Thursday 31 January 2013

Population White Paper - January 2013

Population could hit 6.9m by 2030
Govt says it is planning ahead to cope with projected rise in numbers
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2013

SINGAPORE'S population could grow to 6.9 million in 2030 as the Government moves to tackle the serious demographic double whammy of a shrinking and ageing population.

Of that, the resident population of citizens and permanent residents will likely be around 4.4 million. The core of citizens is projected to number 3.8 million, or just over half the total population.

The non-resident foreigner ranks - comprising foreign workers, expatriates and students - will make up 36 per cent of the population, up from 28 per cent now.

They are projected to number 2.5 million in 2030, up from 1.5 million now.

While unveiling this scenario in a widely anticipated Population White Paper yesterday, the Government sought to pre-empt anxieties with assurances that it is planning ahead to cope with the projected population growth and avoid "today's problem" of over-crowding and infrastructural strain.

Land has been identified for 700,000 new homes - complete with recreational areas and green spaces. More details will be out later this week.

Plans are also in place to double the rail network by 2030, and 80 per cent of households should be within 10 minutes' walking distance from an MRT station.

Even with 6.9 million people, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean emphasised yesterday, Singapore's density will be 13,000 people per sq km - considerably lower than Hong Kong's 22,000 per sq km.

He was flanked by six ministers as he laid out the Government's population road map, which he said has three components.

The first is a push to grow the Singaporean core through a $2 billion-a-year package to encourage marriage and parenthood, announced last week.

The second is to sustain the sort of dynamic economy that produces top jobs for the more highly educated citizen core.

By 2030, he noted, two-thirds of the local workforce will be in the professional, manager, engineer and technician (PMET) category, and will aspire to more highly skilled and rewarding jobs.

HDB offers over 3,300 new flats under 6 BTO projects

By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2013

HDB on Tuesday launched six new BTO projects with a total of 3,346 flats in three mature towns -- Ang Mo Kio, Kallang/Whampoa and Tampines -- and three non-mature towns -- Choa Chu Kang, Hougang and Yishun.

This is the first tranche of the 23,000 BTO flats which HDB has planned for 2013.

This is also the first time that married couples with children under the age of 16 will enjoy priority allocation under the new Parenthood Priority Scheme (PPS) as announced on January 21.

HDB will set aside a fixed quota of 30 per cent of BTO flats for them.

It is a welcome move for those with children.

"The government has given us priority, so we have come to try our luck," said Mr Wee.

"I think it's a good move in the right direction. We're planning another (child) anyway and I think it might benefit us in the future," said Mr Joshua Yak.

'Cash for commercial clunkers' proposal

Govt studying motor group's plan to get greener goods vehicles on road
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2013

THE Motor Traders Association (MTA) has mooted a proposal to give a cash grant to encourage owners of old commercial vehicles to switch to new, environment-friendlier ones.

The Government is studying the plan, which calls for a one-off incentive payment of at least $10,000 per replacement of a pre-Euro 4 vehicle with a model that meets Euro 4 or higher standards.

This is similar to the US$3 billion (S$3.7 billion) "cash for clunkers" scheme in the United States in 2009 to replace old fuel-guzzling cars and trucks and Hong Kong's HK$770 million scheme in 2007 to replace old, pollutive diesel commercial vehicles.

The MTA said more certificates of entitlement (COEs) will have to be released at the same time to prevent any tax grant from being negated by higher COE premiums.

The COE price for commercial vehicles has been rising in recent years and hit a record $63,035 last month. At the latest tender last week, it closed at $57,051.

A slew of disincentives were also proposed, including tighter enforcement of emission rules, stiffer penalties and surcharges for those who want to revalidate the COE of older vehicles.

MTA vice-president Glenn Tan said: "Currently, we have the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS) to encourage environment-friendly cars but we don't have anything similar for commercial vehicles. And diesel commercial vehicles are the ones that are more pollutive."

S'pore rebuts 'D+' grade in defence anti-graft index

Government tells international group why it doesn't reveal military spending details
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2013

THE Singapore Government has rebutted a Transparency International report that gave the Republic a "D+" grade in its first Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index.

The Government explained why it does not publicise its military and security spending and stressed its safeguards against corruption in this area.

The Berlin-based group, which has traditionally ranked Singapore as one of the world's least corrupt nations, said in its report: "Overall, the defence and security sector is characterised by a dearth of public information, offset by strong controls against personnel corruption risks."

It grouped Singapore together with Lebanon, South Africa and Mexico as nations with a "high risk" of corruption within government defence.

It looked at 82 countries that accounted for 94 per cent of global military expenditure in 2011 and scored them in bands from very low risk (A) to critical risk (F), after assessing 77 indicators in five key risk areas: politics, finance, personnel, operations and procurement.

It said Singapore fared poorly in areas like financial risk, noting that "no information exists on asset disposal or on any scrutiny it may be subjected to". It also noted that no specific legislation regulates defence procurement.

But Singapore did better in areas like personal corruption risk, where the report noted "effective measures appear to be in place for deterring facilitation payments and bribery".

Dr Oliver Cover, principal author of the study, said Transparency International had engaged with the Singapore Government in coming up with this index, although he had not anticipated Singapore's eventual D+ rating.

In its three-page response, the Singapore Government explained why the Ministry of Defence did not make information more transparent, and emphasised its "zero tolerance policy on corruption".

"Singapore does not publicise the details of our defence and security expenditures, to prevent compromising our security," it said. "By their very nature, defence procurement and spending are not normally the subjects of public discussion."

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Singapore Perspectives 2013

PM Lee throws light on what led to infrastructure strain
We didn't have 20/20 foresight - next time, we will try to do better, he says
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday gave the most comprehensive account to date of the circumstances that ultimately led to the strains on infrastructure in recent years.

He focused on the ups and downs of the global economy and how the Government reacted to it, starting with the downturns triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States more than a decade ago.

PM Lee was responding to a question from Mr Leon Perera, chief executive of Spire Research and Consulting, at the annual Singapore Perspectives conference of the Institute of Policy Studies.

Mr Perera had asked if Singapore might benefit from having a public hearing or commission look into the lack of coordination between those managing public infrastructure and population size.

"You don't need a commission or an inquiry to find out how it happened, I can tell you how it happened. It happened because we didn't have 20/20 foresight," responded Mr Lee, to laughter from the audience.

He started with the recession of the early 2000s - which began with the terror attacks and was then prolonged by the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) - noting that population growth then was low, home prices were down and large numbers of foreign workers were going home.

The tide changed in 2005 and 2006. And that was when he decided to "try and make up for lost time".

"You want the economy to grow, you want Singapore to make progress and you don't know how long the sun is going to shine," he said. "As it turned out, the sun remained shining for longer than we expected."

The population, including foreigners, thus grew faster than expected and infrastructure lagged behind. The total population grew from 4.2 million in 2005 to 5.3 million last year.

But Mr Lee said he could not start turning away businesses during the period the economy was growing.

"Should we have said... Let's forget about the growth, we don't need the IRs (integrated resorts), we don't need these extra jobs, we just stay where we were? I think that would be very risky.

"Should we have given ourselves more buffer and said, let's build and be ready? I think in retrospect, clearly yes, we could have done more."

S'pore draws record $16b in investments

They could create 18,600 skilled jobs, add $20.3b a year in economic value
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2013

SINGAPORE attracted a record amount of investments last year, a sign that it is holding its own in an increasingly competitive world, said the Economic Development Board (EDB) yesterday.

About $16 billion of fixed asset investments flowed in, 17 per cent up on 2011. These investments should eventually add $20.3 billion in economic value a year to the economy and create 18,600 skilled jobs.

The $16 billion figure is the highest in Singapore's history, apart from the one-off petrochemical-related investment spikes in 2007 and 2008. The EDB discounts those as one-off lump sums.

EDB chairman Leo Yip said: "It was a good year for Singapore."

He added that companies wanting to invest in the fast-growing region and Asia in general were behind the good result.

But he warned that inward investment is likely to decline given Singapore's physical limitations of finite land and manpower.

The EDB expects investments to come in at a lower $11 billion to $13 billion this year.

More jobs vacant for longer time

Four in 10 vacancies unfilled for six months - many in service and sales
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2013

MORE job vacancies are going unfilled for six months or more, as a tight labour market and stricter foreign worker policies take their toll.

According to a report released yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower, the number of positions left untaken for at least six months rose from 18,230 in the year to September 2011, to 20,930 the following year, a 15 per cent increase.

That means four in 10 of all vacancies as of last September were unfilled for at least six months.

There were 56,400 job openings as of last September, up slightly from the year before.

Service and sales staff positions made up the biggest chunk of these vacancies - almost a quarter - and included sales assistants, waiters, security guards and cashiers.

Associate professionals and technicians accounted for another 17 per cent of openings, and professionals, 15 per cent.

Low-skilled jobs are the most likely to be left unfilled for longer periods, as local workers shun tough work and low wages. Of the positions that were not taken for at least six months, some 83 per cent were for workers other than professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

Why Scandinavian model is not ideal

LAST Saturday's articles ("Succeeding in Europe..." and "...Struggling in East Asia") highlighted the achievements in Europe, especially Scandinavian nations, in reversing declining birth rates, and East Asian countries' failure in that respect.

The first article reported on the generous handouts and incentives offered by the Scandinavian countries, such as long maternity and paternity leave. In contrast, the second article reported that handouts and incentives in East Asian countries are much less generous and more restrictive.

They gave an impression that the Scandinavian model works well, and that East Asian countries may have to follow suit to reverse declining birth rates.

We need to look a little deeper into what these Scandinavian nations have achieved. We should not take their birth statistics at face value. We also need to understand the negative impact their model has on their societies.

In his article "The end of marriage in Scandinavia", researcher Stanley Kurtz said "marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia. A majority of children in Sweden and Norway are born out of wedlock. Sixty per cent of first-born children in Denmark have unmarried parents".

In Sweden, 55 per cent of babies are born out of wedlock. In contrast, it is 2 per cent in Japan.

Childcare subsidies: Larger families can get more help

WE AGREE with Mr Alan Ong ("More benefit with multi-tier approach"; last Friday) and Madam Chen Shi Ning ("Consider number of kids, not just household income"; last Friday) that larger families with more dependants may need more help with the costs of infant and child care.

Larger families may wish to have their subsidies assessed on a per capita income basis.

Those with incomes exceeding $7,500 may still qualify for the additional subsidy if their per capita income is $1,875 or less.

More information on the subsidy amounts based on per capita income can be found on our website at

Madam Chen also asked how a change in income might affect eligibility for the additional subsidy.

We will re-assess household incomes every two years to minimise the disruption to families from frequent changes to subsidy amounts due to changes in income.

Those families that wish to have their subsidy amounts reviewed can apply to have their incomes re-assessed at any time.

Musa Fazal
Director, Child Care Division
Ministry of Social and Family Development
ST Forum, 29 Jan 2013

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Revisiting co-payments

By Jeremy Lin, Published TODAY, 28 Jan 2013

Co-payments are sacrosanct in Singapore healthcare. Since the debut of co-payments in government polyclinics in 1960, the application of co-payment has been extended to virtually all healthcare services.

Why co-payments? The economic literature is rich with insights on the utility of co-payments and there are very good reasons for co-payments, but not in every healthcare setting and definitely not as an unthinking blanket policy.

In the Singapore setting, the most important objectives are probably mitigating moral hazard and optimising limited government monies. Let us examine them and explore whether and how co-payments can be re-looked.


Moral hazard is the phenomenon where patients consume more than they should because someone else is paying. The 1993 White Paper on Affordable Health Care states emphatically: “To avoid the pitfall of ‘free’ medical services stimulating insatiable demand, patients pay directly for part of the cost of medical services which they use.”

As for targeting scarce subsidies, even the richest governments have finite resources, and Singapore is no different. Imposing co-payments enables some degree of cost recovery.

In Singapore, cost recovery has been substantial with government spending on healthcare today making up roughly a third of total system spending, and private monies comprising the other two-thirds.

Maid agency hiring male caregivers

Helpers from Myanmar to arrive by end-February, to look after old men
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2013

A MAID agency is planning to bring in a batch of about 30 male domestic workers trained in caregiving from Myanmar by the end of next month.

Homekeeper, one of the largest players in Singapore, says there is a strong demand for male helpers to take care of elderly men whom the more petite maids may have difficulty handling.

The agency is also ramping up recruitment to bring in about 60 male domestic workers from Myanmar in June, and more after that if demand is good.

This is the first time an agency is bringing in male foreign domestic workers on a regular basis.

Only a handful have hired men on an ad hoc basis at their customers' request in the past two years.

Agencies estimate there are fewer than 20 male foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Most of them are Filipinos who have been hired to care for elderly men. In contrast, there are 208,400 foreign maids.

Agents say the Manpower Ministry allows employers to bring in foreign male domestic workers if they have strong reasons for doing so.

Employers have to send a letter to the ministry explaining their situation.

Punggol East By-election: Analysis & Reactions

What lies ahead in politics after Punggol East
There are implications for the PAP, WP and other parties as they gear up for GE2016 
By Han Fook Kwang, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2013 

The Workers' Party's win in Punggol East will mean many different things to many people.

Does it signal that the opposition tide is even stronger today than during the 2011 General Election? What does it say about the ruling party's ability to hold the ground?

Here are my five takes on what the result means.

First, it reinforced the conventional wisdom that a by-election favours the opposition, perhaps even more so in this new normal. With the WP victorious now in two by-elections since GE2011, it has been even more firmly entrenched as the other party in an emerging two-party system.

The result in Punggol East shows that all the issues that surfaced in GE2011 and which caused the ruling party to lose Aljunied GRC have not gone away and might even have gained greater force, especially the desire for a stronger opposition presence in Parliament.

Neither have the hot-button issues on immigration, housing, public transport and health care been resolved to voters' satisfaction. It might be the case that whatever changes the Government makes to these policies will not satisfy voters who simply want more alternative voices.

If this is indeed the case, and the ruling party acknowledges it, then it may have to change its approach and accept that no matter what it does to these policies, it will lose some electoral ground until a new political balance is reached between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the opposition. Indeed it might have to bite this bullet sooner rather than later if, in its desire to hold the political ground, it becomes overly populist in its policies and alienates even its own supporters.

Why fertility measures matter to all

By Teo You Yenn, Published TODAY, 28 Jan 2013

The revised and upsized Marriage and Parenthood Package will no doubt please Singaporeans who are planning to marry and have children.

What effect it will have on the rest of us, who are either not at this stage in our life-course or do not immediately fit the model of life required by the schemes, both remains to be seen and is a question we should ask.

Two questions follow, the first being: Are the schemes likely to lead to significantly different outcomes in terms of demographic trends? The answer depends more on long-term trends in policy orientations than on the specific schemes at hand.

People make marriage and childbearing decisions based on a complex confluence of explicit and tacit factors — job prospects, suitable partners, existing responsibilities, evaluations of their place in society and aspirations for the future.

People envision the future based on their existing circumstances and by gauging how they fare against social norms; in Singapore, the range of choices and behaviours marked as “ideal” are narrow.

Our current knowledge about the low fertility issue in Singapore suggests there is high desire for marriage and children that does not translate into practice. Combine this with over two decades of pronatalist policies, and we can safely conclude that what has been done thus far has not been terribly effective.

Monday 28 January 2013

Welcome to godPAPa's budding welfare state

Connect the dots and you get a picture of a society's changing family policy
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Sunday Times, 27 Jan 2013

Amid all the entertainment and excitement of the Punggol East by-election - Singapore's fourth election in two years - it's easy to miss the significance of the moves to promote marriage and parenthood.

Over the past week, a slew of measures were announced: Couples with babies will get $2,000 more in cash bonuses. Couples with children get priority for public housing. New fathers get state-funded paternity leave.

Health insurance for children will be expanded to include medical conditions from birth.

Childcare subsidies for families earning up to $7,500 will go up on a sliding scale, so that those earning $2,500 and below get 99 per cent of fees covered and pay around $3 a month to enrol their children in childcare.

Each of these policies marks a significant change in itself. And if you connect the dots made up by the patchwork of measures, the picture you get is of a society in the midst of a complete overhaul on how it views and supports the family. Singapore's social policy is undergoing a paradigm shift.

And the state, far from being a distant rich relative not lifting a finger to help beleaguered families, is now stepping in as godparent to ease the financial burdens of middle-income families.

The Government doesn't go around trumpeting this shift. Nor will it use that much-dreaded term, the welfare state. But in substance, Singapore's family policy is inching quietly leftwards, closer to that of Western welfare states in the way it extends the social safety net to cover middle-income families.

Really, must parents act so entitled?

By Rachel Chang, The Sunday Times, 27 Jan 2013

One quality I've always considered integral in the Singaporean identity is an ironclad sense of entitlement.

Whatever we are given, we always want to know why we didn't get more. Maybe our schools have taught us too well that critical analysis is the only appropriate response to any statement.

And the most entitled people in this entitled population are Singaporean parents. They're fuelled by a potent mix of martyrdom and self-pity, salted over by a lack of sleep and intense body anxiety.

Because the national discourse is so relentlessly self-flagellating about the low birth rate, they are simultaneously self-congratulatory about having given their lives to something "noble", while intensely aware of how they are "losing out" by choosing to have kids in a childless nation.

This is like a multiple personality disorder, which they cope with by being convinced that they should be compensated twice over for starting a family.

Canvassing reactions to the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package for the news stories published last week was like taking a museum tour of Middle Class Entitled Parents. Those in this group seem to live by the creed that "to those whom much has been given, much more should be given".

Shifting focus from money to family

Ease up on rat race, spare a thought for well-being: Ex-chief statistician
By Cheong Suk-Wai, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2013

SINGAPORE'S former chief statistician Paul Cheung has the long view on the Government's efforts to encourage married couples to have more children.

That is because he was in charge of reversing the Republic's Stop at Two policy to cap population growth, as director of the Ministry of Health's Population Planning Unit in 1986.

He continued to track efforts to promote procreation as head of the Department of Statistics from 1991 to 2004.

Hong Kong-born Professor Cheung, 59, was then recruited by the United Nations to be its chief statistician. After almost nine years in New York, he returned to teach at the National University of Singapore's Department of Social Work earlier this month.

In an interview this week, he gave his views on the baby boosters announced on Monday and government policy in this area over the years.

VWOs speak up at S'pore dialogue

Teachers, students and parents also share views at Our SG Conversation
By Derrick Ho & Lim Yi Han, The Sunday Times, 27 Jan 2013

Volunteers, school teachers, students and parents had their turn at two separate sessions in Our Singapore Conversation yesterday.

Singapore's social welfare system and volunteerism were among the key issues raised by 45 volunteers, teachers and district councillors at the session held by the North East Community Development Council.

Participants from volunteer welfare organisations (VWOs) expressed the need for increased funding for their programmes. They also proposed that the Government increase tax rebates for companies to encourage more to give back to society.

Mr Samuel Koh, 56, executive director of Christian Outreach to the Handicapped, said the session was helpful as there is a "lack of attention" given to the VWO sector. He said the Government should provide more financial and infrastructure support to help set up social service centres.

Responding to the call for more funding, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Mr Teo Ser Luck, who is also Mayor for North East District, said that some VWOs should be given funding to help them expand and carry out their programmes.

Teachers, on the other hand, suggested that secondary school education be made compulsory to prevent at-risk youth from straying. Currently, education is compulsory up to Primary 6.

At another session, a group of about 150 junior college students and their parents took a stab at what they would like to see in Singapore in 2030.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Workers' Party wins Punggol East by-election 2013

WP sweeps Punggol East with 54.5%
Victory margin of nearly 11 percentage points surprises political observers
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Sunday Times, 27 Jan 2013

It was touted as a close fight, but Workers' Party (WP) candidate Lee Li Lian, 34, sailed into Parliament on her second attempt yesterday, riding on the crest of strong support in the Punggol East single- member constituency.

The final margin of victory was nearly 11 percentage points, or more than 3,000 votes, as she overturned decisively the scores of two years ago.

This time, she raked in 54.52 per cent of the votes. The People's Action Party's (PAP) Dr Koh Poh Koon picked up just 43.71 per cent, a rout that stunned observers and PAP MPs alike.

Talk of spoilers and dark horses proved unfounded as the two others in the four-cornered fight - the Reform Party's Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam and Singapore Democratic Alliance's Mr Desmond Lim - netted less than 2 per cent of the vote combined. Both lost their deposits, and Mr Lim gained the dubious honour of scoring the smallest vote share since independence.

Climate change: What do we owe the future?

Later generations will want to know why we made the choices we did
By Simon Chesterman, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2013

THE bush fires that continue to savage Victoria and New South Wales today, on Australia Day, have driven another nail into the coffin for climate change sceptics: Temperatures on the ground are literally off the charts.

Previously, temperatures in Australia rose no further than 50 deg C. Recently, meteorologists had to add two new colours - deep purple and pink - to maps showing temperatures around the country. At one point, an area the size of Tasmania was deep purple - the heat had hit 50-54 deg C.

This development is consistent with other data indicating rises in temperature around the planet.

The first 12 years of the 21st century are among the 14 warmest years on record - anyone under the age of 27 has not lived through a month when global temperatures were not above average.

There is no longer serious doubt that the planet is warming and that we are responsible.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Halimah Yacob: Soft heart, strong will

New Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob tells Susan Long how she went from selling pushcart nasi padang and almost getting expelled from school to one of the highest offices in the land.
The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2013

AT ONE Marina Boulevard, a new security guard stopped Madam Halimah Yacob at the entrance one morning. He wanted to know what she was there for. She said she worked in the building. "Ah," he concluded. "You're the cleaner."

He was taken aside by his supervisor. But the then deputy secretary-general of NTUC just laughed off his assumptions. "It's become a standing joke in my family," she recounts, eyes crinkling.

In 1999, she became the first Singaporean elected to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) governing body, which sets labour standards for 174 member countries. Her international colleagues, who voted for her, told her she had "broken many glass ceilings all at once" - as an Asian, a woman at that, and furthermore, one wearing a tudung.

The 58-year-old newly appointed Speaker of Parliament's life has been an exercise in debunking stereotypes. When she entered politics in 2001, post-Sept 11, few could see past her headscarf, which fringed thick glasses and a solemn mien. But the tiny tudung dynamo, as she came to be known, taught Singaporeans to look past appearances. She won over many with her steadfast devotion to low-income families, single mothers, the elderly and the disabled, groups she spoke up for and helped over decades variously as a unionist, volunteer, Member of Parliament and junior minister.

Cobbler square

Dying trade still drawing customers, including well-heeled, with low prices
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2013

FINGERS matted with glue and grime, seven elderly men sit, hunched forward, replacing soles and mending the linings of worn-out shoes belonging to Singapore's shuffling masses.

They work quietly amid fast- footed crowds at what has become known as Cobbler Square.

These men have been working under the shade of large beer umbrellas next to People's Park Food Centre since the 1980s.

There used to be 22 of them, but now just seven - in their 60s and 70s - remain in a sunset industry, said cobbler Poh Kay Ching, 62.

"The rest have died and this business will die too when we go," said Mr Poh, who has been at the square since 2008.

In their heyday, cobblers used to work along five-foot-ways in spots such as the old Clyde Street near Kampong Glam.

Most were Chinese although a few Indians and Malays also took up the trade.

Then, they provided essential and affordable shoe-repair services in the 1950s, when many Singaporeans switched from wearing clogs to modern footwear, said the National Heritage Board's director of heritage institutions Alvin Tan.

The square in Chinatown was a natural choice, with its regular stream of crowds passing by to get to their favourite hawker stalls and to shop at the nearby OG department store.

Although shoe-repair and key duplication chain shops such as Mister Minit and Master Fix Services initially threatened the local trade, many customers still flock to the makeshift kiosks.

Some are regulars, but most say they come because of the low prices. Replacing heels, for instance, still costs $2 - the same as 30 years ago.

End of love affair with property?

Not quite, when the dream of living in one home and renting out another will persist. That's because CPF rules favour property purchases, and Singapore's status as a booming city undergirds prices.
By Ignatius Low, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

WHEN the latest round of property cooling measures was announced two Fridays ago, I swear I could hear a faint hissing across the island.

It wasn't the sound of property agents collectively expressing their annoyance, or even the sound of air starting to escape from the inflated property market. To me, it was the sound of the simultaneous extinguishing of a dream that lives in the hearts and minds of tens of thousands of Singaporeans.

That dream is to be rich enough to invest in a second property, to be a landlord and have a tenant pay rent.

And then have that rental income be the first step in achieving the ultimate fantasy in this time-starved, stressed-out nation: to stop work, play golf or go to the spa all day, and collect rental streams coalescing into a steady gurgle of passive income that is the envy of relatives and friends.

For those who actually have the capital to embark on such a journey, 2013 has started on a frustrating note.

Want to invest in a condo unit? Now you have to put down 25 per cent cash, not 10 per cent like before. Another change means you can only take a maximum 50 per cent bank loan.

And even if you had all that cash lying around, a new stamp duty rule means you are 7 per cent in the red even before you have left the starting line.

Meanwhile, the Government has roadblocked investments in industrial property, the "it" investment of the last couple of years. Flip an industrial property too quickly now and you get taxed - up to a whopping 15 per cent.

By some accounts, the rule changes have had a chilling effect on Singapore investors.

Friday 25 January 2013

Govt to spend S$700 million to boost MRT access and lower noise from elevated railway tracks; More pedestrian overhead bridges fitted with lifts

By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Jan 2013

The Government will spend close to S$700 million to make transport nodes more accessible, elderly friendly and conducive for commuters.

The plans mapped out in the new Land Transport Master plan, were announced by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew today.

One of the new initiatives, Walk2Ride, will make it easier for more commuters to walk to MRT stations.

The Land Transport Authority will build sheltered linkways within a 400 metre radius from all existing MRT stations, compared to the current 200 metres.

The LTA will also link up developments within a 200 metre radius of all bus interchanges, LRT stations and high usage bus shelters

In all, some 200 kilometres of linkways will be added islandwide by 2018 – more than four times the existing 46 kilometres today.

The project is expected to cost some S$330 million and will begin from 2014.

Currently, sheltered linkways are built to link only to schools, healthcare institutions and other transport nodes like bus stops and taxi stands. But under Walk2Ride, shopping, leisure, commercial and residential areas will also be linked.

More pedestrian overhead bridges will also become more elderly and wheel-chair friendly.

The LTA has reviewed the provision criteria to build more lifts at such bridges. These include those located within 200 metres of MRT stations and 100 metres of LRT stations.

Some 40 bridges which qualify have been identified for further feasibility studies.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Punggol East By-election: PAP Rally, 24 Jan

Koh pledges to work hard to make improvements in estate
By Goh Chin Lian and Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2013

PEOPLE'S Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon closed his campaign last night with a straightforward message for Punggol East voters: Vote for me and my team, we will work hard for you.

He said at the party's rally: "The team we have that stands before you is a team that has concrete plans, a team that takes action seriously.

"We are a team that has real potential, that sees real opportunities for improvement to our estate... We are prepared to work hard."

He vowed to voice the concerns of Punggol East residents in Parliament, "vigorously and energetically and emphatically".

Taking an indirect swipe at opposition attacks on government policies, he said a resident told him it was easy to criticise, but much harder to do the work.

Punggol East By-election: RP Rally, 24 Jan

WP accused of being 'blindly obedient'
By Joyce Lim And Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2013

THE Reform Party (RP) made a last-ditch bid for the Workers' Party (WP) vote bank last night, attacking its opponent for being "blindly obedient" in Parliament.

Unlike the WP, which votes with the Government "on every issue that counts", RP candidate Kenneth Jeyaretnam promised to be the genuine voice of the voters.

"There is a general feeling here of disappointment with WP," he said at his last campaign rally in the Punggol East by-election.

He took issue with the WP's policy alternatives, saying they were decades old.

The older son of late WP leader J.B. Jeyaretnam said that he knew the ideas were dated as his father had sought his input as an economist in the 1980s and 1990s.

"The WP are probably still using that same manifesto I helped write as a student," said the Cambridge-educated economist.

The party is, therefore, unable to push the Government on its economic policies.

Punggol East By-election campaign - 23 Jan

Koh will be strong voice in the House: Halimah
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

NEW Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob gave a strong endorsement of People's Action Party candidate Koh Poh Koon yesterday, saying she is confident he would be a strong voice in the House.

Speaking to reporters after joining Dr Koh on the campaign trail in the morning, she said: "Every Member of Parliament who is elected is expected to do his job vigorously to pursue what he is most passionate about, to bring about a difference to the lives of Singaporeans."

She said she was confident that if he was elected, Dr Koh would pursue issues which he believed in with rigour and passion, including those related to the elderly, the poor, or families and children.

She also observed that the 40-year-old had put in "tremendous" effort to connect with residents, and many already knew him. "That speaks volumes. To connect over just a few days is not easy."

The colorectal surgeon was introduced as a candidate just two weeks ago and has been going on walkabouts and pressing flesh in Punggol East every day since.

Madam Halimah, who had previously developed a reputation as a spirited backbencher who raised issues related to the elderly and the poor, spoke readily about Dr Koh.

However, she did not want to be drawn into an ongoing debate on the parliamentary performance of Workers' Party (WP) MPs.

The Jurong GRC MP would only say: "Everyone has to develop his own style, his own niche, and you need to pursue these interests vigorously."

Punggol East By-election: WP Rally, 23 Jan

WP can act as insurance in case of corrupt regime: Low
Build up effective check and balance system, says party chief
By Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2013

WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang swopped a defensive stance for full-frontal attack at the Punggol East by-election, questioning the durability of the Singapore political system and its economic policies.

He slammed the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) last night for being a poor shadow of its past over its recent lapses of judgment, urging voters to see the opposition party as an "insurance" in case of a corrupt regime.

He cited two unprecedented missteps as signs of the PAP's decline - the extramarital affair of Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer that triggered the by-election and the last-minute withdrawal of PAP candidate Steve Tan at the 2011 General Election.

In addition, the PAP-led Government has privatised essential services such as public transport, utilities and electricity, leading to profit-driven companies and rising costs of living for the people, he charged. He also criticised the Government for selling the management of these services to government-linked companies like Temasek Holdings.

Higher subsidies for child, infant care for lower and middle income families from 1 Apr 2013

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 23 Jan 2013

From April, 120,000 households with young children will benefit from a new subsidy framework aimed at making childcare and infant care more affordable.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing announced the new framework after a visit to YWCA Child Development Centre on Wednesday.

All parents will continue to receive a basic subsidy of S$300 a month for childcare and S$600 for infant care services.

Families with a gross monthly income of S$7,500 and below will receive an additional subsidy.

Eligible families using full-day programmes will see an increase in their current child care subsidies of at least S$100 and infant care subsidies of at least S$200, with lower-income families receiving more.

The final maximum total subsidy could be as high as S$740 for full-day childcare, and S$1,140 for full day infant care programmes. However, they are subject to a minimum co-payment sum that parents must pay out-of-pocket.

Why my wife is a stay-home mum

It may not be the wisest financial move, but can you really put a price on hands-on parenting?
By Jerry Foo, TODAY, 19 Jan 2013

My wife and I are both the eldest child in our families, so both sets of parents were overjoyed when our baby was born. They were less thrilled when we told them that after my wife was done with her maternity leave, she might go on an extended stretch of no-pay leave — or even put her career on hold indefinitely — to take care of Emma.

As one of the Grandmas put it: “You mean you don’t want me to take care of your baby?”

I grew up in my grandmother’s care, and had my domestic helper for company at home when I was older. My wife, too, grew up in the care of her relatives. The concept of the stay-at-home parent is definitely not something we were brought up with — so why are we even considering such an arrangement?

It’s something I can’t quite explain. Did my own childhood experience convince me that I wanted something different for my child? I did not have a terrible childhood growing up in the care of someone other than my parent, and I‘m sure many of you didn’t either.

Maybe it’s idealism, the thought of raising our own children right from the start, so that we can better bond with them, and bring them up the way we want to. But then again, I wouldn’t say that children not raised in such a manner come out wrong.

Nothing conclusive there. Yet here we are — me at work, the wife likely to stay at home with Emma for a couple more years. And looking around, we’re far from the only ones to make this decision. Why are more and more parents of our generation forgoing our careers, bucking the trend our parents started?