Sunday 31 March 2013

The 10 Cyberspace Commandments

By David Tan, Published The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2013

HAZARD alert. My mind automatically goes through all the potential legal issues when I see a comment on Facebook directed at another individual, or a video on YouTube that draws on musical and cinematographic works created by others.

It is so easy to rant about people and events that have annoyed us on social media. Or to upload photographs of ourselves or our friends on social networking platforms like Instagram. Or to post a negative comment on Twitter. Or to chronicle our loves and pet peeves on a personal blogsite.

But how often do we pause to think about the consequences, especially the legal implications, of our conduct in cyberspace?

The cloak of "online" anonymity in cyberspace emboldens many of us to act in ways we would not when "offline". We are unlikely to confront a work colleague whose behaviour irritates us, but we will more likely criticise the same person on Facebook.

Nude or revealing pictures? Surely we will not show them to friends over dinner in a restaurant. But we might just post a few provocative ones in our Facebook or Tumblr albums.

While netizens generally share an unspoken code of cyber etiquette, a vast majority are likely unaware of the wide range of legal risks that carry with them personal liability and criminal sanctions.

Zero tolerance for intolerance

Singaporeans should speak out against xenophobia even if it's currently the unpopular thing to do
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2013

ONE of the more notable aspects of our Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech last August was his call for a more gracious society.

Among the problems PM Lee Hsien Loong singled out was xenophobia, and the need for more people to stand up against it.

Seven months on, the pushback against xenophobia is still nowhere close to gaining steam. In fact, it is the opposite.

Online, there is now an increasing distrust among netizens of those who rebut xenophobic remarks. More often than not, they are branded as "Pappies", a pejorative term used to describe a PAP supporter. Worse, they can sometimes be accused of being "anti-Singaporean".

$77 million in Service & Conservancy Charges rebates for 800,000 HDB households as part of Budget 2013

By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2013

ABOUT 800,000 Singaporean Housing Board households can expect to receive $77 million in rebates for service and conservancy (S&C) charges this year.

Announced in last month's Budget speech, they will help households cope with rises in living costs.

Depending on the flat type, each eligible household will get one to three months of rebates. They will be notified by mail next month about the details.

Those in one- or two-room flats will get three months' worth of rebates, while those in three- or four-room flats will get two months' worth. Those in five-room flats will get 11/2 months, and those in executive flats, one month.

The rebates, which will directly offset a household's S&C charges, will be disbursed next month and in July and October.

Saturday 30 March 2013

Should we curb hiring of foreigners?

Republic's open-market policy has served it for half a century and brought down jobless rate
By Ng Yew-Kwang, Published The Business Times, 28 Mar 2013

IN recent months, not only many people have proposed various curbs on the employment of foreigners, from maids to professionals, but even the government has reversed its largely free and open-market policies and adopted various restrictions.

One recent proposal is to require employers to show the "absence of local alternatives" before the employment of foreigners may be permitted, in order to "force employers to develop local talents to replace foreign employees". The government has also declared its intention to explore such measures. Let us consider whether such policies are good for Singapore.

I was a student at Nanyang University over 1962-65. During that period, left-wing forces were very strong. Economic problems including low incomes and high unemployment rates were very serious. In the middle of 1967 came the announcement (subsequently implemented) of the withdrawal of British troops from Singapore.

The political, economic and defence problems then were huge. However, under the strong policies of the government, not only did Singapore avoid a big collapse, it actually achieved strong political stability, spectacular economic development (with a per capita gross domestic product now surpassing that of the United States) and large improvement in defence capabilities.

These successes are closely related to the high quality of people in Singapore and some favourable external factors. However, it cannot be denied that the tremendous successes of Singapore over the past half a century have also largely, if not decisively, depended on the long-term insistence on and efficient execution by the government of a free and open-market policy. This not only has attracted foreign capital, enterprise and talent to come to Singapore to develop, it has also raised the efficiency and international competitiveness of local enterprises.

Why should we now weaken our policy that has served us for half a century? Has our open policy increased our unemployment rate? No, the unemployment rate decreased from around double digits in the 1960s to the current 1.8 per cent, despite significant immigration over the last decade. A rate of 3 per cent is regarded as constituting full employment. So we in fact have "over full" employment!

More than 500,000 families have benefitted from lift upgrading

HDB not closing door on LUP for 200 blocks
No effort will be spared to bring full lift access to these blocks: Khaw
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2013

EVEN though its lift upgrading programme is drawing to a close, the Housing Board will continue to find ways to cover blocks that have not benefited from it, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

Mr Khaw wrote in a blog post: "While we are completing the LUP (Lift Upgrading Programme) story, we are not shutting it. HDB is mindful that the balance of around 200 blocks is still without lift access at some floors."

He said HDB would continue to look for new ideas and technology to help these residents: "We may or may not achieve it but we will not give up trying."

In response to queries from The Straits Times, an HDB spokesman said these blocks cannot get the upgrade either because too few units would benefit, thus making it hard to justify the costs, or the blocks have severe site constraints such as a lack of space for an elevator shaft.

Mr Khaw also wrote that since the programme began in 2001, it has cost the Government $5 billion, and will benefit 500,000 households in 5,000 blocks when completed late next year. The programme has been completed in 75 per cent of the blocks.

Only four more blocks, located in Pasir Ris, have yet to be polled, although HDB is targeting to have new lifts there operational by the end of 2014.

The LUP is meant to give full lift access to blocks built before 1990 that do not have lifts that stop on every floor.

Friday 29 March 2013

MOE's First Five Pilot Kindergartens In Primary Schools And The Community will begin in 2014

Priority plan for places at new MOE kindergartens
One-third of places will be reserved for kids from lower-income homes
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2013

THE first five Education Ministry-run kindergartens to open next year will break away from the common practice among pre-schools of giving out places on a first-come-first-served basis.

Instead, one-third of the places in the kindergartens will be reserved for children from lower- income homes.

The rest will be allocated to Singapore citizens with priority given to those who live near the centres. If there are any places left after that, they will be allocated to permanent residents.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed these details at a press conference yesterday, signalling the Government's commitment to help children from disadvantaged homes level up.

Four of the five kindergartens will be sited in primary schools in the Housing Board heartland and the fifth will be located in a void deck at Tampines Street 45.

Mr Heng reiterated yesterday that the Government was setting up its own kindergartens in order to develop the best approaches and new materials, and share them with other pre-schools to spur improvements all round.

The children will be taught by both diploma and degree holders, as well as some primary school teachers who will use purposeful play to build their social, literacy and numeracy skills.

All centres will also teach the three mother tongue languages - Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

"Quality pre-school provides a good foundation for future learning. This is particularly so for children from the more disadvantaged backgrounds," he said, noting that grassroots leaders will be roped in to reach out to families.

Explaining the admissions policy of the centres, Mr Heng said many of those who had attended the Our Singapore Conversation dialogues had urged the Government to provide more opportunities for children from low- and middle-income homes.

Even the locations of the five centres were planned so that the kindergartens can draw in a good mix of children from low- and middle-income families.

He stressed it was important to include children from different backgrounds so that the methods developed at the centres can be scaled up and implemented in other kindergartens.

Quality growth

Devadas Krishnadas, a social and political commentator, is the director of a foresight consultancy. This is a three-part series of commentaries on quality growth.
Published TODAY, 25, 26, 28 Mar 2013

The Singapore romancing of quality growth

In recent years the buzz word from the Government has been “inclusive growth”. In Budget 2013 this has been substituted with “quality growth”.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has clarified that quality growth means growth that benefits workers through better jobs and higher wages. He also spoke of an inclusive society which would be, in part, achieved through redistribution.

We can impute that quality growth is also growth with a social purpose. In this sense, ‘’inclusive growth’’ can be treated as synonymous with quality growth.

Given that Budget 2013 envisages a multi-year commitment to wooing quality growth, it is useful to explore the concept more thoroughly. This is the object of a three-part series of articles.

Innovations in Budget, such as a three-year transition programme and the Wage Credit Scheme for the economy, are being introduced as affirmation of the Government’s commitment to boosting productivity and to securing higher wages for Singaporean workers.

These come on top of earlier largesse such as Productivity and Innovation Credit, the National Productivity Fund and the enhanced Workfare policy. This link between productivity improvements and rising wages is the central thesis of the economic thinking in recent Budgets — and as it is justification for the public expenditure of many billions in incentives from the public purse, it is important to review how we got to this point.

The Singaporean core

Much has been said about retaining a Singaporean core. The term has been taken to mean a core of citizens in a workforce where one in three is a foreigner. Others take the term to refer to a core of Singapore values. Two writers share their experience of moving from the periphery of Singapore society to embracing its core in these essays.

Can the new Singapore blossom from its core?
By Susrut Ray, Published The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2013

MY FLIGHT lands at Changi Airport; a cab drives me to the city through Airport Boulevard which is beautiful as ever. It welcomes me, as it has done a hundred times before. The greenery, the pink bougainvillea-lined kerb, the magnificent exit ramps and overpasses make up a grand bouquet.

My mind turns 30 years back; I think of the time I first landed in Singapore, not at Changi but at the old airport in Paya Lebar.

Just as I did today, I had taken a cab to the city. The roads I passed through were no less inviting. I was taken by the exuberant greenery that seemed to connect directly the primeval rainforest that existed long before Singapura or even Temasek was founded.

It is different now, more "developed", my Singaporean friends would say. But the connection between the greenery and Mother Earth seems to have been lost.

Lines written by homesick English poet Rupert Brooke as he sat at a cafe in Berlin a hundred years back come to mind: "Here tulips bloom as they are told; Unkempt about those hedges blows/ An English unofficial rose."

In Singapore today do the hibiscus, the Bunga Raya, bloom as they are told? Nostalgia for days gone by leads me to reflect on the changes that have taken place.

Bringing social services to HDB towns

The recent plan to build 20 social service offices in Housing Board towns has cast a fresh spin on an old debate: whether there should be a "central brain" coordinating the "many helping hands" of social service agencies.
By Ong Hwee Hwee, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2013

THERE was a time when seeking government help was an uphill task, literally. Needy folk had to make their way to Thomson Road and walk up a small hill to the then Ministry of Social Affairs.

Over the years, the delivery of help has been decentralised.

The needy can now turn to one of the many agencies fanned out across Singapore, from the community development councils (CDCs) and family service centres (FSCs) to grassroots organisations and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).

Help will be brought even closer to the residents, when the new social service offices (SSOs) are set up across Housing Board towns. These SSOs - designed as one-stop help centres - will be ready in two to three years.

Residents now turn to their respective CDCs to apply to ComCare, the Government fund that provides short-term financial and social assistance of up to six months. CDCs also administer the long-term public assistance scheme.

In future, they can turn to SSOs. The time and cost savings can be significant, especially for those who now make regular trips to the CDCs to have their cases reviewed or help extended. Take the example of a resident who lives in Sengkang West, which falls under Central CDC. A trip to the CDC's main office in Toa Payoh is a bus ride of at least 45 minutes.

But the significance of the SSO goes beyond being a touchpoint in the network of help. It is its role as a "local" coordinator for social services that will have a larger impact.

The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew: Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues

Mr Lee's speeches in new book
New 10-volume collection covers period from 1990 to 2011 when he was SM, MM
By Tracy Quek, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2013

THE latest 10-volume collection of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's speeches, spanning a decade from 1990, will give readers a chance to hear "that most persuasive of voices fashion our history", Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said at its launch yesterday.

Speaking at a low-key ceremony held at the National University of Singapore attended by about 100 invited guests, Mr Heng noted that figures such as Mr Lee "come but rarely in history".

"It was Singapore's good fortune that we had at our founding, a remarkable team led by exceptional men of rare gifts," Mr Heng said. "One of these gifts, as one of Mr Lee's closest comrades, Dr Goh Keng Swee, noted, was the gift of persuasion."

Mr Lee was prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Dr Goh led the finance, education and defence ministries and was deputy prime minister from 1973 to 1984.

The collection launched yesterday, The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew: Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues (1990-2011), covers Mr Lee's time as Singapore's senior minister and minister mentor. They include material which has never been published before and provides insight into his views on issues ranging from racial harmony, language education, to Singapore's international relations. The new publication follows an earlier 10-volume collection spanning four decades of Mr Lee's speeches from 1950 to 1990, that was launched two years ago.

The latest collection, which has 5,500 pages of text and about 230 photographs, is the culmination of over a year's work and research by the National Archives of Singapore, the Office of the Press Secretary to Mr Lee, and publisher Cengage Learning.

Thursday 28 March 2013

More COEs in 2014, free train rides not decided: Lui Tuck Yew

Govt doing utmost to make public transport convenient: Minister
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2013

TRANSPORT Minister Lui Tuck Yew has advised aspiring car owners to wait till next year when the supply of Certificates of Entitlement (COE) increases.

But he also stressed that the Government is doing its utmost to make public transport as convenient as possible.

During Channel NewsAsia's Ask Minister programme, which was broadcast yesterday, Mr Lui took questions on a broad range of transport issues, from free trains rides to making roads safer for cyclists.

In the last bidding exercise, COEs for smaller cars cost nearly $17,000 more than the premium for cars above 1,600cc. Mr Lui said it will take several bidding cycles over the next few months before COE premiums stabilise.

Still, he noted that the COE supply would go up over the next few years as more cars are deregistered, though it is unclear how prices would move.

He said: "For those who want to own a car now, I would advise that if they can defer the decision till a little bit later on, when the COE supply actually picks up in 2014, that may be a better time to revisit the situation then."

He also addressed concerns that the recent moves to cap car loans and tier the additional registration fee (ARF) have made cars available only to the rich.

Singapore still a target for terrorism, says PM Lee at the International Conference on Terrorist Rehabilitation and Community Resilience

Country cannot let its guard down as terror groups remain a global threat
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned yesterday that Singapore could not afford to be complacent on terrorism as the country remained a potential terror target.

Terrorism, he added, continued to pose a "real and potent challenge" globally, although many countries had made progress in fighting it.

"From time to time, we hear reports of terrorists in our region wanting to attack Singapore or Singaporean assets in our neighbourhood," he said. "We must never let our guard down."

Mr Lee was speaking at an international conference on terrorist rehabilitation and community resilience at the Raffles City Convention Centre, attended by prominent counter-terrorism experts from around the world and community leaders from Singapore.

The conference was held in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, which counsels radicalised individuals here to abandon their extremist beliefs.

Integrating foreigners isn’t a lost cause

By Zhang Jianlin, Published TODAY, 27 Mar 2013

On a recent trip to present a research paper in Tokyo, I was surprised to not hear a single mobile phone ringing or a commuter talking loudly on the subway. Despite the train coach being notoriously crowded, the quiet was deafening.

Just as I was starting to wonder why the Japanese were behaving so considerately towards others, I heard announcements, first in Japanese then in English, over the sound system that all mobile phones must be switched to silent mode inside the coach.

What can we learn from the Japanese subway management to help our foreign friends better integrate in Singapore? Our Government has in recent times been sounding the refrain that foreigners whom Singapore welcomes to its shores must do their part in learning and adapting to our culture. Will this be a call in vain?

From a behavioural economist’s view, I believe not. It is in one’s self-interest not to deviate from the social norms of the society we live in.

The assumption that man is rational and self-interested is Economics 101. Indeed, it is what distinguishes economics from other social sciences such as sociology. While social scientists have long frowned upon such a simplistic view, it is only recently that behavioural economists have also challenged the validity of this assumption.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

S'pore has strict brain death criteria: MOH

By K.C. Vijayan And Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2013

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) has made it clear that stringent medical criteria are used in determining if a patient here is brain dead and should be taken off life support systems.

And two specially trained and certified doctors, one of whom is independent and uninvolved in the patient's care, are required to certify the condition.

It also stressed that if brain death is diagnosed correctly, the condition is irreversible.

The ministry made these points in a Forum letter commenting on a Sunday Times report recounting the recovery of Singaporean lawyer Suzanne Chin, who regained consciousness suddenly despite being diagnosed as brain dead in a Hong Kong hospital.

At the time, Ms Chin's husband and family members were faced with the prospect of pulling the plug on her life support systems based on medical advice. But she recovered on the third day, and was on her feet 36 hours later.

MOH said it was "happy that Ms Chin has made a recovery", but urged caution against concluding that correctly diagnosed brain death can be reversed.

"When brain death has occurred, blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain ceases irreversibly, and all brain functions are lost and will never return again," it noted. "Once diagnosed, it is recognised both medically and legally as death of the person in Singapore."

MOH also emphasised that brain death is determined according to strict clinical criteria.

These include absence of pupillary response to light, corneal reflex and respiratory drive or spontaneous breathing.

"When one or more of these tests cannot be done, additional tests to demonstrate the absence of brain circulation need to be performed," it said, adding that the criteria to certify brain death here is the same as in countries such as Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States.

Letting the terminally ill die with dignity

By Andy Ho, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2013

FOR many a terminally ill patient, the prospect of severe and unrelenting pain at the end of life may make him or her wish for a quick death as release.

The issue of euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide (PAS), is never easy. It came up in Singapore recently, when Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon raised it in a lecture. His main point was that Parliament, not the courts, should be the one to decide on whether it should be permitted, and he urged public discussion of the matter.

He also noted that in Singapore, the Advance Medical Directive (AMD) Act allows people to state in advance that they do not want extraordinary life-sustaining measures when terminally ill. The AMD Act does not condone, authorise or approve euthanasia, mercy killing or assisted suicide, he noted. But he added that assisted dying should be a matter of "public debate, private conversations... and personal reflection". He also suggested that the experience in other countries might well be a guide to discussion here.

Experience elsewhere

CURRENTLY, PAS is legal in Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Mexico and three US states. In Singapore, however, anyone who assists the suicide of an adult can be jailed up to 10 years and fined. It is time to consider repealing this law for an ageing population that will have more terminally ill patients.

Life-saving device coming to schools

149 defibrillators for users of fields, sports halls in sports council scheme
By Melissa Pang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2013

SOME 149 defibrillators will be available at school playing fields and sports halls during weekends in case members of the public using the facilities suffer a heart attack.

The potentially life-saving move is aimed at those who take advantage of the Singapore Sports Council's (SSC) Dual Use Scheme, under which they can use these spaces for sports such as football, badminton and basketball for free or for a small fee.

The automated external defibrillators (AEDs), designed to be more user-friendly, will be available from next month at 89 fields and 60 indoor halls.

Another 50 dual-use school fields will be equipped with the AEDs in phases after April.

The SSC also installed AEDs at 17 other sports and recreation centres recently.

The AED is a small portable electrical device that analyses cardiac rhythms and treats patients by applying an electrical shock.

Users are guided through the emergency resuscitation process with audio and visual instructions which show them how to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as well as how to operate the AED.

The model used by the SSC will have voice prompts that will alert the user if he is not pushing hard enough during CPR, while a metronome will help users apply compressions at the correct rate.

More help for businesses to be pro-family

Channel NewsAsia, 25 Mar 2013

Businesses will receive greater support in creating a family-friendly environment for their customers. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has launched a new three-year, S$4 million FamilyMatters@Business grant.

Effective April 1, the new grant will replace the current S$2.8 million Businesses for Families grant.

The FamilyMatters@Business Grant was first announced by Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Mr Chan Chun Sing at the recent Committee of Supply debate. It will help businesses defray costs incurred in creating a more welcoming environment for families.

Supportable costs include infrastructure development, staff training and business process re-engineering.

The new grant will also provide better support to businesses. Those with more than one outlet will be able to claim up to 70 per cent of actual project cost, capped at S$100,000. This is a 25 per cent increase from the existing S$80,000 cap.

In addition, businesses can apply for the grant a second time after a five-year break, compared to the previous one-off grant.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

MediShield may cover big outpatient expenses

Review also considering extension of Medisave use for home hospice care
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2013

THE scope of both medical insurance and medical savings will likely be expanded under the current review of how health care is to be financed.

MediShield, the national medical insurance, might be expanded to cover expensive out-of-hospital treatments, revealed Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, while Medisave might cover the cost of home hospice care.

MediShield now covers only large hospital bills, as well as outpatient treatments for cancer, kidney failure and organ transplant.

Said Mr Gan: "We are seriously considering moving MediShield beyond hospitals, for example, to cover expensive outpatient treatments."

He did not specify the treatment types being looked at. But costlier outpatient treatments could be for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr Gan was speaking on the sidelines of a health-care financing dialogue organised by REACH, the Government's feedback unit. It comes after last month's announcement that the Ministry of Health (MOH) is doing a thorough review of health-care financing.

About 100 people turned up at the Health Promotion Board for the dialogue, which lasted almost an hour longer than the 1 1/2 hours planned, because of the large number who wanted to be heard. Many wanted Medisave to be freed up for many different uses.

Monday 25 March 2013

Our Singapore Conversation dialogues 'have influenced policymaking': Heng Swee Keat

Minister says public engagement exercise prompted initiatives unveiled in Budget
By Rachel Chang, The Sunday Times, 24 Mar 2013

To those who dismiss the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise as a wayang, a talkshop or a sideshow, the minister guiding it, Mr Heng Swee Keat, points to the recently passed Budget as evidence that it is already having an impact on policymaking.

The mass public engagement exercise through citizen dialogues has been under way for five months and has already changed the way policies are being shaped and prompted a slew of initiatives unveiled in the 2013 Budget, said Mr Heng.

From a wage credit scheme to boost pay to the introduction of government-run kindergartens, these were linked by the goal of meeting common aspirations that have emerged from the exercise.

The dialogues have provided no less than a new philosophical underpinning for cross-government efforts, he said.

For example, one of the 12 common aspirations to emerge from the sessions - termed "Citizens' Perspectives" - is to have a society that takes care of its disadvantaged.

It is this goal that links recent policy directions across ministries, "whether it's in education where I spoke about levelling up, or in the specific assistance schemes that the Ministry of Social and Family Development will put up, or in the way that the Ministry of Manpower reviews this wage credit scheme", he said.

His interview with The Sunday Times ranged from the political and social changes emerging from the OSC exercise to how communication of the controversial Population White Paper stacked up - poorly, he freely admitted.

But he was clearly proud of its efforts so far.

The well-received Budget 2013 is the biggest example of how the many conversations so far - with the Government listening in - have already "permeated policymaking".

"There's absolutely no reason to be cynical," he said. "It has shaped the drift of policy and provided a backdrop to the changes we are seeing."

Pilot scheme to tap trained-but-not-practising social workers

By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 23 Mar 2013

A new scheme aims to help plug manpower gaps in the medical social services sector, while hoping to draw social workers who have left back into the fold.

The Adjunct Social Worker Scheme is piloted by the Singapore Association of Social Workers and the Health Ministry.

Some 1,600 social workers and practitioners are registered with the Singapore Association of Social Workers.

But though they are trained, some no longer practise.

It is this group of people the association wants to tap to support manpower needs in nursing homes and hospices, which are in the intermediate and long-term care sector.

Alvin Chua, president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers, said: "This is important...because as an ageing population, we have greater needs in this area. But not a lot of social workers are actually finding employment in this area. 

"So, to actually plug the gap in employment, the association hopes to be a focal point whereby trained but untapped manpower - basically people who are trained social workers but not in full-time employment...(who) want to do part-time work - ...can come to the association and we would be able to match them with agencies that are in need of these manpower needs."

Why waste so much if we love food?

By Tom Benner, Published The Sunday Times, 24 Mar 2013

Singaporeans tossed out some 675 million kilos of food in 2011, according to the National Environment Agency, a vast amount that exposes the casual attitudes and habits of living in a food paradise and land of plenty.

This may seem surprising for Singapore, a small island that imports most of what is consumed. Singaporeans are second to none in their love of food, yet one routinely sees unfinished plates getting scraped into rubbish bins, from hawker centres to high-end restaurants and catered affairs.

It is not just a Singapore problem; it is a part of a global problem of growing proportions.

Food loss and food waste occur at alarming rates - about one-third of all the food produced for human consumption, some 1.3 billion tonnes of food worth around US$1 trillion (S$1.25 trillion) - is lost or wasted each year. At the same time, world food demand grows; about one billion people are undernourished globally.

Food loss typically happens in the way food is harvested, transported, processed and stored. One example: Staggering amounts of rice are lost to substandard farm storage facilities vulnerable to pest infestation and moisture.

Food waste typically happens at the retail and consumer end. Fruit and vegetables that don't meet overly strict cosmetic standards - so-called "funny fruit" or "ugly produce" - are rejected by major supermarkets and thrown away. Household refrigerators are stuffed with forgotten, perishable groceries. Many people confuse "best-before" and "use-by" date stamps on food products. Restaurant meals and banquet fare go unfinished or untouched.

It is an economic issue, an environmental issue and a moral issue.

Sunday 24 March 2013

True price of free benefits

Next generation will have to pay bill for anything that's given away now
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2013

THIS month, we were all given a live demonstration of the difference between free and merely cheap - with the whole thing played out over meatballs and McMuffins.

It started on March 7, when furniture retailer Ikea announced the return of its Swedish meatballs after the horse meat scare by selling them at a heavily discounted price of 10 cents each.

Then on Monday, McDonald's went one better and gave away free Egg McMuffins as part of what it called "National Breakfast Day".

Both promotions predictably drew large crowds and typical kiasu behaviour, but it was clear that the crowd hankering for free burgers were a more motivated bunch. Lines built up right from the start of the giveaway at 5am, with some reportedly pulling all-nighters to make sure they were up in time to snag a free burger. At least one person zipped from outlet to outlet to try to get as many free ones as he could.

The craze at Ikea was relatively - only relatively - more subdued. The lines did not build up until a far more reasonable time of 11am, 11/2 hours after Ikea opened.

The two promotions showed not just the tremendous appetite Singaporeans have for a good deal but also how powerful the lure of "free" can be.

It also served to reinforce the argument that underpins the Government's long-held reluctance to give things away for free - that free things encourage over-consumption.

Saturday 23 March 2013

Sting video claim about Singapore is false

Video alleging corruption by Sarawak chief minister goes viral in Malaysia
By Magdalen Ng And Teo Cheng Wee, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2013

A CONTROVERSIAL video alleging corruption on the part of the Sarawak chief minister and his family and that they hide their illicit gains in Singapore drew a strong response from the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Finance Ministry last night.

The 16-minute "sting video" which has been circulated widely online in Malaysia since it appeared on Monday, also alleges Singapore does not share financial information with Malaysia.

Calling that allegation false, the Singapore Government said Singapore has provided full information requested by Malaysia for tax purposes and the two countries have had a good working relationship on tax matters.

"The allegation is simply false," it said. "Contrary to what was claimed in the video, Singapore has to date provided fully the information requested by Malaysia for tax purposes."

In addition, it said Singapore has designated a wide range of crimes as predicate offences to money laundering - including corruption, bribery and fraud.

"Singapore therefore has been and remains able to provide mutual legal assistance to the fullest extent permitted under our laws where there are requests from Malaysia," it said in a statement.

The central bank and ministry were responding to queries about the video clip which alleges that Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, a senior leader of Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, was involved in corruption.

What we can do to clean up our act

Will you clear your own food tray at the foodcourt? There's a limit to raising productivity to lower the demand for foreign workers. It would be far more efficient - and quicker - if we Singaporeans learn to do more tasks ourselves.
By Ivan Png, Published The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2013

SINCE Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the Government's 2013 Budget, Singaporeans have engaged in an intense debate about productivity and our stubborn reliance on foreign workers.

Businesses have been exhorted to automate, using machines and information technology (IT) to help workers do more in the same time. Even more has been said about foreign worker quotas, dependency ratios, and levies.

However, the discussion seems to have mostly overlooked the role of Singaporeans in reducing the need for foreign workers.

One way is for Singaporeans to perform the work, such as construction and cleaning, that we supposedly refuse, but which people in Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand - with no easy supply of cheap foreign workers - all do. But, I'll leave that discussion for another day.

The other way to reduce the need for foreign workers is to change our habits and choices.

Let me elaborate in the context of two lines of work - gardening and cleaning.

'Cut frills' to keep HDB flat prices down

Instead of copying condos, allow for bigger flat area to plan homes: Ex-HDB chief
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2013

PUBLIC housing flats can be kept affordable by offering them with minimum frills, rather than by trying to emulate condominiums, a former Housing Board chief said yesterday.

Mr Liu Thai Ker stressed that at the same time, owners should be given as much floor area as possible so that they have more leeway to organise their homes. The 74-year-old, a former HDB chief architect and chief executive officer, said: "The HDB's role is to provide the stage and it's up to the inhabitants to provide the drama."

Mr Liu was speaking to reporters after giving a talk at the Ministry of National Development headquarters covering his 20-year career with the HDB, which he left in 1989 after overseeing the development of 24 new towns and more than half a million HDB homes. In his talk, he added that beauty could still be created by playing around with the proportions and the colours of HDB blocks.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has promised to bring down the prices of flats in non-mature estates to four times the annual household median income of its applicants. Last year, prices were about 51/2 times the annual household median income.

Among the suggestions floated by Mr Khaw is to have longer occupancy periods for new owners, shorter leases and even selling new flats back to HDB.

When political vision flows clear

TODAY, 22 Mar 2013

It wasn’t until 2006 that the story of the Singapore water miracle was brought to the world’s attention, by two experts on the other side of the world.

Professor Asit Biswas and Dr Cecilia Tortajada of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico were preparing 20 case studies on water management for the United Nations Development Programme.

As they were deciding which to shortlist, they pored over the data they had requested from the PUB’s Chief Executive. And what they learnt astounded them — the tiny island-state of Singapore had one of the best urban water and wastewater management records in the world.

Not only did their published study make known widely Singapore’s achievements, the pair also nominated the PUB for the sector’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize — the Stockholm Water Industry Award — which it won in 2007.

Thus began the close collaboration of Dr Tortajada and Prof Biswas — one of the world’s leading authorities on water and environmental management and recipient of the 2006 Stockholm Water Prize — with Singapore.

Their research culminates in the book, The Singapore Water Story, being launched today.

A recurrent key theme of the book is the political leadership, will and system behind the success of the story. Indeed, the authors interviewed former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew over two sessions.

Prof Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and Dr Tortajada, President of the Third World Centre for Water Management, tell TODAY more.

Friday 22 March 2013

Investor confidence 'key to keeping Singapore miracle alive': Lee Kuan Yew at Standard Chartered Singapore Forum

Mr Lee says nation must continue to have strong institutions, sound policies
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2013

THE key to keeping the Singapore miracle alive is retaining investors' confidence, said former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at a business forum yesterday.

To do so, Singapore must continue to have strong institutions, sound government policies and an open trading environment, he said. He also believes that Singapore will continue to play a leading role in South-east Asia for some time to come.

Mr Lee, 89, attending his first speaking engagement since he was hospitalised last month for an irregular heartbeat, addressed an audience of some 600 business professionals at the Standard Chartered Singapore Forum.

He shared his views on population, economic growth and global affairs for over an hour.

He was joined onstage at the Shangri-La Hotel ballroom by his long-time friend and former United States Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, and Standard Chartered group chief executive Peter Sands.

S’poreans happiest people in Asia

Channel NewsAsia, 19 Mar 2013

Singaporeans appear to be the happiest people in Asia, going by what they are saying on social media.

According to the Asia Happiness Index 2013 of Eden Strategy Institute, a social innovation player, Singapore is ranked first among five countries in the region.

It has an index score of 518, followed by Malaysia with 245.

The Philippines is third with a score of 90, followed by India 29, and Indonesia 11.

The index covers over 200 million social media accounts.

Untidy memories for a loveable Singapore

By Liew Kai Khiun, Published TODAY, 21 Mar 2013

Coming after a fortnight dominated by heavily-charged debates on immigration, cost of living and transportation, the announcement in Parliament last Friday that Singaporeans and permanent residents will get year-round free entry to all national museums and heritage institutions from May 18 must have been a pleasant breath of fresh air.

Aside from the lifting of these already heavily-subsidised charges, other heritage-related measures rolled out by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth last week are not entirely unprecedented — they are part of the continuous commitment of the Government to strengthen its heritage infrastructure.

But there has been greater change in recent years, and it is more than just an increased public interest in Singapore’s past. Discussions on heritage issues are also gaining greater complexity, be it over physical historical markers such as monuments and museum exhibits, or the intangibles of memory and reminiscence linked to the core questions of identity and belonging.

When I started my involvement with the Singapore Heritage Society more than a decade ago, the discussions of such themes were mainly confined to academic and literary circles and were thought to be too abstract for the larger public.

Today, with constant references to a more ciphered past in official speeches and Singaporeans’ personal Facebook pages and blogs — in the form of words, pictures, maps, specific places and even traditional hawker foods — Singapore is indeed witnessing a heritage turn.

Giving free access to museums is perhaps the most visible indication of the Government’s response to this trend.

Low rents alone won't offer recipe for success

Some hawkers are having a tough time keeping their stalls going
By Sabrina Tiong And Cheng Jingjie, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2013

WHEN a minimum bid policy for food centre stalls was scrapped a year ago, many hawker-hopefuls such as Mr Panneerselvam Dharmarajan saw their chance.

The 38-year-old bid $121 a month for a place in Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, after hearing about how others there had won tenders for just $21. The minimum bid for some stalls in the area used to be $599, according to another hawker.

But after running his Indian food stall for nearly four months, Mr Dharmarajan and others like him have realised that it takes more than just low rent to run a lucrative business. A good location and sufficient manpower are also crucial ingredients.

He has enough customers to break even, but he cannot serve them efficiently as there is only his uncle to help him man the stall. "If I am unable to employ more people, I might not be able to survive and might have to close down," said Mr Dharmarajan, who opens his stall from 4pm to 1am, when the food centre is most crowded.

The minimum bid requirement was scrapped to lower costs for would-be hawkers. Figures from the National Environment Agency (NEA) revealed that from the time the new policy kicked in last March until December, 112 cooked food stalls were awarded tenders, with 59 of them below the previous reserve rent.

But 13 of the 59 stalls were returned within six months of opening.