Friday 31 May 2013

Serving up a good deal for hawkers

Building more hawker centres is the easier part in any revamp of this iconic institution. A mindset change all-round is needed too. It's a "wok" in progress.
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 30 May 2013

IN THE past few months, Singapore's iconic hawker-centre culture has been the subject of unsettling news. A survey of 541 hawker stalls released last month showed that prices of several popular hawker dishes had gone up at many places across the island.

Most commonly, fishball noodle prices went up by 50 cents last year, compared to 2011; vegetable rice cost 40 cents more.

Chicken rice was not spared: the highest price for it went up from $4 to $4.50 and fewer stalls offered it at $2.50 last year compared to 2011.

Last month, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan warned that stalls may become vacant in future due to a hawker shortage. Despite a slew of government measures last year to lower rental costs, many entrants still found the going hard and gave up.

The Government used to set minimum rents for stalls. It scrapped this policy in March last year to lower costs for hawkers.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said that between March and December last year, 59 out of 112 cooked food stalls were rented out at below their previous minimum rents. Despite this, 13 or one-fifth of the cheaper stalls were returned to the agency within just six months of opening.

"The challenge is, will there be enough Singaporeans to do very hard work for very long hours?" said Dr Balakrishnan.

Thursday 30 May 2013

MDA rolls out licence scheme for news websites

Govt: Move to ensure consistency of treatment with traditional platforms
By Leonard Lim And Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 29 May 2013

NEWS websites that provide regular reports on Singapore and have significant reach will need individual licences from Saturday, in a bid to align the regulatory frameworks of online and traditional news platforms.

The need to ensure consistency of treatment, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday, is driven by the fact that more Singaporeans now receive news online.

But the news was swiftly interpreted by many in the online fraternity as a move to rein them in.

Now, all locally based sites, except personal ones like blogs, are automatically included in a class licence scheme and are expected to observe Singapore's Internet guidelines. But with the change, to be gazetted today, news sites must be individually licensed once they meet two criteria.

These are: if they report an average of at least one article per week on Singapore news and current affairs over a period of two months, and reach at least 50,000 unique Internet Protocol addresses from here each month over a period of two months.

Licences must be renewed yearly, similar to permits for newspapers under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act.

The sites must also put up a performance bond of $50,000, similar to that required for niche TV broadcasters.

Singapore to set up third law school

It will focus on criminal, family law due to lack of lawyers in these fields
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 29 May 2013

SINGAPORE is to set up a third law school that will emphasise criminal and family law, in a move to address the shortage of lawyers in these fields.

It will be geared towards attracting mid-career professionals who want to make law their new career, said Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"Look at this as giving people a second chance," he added.

He cited especially paralegals, social workers and law enforcement officers, people already with an interest in community law.

Initially, the school will take in 75 students and only a few places will be set aside for those with A levels, he said.

The school is among six recommendations made by a committee set up in March last year to review the supply of lawyers here.

The Government has accepted all of them, Mr Shanmugam said at a press conference on the findings of the committee headed by Judge of Appeal V.K. Rajah.

The acute shortage of lawyers in criminal and community law is especially felt by smaller law firms that typically practise in these fields. They struggle to find young lawyers willing to join their firms, noted the committee.

"Only the top students in each cohort gain entry to NUS Law and SMU Law, while those who study law abroad are usually put to substantial financial expense," it noted, referring to the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Management University.

Youth jobless rate one of world's lowest

It is 6.7% here; grads get quality job offers, says minister
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 29 May 2013

SINGAPORE'S youth unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world at 6.7 per cent, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday.

In comparison, six out of 10 graduates in Greece remain out of a job for months and in Taiwan, the youth unemployment rate stands at 13 per cent, he added, citing the respective government statistics.

The minister also said that most tertiary graduates receive "quality job offers" within six months.

Mr Tan revealed the Ministry of Manpower youth unemployment statistic at the graduation ceremony for 405 students from Republic Polytechnic (RP).

In a speech, he assured them that the Government would continue to provide people with good employment opportunities.

Mr Tan said the low youth unemployment figures showed Singapore is in a "good situation".

He added: "We hope to maintain it that way, keeping the labour market tight to make sure that it continues to be sufficiently attractive and growing in a sustainable way."

Mr Tan encouraged the graduates to continue learning and tap resources to upgrade their skills, even after entering the workforce.

New curbs to limit monthly gambling visits

Rules target the financially vulnerable
By Janice Tai And Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 May 2013

AT LEAST 4,000 financially vulnerable gamblers will face a monthly limit on the number of times they can enter the two casinos here from Saturday.

However, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) said yesterday there will be no fixed cap across the board because the circumstances surrounding each gambler are different.

"We don't want people to have this impression that X number of times is OK and that there is a safe limit," said Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

Instead, the number of times a gambler will be allowed in the Marina Bay Sands or Resorts World Sentosa casinos each month will be determined by factors such as the frequency and pattern of their visits, their credit record, their work situation and information provided by family members.

Mr Chan said the NCPG is taking a "very targeted approach" which will see it tackle the problem "upstream" instead of turning to an outright ban.

But he also cautioned that the visit limit is just an "additional tool in the arsenal" of gambling safeguards as there is no one solution to the complex problem.

Income level is not a criterion because a high-income earner may face as much financial distress as a low-income earner if his gambling habit is out of control, said the NCPG.

Instead, the council has its eyes trained on high-frequency gamblers, who visit the casinos more than six times a month.

Silent strokes, a quiet killer

By K Ranga Krishnan, Published TODAY, 29 May 2013 

It is not uncommon to see the elderly steadily retreating from activities such as reading, walking or going to play mahjong, losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed and becoming detached even when their grandchildren come to visit.

If you ask them whether anything is wrong and if they are well, one usually gets responses such as “I am tired” or “Nothing is wrong, I just don’t feel like it” or, even more often heard, “I am just feeling old”.

We all tire a little more easily as we get older, due to natural ageing, but sometimes, these symptoms suggest other problems that could be more serious.

There are many reasons an older individual might feel this way. It could be that they have a medical problem, perhaps heart disease or thyroid disease.

But one very common and under-recognised cause for such responses is depression. It gets missed often because we attribute the lack of interest and lethargy to ageing, that is, just getting old. We miss that something is wrong.

There are many reasons why this should be recognised, evaluated and treated.

One reason is that the presence of lethargy, loss of interest and depression may, in fact, be a sign of major medical problems.

In the elderly, this form of depression is frequently connected to the occurrence of silent strokes. We usually picture a stroke patient as having paralysis of the arm or leg, but this is seen only when the stroke affects the part of the brain that controls movement.

Can strokes be silent? Yes, if they affect parts of the brain that are not connected to movement or sensation. The word “silent” is used here simply to refer to the fact that the person is oblivious a stroke has occurred as he or she does not have motor, speech or sensory problems.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

PM Lee has tea with netizens at the Istana

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 28 May 2013

A VETERAN jazz musician and a young woman engineer who became a heroine in an oil rig accident last year had tea with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

They were among the 15 guests at the Istana that also included an art teacher and a counsellor behind a National Day-themed video which went viral.

All were linked by their presence on social media: Some had been featured by PM Lee on Facebook and Twitter, while others had followed or commented on his posts on these platforms.

In a Facebook post last night, Mr Lee wrote: "Everyone agreed that the social media was an integral part of our lives."

He also launched a new platform, his Instagram account, to reach more Singaporeans, especially younger ones.

His guests at yesterday's tea included engineer Nur'rahmahdiah Salim, who rescued colleagues during an oil rig accident at Jurong Shipyard, and social worker Mohamed Fareez, one of two recipients of the Prime Minister Social Service Awards last year. There were also those who had written songs or produced videos about Singapore, such as jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro, art teacher Tan Siang Yu and counsellor Galvin Sng, part of a team behind the much-reposted video "I Still Love You", and singer Shabir, whose National Day song Singai Naadu was a hit last year.

"They are excellent examples of Singaporeans with hope and heart," said Mr Lee of his guests. They discussed issues like housing, transport, technology and social media at the tea, the second Mr Lee hosted for netizens.

8 in 10 won't intervene in abuse cases: Study

By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 28 May 2013

EIGHT out of 10 people here will not intervene if they know a friend or relative is being physically or verbally abused by her partner, a new survey revealed yesterday.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) also found that nearly a third of respondents would not know what to do to help such victims.

One in 10 of the men and women questioned even thought rape victims were "asking for it" while 16 per cent felt that women often say no to sex when they actually mean yes.

AWARE polled 1,322 Singaporeans and permanent residents, with a 50-50 male-female split.

Reasons given for not stepping in to help possible victims included a fear of the abuser hurting the victim even more and the respondent thinking that it is "none of their business".

"It's alarming, we didn't expect the number would be that high," said AWARE executive director Corinna Lim. "We do need to empower people and to encourage people to intervene at an earlier stage when things haven't come to a crisis."

AWARE launched a three-year campaign yesterday to raise awareness about the problem.

We Can! aims to get people to look out for those who show signs of abuse, such as being withdrawn or physical injury, and equip them with knowledge and resources to help victims.

It is part of a global initiative to get individuals to pledge that they will not tolerate violence against women. Singapore is the 16th country to take part.

3-D printing and labour needs

By Andy Ho, The Straits Times, 27 May 2013

IN FEBRUARY, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced a $500 million Future of Manufacturing programme, one focus of which was to create a 3-D printing sector over the next five years. The same month, US President Barack Obama announced a US$1 billion (S$1.26 billion) initiative to fund 15 hubs to develop 3-D printing "to revolutionise the way we make almost everything" and create jobs for Americans. Even earlier, in October 2012, British Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts announced a £7 million (S$13.4 million) national initiative in 3-D printing.

Will this technology transform manufacturing, or even construction? Or is it a rose-tinted fantasy to hope it will somehow create jobs for locals while offsetting the need for foreign workers, especially in these two sectors that, in 2011, together accounted for 56 per cent of foreign workers on work passes, excluding maids?

Layer by layer

IN 3-D printing, the object to be "printed" is laid down as "ink" in incredibly thin layers which are stacked up precisely upon one another to the desired size and shape as specified by a digital blueprint. The ink such printers use can be liquid thermoplastic to make a gun or liquid colloids to make hamburgers. The base of these inks can also be powder bed systems of steel, cobalt-chrome alloys, titanium, titanium alloys, aluminium, nickel-based alloys and even gold.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Ilo Ilo is first S'pore film to win at Cannes

Anthony Chen wins Camera d’Or for best first feature film at prestigious Cannes Film Festival
By Genevieve Sarah Loh, TODAY, 27 May 2013

Ilo Ilo has become the first Singaporean feature film to win at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, with director Anthony Chen taking home the coveted Camera d’Or prize for best feature film debut yesterday evening.

“It is a complete surprise and I’m still trying to take it in,” Mr Chen told TODAY from Cannes, the festival’s closing ceremony.

“This is not just an honour for me but for Singapore, since it is the first time a feature from Singapore has been awarded at Cannes.”

Some 18 films from the Official Selection, Director’s Fortnight and International Critics’ Week sections were eligible for the Camera d’Or at this year’s 66th Cannes Film Festival.

Mr Chen’s film was screened in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar programme, which was put together by the French Film Directors Association and is considered one of the world’s best showcases of promising new film-making talents.

Monday 27 May 2013

Time to spell out core values of governance

Policy debate on housing, cars should be guided by vision of S'pore's future
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 25 May 2013

TO SOME worried observers, class envy has poisoned the public discussion over cars and houses.

They note with dismay that in the national conversation on how to cool the property market and ease congestion on the roads, fundamental debate has been sidelined by calls to penalise those who have more - be that multiple cars, properties or executive condominiums (ECs).

In the ongoing Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise on housing, for example, the lion's share of ire has been directed at those who own both Housing Board flats and private properties, as well as EC owners who some believe do not deserve HDB grants.

Both are indeed problematic aspects of public housing.

But they are minor concerns in the grand scale of things: About 40,000 own both flat and condo unit, from a pool of a million flat owners overall; there are just 10,000 EC units in existence, with another 10,000 under construction.

Neither will fix the fundamental flaws in the housing system. Nor will they involve any painful adjustments on the part of the bulk of Singaporean home owners - probably why they have proven disproportionately popular topics. Trading someone else's benefit for minor overall gain is the easiest kind of trade-off.

Similarly with cars. Making those who own more than one car pay a levy will have little impact on easing congestion on the roads. The group is small to begin with - 7 per cent of all motorists - and there are many ways to avoid the tax, as observers have noted.

But it would make everyone else feel a little better when sitting in gridlock.

Compounding the misery of 1 per cent is the encouragement government leaders seem to be giving the 99.

Make NS meaningful for every recruit

Match soldiers to roles they are interested in, even if it means serving outside SAF
By Chong Zi Liang, The Sunday Times, 26 May 2013

After completing basic military training (BMT) back in 2004, two platoon mates and I found to our dismay that we were being dispatched to be trained as logistics supervisors.

We were medically fit and while not exactly top performers, we had passed all the physical, marksmanship and field craft tests reasonably well. So we were mystified that the army had found us unsuitable for combat roles.

I went where I was sent, and it was not a "slack" non-combat role. That stint providing logistical support to about 100 men proved mentally draining at times, but I soon grew frustrated with a job I simply had no interest in.

After months of fighting administrative battles, I managed to get redeployed as a radio signaller. Relaying coded messages and bridging communications may not sound like much, but it was a world of excitement after dealing with inventory logs and ration schedules.

This is why, rather than the recent proposals of more ways to recognise the contributions of Singaporean men who have completed full-time national service, the Defence Minister's idea of matching servicemen's interests to their deployment caught my attention.

It may seem like common sense, but that has been a long time coming. Far too many men find themselves spending their NS days in roles they care little about, instead of being assigned where they might have a fighting chance of doing well.

Low: I harbour no ambition to be PM

WP's chief believes details and strategic foresight matter in S'pore's development
The Sunday Times, 26 May 2013

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang discussed the state of the opposition in a recent interview with two scholars from China studying in Singapore. Below is an excerpt of their dialogue, first published on

Q: What is the impact of Singapore's political environment on the WP's development? How does the opposition survive, develop and grow stronger?

Singapore politics has formed its own characteristics over decades of development.

On the one hand, it draws on the Western parliamentary democracy of one man one vote. On the other hand, it absorbs some Oriental political principles where the government exercises macro-control over social development.

It is difficult for the opposition to develop in such an environment where it is at a disadvantage as almost all national resources and information are in the hands of the government.

In addition, the Government has basically achieved good governance since independence. Even if the people are unhappy about certain aspects, they will not try to topple the government but seek help from the Government via acceptable channels. This is the edge enjoyed by the ruling PAP.

The one-party dominance here changed during the 2011 General Election; the opposition also made progress.

However, on the whole, we are still at the start-up stage, or in the words of Mr Deng Xiaoping, crossing the river by feeling for stepping stones.

As Singapore politics develops, the ruling and opposition parties will adjust their strategies to meet their development accordingly.

Stallholders in row with Workers' Party town council over hawker centre cleaning

Hawkers at two Bedok food centres say they never had to pay for scaffolding erected to wash ceilings
By Joyce Lim, The Sunday Times, 26 May 2013

Stallholders at two food centres in Bedok are locked in a dispute with their town council over the top-to-bottom cleaning of the centres.

The disagreement is about whether stallholders should have to foot any of the bill for power washing the ceilings and ceiling fixtures, an exercise that is done twice a year and requires them to vacate the premises for five days.

The two food centres are in blocks 511 and 538 of Bedok North Street 3, in the Kaki Bukit ward of Aljunied GRC. They are managed by the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) of the Workers' Party (WP).

Stallholders said they were informed they had to pay for the scaffolding that is erected for the washing, but said they never had to in the past.

A National Environment Agency (NEA) spokesman also told The Sunday Times that "pursuant to section 18(1) of the Town Councils Act, all town councils are responsible for maintaining and cleaning of all common areas, including hawker centres, in Housing Board towns".

"Consequently AHPETC is supposed to conduct regular spring cleaning including the ceilings, exhaust systems, fans, lights and other fixtures. There should not be any additional charges since the town council collects service and conservancy charges from the hawkers on a monthly basis," said the spokesman.

Each of the 42 cooked food stalls at Block 511 pays more than $120 for service and conservancy charges per month.

Some hawkers requested a meeting on the issue with town council officials on April 26 at which NEA officers were also present. The meeting ended in stalemate, said the stallholders.

The row comes just as the war of words between WP and the People's Action Party (PAP) in Parliament two weeks ago over managing agent rates seemed to have calmed last week. But even as netizens continue to discuss the showdown online, the debate could be given fresh fuel with these hawkers' concerns.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Trust in public institutions: Can Singapore afford cracks?

In his message to mark Public Service Week this week, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean talked about the need for civil servants to support front-line colleagues should they be subject to unfair accusations or abuse. His remarks put the spotlight on what many see as a gradual erosion of trust in Singapore's public institutions. They have played a critical role in the country's success, and some find recent attacks against them troubling. Jeremy Au Yong reports.
The Straits Times, 25 May 2013

A HYPOTHETICAL scenario was put forward by Professor Kishore Mahbubani in The Straits Times last month: What would happen if people were stuck in an MRT breakdown and did not trust the public transport operator to fix the problem or the authorities to come to their rescue?

When trains broke down on the North-South line in 2011, the answer to that question was that commuters sat in stifling heat for up to an hour before they were rescued by SMRT staff.

But Prof Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, suspects that the situation would be far less calm if the trust was missing.

In a column voicing concern about online cynicism eroding trust in public institutions, he said: "We have been free from riots for almost 40 years. The reasons were simple: rising living standards and rising trust in public institutions. But if this trust becomes a declining commodity and if a major public service performs badly, it would be unwise to expect the same level of social harmony."

Netizens and social media users were quick to fire back, stressing that their cynicism was founded on valid grounds.

Mr Allen Tan wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page, saying trust is not earned in perpetuity: "In the case of SMRT, there is a perception of consistent decline in service delivery and reliability, leading to an erosion of trust and confidence. Trust and confidence are earned by merit."

The episode is indicative of the harsh treatment Singapore's public institutions are beginning to receive.

At a protest in Hong Lim Park two weeks ago linked to the Malaysian elections, some of those who attended decided to harass people they identified as police officers, later proudly putting videos of their act online.

The scrutiny, of course, has not been limited to Singaporeans. Just after the Hong Lim Park incident, the coroner's inquiry into the death of American Shane Todd began.

The saga had started weeks ago, when the family of Dr Todd conducted a high-profile media campaign here casting doubt on the findings of the Singapore Police Force.

The family alleged that their son did not commit suicide as the police had claimed. On Tuesday, they walked out of court, saying they had "lost faith" in the proceedings. They later told the court that they would no longer be participating in the proceedings.

Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam described the Todd family's decision to walk out as "regrettable", saying that key questions in the case could have been addressed better if they had chosen to testify in court.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that the family chose to quit proceedings a day after their key witness retracted his conclusion that Dr Todd had been strangled to death with a cord or wire.

The new environment that civil servants are operating in was addressed by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean this week in his message to commemorate Public Service Week.

While noting that civil servants now have a new opportunity to work with the public, this engagement needed to be done in the spirit of "mutual trust and respect".

As he called on civil servants to maintain good standards of service, he said "we should support our officers should they be subject to unfair accusations and abuse".

'The civil service must know when to stand firm'

Rising expectations among the challenges, says civil service head
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2013

THERE is a story going around the civil service of a person who goes to a police station and asks the officer to return his library book for him.

This extreme interpretation of the civil service's "no wrong door" policy is no tall tale, however.

Mr Peter Ong, head of the 136,000-strong civil service, recounts it to show how some citizens feel more empowered and, at times, more entitled these days.

In an interview to mark Public Service Week this week, he said: "My advice to colleagues is that we should deal with these demanding citizens in a courteous and civil manner. But at the end of the day, be firm.

"Obviously we will not allow our officers to be abused."

In his 21/2 years as head of the civil service, Mr Ong, 52, is confronting challenges that require him and his colleagues to question many old assumptions when designing policies and providing services to keep up with a changing Singapore.

These changes include an ageing population, a restructuring economy, rapid advancements in technology, a widening income gap, and a population with more new citizens and foreigners.

The pace of change is faster than anything he has seen in his career, he said, and he shares the "deep sense of urgency".

At the same time, people's expectations are rising and this has, in turn, resulted in more frequent criticism and even abuse of civil servants, he said.

Some expectations, however, should be met because the needs have changed, Mr Ong said.

Citing health care, he noted that the Government is going to increase its share of health-care costs and looking at greater risk-pooling.

But the civil service also needs to know when to stand firm. Often, the situation may not be clear-cut, he added.

In engaging citizens, civil servants need to figure out what they are hearing: Is it a complaint, a real need or even realistic?

At the same time, many people also tell them "the policies are correct, stick to it, don't change", he said.

Saturday 25 May 2013

PM Lee Hsien Loong positive about Asia's prospects: 19th Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia 2013

He is cautiously optimistic global power shifts will be managed well
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 24 May 2013

THE world's balance of power may be undergoing significant change, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is "cautiously optimistic" the transition will be managed wisely and prudently.

He expressed this confidence as he analysed big power relations yesterday at an annual Nikkei conference in Tokyo, on the future of Asia.

"Asia's future is bright," he said. "Countries are striving for growth and prosperity, to improve the lives of their people.

But there are also risks.

Referring to the fears of China's rise, the possibility of miscalculation in the complex US-China relationship and the many disputes brewing between Asian countries, Mr Lee urged nations not to view international relations through an "us versus them" lens.

Speaking at one point to a Japanese participant who said he supported a hypothetical plan by China's neighbours to encircle it, Mr Lee said: "I would be very careful about saying, 'Let's make a friendship amongst all the countries which are frightened of China'. I don't think that is a constructive and helpful approach.

"I think, let's all make friends and develop constructive relations with one another in a multi-dimensional way."

In his wide-ranging speech followed by a dialogue, Mr Lee spoke on the major powers in Asia, but zeroed in on the role of the United States, China, Japan and Asean in keeping the peace.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the US prefer stable ties with China and understand that containing China is both impossible and unwise, he said.

China, on its part, also knows that asserting itself too vigorously is not in its own interest.

"By demonstrating its benign purposes through its actions and its restraint, China will reassure other countries, and enhance its own security," he said.

Firms that flout CPF rules may get heavier penalties

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 24 May 2013

COMPANIES that are tardy in making contributions to their workers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts could face stiffer punishment.

The Manpower Ministry and CPF Board are reviewing penalties against companies that do not pay, underpay or are late in making the mandatory payments, said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

He disclosed the review after the CPF Board said yesterday that it recovered a staggering $293 million in arrears from errant companies for more than 200,000 workers last year.

Currently, the maximum fine these companies face is $10,000 for each conviction. But this is only for repeat offenders. First-time offenders face a smaller fine of $2,500.

This is the second time this week the minister is taking a tougher stand against errant businesses.

On Monday, he had said that while the Government prefers to persuade employers to treat their workers fairly, it does not rule out anti-discrimination laws.

The CPF Board told The Straits Times the review is a "comprehensive one", but it did not say when this would be completed.

The bulk of the arrears the board recovered last year - $283.7 million - were late payments made after a 14-day grace period.

The rest - $9.4 million - were from those that defaulted.

Most of the errant businesses were small and medium enterprises in the cleaning, security and food and beverage sectors.

The $293 million recovered last year was just a tad more than the 2011 sum of $292.6 million.

Lower wage share doesn't mean wages are lower

Salaries are correlated with productivity, says MTI
By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 24 May 2013

THE salaries earned by Singapore's workers amount to a smaller proportion of the overall economy than in many other developed economies.

But this does not necessarily mean workers here earn lower wages than they do elsewhere, the Trade and Industry Ministry explained yesterday.

In a special report published in the quarterly Economic Survey of Singapore, the ministry acknowledged that Singapore's wage share of gross domestic product (GDP) is lower than in advanced Western countries and in other industrialised Asian economies.

However, it said salaries are correlated not with wage shares but with productivity levels.

Between 2000 and 2009, wages made up about 43 per cent of Singapore's GDP, compared with 45 per cent in South Korea, 51 per cent in Japan, 52 per cent in Hong Kong and Germany, 54 per cent in Britain and 57 per cent in the United States.

This means that profits earned by companies, and taxes earned by the Government, made up a higher share of the economy in Singapore than in other countries.

Profits accounted for 50 per cent of GDP here, while taxes made up the last 7 per cent.

Over the years, this trend has led economic watchers as well as the Workers' Party to argue that Singapore's workers are underpaid and that economic growth has benefited companies at the expense of workers.

But the ministry said yesterday its analysis shows no clear relationship between wage shares and actual wage levels.

In fact, the average wage of workers between 2000 and 2009, adjusted for purchasing power across different currencies, was higher in Singapore than in South Korea, Japan and Europe, it said.

Friday 24 May 2013

Regrettable that Todds won't testify to clear air: Minister

By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 23 May 2013

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said that key questions in the case involving American researcher Shane Todd that his family had raised could have been addressed better if they had chosen to testify in court, instead of walking out on the coroner's inquiry into his death.

These include the conflicting accounts of how a major piece of evidence had been recovered.

They had also claimed they did not know a witness, though he testified that they had met in Singapore just days after their son was found dead last June.

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, made these points at a press conference held just hours after the Todd family discharged their lawyers and announced they had decided not to participate further in the inquiry.

The minister said: "They asserted that this hard drive had been processed by a third party after Dr Todd's death and that the hard drive contained information which had been overlooked by the Singapore police.

"(But) the hard drive was something the police had looked at... and in fact was something that the police had handed over (to the family) in the presence of US embassy officials."

Employee abuse video: Abusive boss gets 10 days' detention

* Abusive boss gets 10 days' detention
His actions in treating victim like a punching bag have no place in civilised society: Judge
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

An IT company manager who carried out a campaign of abuse against an intern was yesterday sentenced to a 10-day short detention order (SDO).

The community sentence is served in prison, but carries no criminal record.

A judge said that Lee Yew Nam, 45, the manager of Encore eServices, had used 32-year-old Calvin Chan Meng Hock like a "punching bag" - slapping and hitting him during a string of violent outbursts when he felt his work was not up to standard.

Lee Yew Nam used an intern like a "punching bag" - slapping and hitting him when he felt his work was not up to standard.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, April 2, 2016

He was caught when another intern took a 17-second video of him hitting Mr Chan, and posted it online.

Lee was convicted of four charges of causing hurt to Mr Chan at his Jurong Town Hall Road office between January and May 2013.

Two other charges of causing hurt and using abusive words were considered in sentencing.

The court was told that in January 2013, Lee slapped Mr Chan once in the face for failing to neatly arrange several software files in a computer.

The following month, he punched Mr Chan in the face several times, then pushed him off his chair, as he believed the intern had failed to correctly answer a customer's request.

On May 14, 2013, Lee grabbed Mr Chan's chin and forcefully pulled it back after finding out he had forgotten to delete files from a database.

The abuse that was caught on camera took place the next day, after Lee went through a conversation log between Mr Chan and a customer.

Aerospace course open to N-level holders

WDA, training college offer new diploma that admits those without O levels
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 23 May 2013

AS PART of a broader plan to create jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, those who did not complete their O levels will still be able to land technical jobs in the fledgling aerospace sector starting July.

The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and Air Transport Training College (ATTC) have started a new aircraft maintenance diploma course that admits N-level holders as well.

Previously, the minimum entry point for WDA-subsidised technical courses in the aerospace sector was an O-level certificate or a certificate from the Institute of Technical Education.

After seven months of training, these new entrants to the workforce can be hired as apprentice technicians, earning $1,200 to $1,300 each month.

Announcing the new scheme yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said this will help ensure that Singaporeans "are not only ready for the opportunities created but to thrive when the opportunities are presented".

WDA director Ang Chai Soon told The Straits Times that the aerospace sector is growing and it is expected to see 10,000 new jobs created by 2018. The sector currently provides 20,000 jobs.

"These are good jobs with growth prospects," said Mr Ang, adding that the new diploma holders can progressively upgrade their skills, and move up to become aircraft maintenance engineers earning over $3,000 each month.

During the seven months of training, Singaporeans and permanent residents will receive up to 90 per cent subsidy for the course fees. Up to 150 diploma holders are expected to be trained in the next three years.

It is the fifth training school in Singapore to receive the "apex status", said Mr Tan.

New e-exam for A-level Mother Tongue B

By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 23 May 2013

FOR the first time, students taking a national examination will have to complete a part of it on a computer, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced yesterday.

Around 300 students in 20 junior colleges taking the A-level Mother Tongue Language "B" exam in November will be the first to take the e-examination.

The "B" programme was introduced to A-level students in 2003 to help those who faced difficulties in the subject.

The "B" exam consists of three parts - oral and a listening component makes up half, 30 per cent is on comprehension and language use, while the rest is functional writing. Students will complete their functional writing exam using a laptop. They will have to type an e-mail or a blog entry.

The use of print or electronic dictionaries will still be allowed.

At St Andrew's Junior College yesterday, MOE deputy director- general of education Wong Siew Hoong said the introduction of the e-exam is in line with a recommendation by the Mother Tongue Languages Review Committee in 2010 that information and communications technology be used to enhance learning.

He added that students in the "B" programme were selected to have the e-exam as they "are the ones who will require a lot more authenticity in their learning".

For students taking the Chinese "B" exam, they will type their responses using romanised hanyu pinyin. The system will then prompt the student with the appropriate Chinese characters.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Integration of medical and social services in long-term care needed: Lien Foundation/KPMG study

Consider elderly patients' social needs too, docs urged
Study says a holistic view of care should be adopted
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 22 May 2013

DOCTORS treating the elderly need to be more aware of their patients' social and psychological needs, a new report has found.

They should take a holistic view - instead of drawing a distinction between medical and social care - said the study commissioned by the Lien Foundation and developed by consultancy firm KPMG.

Released yesterday, the research aims to draw ideas from other countries on how they have addressed their challenges. It is based on interviews with 46 eldercare experts in 14 nations. Four were from Singapore while others came from countries including Japan and the United States.

Dr Gerald Koh, a National University of Singapore associate professor and one of those interviewed for the report, said: "We're very good at building hardware and infrastructure, and that's not a bad thing, but we could do more in the 'heartware' area.

"Traditionally, doctors focus more on cures and treatment. I think we're training them to be more patient-centred, to be aware of the patient's social and psychological needs. But we could move beyond awareness and get them to take these needs into consideration when planning the management of the patient."

Doctors should work more closely with social workers and therapists in an "interdisciplinary team", added Dr Koh, from the university's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

And there should not be "a sharp demarcation between the different roles". For example, in the United States, multidisciplinary teams provide services ranging from medical care to occupational therapy and diet monitoring - all at an adult day health centre.

The report - An Uncertain Age: Reimagining Long-term Care In The 21st Century - recommended providing more training and support to informal caregivers, and introducing more sustainable funding models. For instance, one pool of money could be used to fund institutional care and home-based or community-based services. This would avoid having two separate budgets.