end restaurants.

Singapore topped Hong Kong as Asia's most-popular business destination in the first half of this year, according to a survey of 2,500 people in nine countries by Accor SA, the largest international hotel operator in the region, whose chains include Sofitel, Novotel and Ibis.

Last year, the two cities were tied.

Singapore population up at 5.31 million as at end June 2012

Channel NewsAsia, 28 Sep 2012

Singapore's population has increased, due to growth of both the resident and non-resident populations.

The Department of Statistics (DOS), in its Population Trends 2012 report released on Friday, said the country's total population stood at 5.31 million as at end June 2012, up 2.5 per cent from a year ago.

It said there were 3.29 million Singapore citizens and 0.53 million permanent residents, and the rest were non-residents.

The number of Singapore citizens grew by 0.9 per cent, comparable to the growths in the last couple of years, while the number of permanent residents increased marginally by 0.2 per cent.

Growth in the number of non-residents was at 7.2 per cent, slightly higher than last year's 6.9 per cent. But DOS said it was significantly lower than the double digit percentage increases of 14.9 per cent seen in 2007 and 19.0 per cent in 2008.

An estimated 3.14 million Singapore residents were living in HDB flats this year, accounting for 82 per cent of Singapore residents, said the report.

Saturday 29 September 2012

WorkRight: Workers, know your rights

Manpower Ministry and CPF Board ramp up education and enforcement
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2012

The campaign, which begins tomorrow, has the slogan: "I know my employment rights, I do it right." It is jointly organised by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. In a press statement yesterday, the ministry and the CPF Board said workers will be taught their rights, and employers their legal obligation, as stated in the Employment Act and CPF Act.

Topics include payment of CPF contributions, punctual payment of salary, giving paid annual and medical leave, and keeping to working-hour requirements.

The two agencies say public education is important as some workers may not be aware of the "significant amounts they stand to lose" if they opt out of CPF contributions in order to have a higher take-home pay. These include government Workfare benefits for low-income workers, and top-ups to their CPF Medisave accounts.

Labour MP Ang Hin Kee said that low-income workers worried about day-to-day expenses may prefer a larger cash component.

"Unscrupulous employers" might take advantage of this to strike an agreement to pay more cash but no CPF, he added.

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin posted on the ministry's blog yesterday: "While most employers are responsible, there are some who continue to flout the law, hoping to benefit from short-term gains."

The ministry and the CPF Board are thus ramping up not only education efforts, but enforcement too, the minister wrote.

Shophouse can keep its graffiti artwork

Such graffiti allowed on selected conserved shophouses on case-by-case basis
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2012

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has clarified that graffiti art on the walls of selected conserved shophouses is allowed.

While it introduced stricter colour guidelines for historic shophouses in January this year, it is prepared to make room for exceptions, it said.

One such exception is a shophouse in Haji Lane which has artwork on its side wall commissioned by its tenant, Ms Aileen Tan, who runs Blu Jaz Cafe.

On Monday, The Straits Times reported that this shophouse had flouted URA's new conservation rules, which states that "traditional paint schemes and colours" are to be used on conserved shophouses.

This means that the base colour of shophouses are to be a pastel shade, with strong colours used only to highlight decorative details.

The rule was not specific about whether this applied just to the front of the shophouse or to the side walls as well.

A picture of the shophouse had accompanied the new guidelines, as an example of something that was not recommended in general.

Now, the URA has come out to say that it will allow graffiti art on the side walls of selected conserved shophouses on a case-by-case basis.

In this particular case, it decided to allow it after Kampong Glam Business Association approached it five months ago to clarify the new rules, and seek approval on the painting of murals on the side walls of nine other shophouses in the Haji Lane area.

HDB adds 2,000 more units to BTO flat supply

By S Ramesh, Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Sep 2012

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is increasing its new flat supply for 2012 by 2,000 units, boosting the number of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats for the year to 27,000 -- up from the originally planned 25,000.

This is the biggest ever launch of new flats in a year.

The news comes as HDB launched on Thursday 7,055 flats for sale under the joint BTO and Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises in both non-mature and mature towns.

More than half of them (3,727 units) are from seven new BTO projects.

They are spread across two non-mature estates of Choa Chu Kang and Woodlands, and three mature towns of Ang Mo Kio, Kallang-Whampoa and Tampines.

The remaining 3,328 flats on offer are balance flats -- ranging from studio apartments to executive flats -- from previous launches.

HDB said another 6,400 BTO flats will be launched in November.

It said the ramp-up of HDB flat supply would further help to meet housing demand, especially from first-time home buyers.

As demand for flats in mature estates is expected to be high, HDB advises applicants to apply for a BTO flat in non-mature towns and estates for a higher chance in securing a unit. 

Friday 28 September 2012

Ask the PM - Singapolitics special report

Having a childhood is good in theory, but how do we reduce the reliance on exams? For example, do we need the PSLE?

The second part of PM Lee's answer to question #8 in the poll:
Having a childhood is good in theory, but how do we reduce the reliance on exams? For example, do we need the PSLE?

Baby-making ideas tossed up at dialogue

One participant asks for financial help for couples who have trouble conceiving
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2012

ONE man asked for more financial help for couples who have trouble conceiving. A social worker suggested that more resources and support be made available to those wanting to adopt children.

And one young man jokingly suggested that all single MPs get married before the next general election, to set a good example.

From light-hearted to serious, many ideas were thrown up by participants at a dialogue on population last night, with most fixed firmly on one goal: to get Singaporeans in the family way.

Although the organisers had intended for the session to discuss the economic implications of Singapore's ageing population and shrinking labour force, most of the 100 or so participants were more interested in coming up with ideas to encourage Singaporeans to start families.

The session, which lasted more than an hour, was held by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) as part of a series of dialogues to get people to talk about what Singapore's population strategy should be.

Foreign Domestic Worker Grant: Maid stipend to be given to employers from Nov 2012

51 applications approved to help those with elderly, disabled members
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2012

FROM November, the first batch of 51 employers will receive a government grant to help them offset the costs of hiring a maid to take care of frail, elderly or disabled family members.

The monthly stipend of $120 comes from the Foreign Domestic Worker Grant, which is expected to cost $25 million over the next five years. Eventually, more than 6,000 middle- and low-income families are expected to benefit from the grant.

Employers generally pay their maids a monthly salary of $400 to $450, as well as a monthly levy of $265 to the Government.

Households with family members above 65 years old now pay a discounted levy of $170. The new grant is given on top of this monthly concession.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob said yesterday that more than 330 applications have been filed since Aug 7, when applications for the grant opened.

But only 51 applications were approved as the rest were incomplete and did not come with the necessary documents, she added.

To qualify, households must have a per capita monthly income of $2,200 or less.

The elderly or disabled family member, after being assessed by a doctor, must be someone who requires help when taking a shower or moving around, for example.

This person must also be living with the applicant, and the maid who is employed must have attended training approved by the Centre for Enabled Living.

Applicants must provide the necessary documents to prove that these criteria have been met.

Why you hate cyclists

By Jim Saksa, Published The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2012

I AM that jerk weaving his bike in and out of traffic, going the wrong way down a one-way street, and making a left on red. I am truly a menace on the road.

But it is not because I am on a bike - I am a jerk on the road no matter what.

I am also a stereotypical Jersey driver, someone who treats speed limits as speed minimums and curses those who disagree.

And I am just as bad as a pedestrian, another jaywalking smartphone zombie oblivious to the world beyond my glowing screen.

If I am moving, I am an accident waiting to happen.

Biking is my primary means of transportation, so when someone defames cyclists, I feel particularly bad. The fact is, unlike me, most cyclists are courteous, safe, law-abiding citizens who are quite willing and able to share the road.

S'pore tips for Russia in wooing investors

Mr Lee's advice to Russian governor: Ensure investor security and cut red tape
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2012

A RUSSIAN governor on the brink of launching economic reforms yesterday sought the advice of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who gave him two tips from Singapore's story on attracting investors.

First, ensure security for investors and their property. Second, remove bureaucratic hurdles that prevent them from carrying on their business.

While there were countries in the region that take investors "hostage", Singapore had made efforts to help the latter succeed, said Mr Lee.

"We take the opposite line. An investor who comes in, it is our duty to help him succeed, and when he succeeds, his friends will know about it and they will also come in," he told Mr Andrey Turchak, governor of the north-western Pskov region, which is engaging Jurong Consultants to help set up a special economic zone.

"If you do the same in Russia, you will succeed."

Mr Lee was addressing 600 guests at the 7th Russia-Singapore Business Forum organised by the Singapore Business Federation at the Marina Bay Sands. The four-day event, which started on Monday, gathered businessmen from Russia, Singapore and the region.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Population talk shouldn't inhibit proper planning

MANY Singaporeans are still puzzled and worried by the 6.5 million population parameter adopted since 2007 for our long-term physical planning ("PM quizzed on ideal population size at forum"; Monday).

Some even suspect a plan to grow the population to 6.5 million.

Negative notions outnumber positive ones, such as notions that 6.5 million people are too many to sustain, and that living quality would drop in the future.

Peak-hour transport congestion and temporary housing shortages are often cited to support the one-sided notions.

How public transport and housing can expand and improve through more investments and use of better technology in the next 30 years are not taken into account or are simply ignored.

Planning for future land use is a highly specialised task. Planners must track latest developments and foreseeable trends, and revise their assumptions and parameters when necessary.

These planners do not plan or decide our future population size; but they need to use, among other things, a population parameter to plan.

If they are discouraged from using a realistic population parameter or changing outdated assumptions, their professionalism will be compromised.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Strong case for Singapore to continue with calibrated immigration policy: Ministry of Trade and Industry Occasional Paper on Population and Economy 2012

By Imelda Saad, Tan Qiuyi, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Sep 2012

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has made a strong case for Singapore to continue to make fine adjustments to the inflow of foreigners as the country faces an ageing population and dwindling workforce.

It also stressed that the days of high economic growth are over.

The time now, it said, is for Singaporeans to come to a consensus on the appropriate level of growth for the next 10 to 30 years.

Based on the country's stage of development, Singapore's Economic Strategies Committee has said that a GDP growth of between three and five per cent a year is a healthy target to aim for.

It exceeds those of most advanced countries that typically grow by two to three per cent.

But to achieve this, there needs to be rethink of growth strategies, especially against the backdrop of a shrinking workforce.

The ministry outlined three broad approaches in a paper on population and the economy, released on Tuesday.

Immigrants don't steal jobs, inflexible labour markets do

Europe faces an unemployment crisis. But few politicians dare undertake labour market reforms which will hurt their re-election chances today, and show benefits only years later
By Jonathan Eyal, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2012

THE numbers make for grim reading but nothing seems capable of breaking the unrelenting tide of bad news.

In the United States, jobless rates rose in more than half of its states last month, including seven of the 11 key swing states in this year's presidential election. At 8.1 per cent of the labour force, America's current unemployment is the worst it has been in decades.

Still, this pales in comparison with the 21 per cent unemployment rate recorded in Greece, or the 24 per cent registered in Spain.

Throughout the industrialised world, the plight of the jobless is not only an economic scourge, but a ticking political time bomb as well. Yet despite all the risks, politicians are still dithering, partly because the required solutions are not evident, but also because the political payoff is too remote.

The idea that the state either owes everyone a job or should be held responsible if people don't get one is relatively new. Still, it is so entrenched throughout the industrialised world as to be irrefutable. And failure is uniquely easy to quantify. If a government makes the wrong investment decisions on health or transport infrastructure, it may take years before this becomes apparent. But unemployment figures are published monthly and the slightest blip generates instant demands for a government's resignation.

'Strengthen SMEs - the backbone of the economy'

Minister of State Teo Ser Luck wants to spread the start-up culture of risk-taking
By Grace Chng, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2012

SMALLER firms, including start-ups, are the backbone of the economy but they need strengthening, said the Minister of State for Trade and Industry yesterday.

Mr Teo Ser Luck noted that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute more than 50 per cent of gross domestic product.

They also hire seven out of 10 workers and comprise 99 per cent of all registered firms here.

Mr Teo made his comments after visiting Block 71, a hub for start-ups at Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate.

He dropped in on four firms - Burpple, Zimplistic, Paywhere and Stream Media - as well as technology incubator Plug & Play, which provides new firms with workspaces, mentorship and funding.

Mr Teo, who is also chairman of ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship), views start-ups as crucial as they can help reinvent Singapore to be more creative and innovative.

They can be groomed to become "the spark of brilliance that can help put Singapore on the world map" with their unique products and services, he said.

Mr Teo said he is looking at spreading the start-up culture of risk-taking and thinking out of the box which is necessary if businesses are to become more productive and competitive.

Accept nursing home & eldercare facilities in show of solidarity: Amy Khor

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Sep 2012 

Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor has urged younger and able-bodied Singaporeans to accept the presence of nursing home and eldercare facilities in their neighbourhoods - as an "expression of solidarity" with the seniors in their community.

She said in her blog entry on Tuesday, titled "The Spirit of Caring", that it is important to strengthen access to a strong network of support services that help caregivers better manage their stress and become more effective. 

Dr Khor said one practical way to make healthcare more accessible and convenient for all is to have nursing homes and eldercare facilities in the community. 

She highlighted the work of St Joseph's Home (SJH), which she visited last Friday, in improving the lives of its residents and reaching out to the community.

Dr Khor said she was struck by its mission "no one dies alone".

"The sisters and nurses carry out this mission by spending long hours at the bedside of residents who are very ill in order to provide dignity, support and comfort to them on their final journey. Despite the emotional strain of such work, the sisters showed amazing patience and fortitude," she said.

"That spirit is truly inspiring. I hope that many more of us will find the inner resolve and resources to care as deeply for others less able than ourselves as these sisters have done. Isn't this the foundation of an inclusive society?"

Ministry of Health to proceed with nursing home in Bishan

It found 5 suggested alternative sites unfeasible but will tweak design
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2012

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) will go ahead to build a nursing home in Bishan Street 13, after taking four months to study alternative sites suggested by residents.

It has also tweaked the design of the home in response to their feedback, and will continue to engage residents while it develops the proposed design.

Construction of the 260-bed Lions Home for the Elders is expected to begin early next year and be completed by end-2014.

Residents objected when they were told of the planned development in May.

Yesterday, MOH said it has been working with the MP, grassroots leaders and residents since then to address their concerns.

As initially planned, the home will be built in a field bounded by blocks 175, 181, 182 and 186. But MOH, along with the Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority, had gone back to study each of the five alternative sites suggested by residents in May.

It found that all were either in use or had been designated for future development.

But MOH said it has heard and paid heed to residents' worries that the home will block views, hamper ventilation and cause traffic and noise problems.

Accordingly, the building will be capped at six storeys instead of eight as intended, and will contain design features to shield the wards from direct view. Lush greenery will be included on the rooftop and around the home, while MOH will ensure there is ample carpark space.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Lawrence Wong on Maintaining Civil Online Discourse

Don't let politics polarise 
By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Sep 2012 

Senior Minister of State for Education and Information, Communications and the Arts, Lawrence Wong, has rebutted some online views over the past few weeks on the British royal couple's visit to Queenstown and the MediaCorp TV forum with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, A Conversation with PM Lee.

In a post on his Facebook page on Monday, Mr Wong said he has been watching the incidents unfold on the internet with "some heaviness" in his heart.

He said politics can either drive a wedge between Singaporeans and divide the society or it can be a force for good to bring the people together and to build a stronger and better Singapore.

He noted that when the British royal couple - Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge - visited Queenstown, Singaporeans young and old volunteered readily to be part of this event.

Yet, they were mocked online for taking part in a "wayang" show.

In the case of the MediaCorp TV forum, Mr Wong said no one was invited because of his or her political affiliation.

Among the group of 50 invited to take part, a few were members of the People's Action Party (PAP).

Mr Wong said on the internet, there was a campaign targeted against these PAP members.

They were singled out and attacked and their phone numbers were publicised online.

Bridging the wage divide - together

Companies, non-profit groups and individuals all have a part to play in helping the poor
By Radha Basu, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2012

Low-wage workers were the focus of attention at an animated public brainstorming session last week on ways to bridge Singapore's widening income divide.

Barring Hong Kong, Singapore is believed to have the largest income gap in the developed world.

There were around 110,000 Singaporeans and residents who earned a gross pay of less than $1,000 a month last year, excluding employer's CPF contribution, despite working full-time.

Factor in part-time workers as well and the number swelled to 236,000, from 218,000 a decade earlier.

The numbers of the well off - those earning more than $10,000 a month - meanwhile have nearly tripled over the past decade to around 140,000.

Discussing ways to bridge the gap, the speakers - Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob, financial consultant Leong Sze

Hian and opposition politician Nicole Seah - agreed that wages of the working poor must rise and so must social spending.

With wages, this is easier said than done. The three speakers eschewed the idea of a minimum wage, as prevalent in most developed countries. The forum was organised by anti-poverty group One (Singapore) and the Singapore Management University.

Pointers from HK's public transport

The territory's system is so effective that it is the preferred mode of travel even for the rich
By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 23 Sep 2012

Auditor Vickie Lee lives in Sha Tin, New Territories, in the north of Hong Kong. Every day, she travels to her office in Central, the heart of Hong Kong Island. The distance is 17.6km, about that between Shenton Way and Woodlands in Singapore.

To get to work, the 26-year-old has three public transport options.

She can take the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). The journey will be about 30 minutes.

During peak hours, she can take express bus No. 88R for a journey of 45 minutes.

For variety, she can take a mini-bus before switching to either the tram, which locals fondly call "ding-ding", or a ferry across the harbour. This will take a total of 80 minutes.

Clearly, Ms Lee has little need to drive - even though cars are cheap; a six-year-old Toyota Corolla can be had for HK$65,000 (S$10,400).

Just last week, a quote by Mr Gustavo Petro, mayor of Bogota, Colombia, went viral on social media. "A developed country is no place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transport," he opined.

Hong Kong's public transport system certainly is developed. While its super-rich do zoom around in Ferraris, the vast majority of the population - including the well-off and middle class - use public transport.

In this city, a full 80 per cent of daily trips are made on public transport - the MTR, buses and trams. Another 10 per cent take taxis. That leaves just the top 10 per cent ensconced in private cars.

And despite the rapid influx of visitors in the past decade - those from mainland China alone shot up from 8.5 million in 2003 to 28 million last year - Hong Kong's public transport system appears to have coped relatively well.

In Singapore, by comparison, public transport accounts for 57 per cent of journeys; taxis, 5 per cent; and private cars, the remaining 38 per cent.

Under the 2008 Land Transport Masterplan, Singapore aims to boost the proportion of journeys by public transport and taxis to 70 per cent by 2020.

What we can take away from Japan's healthcare

by Loke Wai Chiong, Published TODAY, 25 Sep 2012

Japan is one of the world's most rapidly ageing countries. According to statistics, 23 per cent of its population of about 120 million people was aged above 65 in 2010. By 2055, this percentage is expected to double. 

The country's woes do not stop there. Its population is also shrinking at a negative compounded annual growth rate of a half-percent each year. Its total fertility rate is 1.3, far below the replacement rate. 

Singapore suffers from similar problems. Its population is among those ageing fastest in Asia. The percentage of people aged over 65 will double to 20 per cent by 2030. The nation's fertility rate last year was a meagre 1.2. 

Both countries - two of the most developed in Asia - share interesting parallels when it comes to demographic trends. Japan started grappling with the burden of a greying population in the 1970s, 30 years before this issue emerged proper in Singapore. 

It would thus be particularly pertinent for Singapore to observe and learn from what Japan has done with its healthcare system, as well as the challenges it faces which may provide a better idea of what we, also, might expect.

Caregivers get 'care for yourself too' tips

By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2012

BE REALISTIC, do not try to do everything yourself. Go out with your friends, and remember: You're doing a good job.

These are some tips in a resource pack for caregivers of dementia patients, put together by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) in a new campaign.

About 20,000 packs will be distributed to caregivers at hospitals, clinics and through community outreach programmes.

Launched yesterday, the Living Together campaign includes an online e-learning course, in which caregivers can gauge their stress levels. An exhibition on how to make a home safer for patients will also be put up.

"It's not enough to teach caregivers how to be good caregivers," said HPB's chief executive officer Ang Hak Seng. "We also need to ensure they have proper rest and resources to deal with the physical strain and emotional stress."

A National Health Survey in 2010 indicated that about 20 per cent of caregivers spend more than 12 hours daily attending to persons with chronic medical conditions such as dementia.

There are now about 22,000 people with dementia in Singapore. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 80,000.

PM Lee quizzed on ideal population size at forum

He says it's difficult to give a concrete number as the situation is evolving
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 24 Sep 2012

A DISCUSSION on the country's ideal population size became the highlight of an hour-long televised forum with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

And while he said it was difficult to pinpoint a concrete number, he estimated that Singapore would be able to house about six million people in the future.

Said PM Lee: "It's very hard to give a concrete figure because the situation is evolving. We're gradually increasing our land area, and if we rebuild our older towns, then we can accommodate more people.

"Today our population is over five million. In the future, six million or so should not be a problem. Beyond that, we'll have to think more carefully."

That number falls in line with the 6.5million figure that has been used as a government planning parameter since 2007. With the population standing at 5.26 million as at December last year, and frustration about currently overtaxed public infrastructure, concern has been rising over Singapore's population size.

The question followed a frank exchange with 30 Singaporeans on issues ranging from pre-school education to the state of the Chinese community.

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing, Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Law Sim Ann were also on the panel at the forum conducted in Mandarin.

Participants were upbeat about the prospects of future generations, and in full support of Mr Lee's call for less stress on children and more games-based learning at pre-school level. But several people voiced a reluctance to start families.

Monday 24 September 2012

Mandarin forum "和总理对话"

Singapore could accommodate six million people in future
Channel NewsAsia, 22 Sep 2012

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore could accommodate six million people in time to come.

The country's total population stood at 5.26 million as of December last year.

Mr Lee was speaking to Singaporeans at a Mandarin forum hosted by MediaCorp on Singapore's future.

Thirty Singaporeans took part in the forum. Among them are educators, young parents, seniors and new citizens.

They raised issues ranging from pre-school education to Singapore's low birth rate and population.

National Conversation = National Education

Let citizens take centre stage in National Conversation

Deputy editor Zuraidah Ibrahim believes that Singaporeans need to be educated on the significance of trade-offs, that our Government - contrary to popular belief - cannot deliver all of the citizens' wants ("Accepting a govt that can't solve all your problems"; last Sunday).

I agree, and against the background of the ongoing National Conversation, my view is that if our politicians do not have all the answers, it would be increasingly constructive to engage citizens in participatory, collaborative sessions to appreciate these notions.

The National Conversation, hence, needs to be framed around the citizen.

More often than not, initiatives are overwhelmingly didactic, with too much emphasis placed on a guest politician who indulges in expositions instead of actually conversing with the audience.

My proposal is to get participants more involved during sessions, to start talking and debating with one another.

Why should our ministers take centre stage? Instead of being preached to, we should be given the chance to explore and experience.

For example, picture a discussion session concerning education policies, involving parents who are grouped into smaller clusters of four or five.

While one group may reckon that children here are burdened by too many school assignments, another group may argue that syllabuses are not rigorous enough, and that there should be more work.

How can they reconcile their differences? No resolution might be reached, but through the conversation, would they not see the complexities of policy dilemmas?

My point is that we should stop the government hand-holding. We, as citizens, have the abilities and intelligence to bring something new to the table.

Our heightened involvement does not mean that we work independently of the Government, or that policymakers abdicate their responsibilities.

On the contrary, our engagement can be complementary.

A more informed and know-ledgeable electorate would serve as a good balance to the Government, making it more accountable in the long term.