Wednesday 31 July 2013

No pay cut for junior civil servants re-hired at 62: Public Service Division

But some senior officers will have salaries reduced by up to 15 per cent
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2013

FROM next month, junior officers in the public sector who turn 62 will not suffer a pay cut when they are re-employed, a move that the labour movement had called for a week ago.

These Division III officers, who do mostly clerical and front-line customer service work in ministries, earn between $1,300 and $2,100 a month.

There are about 11,700 of them in the public sector, but most are below the retirement age of 62.

However, the policy change that aims to coax older workers to continue working does not automatically apply to senior officers.

The Public Service Division (PSD) said yesterday that while more senior officers at Division I and II will continue at the same grade and salary, some will have their salaries reduced by up to 15 per cent.

The cut for these officers, who include teachers and management support officers, is in line with private sector practices, said the PSD, the human resource arm of the Government.

It also disclosed yesterday that the no-pay-cut policy was first applied to the lowest Division IV rung of officials like filing clerks since April last year.

About 130 of them were re-hired at their existing pay between April and December last year, it told The Straits Times.

As for senior officers, it gave figures to show that most did not suffer steep pay cuts.

Fewer than one in five of about 1,150 re-hired at lower pay last year had their salaries cut by more than 20 per cent. Only 1 per cent bore the full brunt of the 30 per cent reduction.

"With the revised terms (from next month), we hope to encourage more able officers to continue working after they turn 62," said Mr Tan Hoe Soon, a PSD director.

The National Trades Union Congress, in calling for the change, produced its poll of 118 unionised companies to show that eight in 10 did not reduce the pay of re-employed workers doing the same job.

Unionists yesterday cheered the PSD's move.

A louder, uncensored discourse on censorship

By John Lui, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2013

COMPLAINTS still dog Singapore's film censorship policy, more than 20 years after a ratings system was put into place.

Earlier this year, there was some online grousing accompanying the release of A Good Day To Die Hard, the fifth in the Die Hard action movie franchise starring Bruce Willis.

This "international version" of the film, according to the Media Development Authority's film classification online database, had come from the film distribution company with the swearing already muted. It was therefore "passed clean" and given a PG13 rating, meaning that parental guidance was suggested for viewers aged 13 and below.

Fans were upset that the colourful swearing, a signature of the films, was gone. As is often the case, some said they would boycott the film. Once again, film distributors have proactively self-censored so as to get a lower age rating, they said. Others said they would turn to the Internet and, via illegal methods, watch the uncut American version.

It is hard to quantify just how many films come into Singapore via the Internet. But the number cannot be small, given that 85 per cent of households here have broadband Internet access, according to an international survey taken in 2011.

The issue of movie-watching via illegal downloads or streaming has not escaped official notice.

Last year, the Government convened a 12-member Media Convergence Review Panel to look into, among other things, how to make Singapore's content classification systems more meaningful when it is so easy to view unclassified material on sites such as YouTube.

Singapore takes a symbolic stand by requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block a list of 100 or so websites containing objectionable material.

News website, The Independent told to register under MDA licence rules

In complying, The Independent agrees not to accept foreign funds
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2013

A NEWS and current affairs website called The Independent, due to launch officially on Aug 9, will comply with a Government request to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification.

As part of its registration, the online site agrees not to take foreign funds for its provision, management and/or operation.

The Media Development Authority (MDA), which asked the site to register, said yesterday the Government has "received specific information which gives it cause for concern over foreign interest to fund The Independent".

It did not elaborate.

But the registration would "not in any way" affect what it can publish, the MDA said in a statement.

"However, it will prevent The Independent from being controlled by, or coming under the influence of, foreign entities or funding, and ensure that Singapore politics remain a matter for Singaporeans alone," it said.

When contacted, the website's five-member management team said they had agreed at an early stage they would be a "purely Singaporean-funded media operation which does not accept foreign funds".

This is documented in their founding shareholder's agreement of April 19, it added in a statement last night.

"The Independent has not and will not ever come under the influence of foreign entities or funding," they said, adding they are "pleased" to register with the MDA.

The statement did not address queries from The Straits Times on whether it ever sought foreign funding and how it is currently funded.

Its team comprises Mr P. N. Balji, former editor-in-chief of the Today freesheet, former The Online Citizen editor Kumaran Pillai, lawyer Alfred Dodwell, research and consulting agency chief executive Leon Perera, and design agency owner Edmund Wee, a former design editor with The Straits Times.

The site is owned by local company Protegesoft, whose director is Mr Pillai.

Best to leave CPF Special Account money untouched

Many commercial funds find it tough to beat the return guaranteed by Govt
By Goh Eng Yeow, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2013

RECENTLY, a study commissioned by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) throws up an interesting poser: Can the guidelines on investing the monies locked up in the Central Provident Fund (CPF) be relaxed to get higher returns?

The argument in the paper released by the SGX and consulting firm Oliver Wyman is beguiling: Based on its calculations, Singaporeans can achieve returns that hit 79 per cent of their pre-retirement income.

That will be considerably higher than the 68 per cent level which they can expect to get currently.

But to get the higher returns, they will have to put their CPF monies into "life-cycle funds" which invest in higher-risk assets when they are younger that then switch automatically to safer but lower-risk assets as retirement approaches.

Now, most Singaporeans use the bulk of the monies they keep in their CPF Ordinary Accounts for housing. That leaves only the monies in the Special Accounts for investments.

Even so, this is no trifling sum to sneeze at. The study estimates that there is a staggering $15 billion lying idle in the CPF Special Accounts earning the default interest rates offered by the CPF Board.

But there is a snag: CPF members must keep at least $40,000 in cash in their Special Accounts. They can use the remaining balance in excess of the threshold amount for investments.

That, said the paper, is a big dampener. The average Singaporean will reach the minimum $40,000 threshold in their CPF Special Accounts only when they reach 40. "This is a much later age to start investing in equities, compared to retirement saving schemes in many other countries," it said.

Currently, the CPF Ordinary Account pays a return of 2.5 per cent, while the Special Account pays 4 per cent. In addition, the first $60,000 of each person's CPF balance will get an extra 1 percentage point in interest.

But last year, if CPF members channelled their monies into funds under the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS), that had been established with a view to give people more investment options for their CPF savings, they could have done better.

Lipper, the fund ratings company, noted that CPFIS investors made an average gain of 10.35 per cent last year.

Those who put their money on CPFIS equity funds enjoyed a 12.27 per cent growth, while bond funds rose an average of 4.73 per cent.

So at first glance, it would seem that taking an active investment approach may be more sensible than leaving the funds idle in the CPF account.

But there are powerful arguments to be marshalled against any relaxation in the CPF investment rules.

Easier for needy elderly to apply for help: Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund

By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2013

NEEDY elderly people in Singapore are finding it easier to apply for wheelchairs and other aids they require.

Before July 1, all applications for subsidies under the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund had to be approved by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC).

However, under enhancements that kicked in at the start of this month, there are now 114 places where they can get approval for various subsidies under the fund.

These include National Kidney Foundation dialysis centres, community hospitals like the Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital and senior activity centres.

The move has cut processing time from two weeks to about one.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Dr Amy Khor, Mayor of South West District, visited three families who have benefited from the scheme in Marine Parade yesterday.

There have been 702 beneficiaries since the start of the month, which also saw 130 per cent more applications than last month.

"I'm pleased that we are able to provide more assistance to the seniors," said Dr Khor. "We want to continue to work to review our assistance schemes to make help more accessible and easily available to them."

The fund stood at $10 million before being topped up with $40 million, announced in February's Budget.

Elderly people living in three room or smaller flats are automatically eligible for a 90 per cent subsidy on devices that cost $500 or less. They pay the remaining 10 per cent of the cost of the device.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Social safety nets being strengthened: PM Lee

By Vimita Mohandas, Chennel NewsAsia, 28 Jul 2013

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the government is strengthening national safety nets and reviewing policies to help vulnerable groups more.

He added that the community is also rallying together to address social needs and reaching out in ways that the government cannot do.

On the individual level, Mr Lee stressed the importance of being self-reliant and working together to build a better tomorrow.

He said that working together is even more important in our new phase as Singaporeans are living in a time of rapid change and uncertainty.

While this will be an invigorating time for the young and people with skills (as there are more opportunities), there will be others who need more help.

Mr Lee said: "There will be some who will find it difficult to adjust, especially the older Singaporeans and perhaps also, the lower income Singaporeans. They will need help to overcome the challenges they face. Whether it's cost of living, the cost of healthcare, the widening income disparities, we need to focus on these people who need help and make sure that when we advance and move into the future, we all go together."

He was speaking on Sunday at the official opening of the Pek Kio Community Centre, the first community centre to be co-located with a school - Farrer Park Primary School.

PM Lee added that community centres act as a bridge to the community and to build community ties.

Community centres are also a bridge to the future with brand new facilities such as a performing theatre, dance studios and an indoor sports hall.

The Pek Kio Community Centre, which is also the first CC to have a 200-seater performing theatre, will maximise community resources while promoting greater involvement in community activities by students and residents/parents in Pek Kio.

Monday 29 July 2013

Meritocracy works but beware of elitism: ESM Goh Chok Tong

Top schools can help ensure bright students avoid having a sense of entitlement, he says
By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2013

The danger of Singapore's best and brightest young people thinking they are naturally superior and entitled to their success worries Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Singapore needs to guard against such elitism in schools, public institutions or society at large, because it can divide the inclusive society the country is trying to build, he said yesterday.

To guard against that, he recommended sticking with meritocracy, which has served the country well. But there is a need to adapt and strengthen meritocracy to ensure everyone in society benefits.

"What we need is to get the successful to understand that they have a responsibility to help the less fortunate and less able with compassion," he said. They can do this through cash donations, sharing skills and knowledge, and serving the country.

At the same time, the Government needs to continue to help families that have fallen behind, through its policies and programmes, he added.

"Together, these efforts will ensure that our brand of meritocracy remains compassionate, that it is fair and inclusive for all - not just those who are lucky in their backgrounds or genetic endowments."

He was speaking at the 190th anniversary dinner of his alma mater, Raffles Institution, which honoured him with the Gryphon Award for distinguished alumni. It is named after the mythical creature on the school crest.

He is the second recipient after former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2011, who had urged RI then to maintain its longstanding traditions of meritocracy and multiculturism.

'Toilet Man' Jack Sim has the last laugh

Ridiculed and scorned by some, he gets the world to focus on dire sanitation crisis
By Robin Chan, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2013

Oddball. Joker. Troublemaker. Toilet cleaner. Jack Sim has been called all these names and more.

But it doesn't bother him. In fact, he wears the words proudly. After all, he has spent years of his life being rejected, laughed at and even shunned.

Now he is having the last laugh.

"Bad things can become good," he said, chatting in the living room of his two-storey home on Meyer Road in Katong last Thursday.

The night before, the United Nations General Assembly had agreed to adopt a resolution to mark Nov 19 as World Toilet Day.

It was the result of a long and often dirty journey for Mr Sim, founder of the World Toilet Organisation, a non-governmental group that has championed clean toilets and sanitation for over a decade.

Once ridiculed and avoided by Singaporeans and some in the establishment, he is now embraced by them and celebrated.

His idea for a worldwide day devoted to toilets was rejected the first time he suggested it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) four years ago. But it finally got the Government's support and was taken successfully all the way to the UN.

Last Wednesday in New York, the 193 members of the General Assembly adopted by consensus the three-page resolution, formally known as "Sanitation for All".

A helping hand

Mr Sim first approached the MFA with his idea in 2009.

The UN had adopted 2008 as the Year of Sanitation but once that was over, he noticed interest in sanitation wane. What the world needed, he felt, was an annual event to keep an important issue in view.

His e-mail request to the MFA was rejected - the man heading the UN Mission in New York was Mr Vanu Menon and he deemed the suggestion "inappropriate".

"Vanu said he didn't want it. A toilet didn't sound like something Singapore would stand for," Mr Sim recalled.

But that changed a few years later. Former foreign affairs minister George Yeo attended an annual World Toilet Summit in Hainan in November 2011, and after three days seeing Mr Sim in action, left infected by his passion.

Online sources of information: Navigating the maze

Online posts that spread misinformation have heightened concerns over how this can cause panic and erode trust in public institutions. Tessa Wong surveys the changing landscape and suggests ways to address the problem.
The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2013

LIKE many Singaporeans these days, Mr Nicholas Lauw keeps himself informed by reading both mainstream and online news.

But the 32-year-old lawyer is careful about trusting what he reads online as he finds some local blogs and sociopolitical sites to be less reliable and more polarising than mainstream outlets.

One example that pulled him up short was The Real Singapore (TRS) website's article last month attributed to Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng and which criticised government actions during the haze. It later emerged that she had not written it, and the site had not checked if she was the author.

Says Mr Lauw: "It emphasises that you shouldn't take at face value everything you read from online sites that is not mainstream media. I read everything with a pinch of salt. But for some sources, I read them with a larger dose than others."

This issue of online credibility has become more acute as more turn to blogs, websites and social media as sources of information, and more cases have arisen where false news and rumours have spread quickly online.

How can the public navigate this new information landscape? What can be done to ensure news put out there is accurate?

A shifting landscape

BACK when the news was largely provided by print and broadcast companies staffed by professional journalists, editors acted as gatekeepers to ensure standards of accuracy and balance. Often, they were backed by support staff trained to check facts.

But now, blogs, sociopolitical sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have blossomed into news sources.

They now play a small but significant role in public discourse. Beyond airing views and shaping public opinion, they have done their fair share of uncovering issues that have in turn earned them some measure of trust.

Last year, sociopolitical website TR Emeritus (TRE) triggered one of the biggest political scandals in recent years when it reported that then Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong from the Workers' Party (WP) allegedly had an affair with a married woman from the same party.

Mr Yaw ended up being expelled from the WP. He vacated his seat in Parliament and fled the country, which in turn led to a by-election in Hougang - the first in Singapore in 20 years.

Public service graft cases: Half were in enforcement

Most offenders were male and money was most common bribe: PMO study
By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2013

ENFORCEMENT officers, nearly all of whom were men, made up half of public officers investigated for graft and similar misconduct over the past five years.

Money was also the most common type of bribe, with cases involving sex accounting for just 11 per cent.

This is what a new study, prompted by the recent spate of high-profile cases involving public officers, established.

Commissioned by the Prime Minister's Office, it was meant to see if there were widespread issues in the public service system. The study was initially "classified" but the PMO made it public yesterday due to "public interest".

It showed that of the 996 cases handled by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), 197 or about one in five cases involved public officers. This works out to an average of 39 cases each year between 2008 and last year.

A third of these cases saw no need for further action after the officer was cleared, investigations proved inconclusive or the Attorney-General decided there was a lack of evidence. The rest of the cases led to criminal prosecution or disciplinary proceedings.

Male officers were the bulk of offenders, forming 92 per cent of those prosecuted or disciplined.

Half of these offenders, or 51 per cent, were also front-line officers whose job was to enforce laws. They included police and anti-narcotics officers and officials from the Housing Board, National Environment Agency and Manpower Ministry, among others.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Narrowing the empathy gap

To be more empathetic, PAP may need to swerve from core beliefs
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2013

IN 2006, then United States Senator Barack Obama said that America's "empathy deficit" was as pressing as its federal deficit.

He defined empathy as "the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us - the child who's hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room".

Empathy deficits can be seen all over the world as societies stratify along income lines, including in Singapore.

The Our Singapore Conversation exercise was an attempt to narrow the empathy gap by bringing citizens of different backgrounds and profiles together. If they got face-to-face, it was hoped, it would be easier to see through one another's eyes.

But the empathy gap here has another dimension: the one between the Government and the people. It is an issue that the People's Action Party (PAP) has been grappling with since the bruising 2011 General Election.

Party leaders have urged the rank-and-file to change the perception that MPs do not listen and have no empathy.

Last year, Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah said that what people want from ministers "is a sense of empathy. They really want to feel that you feel for them. They also want to feel that you're one of them".

This past week, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean took the empathy imperative to young scholarship recipients, telling them that civil servants must have a deep understanding of the public's needs; empathy and ability are equally important to reach the top echelons of the public service, he said.

That the Government is attempting to close its empathy gap is evident.

Bringing back the kampung spirit

Engaging and empowering Singaporeans can reinforce a sense of ownership in the community
By Laurence Lien, Published The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2013

THREE years ago, I spent seven weeks in the United States on a fellowship programme meeting leaders in the non-profit and community sector.

One highlight was a visit to Boston's Dudley Street Neighbourhood Initiative (DSNI), a celebrated example of community development.

DSNI had done something remarkable: turning around a devastated neighbourhood that resembled bombed-out Beirut in the 1980s, into a thriving and engaged community today.

They did this progressively by empowering residents to organise, plan for, create and control the neighbourhood they lived in.

What can we in Singapore learn from successes like theirs?

Clan bodies throw open their doors to visitors

Artefacts go on display to showcase rich culture and heritage
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2013

"ALL are welcome."

For the first time, nine clan associations in Chinatown are rolling out the red carpet for the public to explore their buildings and share their culture and history as part of the Singapore HeritageFest (SHF).

"We've had a lot of curious visitors walking past who never dared to come in. Now we've put up a sign to say that we are open and all are welcome," said Mr Lawrence Sew, secretary-general of Kong Chow Wui Koon, a Cantonese clan.

Its 89-year-old, four-storey building has been transformed into a living museum for more than $600,000.

Other clans have also been shaking off the dust for a fresh look. Three clan buildings along Bukit Pasoh Road have been refurbished over the past few years. Centuries-old artefacts and photos are now displayed with labels, and lifts have been installed, along with interactive kiosks.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Resetting mindsets about disability

By Alvan Yap, Published TODAY, 25 Jul 2013

Nine days after Singapore celebrates its 48th birthday, the local disability community will mark its own momentous milestone.

On Aug 18, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) comes into effect in Singapore. This follows the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s (MSF) announcement last Friday that the Government has ratified the convention (which it signed last November).

For people with disabilities in Singapore — numbering about 100,000 —this is welcome news and a giant step towards equal rights and access in all aspects of life.

However, real progress towards a truly inclusive society depends not only on what the Government does in adhering to the letter of the CRPD, but also on whether society adopts the spirit of the convention. In other words, how society as a whole perceives people with disabilities is crucial.

A large proportion of the general public, corporations and policy-makers tend to think of people with disabilities using two common, entrenched models. Let’s look at them and then examine a third, seldom-considered model — which might make all the difference.


The Charity Model is encapsulated by the oft-used words “less fortunate”, “underprivileged” and “needy” to describe people with disabilities, especially in conjunction with fund-raising efforts. No doubt, such charity initiatives stem from good intentions and hearts.

The problem arises when it becomes the primary lens through which the entire disability community is viewed — as pitiful, helpless and financially dependent. Naturally, being stereotyped as welfare recipients or associated with tales of tragedy is humiliating. This is also not a positive or accurate portrayal of the vast majority of people with disabilities.

AGC clarifies why no Coroner's Inquiry was held for prison inmate's death

By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2013

THERE was no coroner's inquiry into the death of prison inmate Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah because criminal proceedings had already shown how he died, the Government's main legal adviser said yesterday.

The 21-year-old suffered breathing difficulties after being placed chest down on the ground in an isolation cell.

Senior prison officer Lim Kwo Yin, 36, was later fined $10,000 for causing death by negligence. The coroner's inquiry was then discontinued - prompting questions online and in media reports about why this happened.

Yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) released a statement saying that some of the commentators "appeared to have misunderstood" how the process works.

It said the coroner is required to hold an inquiry into any death that occurs in official custody.

But if criminal proceedings have already shown the cause of death and circumstances surrounding it, he can bring the inquiry to an end.

"The coroner has a discretion to discontinue the proceedings before him if he determines that there is no longer a need for an inquiry to take place to determine the cause of and circumstances connected with the death," it said.

Contempt of court action against cartoonist

Man behind online comic strip accused of 'scandalising judiciary'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2013

THE Attorney-General has taken legal action against cartoonist Leslie Chew Peng Ee, the man behind online comic strip Demon-cratic Singapore, for contempt of court.

The High Court has allowed its application for an order of committal against the 37-year-old, who is accused of "scandalising the judiciary" in comics he posted on Facebook.

An order of committal is the typical procedure for instituting action against contempt of court.

If given, the order will find Chew guilty of contempt and set out the punishment, which could either be a jail term, a fine or both. The punishment is left to the discretion of the court.

Explaining its move yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said: "The present legal proceedings are aimed at protecting the administration of justice in the Republic of Singapore and upholding the integrity of one of our key public institutions."

On Tuesday the AGC asked the High Court for permission to apply for an order of committal against the self-employed Chew on five comics he had posted on Facebook. The High Court gave the nod for four. One was posted on July 20, 2011, and the rest last year, on Jan 3, Jan 5 and June 16.

On the Facebook page which he started in May 2011, Chew claims Demon-cratic Singapore is the "full name" of a fictional country, "often referred to as Singapore for short". It also says the series is "a totally fictional comic with entirely fictional characters based on wholly fictional events".

But the strips are said to bear a strong resemblance to actual situations here. The comics singled out allege preferred treatment by a kangaroo court to foreigners and high-profile personalities.

UN declares Nov 19 as World Toilet Day

Resolution is the first that S'pore has tabled in 48 years as UN member
The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2013

SINGAPORE made a big splash at the United Nations last night: Its move to promote good sanitation for all was such a hit that the world body wasted little time in passing its resolution to declare Nov 19 World Toilet Day.

The success was all the more sweet as the resolution is the first Singapore has ever tabled in its 48 years of being a UN member.

The subject, however, is sure to flush out some potty names for the event and off-colour jokes.

But Singapore officials hope that the chuckles will get the issue out of the water closet, because good sanitation is more than just a matter of hygiene.

Singapore's UN deputy permanent representative Mark Neo told the UN General Assembly: "We need to first seize the world's attention through humour and a catchy phrase like World Toilet Day, before we can inform and educate.

"You have to find a pivotal issue, like toilets, which by focusing all your attention and efforts on, you can achieve many disproportionate and positive outcomes in terms of health, gender equality, economic prosperity and the personal dignity of many of the poorest people in the world."

Each year, about 760,000 children under the age of five die from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation habits.

The economic loss is also huge, shrinking a country's gross domestic product by up to 7 per cent.

The UN estimates that 2.5 billion people worldwide lack access to better sanitation.

While the triumph of Singapore's "Sanitation for All" resolution was swift, with the 193-member UN General Assembly adopting it within minutes, the road to success was long and rocky.

It took almost four years, starting in 2009 when Singapore's famed "Mr Toilet" Jack Sim sent his idea by e-mail to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Mr Sim is the founder of World Toilet Organisation, a non-governmental body that has championed good sanitation and clean toilets for more than a decade.

Friday 26 July 2013

Coping with foreign labour cuts

New foreign labour cuts since July 1 put even more pressure on firms here. But companies are coping. In a five-part series, The Straits Times looks at how they are doing it.

Help yourself, please
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 22 Jul 2013

SOUP Restaurant executive director Wong Chi Keong admitted he would have pooh-poohed opening a self-service Chinese restaurant when he entered the food business two decades ago. To him, it was a fast-food concept.

But he changed his mind a year ago, and in March this year, the chain opened two self-service eateries - Potluck and Cafe O - in Jurong East's IMM mall.

"The rules of the game have changed. If you want to continue to play, you have to adapt," he said.

Restaurateurs have been pushed to embrace self-service because the food and beverage sector is buffeted by higher levies and stricter quotas for foreign workers.

From this month, the maximum proportion of foreigners in a service firm is 40 per cent, down from 45 per cent before - although this applies only to new hires.

To combat this squeeze, at least five restaurant groups have launched, or are in the midst of starting, manpower-light concepts.

The aim is to let workers spend less time attending to customers so they can multitask and do other tasks more efficiently.

CPIB officer accused of embezzling over $1.7m

Graft agency veteran said to have used siphoned-off funds to gamble
By Bryna Singh, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2013

AS A department head in the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong was entrusted with public funds earmarked to support the agency's war on graft.

But yesterday, the 15-year CPIB veteran appeared in court accused of misappropriating more than $1.7 million from the bureau, among other related offences.

He faces a total of 21 charges: eight for criminal breach of trust as a public servant, one for forging a payment receipt and 12 counts of using the proceeds of his crimes to gamble.

The CPIB said in a statement yesterday that Yeo's ruse was uncovered on Sept 14 last year. He was suspended from duty and interdicted the next day.

The Straits Times understands it was a whistle-blower who alerted the bureau to the case, before it was referred to the police Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) for investigation shortly after.

Thursday 25 July 2013

PM Lee Hsien Loong lauds effort put into Our Singapore Conversation

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong hosted about 30 members of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) to tea yesterday, to thank them for their efforts and good work over the past year.

His chat with members of the OSC committee and secretariat and volunteer facilitators lasted for over two hours.

"Cheered that the OSC dialogues have been meaningful, and have produced many good ideas," he said in a Facebook post last night. "The sessions helped Singaporeans understand others' aspirations and concerns."

Mr Lee unveiled the national conversation on Singapore's future at his National Day message last August. He has pledged to talk about some issues raised through the OSC dialogues at the National Day Rally on Aug 18.

Committee members at yesterday's tea said Mr Lee was keen to find out more about their experiences and what they learnt from the sessions.

The lion, the haze and the people

By Pravin Prakash, Published TODAY, 23 Jul 2013

Civil society in Singapore stands at a crossroads. Sociopolitical issues are actively debated, opinions are readily offered and there is, in general, a constant clamour for increased engagement and space for debate in the public sphere. But, for all the noise, is there real impetus towards taking the initiative on action?

Over a month ago, for instance, there was much furore over the resignation of Singa, the mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). Singa’s “resignation letter” noted that he was “too tired to continue facing an increasingly angry and disagreeable society” and that “it (was) time for real people to step up and for the mascot to step aside”.

The campaign polarised public opinion, with criticism directed at the SKM for Singa’s cynicism. While the dust has since settled, it is worth revisiting matters through the lens of civil society in Singapore. Why not, for instance, interpret Singa’s “resignation” as a shift away from government-initiated and run campaigns?

One critic had fretted that Singa the Lion was setting a bad example for his young son by “giving up”. If a make-belief mascot has more influence on the personal development of a young boy than do his parents, family and greater society, well, it is a damning indictment of our social responsibility.

Some also argued that Singa was a failure because he was a plastic representation of a top-down movement that lacked connectivity. So should we not then celebrate the fact that Singa’s inability to relate to a different generation has been recognised, and the responsibility of making this society a gracious one passed on to “the real people”?

One in 10 borrowers overstretched, warns MAS

Hike in rates and fall in property prices may pose risks to financial stability
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2013

HOUSEHOLDS here are borrowing more amid low interest rates and combined with soaring home prices, the mix poses "significant risks" to Singapore's financial stability, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has warned.

The central bank said 5 per cent to 10 per cent of borrowers here have likely taken on too much debt to buy a home. In other words, their total monthly debt repayments exceed 60 per cent of their income, said MAS managing director Ravi Menon yesterday.

This proportion of "at risk" borrowers could hit 10 per cent to 15 per cent if mortgage rates rise by 3 percentage points, he added.

While Singapore households as a whole have more cash and deposits than debt, individual households may not be in such good financial shape, Mr Menon said at the release of the MAS annual report. Households with lower income, less savings or longer loan periods may find it a strain to repay debts if interest rates rise.

"The combination of low interest rates, growing leverage, and surging property prices poses significant risks to financial stability," Mr Menon said.

"When interest rates rise and if property prices fall, any risks built up will materialise."

He added: "So when interest rates rise, long before any bank gets into trouble - and they won't - some households will."

Government help schemes: Why annual value of a person's home is relevant

MR LIM Tong Wah suggested reviewing the practice of using the annual value of a person's home as a criterion in government subsidy and wealth-sharing schemes ("Flat size not an accurate reflection of income"; Forum Online, July 8).

We agree that government assistance should be targeted at those in greater need. This is why government assistance schemes, such as the Workfare Income Supplement and the GST Voucher, consider both a person's assessable income and the annual value of his home.

While this is not perfect, it provides us with a fair and objective basis to take a person's income and wealth into consideration.

Annual value is a relevant consideration, as among those who do not have income, citizens living in private condominiums, for instance, are generally better off than those living in smaller HDB flats.

For government assistance schemes, those living in five-room flats enjoy the same subsidy tier as those living in four-room flats.

Mr Lim shared the example of the cost of a mammogram at a polyclinic.

Government subsidies are provided to all polyclinic patients, which means they would need to pay only $50 for a mammogram. To encourage regular screening, the cost for women due for rescreening was further reduced through the sponsorship of the Khoo Teck Puat Foundation, a charitable organisation, with the level of sponsorship based on the annual value of their residences.

We recognise that there are those with unique circumstances who may not qualify for government assistance based on their home.

For those facing extenuating circumstances, the Government is prepared to exercise flexibility. They may also consider approaching the family service centre, citizens' consultative committee, community development council or social service office, which are better placed to assess their specific needs and provide the necessary help.

We thank Mr Lim for his feedback and assure him that the Government continually explores ways to refine the eligibility criteria of government subsidy and wealth-sharing schemes, so that help reaches those who need it most.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Finance

Bey Mui Leng (Ms)

Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health
ST Forum, 24 Jul 2013

'Same job, so same pay for older worker'

Companies say labour shortage and battle for talent behind wage decision
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2013

THE shortage of workers and battle for talent are forcing Singapore companies to maintain or even raise the pay of their older workers.

Also, it is not right to cut the pay of workers when they turn 62 if they continue in the same job, the companies told The Straits Times yesterday following a report that the public sector lags behind the private sector in the way they pay these workers.

On Sunday, the NTUC said its survey of 118 unionised companies in the private sector shows eight in 10 did not cut the pay of of their workers when re-employing them at age 62.

In contrast, public servants, when re-hired, faced pay cuts of up to 30 per cent.

Using the findings, the NTUC has renewed its push for re-employment terms in the public sector to be reviewed.

When asked yesterday whether it would review the pay formula for these older workers, the Public Service Division said it "has been reviewing" re-employment guidelines and its review "took into account" private sector practices.

"We expect to release the outcome of our review soon," its spokesman added in a statement, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, all the 10 small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) interviewed were opposed to reducing the pay of older workers.

The president of the Security Association of Singapore, Mr T. Mogan, said it was "unthinkable" for security companies to even consider cutting the pay of guards: "We are still in need of them. It is not as if there is a long queue of young people wanting to join the sector."

For training consultancy Absolute Kinetics, reducing the salary of an older worker who continues to do the same work sends a wrong signal, said its executive chairman, Mr Fang Koh Look.

"It tells the worker the firm does not value his work," he said, adding, "if I cut the pay of an older, experienced worker today, he will wonder, 'Why should I continue to work for you tomorrow?'"

While the SMEs declined to comment on public sector practices, some suggested it review its practice of cutting the pay of these workers automatically.

Boon Heng to be new Temasek chairman

Dhanabalan to retire at end July after 17 years at helm of investment firm
By Lee Su Shyan, The Straits Times, 23 Jul 2013

TEMASEK Holdings chairman S. Dhanabalan is retiring after 17 years at the helm of the investment firm and handing the reins to former Cabinet minister and labour union chief Lim Boon Heng.

Mr Lim will take over on Aug 1, in a move signalling a new chapter for Temasek after what has been a remarkable era of transformation.

Mr Dhanabalan's 17 years have included some tumultuous times for stock markets, including the terror attacks in September 2001, and the global financial crisis.

But Mr Dhanabalan, 75, will retire at a high point, with Temasek's portfolio valued at a record $215 billion as at March 31.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked him warmly for his years of dedicated service in a personal letter yesterday.

He described Mr Dhanabalan as an exemplary chairman who provided strong leadership that helped Temasek distinguish itself as an active investor, a forward-looking institution and a trusted steward.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Temasek has delivered good, long-term returns and praised Mr Dhanabalan's "intellect, humility and deep sense of integrity", while Temasek chief executive Ho Ching paid tribute to his "strong moral compass and wise counsel".

Mr Dhanabalan, who will serve as honorary adviser, told a briefing yesterday how he felt "satisfaction" in helping to transform Temasek into an internationally respected Singapore institution.