Tuesday 31 December 2013

Goodbye, 2013... Hello, 2014

Surprising 2013? Time for a reality check
Eventful year may hold clues to ruling party's future approach to changing political landscape
By Han Fook Kwang, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

2013 isn't an easy year to define.

Just when you thought you had it figured out, a riot broke out in December.

Welcome to the Singapore we no longer know as well as we thought we did.

The early signs in January should have been warning enough.

When the Government announced that a by-election would be held in Punggol East, most pundits expected it would face a close fight with the opposition Workers' Party (WP).

Instead, the People's Action Party (PAP) was roundly beaten, failing to hold a seat it had won comfortably barely two years before.

While the WP's victory might not have been unexpected - by-elections traditionally favour the opposition - the size of its winning margin was.

Singaporeans witnessed the unusual spectacle of WP leader Low Thia Khiang playing down the stunning win and saying nice things about the competence of the Government.

It was too early in the year for him to play hardball.

Reality check No. 1

THE desire for a stronger opposition presence in Singapore hasn't abated and will continue to define the political landscape in the coming years no matter what the ruling party does.

Indeed, 2013 was the year the PAP tested the waters in its search for an answer to this dilemma - the more it tries to appease voters' unhappiness over immigration, housing, transport and health care, the harder it will be to counter the argument that it is doing all this because it fears an electoral backlash.

The opposition will continue to hammer away at this point, and claim credit for successfully putting pressure on the PAP; and the PAP will continue to try to find a way to get voters to support not just the changes but also the political party making them.

The year provided many clues to what its approach is likely to be.

Uncharted waters for tiny Singapore to navigate

Small countries can enjoy autonomy by finding a balance between major powers, but this is harder under today's conditions of flux
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

THE ancient Chinese are said to have cursed enemies by wishing them "interesting times". The saying is apocryphal; the curse is real. And we live in such times.

The world is undergoing a profound transition of power and ideas. The outcome cannot as yet be predicted; the world will consequently be more than usually messy and uncertain. The duration of the transition will be measured in decades.

For the last 200 years, this has been a Western-shaped world. Since the end of World War II, this has largely been an American world. This was particularly so in East Asia, where US primacy provided the stability that led to more than 50 years of growth, starting with Japan in the 1960s, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore and other "Asian Tigers" in the 1970s and 1980s, and since the 1990s, China, whose economy now has a global impact.

This has led to loose talk about "an Asian century". True, China's re-emergence will shape the 21st century. Equally true is that America is no longer as dominant as before. But it would be dangerously wrong to think that a Western or American world can or will be displaced by an "Asian" or Chinese world. Many Chinese, like all Asians, are justifiably proud of what has been achieved. But it is always a grave mistake to believe one's own propaganda.

Despite its serious challenges, the United States still occupies the pinnacle of the international hierarchy and will remain there for the foreseeable future. The US military, budget cuts or "sequestration" notwithstanding, is clearly peerless. Every great power wants a great military. But Chinese leaders are not going to make the Soviet Union's mistake and go bankrupt attempting to surpass the US. They know any armed conflict with the US can only have an outcome that risks Communist Party rule.

China will soon become the world's largest economy. Many more economic roads will pass through China. But the final destination will for many years to come still be the West and in particular America, which remains East Asia's market of last resort and the world's most creative economy.

And while American debt causes queasiness, there is no viable alternative to the US dollar as the international reserve currency, an "exorbitant privilege" that entrenches US economic dominance for the foreseeable future.

No one better understands these realities than China's leaders. They know that they cannot successfully meet their many complicated internal challenges without working with America. Indeed, so inextricably intertwined are the US and Chinese economies that neither can achieve its national economic goals without working with the other; neither particularly likes this, but they are both pragmatic.

From emotions to shared values

A year of anxiety and compassion in 2013 may need to give way to a year when Singapore talks about shared values and principles.
By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

FOR many Singaporeans, 2013 has been a year of emotions.

There was compassion and relief associated with the shifts in social policy on education, health care and housing.

But there was also anger, anxiety and disappointment associated with the population debate.

The strong reactions to the Population White Paper released at the start of the year influenced subsequent discussions on all issues related to housing, transport and employment.

The year closes with the shocking riot at Little India, which triggered emotions ranging from discomfort to fear.

Perhaps it is the power of the negative and its contagion - it appears that negative emotions, rather than positive ones, have dominated much of 2013. But the negative emotions have also yielded some good. It is useful to reflect on some positive outcomes that resulted from the negative emotions and contemplate how we can move forward as a country.

Negative emotions, positive outcomes

STUDIES have shown that negative emotion can impede good judgment but it can also lead to positive outcomes. The narrative that emotion is a beast to be tamed by rationality is scientifically inaccurate and politically self-defeating.

Emotions are not just natural consequences of events or instinctive reactions to them.

People experience negative emotions when the progress towards their goals is being obstructed, or when they think their important concerns have been trivialised. Conversely, people experience positive emotions when they are making progress towards their goals, or when what they consider important is given high priority.

This means emotions can be effective signals and springboards to help policymakers diagnose problems and formulate solutions. To do this, one needs to understand and address emotions by linking them to the concerns, aspirations and goals in various segments of the population.

HDB defends design of its new estates

It tackles points raised by ST reader who said they look like 'walled cities'
By Janice Heng And Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2013

NEWER public housing estates are not the "walled cities" one Straits Times reader called them.

Instead, interspersed among high-rise blocks are low-rise developments such as parks.

This was the Housing Board's reply to a letter published in The Straits Times on Dec 18 complaining about the quality of newer towns such as Sengkang, Sembawang and Punggol.

"The spaces between blocks have been reduced significantly, leading to a pervasive 'walled-city' look," architectural designer Liu Zhenghao, 30, had written.

While HDB could not confirm whether blocks are built closer together now, it did say that towns are planned with a "checkerboard concept", in which low-rise areas break up high-rise stretches.

HDB added it will maintain "reasonable" spaces between buildings "to achieve some privacy and visual relief for our residents". Even the heights of blocks within an estate are varied.

Singapore Institute of Architects chairman Theodore Chan said given land constraints, "HDB is doing an excellent job". Pointing to older estates' surface parking as an example, he said: "If you look at new precincts - it can never be as luxurious as before."

Parking enforcement officers' devices capture photo evidence of offences

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 29 Dec 2013

Forget about protesting or appealing against that ticket for illegal parking.

You may not see parking enforcement officers carrying digital cameras, but the familiar hand-held device that they use to issue summonses can now also take photos of parking offences.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) started using these two-in-one devices last month. Its enforcement officers on motorcycles use them to snap photos of illegally parked vehicles before issuing summonses.

The gadget even uses Global Positioning System satellite coordinates to record the exact location where a summons is issued.

"This process allows us to capture photographic evidence of the offence to minimise possible dispute, especially in cases of appeals," an LTA spokesman told The Sunday Times. "With this feature, our traffic wardens will no longer need to carry an additional camera when they carry out their duties."

Besides the LTA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is also using a similar device to nab motorists in carparks.

"If a patrolling officer observes that a motorist has displayed insufficient parking coupons in his vehicle, photos of the vehicle licence plate and any coupons that have been displayed can be taken," said a URA spokesman.

The URA started using the new device at public carparks earlier this year.

It is not known how much these devices cost or where and when they are being used, as both the LTA and the URA have always been tight-lipped about the locations and timing of enforcement checks.

And while not all parking and traffic wardens were believed to have carried digital cameras previously, now all URA and LTA parking enforcement officers have the new device.

China formally eases one-child policy

Abolition of labour camps, household registration reforms among NPC resolutions
The Sunday Times, 29 Dec 2013

Beijing - China yesterday formally approved loosening the country's hugely controversial one-child policy and abolished "re-education through labour" camps.

Xinhua news agency reported that the decisions were taken by the standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's rubber-stamp Parliament, at the conclusion of a six-day meeting.

Reforms to the one-child policy will allow couples where either parent has no siblings to have two children, easing the strict family planning policy imposed more than three decades ago to prevent overpopulation in the world's most populous nation.

The abolition of re-education through labour, known as laojiao, will see existing inmates freed, Xinhua reported.

"Their remaining terms will not be enforced any more," it quoted the NPC resolution as saying.

China argues that its one-child limit kept population growth in check and supported the rapid development that has seen the country soar from mass poverty to become the world's second-largest economy.

Until now, the law has prohibited couples from having more than one child, although exceptions already existed for couples where both spouses were only children, as well as for ethnic minorities and rural couples whose first child was a girl.

But enforcement of the policy has at times been excessive. The public was outraged last year when photos circulated online of a woman forced to abort her baby seven months into her pregnancy.

Now China faces looming demographic challenges, including a rapidly increasing elderly population, a shrinking labour force and male- female imbalances.

China's sex ratio has risen to 117 boys for every 100 girls, while the working population began to shrink last year, Xinhua reported. The birth rate has fallen to about 1.5 since the 1990s, well below the replacement rate, it added.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Hard-disk firm HGST Singapore lays off over 500 workers

HGST moving production to Thailand; Kaki Bukit plant will focus on R&D
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

IN AUGUST, champagne flowed at HGST Singapore when the American hard-disk maker was lauded by the authorities for training Singapore's one-millionth worker through a government subsidised skills upgrading programme.

Yesterday, it was a sea of sombre faces at the firm's Kaki Bukit plant where it laid off some 530 workers in one of the largest retrenchments in Singapore this year.

HGST's American owner Western Digital is moving production from the subsidiary's only plant in Singapore to Thailand next month to "take advantage of cost competitiveness", according to HGST's press statement.

The Singapore plant is downsizing its 2,370-strong workforce by one-fifth to focus on research and developing new hard drives, before passing them to other factories for production.

The move by HGST comes three years after hard-disk maker Seagate Technologies shut its manufacturing plant in Ang Mo Kio and retrenched 2,000 workers.

But Seagate expanded its research and development team in Singapore.

HGST's human resources director Lee Wen Shyan saw the move coming, saying: "We kept production in Singapore for as long as we could."

Both the firm and its union, United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries (UWEEI), declined to give full details of the retrenchment package that both sides have agreed to. They would say only that the package met "industry norms" and "tripartite guidelines".

Retrenched workers said that Singaporeans and permanent residents received one month's pay for each year of service, while work permit holders received two weeks' pay.

Half of the retrenched workers were locals, while the rest were work permit holders from Malaysia and China. They are mostly production workers who assemble hard disks, and have been with the firm for between one year and 19 years.

The union is putting the affected local workers through free training programmes over the next two weeks to help boost their confidence and prepare them for job interviews, before arranging for prospective employers to meet them at a job fair to be held on Jan 16.

Heavier traffic penalties in school zones from 1 January 2014

Errant motorists will get an extra demerit point in new safety measure
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

STARTING on Jan 1, motorists caught committing the offence of careless driving, inconsiderate driving, beating the red light, or speeding within school zones will get an extra demerit point on top of those already levied.

In a move to step up enforcement against errant motorists in these areas, the extra demerit point will apply to all school zones, said the Traffic Police.

Not all schools are now demarcated by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) as a school zone. But the LTA will start demarcating secondary schools as such from the second quarter of next year. This will be completed by end-2015.

There are more than 300 school zones at primary and special schools.

A police spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday: "The demerit points will apply in all 'designated' school zones, whether they are primary, secondary or special schools."

Concerns were raised after brothers Nigel and Donavan Yap were killed in an accident in January outside Dunman Secondary School in Tampines.

The two boys, aged 13 and seven, were cycling home when a cement-mixer truck hit their bicycle, killing them instantly at a traffic junction near the school.

Their deaths led to a public outcry over the deteriorating safety of children within school zones.

Last year, two children were killed and four injured in school zones, compared with three injured the year before.

The harsher punishment could see a driver who holds a licence for less than a year having it revoked if he is caught running a red light within a school zone.

New Exemption Order Under Do Not Call Registry

Do-Not-Call exemption 'gives consumers options'
Head of commission says this in detailed response to criticisms
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 31 Dec 2013

AFTER four days of continual criticism from consumers and privacy advocates, the head of the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) came out yesterday with a detailed explanation on the reasons for its new exemption policy.

The policy lets companies send SMS and fax messages to existing customers without having to check the Do-Not-Call (DNC) Registry, which lists the numbers of people who want to block marketing from businesses.

This exemption move, announced last Thursday, was seen as a U-turn by its critics.

Not so, said Mr Leong Keng Thai, the commission's chairman, at a media conference.

"We do not consider the exemption order a U-turn but rather an expansion of options for consumers. Without the exemption order, it's an all-or-nothing approach."

The end result: Consumers may miss out on relevant marketing information from existing service providers, like a bank's promotional tie-ups with retailers for its credit card holders, he said.

Mr Leong's response yesterday is the second time in three days the commission is defending its decision to exempt businesses from checking the DNC Registry, which takes effect on Thursday.

The first time, it said the move did not dilute the original intention of and was not a back-pedalling on the part of the registry.

Dismissing accusations that the commission had caved in to pressure from businesses, he said the exemption "is not a back door to indiscriminate marketing" as it is narrow in nature. It covers only text and fax messages on products related to consumers' "ongoing relationship" with vendors.

Voice calls and one-off transactions are excluded. For instance, a person who visits a property launch is not an "ongoing" customer. Property agents cannot send him messages about new launches without checking with the registry or getting explicit consent. In addition, firms must inform customers how they can unsubscribe using the same delivery channels. Once they opt out, messages have to stop after 30 days.

Getting to the root of Thailand's woes

By Titipol Phakdeewanich, Published The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

THAILAND'S politics is again attracting the interest of the international community, with the very survival of Thai democracy increasingly brought into question. There is seemingly no end in sight to Thai political brinksmanship, and the opposition Democrat Party - which retains the support of much of the old-guard establishment - stands by its decision to boycott the general election, scheduled for Feb 2 next year.

Despite the Puea Thai government's determination to ensure that the election will still take place, whether or not the vote can be held remains in question. The People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) - a coalition of Democrat members and anti-government protesters - remains adamant that the current democratic arrangement be suspended and that an unelected "People's Council" assume the role of running the country.

The PDRC has already tried, albeit in vain, to disrupt the electoral process by preventing candidates of political parties from entering the venue for party-list registration in Bangkok. They also plan to disrupt the constituency-based registration across the country when the process begins today. They continue to insist that the networks of patronage relating to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra be dismantled before any election is held.

However, a historical and deeply embedded patronage system continues to permeate Thai society at all levels. It is, therefore, impossible to separate this factor from the corruption that so strongly informs the political character of Thailand today.

Corruption undoubtedly predates any notion of democracy in the country. Yet, there is now a general tendency for Thais to assume that corruption and patronage are a consequence of the existing electoral system. For many Thais, therefore, the integrity of the existing election process remains questionable. And this in turn provides a pretext for those who would attempt to undermine the democratic mandate of the current government.

It is regularly contended that were it not for the inordinate power of key political figures such as Thaksin, Thailand would be able to move forward. But is it realistic that corruption in Thailand - disappointingly ranked 102 out of 177 nations on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 - can be effectively remediated through non-democratic means?

Keeping an eye on terrorism overseas

By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2013

BEARING boxes of local delicacies from Yogyakarta, security expert Bilveer Singh walked into the sparsely furnished home of radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir in Solo, Indonesia.

It was a difficult meeting to arrange as the cleric did not want any visitors from Singapore, considered by Islamic militants as anti-Islam because of its ties with the United States and its allies.

But when the two men met, their meeting lasted for more than three hours.

Bashir told his Singapore visitor: "The next time you want to see me, just call."

They met on three other occasions at Bashir's house. Dr Singh, 57, questioned him on his role in inciting terrorism and suicide bombings in the region.

Speaking softly, Bashir defended his violent ideology, while treating his guest to generous offerings of cake and fruit juice.

He argued that he only preached militant Islam but did not instigate or mastermind terror attacks.

He told his visitor: "God gives everyone a brain. What and how he uses it, is up to him."

Pointing to a knife that was being used to cut an apple for his granddaughter, Bashir purred: "There is a knife. I sharpen the knife. Whether you use it to cut an apple or somebody's throat, it is your decision. Not mine."

Spillover effect

DR SINGH, who has studied Indonesian terrorism for more than 32 years, experienced up-close the charismatic appeal of the spiritual leader of militant Islam in his home in Solo. His interviews with the cleric took place between 2007 and 2009.

Bashir is now in jail and, though frail, he still holds sway over his followers. He was sentenced in 2011 for his role in organising a terrorist training camp in Aceh and is now serving a nine-year term in Nusakambangan prison in Indonesia.

Bashir sent shivers down the spine of Singapore authorities when the plot of the terror group he founded, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was uncovered in Singapore.

The JI's sinister scheme in 2001 to blow up several important locations in Singapore was thwarted that year when its key leaders were nabbed and jailed.

Dr Singh has fixed a hawk-eyed gaze on security developments in Indonesia. What happens there will have a spillover effect on Singapore.

"I'm not worried about our captured Singapore terrorists. In the planned JI attacks in 2001 and 2002, the Singaporeans were just the foot soldiers.

Anti-bacterial washes safe for humans

TRICLOSAN is an ingredient added to many consumer products to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination ("US reviewing safety of anti-bacterial washes"; Dec 18 and "Confusion over anti-bacterial washes" by Dr Quek Koh Choon; Dec 20).

Recent laboratory data involving animals suggests that long-term and daily exposure to certain active ingredients used in anti-bacterial soaps such as triclosan could pose certain health risks.

However, this finding has not been observed in humans, and data showing effects in animals does not always predict effects in humans.

More research is needed to review the effectiveness and long-term safety of antiseptic active ingredients such as triclosan.

Based on the available data, there is insufficient evidence to recommend changing consumer use of anti-bacterial products, including those containing triclosan.

Consumers should continue to wash their hands as an effective way of protecting themselves against germs, using proper handwashing techniques as recommended by the Health Promotion Board at http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/5652

Consumers concerned about using anti-bacterial hand soaps or body washes containing triclosan can consider washing with just regular soap and water.

In Singapore, triclosan can be used as an antiseptic in topical antiseptic preparations and cosmetic preparations for the treatment of acne, as well as a preservative in cosmetic products, such as hand soaps, body washes and toothpaste.

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) previously conducted a risk assessment with triclosan used as a topical antiseptic at a concentration of 1 per cent, and assessed that it is within acceptable safety limits.

As a preservative in cosmetic products to slow or stop the growth of bacteria, fungi, and mildew, triclosan is allowed to be used up to a maximum of 0.3 per cent.

This limit is also adopted in the European Union and under the Asean Cosmetic Directive.

As these are rinse-off products, there is minimal contact time between the products and the body surface, resulting in minimal exposure of the user to triclosan.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has initiated further scientific and regulatory review of active ingredients found in anti-bacterial products such as triclosan.

HSA is closely monitoring the international developments concerning the review and will initiate appropriate regulatory actions based on the outcome of the review.

Raymond Chua
(Assistant Professor)
Group Director
Health Products Regulation Group

5 more estates get grant for features to help the elderly

Impressed with proposals, MOH awards 2 more grants than planned
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2013

FIVE more estates have been awarded the $50,000 City for All Ages grant to enhance their elderly-friendly features.

There had been eight applications for the remaining three grants this year, Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health told The Straits Times earlier this week.

But due to the quality of the proposals, the Ministry of Health (MOH) decided to award two more grants than budgeted for, she revealed.

The ideas that caught the attention of the City for All Ages committee, who come from the public, private and people sectors, include a "Seniors Academy" at Bukit Batok East where the teachers are themselves above 60 years of age.

Kembangan-Chai Chee wants to tie up with the Institute of Mental Health to keep depression in the elderly at bay, while MacPherson is looking at door-to-door health-screening for those who find it hard to move around.

Kampong Glam, meanwhile, will give small incentives to seniors whose health shows improvement through exercise.

Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng wants to replace the bamboo pole holders in rental flats to make it easier for the elderly to hang their laundry.

Dr Khor said she was quite surprised by the novelty of the ideas from the various towns, adding that they were beyond her expectations.

These five estates join the seven which got the grants in July, along with four others which were part of the pilot scheme since its launch in 2011.

The $50,000 grant, which is disbursed over two years, can be used for a range of improvements to support three key objectives: safety and security, health and wellness, and social support.

Some ideas implemented during the pilot have gone national.

The most notable is a programme in which homes of elderly people are retrofitted with grab bars and non-slip floors.

Called the Enhancement for Active Seniors or EASE the initiative has its roots in Marine Parade. But it has since been made available by the Housing Board to all of its flats.

Under the scheme, residents pay between 5 and 12.5 per cent of the cost of adding these age-friendly items, depending on the flat's size. As of September, 14,300 flats have been signed up with EASE.

Estates awarded the grant are encouraged to do a town audit to see what needs improvement and carry out a survey to find out what its seniors want.

These include little things that can make life difficult, such as steep ramps that can be a danger for wheelchairs and prams, bus stop seats which slope, making it difficult for the elderly, or uneven floor surfaces, which make walking difficult.

Saturday 28 December 2013

10,000 couples benefit from HDB Parenthood Priority Scheme: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan

Quick steps by authorities to help the young have made this possible: Khaw
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2013

BY NEXT month, almost 10,000 couples will have benefited from a Housing Board scheme which gives priority to parents.

Under another scheme, nearly 800 families with children have been able to rent HDB units while waiting for their new flats.

Such success, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blog post yesterday, was made possible because of quick moves by the authorities to help the young meet their aspirations.

"When formulating housing policies, I am guided by important social objectives," he wrote.

One is to boost the number of marriages. Another is to "encourage the couples to have children as soon as they get married".

To achieve that, the Government had three policies to help young couples: ramping up Build-To-Order (BTO) supply and introducing the Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) and the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS).
- First, the backlog of first-time buyers has been "largely cleared" after three years of increased supply. The HDB will thus launch fewer three-, four- and five-room flats next year, but build more two-room flats for singles.
- Second, there is the PPS, which sets aside 30 per cent of BTO flats and 50 per cent of balance flats for married couples who have a citizen child aged below 16, or are expecting a child.
It was launched in January this year and, by next month, it will have benefited almost 10,000 couples, said Mr Khaw.
- Third, other families have been helped by the PPHS, which gives families the option of renting an HDB flat while waiting for their new flat.
When launched in January, it was open only to first-timer married couples with children.

By September, only 327 couples had applied for the 1,150 flats on offer. But in the same month, the scheme was extended to divorced and widowed parents, as well as couples where one spouse is a first-time applicant and the other a second-timer.

Tennis elbow treated in under 20 minutes

New procedure by SGH, Mayo Clinic uses ultrasound and toothpick-size probe
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2013

TWO years ago, Madam Elaine Chew's left elbow hurt so much that she could not sleep. Painkillers and physiotherapy did not help after she was diagnosed with tennis elbow.

"It was so painful that I cried," said the 48-year-old. "I told my doctor that even if it needed surgery, I would go. I just wanted to get rid of the pain."

Her doctor at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) recommended a new procedure which did not even need stitches.

After ultrasound imaging is used to identify the damaged tendon tissue, a probe "about the size of a toothpick" is inserted to remove it. Performed under local anaesthesia, the whole process takes just 15 to 20 minutes.

Those who undergo conventional tennis elbow surgery have to be stitched up, may need to stay overnight for observation and could be on painkillers for as long as a month.

But with the new method, the patient only needs a simple adhesive bandage instead of stitches and can be discharged on the same day.

It was part of a collaboration between SGH and the Mayo Clinic in the United States, the results of which were published in a medical journal this year. SGH is the only centre in Asia that offers the new procedure, which it has used to treat about 40 patients, 20 of whom were participants in the study.

"It provides patients who are hesitant or fearful of surgery with another treatment option as it is performed in an outpatient clinic setting," said Dr Joyce Koh, a senior consultant with the SGH's department of orthopaedic surgery. "Recovery is also much shorter compared with traditional open surgery."

Friday 27 December 2013

National Jobs Bank should cater to openings in all work categories: Tan Chuan-Jin

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Dec 2013

Singapore's Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said in the longer term, he would like to see an all-encompassing National Jobs Bank that would advertise job requirements for all work categories, and not just cater to vacancies currently filled by Employment Pass (EP) holders.

When the National Jobs Bank kicks off in the middle of 2014, employers looking for workers in the EP category can submit an EP application only if they have not been successful in recruiting a Singaporean after the advertising period.

For the longer term, Mr Tan said the mark of the job portal's success is when everyone goes to it as a primary search portal.

Mr Tan said: “We are looking forward to it, keeping it simple, we are in the process of constructing that, we need to test it, we are also gathering feedback from other job portals, working closely with them, get their inputs and see what else we can do with that platform.

“Obviously this raises concerns with existing jobs portals and we recognise that, and we are looking at how best to work with the existing jobs portals to see whether (there is) some form of partnership because there are strengths they have.”

Mr Tan also said the second phase of the ongoing review of the Employment Act is looking at some new trends in the employment world.

He said: "More people are looking to working on contract, rather than long term. How do you then protect them and look after them? For example, CASE exists to deal with some of the disputes people may have. Can we have an equivalent or somewhat related set-up where we can help the workforce, which have disputes which are non-statutory in nature by providing them a fairly easy access, expeditious, slightly lower-cost process rather than go through the civil legal route? That is also something we are looking at to make sure that we can look after our workforce adequately.”

Thursday 26 December 2013

PM Lee thanks home team officers who dealt with the Little India Riot

First priority is to find cause of riot: PM Lee
Broader issues such as social policies can be addressed later
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2013

THE Committee of Inquiry investigating the Little India riot must first ascertain why the melee occurred, before broader issues of whether social and population policies need to be re-thought can be addressed.

One priority now is to ensure a similar incident does not happen again, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said yesterday.

"I think we deal with... what led to the riot and then the broader issues we can argue and debate," he told reporters, adding that these issues, which could extend to the "entire" social and population policy, must be dealt with separately. "I do not accept that we must straight away ask whether fundamental approaches or the whole way our society is organised needs to be re-thought immediately."

For now, one lesson is that incidents like the Dec 8 riot can break out in a stable society, but it is important to have a well-trained Home Team that can deal with them in a measured and decisive way. Mr Lee was speaking to reporters after spending over an hour listening to dramatic accounts from 38 officers who were the first responders in the riot, which involved about 300 people of mostly South Asian origin.

Over breakfast at Rochor Neighbourhood Police Centre, the officers recalled how they were assailed with projectiles amid rescue work and crowd control.

"It's very useful to me when I'm reading the reports and deciding what to do next, to have that almost first-hand feel of what happened that night," Mr Lee said.

While some have been in the force for 20 years, others, including three full-time national servicemen, have not been in the job for long. But all of them, hailing from the Police Special Operations Command, Traffic Police, Tanglin and Central police divisions, police dog unit, as well as the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), have undergone the necessary drills and training to perform their duties, Mr Lee noted.

He added: "I have a lot of respect and I was impressed with the way they explained what they were going to do, and how they planned and acted. It was not on the spur of a moment, but their years of training, as well as their collectedness, their calm and their courage at the key moment."

He thanked the officers for a good job in a "most serious and most unfortunate incident".

"I came to express my appreciation and to encourage them to continue to do their duty as Singaporeans expect them to," he added.

Despite online criticism of their actions during the riot, he advised them to remain focused. "My advice to the officers is - you do the right thing, you know you have done the right thing, you have confidence that eventually this will come out, and we will back you up." He also revealed that the Home Team has been experimenting with wearable cameras and other technologies to boost their operational effectiveness.

Lieutenant Tiffany Neo, 25, in her first year in the SCDF, said she was aware of the danger that night, but remained focused: "The only thing running through my mind was the safety of my men and getting the job done."

Airing labour issues on social media

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2013

WHEN one worker complained on social media that he was not getting his Central Provident Fund (CPF) payouts, Manpower Ministry (MOM) investigations found that he had closed his bank account without informing the CPF Board.

This was just one instance of the challenges faced by MOM and its agencies this year, wrote Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in his blog yesterday, noting how the use of social media has led to an outpouring of emotions - and complaints - online.

In his post, Mr Tan expressed his appreciation for everyone in MOM and its statutory boards in a year in which "much has been done behind the scenes", he wrote.

He pointed out how laws were improved to protect workers, and give Singaporeans a fair chance.

The Employment Act, Singapore's main labour law, was extended to cover more workers last month.

In September, the Fair Consideration Framework was announced. It includes a requirement for firms to advertise on a government jobs bank before hiring skilled foreigners.

The minister also highlighted the public's appreciation of the work done by these civil servants, adding: "Your encouragement makes a difference, because our officers face increasing challenges in their work."

These include complaints and accusations, through e-mail and comments on social media sites such as Facebook and other sites. But it is critical to stay objective and investigate if the claims are valid, said Mr Tan.

"And I have seen many cases often turning out to be more 'complicated' when further facts are surfaced."

On social media, proceed with caution

This year saw politicians and diplomats coming to terms with the huge reach and unique mobilising capabilities of the social media. But the same social media can also turn against them.
By Jonathan Eyal, The Straits Times, 23 Dec 2013

WHEN Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt squeezed herself between US President Barack Obama and British Premier David Cameron and used her cellphone to take a picture of all three beaming, she faced a torrent of criticism. For not only did the incident take place during the state funeral of South Africa's Nelson Mandela but also, critics pointed out, because her behaviour was unbecoming: world statesmen are not supposed to behave like giggly teenagers, taking "selfies" on their phones. Even Mrs Michelle Obama allegedly shared the distaste: she ignored her husband's snapping gaggle by looking away, grim-faced.

Yet far from being contrite, Mrs Thorning-Schmidt defended her action: the selfie, she told journalists, showed that "when we meet heads of state and government, we too are just people who have fun".

Tasteless or not, the selfie episode neatly concludes a year in which world politicians and diplomats finally came to terms with the electronic age, with both the huge reach and unique mobilising capabilities of the social media, but also with its immense destructive powers.

Political role and reach

SOCIAL media online platforms have long been used for political purposes. Popular views expressed on microblogging sites in China frequently play a key role in influencing Beijing's policies. And the wave of revolutions in the Middle East now known as the Arab Spring would not have spread so quickly had it not been for Twitter and Facebook.

But the use of social media has changed this year, in subtle yet profound ways. During the Egyptian revolution in early 2011, only a third of those tweeting were in Egypt itself, and the overwhelming majority of their messages were in English. However, when serious anti-Government demonstrations erupted in Turkey in late May this year, 90 per cent of the over two million tweets generated originated from Turkey itself, and 88 per cent were in the Turkish language. Social media is no longer Western-centric; it is being "nationalised", absorbed into national politics.

And leaders are also increasingly embracing it. That Pope Francis joined Twitter soon after he acceded to the Throne of St Peter in March this year was not surprising. But the fact that he publicly expressed his satisfaction at reaching 10 million followers within a few months certainly was unusual; until now, only movie and music stars admitted to caring about such figures. Either way, the result is that the Pope is now able to address more people in one day than all the previous 265 popes were able to address in their lifetimes.

Staying one step ahead of terrorists

By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

IF THE 2001 plot by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists to attack Singapore had succeeded, the carnage could have been five times that of the horrendous Bali nightclub bomb blast a year later.

Painting this chilling scenario, terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says that over 1,000 people in Singapore might have been killed because of the sheer quantity of the explosives.

The terrorists planned to use six trucks, each loaded with three tonnes of ammonium nitrate, and simultaneously ram them into different targets in Singapore, according to a 2003 Singapore Government White Paper on the JI arrests and the threat of terrorism.

In comparison, the terrorists who killed 202 civilians in Bali used a single Mitsubishi van packed with just over one tonne of potassium chlorate.

Potassium chlorate burns faster and is easier to turn into an explosive than ammonium nitrate.

Since the first wave of arrests of JI militants in Singapore in 2001, more than 60 men have been jailed for their involvement in planning terror attacks against Singapore. Of these, more than two-thirds have been released under orders restricting their movements.

The swift response of the Singapore authorities in using the country's tough anti-terrorism laws is one reason there has been no resurgence of the JI network in Singapore, says Dr Gunaratna, who has studied global terrorism threats for more than 25 years.

Other measures include the rehabilitation of JI detainees by Muslim clerics, and the forging of strong partnerships between the Government and the community.

But Singapore cannot afford to become complacent. Even with the best security measures in place, the United States and Britain have suffered terrorist attacks. Singapore's security system must be dynamic, retaining an element of unpredictability. "Terrorists are like pickpockets, always looking for gaps and loopholes in security systems to exploit," says Dr Gunaratna.

Housing bubble must be kept in check: Khaw

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2013

IT IS important to prevent the housing bubble from getting out of hand, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a Facebook post yesterday.

So despite the unhappiness which declining prices could lead to, cooling measures are needed, he added.

"We cannot eliminate (the) property cycle but we can try to keep bubbles less bubbly.

"This means taking away the punch bowl when the party is getting hot, much to the unhappiness of sellers and developers. But this is the right thing to do."

Sharing a link to a New York Times article on the housing slump in Ireland, where home prices have halved since its peak in 2007, he said "the bubble and its inevitable bust bring huge misery to many".

Analysts said the post is most likely a response to home owners, who may be worried that their assets' value will be eroded.

Cooling measures, including a lower mortgage servicing ratio, have brought the median cash-over-valuation to the lowest in five years. It fell to $8,000 last month ahead of forecasts that it would reach $10,000 by the year end.