Sunday 28 December 2014

3D projection show at SG50 countdown 2015

Display of Singapore icons and fireworks set to music at party by the Bay
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

COUNT down to Singapore's Golden Jubilee year by enjoying a 3D display of iconic images from the Republic's past.

The 2015 New Year countdown at Marina Bay will feature, for the first time, a 3D projection mapping display on the facade of The Fullerton Hotel, as well as the usual crowd-pleasing fireworks.

Jointly organised by the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the 3D display will feature a montage of sketches and graphics of Singapore's growth.

It begins with iconic images of Singapore's past, like kampungs and samsui women, before moving on to images of modernity like the city skyline and a Singapore Airlines plane.

The public can catch a two-minute preview of the 3D display every half hour from 8.15pm to 11.15pm from tonight to Tuesday night, at The Fullerton Hotel.

On New Year's Eve, a three-minute extended version of the display, along with a two-minute show of five key historical milestones of Singapore will be shown as a prelude to the countdown.

Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary as an independent nation next year.

When horror strikes in the heart of peaceful places

There's an intangible fight at the invisible front in the war against terror. All of us - not just law enforcement agencies - are involved in that fight.
By Indranee Rajah, Published The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

EXPLORING the malls while on leave last week, I saw parents and children enjoying family time together, friends chatting over coffee and cakes, youngsters thronging the cineplexes and shoppers intent on their Christmas shopping. There were scents of heady fragrances and freshly baked cookies, shiny baubles and decorations, the sparkle of Orchard Road lights and cool rainy weather - all evoking that special, familiar year-end feeling of happy anticipation, relaxed excitement and mellowness that signal Christmas and New Year.

These were the sights and sounds of Singapore residents and tourists going about their holiday season activities.

Then I reflected on the news headlines of that same week:
- the Sydney siege in a cafe on Dec 15 which left two hostages and the gunman, an Australian resident of Iranian origin, dead;
- the Peshawar school attack a day later which saw 132 Pakistani children, nine staff and their Taleban attackers all killed;
- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's court appearance on Dec 18 for the Boston Marathon bombings where five were killed and 280 injured. Tsarnaev is a US citizen, formerly of Dagestan;
- the granting of bail on Dec 18 to the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, where 166 people were killed, including Singaporean lawyer Lo Hwei Yen who was attending a legal seminar.
This caused me to reflect on these earlier events:the October hatchet attack on four New York police officers by radicalised African-American convert Zale Thompson;
- the Brussels Jewish Museum killings of May by a French national of Algerian origin;
- the hacking and partial beheading of British soldier Lee Rigby, in a United Kingdom public street in May last year. The assailants were British citizens of Nigerian descent.
All acts of terrorism, or influenced by it.

U Care Centre helps low-wage workers obtain what is rightfully theirs

U Care makes a big difference
NTUC support centre helps 5,500 low-wage workers with their problems
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

WHEN Madam Lam Yook Chan approached the then newly opened U Care Centre in November last year, she was focused on getting back her pay from her previous employer, who had refused to give it.

She said in Mandarin: "I had already quit in 2012, but (my employer) did not want to pay me for that half month I worked."

Instead, the former odd-job worker at a pharmaceutical company, who earns about $1,000 a month, got back $13,000.

It turned out that her former employer had never contributed to her or her colleagues' Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts while they were working for him.

"I did not even know my entitlement," said the Singapore permanent resident, who is now working as a packer at another firm.

Its director, Mr Zainal Sapari, said: "Some did not understand their payslips, so they did not know what they were missing."

Other issues being looked into include the non-payment of salaries, miscalculations in CPF contributions and unauthorised salary deductions, said the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Move to help rehabilitate cancer patients

New service will help them relearn things like speaking and swallowing
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

THE first concerted effort to help rehabilitate cancer patients, after their treatment has been completed, is being spearheaded by the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS).

Its new service - part of a broader push to plug the gaps in cancer care - will help survivors of the disease relearn things like speaking and swallowing.

"We're looking at that space where (the cancer patients) have done their treatment and they are at home," said SCS chief operating officer David Fong.

"During the recovery phase, these people also need help to adjust back to life in many different aspects."

On average, 12,000 people in Singapore are diagnosed with cancer every year. Even after successful treatment, they may have difficulties with simple things like swallowing or balance, especially if they have lost muscle function while ill.

SCS chairman Choo Eng Chuan said that such rehabilitation services are common in countries such as the United States, but harder to find in Singapore outside a hospital setting.

"Now it's going to be structured - helping people balance, helping people swallow," he said.

More details on the move, including the official launch date, will be announced next month in conjunction with SCS' 50th-anniversary celebrations.

"We'll start it small, step by step," Mr Choo added. "But we want it to be effective at handling all permutations (of rehabilitation)."

In greying Japan, helping elderly is all part of the service

Companies realise that caring for older customers is good for business
The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

TOKYO - They would enter the bank and ask for their cash.

Ms Yuriko Asahara, behind the counter, would watch where they would stash it - in the side pocket of a handbag or perhaps deep down in a shoulder bag.

Ms Asahara was not spying. She knew she would have to remind them within an hour or two.

Many of her clients suffered from dementia and, over two decades, the bank manager became a self-taught expert in the disease.

An estimated eight million people in Japan have dementia or show signs of developing it.

By 2060, 40 per cent of Japanese will be over 65, up from 24 per cent today, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

"At first I didn't understand why they would lose things so many times in a day and I got frustrated," said Ms Asahara, a former branch manager at Japan Post Holdings, the country's biggest holder of bank deposits.

"Gradually, I learnt to look them in the eyes and to be sensitive about what could be occupying their minds."

The Japanese government, faced with record debt, is raising premiums and reducing access to state-funded nursing homes.

As about 520,000 elderly people are on waiting lists for placement, many have no occupation but spend their days wandering in shopping malls and making trips to the banks to check their savings.

HDB satisfaction levels down, but are still above 90%

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

THE proportion of Housing Board (HDB) residents who are satisfied with their homes and neighbourhoods has dipped, though satisfaction levels are still above 90 per cent, according to an HDB survey conducted every five years.

In the Sample Household Survey of almost 8,000 households conducted last year, 91.6 per cent were satisfied with their flat, down from 96.4 per cent in 2008.

Those who were not were mainly concerned about the condition of their ageing flats.

Satisfaction with the neighbourhood slipped to 92 per cent, from 95.1 per cent. But this was mainly due to the people rather than the place, with inconsiderate neighbours cited as the main problem.

Satisfaction with estate facilities rose instead to 96.1 per cent, up from 94.4 per cent previously.

The story of a Polish architect in Singapore

By Zenon Kosiniak-kamysz, Published The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE will be celebrating its 50th year of independence next year. With an array of anniversary programmes and festivities, one can expect next year's events in Singapore to be nothing less than extraordinary. As recently named by travel guide Lonely Planet, Singapore is one of the world's top places to visit in 2015.

Singaporeans have many reasons to celebrate and plenty of achievements to be proud of.

In the course of just one generation, the Little Red Dot, as it is famously referred to, grew to become, among other things, a modern metropolis and a global business centre.

The success of Singapore is acknowledged worldwide and Singaporeans have earned the respect and admiration of the world for their resilience and extraordinary achievements.

Such recognition resonates strongly in my country, Poland.

Notably, a few months ago when the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Mr Grzegorz Schetyna, took office, he referred to Singapore in his inaugural speech as among the selected countries with which Poland would like to extend and deepen bilateral ties.

In recognition of their role in the success of Singapore, special tribute is paid to the pioneer generation who contributed to Singapore's achievements since the early days.

One individual who played a less-known role in Singapore's early development is my compatriot, Krystyn Olszewski.

He was a Polish architect and town planner who contributed with his craft and expertise to building modern Singapore in its initial years as an independent state.

He was a Pole by birth but Singaporean at heart. He spent here in Singapore a total of 15 active years of his professional career and contributed to the current design of the Lion City in many ways: from the comprehensive long-term city plan for the island's development to the local project of the Singapore Science Park and the design details of the first MRT stations.

A Pole among Singapore's pioneers, one may say.

Saturday 27 December 2014

2004 tsunami showed importance of resilience in face of adversity: PM Lee

By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 26 Dec 2014

The Boxing Day tsunami off Sumatra that claimed nearly 230,000 lives in 2004 displayed the fragility and uncertainty of human life, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

It also showed "how resilient and united we must be in the face of adversity", he said in remarks on Facebook exactly a decade after the disaster.

"Natural calamities will happen again. We must be prepared for them, and work together to protect ourselves," Mr Lee added.

He recalled visiting Banda Aceh and Meulaboh in Indonesia - the closest areas to the epicentre of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami - days after the disaster, and being "overwhelmed by the extensive damage".

Singapore's armed forces were already on site to offer help, in their largest relief effort ever, Mr Lee said. Also assisting were the Republic's Home Team, non-governmental organisations and individual Singaporeans.

Mr Lee also remembered the strength of the Indonesians who had survived the tsunami. "Despite the trauma, grief and uncertainty, the survivors were determined to recover and not give up," he said.

"A decade later, many of the destroyed areas are again bustling with life. The survivors have also rebuilt their lives. But we also remember those who have perished."

Friday 26 December 2014

Deflation in Singapore in November 2014 - First time in five years

Singapore gets its first taste of deflation in five years
Cheaper oil and COE premiums see prices dip, but demand still healthy
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

THE relatively rare phenomenon of negative inflation hit Singapore last month - its first appearance in five years.

The effect - also known as deflation - occurs when prices in one month decline over the same period a year earlier.

In this case, consumer prices fell 0.3 per cent last month over November 2013, mainly due to fluctuations in certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums and cheaper crude oil.

The last negative inflation recording was in December 2009 amid the global financial crisis. Plunging oil prices may make headline inflation more common.

Benchmark Brent crude has dropped from about US$70 a barrel at the end of last month to US$60 now, so even deeper deflation may occur this month.

Deflation has become a grave concern for economies around the world. Apart from higher supply, the drop in crude oil prices is a also the product of slowing growth.

The gloomy outlook could translate to even less economic momentum as consumers and businesses grow more cautious.

While deflation points to deeper structural issues for economies like Japan and Europe, economists say that Singapore has less to worry about as its economy is not suffering from a chronic lack of demand.

Singapore's deflationary reading last month was driven by fluctuating COE prices and falling accommodation costs, in addition to cheaper crude.

Yaacob: A good year for Malay/Muslim community

New mosques coming up plus progress in education, but terror threat looms
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

THE Malay/Muslim community enjoyed a good year, with new mosques on the way and strides being made in both mainstream and religious education, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

But challenges still loom, including addressing the threat of terrorism, he added in a video posted on Facebook in which he laid out highlights of the year for the Malay/Muslim community.

Dr Yaacob, who is also Communications and Information Minister, said in the two-minute video: "We are committed as a nation to reject and fight this global threat."

Thousands of individuals have travelled to join the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Middle East - among them a handful of Singaporeans.

Besides addressing the ISIS menace, the community must also continue to reach out to the needy, and keep healthy, he said.

But even as he spoke of the challenges, Dr Yaacob praised the community for its achievements.

Improvements have been made to older mosques, and the building of new mosques has been announced this year. These will open up more prayer spaces.

The hero is the one who stays home

The struggle against ISIS and militant violence cannot be fought by firepower alone. It has to be fought by society, in giving respect and dignity to those who feel marginalised and invisible in humdrum jobs and lives.
By Farish Ahmad-Noor, Published The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

AS THE struggle to contain the spread of the radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) movement continues, reports have emerged about the motivation of those foreign fighters who left the comfort zones of their homes and communities in the West and Asia to join the radicals fighting their war in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the Arab world.

From the accounts of some of those captured or who have surrendered, it appears that among the factors that motivated them to join the movement was a sense of hopelessness and ennui in their daily lives back home. Many complained of poor-paying jobs and menial and meaningless work, and having little faith in the future.

It is doubly ironic that some of these would-be martyrs discovered upon their arrival in the war zone that they were assigned equally humdrum tasks, such as cooking and cleaning toilets. Some who grew disillusioned with the ISIS (also known as the Islamic State or IS) now complain that even in the ranks of the so-called "brotherhood" of heroes, some are more equal than others.

While there is little doubt that ISIS is a radical militant threat that ought to be dealt with seriously, it is equally important to ask if the use of military might to counter ISIS is the only solution to what appears to be a hugely complex problem.

The deployment of jet fighters, rockets and drones may momentarily halt the advance of such an armed force of insurgents, and may rapidly turn their victories into defeats if they are soundly beaten in open combat. But this still does not address the question of how and why men (and in some cases, women) from developed countries have chosen to abandon their ordered lives in order to take up arms in a struggle that is not truly theirs.

Yours gracefully, ex-president George W. Bush

By Cass Sunstein, Published The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

IN THE domain of foreign affairs, 2014 has brought heated national debates on an impressive range of subjects: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, Ebola, immigration policy and, most recently, torture, North Korea and Cuba. One of the more remarkable features of all these discussions has been the consistent grace of former president George W. Bush.

This month, Mr Bush offered a rare comment on a public debate. Responding to the Senate's release of the CIA torture report, he said: "We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base."

Note that Mr Bush paid tribute to the employees of the CIA - and pointedly declined to take a shot at the Barack Obama administration.

No one doubts that, on some important questions, Mr Bush is in profound disagreement with his successor. Nonetheless, he has maintained silence. In March, he explained: "I don't think it's good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president; I think it's bad for the presidency for that matter."

To many Republicans, that crisp explanation is not convincing. But Mr Bush has made an honourable calculation.

Singapore ranks third globally in time spent on homework

15-year-olds here devote 9.4 hours weekly, above global average of 5 hours: OECD study
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2014

STUDENTS in Singapore are among the world's most hard- working at home, clocking the third-longest time spent on homework, a report released this month has found.

The country's 15-year-olds said that they devoted 9.4 hours to homework a week, in the study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They came in behind students in Shanghai, who spend 13.8 hours a week on homework, and those in Russia, who take 9.7 hours.

Students in Finland and South Korea spent fewer than three hours - the least among the 65 countries and regions surveyed - on homework each week.

The global average was about five hours' worth of homework each week.

The report was based on results from a questionnaire in 2012 for the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test to measure academic achievement for 15-year-olds.

Around 510,000 students took part in the test. They were asked questions about their school environment, families and attitudes towards subjects and school.

The study found that students who did more homework scored higher in PISA. For instance, Shanghai and Singapore, where students spent much of their time on homework, came in first and second respectively in the PISA mathematics test in 2012.

Across the countries and regions surveyed, students who came from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds tended to devote more hours to homework.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education (MOE) said Singapore's weekly average of 9.4 hours on homework is "fairly reasonable for upper-secondary students, who would be preparing for the national examinations".

She said: "Homework, when used appropriately, can reinforce students' learning, contribute to their progress and cultivate a healthy disposition towards learning."

More people seeking help to break chains of addiction

Increased awareness that they can be treated key reason
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2014

MORE people here are seeking help to kick their addictions, which include drugs, alcohol and gambling, according to Singapore's largest treatment centre.

Last year, the National Addiction Management Service (NAMS) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) treated 1,556 new patients - a 25 per cent increase over the 1,245 in 2010. A decade ago, the figure was just 200.

The growth is being fuelled by "increased awareness of addictions as a treatable condition, and better knowledge of the avenues of help", IMH's vice-chairman of NAMS' medical board, Dr Christopher Cheok, told The Straits Times.

While drug addicts last year formed the largest group of new cases at NAMS, at 38 per cent, the sharpest rise was in the number of gamblers seeking help. Since 2010, it jumped by about 60 per cent to hit 418 cases last year.

In comparison, the number of drug and alcohol addicts rose by about 13 per cent each over the same time.

This has seen gambling addiction catch up with alcohol addiction as the second-most-common problem, at 27 per cent each. Other patients seek treatment for other issues such as cyber and sex addiction.

Meanwhile, youth below 30 are emerging as the driving force behind rising drug-addiction figures, causing so much concern that the Government last month formed a multi-agency task force to tackle the problem. Over the past decade, the total number of drug abusers arrested has risen by an average of 2 per cent each year, but the figure for those aged below 20 is 7 per cent. For those between 20 and 29, it is an even higher 11 per cent.

Younger people tend to have a more liberal attitude towards drugs. Those aged 17 to 21 are more likely to think that "it's all right to try drugs for a new experience", a National Council Against Drug Abuse survey conducted last year showed.

The gift of liver and life from someone he knew only casually

By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2014

MR ANDY Toh, 49, would not be celebrating Christmas this year if Mr Ralph Chua, 42, had not given him part of his liver.

The duo had been colleagues at Paya Lebar Methodist Church for about a decade, but knew each other only casually as they were in different departments.

Mr Toh, a father of two teenagers, was thus surprised when Mr Chua visited him in hospital in March. He was even more surprised when Mr Chua said as he was leaving: "If you need a live donor, let me know."

Mr Toh had felt a range of emotions - from shock to hope, anger and despair - after he was diagnosed with late-stage liver failure in October last year. By then, his liver was badly scarred and hardening as a result of hepatitis B.

His wife, siblings and 18-year-old son were all found to be unsuitable as donors. Only his daughter Bernice was a match.

Although scared, she wanted to help. But at 16, she was too young as donors had to be at least 21.

Dr Thwin Maung Aye, a consultant at the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation, said Mr Toh also had complications such as recurrent fluid accumulation in the tummy. His "overall prognosis and survival would have been poor" if he did not have a transplant, he added.

On May 15, the transplant was carried out. Dr Thwin said Mr Toh responded very well and his other medical problems were resolved after the liver transplant.

The operation left Mr Chua with less than half of his liver, but this usually regenerates.

Hello, have you seen the doctor for a follow-up?

Volunteers call people with abnormal screening results to go for checks
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2014

"EXCUSE me, madam, may I have just two minutes of your time?"

Before the other party can say anything, Madam Pauline Tan, 62, quickly adds that she is not trying to sell anything over the phone.

"I am calling from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to talk about your health. Have you gone for your post-screening follow-up?" she asks.

Usually the answer is "no", but gentle persuasion by HPB telecare health ambassadors like Madam Tan has worked.

As of September this year, 800 residents have been contacted.

About 70 per cent of the people diagnosed with abnormal results at seven islandwide screening centres have gone for follow-up checks.

This was up from only 15 per cent of those who needed follow-up checks in 2012, when the ambassadors were introduced.

The HPB plans to expand the programme over the next few years.

It will look for more people to join the telecare team, which has 28 volunteers between 43 and 69 years old.

CGH, St Andrew's offer specially designed wards

New 280-bed facility will help patients transition better after discharge
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2014

CHANGI General Hospital (CGH) and St Andrew's Community Hospital have started admitting patients to their new 280-bed facility.

Ten new beds for each hospital are now available for patients. CGH will have another 20 beds ready by next month.

The building is being opened gradually so staff can adjust to the new layout and improvements can be made with patient feedback.

It will be fully operational by July next year.

The building has been built with specially designed wards meant to help patients make a smoother transition to moving back home.

Each C class cubicle is a third bigger than the norm to allow caregivers to spend more time learning from nurses how to look after the patient when discharged.

The wards, which are expected to cater mainly to elderly patients, also have a terrace, dining and kitchen areas, uneven paths and a garden for them to make a smooth transition when they are discharged.

Each ward will have about 30 beds, with CGH taking charge of 200 of the 280 beds, and St Andrew's Community Hospital taking charge of the remaining beds.

CGH chief executive officer Lee Chien Earn said patients often have "a steep learning curve" when they go home and have to adjust to conditions very different from those in hospital.

Patients in the new wards are free to eat at tables rather than in bed. They are encouraged to walk about, interact with others, play games or chat.

The uneven paths mimic those in public areas, and elderly patients are taught how to manage them. Dr Lee said this aims to reduce their risk of falling and give them a better quality of life on discharge.

Visiting hours for caregivers are more flexible than in the main hospital wards, to allow them to be with the patient all day to learn how to care for them.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who visited patients in the new ward yesterday, said: "We are trying out a new concept to see whether providing more space will allow the operations to be more efficient and provide better care for the patients.

"It also allows space for future expansion, in the event of a need for more capacity."

MediShield Life: Extend it to less common diseases

By Jeremy Lim, Published The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

BY THIS time next year, the risk of financial catastrophe from large health-care bills will be much reduced for cancer patients.

Why? Simple: MediShield Life, which would have come into effect by then, will greatly increase coverage for cancer care. For outpatient chemotherapy, coverage would jump from $1,240 to $3,000 a month. Radiation therapy will also enjoy an increase, from $160 a treatment to $500.

Why did the Ministry of Health (MOH) decide to focus on cancer? Why not other diseases too?

The decision to expand coverage for cancer is unsurprising.

Cancer accounts for almost a third of deaths in Singapore and 5.9 per cent of all hospitalisations. Furthermore, cancer care and especially its costs are frequently raised as concerns.

The late senior minister of state for health Balaji Sadasivan, while undergoing treatment for cancer, remarked: "Cancer treatment can be very, very expensive. This is something our health system will have to deal with. It is not surprising if some patients have to sell their house."

Cancer care has also been revolutionised by the advent of targeted therapies, biologics that target cancer cells at the molecular level. These medicines have three important implications for the way we finance health care.

SGH's new computerised system allows tool tracking

Surgical precision for SGH's supplies unit
Computerised system makes it easier to keep track of tools used in surgery
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

THE Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) theatre sterile supplies unit used to be filled with stacks of paper.

It was the only way for staff to keep track of the thousands of surgical instruments sent there daily to be washed, packed and sterilised.

But after a four-year overhaul, barcodes have taken the place of paper.

The new system is fully computerised and so precise that it can alert users when a pair of scissors needs sharpening.

This may not sound like much, said deputy director of nursing Goh Meh Meh, but a pair of blunt scissors may shear off tissue in the operating theatre and injure the patient.

"Previously, it all depended on the person's experience," she said. "Everything was done manually."

All supplies from the hospital's 38 operating rooms - down to the smallest pair of tweezers - pass through the doors of this underground laundry.

The unit, which works round the clock, also sterilises instruments for the specialist centres on the SGH campus, such as the National Cancer Centre Singapore.

Its 65 staff are responsible for 3,500 different types of surgical supplies, and handle up to 28,000 instrument sets a month.

Old flats in Tiong Bahru get new lease of life

120 units in five blocks to be rented to couples waiting for their new flats
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

FIVE old blocks of flats in Tiong Bahru are being given a new lease of life, even though they were earmarked for demolition almost 20 years ago.

From next year, Blocks 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Tiong Bahru Road will be rented to couples waiting for their new flats, the Housing Board (HDB) has told The Straits Times.

Standing out against a backdrop of taller and newer blocks, these four-storey ones were built by the now-defunct Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), which provided public housing before the HDB took over in 1960.

They were slated for demolition in 1995, but have so far been spared the wrecking ball as HDB continues to find use for them.

The latest purpose for the 120 three- and four-room units is rental, under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme.

They are part of 800 flats, including others in Bukit Merah and Queenstown, that will be retrofitted and rolled out under the scheme early next year.

Under this programme, which began in January last year, such flats can be rented by first-timer married couples with children under the age of 16 who are waiting for new flats.

Three months later, the scheme was extended to those without children and, in September last year, to married couples comprising first-timers and second-timers, as well as divorced or widowed parents with children.

Museums remind us dinosaurs still fly

By Peter Ng, Published The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

WHAT is a museum?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it "as a building used for storing and exhibition of objects illustrating antiquities, natural history, art, etc".

In the modern world, it is often seen as a byword for "old and outdated". A place to put irrelevant things. A place of obsolescence. A place of history. A place of the dead.

But to understand what a museum really is, one needs to delve into the origins of the word. "Museum" is derived from the ancient Greek word, mouseion - a place, a temple, dedicated to the Muses. What are the Muses? They are the patron divinities in Greek mythology, and all of them personify the arts, philosophy and learning. They were the very embodiment of knowledge.

The new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in the National University of Singapore, which will open in April next year, is a convergence of destinies.

A university is the place of learning. The Latin word for this institution - universitas - means the whole. It symbolises what a true scholar must be, one who can see the whole and prescribes wisdom to the community of which he is part. A temple dedicated to the Muses - the spirits of knowledge - in the courtyard of the whole; what a wonderful synchronicity of purposes.

Yes, Singapore's natural history museum is a place of the dead, a tomb, where we keep the bodies of over half a million plants and animals. But it is not a mere sarcophagus of decaying carcasses. It is also a place that holds a huge body of knowledge, with great potentialities.

Rat infestation at Bukit Batok

Bukit Batok's rat horror days are over
NEA says no more complaints; HDB cleared away vegetation
By Carolyn Khew and Andrea Ng, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2015

AFTER more than 300 hours of monitoring for rat movement, 20 infrared cameras deployed to track them at night and the clearing of vegetation, the Bukit Batok rat problem seems to have been solved - at least for now.

Over 230 rats were killed in a hilly area near the Bukit Batok MRT station in Bukit Batok Central, and residents say the days of rat horror are over.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said there has not been any feedback on rats at the vacant plot of land - about the size of a football field - since it was declared rat-free in January.

The Housing Board (HDB) started clearing the vegetation on the hill after the completion of rodent eradication. It did not reveal the cost of eradicating the rats.

"We are clearing the undergrowth in the forested area, as well as a few trees which are in danger of falling, so as to better maintain the land," said an HDB spokesman. "Keeping the land well-kept will minimise the recurrence of rodent infestation and facilitate the removal of hiding ground for stray dogs."

During the operation, pest controllers found about 10kg of food left for stray dogs in the area, which was said to have contributed to the rat woes.

The HDB is currently re-turfing parts of the hill. "Newly-planted vegetation will need time to grow," said the spokesman.

The Straits Times understands that the undergrowth was cleared manually. The re-turfing of grass will be completed in a few weeks. Surveillance cameras have been put near the fencing on the hill to monitor those who feed stray dogs indiscriminately.

The rat problem first came to light last December after Bukit Batok resident Ryan Keith Smith took videos and pictures of the rodents and posted them online.

Pest controllers spent the first part of the extermination process attacking the rats' nests and burrows. It involved about 30 pest controllers, who scoured the area and used infrared cameras and binoculars to track rodent activity.

Star Pest Control general manager Bernard Chan, who led the exercise, told The Straits Times the clearing of thick vegetation will make it easier to spot rats if they are still around.

Pest controllers are still monitoring the area once or twice a week for rodent activity, he added. They look out for tell-tale signs such as rat droppings, food waste and rodent nests.

"We have not detected any (rat) movement at the moment, which is a healthy sign," he said. "It's unlikely that they will return unless there's food available."

An NEA spokesman said it has stepped up inspections of the 13 NEA-licensed food shops near the area and found no infestation there.

"All the food shops have engaged licensed pest-control contractors and have also increased the frequency of the pest-control measures," the spokesman said.

"NEA has also reminded all the food handlers and food shop operators to practise proper refuse management and to properly store their food and raw ingredients at all times." These measures would help ensure no food is lying around to lure the rats back.

Residents have noted an overall improvement. They have also noticed fewer stray dogs now.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it received several dogs from the area from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority. They have been rehomed, said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong. It is not aware if the other stray dogs have moved elsewhere.

With the rats gone from the hill, residents are hoping it can become a place for all to enjoy. Said Madam Vimala Devi, 51, who is self-employed: "It would be good if something can be built, such as a jogging track."

Wednesday 24 December 2014

LTA raises fines for illegal parking from 1 January 2015

Stiffer fines for repeat parking offenders
Tiered penalty system, cameras at 40 more locations from next year
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 23 Dec 2014

UNDER a new tiered system, motorists who are caught for illegal parking more than once within a year will face fines up to 60 per cent heavier than the current rates.

The tougher penalties - to be introduced on Jan 1 next year - will target repeat offenders, who have been responsible for about half of all parking offences committed between 2011 and 2014.

Along with a stiffer penalty system, enforcement will also be stepped up, as closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to catch illegal parking will be installed at 40 more locations, up from the current 30.

They will be operational from the first quarter of next year.

Under the new rules, for example, a motorist caught parking along unbroken double yellow lines will be fined $110, instead of $70, if it is his second offence in 12 months.

The number of demerit points, which are handed out for more serious violations, will remain unchanged.

Announcing the changes, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said parking offences committed before the start of the new rules will not be taken into account.

The LTA said the tougher penalties will "reduce the number of repeat offenders" and also the overall number of parking offences.

Between January and September this year, 340,300 summonses were issued for parking offences. For the whole of last year, there were 357,600 and, in 2012, a whopping 427,200.

While most motorists said the new rules will make them think twice about parking illegally, some questioned if they are fair.

HDB should have access to flats for ceiling repairs: Khaw

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 23 Dec 2014

THE Housing Board should be empowered to enter a flat so that repairs on ceiling leaks can be performed more promptly, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

About 2,800, or a third of ceiling-leak cases each year, take more than three months to resolve because of uncooperative neighbours, Mr Khaw wrote in a blog post.

Some upper-floor residents refuse entry to the HDB to carry out repairs.

"This delays the repair unnecessarily and, meanwhile, the lower-floor residents suffer the inconveniences," Mr Khaw wrote.

"Minimally, HDB should be given the power to enter the flat for the purpose of carrying out the necessary investigations and repairs. We will need to amend the legislation to empower the HDB to do so."

Ceiling leakages make up about a quarter of the complaints that the HDB currently receives.

Both upper- and lower-floor flat owners are responsible for fixing leaky ceilings.

The HDB said it first tries to persuade upper-floor residents to cooperate and will involve grassroots leaders in the mediation if necessary.

"After repeated attempts, HDB will have no choice but to initiate legal action as a last resort, to compel the upper-floor owners to allow HDB access into their flats," it said.