Sunday 30 June 2013

Schools to reopen on 1 July 2013; haze measures in place

By Stacey Chia And Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

SCHOOLS will reopen on Monday as scheduled, but the Education Ministry has drawn up plans to cope should the haze worsen.

All primary and secondary schools may close if the Pollutant Standards Index reading hits "hazardous" levels of 300 and above. Should that happen, schools will inform parents via phone or SMS at about 6pm the day before closure, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

The O-level and N-level oral examinations next month will also be rescheduled if schools are closed.

Childcare centres will follow suit if primary and secondary schools close, but universities, polytechnics, junior colleges and the Institute of Technical Education may not, as they have more enclosed indoor spaces and their students are older, so they should be able to cope better.

If the closure is prolonged, such as for two days or more, schools will carry out e-learning for their students. Ms Indranee urged parents to make advance care arrangements, such as having someone who would be able to take care of their children.

Shanmugam clears air on past links to firms linked to the fires causing the haze

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday explained his past position as director in two companies controlled by an Indonesian conglomerate reportedly linked to the fires causing the haze.

The conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG), has some companies in Singapore and was named by a senior Indonesian official last week as one of the alleged culprits burning forests and contributing to the haze enveloping the region.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, detailed how he came to be involved in the two SMG-controlled companies: Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Asia Food & Properties (AFP).

In June 1996, he and two others were asked by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to be independent directors of then listed company Amcol, he said. The company, many of whose shareholders were Singaporeans who had invested using their Central Provident Fund savings, was in "serious trouble".

Most of its directors had been told to step down, he said.

"The three of us were asked to go in and see how the investing public shareholders of Amcol could be helped," said Mr Shanmugam, then a lawyer with expertise in securities law.

They managed Amcol's affairs with judicial managers and a white knight, SMG, was found.

SMG took over Amcol in 1997 using AFP, which was listed that same year. In 1999, GAR was listed as a subsidiary of AFP.

Mr Shanmugam was appointed director of both companies after their listing. The Amcol shareholders who kept their shares ended up getting "a substantial benefit".

But, he said, "I did not charge or receive any fees for this work - the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders". He had wanted to step down when AFP was listed in 1997 as the task given to him by SGX - to help Amcol shareholders - had been completed.

He, however, agreed to SMG's request to stay on for a period, to give confidence to shareholders.

He stepped down from the boards of AFP and GAR in 2001.

Tampines MP files police report over false online article

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

TAMPINES GRC MP Irene Ng has filed a police report over an online article on the haze that was falsely attributed to her.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Ms Ng said the article, "PAP MP Irene Ng: We should not play the blame game over the haze problem", on the website The Real Singapore (TRS), is "pure fiction".

She said she has asked the site to remove the article and apologise for publishing it and for the damage it caused her.

"I did not write this article and have nothing to do with it," she said.

"Sad that the website allows the publication of such malicious forgeries in the name of an elected MP to deceive and mislead its readers."

Ms Ng said she filed the police report due to the "seriousness of the matter", adding: "It is one thing for a website or its writers to be critical of the Government; it is another to impersonate an MP and deceive its readers."

She said that while she supports people's right to express their views, the TRS case was about "forgery and impersonation with a malicious intent to deceive".

She added: "Such irresponsible and unethical websites need to be exposed. Hence, I have decided to take this stand. I take no pleasure from this."

It is not known who TRS' owners are, although sources say they are a couple living in Australia.

Don't let haze blacken good neighbourly ties

Don't forget Singapore's aid to Aceh during the 2004 tsunami disaster, says one writer to Indonesia's chief welfare minister, while another reminds Singaporeans to show kindness not just during hazy times.
By John Mcbeth, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

COULD anyone have been more boorish than Indonesia's chief welfare minister Agung Laksono when he told Singapore to stop acting like a child over the health-destroying haze gripping the South-east Asian peninsula?

Mr Agung, a former Speaker of the People's Representative Council and a longstanding member of the Golkar party, not only should have a more caring attitude to fit his job description, but he also has a very short memory.

Singapore was, after all, one of the first countries to respond to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northern tip of the same Indonesian island where uncontrolled fires have contributed to the worst pollution levels.

"How quickly memories fade and gratitude is replaced with contempt, a culture I observed only too clearly at the international level in Aceh," says Australian Bill Nicol, author of the newly published Tsunami Chronicles: Adventures In Disaster Management on the US$7 billion (S$9 billion) recovery effort.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had to deal with Indonesia's worst-ever disaster within a couple of months of taking office, knows that only too well, and was gracious in apologising to his neighbours for the latest smoke blanket.

Even then, he found himself under attack from domestic critics, many of them siding with Mr Agung and Mines and Energy Minister Jero Wacik. The latter weighed in as well, by telling Singapore and Malaysia to stop trying to blacken Indonesia's name.

Neither made any attempt to put themselves in the shoes of their hapless neighbours, or even their own countrymen. And when Singapore offered initial cash help, Mr Agung snorted: "If it is only half a million, or one million dollars, we don't need that."

The leader of 250 million people, Dr Yudhoyono found himself in the ridiculous position of having to defend his apology, explaining that Indonesia is not afraid of Singapore or Malaysia and that the fires had nothing to do with state sovereignty, territorial integrity or other issues.

Can there be a change of tone in political debate?

The recent episodes show the difficulty of 'constructive politics' playing out in reality
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

RECENT episodes involving the Workers' Party have highlighted the dilemma it faces as the leading opposition party in Parliament.

Last weekend, the WP issued a statement on the haze, pledging its readiness to "support the initiatives of the Government in responding to the haze" and welcoming the Government's efforts in protecting vulnerable Singaporeans' health and safety.

The statement was in classic WP style: it struck a moderate, considered tone and came a few days into the game, showing the deliberation that had gone into crafting its stance. Meanwhile, WP MPs and helpers worked quietly on the ground, visiting constituents and giving out its own supply of masks to those in need.

The WP response to the haze was in sharp contrast to its aggressive stance in two recent clashes with the Government over town council management - the headline-hitting dispute over hawker centre cleaning in Aljunied GRC and the rates the town council pays its managing agent.

Both spats, which played out almost back-to-back over two months, saw a flurry of statements from the WP and government agencies. Barbs were traded by both sides on localised and specialised details, right down to the types of scaffolding used in hawker centre cleaning.

And yet for both its quite differing responses to the haze and on town council issues, the WP has received flak. On the former, some critics felt it had been too muted and should have been more critical of the Government's response to the haze. On the latter, some felt it became too caught up in strident public debate.

Several tensions are at play here for the WP: between being more and less vocal and critical, and between focusing on local and national issues in public debate.

These are challenges the WP will continue to face after over two years of being the opposition party with the largest presence in Parliament and managing a town council which has grown to be one of Singapore's biggest.

But the recent events also hint at a need to rebalance the discourse between the WP and the People's Action Party (PAP). Is there scope for both sides to dial back on squabbles over localised issues and engage in more debate on bigger-picture policy issues?

Fresh curbs on property loans: MAS introduces Total Debt Servicing Ratio (TDSR) framework - 28 Jun 2013

Factoring in all debt obligations among steps to encourage financial prudence
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

TOUGHER rules have been imposed on mortgages to stop home buyers getting in too deep and to plug loopholes that let people dodge tougher loan limits on second and subsequent properties.

The new curbs are not seen by the Government as another step to cool soaring prices, but property experts say they will still have some effect by reining in borrowing.

The rules, which take effect today, demand that lenders consider a borrower's total debt obligations, including other mortgages and loans for cars, before granting a new home loan.

Banks will not be able to approve a loan if the monthly repayments of a buyer's total debt obligations exceed 60 per cent of his gross monthly income.

Take a property buyer who has a monthly income of $10,000 and debt obligations, including his car, credit card and other such loans, of $3,000.

If the new mortgage's monthly repayment exceeds $3,000, that would bring his total repayments to over $6,000 - and total debt obligations to over 60 per cent.

Banks would then have to relook how much they can lend to him under the new Total Debt Servicing Ratio framework - which applies to loans for all property types - announced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) last night.

MAS said the rules also apply to borrowers looking to refinance, and said the 60 per cent limit will be reviewed over time.

Borrowers on a mortgage will also now have to be named as the owners of the property.

This and other changes to the loan-to-valuation rules are to prevent borrowers from getting round tougher limits for second and subsequent housing loans.

Singapore must do more to nurture talent: PM

More educational pathways to be created; city must remain vibrant place to live
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

SINGAPORE has done well in grooming and developing its people, but will need to go further as talent is increasingly sought after in this globalised world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He said yesterday that Singapore must continue to develop every child to his or her full potential, while giving those with less resources every chance to catch up.

More educational pathways will also be created to accommodate the diverse range of interests among students here, and efforts will be made to build a strong Singapore core in the workforce, said Mr Lee.

Speaking at the opening of consumer giant Unilever's new global leadership centre Four Acres, Mr Lee noted that Singapore has been "focused on this (talent development) obsessively for a very long time".

This has resulted in advantages for the country such as its low unemployment, excellent international test scores among students and high demand for Singaporean workers in general.

"People are our only resource. We have made education, lifelong learning and talent development a national priority," he said.

But China and India are quickly trying to retain and attract talent, and Singapore must keep up, he said.

So, even as the Government makes improvements to its education system, Singapore has to remain an attractive place to live.

"Most importantly, we want to keep Singapore an exciting and vibrant city, a place where people want to live, want to work, want to play, and come back again and again," he said.

"So that talented Singaporeans ourselves will want to stay here, pursue new opportunities and create new successes and thus improve lives for all Singaporeans."

Two million Singaporeans to get letters on Budget 2013 benefits in July 2013

By Debbie Lee, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

TWO million Singaporeans will receive letters from the Government from Monday informing them of the benefits they will receive under Budget 2013, the Finance Ministry said yesterday.

These include GST Vouchers in the form of:
- Cash payments of between $100 and $250 for citizens whose annual income is at most $24,000 and living in homes with an annual value of $21,000 and less.
- Medisave payments of between $150 and $450 for citizens aged 65 and older living in homes with an annual value of $21,000 and less.
- U-Save utility rebates of between $45 and $65 for HDB households.

A one-off extra payment of GST Vouchers for all three categories will also be given this year. For example, a Singaporean who receives $250 in GST Vouchers in cash payment will get another $250.

In addition, all Singaporeans aged 45 and older will get a $200 top-up to their Central Provident Fund Medisave accounts.

The vouchers and top-ups will help citizens and Singaporean households cope with the rise in the cost of living, the ministry said in its statement.

It also said that starting next month, the U-Save rebates will be given quarterly (July, October, January and April) instead of twice a year.

'Increase pay in social service field'

Tharman says competitive salaries needed in order to strengthen the profession
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has strongly urged the social service sector to do more to raise salaries for its professionals.

This is an "area which needs improving if we are to develop a strong social service profession", he said yesterday at the official opening of the Social Service Institute (SSI).

"The sector must pay competitive wages. Today, salary levels of various social service professionals lag that of their peers in other sectors."

According to a salary survey conducted by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) between October and December last year, more than 85 per cent of government-funded voluntary welfare organisations have increased wages by a median of 8 per cent.

A social worker fresh out of university is now paid about $2,760 a month. Figures from the Graduate Employment Survey by several universities here showed that the median pay for all new graduates last year was $3,050.

"We must keep up this practice of paying staff competitively," said Mr Tharman, who was the guest of honour at yesterday's event at the SSI's new premises in TripleOne Somerset.

The SSI, previously known as the Social Service Training Institute (SSTI), will provide training courses and programmes for those in the sector.

It will have new facilities including a career centre for those interested to work in the social services.

Increasing wages to attract more to the sector is key given the manpower crunch facing the industry.

Currently, there are 1,400 registered social workers and social service practitioners, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development. There is an estimated annual shortfall of about 150 social workers.

"The social service profession is... at the core of our collective effort to build a better Singapore," said Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister. "We must groom a larger pool of committed, qualified and skilled social service professionals."

New criteria for pre-school anchor operator scheme

Religious, commercial outfits eligible, but some keen parties concerned about requirements
By Ashley Chia, TODAY, 28 Jun 2013

Discarding some of the old restrictions, the Government has opened the door wider for potential anchor operators to enter the pre-school sector, as it seeks to improve the quality and affordability of early childhood education.

Among other things, it is opening up the Anchor Operator (AOP) Scheme, under which companies that run the schools will enjoy recurrent grants and access to heartland sites set aside by the Government, to locally-owned religious and commercial organisations.

Operators TODAY spoke to generally expressed keen interest to be part of the scheme and welcomed the new criteria, which were announced yesterday by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. However, most were concerned about the requirement for new anchor operators to provide 1,000 new places by 2018 — a “tall order”, as one of them put it, given the chronic shortage of pre-school teachers.

To meet this requirement, an operator would need to hire at least about 100 more pre-school educators — according to their estimates — over the next five years.

Currently, there are two anchor operators, PAP Community Foundation (PCF) and NTUC My First Skool , which make up 20 per cent of the 1,000 childcare centres and 15 per cent of the 500 kindergartens across the island.

It was announced during Budget earlier this year that the Anchor Operator Scheme would be opened up to more players. The Call for Proposal documents will be available from today and interested operators have until Aug 27 to submit their proposals.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Health sector 'ready for surge in patients'

Contingency plans in place if haze worsens; priority for polyclinics: Gan
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2013

MEDICAL institutions are poised and prepared to tackle a surge in patients should the haze take a turn for the worse or linger on, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

In outlining contingency plans for the health-care sector, he said priority lies at the polyclinics, which are bearing the brunt of haze-related illnesses.

But overall, there are three areas of importance: Maintaining patient safety, meeting the demand of more patients and minimising disruption to medical services.

He also said the government subsidy scheme for haze-related ailments has attracted about 600 private clinics and helped more than 2,000 patients at polyclinics.

The scheme, which started last Friday, allows those aged 18 and younger, 65 and older, and the poor on public assistance to see a doctor for $10.

Mr Gan said: "We hope more private clinics will come on board - we continue to reach out to them."

But more important are the measures at polyclinics.

Doctors at the 18 polyclinics islandwide handled 16.5 per cent more patients last week compared with the week before.

"So far, the impact of haze on the hospitals has been manageable because most of the demand is at the polyclinics," Mr Gan said when he set out the action plan of these medical institutions.

Air-conditioned rooms will be turned into waiting areas when the air quality drops.

Friday 28 June 2013

Break the negative spiral over the haze

By David Chan, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

THE haze from forest fires in Indonesia has caused significant problems to everyone in Singapore. Public health concerns in particular are of paramount importance.

If people have prolonged exposure to pollution in very unhealthy or hazardous circumstances without adequate protection, there will be serious health effects. This applies to everyone but especially to vulnerable groups including the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those who have pre-existing respiratory and heart problems.

Even if you do not belong to any of these vulnerable groups, you are likely to have loved ones who do. So this is personal, and health, even lives, are at stake.

The responses so far from the Government and from the public raise two important questions. Why were there negative public reactions? Can we cope with this evolving crisis, especially if it gets worse?

Public reactions

IN TIMES of crisis, the Government is expected to provide relevant and reliable information in a timely manner, and present it in a way that the public can understand and act on. Public expectation is especially strong in this haze crisis for several reasons.

The situation involves basic well-being issues such as personal safety and health. There were many important unknowns, particularly in the first few hours or days after the pollution level entered into very unhealthy and hazardous ranges.

Many Singaporeans would have asked: What happens when I inhale the polluted air? Is it safe to leave my house to go to work? What is happening to my family who are experiencing physical discomfort caused by the haze?

People's anxiety and fear increased significantly when visibility declined and people experienced a strong smell of the haze and physical discomfort even when they were indoors.

These emotions were magnified as people saw the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading on their television, computer or cellphone screen rising rapidly, by a huge magnitude, and into the hazardous range.

In these anxious conditions, the public expected the Government to provide information on what was going on, what the effects were, and what protective action to take. To be fair, the Government did respond. But some felt this was not fast enough, or that the responses were not clear, or comprehensive enough. When people's expectations of information and direction were disappointed, negative reactions to the Government resulted.

Human beings find it difficult to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity, and we react to them negatively when the issue is personal or the stakes are high. Studies have shown that negative reaction to an issue will influence reactions to other issues, even if they are logically unrelated to the offending issue.

Negative reactions lead us to doubt or ignore factual information. This may explain the prevalence of comments doubting even the veracity of the Government's PSI readings. We also seek out negative information or interpret information negatively to reinforce our negative perception of the target. Trust in the target's capability, intentions or integrity will get eroded. The distrust will lead to more negative reactions resulting in a negative spiral.

National Day Rally moving to ITE headquarters in 2013

By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

AFTER more than a decade of being held at the University Cultural Centre (UCC) in the National University of Singapore, the National Day Rally will move to the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) headquarters and College Central in Ang Mo Kio this year.

The new venue, announced by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday, was chosen as a sign of the Government's commitment to education at all levels.

Elaborating on the choice on Facebook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "This beautiful new campus reflects Singapore's commitment, and my longstanding priority, to invest in our young, and nurture every Singaporean to their full potential."

In recent months, government leaders had sought to stress that a university education was not the only path to success.

The choice of the ITE headquarters and College Central would allow the Government to showcase the new jewel in the ITE crown at the most important political speech in Singapore.

The National Day Rally, at which the Prime Minister typically gives speeches in Malay, Chinese and English on the country's top issues, will be held on Aug 18.

ITE director and chief executive officer Bruce Poh told The Straits Times that the ITE was honoured to be chosen: "Our students, alumni and staff are very encouraged by PM Lee's unstinting support and affirmation on the value of ITE education."

The $380 million campus, to be officially opened in November, is only the fifth venue to have played host to the Rally since the event started in 1966.

Slow start to WorkPro scheme

Only 40 firms tap govt initiative to help employers hire older workers
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

A GOVERNMENT scheme to help employers hire older locals is off to a lukewarm start.

Although the WorkPro scheme launched in March has earmarked $170 million to be given to companies over three years, only $1.4 million has been "committed" so far, said its manager, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA).

The amount hitherto handed out - which the WDA did not disclose - is even lower.

The WDA had approached more than 4,000 companies to tap the scheme in the past three months, but only about 40 had signed up.

WDA chief executive Wong Hong Kuan said companies are holding back because of their lack of familiarity with it: "Such schemes always take some time for people to understand."

He added: "Obviously, we'd like more companies to come on board and that's where we are sparing no effort to engage them."

Language appears to be another obstacle, as information on the scheme is primarily in English.

But, said Mr Wong, "if there are people requesting information in other languages, we are prepared to consider".

He is not disheartened by the low numbers, saying the take-up rate is "very encouraging". He is confident more will use the subsidy.

To coax them, the WDA yesterday held a seminar at a five-star hotel for about 300 company bosses and human resource executives.

It also launched a new website, the Age Management Portal, to familiarise companies on the free resources that are available when they hire older workers.

At the seminar in Conrad Centennial, Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor urged companies to hire more older workers.

"In today's tight labour market, mature workers are a valuable source of manpower that employers can tap to meet their manpower needs," said Dr Khor, who is also Minister of State for Health.

Singapore Zoo celebrates 40th birthday

Despite hard lessons along the way, zoo is now one of the world's best
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

THE thought of a panther or bears escaping from the Singapore Zoo - regarded as one of the top zoos in the world today - and its staff keeping quiet about it may be hard to fathom now.

Yet that was exactly what happened 40 years ago, when its staff were still inexperienced, said one of the zoo's pioneer zookeepers, Mr Alagappasamy Chellaiyah.

But the iconic zoo, which celebrates its 40th birthday today, has come a long way, he added.

The 62-year-old, who joined the zoo in 1971 and is now the assistant director of zoology, recalled when two sun bears and a black panther escaped about four months before the zoo opened its doors to the public in June 1973.

"When the sun bears escaped, we didn't tell anyone. We thought it was okay, the whole area was forested," said Mr Alagappasamy. "Then a few days later, the black panther escaped."

Thursday 27 June 2013

Blogger Andrew Loh apologises to President Tony Tan for expletive-laden Facebook post

By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2013

BLOGGER Andrew Loh has apologised to President Tony Tan Keng Yam for an expletive-laden Facebook post directed at him.

Late last night, Mr Loh issued a statement on his own Facebook page, saying he offered his "sincerest apology to the President and to Singaporeans" and admitted that he had used "harsh and insulting" words.

On Sunday, Mr Loh had reposted a Facebook update by President Tan about the haze, adding his own critical comments.

But in criticising the President for what he thought was a lack of action on the haze, he used vulgarities multiple times.

Mr Loh said yesterday he would be apologising to President Tan in writing.

There was no indication that Dr Tan himself had asked for an apology or took any other action against Mr Loh.

But some netizens have since latched on to Mr Loh's postings and criticised him for insulting the President.

Wrote netizen Dawn Goh on Facebook: "There is never a reason to use such foul language on anyone. Certainly not for our Head of State."

Another, who went by the name Qiu Yung, said: "I don't think one should excuse rude behaviour by saying that respect or true respect has to be earned.

"We always begin by respecting people even if you don't like them."

Mr Loh last night acknowledged he was in the wrong: "The words I used were harsh and insulting, and the sentiments I expressed about the President unfair and untrue.

"I also apologise to Singaporeans for insulting the President and the office that he holds. I would like to thank my fellow netizens for pointing out my failings. I will keep this lesson in mind," he added.

Mr Loh is one of the founders of sociopolitical site The Online Citizen.

He has since moved on to start his own website and also writes for Yahoo Singapore.

SAF ends Afghan deployment

By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

WITH Afghanistan's forces in the final stages of taking over responsibility for their country's security, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) concluded its deployment there last Saturday.

A ceremony, which signalled the end of its campaign at the Multinational Base Tarin Kowt in the province Oruzgan, was attended by SAF's Chief of Army Major-General (MG) Ravinder Singh. He also called on Commander International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) General Joseph Dunford, in Kabul.

The American praised Singapore's contribution to the Afghan effort, from training artillery forces down to medical support. "All those contributions by Singapore have truly made a difference," Gen Dunford said.

The SAF has deployed close to 500 personnel to Afghanistan since May 2007 as part of ISAF, contributing expertise in areas such as humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts, as well as training the Afghan security forces.

Said Captain Jason Kwek, 33, who served in Afghanistan for the past four months: "The experience of being operationally deployed is like no other. Over the past months, we worked closely with troops from the United States and Australia and forged many friendships too."

Paperless scheme for air cargo industry

Initiative will help firms cut costs and freight times, boost efficiency
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

A TYPICAL international air cargo shipment requires 30 different paper documents, adding to costs and slowing freight times.

But under a Singapore scheme, launched yesterday, that messy paper trail will be eliminated, thanks to electronic data transfer.

At the launch of e-freight @Singapore, Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said the scheme would boost industry efficiency at a crucial time.

Demand has been shrinking for air cargo but the scheme could boost industry efficiency and help to improve profit margins, she said.

The scheme is a joint initiative of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

Involving airports, carriers, ground handlers, freight forwarders, shippers and government agencies, the programme aims to electronically link the air cargo business and logistics supply chain.

It is being built on the International Air Transport Association (IATA)'s e-freight programme and will take the paper out of the air cargo documentation process.

E-freight electronically captures data entered at the shipment's point of origin and transmits it to those on the receiving end.

Can stock exchanges go social?

The idea of having social stock exchanges - listed companies making money while doing good - makes sense in fostering a caring world. But there are challenges.
By Willie Cheng, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

FOLLOWING the 2008 global financial crisis, social stock exchanges to be set up in major financial centres were mooted. In essence, these exchanges allow for the trading of shares in companies that focus on social as well as financial returns.

However, the multiple postponements of launch dates suggest that the business case for this concept has been challenging.

While it had previously sought to launch the exchange in Singapore, Impact Investment Exchange Asia (IIX) has just announced that it will launch its Impact Exchange with the Stock Exchange of Mauritius. At about the same time, the British Prime Minister also announced the launch of the Social Stock Exchange (SSE) in London. In North America, the Green Stock Exchange, first targeted for end-2008, is now planned for 2014.

Social exchange redux

THESE recent initiatives should be distinguished from earlier social stock exchanges. The world's first social stock exchange was set up in 2003 in Brazil by Bonvespa. This was followed by the establishment of the South African Social Investment Exchange by GreaterCapital in 2006.

These early social stock exchanges were primarily philanthropic-based fund-raising platforms. The social investors were really donors without the ability to receive financial returns on their investments. Such exchanges merely facilitated matching donors with pre-selected social purpose projects and organisations.

In contrast, the social stock exchanges being promoted by SSE and IIX allow for the listing, trading, clearing and settlement of securities issued by organisations that create significant social impact. These securities could be shares, bonds, and other financial instruments. In other words, these social stock exchanges function like mainstream stock exchanges such as SGX.

The main difference between the two types of exchanges lies in the kind of organisations that are listed. Mainstream stock exchanges list commercial companies of all hues, all of which aim to achieve, arguably, maximum financial returns for their investors. In contrast, social stock exchanges only list companies that provide a good blend of social and financial returns. Such companies are usually of two types: social enterprises and inclusive businesses.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

PM Lee accepts haze apology from Indonesian President Yudhoyono, urges swift, sustained action

He welcomes Yudhoyono's pledge to tackle fires, and offers help
By Rachel Chang And Zakir Hussain, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong welcomed Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's apology for the haze yesterday as Jakarta stepped up efforts to stop the burning in Riau.

In a statement responding to Dr Yudhoyono's apology on Monday for the worst haze in the region's history, Mr Lee said that Singapore "wholeheartedly" accepted the "gracious" gesture.

He also welcomed the Indonesian leader's pledge to spare no efforts in tackling the forest fires, and said he hoped for "swift and sustained action" against illegal land-clearing practices.

To that end, PM Lee reiterated Singapore's offer of assistance to the Indonesian authorities to put out the fires, and said the country stands ready to work with neighbours to end haze-related issues.

He called for a "permanent solution to prevent this problem from recurring annually".

Across the Causeway and in Jakarta, the apology also drew plaudits, with Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman saying he "saluted" Dr Yudhoyono.

"I think the most important thing is for us to work together with Indonesia. We cannot just expect Indonesia to solve the problem," he said.

The conciliatory gesture from Indonesia had come in a televised press conference on Monday, where Dr Yudhoyono also chastised officials for statements implying that Singapore and Malaysia had overreacted. He pledged to do more to put out the haze- causing fires.

Yesterday, he sought to back up that promise by sending off 1,400 more disaster officials, soldiers, police and civil servants to the affected areas, telling them to "overcome the burning and smoke" and to "do it well, complete". They join 2,300 already on the ground, while another 1,600 are slated to head there today.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) chief Syamsul Maarif told reporters the men would be deployed for aerial operations - cloud-seeding and water-bombing - as well as firefighting operations on the ground.

Meanwhile, Riau officials arrested eight farmers on Monday and yesterday after catching them red-handed in the land-burning act. Local police did not say if they were hired by large firms or had acted of their own accord.

In Singapore, the PSI stayed in the moderate range as the much awaited rain, and some unexpected hail, fell yesterday afternoon.

New guidelines for job flexibility in service sector kick in 1 July 2013

Foreign worker job flexibility: Bosses urged to share gains
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2013

THE Manpower Ministry (MOM) has urged service sector employers to share with their foreign workers the productivity gains which a new scheme may bring.

From Monday next week, restaurants and retailers can get their foreign work permit holders to do more than one job.

The concession, first announced in February, is to help companies cope with higher levies and smaller foreign worker quotas in the service sector.

Currently, foreign workers can do only the job for which they were hired.

But employers should be reasonable with this new flexibility, MOM said yesterday.

It released three pages of guidelines detailing how the scheme, which could affect some 209,500 workers, will be implemented.

A waiter can man the cash register, but not repair kitchen equipment without training, it cited as an example.

Given that the scheme will allow companies to improve productivity, employers should share the gains with their workers, especially those asked to do more work, said Mr Adrian Chua, MOM's divisional director for manpower planning and policy.

The non-binding guidelines, which contain mostly dos and don'ts, were drawn up after consultation with the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

They also urged employers to ask workers in writing whether they would do more work for higher pay.

Companies should not penalise those who say no.

US human trafficking report 'continues to present inaccuracies': Singapore

Findings did not take into account domestic law or context, say officials
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2013

THE Singapore authorities yesterday criticised a United States report on human trafficking, saying it "continues to present inaccuracies and misrepresentations" about the Republic.

The Singapore Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) released a statement saying the US Department of State's report did not take into account Singapore's laws or its domestic context, which is different from the US.

The Republic was placed in "Tier 2" of a four-tier category system in which "Tier 1" represents countries "whose governments fully comply with minimum international standards of protecting migrant workers from forced labour or other forms of trafficking in people".

"Tier 2" countries do not fully comply with minimum international standards but are making "significant efforts" in the area.

The US report, released earlier this month, charged among other things that child sex trafficking occurs in Singapore.

It also said that the Government investigated more than 400 leads, "yet it only substantiated 21 trafficking cases during the year".

The taskforce said it will address the "inaccuracies" in a subsequent statement. Set up in 2010 and co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Manpower, it said the report "generally captured Singapore's key TIP efforts" and stressed that the Government remains fully committed in fighting human trafficking.

The statement added that last year a National Plan of Action was launched to combat human trafficking. It included securing a budget to fund TIP initiatives, strengthening inter-agency coordination and increasing awareness of trafficking among government officials, workers and the public.

The taskforce has also boosted the number of frontline officers and stepped up training.

It called on the US to adopt "a more objective methodology to report countries' TIP efforts in future editions of the TIP report".

Encouraging start to free MRT rides for early birds: LTA

By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2013

THE first day of free train rides into the city area for early birds got off to an "encouraging" start yesterday, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

Its figures show that the number of commuters tapping out of specified stations during the pre-peak hours of 7am to 7.45am shot up. It rose 25 per cent to nearly 29,000 against the daily average of 23,000 for the first three weeks of this month.

On the other hand, the number of commuters who tapped out during the 8am to 9am peak period fell to almost 86,000, a 9 per cent decline from 94,000.

The trial involves 16 MRT stations, including Raffles Place, Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown and City Hall.

A Straits Times poll of 70 commuters at five stations, however, found that only around 5 per cent of them got up earlier for the free ride yesterday, the first day of a trial effort to spread the morning peak-hour crowds.

But change takes time, said transport analysts. The LTA said it will monitor the changes in the next few months before drawing conclusions about any change in people's travel patterns.

The reason: Travel patterns take time to stabilise as employers and employees make adjustments in workplace and personal arrangements. "There may be daily fluctuations as well," said the LTA spokesman.

When the situation settles, studies will be done to determine how many people will start their journeys earlier, she said.

Agreeing, transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said it will take two to three months to gauge commuter response. "It is still the school holidays, and people take time to change and get used to new travelling habits."

The year-long trial by the Government, which is costing it $10 million, also offers a 50 cent discount to those who tap out between 7.45am and 8am.

The number who did so fell as well, from 13,000 to 12,350 - a 5 per cent decline, said the LTA.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew has projected that the free rides could move 10,000 to 20,000 - or 10 per cent to 20 per cent - of train users away from the peak period.