Saturday 31 August 2013

More families to get health subsidies

Lower cash outlay for outpatient treatment and big hospital bills
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2013

FROM today, more people will get to enjoy subsidies at private clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), after the qualifying household income was raised by 20 per cent.

The monthly income cap for each family member is now $1,800 instead of the previous $1,500. But this is just the start.

About half of all Singaporeans will qualify for the scheme, which is currently for those aged 40 and above, when the age floor is done away with in January.

From next year, all CHAS cardholders will also get a 100 per cent subsidy when they go for health screenings to check for any of six conditions, including diabetes and cervical cancer.

They will also receive subsidies for five more chronic conditions, including Parkinson's disease and chronic kidney illness.

In addition, Medisave will be allowed to cover outpatient treatments for these five conditions from January.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced all this yesterday, when he fleshed out the changes first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech.

These changes, Mr Gan said, reflect a significant shift in the Government's approach to national health-care financing as it responds to Singaporeans' "strong desire for greater peace of mind" over medical bills.

While personal responsibility remains a core principle, the Government will now take on a larger share of the cost, he explained.

"The Government will do more," he promised, "to give Singaporeans peace of mind, greater assurance that they would not have to face this health-care risk on their own."

Tearing down barriers

Institute of Mental Health chief executive Chua Hong Choon wants his patients to break down walls, in a manner of speaking, to engage more fully with life. He tells Susan Long how.
The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2013

IN THE main wing of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at Buangkok View is a little heritage garden. It has a display of rusting padlocks, metal grille doors and barred windows secured onto concrete slabs.

They are relics of the institute's past when it was set up in 1928 as an asylum to provide custodial care for the mentally ill.

They bear grim testament to a time when mental illness was thought to be incurable and the best recourse was to house the afflicted in a safe place where they would receive "humane" care.

Whenever IMH's Associate Professor Chua Hong Choon passes this little walk down memory lane, he visibly recoils. For the 48-year-old psychiatrist who joined IMH in 1993 - the year it changed its name from Woodbridge Hospital - and has spent his entire career there, it is all about breaking down walls.

On the 85th anniversary of IMH, he feels that it has come a long way from being known as the xiao keng (mad house in Hokkien) of yore. But it has a longer way to go to shed the stigma and exclusion associated with it.

Since he took on the chief executive job two years ago, he has got rid of the perspex panels at its outpatient clinic service counters, where patients once had to communicate with staff through a small hole. They are now completely open, to "reduce the institutionalised feel".

IMH will soon have a new dementia wing, laid out like an open-concept home with little nooks and colourful furniture, looking out at a garden of lantana and lilies. The gentlest of slopes leads down a circular path to a wooden pavilion.

Some might worry about elderly patients falling down on the slope. But the CEO prefers to mitigate dangers where possible, but press forth anyway, to let patients enjoy strolls and fresh air.

The specialist clinic reception, which sees 500 outpatients daily, used to be encased in concrete. Now it is clad in see-through glass, where life-size cut-outs of mental patients, who were persuaded to talk about their illness, are hung up.

Although the stigma is less now, rejection still awaits many of the 35,000 patients on its registry upon discharge.

After they arrive home, their family members sometimes get their MPs to write a letter, asking why the hospital discharged them so soon. "Imagine how you would feel if you got home from hospital after surgery and people say: 'Why did you come home so early? Who's going to look after you?' " he says.

HDB unveils plans for three new housing areas

By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Aug 2013

Three new housing areas will be launched over the next few years, offering 40,000 new homes in all. They are Punggol Matilda, Tampines North and the new centrally-located estate of Bidadari.

Homebuyers will be able to apply for units as soon as September -- when some 500 units at Punggol Matilda are launched by the HDB.

From waterfront living at Punggol Matilda, to a boulevard park at Tampines North, and preserving the heritage and greenery at Bidadari -- these plans were unveiled by National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan at the HDB's "Future Homes, Better Lives" Exhibition.

Mr Khaw said: "The plans for Bidadari, Tampines North, and Punggol Matilda, will capitalise on their individual distinctive character so that they can all achieve a unique identity and provide a unique living experience.

"The planners of HDB have carefully built on each estate's history, distinctive local flavour and features. As we rapidly expand our building programme to create new precincts in new towns, my instruction to HDB is to seize every opportunity of building new precincts, to build on our strong foundation, so as to advance our social mission. Every new town must be better than the previous one."

Friday 30 August 2013

Changes to Cabinet and Other Appointments from 1 Sep 2013

PM makes 3rd round of Cabinet changes
Chan Chun Sing made full minister; 2 new office-holders; more women
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2013

TWO years after entering politics, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, 44, is being promoted to full minister, charting one of the fastest rises in recent times.

The former army chief's elevation was among several moves the PM's Office announced yesterday, including enlisting of two backbenchers to the front bench and a record number of promotions for women office-holders.

The changes underscore the gathering pace of transition to the fourth-generation leadership, as Mr Chan joins Education Minister Heng Swee Keat as the two full Cabinet ministers among those who entered politics in May 2011. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he wanted to reinforce his team and promote those who have done well.

The changes also reflect a strengthening of the team looking at social policies which have become more complex, he told reporters yesterday during his official visit to China.

And while these are a third set of changes since 2011, PM Lee made clear that he is not done. "After the election, I had a new Cabinet. It was a very lean team and since then, gradually, year by year, I've been building up, reinforcing, adding one or two here and there, and this is another step in that direction," he said.

Mr Chan thanked the PM and his colleagues, adding that "there is much for us to work together in the coming years to realise the direction that PM has charted out in National Day Rally 2013".

The rise of Mr Chan, who will also become Second Minister for Defence, outpaces that of the stars of previous cohorts, including Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who joined politics in 2001 and was made full minister in 2004.

The DPM was from the class of the "Super Seven" which has since formed the backbone of the third-generation leadership.

After the 2011 General Election, Mr Chan was among the "Fabulous Five" selected for political office. Leading the team, Mr Heng Swee Keat, at age 50, made it to full minister then. Mr Chan was made Acting Minister while Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Lawrence Wong became Ministers of State, before moving up to be Acting Ministers a year later.

Addressing Income Inequality – Who Pays?

Talking Point: The Vote, 28 Aug 2013

In Singapore, the top 10% earn 30% of all household income. The bottom 10%? 1.6%.

Income inequality has been a fact of life since the 1980s, so what’s behind the government’s latest “strategic shift” to right the imbalance? Does it need to?

And if it means levying more taxes, would you pay?

Break for caregivers with drop-in disability programme

Free pilot scheme offers few hours of care for those with disabilities
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2013

THREE times a week, Madam Joanne Ong drops off her mildly autistic son, 19, at the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities Seniors Activity Centre.

The short break is a welcome relief for the 43-year-old real estate agent. But more importantly, the time her son spends with the elderly has improved his behaviour.

"It's very tiring to be a caregiver," said Madam Ong. "I can use the three hours to run some errands such as grocery shopping. If I take him out, he gets frustrated easily. But the best part is that my son is more patient now."

This new Drop-in Disability Programme was launched by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) yesterday at the senior activity centre at Telok Blangah.

The pilot is open to those above 16 years old who have physical or intellectual disabilities, require little care and have no major behavioural issues. Caregivers can leave them at certain centres for three hours a day, up to three days a week, for free.

Unlike typical day-care schemes, the disabled can interact with the elderly at the centres. Currently, two Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities Seniors Activity Centres in Telok Blangah and Ang Mo Kio offer this programme. Two more will be added by year end.

The initiative is part of the Government's Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016, which helps in the development of services for the disabled.

MSF Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "If we can integrate the seniors activity centres' programmes with some of these day drop-in programmes, then we can expand the network of care for our needy people.

"The most important challenge going forward is not so much the facilities, which we will be able to ramp up. The most important challenge will be to bring in the necessary manpower."

Eligibility criteria for NS award: MINDEF replies

THE Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) would like to explain the eligibility criteria for the National Service Recognition Award (NSRA), in response to queries from various letter writers ("Not called for in-camp training, so no NS award" by Mr Leslie Teo Chin Hin, Aug 21; "Penalised for insufficient high-key ICT sessions" by Mr Koh Kong Ghee, Monday; "Volunteered to continue NS but denied award" by Mr Christopher Sim Kwee Teck, Monday; "Redefine end of NS cycle" by Mr James Ong Ken Sern, Forum Online, Monday; and "Made up for missed ICT but still not eligible for award" by Mr Vincent Lim How Siang, Forum Online, Monday).

The NSRA is disbursed to Singaporean operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) to recognise their contributions when they have attained various milestones, namely:
- The completion of full-time national service;
The mid-point of the operationally ready national service (ORNS) cycle; and
- The completion of the ORNS training cycle, which typically consists of 10 ORNS years and seven high-key in-camp training (ICT) sessions.
The NSRA was implemented in 2010, and Mr Sim, Mr Ong and Mr Lim were not eligible for the award as they had completed their ORNS training cycles before the implementation date.

We seek the understanding of NSmen in this matter as the introduction of any new policy may not allow it to be effected retroactively.

However, besides the NSRA, we do appreciate all NSmen in other ways.

Over the years, the Government has provided the National Service Bonus, additional allotments of the goods and services tax offset credits and Growth Dividends.

More recently, in conjunction with celebrating 45 years of NS, the NS45 SAFRA and HomeTeamNS Benefits scheme was launched to thank all national servicemen for their contributions to defence.

Mr Teo and Mr Koh did not receive the third milestone NSRA as they were not called up for the requisite number of ICTs before they reached the statutory age.

MINDEF agrees it should provide opportunities to NSmen who would like to contribute their services through more ICTs beyond the statutory age, and we will explore ways to achieve this.

We thank the NSmen for their feedback and will continue to review our policies to recognise the contributions of our NSmen.

Teo Eng Dih
Director Manpower
Ministry of Defence
ST Forum, 29 Aug 2013

The Quests: Together again on a quest

Popular 1960s local band The Quests are reunited for a series of concerts where they aim to transport fans back to the era of their wholesome brand of music
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2013

With the many platforms these days for local bands, such as the successful indie music festival Baybeats which draws tens of thousands of fans every year, musicians in Singapore could be said to be enjoying their time in the sun.

Still, none of them are candidates to receive the kind of fanatical, hysterical aduation that seems to be reserved for South Korean pop acts these days. The very idea that a Singapore band could be mobbed by fans seems far-fetched.

But it has happened before.

In the 1960s, five Singapore boys received mail, chocolates and flowers from fans every day. When they toured the region for shows, they also had their shirts and underwear stolen from their hotel rooms by souvenir-hunting devotees.

Jap Chong, the founding member of The Quests, recalls: "We felt like the Beatles. Our cars were surrounded by swarms of teenagers and it was hard to leave our shows."

The Beatles comparison is no hyperbole - in this region, The Quests were as big as the British Fab Four. In fact, in the 1960s, they knocked the Beatles off Singapore and Malaysia's Hit Parade charts with their original song, Shanty.

Almost half a century on, the band will be reuniting for one more bash, with three shows on Sept 13 and 15 as part of My Queenstown's 60th anniversary celebrations as Singapore's first satellite estate. About 40 per cent of tickets have been sold.

Thursday 29 August 2013

Middle-income get more help to buy HDB flat with enhanced Special CPF Housing Grant from July 2013 BTO exercise

Over 50% of households could get housing grant
$6,500 income cap means more can get help to buy bigger new HDB flats
By Charissa Yong And Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2013

OVER half of Singapore's households may now be able to get a Special Housing Grant of up to $20,000 when they buy a new four-room or smaller Housing Board flat.

With the grant being extended, a family taking home up to $5,000 a month can get the full $20,000, while those earning between $5,001 and $6,500 can get between $5,000 and $15,000.

The grant was previously only for families earning up to $2,250 who bought three-room or smaller flats in non-mature estates.

HDB said over five in 10 resident households now come under the expanded income ceiling.

The median income of a family applying for a four-room flat in a non-mature estate is also $4,100 - well within the new limit.

Making the announcement yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We have always been very targeted at the lower-income... but today, I think, it's a major move. We are shifting beyond the lower-income to the middle-income."

Home buyers keen on four- room flats said the grant would make them more affordable.

Security officer Muhammed Helmi, 25, who with his fiancee makes about $2,000 a month in total, is eyeing a new four-room flat in Yishun costing about $290,000.

He said: "Based on my income, the loan I can get isn't that much, so this additional money will be a big help for me."

5 lessons from past as Singapore plans for future: Heng Swee Keat

By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2013

AS THE country plans for its future, it would do well to draw lessons from its past, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. And underpinning them all is the ability to turn adversity into opportunity.

He picked out five lessons yesterday while speaking at the launch of the Singapore Institute of International Affair's Future 50 (F50) programme.

Fresh from leading a year-long national conversation on what Singapore should be in 2030, Mr Heng offered up the problem of Singapore's water supply as an example of how it has turned a necessity into an advantage.

Not only does the country have its own desalination plant today, but its universities are also world leaders in water technology and membrane technology research, which have positioned it for other opportunities.

"This story about turning necessity into advantages should always be part of the Singaporean DNA. That things may be difficult, but it is the spirit that matters," he said.

Mr Heng delivered the keynote address while launching F50, a two-year exercise that will bring together scholars, policymakers and members of the public to discuss Singapore's place in the changing global context over the next 50 years. A report will be released ahead of Singapore's 50th National Day.

In his speech, he listed five important lessons from the past that he said those involved in F50 need to keep in mind.

The first is to understand Singapore's context as a city-state that is plugged into the world - "very different than if you are a city in a big country, or a country with many cities".

Next is the need to stay relevant to the world.

Third, Singaporeans should be open to ideas from all over the world, but also have the courage and conviction to do what is right for Singapore.

Fourth, Singapore needs good leaders who have the ability to take strategic decisions for the long term, "and not just think of it in quarterly terms or in terms of electoral cycles".

And finally, he said Singaporeans should retain their "can-do spirit" of resilience.

In the dialogue that followed, Mr Heng was asked what policies he thought the Government had got wrong. His response: What was more critical was the willingness to change the policy when it no longer fits the circumstances.

Has 'global city' vision reached its end date?

By Donald Low, Published The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2013

THE Prime Minister's National Day Rally address on Aug 18 and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's speech at the Academy of Medicine last week point to a government that might be ambling towards a new social compact. While the changes announced so far do not represent a radical departure from current approaches, there was enough of a change in the tone of their messages to suggest that further, more substantive, reforms are due.

In a more diverse, politically contested Singapore, there should not be a presumption that a consensus on the new social compact can be easily forged. The process of building the new compact will, inevitably, be a contested and negotiated one.

Nonetheless, it is useful to consider what principles might inform this process. In this regard, a number of findings in recent decades in the hard and social sciences - economics, psychology, neuroscience, biology and even physics - have profound implications for our understanding of what makes for thriving and resilient societies.

The limits of being a global city

SINCE our first foreign minister S. Rajaratnam gave articulation to it, the idea of Singapore as a global city has animated the People's Action Party's (PAP) vision for the country. The "global city" idea has clearly been a success. In a span of under 50 years, the PAP government has come close to achieving a vision articulated by its founders which at the time of conception seemed unimaginable. But the vision now faces inherent limits and internal contradictions.

Faith Community Baptist Church 'sacked pregnant employee' case

Workplaces, labour laws must be kept secular: MOM
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2013

WORKPLACES and labour laws have to be kept secular to preserve harmony, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, explaining its decision to intervene in a dispute between a church and an employee fired over an adulterous relationship.

It said in a statement: "While each of us will have space to practise our religion, we have to preserve a common secular space for people with other beliefs, and employment is one of these secular spaces. Therefore, our employment legislation has to be secular.

"This is the only way all groups in Singapore can live in peace and harmony."

The remarks were the first from the ministry since The Straits Times reported last week that it had ordered the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) to compensate its staff member.

MOM had rapped the church for sacking the woman without sufficient cause, but the church maintained that the dismissal was fair because the woman failed to meet its moral standards and refused to apologise or stop the relationship.

FCBC told The Straits Times last night that it had already made the payment. A church staff member said that a cheque for about $7,000 was delivered by hand to MOM yesterday with a note that the payment does not prejudice the church's rights under the law. He did not elaborate.

MOM said that it has received the cheque and it plans to pass it to the woman today.

Elaborating on its decision yesterday, an MOM spokesman said that the woman went to the ministry on Sept 15 last year after she was dismissed by the church. She based her complaint on a section of the Employment Act which bars employers from dismissing pregnant employees six months before their expected delivery date without just cause, as it would deprive them of their maternity benefits.

The woman, in her 30s, had worked in the church as an administrative clerk for six years and was seven months pregnant when she was sacked.

MOM said that it wanted to find an amicable solution through mediation and offered various options to the church and the woman. However, it said FCBC was "not prepared to make any offer to the female employee".

Wednesday 28 August 2013

8 in 10 want COE system revamped, LTA poll from May to July 2013 finds

Many prefer cars to be categorised by OMV instead of engine capacity
By Royston Sim And Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2013

EIGHT in 10 people want the current certificate of entitlement (COE) system to be revamped, with many favouring cars being categorised based on their Open Market Value (OMV) instead of engine capacity.

More than three-quarters also want surcharges to be levied on buyers of two or more cars.

These were some of the findings that came from a two-month public consultation exercise held by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which is exploring ways to make vehicle ownership more socially equitable.

About 3,700 people were polled online, while another 200 took part in focus group discussions and interviews. The LTA shared the main findings with academics, the public and the motor industry last night.

The most stark statistic: More than 80 per cent felt that the COE categorisation should be changed.

Nearly 50 per cent preferred using a vehicle's OMV to separate mass-market cars from luxury models, as they believe this is the most direct measure of a car's value.

Others cited criteria like engine power and capacity, family friendliness and carbon emissions. Cars are currently classified by engine capacity, with those at 1,600cc or below in Category A and those above 1,600cc in Category B.

The majority of people polled felt a mass-market car should not have an OMV exceeding $20,000, or an engine capacity of more than 1,600cc.

Most also felt that a surcharge should be imposed on those who own more than one car. But there was no consensus on how this should be done - whether on individuals or households, for the second or third car onwards, and if it should be a one-off surcharge.

Most focus group participants felt a surcharge would not be effective as it would be easy to circumvent and difficult to enforce.

Diverse team to plan Singapore's 50th birthday celebrations

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2013

SINGAPORE'S 50th birthday celebrations should resonate with all Singaporeans, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday as the wraps were taken off the Singapore50 (SG50) committee tasked with planning events for the jubilee year.

The 29-member team unveiled was a diverse one, comprising representatives from a broad range of sectors and included such names as top music producer Iskandar Ismail and film director Royston Tan.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat is the chairman of SG50 and he said the team wants to let ordinary Singaporeans have a role in planning and organising activities for the celebrations.

"We want every Singaporean to be able to connect through their personal stories with the broader Singapore story, and be a part of the anniversary celebrations," said Mr Heng.

Speaking on the sidelines of a scholarship ceremony at the National University of Singapore, he added: "We should use this special occasion to come together to reflect on our past, to celebrate our past and our journey together as one people, as well as come together to imagine and create a better future together."

Mr Heng said the 2015 jubilee will be celebrated with several key events like the National Day Parade, and, he hopes, many more ground-up initiatives.

His committee meets for the first time today. Others involved include Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing, entrepreneur Elim Chew, and Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Annabel Pennefather.

GRC system and politics of inclusion

Is Singapore society ready for "post-racial" politics, where voters will send in enough MPs of different races to Parliament, doing away with the need for Group Representation Constituencies?
By Gillian Koh, Published The Straits Times, 27 Aug 2013

CIVIL society organisation Maruah last week proposed a reform of a central part of Singapore's electoral system - the Group Representation Constituency introduced in 1988.

Under the GRC system, candidates contest an election in a team of between three and six members, with at least one from a minority community.

The primary virtues of the system bear repeating: the multiracial slate for GRCs guarantees a minimum number of seats for minority MPs, while the need to get political support from all races imposes discipline on political parties to pursue a multiracial brand of politics.

The problems as cited by Maruah: it creates a barrier to entry for smaller political parties to contest in the general elections as they may be hard-pressed to field a quality team; it allows for the "free-riding of untested candidates" who get in on the back of stronger team members; and it "entrenches the expectation of ethnic voting".

In fact, some of these shortcomings were acknowledged by the Government. In May 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged to make the electoral system more "balanced". He pledged to reduce the average size of GRCs from 5.4 to five MPs, a small step in making GRCs more accurately reflect the demographics. The minimum number of Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) was also raised from nine to 12.

Four years after that balancing, it is only to be expected that concerned Singaporeans ask if a major overhaul of the GRC system is due. Maruah's raising of this issue is thus welcome. However, its proposal appears to be rooted in the belief that most citizens do and will look beyond ethnicity in choosing their political representatives - which in my view is a questionable one.

It proposes that the electoral system revert to one comprising only SMCs, and that political parties be regulated to provide a percentage of minority candidates. If not enough multiracial candidates are voted in, a group of minority "best losers" can be invited to take seats in Parliament with the full powers of elected members.

It asks for in-depth studies of citizens' views on whether Singaporeans are "post-racial" in their electoral behaviour to properly assess the proposal.

It will be difficult to use attitudinal surveys to gauge whether Singaporeans vote for candidates on the basis of race. Too many different factors shape how people vote, especially in the heat of the hustings.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Our Singapore Conversation Survey: Majority want slower pace of life

Also a less competitive education scene and fewer foreigners
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2013

WHILE generally optimistic about the future, the majority of Singaporeans want a slower-paced life, a less competitive education system and fewer foreigners - and they are willing to trade off economic growth for that.

This was the picture that emerged from a survey of 4,000 citizens conducted in January as part of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) exercise.

The full findings, released last week, had 65 per cent of respondents saying that they were optimistic about the future five years ahead, and 78 per cent saying that the Government was managing Singapore well.

Respondents were picked randomly in proportion to the demographics of Singapore society, and the interviews were conducted face to face. The survey was a separate process from the OSC's over 660 citizen dialogues, and was designed to take the pulse of the "silent majority" who may not have turned up for the sessions.

When asked to pick among competing national priorities, respondents showed more consensus than observers expected. That consensus pointed to a desire for an easing of Singapore's pace of growth and development.

Over 60 per cent said they preferred the preservation of green spaces over infrastructural development, compared to the 19 per cent who picked infrastructural development; 53 per cent wanted the preservation of heritage spaces over infrastructural development, while only 27 per cent went the other way.

Asked to choose between career advancement and a comfortable pace of life, 59 per cent chose the latter. This number swelled to 62 per cent among those married with children.

Half of the respondents said they wanted to reduce the intake of foreign workers even if it translated to slower growth and fewer jobs, while just 28 per cent picked the other trade-off.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser, one of the researchers involved, said that the questions were specifically designed "for people to realise that you can't always have your cake and eat it".

Hence, the options were put to them in black-and-white terms: one section asked them to pick between "keeping taxes low even if it limits support to the needy" and "higher taxes for greater support for the needy".

Some 42 per cent chose to keep taxes low, 33 per cent chose to raise them, with the rest neutral.

Where respondents stood on these trade-offs overall sent a "blunt message of vulnerability and socio-economic insecurity", said Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Leong Chan Hoong, who was also involved in the survey.

But he did not think that what they evinced should be labelled complacency: "Singaporeans just want a balance between economic dynamism and social cohesion."

NUS sociologist and former Nominated MP Paulin Straughan said Singaporeans want a "more balanced approach from the Government to ensure that in terms of quality of life, we are not always obsessing about saving for the future. They want everyday life to be rewarding too".

But she noted that where they stood on these compromises were a reaction to what they felt was already "in place" now.

"Because all the hard factors like infrastructure, a high employment rate and a competitive education system are already in place, they are yearning for more," she said.

"People can ask for more work-life balance only if you have work."

S'pore top destination for US investments in Asia

Outgoing US envoy lauds country's 'very hospitable business climate'
By Ravi Velloor, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2013

SINGAPORE, for the first time, has emerged as the most attractive investment destination in Asia for American companies, outperforming even China.

"The 10-year cumulative US investment in Singapore stood at US$138 billion (S$176.6 billion) at the end of 2012," United States Ambassador David Adelman, who leaves his post this week, told The Straits Times in an interview.

"You have now exceeded US investment into Japan and Australia, and you draw twice our investment into China. It is a credit to the Government of Singapore that it has created this very hospitable business climate in probably the best location in the world."

The 10-year investment figure - which jumped from US$116 billion the year before - is among the most visible highlights of the tightening strategic embrace between the most powerful nation and tiny Singapore, perhaps Asia's most admired country.

Mr Adelman, 49, highlighted two agreements that underscore the tight relationship - last year's strategic partnership dialogue agreement inked by Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the US-Singapore Third Country Training Programme.

The first is reserved for only America's best friends while the proof of the latter's success is that in just 18 months, the two countries conducted no less than eight programmes for participants from Asean countries. Both programmes will pay long-term dividends, he predicted.

Meanwhile, according to US figures, Singapore investments in the US amounted to US$22 billion at the end of 2011.

People-level contacts also have accelerated, with 27,000 American residents on this island, thousands of Singaporean students enrolled in American universities and at any given time, between 800 and 1,000 Singapore military personnel training in the US.

Saying bilateral ties have "never been better", Mr Adelman said two broad elements had provided the potent mix that underscores the relationship.

First, the US rebalance towards Asia with Singapore as its anchor in South-east Asia. Second, this occurred at a time when Singapore was "an exceptionally willing partner".

While two-way trade - currently topping US$50 billion a year, overwhelmingly favouring the US - will increase and the strategic ties are set to deepen, one area that needs more attention is law enforcement cooperation.

"We have a strong, robust law enforcement relationship and we will continue to look for ways to strengthen it," he said, without elaborating.

The grandson of immigrants from Europe and the Middle East, Mr Adelman sounded a warning on the debate around foreigners in Singapore.

While Singapore had exceptional intellectual property protection and the rule of law, an important element of its attractiveness to foreign capital that must be preserved is its ability to draw talent from across the world, a factor that has even helped strengthen Singapore businesses.

"Government officials in Singapore recognise that. It is for them to strike a balance. American businesses and investors are watching it closely. I would even broaden it - all foreign investors are watching it very closely," he said.

Adopt-A-Precinct to benefit more families

By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Aug 2013

40 more needy households in western Singapore will benefit from an ongoing assistance scheme run by the South West Community Development Council.

Called Adopt-A-Precinct, the programme watches over vulnerable residents in three-room flats and has already reached out to over 110 households in Hong Kah North and Chua Chu Kang.

Taman Jurong is the latest division to come under the initiative, which was launched in July last year.

53-year-old Lily Teo has help from grassroots leaders and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College West, along with corporate partners Vopak Terminals Singapore under the Adopt-A-Precinct programme.

Madam Teo has high blood pressure and diabetes, and she has to look after her children - a pair of twins with Down's syndrome.

The single mother earns less than S$500 monthly as she is unable to work full-time due to her health.

Madam Teo said: "I feel good they help me, I feel happy because I found out the volunteers all came here to help, they are very good."

ITE student Muhammad Ridwan, a volunteer with Adopt-A-Precinct programme, said: "I have free time, so I try to help the elderly… So when (I have) free time on Saturday, Sunday then I try to help them."

Go-ahead for third entrance at Bukit Panjang MRT station

Lobbying by MPs, residents pays off with better access for Senja estate
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Aug 2013

BUKIT Panjang residents in the Senja estate will get an MRT entrance at their doorstep when the Downtown Line Stage 2 opens for service.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has called for a contractor to design and build an additional entrance for the future Bukit Panjang MRT station, on top of the two already planned.

The third entrance will be located near the bus stop in front of Block 605 on Bukit Panjang Road and allow commuters to enter the future station via an underpass.

An LTA spokesman said the entrance will also provide those alighting at the bus stop with a convenient transfer to the MRT.

The go-ahead for a new entrance came after about two years of persistent lobbying by Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MPs Liang Eng Hwa and Vivian Balakrishnan, as well as residents.

The spokesman said the LTA has received regular feedback about a third entrance and carefully studied the possibility of constructing one.

Monday 26 August 2013

Stress and the Education System

Beware pitfalls of direct admissions
Expanding scheme is a good idea but assess character differently, address diversity issue
By Sandra Davie, The Sunday Times, 25 Aug 2013

The complaints have already started coming in over the education tweaks announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Sunday.

Parents have had much to say about the changes to the Primary 1 registration scheme and the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scoring system, but some of the strongest reactions have been to the expansion of the Direct School Admission scheme.

Mr Lee announced last Sunday in his National Day Rally speech that top secondary schools will take in more students from different backgrounds through the scheme, which allows Primary 6 pupils to secure a place even before sitting the PSLE.

They get in for exceptional ability in some academic subjects, or for their sports or artistic skills, among others. Now the scheme is being broadened to include pupils with "special qualities" such as resilience, character and leadership.

Mr Lee said top schools will seek out such children and primary schools will also nominate candidates.

Parents have raised many questions about this move and rightly so. As reader Lim Shu Ning pointed out in a letter to The Straits Times Forum Page last week, it is a move that is fraught with pitfalls.

She asked: How do we measure traits such as resilience and good character in children as young as 12? Do we rely on testimonials from teachers? Interviews? Then we have to be careful not to reward a child's gift of the gab in describing his good character.

Some are already speculating that schools will use the Edusave Character Awards introduced by the Education Ministry last year for students who demonstrate exemplary values and civic responsibility through their behaviour and actions.

Each year, up to 10,000 students are expected to win the award, which comes with a cash sum of between $200 and $500. Teachers nominate students, who are then subjected to a rigorous selection process.

I am all for signalling that good character is valued as highly as academic achievement but I wrote a commentary opposing the move to give money with the award.

The ministry said that similar to the other Edusave awards, the cash award is meant to serve as an encouragement, not to reduce character and values to a dollar figure.

I felt then, and still believe, that giving money with such an award may inadvertently end up raising children who expect cash for good behaviour. It can send all the wrong signals.

Now that this award may help a child get into Raffles Institution (RI) or Raffles Girls' School, it has become an even more valuable prize.

We know that there are many who have no qualms about doing some good work to embellish their resumes.

Prepare for battle over MediShield Life

Idea of universal health coverage is good, but expect divisive debate over details
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Sunday Times, 25 Aug 2013

I've been writing on health issues for a decade, including calling for MediShield to be broadened into a more universal health insurance plan.

But I won't jump on the bandwagon of those claiming credit like some opposition politicians and bloggers, pointing to past speeches or articles they have written arguing for universal health coverage (UHC).

UHC is such a patently good idea for a civilised society, it is ridiculous for anyone to claim credit now that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promised the Government will work on a universal health insurance plan for life, and cover pre-existing illnesses too.

At its core, UHC is about giving the individual and his family access to health care and preventing them from facing financial ruin that can come from illness and disability. Rather than bankrupt the individual, the State organises everyone to chip in to pay premiums into a common pool from which claims are paid.

Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, widely credited as the intellectual father of today's UHC programmes, pushed through the "Law concerning Health Insurance for Workers" in June 1883 in Germany, introducing national compulsory insurance for workers.

In Singapore, discussions on a comprehensive social security system were ongoing in the 1950s to protect workers and their families "from financial insecurity arising from retirement, illness, death and unemployment".

"Despite plans at an advanced stage (including draft legislation), the scheme was never realised, an unfortunate casualty in the battle between the People's Action Party, the Barisan Sosialis and their opposing visions of a post-colonial Singapore," Mr Ho Chi Tim, a PhD candidate studying Singapore's social policy evolution, wrote in The Straits Times in April.

Since UHC has been mooted in Singapore for 60 years, I won't follow the lead of those who say: I told you so.

Instead, I will say to the Singapore Government: Well done.

And add a bit of advice: Gird yourself well for battle.

Pay higher premium when you're young?

Five days ahead of the National Day Rally, the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health released its report on making health care more affordable. And at the Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong went on to announce what he termed a "big shift" in health-care financing. GPC chairman Lam Pin Min talks to Goh Chin Lian over supper about the hot topic of how to pay for that health-care largesse - front-loading, anyone? - as well as his work as MP for Sengkang West and his family life.
The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2013

People have commented on the timing of your GPC report.

We did not want to clash with the release of the OSC (Our Singapore Conversation) report, which was going to receive major publicity.

After it was released, we realised there was a window period till the Rally. I reckoned that was the ideal time to submit our report to the Health Ministry.

How convinced are you that it's a big shift, as the PM said, for health care?

It is a fundamental philosophical shift in health-care financing by the Government.

The current philosophy is that of pragmatism, eclecticism and personal responsibility. The fundamental shift entails the Government taking on a bigger role in providing that social safety net and extending a helping hand to Singaporeans for their health-care needs.

Is this shift enough to put to rest the sentiment that Singaporeans can afford to die but not to fall ill in this society?

This is always work in progress. The Government needs to carefully titrate the policy tweaks to meet the health-care needs of Singaporeans and to ensure that our health-care financing policies remain relevant.

However, we should not go down the slippery slope of excessive and extravagant spending so much so that it becomes financially unsustainable in the long run.