Tuesday 30 April 2013

NEA gets tough in fighting dengue

It will take faster action against uncooperative residents in hot spots
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2013

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) will break into homes in dengue hot spots after waiting just a week, instead of two, for residents to allow them in.

"This is about life and death," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, asking for understanding as Singapore grapples with what is expected to be its worst dengue epidemic.

So far this year, the NEA has forcibly entered three homes - two of which were vacant - with the aid of a locksmith in the Tampines area where the epidemic is raging. Mosquitoes were found breeding in them. There is one cluster in Tampines with 126 victims, with 34 in just one block of flats.

"We are facing a full-blown epidemic and it's going to grow," said Dr Balakrishnan, whose ministry is in charge of preventing the breeding of mosquitoes.

"We fear it's going to be Singapore's worst epidemic...possibly with more than 1,000 infections a week at its peak."

He warned it is only a matter of time before the epidemic, currently centred in the east, moves across the island. NEA has found more Aedes mosquitoes in the west compared to previous years.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong led ministers, MPs and 30,000 grassroots leaders in a door-to-door campaign across the nation to raise awareness of the dangers of dengue and to get everyone to cooperate in eradicating mosquito breeding.

They will advise people to check pails and vases regularly, use insect repellent and wear long-sleeved tops and pants to avoid being bitten.

In the first 15 weeks of the year, NEA has found 5,347 breeding spots, mostly in homes. In launching the national Mozzie Wipeout campaign in Ang Mo Kio, Mr Lee said: "We're trying to do it nationwide, all the estates, all the towns, all the homes, over this weekend and the next few weekends, to try to break the chains of mosquitoes breeding.

"If we can cut down the mosquitoes, then I think we can cut down the dengue fever cases this year."

The idea is to get the whole nation mobilised because without the mosquito as an intermediary, dengue cannot spread.

Singapore is facing a huge epidemic, with more than 5,200 people infected so far this year, compared to 4,632 cases for the whole of last year.

No to exploiting NGOs, VWOs for political ends

MARUAH president Braema Mathi asks if government MPs serving on the boards of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) are not deriving political benefit from their associations ("What's the stand on politicians serving in NGOs and VWOs?"; last Saturday).

She further asks if the rules are the same for government MPs and for people associated with opposition politics - like Mr Nizam Ismail who recently resigned from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP).

The rules are indeed the same for all. The Government supports many NGOs and VWOs. Government MPs who serve with them, as well as everybody else, must be clear that their role is to help achieve the particular social, cultural or educational goals of these bodies, and not to exploit these bodies for their own political ends.

The Government has been supporting AMP since 1990. It will continue to do so, so long as AMP remains focused on uplifting the Malay community.

But government support for AMP - or any other NGO - must cease if it lets itself be misused to advance the political interests of any group or individual. That was why back in 2000, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told AMP that he strongly opposed its proposal of a "collective leadership" comprising Malay leaders chosen exclusively by the community itself.

As Mr Goh noted, this proposal showed an "ambition" among some to push AMP into the political arena.

AMP leaders reconsidered the matter and dropped the proposal. Most among them realised the dangers of a community organisation morphing into an ethnic-based political entity and the risks of politics based on race and religion.

If any ethnic community were to organise itself politically, other communities would respond in kind. This would pull our different communities apart and destroy our racial harmony.

Tan Chuan-Jin: A labour of purpose

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin believes in having the right purpose and values in his work and personal life.
By Wong Wei Kong, The Business Times, 27 Apr 2013

HE WRITES about the model plane that he would never finish, about the anxiety of sending a child away on a school trip for the first time, and of joining the army instead of reading law. He worries about the erosion of values, fears for how Singapore society would evolve and reminisces fondly about his childhood days on his Chopper bicycle in Ghim Moh. And at Easter, he wrote about death.

The posting on his Facebook page read: "Of the many things in life, nothing quite focuses one's mind than the thought of our impending death. What would you do if this was the last day of your life? Or your last month? Or year? Perhaps these are the moments when we remember again what really matters. And who really matters. And pause to think about the way we live and the way we treat others."

There's clearly another side to the man who has the unenviable task of reforming Singapore's labour force and weaning the country from its dependence on foreign workers. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin finds himself in the hot seat - critics charge the government with raising business costs and risking growth by curbing the use of foreign labour; others say it is not moving aggressively enough to give jobs back to Singaporeans.

It calls for strong persuasion and sometimes tough action, but the man behind this is highly contemplative about what he has been called to do. It's evident - from reading what he writes and talking to him - that he believes that getting the job done is more than just crafting policies and implementing them. It's also about finding purpose and meaning, and trying to get the balance right, in policy making, in dealing with people and in one's own personal life.

Parents need to change mindsets about pre-school: Indranee Rajah

Indranee Rajah says current model lets children learn through experience and play
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 29 Apr 2013

The Ministry of Education (MOE) might have answered long-standing calls by making its foray into the pre-school sector but much work remains to be done — not least changing parents’ mindsets about what pre-school education should be like and, in the case of some lower-income families, convincing them of its importance, as Senior Minister of State (Education and Law) Indranee Rajah noted.

Speaking to TODAY last Friday in an interview, Ms Indranee revealed that after the ministry unveiled an updated kindergarten curriculum framework in February — which emphasises learning through play — parents have been asking why it is “so light” and why it does not include “more homework”.

“Parents who ask those questions or have the views still adhere to the older way of looking at pre-school education as homework, homework and more homework. Whereas the current way of thinking is really about letting the child learn through experience (and) play,” she said.

Ms Indranee cited an example of what she saw at a pre-school: A child was first given small pebbles to line against a string. These pebbles were then taken away and the child is asked to repeat the exercise with bigger pebbles. “On the face of it, it does not look like you are teaching the child anything deeply profound but what you are teaching the child is … different units of measurements — the child can understand that the same length can be measured in small units and big units. That lays the ground work for centimetres and inches,” she said.

Then there is another group of parents who might not understand the importance of pre-school education. Ms Indranee noted that these parents are usually from lower income households who are not fully aware of the role of preschool education in a child’s development and to prepare a child for Primary 1.

Is a career as a full-time athlete feasible?

By May Chen, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2013

AS A sporting nation, Singapore has made considerable strides in the past decade.

Despite its small population of about five million, the Republic has managed to produce world-beaters and regional champions across a variety of sports.

Sailors alone have accounted for at least 19 world titles since 2004. Other sports, such as bowling and shooting, have also produced winners on the global stage.

The nation's sporting triumphs peaked at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when Feng Tianwei and Co clinched a table tennis team silver to end Singapore's 48-year medal drought at the Games.

The same team then toppled powerhouse China in the final of the World Team Championships in Moscow two years later.

Yet, one aspect of Singapore sport is largely unchanged: The vast majority of local athletes remain amateurs, with few willing to commit to a full-time career.

Out of some 1,000 athletes carded by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) yearly, only a handful are full-time sportsmen. The bulk are students and working adults who split their time between studies or work, and training.

This, despite the slew of initiatives that the Government has introduced over 20 years - the most recent being the revised High Performance Sports (HPS) system - in a bid to encourage more athletes to consider sport as a full-time career.

But why are so few willing to take a leap of faith?

Money is arguably the most significant factor.

Tan Chio Lin: The boy who couldn't go to school

...went on to marry the girl who worked at the bookshop. Together, they raised three children who went on to win nine scholarships and grants for their higher education. Today, one is a fund manager, one a musician and one an artist. A Singaporean family tells its success story.
By Tan Chin Hwee & Tan Kai Syng, Published The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2013

FIRST, there was the boy who couldn't go to school.

Tan Chio Lin began school at age 10. He was a jovial and mischievous boy who loved playing pranks. Seven years later, he left school with no qualifications.

You may think that is the end of the story for this boy. You are wrong.

In fact, it is the beginning.

Tan, born in 1937 in Singapore, was given away as a baby to a family in Johor in Malaysia.

There, his life was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation. He had to give up studies to work when his foster parents died. Yet, or because of the adversity, Tan was insatiable when it came to learning and life in general. He loved reading, writing, thinking, imagining and singing. He turned strangers into friends, mastering English, Chinese and Malay along the way. He liked to watch sport, play sport and play the fool. He cracked jokes and whistled a mean tune.

He was passionate and serious about what he was interested in, and worked hard, head down, to become successful in it. He was steadfast - a classic bull, who would push and stretch himself and give his all once he was set on doing something.

Monday 29 April 2013

Singapore Shiok: Authentically Singapore

Editorial, The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013

Singapore Shiok, the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest international marketing video, would either charm or baffle potential visitors, like the local interjection "shiok". To doubters, the big-bang attractions have a better chance of wooing tourists. The high-end glitzy part of Singapore, which includes the two integrated resorts, the annual F1 night race and the luxury shopping malls, should certainly remain headliners. 

But mega attractions, improved air links and the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) industry are being milked by other regional cosmopolitan cities too. Examples of the keen tussle for big spenders include plans by Macau and South Korea for new integrated resorts, an F1 night street race by 2015 being planned by Bangkok, and Universal Studios' opening in South Korea and Shanghai soon. Such competition and a tight labour market will lead to slower tourism growth here over the next 10 years.

Improve system of meritocracy to ensure it continues to benefit society: ESM Goh

By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Apr 2013

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said Singapore should try to improve its system of meritocracy to ensure that it continues to benefit society, and this means showing compassion, even while meritocracy is at work.

Mr Goh said this is especially since meritocracy seems to have taken on some negative connotations of late.

These include growing income inequality, which Mr Goh noted has created resentment, envy and competition in schools, which has resulted in stress for parents and children.

He said some who have not done as well see meritocracy as a system that benefits those with resources and one which impairs their social mobility.

Mr Goh said he understood why it is difficult for some to be enthusiastic about the system, which they think has not benefited them the same way as others.

He said: "We do not want a society whose citizens seek to advance their own interests without a care for others, or worse, at the expense of others. I call this ‘selfish meritocracy’. It is up to those of us who can, to reach back and help those behind to climb the ladder with us, and not to pull up the ladder behind us. Those who have risen to the top owe the greatest responsibility to help the weaker in society. A ‘compassionate meritocracy’ can help us build a resilient and inclusive society. A ‘selfish meritocracy’ will divide us and ruin our society.”

Mr Goh was speaking at Ain Society's charity dinner on Saturday evening.

He said the society is an example of "compassionate meritocracy" at work.

Look ahead to 10 million people by 2100?: Liu Thai Ker

Former chief planner Liu Thai Ker says a better living environment is possible even with high density
By Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013

Singapore should look beyond 2030 and plan for a more distant future - perhaps even one with 10 million people, former chief planner Liu Thai Ker said at a public forum yesterday.

"The world doesn't end in 2030, and population growth doesn't end at 6.9 million," he said, referring to the planning parameter in the Government's White Paper on Population.

Singapore could do well to look ahead, perhaps to 2100 when it might have a population of 10 million, he suggested.

Mr Liu was one of five speakers at a forum organised by the Singapore Institute of Planners (SIP) and co-hosted by the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture, on the topic of planning for 2030.

Mr Liu, who used to head the Housing Board, argued that population growth is necessary for economic growth. And since Singapore's land area is essentially fixed, higher density is thus inevitable.

But he was optimistic that "high density and a better living environment are mutually compatible". Liveability can be preserved with adequate amenities, buffers of greenery, and alternating denser and less dense areas.

New guides for real estate industry to safeguard consumer interests

Singaporeans can expect more information and clarity in the real estate industry with the launch of two new guides.
By Tan Qiuyi and Ng Lian Cheong, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Apr 2013

New rules will be implemented for the real estate industry.

From 1 June 2013, the practice of collecting "blank" cheques from property buyers will come with tighter safeguards.

The practice is often used to book private properties before they are launched.

Property agents will no longer be allowed to collect cheques unless there is a request in writing from the developer directly to the agent.

Any issued cheques must be crossed and made out in the name of a payee, like the developer or the project account. It should also come with an authorisation letter setting out clear terms to safeguard the buyer's interests.

Many industry players say the practice of collecting cheques, including "blank" ones, in the private property market have many grey areas and differing perceptions.

With tighter controls kicking in, many say it will reduce impulse buying.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Govt loses "hundreds of millions" of dollars building public flats: Our Singapore Conversation on Housing

By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Apr 2013

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has said the government loses "hundreds of millions" of dollars when constructing public flats.

He made the point on Thursday night at a dialogue session on housing issues.

This comes amid calls from some quarters for land costs to be taken out from the pricing of public flats to make them more affordable.

Mr Khaw also hinted at several other changes to come, such as subsidies for executive condominiums.

During the national conversation session on housing issues, many were concerned about the affordability of home prices.

Evalyn Khoo, a mother of two, said: “I'm concerned about the home asset value. I'm also concerned about how the younger generation can actually afford a house for themselves in the future."

Participant Philip Lee said: “I think in the past three years or so, there has been more anxiety in the market because even Singaporeans couldn't get properties through the Build-To-Order (scheme) and they have to resort to the resale market and I think if there is sufficient supply channelled to BTO, we may see more happy Singaporeans and possibly less demand in the resale market and hopefully the prices will be within range."

With regard to calls for price of new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats to be de-linked from land costs, Mr Khaw said it may be politically easy to say land is free because it belongs to everybody, but that is not the case.

He said the price of land is tied to acquisition costs, reclamation and the building of infrastructure around it.

Mr Khaw said: "You need to acquire a piece of land; you need to reclaim a piece of land. All those costs money to taxpayers and we are just trustees of taxpayers and those costs are to be accounted for. And even when you have got that land prepared, land is only valuable when we invest in infrastructure, roads, MRT... And all those costs billions of dollars. So to say that land cost is a pittance and therefore should be excluded from total construction costs… I myself think it is not quite an appropriate argument.”

He also revealed that the Housing and Development Board, which is the developer for public housing, is losing money for every flat it sells.

He said: “Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars of losses were incurred by the HDB and that's why MOF (Ministry of Finance) has to give the HDB an annual grant, otherwise the HDB will be in the red. It cannot be forever in the red, because there's no way it can make money. Because every unit that we sell, we lose money, HDB loses money. The accounting for the HDB is deficit accounting. So if you incur a S$300-million loss, there is a grant of S$300 million that covers it. That is how we operate the HDB.

Let us not perpetuate this talk about HDB is making money out of building houses because if it was so simple, life would be straightforward, but that's not the case.”

The HDB pays market rate for its land and construction costs. When it prices flats below market rate, it incurs a housing deficit.

A recent report said the deficit is now in the region of about S$1 billion a year, including other costs such as upgrading.

Advocacy groups exploiting SMRT bus drivers' case, says Govt

By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2013

THE Government yesterday said that several advocacy groups and individuals pressing the case of two former SMRT bus drivers were exploiting the foreigners for their own political purposes.

"In the guise of protecting vulnerable foreign workers, the NGOs and individuals have in fact exploited them for their own political ends," said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a joint statement.

The strongly worded statement was in reply to a statement made by the groups earlier in the day. The groups comprised Maruah, Project X and Think Centre and six individuals.

In their statement, the groups said it was "not right" for the MHA to suggest that the claims of police abuse made by Chinese nationals He Junling, 32, and Liu Xiangying, 33, were baseless.

The MHA had said last Saturday that the drivers had ample opportunities to raise their complaints either during or after investigations. The pair, who were jailed for instigating other SMRT drivers to strike last November, claimed that they were slapped, punched and threatened in custody. Both have served their time and have been deported to China.

But yesterday, the advocacy groups and individuals rejected the Government's explanations.

All get a shot at success

Singapore should become a continuous meritocracy, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in a recent interview. Elgin Toh explores what it means and what it would take to make that transition.
The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2013

TWENTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD Lionel Louis readily agrees it was an isolated incident. But it grated all the same.

Shortly after starting his dream career in the civil service, he was bypassed for an assignment he believed he was well-equipped to undertake.

Did it have anything to do with his background as a former Normal (Technical) and ITE student, he wondered at the time. Many of his peers had gone through the more conventional junior college-university route.

"I have to emphasise that I've been treated very fairly on the whole," said Mr Louis, now in his third year in the service, and who has a degree from Curtin University.

"But in that instance, there may have been an assumption that the task shouldn't be assigned to somebody who was not of a certain background."

He added: "It reminded me that I had to work harder to prove such assumptions wrong."

Incidents like this - possible workplace bias over what school you went to - are, by nature, exceedingly difficult to prove.

If they are true and, indeed, widespread, they raise questions about whether Singapore can claim that its meritocratic system, built up over decades, is in good working order.

After all, if the assessment of merit and ability is frozen at a certain age, where are the incentive and the opportunity to better your lot?

In an interview with The Straits Times earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam alluded to such doubts when he said the present meritocratic system needed to "evolve".

"We've got to be a continuous meritocracy where it doesn't matter so much what happened when you were in Sec 4 or JC 2 or when you finished your poly or ITE, but what happens after that," he said.

"Regardless of where you start we have to recognise what you have achieved to develop mastery in what you are doing."

To what extent has Singapore's meritocracy become "discontinuous"? Why and how did it happen? And what steps can be taken to confront the apparent ailment?

Insight spoke to observers and analysts for some answers.

Social welfare - essential building block of a nation

By Ho Chi Tim, Published The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2013

THE recent formation of the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the leaner-looking successor to the former Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, brings a sharper focus on family issues, social services and social safety nets - in other words, the welfare of Singapore society.

Government concern for society's well-being is not new.

For Singapore, this started during the British colonial period with the introduction of an empire-wide Colonial Development and Welfare Act in 1940.

Moral concerns about the imperial neglect of colonised peoples were exacerbated by the Great Depression of the 1930s, accusations of colonial maladministration and wartime anxiety over imperial unity. The Act marked a fundamental break from earlier laissez-faire colonial governance.

It envisioned colonial governments proactively improving society's well-being, using British resources to implement social services such as education, health care, housing and welfare.

The fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942 heightened British insecurities. As defeat was partly blamed on inherent divisions within the colony's plural society, one solution was a unified government to foster unity among diverse communities.

Social welfare as a government function was part of such forward thinking. This was consistent with Britain's own move towards a welfare state. In late 1942, economist William Beveridge unveiled his plan to reform Britain's social welfare system by unifying existing social insurance schemes and related services. The Beveridge Plan became a promise of a fair and just post-war society, where burdens and risks would be shared and the right to economic welfare and security would be recognised.

Immediately after the war, the British Military Administration (BMA) convened a Pan-Malayan Welfare Council, from which regional executive committees were established. The Singapore Executive, as the latter came to be called, included government and voluntary organisations. It started a free child-feeding scheme and drew up plans for youth clubs and the earliest version of the Juvenile Court.

For the first time in Singapore's history, the colonial government was doling out cash directly to the destitute, the unemployed and others recovering from the Japanese Occupation.

Govt says 'yes' to all recommendations of animal welfare panel

It will work with AVA to roll out the proposals in phases
By David Ee And Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2013

THE National Development Ministry yesterday accepted wholesale the recommendations made by an expert panel to better protect animals here, in what it called "a significant step towards improving animal welfare".

The last major review of animal welfare legislation was in 2002. In a statement, the ministry called the move "timely and essential", but also noted the need to balance diverse views in society.

The Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee proposed 24 measures in a report last month after a year-long study, including heftier fines and longer jail terms for animal abusers and mandatory pre-sale screening of pet buyers, who must be aged 16 and above.

The pet industry has also committed to raising its own standards, a development which committee chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said was key. The Pet Enterprises and Traders Association of Singapore (Petas) will lead an accreditation scheme for pet farms, shops and groomers.

The ministry said it will work with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to roll out the recommendations in phases. Mr Yeo told The Straits Times that he aims to table a draft Bill in Parliament by November.

This comes against the backdrop of heightened animal welfare concerns. There were 1,426 reported cases of animal abuse in 2011, up from 1,162 in 2007.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Lessons from S'pore's success story

The global economy is not out of the woods yet. Quantitative easing could cause inflation and competitive devaluations, slowing world trade. What factors help determine a country's success in a globalised world where wealth and welfare increasingly converge?
By Richard Lambert, Published The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2013

BACK in the 1980s, the epicentre of the world's financial shocks lay in the countries of Latin America.

In the late 1990s, it was Asia's turn for big trouble.

In the past five years, though, the earthquake mainly hit the developed countries of Western Europe and the United States, and their economies have still not recovered from its impact. The emerging markets have emerged relatively unscathed and have turned into the main engine of global growth.

This process of convergence truly is something new. But is the great convergence sustainable?

Professor Kishore Mahbubani is convinced that it is. He writes (in his new book The Great Convergence): "The great convergence that our world is experiencing is now irreversible. Too many forces have been unleashed to shrink the world. They will only gain momentum in the coming decades. And if we look at our lives carefully, no matter where we live, we can clearly begin to see that our lives are being affected daily by events or decisions made all over the planet."

Among other things, he cites the global reach of social networks and the vast increases in connectivity between and within different countries. He talks about the way the financial system has become integrated across the globe so that trouble on Wall Street is instantly here reflected in Singapore. He discusses the way in which students are studying in different institutions around the world, sharing ideas and values. His list goes on.

Other writers take a different view. For example, Mr Ruchir Sharma argues in his book, Breakout Nations, that "scores of 'emerging' nations have been emerging for many decades now. They have failed to gain any momentum for sustained growth, or their progress has begun to stall since they became middle income countries".

He gives many examples: Malaysia, which appeared on course to emerge as a rich nation until the financial meltdown of the late 1990s; the Philippines and Sri Lanka, which were billed as East Asian tigers back in the 1960s only to see their growth falter badly well before they reached middle-income levels. In short, he concludes glumly: "Failure to sustain growth is the general rule, and that rule is likely to reassert itself in the coming decade."

So who is right?

Into Temburong's jungles with SAF troops

By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong travelled to the jungles of Brunei yesterday to visit Singapore Armed Forces troops undergoing survival training in Temburong.

After a morning of meetings at the Asean summit in Brunei's capital Bandar Seri Begawan, Mr Lee flew by helicopter to Temburong, where he met about 60 officer cadets of the SAF's artillery formation.

They were on the fourth day of a 10-day jungle orientation training course.

Clad in a short-sleeved black polo T-shirt, he and his wife Ho Ching took an assault boat up Sungai Batu Apoi to watch four of the cadets do a river crossing with their weapons and packs.

Mr Lee, a former brigadier-general in the SAF, then chatted with the cadets, who told him that the terrain in Temburong was more undulating and thus tougher than that in Singapore's Mandai jungle.

The SAF has been using Temburong for training since 1977. Mr Lee first went there in 1982 and has visited the place every 10 years or so, the last time in 2003.

Asked about the importance of overseas training areas to the SAF, Mr Lee said Brunei "offers us something very special which we can't do in Singapore".

Soldiers gain a lot of confidence by training in Temburong because it is a challenging and physically demanding environment, he said.

"Psychologically, if you go through it, it gives you confidence that you've gone through the toughest training and you can make it," he added.

Balancing artistic freedom, public good

Censorship, the old blunt-tool way of controlling the public's exposure to taboo subjects and hate speech, needs to give way to a new mindset - regulating the 'regulable' - in the age of cyberspace.
By Arun Mahizhnan, Published The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2013

HOW good is government censorship for the good of the public?

Even liberal democracies have not disavowed censorship. When D.H. Lawrence's bestseller Lady Chatterley's Lover appeared in 1959, censors in the United States and Britain tried to get the book, whose central characters were a cuckolded man, his wife and her lover - the gamekeeper - banned.

In my time as a student, reading Lady Chatterley's Lover was the ultimate thrill as the book was banned in Singapore.

Both the US and British courts did allow Lady Chatterley's Lover on public bookshelves, albeit not from want of effort against it by the authorities. A young lawyer for the British government asked, "Is it a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?", completely oblivious to the irony of his question.

Censor's mortal fear

WHAT then about the segment Porn Masala in the local film Sex.Violence.FamilyValues, with which Ken Kwek made his directorial debut? That segment featured the Chinese character spewing racial slurs at the Indian character.

Kwek's sin is deemed more pernicious than moral corruption by licentious authors - he is on the verge of damaging racial harmony in Singapore. At least that is the mortal fear of the government censor.

And not the censor alone. The Films Consultative Panel made its own fear clear: 20 of the 24 present at the screening wanted it banned, a strong recommendation by what is considered community representation.

Still, the central question is: Are such scenes or films a major threat to racial harmony? Is this a reasonable fear?

Seah Kian Peng: Save, give, value all

FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng tells Susan Long his motto, his dream of making the supermarket chain a beloved Singapore icon and his challenge of balancing doing good and doing well.
The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2013

HE HAS never forgotten what it's like to be poor, to be that boy in school uniform a shrug too tight or threadbare trainers that skidded. He still remembers what it was like to choose between a bus ride or a meal. He still keeps a daily ledger on a spreadsheet to account for every cent he spends.

Over the past seven years, the Marine Parade GRC MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament has been a champion of the needy, from single mothers to abandoned elderly, in the House.

At work, he keeps a vigilant eye on the grocery bills of Singaporeans squeezed by rising prices. Mr Seah Kian Peng, 51, CEO of FairPrice, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, wants to make sure his supermarket chain, set up by the labour movement in 1973 to moderate living costs here, stays true to its value-for-money origins, even as it updates offerings and woos the better-heeled.

FairPrice has a team of 10 who trawl competitor stores weekly to do price checks on a basket of essential goods for the average household. "We do this so that we can confidently look you in the eye and say, overall, we are the cheapest," he lets on.

Layoffs up 10% with restructuring, more white-collar workers hit in 2012

Redundancy and Re-entry into Employment - 2012
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2013

MORE workers are being laid off as Singapore's effort to restructure the economy intensifies.

A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) report yesterday showed the number had risen 10 per cent last year from a year ago.

Among those asked to go are a disproportionately high number of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

But economists interviewed do not see any reason to be alarmed by the figures as layoffs remain low on the whole and are part of the restructuring process.

Last year, 11,010 workers lost their jobs, a 10 per cent rise from 9,990 workers the year before.

But as overall employment also went up, this meant 5.8 workers in every 1,000 were affected, up only slightly from 5.5 per 1,000 the year before.

Calling it "a very low number by historical standards", Barclays economist Joey Chew said the labour market remains very tight.

The MOM report said the rise reflects the impact of economic slowdown and restructuring.

It noted that restructuring of business processes for greater efficiency was the top reason for layoffs last year, accounting for 37 per cent. The next most common reason was poor business or business failure not due to recession.

But experts said layoffs were likely to mean only short-term frictional unemployment, as workers move across roles and sectors.

Friday 26 April 2013

Lack of global exposure, Gen Y staff among managers' top concerns

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2013

THE biggest obstacle in grooming Singaporeans to lead businesses is their lack of international exposure, according to top executives of multinational corporations (MNCs) at a human resource conference yesterday.

"MNCs need to connect with the rest of the world... and it's very challenging to find strong (Singaporean) leaders with a real international background," said Microsoft Singapore managing director Helene Auriol.

This gap in experience and dealing with Generation Y workers were top concerns expressed at a 45-minute panel discussion on Singapore's staffing challenges.

The session was part of the STJobs HR Summit held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. The two-day conference, at which more than 4,000 HR and business professionals are expected, ends today.

The five top executives on the panel said that while Singaporean hires are talented, many not only lack global exposure but also appear reluctant to overcome it.

When Singaporeans are faced with a different environment, "they just complain that it's different from Singapore", said Canon Singapore president and chief executive officer Kensaku Konishi.

But the head honchos are not giving up, saying they send potential Singaporean leaders on overseas stints to build their international experience.

For Mr Eric Teng, a bigger problem is dealing with an impatient younger generation.

Said the chief executive of property and hospitality at The Straits Trading Company: "If they want to quit, they quit."

In HK, at your service isn't just lip service

S'pore firms on trip to pick up pointers from retail industry
By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2013

SELLING clothes to shoppers?

No art to it, you may think.

Not true. Sales staff in Hong Kong are quick on their feet, and can differentiate between not just local and mainland customers but also those from southern and northern China.

Customer services - such as in suggesting clothing items - are tailored accordingly and a sale is snappily made.

Musing on such "adaptive services", Mr Kevin Khoo, retail director of FNA Group which runs the Cocoa Trees outlets in Singapore, says that such a principle should be adopted in its stores.

"For instance, we have outlets in the airport and in the city. Customers' behaviour differs - at the airport, they want quick service and information on government discounts; those in town want to be engaged more on their preferences. We should train our staff accordingly."

This was one of various takeaways for a 30-strong delegation of Singapore companies, here for a three-day trip organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The aim is to absorb lessons from Hong Kong's retail industry, known for its dynamism and high level of productivity.

It has been a push some time in the making, as Singapore tightens its tap on foreign workers.

Back in 2010, the Economic Strategies Committee report pointed out that Singapore's productivity in the retail sector is 75 per cent that of Hong Kong's.

A new study by economics lecturer Boon Lee at Queensland University of Technology, comparing labour productivity in both cities' retail sectors, found that from 2001 to 2008, Hong Kong's grew by 0.4 per cent while Singapore's actually fell - by 0.01 per cent.

On why this might be so, Dr Lee pointed to the increased numbers of low-skilled foreign workers in Singapore. Hong Kong, on the other hand, enjoyed higher levels of productivity growth from its skilled workforce, he added.

Hong Kong does not allow the hiring of non-local workers at technician or below levels, unless companies can demonstrate that they are unable to find residents at market-rate salaries.

But the problem is, Singaporeans do not want to work in the service industry, say the companies interviewed.

Hong Kong's parents raising 'spoiled brats', warns study

By Dennis Chong, South China Morning Post, 24 Apr 2013

"Monster" parents in Hong Kong are turning out a generation of spoiled brats who have an inflated view of their abilities and may resort to aggression to get ahead, a City University study warns.

Annis Fung, associate professor in the department of applied social studies, said Hong Kong children rated themselves a lot more highly than youngsters in the West - to an extent that some are at risk of developing disorders that could turn them into violent offenders.

"The city is at high risk as it is producing spoiled children who are overconfident about themselves," Fung said yesterday.

She tested 9,400 pupils with an average age of 11 using an antisocial process screening device (APSD) - a questionnaire that detects antisocial traits. The average level of narcissism displayed by youngsters in the city was 3.89 on a 14-point scale - higher than the 2.9 for children in the United States, 2.36 in the United Kingdom and 2.81 in Australia.

The test measures children's self-regard and their views of the outside world, as well as their means of achieving their desires.

Cenotaph vandalised with spray paint

By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2013

THE Cenotaph, the first military commemorative structure in Singapore honouring those who died in the two World Wars, was vandalised late on Tuesday night, according to some witnesses.

Located at Esplanade Park along Connaught Drive, the national monument was spray-painted with the word "democracy" in red with a big "X" under it. The "X" cancelled out the dates 1914 to 1918, which mark the period when World War I raged.

By noon yesterday, the markings had been removed by cleaners from the National Parks Board, although faint stains remained. NParks expects cleaning to be fully completed by today.

A contributor to citizen journalism website Stomp, by the name "deepsecret", said in a post that her fiance had chased after a man whom they spotted vandalising The Cenotaph at 11.15 that night.

She said the culprit was dressed in a dark blue hoodie and dark jeans, wearing headphones and carrying a backpack.

The Cenotaph was erected in 1920 to commemorate the 124 soldiers from Singapore who were lost in World War I. In 1950, an extension to commemorate those who died in World War II was added. It was gazetted as a national monument in 2010.

A better way to spend on healthcare

By Eric Finkelstein, Published TODAY, 24 Apr 2013

Singapore is in the midst of a major demographic transition that is forcing every ministry to rethink the way in which government programmes are to be delivered.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is no exception. It is now challenged with the task of determining how best to provide affordable healthcare to a growing population of older adults who, thanks to increasingly sedentary lifestyles and poor diets, are developing chronic diseases at rates not seen in generations past.

Moreover, due to advances in medical technology, these conditions are often treatable. As a result, even with rising rates of chronic disease, it is increasingly likely that older adults will die at an advanced age following a period of prolonged illness.

To compound this challenge, one of the many changes Singapore has seen over the past few decades are increased opportunities for women in the labour force: Today, 75 per cent of women aged 25 to 39 are working, which makes it increasingly difficult for children to take care of their aging and increasingly ailing parents, and they are looking to Government for help.

The MOH has recognised the current challenges and pledged to make significant changes, including doubling health spending in the coming years, with much of it targeting older adults.

This increase in spending is largely inevitable, but two important questions remain: First, how high should the Government be prepared to increase health spending, and second, how should that money be spent?

Health spending for 'peace of mind'

The Government wants to give patients "peace of mind" by increasing the state's share of the health-care bill. This is a change from past messages about keeping health-care spending down. What has caused this change?
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2013

TWENTY years ago, the White Paper on Affordable Healthcare in 1993 expounded personal responsibility for health care, with the state providing basic health needs for the poor.

In 1999, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Healthcare for the Elderly upheld that philosophy. It said: "Ultimately, every Singaporean is personally responsible for his own health and well being... Elderly persons should try to work for as long as possible... They need to have adequate financial resources to take care of their own health-care costs in old age."

Both papers stressed, however, that the Government will pick up the tab for basic medical treatments for the needy. Those who are better off - the middle income and the rich - are expected to take care of their own needs.

As recently as 2007, when then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced a $2 billion expansion in health-care infrastructure over 10 years, he took pains to stress that even though the Government will remain the largest payer for subsidised facilities, patients should expect their co-payment to go up as the total cost of health-care delivery goes up.

Peace of mind

BUT this mantra of personal responsibility appears to have been given a new twist recently. While still stressing personal responsibility for health and co-payment, the emphasis lately has been on giving people "peace of mind" on health-care bills as they age.

Perks for replacing old diesel vehicles

By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2013

A NEW scheme to encourage owners to replace their old diesel vehicles with newer and more environment-friendly models kicked off yesterday.

The Early Turnover Scheme will run till April 23 in 2015. It aims to incentivise owners to switch to commercial vehicles that meet the Euro 5 diesel standard, and reduce pollution.

Under the scheme, owners can deregister old diesel vehicles bought before January 2001 and register a replacement commercial vehicle by paying a discounted fee. They will not need to bid for a certificate of entitlement (COE) for a commercial vehicle.

In Parliament last month, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan noted existing old diesel vehicles remain a major source of pollution. He said there are about 38,000 old diesel commercial vehicles with pre-Euro or Euro 1 emissions standards bought before Jan 1, 2001.

Owners who opt to replace their old vehicles under the scheme will pay a discounted prevailing quota premium (PQP), which is a three-month moving average of the cost of COEs.

Owners can also transfer the unused period of COE from their existing vehicle to the replacement one. They will get a bonus COE period for their replacement vehicle. This is derived from a proportion of what's left of their existing vehicle's 20-year lifespan when it is deregistered. The proportion will be 10 per cent of the remainder of the 20-year lifespan if a vehicle's maximum weight is 3,500kg or less, and 30 per cent if its weight limit exceeds 3,500kg. The transferred COE and bonus COE periods will be capped at 10 years.