Saturday 30 November 2013

New laws to curb online gambling on the cards

Measures could include blocking websites and banning advertisements
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2013

TAKING aim at the increasing popularity of online gambling in tech-savvy Singapore, the Government is now looking at a host of measures to curb the problem.

It wants to block access to illegal gambling websites, prevent payments to operators and ban advertisements for online gambling, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran revealed yesterday.

The authorities are also considering whether to allow a limited form of legalised online gambling, so that gamblers do not end up resorting to illegal gambling and betting offline.

Following a public consultation exercise, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is aiming to implement the new laws by early next year - ahead of the football World Cup in Brazil - although Mr Iswaran said the timing is not "motivated by any particular event".

Rather, the move is prompted by the rise of remote gambling - through the Internet and mobile apps - an industry that was worth US$35 billion (S$43.9 billion) worldwide last year.

Analysts' estimates show that Singapore's remote gambling market is worth more than $370 million, and is expected to grow by 6 per cent to 7 per cent annually.

A recent MHA survey of 1,000 Internet users found that almost three in 10 had gambled remotely at least once in the past year, said Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

"This is not surprising as one can gamble anonymously from almost any location at any time," he said.

The highly addictive nature of online gambling was another worry. A 2011 survey by the National Council for Problem Gambling found that online gamblers had worse self-control, were likely to gamble more often and for longer, and lost more than planned, compared with other gamblers.

"Remote gambling operations can potentially become a source or conduit of funds for other illegal activities and syndicated crime," said Mr Iswaran, who was speaking at the launch of the third biennial Singapore Symposium on Casino Regulation and Crime. "It is therefore important that we take proactive steps."

The measures being considered are "not foolproof", but current gambling laws need updating as they were enacted before the Internet era, he added.

Ministry of Manpower takes action against 15 companies for discriminatory job advertisements

10 are job agencies; they now cannot hire new foreign workers for 6 months
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2013

THE authorities have cracked down on 15 companies for discriminatory hiring practices, with six of them explicitly stating a preference for Filipino job candidates.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday that the 15 - 10 of which are employment agencies - have been barred from hiring new foreign workers for six months. They have also posted online apologies, as ordered by MOM.

This is the largest number of companies which have been hauled up by the ministry for discriminatory job ads.

In March, MOM took action against two firms, followed by 10 more companies which were punished in September.

In the latest cases, six companies placed job advertisements that specified a preference for Filipinos to fill positions such as chefs, sales consultants, guest relations officers and audit executives.

Restaurant La Fondue, for example, said it was offering "high salary for Filipino chefs only". Employment agency Singapore Human Resource Consultants indicated in its ads that applicants "must be Filipinos". The ads were posted on Filipino community portal

When contacted by The Straits Times, several human resource experts said some employers prefer Filipinos for their strong command of English and their willingness to do shift work.

Filipino applicants are typically willing to be paid relatively low salaries, they added. For example, an accountant with about five years of experience will take a $3,000 monthly salary, but Singaporeans will ask for about $5,500.

However, the HR experts expect job ads stating a preference for foreigners will be few and far between in future, as MOM has made it costlier and more difficult to hire foreigners in the past year.

"Gone are the days when it was cheap to hire a foreigner. It makes more sense to hire a local now," said Rikvin recruitment consultancy manager Satish Bakhda.

MOM recently announced new rules to make companies consider Singaporeans first for professional jobs.

From August next year, companies will have to post ads on an online government-run jobs bank for at least 14 days before they can apply for an Employment Pass for a foreigner.

Besides stating preferences for specific nationalities, the 15 companies also flouted fair employment guidelines by listing requirements such as gender and age in ads.

Teacher takes fight against terrorism to the classroom

By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2013

FORMER physical education teacher Salim Mohamed Nasir has traded in his sports shoes for weighty lesson plans on how to keep at bay the terrorism beast.

Rather than train students to keep fit in body, he now works with young people to keep their minds sharp and their hearts in the right place, so their value systems help them reject extremist views on religion that might lead them astray.

He visits schools, giving talks on terrorism and engaging the young to think of different ways of promoting racial understanding and resolving conflicts.

He was seconded to a think-tank as a research fellow in 2009 from the Education Ministry. Since then, he has held about 60 sessions in schools with over 5,000 students.

The sessions can be a 40-minute school assembly talk, a two-hour talk or a two-day seminar on the topic.

In school, the genial man with a wide smile approaches the topic of terrorism by looking at its historical evolution, its manifestations and solutions.

With younger pupils, he nudges them to speak frankly as the subject itself is sensitive and difficult to comprehend. This gentle reassurance is needed as pupils often cast nervous glances at their teachers seated behind them.

"I tell the children to be brave and that all their questions will be answered," he says.

When he refers to terrorists as nasty bullies, some begin confiding in him, revealing that their classmates are bullying them.

He offers a solution by advising them to fight fear as bullies use fear to intimidate people.

Some of the students' questions are revealing. Some have asked why they must work with children from different races during group work. He urges them not to look at a person's race but accept him as a human being.

Instead of using words like tolerance, which can connote a person's inferiority, he suggests the word "compassion".

Why compassion?

"The value of compassion is love, showing empathy and understanding. The need for revenge will no longer be there if there is compassion," he replies.

Air defence zone a 'lose-lose' for Beijing?

By Richard A. Bitzlinger, Published The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2013

CHINA'S creation of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is quickly turning out to be a no-win situation for Beijing.

On the one hand, it has become a diplomatic disaster for China. On the other, it could either provoke a military crisis - the blame for which would lie entirely with Beijing - or else turn out to be a toothless gesture highlighting the country's feebleness as a regional great power.

China announced its new East China Sea ADIZ on Nov 23. It extends out more than 500km from the country's coastline and cuts a wide swathe through the East China Sea. China's ADIZ overlaps with similar air defence identification zones established by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

In particular, it includes the disputed islets - known by Japan as the Senkaku Islands, and by China as the Diaoyu - which are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

It is critical to note that an ADIZ is not a territorial claim. National airspace extends out only 12 nautical miles over open water, the same as a country's territorial waters. ADIZs are intended to provide a country with early notification, location and control of foreign civilian aircraft entering national airspace.

ADIZs are also not new; more than 20 countries have created such zones around them. The United States established one of the first such zones in the early 1950s, and in the aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, it also created a special ADIZ around Washington, DC. Japan also established a national ADIZ - including around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands - back in the late 1960s.

Moreover, most ADIZs are unilaterally declared. They have no basis in international law, but are usually adhered to by other nations.

Nevertheless, China's new ADIZ seems purposely constructed so as to be contentious. In the first place, it overlaps with similar air defence identification zones established by three Asian neighbours, as well as the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. This appears to be almost a deliberately provocative (and unnecessary) move.

Just as controversial, however, is that it requires all civilian aircraft entering the ADIZ to identify themselves, even if they are only passing through the zone and have no intention of entering Chinese national airspace; no other ADIZ requires this kind of notification.

Finally, China demands that all non-commercial flights - and therefore military aircraft - entering the ADIZ also identify themselves, or else face "defensive emergency measures" by Chinese armed forces.

Given these constructs, it was little wonder that the establishment of this ADIZ has been so universally condemned.

Friday 29 November 2013

Guidelines for car pooling in the works: LTA

As demand rises, rules will mitigate abuse of such services as pirate taxis
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2013

IF A car owner receives payment from those who car pool with him, is he operating a pirate taxi service? Or is he merely in an arrangement similar to when people split the bill for a meal?

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is expected to come up with an answer as an increasing number pay for car pooling services, as an alternative to public transport and car ownership.

A number of car pooling sites have already sprouted. Among the latest and most prominent is, which has been pairing car-poolers with car owners for the past 20 months.

It says it has 15,000 users now, and expects to exceed 20,000 next year.

The LTA has been keeping an eye on the development for about two years now, but has not come out with rules on payment.

"LTA is supportive of car pooling as it provides greater transport choices to the commuting public. We are working on guidelines to mitigate any potential abuse of car pooling as illegal taxi services," a spokesman said.

3 out of 6 taxi firms fail to meet availability standards from January to September 2013

Regular taxi commuters say they do not notice a discernible improvement in the availability of cabs over the past year
By Woo Sian Boon and Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 28 Nov 2013

Half of the six taxi companies here failed to meet the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) availability standards in the first six months of the year, the LTA said yesterday.

These requirements stipulate the percentage of the operators’ fleet that should ply the roads during peak periods and the minimum daily mileage for each of their cabbies. As a penalty for not meeting the standards, Transcab, Premier and Prime Taxis — which together own about a quarter of the total number of taxis on the roads — will not be allowed to expand their fleets in the first half of next year.

Nevertheless, trotting out statistics between January and September, the LTA noted that the situation has improved. By September, only one taxi operator — Prime, the smallest player here — failed to meet both standards.

However, regular taxi commuters TODAY spoke to said they did not notice a discernible improvement in the availability of cabs over the past year. In particular, they said it was “practically impossible” to get a taxi on rainy days.

Account assistant Ong Jia Xuan, 21, who takes a cab twice a week, added that it was also hard to hail a taxi during the morning rush hour.

The LTA said it will be doing more to alleviate commuters’ woes. From July next year, it will conduct a one-year trial to monitor real-time information on passenger waiting times at five taxi stands located at Lucky Plaza, Paragon Shopping Centre, OG Building at Upper Cross Street, International Plaza and Hitachi Towers.

Using sensors, the new system will share the waiting times at these locations with taxi companies so that their taxis can be dispatched to areas with high demand.

The taxi availability framework was rolled out in January and it will be phased in over three years. For the first year, taxi companies are required to have 70 per cent of their fleet chalk up at least 250km per day and for a similar proportion to ply the roads during peak hours.

Blogger Alex Au found guilty of contempt

* Blogger loses appeal against contempt of court conviction
The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2015

The Court of Appeal yesterday dismissed an appeal by socio-political blogger and gay rights activist Alex Au against a High Court decision which found him guilty of contempt of court by scandalising the judiciary.

While the 62-year-old did not appeal against the sentence, the court noted that the $8,000 fine, which he has paid, was "wholly appropriate".

Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said Au's article posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. "It was carefully crafted so as to take the form of insinuations that were just as effective as, if not more effective than, overt or express statements," said Justice Phang.

The case stems from an article published by Au on his Yawning Bread site in October 2013, titled "377 wheels come off Supreme Court's best-laid plans".

In it, he had implied partiality on the part of Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon in the scheduling of two separate challenges against Section 377A of the Penal Code, which criminalises sex between men.

The first challenge was launched by Mr Tan Eng Hong in 2010 after he was caught with a man in a toilet. The other, by gay couple Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee, was filed three months after Mr Tan was allowed to proceed in 2012.

Au wrote of how the couple's case was heard first - and reached the Court of Appeal earlier - even though Mr Tan's challenge preceded theirs. He put this down to "strange calendaring" to allow the Chief Justice to sit on the three-judge panel that would hear the challenge against S377A. Au wrote that the Chief Justice could not do this in Mr Tan's case due to a conflict of interest as he was the Attorney-General when Mr Tan's criminal case was before the courts.

In his judgment yesterday, Justice Phang noted that if Au had merely written that the Chief Justice wanted to hear the gay couple's appeal, he would not have been in contempt.

But Au's article stated that Chief Justice Menon had deliberately delayed the release of High Court Judge Quentin Loh's judgment in Mr Tan's case so that the couple's case would be heard first.

The title of the article and the language used insinuated something "sinister in the alleged deliberate scheduling" of the cases, said Justice Phang. It cannot be said to be fair criticism as it had no rational basis, he added, pointing out that Au had made vague references to "the common view" and cited unidentified sources.

Justice Phang also rejected Au's claim that he had simply summarised an article in The Straits Times on the case, albeit using "a different phrasing". "His 'different phrasing' ended up communicating a wholly different point."

Cost a key issue at MediShield Life forum

By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2013

IT IS not just lower-income earners who are worried about rising premiums under the proposed MediShield Life.

Even those who currently pay private insurers for enhanced health coverage are asking how the new national scheme will affect them.

This is what a committee, tasked with working out how to implement MediShield Life, learnt after its first feedback session with 54 members of the public last night at Ren Ci Community Hospital.

Committee chairman Bobby Chin revealed that citizens were generally supportive of the new national health plan, which will cover everyone for life, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions.

"I find this encouraging as it underscores a shared value of caring for the old and needy in our society," said Mr Chin, a former managing partner of accounting giant KPMG.

But besides worries about affordability, one issue highlighted is how the new scheme will impact the integrated plans (IPs), for which about 60 per cent of MediShield policyholders have signed up.

Provided by five insurers, these plans incorporate the basic MediShield and allow up to $1,400 in premiums a year to be paid through Medisave.

The enhanced coverage under these plans gives patients the option of choosing better wards, such as B1 and A-class in a public hospital, or seeking treatment at a private hospital.

At the upper end, premiums cost more than $8,000 a year.

Given that MediShield's transformation into MediShield Life in 2015 will affect the IPs, people are worried that the premiums for these will rise.

First HDB retirement village on the cards

Tsao Foundation in talks with MOH, HDB to launch project in Whampoa
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2013

SINGAPORE'S first HDB retirement village is likely to be located in Whampoa.

Under this retirement village model, which is common in countries such as the United States and Britain, elderly persons live within an area that has a wide range of facilities and services catered to their needs.

Tsao Foundation is in discussions with the Health Ministry and the Housing Board to set up such a retirement village at a cluster of HDB blocks in Whampoa.

Some plans include having studio apartments with features that are more suited to the elderly who are mobile. Those who need help with basic tasks like bathing or eating will be housed in a 10-room ward or a nursing home. Medical staff will be on hand to tend to their needs.

There could also be a day-care centre or a leisure activities club.

The idea of having a retirement village here is not new. The Straits Times reported earlier this month that one such project - Singapore's first - will be built at Jalan Jurong Kechil and is expected to be completed by 2017. However, that is positioned as a "private retirement housing" project.

Tsao Foundation expects to get approval from the authorities for its retirement village in Whampoa next year.

In addition, the foundation is working on strengthening the delivery of social services in Whampoa.

Since the middle of this year, the foundation has piloted a programme that aims to avoid having any elderly fall through the cracks. This is expected to cost about $4 million.

This is how it works: First, grassroots leaders and volunteers from the community conduct surveys with the elderly to identify the services they need and whether they are getting them. These could range from activities to promote greater interaction among the elderly to nursing care.

The elderly will then be assigned care managers, who will monitor their progress over the years.

A team of medical staff will also work with these care managers to help those with complex medical issues. So far, the team has reached out to elderly residents in one precinct - Lorong Limau - and will cover other neighbourhoods in the next few years.

Whampoa was selected because of the large proportion of poor elderly persons living there. About one in five residents, or some 18,000, is above 60 years old and two-thirds of them live in three-room or smaller flats.

Dr Mary Ann Tsao, chairman of the foundation, said the programme will ensure that the elderly receive the help they need. "We need to connect the dots as services on the ground can be quite disorganised and stand-alone," she said.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob hopes for housing policy changes

Kids will benefit if single mums allowed to buy HDB flats before 35, she says
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2013

SPEAKER of Parliament Halimah Yacob said she hopes housing policy will change so young single mothers can buy their own HDB flats.

The biggest reason for allowing these single mothers to buy direct from the Government and benefit from subsidies - rather than from the open market and only after they turn 35 - is to benefit their children, she said on the sidelines of a National University of Singapore forum.

Currently, single unwed mothers are only eligible to buy flats directly from the HDB under the singles scheme, meaning they have to wait till they are 35 years old.

Madam Halimah acknowledged that the Government has to take into account whether society is willing to accept change in this area.

"This is also an issue fraught with difficulties because the Government can only move as far as society is prepared to move on these issues. And if the Government moves, is society prepared to accept it?" she said.

During the forum, she also said she agreed with the Government's overall approach to helping the poor, saying having multiple lines of assistance ensures greater flexibility.

While she is not against a poverty line, which some have called for, she said that it "can have its own rigidity".

"What we have now is that different schemes have different cut-offs when it comes to family income levels. There is tremendous flexibility in this way rather than saying, there is one line and it cuts across all schemes," she said.

When asked at the dialogue why it was difficult for the Government to say how many poor people there are in Singapore, she said data was available.

What matters most was to make sure help reaches those who need it, she added.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Record 8,952 flats launched by HDB in Nov 2013 sales exercise

Balance flats in mature estates may be a bigger draw than new units: Experts
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2013

A RECORD 8,952 flats were launched for sale yesterday by the Housing Board in its largest joint Build-To-Order (BTO) and sale of balance flats exercise.

Analysts expect the balance flats - those left over from previous exercises - to be more popular as the new units are all in non-mature estates.

There is also a longer wait for new units, built according to demand under the BTO scheme.

The 4,978 BTO units are spread across six projects in Bukit Batok, Hougang, Sembawang, Woodlands and Jurong West, which has two projects.

Prices range from $75,000 for a two-room flat in Admiralty Grove in Woodlands to more than $373,000 for a five-room unit in West Ridges @ Bukit Batok.

Hougang Meadow and Admiralty Grove are expected to be popular, with MRT stations and amenities nearby. But overall, PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail Gafoor expects the subscription rate to be around two for every available unit or even lower.

One exception to this moderate demand may be the 454 two-room flats in Woodlands and Bukit Batok, which are expected to be sought after by singles.

Previous launches saw strong response from this group, with 8,800 singles vying for 519 flats in July, and between seven and 159 applicants per flat in September.

"The demand from singles has not been satisfied, and we can expect to see continued over-subscription for two-room flats in this BTO exercise," said ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim.

Yesterday was Mr Ngiam Meng Fatt's third attempt to apply as a single. "It is hard to say if I will have a chance," said the 53-year-old removal van driver who lives with his sister's family.

The 112 "3Gen" flats in Boon Lay View could also attract applicants, as this is only their second launch, said OrangeTee head of research Christine Li. Introduced in the last BTO in September, these are for married or courting couples applying with their parents.

Illegal HDB subletting offences fall by 89% in 2013

Harsh penalties led number of cases to decrease from 63 in 2011 to seven this year
By Sumita D/O Sreedharan, TODAY, 26 Nov 2013

The prospect of facing a heavy fine for anyone found to be subletting his subsidised rental flat illegally has put the brakes on such offences, with the number of cases plummeting from 63 in 2011 to seven, an 89 per cent drop, so far this year.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) attributed the fall to a S$5,000 fine for offenders, which took effect in October 2010.

Besides the financial penalty, all tenants and essential occupiers who are found to be subletting their rental flats illegally will also be banned from purchasing or renting any HDB flat for 10 years.

Authorised occupiers are banned from the same for five years.

HDB said its rental flats are heavily subsidised and meant for needy families without other housing options and family support and thus, the subletting of these flats, whether wholly or partially, is “an abuse of government subsidies”.

“(We) take such abuse seriously and will not hesitate to recover the rental flat and re-allocate the unit to another family in genuine need,” it added.

Subsidised HDB flats are rented out at S$26 to S$275 per month, depending on the size of the unit, household income and whether the tenant is a first- or second-timer.

In one of the cases this year, a tenant had illegally sublet his two-room flat in Circuit Road at 25 times the rent being paid to the HDB.

He had applied with a friend under the Joint Singles Scheme in 1998. Checks later revealed that the tenant had rented out the two-room unit for S$1,100 per month. The subsidised rental that tenants were paying was S$44.

Singapore No. 2 in nurturing talent: Study

Republic also gets high marks for people development, workforce
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2013

SINGAPORE is the second most attractive destination in the world behind Switzerland when it comes to nurturing talent, according to new research.

It found that the ease of doing business here and the country's ability to get foreign direct investment were instrumental in not only producing top performers, but developing and retaining them.

Singapore also scored high marks in people development, particularly in teaching mathematics and reading skills, while its highly educated workforce was lauded for its competence.

Other Asian nations fared poorly: Japan was in 21st place, South Korea 28th and China 47th.

Japan and South Korea were seen as being less open to foreign talent, with China deemed as not providing good access to growth.

But the study found that Singapore struggled in several areas, including displaying an intolerance of immigrants.

A relatively lower level of entrepreneurial activity and a workforce lacking some technical or vocational skills could diminish the country's attractiveness as a talent hub.

The rankings were made in the form of an index compiled by French business school INSEAD, employment agency Adecco and the Human Capital Leadership Institute of Singapore (HCLI).

They looked at several factors, including a country's openness, its political and economic climate, the education system, the standard of living and the skill levels of the population.

NTUC to open 2 help centres for career tips and legal advice

Union members will enjoy 'full' services but non-members to get 'basic' advice only
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2013

PROFESSIONALS can turn to two new centres for career tips and legal advice next year.

But these centres, to be set up by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), will give more attention to union members.

Describing the move as "positive discrimination", NTUC director Patrick Tay said yesterday they will get a "full suite of services" that includes having lawyers review their employment contracts when they get into disputes with their employers.

Non-members, on the other hand, will get "a very basic level of advice" like where to go for help, the labour MP added.

The first of the two centres for professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) will be in Jurong East and it will start running on Jan 2.

The second centre, in Shenton Way, is expected to be ready by March.

By June next year, the NTUC will also set up what it calls a "virtual centre" where PMEs can get online help. It has yet to decide on whether to provide instant online chat, but Mr Tay promised that simple queries will be replied to promptly, "maybe in seconds or minutes".

Mr Tay also said the labour movement will be looking into providing professional insurance for PMEs, similar to those that protect physiotherapists against lawsuits, or photographers who damage their expensive equipment.

No details of the insurance schemes were available.

These latest moves by NTUC are part of its broader strategy to draw more white-collar professionals into its ranks. It has more than 200,000 PMEs on its rolls, about one-fifth of the one million PMEs in the resident labour force. It plans to recruit at least one in four professionals as union members.

Mr Tay's announcements at a press conference yesterday came a fortnight after Parliament changed the Employment Act to give 300,000 PMEs who earn up to $4,500 a month more benefits, like sick leave and protection against unfair dismissal.

He also disclosed that unions, bosses and the Government have struck a tripartite deal to let blue-collar unions also represent professionals as a group.

Relook link between low wages and foreign workers

By Hoon Hian Teck, Published The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2013

IT APPEARS to be a commonplace idea in public discussion that the huge inflow of foreign workers in the past decade caused a stagnation and even decline in real wage earnings of Singaporean workers in the bottom half of the income distribution.

The reasoning offered is that the ready supply of a non-resident workforce presented firms here with the incentive to substitute away from local mid- to low-skill workers, thus depressing their wage earnings.

The story sounds plausible. But do the facts support this thesis?

The size of the non-resident workforce declined in 2002 and 2003, stayed flat in 2004, and experienced substantial increases in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

The median real wage earning was flat in 2003 compared with 2002, and declined in 2004 before beginning a strong recovery from 2005 just as the foreign workforce grew significantly.

The real wage earnings of the bottom quintile declined from 2002 before beginning a recovery from a low bottom in 2006.

The timing of the recoveries of real wage earnings of the median worker as well as workers in the bottom quintile suggests that it is not the case that the huge inflow of foreign workers caused the wage stagnation. This is because these wages started to recover around 2005 and 2006 - when the number of inflows of foreign workers was reaching its peak.

The recessions in 2002 and 2003 certainly affected low-wage workers disproportionately - despite the fact that foreign workers were repatriated in those years.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Tighter rules on alcohol sale, drinking in the offing

Places like void decks and parks may be declared no-liquor zones to protect public
By Amanda Lee and Tiara Hamarian, TODAY, 26 Nov 2013

The authorities are considering designating some public places as “no-alcohol zones” and shortening the sale hours of alcohol at retail outlets, to address a growing problem in the heartlands — the congregation of inebriated youths or foreign workers at common areas like void decks and parks, as well as places near pubs.

These proposals were announced yesterday by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in a press release, as it began a five-week public consultation to tackle the problems of alcohol intoxication and public drinking in the long term. In particular, it is seeking to “reduce public nuisance and mitigate law and order concerns arising from liquor consumption” by groups at public places.

Noting that intoxicated drinkers “act violently, or create public nuisance such as littering and vomiting”, the MHA singled out the availability of cheap liquor at shops in the vicinity as contributing significantly to the problem. “For instance, young revellers are often seen congregating at public entertainment belts and drinking liquor purchased more cheaply from retail outlets, enjoying the atmosphere and attempting to achieve a level of intoxication before entering entertainment outlets,” it said.

The MHA is proposing designating some common areas — including void decks, parks, playgrounds and areas around MRT stations — as “permanent no-alcohol zones” where people are not allowed to consume or carry open bottles of liquor. This approach has been taken in jurisdictions such as Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. In Sydney, for instance, local police officers have the power to confiscate and dispose of alcohol without first warning those in possession of the alcohol.

The MHA is also proposing to designate “problematic areas” — it cited the bridges at the Singapore River where groups of youth are typically seen drinking — as “temporary no-alcohol zones”. For these hot spots, the restriction may be removed when the situation improves.

Currently, retail outlets located in residential estates or commercial districts can apply for an extension to sell alcohol 24 hours a day. Those operating at mixed commercial and residential zones can apply to sell alcohol between 6am on weekdays and 3am the following day, or from 6am on Saturdays and the eve of public holidays till 4am the next day.

The MHA is asking the public to consider whether to retain the status quo, shorten the sale hours at all retail outlets or only those in “problematic areas”. The timings may be standardised or different in various areas.

Johor rest days switch may lead to higher consumer prices

By Seet Sok Hwee, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Nov 2013

The Johor state government's decision to change its weekend days to Friday and Saturday from the traditional Saturday and Sunday, could lead to higher manpower costs, which could in turn lead to higher prices for consumers, said companies and stakeholders in Singapore.

The Singapore Fruits and Vegetable Importers and Exporters Association said goods from Johor Bahru may end up costing slightly more.

That is because workers will still need to work on Fridays to meet demand in Singapore, so workers will have to be given overtime pay.

The same concerns are also expressed by logistics companies as drivers will now have to be recalled on their rest days.

They said the challenge will be in coordinating work times and logistics, as the new rule kicks in just a month before the Lunar New Year.

The Johor State government has announced that come January, weekends will start on Friday instead of Saturday. And the start of the work week will fall on a Sunday.

Dave Ng, chairman of Singapore Transport Association, said: "The mindset of all of us is to work five and a half days, but you have to really convince people because from five and a half days, you are actually working one full week. So you have to change the mindset.

“We can look into alternatives. To get different colleagues to come in for the first 6 months and see how these things go and we will then see how we can adjust to make sure service is not affected."

Halimah Yacob shares her experiences with students at "Heroes Seminar"

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Nov 2013

She has tackled labour woes and disgruntled workers facing retrenchment during the 2008 recession, championed a range of causes as a Member of Parliament, and become Singapore's first female Speaker of Parliament.

Madam Halimah Yacob shared her experiences at the "Heroes Seminar" on Monday, which is organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

The talk is part of a series where speakers from all walks of life share their views and experiences in overcoming adversities.

Madam Halimah also answered questions regarding the significance of parliamentary proceedings.

Madam Halimah said: “I am proud to say that having been Speaker for eleven months and watching the backbenchers, I am now in a different position.

"I get to listen to the debates. Although people don't go "rah-rah rah", they are very hardworking to put across the facts, the statistics, the figures. That's important.

"It is no less robust compared to any other Parliament in the world, compared to the debates and arguments, although it may not be dramatic according to what people want, or what they see in other countries."

Madam Halimah said that "Parliament is important because it is one of the institutions which upholds democracy in Singapore".

"There are three pillars of democracy -- Parliament, the Executive and the Judiciary -- all independent of each other, and Parliament is one of the key three key pillars.

"This is the place where it is the highest decision-making body of the land where important decisions are made, important Bills, important issues are debated. I want to ask you not to look at the snippets but follow through a Parliament session," said Madam Halimah.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Treat migrant workers well because it's right to do so

In her opening remarks at an event organised last Saturday by migrant workers' group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, or HOME, Professor Chan Heng Chee spoke on better protection of the welfare of workers. Here is an edited excerpt.
The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2013

JUST this month, People's Action Party MP Christopher de Souza announced in Parliament that he would introduce a Private Member's Bill on human trafficking and work with the Singapore Interagency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons. He said he wanted to "strongly and potently" address the issue and to criminalise the trafficking of people and minors for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced incarceration, slave labour and forced organ trafficking. I applaud him for his initiative.

To deal with the migrant workers' human rights, three parties have responsibilities. The hosting or receiving country has a definite responsibility by providing the guidelines through regulations and laws for the protection of the migrant workers' welfare. In Singapore, we have increasingly through law and requirements sought to improve the conditions and situation for the migrant workers.

Today, there are 211,000 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in our city-state. We have required that FDWs must be at least of a minimum age of 23 and have eight years of formal education (they must provide proof) which means they are older and less vulnerable. There is a Settling-In Programme and the Employers Orientation Programme. From December 2012, we introduced a Safety Agreement between the employers and the FDWs. This covers the cleaning of exteriors of windows as many accidents are a result of this.

A mandatory rest day has been introduced but employers may compensate their FDWs if there is a mutual agreement. Medical insurance is required. Although domestic workers are not covered by the Employment Act, FDWs can lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower and they will arrange a meeting between the employer and FDW. In cases of abuse, the cases, if reported, will be heard in court and penalties for the employers include fines and imprisonment. FDWs can only be employed for domestic chores at the residential addresses of their employment. Penalties for illegal deployment are a stiff $5,000 fine and permanent barring from employing FDWs.

In the end, laws and regulations are only one part of the answer. We cannot have a whole slew of laws regulating every behaviour. I believe Singaporeans would like to move to a situation of less regulation, not more regulation.

On the matter of foreign workers' rights, I believe greater emphasis must be placed on ourselves, on each individual. If we get this right, the treatment of FDWs would not be an issue.

It is our moral duty as human beings to treat others with dignity and respect. This applies to peer as well as subordinate, Singaporean and foreign. We should spread this awareness and talk about these values.

Monday 25 November 2013

Govt will continue to help Malay community in Singapore

789 get $1.2m worth of bursaries; Shanmugam urges support for community in tackling concerns
By Feng Zengkun, The Sunday Times, 24 Nov 2013

The Government is committed to helping the Malay community in Singapore, Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

He was speaking as the guest of honour at a ceremony which gave out $1.2 million worth of bursaries to 789 students yesterday.

The annual event, which was held at ITE College Central this year, is organised by the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday Memorial Scholarship Fund Board, which has been giving out bursaries and scholarships to needy students of all races since 1965.

Mr Shanmugam said the group's work has helped the Malay community make strides in the past decade. He pointed out how last year, about nine in 10 Malay pupils who attended Primary 1 were admitted to post-secondary institutions, compared with about eight in 10 in 2003.

He also highlighted the accomplishments of Mr Adil Hakeem Mohamad Rafee, who made history last year when he became the first Malay in 44 years to be awarded the President's Scholarship, Singapore's most prestigious undergraduate award.

Maliki Osman: Malay men 'need to be more proactive'

Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman was promoted to Minister of State for National Development and Defence in September and is seen as a rising star. The former social work don, who is 48 years old and entered politics in 2001, is reluctant to be drawn into commenting on an ongoing controversy over the hijab, and whether women in uniformed service should be able to wear the Muslim headscarf. But he has much to say to Goh Chin Lian about the role of men in the Malay community.
The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

The hijab issue has been in the news.What's your take on women in uniformed service wearing the hijab?

This issue has been discussed quite extensively. What I want to say is that we understand that it is about meeting the aspirations of the community to fulfil their religious obligation. That's something that we all recognise and feel for. We want to try to work with the Government so that (it) can appreciate this aspiration. The Prime Minister has said he understands the position and he'll work with the Malay leadership. We'll continue to work with the Government as we continue to reflect the sentiments of the Malay community and I hope we can make progress going forward.

You were a social work professor before you took up political office. How would you say the Malay poor are different from the non-Malay?

(In) our rental flats, the Malay community is younger. They have more children. Possibly single-parent, post-divorce families. Many need a lot of hand-holding.

In a divorce, usually the woman gets custody of the kids. She has to settle housing (and) find income. If she hasn't been working, her skill-set may not be relevant. When she goes for upgrading, you need childcare. You need to help the kids go through not having a father, making sure they receive the support to do well in school.

She also struggles to get maintenance. Many ex-husbands have difficulty paying because they remarry. If one family faces that kind of challenge, can you imagine how we need to help these families? If we don't support their children, their chances in the future are a lot more compromised.

My greatest preoccupation is (that) men need to play a more proactive role. One in three marriages involves one who's been married before. Divorce among divorcees is high. (To) a friend who wants to remarry, do you say "Congratulations" or "Have you been able to pay maintenance? If not, please think carefully, because your children are still dependent on you."

We need a lot more support from the community. If they take (remarriage) lightly and the significant others don't become (their) conscience before decisions are made, you'll end up having such behaviour. I've seen families where you've got her children, his children and their children. If he remarries, she deals with two sets of children from different parents.

Britain's social mobility problem

By Jonathan Eyal, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

TWO decades ago, Mr John Major accomplished a remarkable feat: He became Britain's prime minister despite having come from a poor neighbourhood school in Brixton, one of London's most deprived areas, and boasting no university degree whatsoever.

Sadly, his personal example of social mobility was a one-off: Britain soon reverted to form when Mr Major was replaced by Mr Tony Blair who, notwithstanding his claims to be a socialist, was educated at an expensive private school and then Oxford University.

The current British government conforms even more to this narrow social elite profile which has ruled the country for centuries: Prime Minister David Cameron and his key ministers went to Eton, the grandest of all private boarding schools, followed by, needless to say, Oxford. Mr Major did not, after all, herald a new age of opportunity.

Still, Mr Major, now retired and in his 70s, remains passionate about social mobility. In a recent speech, with a vehemence that stunned political observers, he lamented the fact that "in every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class". "To me", he added, "from my background, I find that truly shocking".

PM Cameron, who belongs to the same Conservative Party as Mr Major, scrambled to defuse the criticism by acknowledging that in Britain "there is not as much social mobility as there needed to be". But although he pledged to "do far more" to increase diversity, the government announced no concrete steps.

Social classes and the ill-defined, but very real, glass ceilings they impose are some of Britain's defining characteristics. They permeate people's entire life, from the choice of schools and universities to jobs and even the vocabulary used: whether you ask for a "serviette" or a "napkin" defines your social status in a split second.

A large influx of immigrants, a massive internal migration from countryside to towns and the rise of working-class pop idols were all meant to have rendered such distinctions irrelevant; Cool Britannia was supposedly classless. But Britain remained obsessed with class: Immigrants were simply lumped together as "foreign", people about whom nothing needs to be known, while the rest continued as before.

Does it matter? Yes, a great deal.