Friday 30 November 2012

PM wishes he had stressed population woes sooner

S'pore 'will be a retirement home, not a vibrant city, if nothing is done'
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that he should have pressed home to Singaporeans earlier how quickly the world is going to change and the challenges of an ageing population.

While these subjects had been surfaced, they never quite registered, he said.

He was speaking in an interview with Bloomberg's editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler on Monday, when asked if there was anything he would have done differently since he took charge of the Government in 2004.

He said: "I think we would have started earlier registering with people how quickly the world is going to change on them and what a big problem we are going to have with population.

"It's always been sort of there in the public discourse, but not something which we have succeeded in bringing to the forefront of people's attention, to say: 'Look if we don't do something in 20 years' time, the population is going to have an average age, say 60, and this is going to be a retirement home and not a vibrant city.

"And that's going to be a very different Singapore. We have to keep this a vibrant city, even when you're old, we want young people around so that you can grow old happily.'"

S'poreans achieving more but are less happy: Survey

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

SINGAPOREANS feel a stronger sense of achievement today than six years ago, but they are not any happier.

They are also enjoying life less, according to a survey by two dons from the National University of Singapore Business School.

The findings suggest that money does not necessarily buy happiness, with economic growth - measured by gross domestic product (GDP) - and happiness seeming to have moved in opposite directions since 2006.

"A reasonable level of GDP is necessary but it's not a sufficient condition for good standard of living," said Dr Siok Kuan Tambyah, who co-wrote a book on the survey findings with Associate Professor Tan Soo Jiuan.

Last year, they engaged a research firm to survey 1,500 Singaporeans on areas ranging from perceptions of their well-being to the values they find important and political rights.

The results showed Singaporeans' sense of achievement last year rose by 13.7 percentage points from the figure in 2006, when the professors did a similar study.

But happiness levels dipped by 3.5 percentage points while enjoyment levels slipped 1.3 points.

Dr Tambyah said this could be a sign of a phenomenon - seen in other developed countries as well - where happiness levels tend to stagnate after a point, even as national wealth continues to rise.

Time to redefine academic success

By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

"THE PSLE is not the be-all and end-all."

"Every school is a good school."

"There are many paths to success, to rise up to the top."

Parents have had these messages drummed into them over the past few weeks.

To drive home the point that academic success is not everything, the Education Ministry announced - two days before the release of the Primary School Leaving Examination results recently - that it was not going to name the top performers.

But come crunch time, when parents choose secondary schools for their 12-year-olds this week, all these messages seem to have been thrown out of the window.

To date, I have had 17 e-mail messages and calls from parents asking me to help them gauge their children's chances of getting into a secondary school of their choice. Of the 17, only two asked me about a non-Integrated Programme school - Anderson Secondary and Ngee Ann Secondary, both good schools in their own right.

So the hankering after IP schools has still not abated, despite the Government's urgings.

'Live in China to understand its culture': Lee Kuan Yew

Doing this will make Singaporeans truly bicultural, says Lee Kuan Yew at the Business China Awards 2012
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2012

THE man who has played a key role in growing China-Singapore ties yesterday stressed the need to appreciate how China's culture differs from Singapore's.

He urged Singaporeans to live in China for a long time in order to really understand Chinese culture and become truly bicultural.

"If we believe that because we speak Chinese, we understand what they speak, therefore we understand their culture, that is wrong," said former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, speaking at the Business China Awards 2012 dinner at the Resorts World Convention Centre. "We are westernised, China is not westernised. That makes a very big difference. For us, we follow the rule of law. For them, an agreement is the beginning of a long friendship, in which you make adjustments as you go along, considering what is fair."

Mr Lee is the patron of the organisation which he launched in 2007 with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to promote stronger cultural and economic ties between Singapore and China, and nurture a core of bicultural Singaporeans to engage China.

He said he learnt about the differences in culture through initial misunderstandings during the development of the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-City. Singapore eventually adjusted to the Chinese way of doing business, he said, adding: "We realised, in China you do business the way the Chinese do it. That means you sign an agreement and it is the beginning of a long friendship."

Thursday 29 November 2012

Giant pandas make public debut on 29 November 2012

River Safari helping Mandai become "nature cluster"
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Nov 2012

The River Safari, where panda couple Kai Kai and Jia Jia will make their public debut on Thursday, marks an important step for the development of Mandai as a "nature cluster", as Singapore continues to rejuvenate its tourism offerings, says Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S Iswaran.

Speaking at the grand opening of the Giant Panda Forest on Wednesday, the first of the River Safari attractions to open to the public, Mr Iswaran said visitor arrivals to Singapore grew a "robust" 11 per cent year-on-year in the first half of this year.

"The River Safari joins Singapore's stable of award-winning attractions that have impressed many visitors, many of whom do not expect such a rich and diverse array of nature-based attractions in a small, highly urbanised city like Singapore," he said.

Science Time Capsule uncovered for display at Science Centre

By Try Sutrisno Foo, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Nov 2012

A sealed metal cylinder known as the Science Time Capsule has been dug up for display at Science Centre Singapore.

On display are more than 100 household items from the past that capture a slice of life in Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s.

Visitors can expect to see previous forms of brand items like Tiger Balm, Pilot pens and F&N products. 

The Science Time Capsule exhibition marks the 35th anniversary of Science Centre Singapore, and will run till the end of January 2013 before the capsule is returned into the ground for the next 15 years.

The next unveiling of the time capsule will be in 2028, when Science Centre Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Singapore ranked fifth in global education survey

Quality of teaching and respect for education key factors for its ranking
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2012

SINGAPORE'S education system has been ranked fifth in the world, behind Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

The quality of teaching and cultural respect for education were key factors propelling the Republic into the top five, said the report published yesterday by the Pearson Group.

Researchers looked at the cognitive skills and educational attainment levels of children in 50 countries and territories.

The United Kingdom was sixth, followed by the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland and Canada.

Thailand, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia were the bottom four countries.

The inaugural Learning Curve report, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Pearson, found that teachers mattered greatly.

Higher-performing countries recruited top talent to join the profession and trained them throughout their careers.

The study also found that in Singapore, respect for teachers was fuelled by a high level of support for education.

HDB property tax to go up in 2013

Higher market rents cited; rebate for owner-occupiers
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2012

The increment is after a one-off $40 rebate the Government is extending to all owner-occupied flats, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) said yesterday. The rebate is to mitigate the impact of the tax rise on middle- and lower-income households, it added.

Currently, Housing Board flats are taxed at up to 6 per cent of their annual values, which is calculated through what these units would fetch in the rental market.

Market rents of HDB flats have risen by 8per cent to 13per cent since Jan1 - hence, the rise in property tax.

Vital to raise appeal of bus-driving as a career

By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2012

THE festering dispute between SMRT and a group of its bus drivers from China underlines yet again a perennial problem faced by the public bus industry - the inability to find enough drivers.

Before the 1990s, bus drivers were predominantly Singaporeans and permanent residents. In the 1990s, companies started hiring Malaysians because Singaporeans had become better educated and veered towards white-collar jobs.

In 2008, even the Malaysians were not enough to fill the sector - one that faces an annual attrition rate of about 15 per cent and has had to ramp up capacity and frequency to meet rising passenger numbers and higher service standards.

So, operators started hiring from China. Four years later, mainland Chinese now make up 11 per cent of SBS Transit's 5,300 bus drivers and 22 per cent of SMRT's 2,000.

The Chinese drivers have had a rocky start here, with operators extending training periods to familiarise them with local roads and commuters complaining of communication difficulties.

On Monday, 171 drivers from SMRT responded to salary inequalities - perceived or real - by refusing to go to work. More than 60 did not show up again yesterday.

While the illegal strike is being dealt with by the authorities, what also deserves study is why Singapore seems unable to even attract enough Malaysians to drive its buses, despite the Singapore dollar strengthening by nearly 30 per cent since the 1990s.

Can we assume that the lot for bus drivers has worsened - or at least stagnated - when compared with people in other jobs? The short answer is yes.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Govt moves against 'illegal strike' by SMRT bus drivers on 26 & 27 November 2012

Police probing SMRT bus drivers; plans in place if strike is prolonged
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2012

THE Government is taking action against the SMRT bus drivers from China who refused to turn up for work because they were unhappy with their wages.

Yesterday, it described what they did as an "illegal strike", and said the drivers would be dealt with if found guilty.

Meanwhile, it has put in place contingency plans to shore up bus services in case the strike is prolonged.

Describing the drivers' action as unacceptable because it disrupts an essential service, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said police are investigating.

Giving updated figures last night, SMRT said that on Monday, 171 drivers staged a sit-in at its rented workers' dormitory in Woodlands.

Yesterday, 88 remained defiant by refusing to return to work. They are protesting against what they deem to be inequitable pay and poor living conditions.

As the rare industrial action entered its second day yesterday, Mr Tan called an urgent press conference to spell out in no uncertain terms the Government's response.

He said: "MOM understands the bus drivers' grievances. We expect SMRT to address the grievances raised... However, regardless of their grievances, what the workers have done is illegal. There are right ways and wrong ways to handle these concerns... Taking the law into your own hands is wrong."

Without mincing his words, he said the workers had "disrupted public transport services and Singapore's industrial harmony", adding: "We have zero tolerance for such unlawful action."

The drivers' protest has been the talk of the town since Monday. Many asked why the action had not been labelled a "strike" and no action had been taken against the protesters.

Fare review committee calls for more help for poorer S'poreans

Panel head says fare hikes have 'uneven impact', especially those in lower-income group
TODAY, 27 Nov 2012

More can be done to help lower-income Singaporeans cope with public transport fare increases, said the Fare Review Mechanism Committee Chairman yesterday.

In a post published on the committee's blog, Mr Richard Magnus, who leads the 13-member panel, said affordability was a concern expressed by almost all of the commuters in two focus group discussions.

While most felt that public transport fares here "are generally affordable" to the average Singaporean, they pointed out that fare increases "have an uneven impact" on different groups of Singaporeans, especially on those who have low incomes.

"My committee shares the same sentiment," said Mr Magnus.

"Beyond looking at the affordability of public transport to the 'average household', which the Public Transport Council keeps track of, we think more can be done for the lower income (group), and (we should look at) what help is needed for this group to cope with fare increases," he added.

The committee, which will submit recommendations to the Transport Minister early next year, was formed in June to review a formula by which bus and train fares are adjusted here.

The current fare formula hinges on the consumer price index, wage increase and productivity of the two transport companies here.

SMEs battle wage costs, curbs on labour

72 per cent say bottom lines hit; many also worried about oil prices
By Jonathan Kwok, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

WAGES remain the main overall cost challenge for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) here, even though many have achieved productivity gains.

A new study, done between May and August, found that 72 per cent of firms cited manpower costs as hurting bottom lines.

That was an increase from last year, when 54 per cent cited manpower costs as a key worry in DP Information's survey.

In particular, more than half of the SMEs said they are being hit by stricter foreign manpower policies and higher levies.

These were among the key findings of a survey of about 2,600 SMEs conducted by DP Information Group, a credit and business information bureau.

Construction, information communications, services and manufacturing companies were affected the most by wage costs.

Many are also worried about rising oil prices, with 73 per cent of those polled flagging oil prices as a key concern.

The survey also found that of the 74 per cent achieving productivity gains, nearly half produced goods or delivered services quicker, 38 per cent streamlined their workflows, while 32 per cent made the best use of their manpower resources.

More Japanese firms keen on S'pore

They see Republic as investment safe haven, springboard to Asean market
By Kwan Weng Kin, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

TOKYO - Japanese companies concerned about rising tensions in the region increasingly see Singapore as a safe place for investing as well as a convenient springboard for tapping the larger Asean market.

As the first step in its overseas expansion plan, egg producer Ise Foods will be building a farm in Singapore in 2014 that will house one million hens.

Part of its output will be sold as "brand-name" eggs at high-end supermarkets.

The farm, which will cost three billion yen (S$45 million), will incorporate the latest sanitation technologies just like those in Japan.

Ise also plans to build farms in Indonesia in 2015 and in Vietnam a year later.

Meanwhile, anti-Japanese protests and attacks on some Japanese businesses in China in September have prompted many Japanese companies to fine-tune their business strategies on the Chinese mainland.

Japanese investments to China reportedly fell 32.4 per cent last month compared with the same period last year, due partly to anti-Japanese sentiments and also to China's economic slowdown.

The protests, resulting from the tussle between Tokyo and Beijing over ownership of the Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands, underline the risks of doing business in China for Japanese companies.

Watami, which runs a chain of izakaya or pubs, had originally wanted to open 40 outlets in China over four years. It has since decided to halve the number and to look to other Asian markets instead, including Singapore.

LNG tanker first of its kind to sail Arctic route

Voyage cuts 20 days off traditional Europe-Asia route via Suez Canal
The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

LONDON - A large tanker transporting liquefied natural gas is set to become the first ship of its kind to sail across the Arctic.

The Ob River, capable of carrying 150,000 cubic metres of gas, left Norway earlier this month. It has sailed north of Russia and is due to arrive in Japan early next month, BBC News reported.

Its route through the Arctic will cut 20 days off its journey, compared with the traditional Suez Canal route, taken by most ships going from Europe to Asia.

Shipping lanes through the Arctic, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), have become increasingly accessible as ice cover melts to record lows.

The tanker's owners say changing climate conditions and a volatile gas market make the Arctic transit profitable, the BBC said.

The carrier has a strengthened hull, and was loaded with liquefied natural gas at Hammerfest, in northern Norway, on Nov7, before setting sail across the Barents Sea.

With its 40-strong crew, the Ob River was chartered from its Greek owners Dynagas by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, the BBC said. Preparations for the voyage began over a year ago.

Mr Tony Lauritzen, commercial director of Dynagas, said plying the newly accessible Arctic route could save time and money. "You are able to reach a highly profitable market by saving 40per cent of the distance. That is 40per cent less fuel used as well," he said.

Some analysts have raised concerns that if the Arctic route becomes easier to use, it could draw shipping trade away from Singapore, which benefits from vessels passing through the traditional Suez Canal and Malacca Strait route on their way to Northern Asia.

But Mr Gunnar Sander, senior adviser at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said the matter should be kept in perspective.

"Nineteen thousand ships went through the Suez Canal last year; around 40 went through the Northern Sea Route. There is a huge difference," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a posting on his Facebook page last night, said it was hard to predict how the Ob River voyage would affect ports like Singapore in the long term.

New employment programme to help seniors find jobs

By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Nov 2012

North West CDC has launched a new employment programme called the Silver Care Employment @ North West to help seniors reintegrate back into the workforce.

Currently, about 35 per cent of residents in the North West District looking for jobs are seniors and about half of them have expressed interest to work part-time.

Mayor of the North West District, Dr Teo Ho Pin, said: "We identify suitable employers who are willing to redesign their jobs for seniors and who are able to provide flexible and part time jobs, and different work processes where they have identified vacancies suitable for seniors.

"(What they do is) they work with the CDCs and the job seekers to allow jobseekers to get some experience as to what is the actual work environment like and from there, we go through the job matching and employment."

Foreign workers, Singaporeans band together for fund-raising concert

By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

BANGLADESHI construction worker Komol Kamal has helped raise $667 for Dibashram, a gathering space in Little India for foreign workers.

The 28-year-old plays tabla in a 10-man band - five Singaporeans and five Bangladeshis - which held its first concert last Friday at The Hub Singapore, a space for entrepreneurs in Somerset Road. They played tunes from pop to traditional Bangladeshi music.

Entry was free and the crowd of about 80 could choose the amounts to donate.

The gig was organised by Beyond The Border, Behind The Men, an initiative spearheaded by three Singaporeans that aims to alter perceptions of foreign workers here.

New bosses must sign maid safety form from 1 Dec 2012

Employers have to ensure maids follow safety rules while cleaning windows
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

EMPLOYERS hiring maids from Dec 1 will have to sign an agreement to ensure their maids follow new safety guidelines when they clean the exterior of windows at their homes.

Maids and agents will also be required to sign the form drawn up by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). But employers who are renewing a maid's work permit will not have to sign the form.

Maid agents were notified of the initiative in an e-mail sent by MOM last Saturday.

The agreement comes after new safety measures announced in June by MOM, including having an employer or adult supervise maids when they clean the exterior of windows, installing window grilles and ensuring the grilles are locked when the windows are being cleaned.

The forms will be written in the maids' native languages such as Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog.

Briefing maids and employers on the safety requirements before they sign the form will be among the conditions for getting a licence for agents.

Agents who do not sign or issue the form may be fined up to $5,000, jailed for six months, or be sentenced to both.

Hougang getting 3 upgrading schemes

Improvements to homes, lifts, estate for WP ward
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2012

SIX months after the Hougang by-election, the opposition constituency is being upgraded at a pace that has raised some eyebrows.

The Workers' Party (WP) stronghold, which has rarely benefited from national upgrading schemes in the past 20 years, is getting three of the programmes.

The Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) is under way, while the Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) were announced in August.

Earlier this month, Hougang residents also got to use the new bus service 116, launched as part of the $1.1 billion Bus Service Enhancement Programme.

Some residents, like Mr Zephan Seow, 23, wonder if the changes signal a shift in stance by the People's Action Party (PAP). Past leaders had warned that opposition wards would be placed at the end of the queue for upgrading.

Said Mr Seow, an undergraduate: "Perhaps it is a long-term strategy by the PAP to win voters back."

The HIP, NRP and new bus service were announced after the May 26 by-election.

Asked if there had been a shift in PAP strategy, both the WP MP Png Eng Huat and the PAP's Mr Desmond Choo gave similar replies: Residents' needs come first.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Khaw eases concerns about affordable homes

By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2012

HOUSING matters were a hot topic at a grassroots national conversation session yesterday, as residents took the opportunity to air their concerns in front of National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

Speaking to Sembawang GRC residents participating in the session while wrapping up proceedings, Mr Khaw reiterated the Government's commitment to providing affordable housing as he sought to address fears that future generations may struggle to afford their own flats.

"Even if Singaporeans increase their birth rate - which is a good thing, not a bad thing - we'll make sure there's enough housing," he said.

He said that the state had built about 25,000 new flats each year for the last two years even though there had only been about 15,000 marriages involving at least one Singaporean yearly.

"Pricing is also within my control," he added, before promising that the Government will "always make sure it is affordable".

The session, an offshoot of the broader Our Singapore Conversation, was organised by Sembawang GRC grassroots organisations.

Time to rethink rules on short-selling

Regulations that transcend national borders may be necessary
By Goh Eng Yeow, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2012

ONE important lesson we have learnt from the global financial crisis is the way that a scurrilous rumour can destroy a perfectly good company very quickly.

All it takes is a few banks to panic and cut their credit lines when a company's share price collapses as the rumour goes viral.

Anyone with links to the company rapidly gets swept up in a wave of fear. There is no time to verify facts - just join the herd.

This results in a mad scramble by suppliers and customers to exit the stricken company.

In these uncertain times, who in their right minds would bother to check the truthfulness of a rumour? The top priority is to safeguard one's own financial interests first and ask questions later.

So when United States investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, the US government took the unusual step of banning short-selling of key financial stocks altogether, for fear such abusive trading practices might cause the entire banking system to collapse together.

Australia's 'disgusting' cigarette packs a big headache for vendors

By Jonathan Pearlman, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2012

SYDNEY - At a busy convenience store in Sydney, owner Joe Xia opens a cupboard to reveal his new stock of cigarettes. It is not a pretty sight.

The cigarettes come in mandatory olive-coloured plain packaging, as part of Australia's anti-tobacco measures - labelled the toughest in the world.

Under this law, logos and brand colours are removed and replaced by graphic health warnings and shocking images of sick babies, and diseased feet, eyeballs and lungs. The cigarette brands are printed in identical small font on the front and top of cartons.

Already, shopkeepers are complaining that they find it almost impossible to tell the brands apart.

Mr Xia, who owns a 7-Eleven store just outside Sydney's Chinatown, said the new "disgusting" packaging was a headache for shop staff. "It is very hard to find the brands that people are looking for," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Xia said customers disliked the new warnings on the cigarette packs, but he did not think it would reduce smoking levels. "People still smoke - only now, they also complain," he said.

"Nothing will stop them from smoking. But it is hard at night-time. People come from the pub and they see these packets and they get irritated."

The new packets have been rolled out since last month and will become mandatory from Dec 1.

The Gillard government believes the new packaging will save lives and cut smoking rates.

First senior activity cluster centre opens in Taman Jurong

15 more centres with medical resources, social workers to be built across the nation
By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 26 Nov 2012

The first of 16 cluster centres islandwide to support nearby senior activity centres was officially opened yesterday in Taman Jurong.

Apart from engaging the elderly through social and recreational activities, each cluster support centre also has additional medical expertise and resources including four to five full-time social workers - supported by 10 to 20 home visit assistants - who will reach out to seniors in the vicinity, assess their financial and health needs, and develop customised care plans.

Each cluster centre supports up to five other senior activity centres. The seniors will be identified through various channels such as Residents' Committees, Community Clubs and door-to-door visits.

Speaking to reporters, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who was at the opening, noted that about half of the 99 senior activity centres targeted to be built by 2016 have been completed.

Explaining the basic idea behind a network of senior activity centres supported by cluster centres, Mr Tharman said: "(It) is to bring the Community Development Councils and our hospitals close to where our elderly residents live and, in particular, close to where the vulnerable elderly live - those who are living in rental flats, lower income elderly generally, and those who live alone who often can get isolated.

"So we have to be close to them and interact frequently with them for their well-being, for their health and to just give them a sense of happiness."

The cluster centre in Taman Jurong - Silver Ace - will support three other senior activity centres in Teck Whye, Chua Chu Kang and Taman Jurong. Silver Ace is the first senior activity centre opened by NTUC Eldercare in the western part of the island.

Monday 26 November 2012

We listen, but we have to lead: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at PAP Party Seminar 2012

PAP can't afford to be just a note taker of people's views, PM tells party activists
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

Even as the ruling party is leading a national conversation, the PAP cannot relegate itself to just being a "note taker" of views.

It must continue to be able to lead with its own ideas and policies, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, as he put in context what the ongoing large-scale consultation means to the party.

"We are not just asking people, what are your views, and I will go and I will be your note taker and speak on your behalf.

"I think we have ideals, we have ideas, we have policies, we have proposals. And it is our responsibility to lead that discussion together with the people in order to persuade people to see things more in the way we do," he said.

He was addressing some 500 People's Action Party activists at the PAP Party Seminar, at the end of what was the party's own version of the national conversation exercise.

Party district representatives gave closed-door presentations at the seminar, held at Lasalle College of the Arts, that captured over two months of dialogues at the PAP's 87 branches and five districts, where issues from meritocracy to politics and foreign workers had been discussed.

Paying tribute to a grassroots pioneer

Scholarship in honour of late activist will help fund local university education of residents
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

A former grassroots stalwart of Ulu Pandan was recognised yesterday with a scholarship named in his honour.

The Choo Siu Heng Scholarship - named after the late People's Action Party (PAP) activist who died last year at the age of 81 - was launched last night by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It will help fund local university education for Ulu Pandan residents.

Mr Lee said at a community fund-raising dinner last night: "He did not attend university or polytechnic, but he believed that education was the best way to improve lives."

He urged younger people to follow in Mr Choo's footsteps to "always put Singapore first, serve their community selflessly and nurture the next generation".

Mr Choo joined the PAP in 1956 to fight for independence and was secretary of the Bukit Timah branch. This would lead to more than 50 years of grassroots work.

Club HEAL: Providing HEALing for mental illnesses

Club set up early this year to provide rehabilitation services for such patients
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

When general practitioner Radiah Salim was six, her 18-year-old sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"I grew up watching her going in and out of the hospital," said Dr Radiah, now 49.

Her sister's condition today is stable and she is "happily married".

However, that childhood experience and her observation that not many Malay-Muslim patients have such positive outcomes because they do not get the help they need spurred Dr Radiah to form Club HEAL, a day rehabilitation service for individuals between the ages of 18 and 55 with mental illnesses.

Dr Radiah, who spent eight months as a medical officer at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), said it was her personal observation that many Malay patients fight shy of using step-down care facilities such as psychiatric rehabilitation centres because they lack proper information about mental illness.

Those who do seek such services may have cultural or religious considerations like having halal food.

She formed Club HEAL in February this year to fill this gap. There is also a caregiver support group and public outreach activities.

"Club HEAL was formed to cater to the cultural needs of the community in the hope that more will come forward and benefit from its programmes," said Dr Radiah, who is the club's president.

'Mother goose' gets kids to pick up litter

Twice a week, artist and neighbourhood children go on rounds to clean up Woodlands
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

Growing up in Trinidad, Ms Gail Pantin would fling mangosteen husks and used cups out the window of her family car or home.

But now, the 52-year-old Singapore permanent resident spends her Wednesday and Friday evenings picking up litter with the children living in her Woodlands Drive HDB estate.

Ms Pantin, who was born on the Caribbean island, said the habitual littering of her childhood did not last long.

"My mother chided us and said we were crazy to think we had a right to do that," said the artist.

"She asked us what we would do if we were to live in another country. Her logic made sense to us and we stopped littering."

Ms Pantin moved to Singapore in 1997 and taught art at Nanyang Polytechnic.

While littering did not on the surface appear to be a widespread problem, she realised that the city's clean streets were actually the work of an entire army of cleaners who picked up after innumerable recalcitrant litterbugs.

It spurred her to start picking up litter on her own in 2010, after complaints were lodged with the town council in her estate against its cleaners, for not doing a thorough job.

Surprisingly, said the artist, it was children aged between three and 11 from her neighbourhood - not adults - who would show up and ask if they could join in as she went about her rounds.

Hiding ethnic data won't solve problems

Fight stereotypes about minorities with better logic, not by hiding facts
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

A Facebook picture caught my eye recently. It was of a Malay couple posing on a staircase.

They were newly- weds. The groom, a dashing young Singaporean; the bride, a pretty girl. The reason the photo jumped at me from the incessant stream of Facebook postings was that the groom was wearing his Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) uniform.

For the most important day of his life, this Malay-Muslim Singaporean had chosen to include in his wedding pictures - along with the customary ceremonial wear - the clearest possible fashion statement of his loyalty to his homeland.

I wonder if it was a message for his fellow citizens, in a country that might not have trusted many of his older relatives with the honour of being called up to defend their nation, shoulder to shoulder with Chinese, Indians and others.

The pictures of ourselves that we choose to present to the world say a lot about both who we are as well as who we want to be.

This is true of wedding photos as well as national snapshots such as socio-economic data. And because such pictures can have an effect, including unintended negative effects, it is not surprising that they are sometimes hotly debated.

Recently, the age-old discussion surfaced of whether ethnic breakdowns of educational achievement or drug abuse should be made public. Malays do not come across particularly well in such statistics.

Modify the PSLE, don't abolish it

There are ways to cut stress, and exam does help to place students in appropriate streams
By Lee Wei Ling, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

There has been much debate in recent weeks about the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). It seems to be an extremely stressful examination not just for students but also for their parents.

When I took my PSLE in 1966, it was not in the least stressful. I was sure I would pass the examination, especially since most of the questions were multiple-choice ones. Even if one did not know the answer to the questions, one could, by a process of logical elimination, have a high chance of hitting upon the correct answer.

Indeed, the Primary 6 end-of-year examination at my own school caused me more stress than did the PSLE. As my father was planning to attend my Primary 6 graduation ceremony, I was determined to top my class. By contrast, I did not care if I topped the PSLE - for the good reason that in those days, nobody knew who topped the examination. All we were told was whether or not we had passed the PSLE. I passed; no angst over ranking; end of story.

I cannot remember if my PSLE score determined which secondary school I attended. I wanted to stay on at Nanyang where I had close friends, and it never crossed my mind that I would not qualify for Nanyang Girls' High School.

At that time, Nanyang Primary and Nanyang Girls' High were not among the elite schools in Singapore. Their students came from a cross-section of society. My friends included the children of hawkers as well as of millionaires. Differences in wealth never bothered us. That I think is a good thing.

Cyber meanies

The Web can be a vicious place. Why do some netizens think it's OK to insult total strangers?
By Sumiko Tan, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2012

Many years ago, when the concept of e-mail was just taking off, I sent a message to a colleague USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.

I didn't realise I was being rude.

I seriously thought using the upper case would render my message more legible.

To make matters worse, the mail was a complaint (about how a story had been displayed). Little wonder my colleague saw red. He thought I was screaming at him.

He made clear to me his unhappiness and I tried to explain myself. He accepted my apology and the matter blew over.

The episode taught me a valuable lesson in electronic etiquette: It's offensive to use capital letters in an e-mail. Even if you hadn't intended to be rude, it will come across that way.

These days, people have no qualms being nasty over the computer, and we're not talking about just the use of the upper case.

On chatrooms, discussion threads, Facebook and multiplayer game sites, strangers hurl snarky, sneering, mocking, abusive and sexually inappropriate messages at one another, usually with no relevance to the original post.

It happens everywhere.

Google "why are people so mean online" and you'll find articles examining the phenomenon. Wikipedia says the Chinese, Japanese, Icelanders, Koreans, Portuguese and Thais all have terms to describe Internet trolls - those tedious netizens who enter forums to provoke and harass others.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Why are we Singaporeans so hard on ourselves?

The nation needs a different narrative - one that is more positive and grounded in optimism and trust
By Laurence Lien, Published The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2012

IF A Martian were to come to Singapore as the first port of call in its inaugural visit to Earth, what would its report back look like, as a detached observer?

Perhaps it would look like this:

"Singaporeans are disappointed that they are not happy. They are ranked only 90th on the 2012 Happy Planet Index. They debate whether the Government should set happiness, instead of gross domestic product, as the national goal.

"They have had four decades of extraordinary economic growth and social success. But they are still insecure about their future. They worry about their population size, and they lack self-confidence.

"Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew weighs in with his views on the limits on indigenous growth. In the book, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he says that Singapore should not even try to grow global manufacturing champions because of its limited talent base. Even if companies become successful, they will be swallowed by a global one.

"Citizens say that life is tough. They work too hard, and the cost of living is excessively high. They lament that they lack creativity or productivity at work, and are ungracious and 'kiasu' outside it.

"Life for children is demanding too. Many parents work themselves into a frenzy over paper validations of their children's capabilities. On the other hand, some disadvantaged parents and children give up on a system that is too fast-paced for them. It is not a society that believes much in second chances.

"Sometimes, in public policy in Singapore, the Government is distrustful of its people. Policies are designed with an emphasis on preventing gaming and the erosion of the work ethic. Hence, there are always tight conditions such that accessibility is sometimes sacrificed."

How have we arrived at this state?