Wednesday 30 April 2014

Leadership Renewal Continues with Latest Cabinet Reshuffle from 1 May 2014

Cabinet shuffle 'to see Singapore through next phase'
New appointments will strengthen social and health teams: PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has promoted Mr Tan Chuan-Jin and Mr Lawrence Wong to full ministers and named two new ministers of state to bolster the social and health teams, in a move he said was aimed at strengthening the Cabinet and helping Singapore through an important period of transition.

He said the Government was creating opportunities for Singaporeans through skills upgrading and raising productivity, improving lives through sports, culture and youth engagement, and giving people peace of mind through stronger social safety nets in health and for the elderly.

"These major policy shifts require good political leadership, close coordination across ministries, effective ground implementation and strong support from Singaporeans," he added. He was strengthening the Cabinet line-up "to address our priorities and challenges, and see Singapore through our next phase of development".

In this latest round of changes, the fourth since the May 2011 General Election, Mr Tan will be promoted to Manpower Minister and Mr Wong to Minister for Culture, Community and Youth tomorrow. They have been acting ministers since August 2012 and November 2012, respectively.

The two fourth-generation leaders, along with their peers Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing, were appointed to office shortly after the May 2011 polls.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said Mr Tan and Mr Wong had performed well since taking office, and had mastered their portfolios, adding: "They have also worked hard on the ground, winning the respect and trust of Singaporeans."

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in a Facebook update, said both men had also done well in "policy formulation and in explaining policies both in and outside Parliament".

Both ministers yesterday welcomed the opportunity to serve the country, and said they would continue to put in their best.

Restructuring must continue for "better workers, better jobs": Tan Chuan-Jin

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Apr 2014

Singapore must continue with its restructuring efforts to achieve its vision of making "better workers, better jobs", Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in his May Day message.

He added that only then can Singapore achieve its vision of making "better workers, better jobs".

Mr Tan also stressed that the tripartite members -- government, employers and unions -- must work closely together as Singapore transforms its economy to create higher-value industries and quality jobs for Singaporeans.

The Singapore economy is expected to grow between two and four per cent this year. The labour market remains tight with close to full employment.

The acting manpower minister said the government is committed to help workers adapt to the new economic environment.

One key area is continuous learning and skills upgrading.

Mr Tan said the Continuing Education and Training system is undergoing a major review to support workers in these areas so they can seize the new job opportunities that restructuring brings.

Companies are also embarking on training which is more relevant now.

Kurt Wee, president of Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME), said: "We are exploring modules that have subject matters like… Do Not Call registry, your personal data protection act, so that the workforce that comes through the training workshops are also more relevant, more industry relevant, towards their employers."

Companies will also get help to transform existing business models, so they can create better opportunities for workers.

Businesses are encouraged to innovate and strive for productivity improvements and in turn, raise the wages of workers.

Mr Tan acknowledged the process is not easy for employers.

Record $420 million in CPF arrears recovered

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

THE Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board recovered a record $420 million in arrears from errant companies last year, and also secured more convictions.

It was a big jump from the $293 million it recovered in 2012, after the board stepped up its checks on companies last year.

Of the total sum, $16.6 million was recovered on behalf of more than 19,000 workers from 3,900 companies which did not pay - or underpaid - their workers' CPF.

The lion's share, $406.6 million, was collected from some 43,000 companies which paid CPF to their 230,000 workers late, after a 14-day grace period.

The board's director of enforcement Ng Hock Keong said that workers are now more aware of their rights.

"This has enabled us to take swifter action against errant employers as more workers are now coming forward to check their CPF entitlements," he said.

In September 2012, the CPF Board and Manpower Ministry started a year-long campaign to help low-wage workers know their CPF and employment rights.

At the same time, they formed a dedicated team of 20 inspectors, including several retired policemen, who uncovered dubious practices after they interviewed more than 12,000 workers at more than 3,000 offices and worksites.

Apart from recovering more money, the board also hauled more employers to court last year.

There were 243 convictions against errant companies last year, up from 219 in 2012.

Some products cost more in S’pore than other cities: MAS & MTI study

By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Apr 2014

Buying a product from Apple, Zara and IKEA could cost more in Singapore compared to 10 other cities, according to a study by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

According to the study -- which analyses price differences for 647 items from the three global brands across the 11 cities --"Singapore's prices are found to be relatively high in most instances".

Releasing the findings on Tuesday as part of the its Macroeconomic Review, MAS said Singapore's prices are above the median for two-thirds of the items, and prices for about a quarter of them are below the median.

This means that for the same brand, prices in Singapore can be higher than in other cities for some items but lower for others.

Among the cities included in the study are London, Paris, New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

MAS added that for most of the items which are more expensive in Singapore, the price premiums do not exceed 20 per cent.

The report said pricing decisions of the firms are influenced by unit cost and demand for their products in the market.

Costs involved in importing products from further afield as well as Singapore's small market size appear to have contributed to higher prices.

"Singapore has a strong Sing dollar. That causes our imports of these duty goods (to be) slightly higher than the rest of the (countries),” said Steven Goh, executive director of the Orchard Road Business Asscociation.

He added that in Singapore, the “cost of operation is very high, especially rental and labour costs.”

A concern for businesses is the perception that things are generally expensive in Singapore. If this perception is reinforced over time, consumer spending in the country could slow, hurting the bottom-line of many firms.

Authorities have stressed that their study should not be taken as representative of differences in the overall cost of living across cities, since only three global brands were analysed.

Ex-prisoners to get more help in rejoining society

More volunteers and professionals to be trained in specialised areas
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

OFFENDERS released from prison are to be given more help with the essential skills needed to adjust to life on the outside - and avoid the trap of re-offending.

More training is being offered to both volunteers and professionals involved in helping ex-offenders make the transition, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli yesterday.

He was speaking at the second Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (CARE) Network's workplan seminar.

He said more could be done to reduce the level of re-offending.

He said up to 1,000 training slots will be offered this year in more specialised areas such as "motivational interviewing in the prison context and working with families and children of offenders".

The Singapore Prison Service offers a structured training framework for personnel involved in offender-related work, known as the Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel (DORP).

It aims to equip volunteers and aftercare professionals with the relevant skills and qualifications for their work.

Singapore Prison Service is one of eight core members of the CARE Network, which works with more than 100 partners to rehabilitate ex-prisoners. Since CARE Network was formed in 2000, the number of volunteers has grown from about 200 to more than 1,600 in 2013, said Mr Masagos.

To date, all 1,600 volunteers have gone through basic training.

Foreign graduates on Singapore govt bonds finding job hunt tough

By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

SOME foreign graduates on Singapore government grants and scholarships are finding it hard to find jobs here because of tighter labour rules.

Despite signing agreements to work here for three or six years upon graduation, they are finding it tough to fulfil their bond obligations.

"I came here with the understanding that Singapore is paying for my education and I must repay the generosity by working here. But I found it so hard to find a job," said Mr Fery, 23, a National University of Singapore (NUS) science graduate from Indonesia.

He was a Ministry of Education (MOE) tuition grant recipient and signed a three-year bond. He took 10 months to find employment in a consumer data research firm.

Like the dozen from China, Vietnam and Indonesia who spoke to The Straits Times, he asked not to be named in full for fear of jeopardising his work pass.

Their challenging search is a contrast to most local graduates, who usually get offers before leaving school, said human resource analysts.

In recent years, Singapore has urged companies to consider locals first for jobs through measures such as raising salary requirements for foreigners. Headhunters said these policies have led to fresh foreign graduates being "caught in the middle".

They noted that, on average, foreign graduates are waiting up to six months to get a job now.

A ministry spokesman told The Straits Times that eight in 10 foreign students on MOE grants who graduated from a polytechnic or university in the past three years started work immediately or applied to the ministry to start serving their bonds at a later date to further their studies.

The rest, she added, may not be bond defaulters as some could still be job-hunting.

Bosses favouring foreigners still top employment grouse

Call for progressive work practices as complaints against bosses rise by 57%
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

COMPLAINTS about preferential treatment of foreigners remain the No. 1 gripe Singaporeans have over unfair employment practices, for the third year running.

They made up more than half of the 475 grievances - involving 295 employers - lodged last year with the national anti-discrimination watchdog.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) did not reveal an exact breakdown in its annual review released yesterday.

It said that one in five of the complaints handled was about age, while one in six was to do with issues of language or race.

Overall, it saw 57 per cent more complaints than the 303 dealt with in 2012. In that year, about half were about nationality discrimination.

The volume of inquiries and feedback also rose, with many employers seeking advice on the acceptable requirements for their job advertisements.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin called on employers of all sizes to implement good employment practices, in his speech yesterday at the TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award ceremony.

"Putting in place progressive employment practices should not be treated as an after-thought," he said.

"It is not an extra-curricular activity, it is not to be run by the HR department, it is something that everyone needs to embrace and do fully, not just in their spare time," he added, speaking to about 300 business managers and staff at the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel.

More companies were lauded for their fair employment practices this year, and eight won overall awards. The number of submissions for the biennial award has risen 30 per cent since 2012.

More smaller firms participated as well - there were 36 entries from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) this year, compared with 15 two years ago.

Fast-food jobs drive employment growth in US

Report shows more gains in low-wage jobs than better paid ones
The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2014

WASHINGTON - The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places such as strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analysing employment trends in the US four years into the recovery.

"Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end - the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal," said Mr Michael Evangelist, the report's author. "If this is the reality - if these jobs are here to stay and are going to be making up a considerable part of the economy - the question is, how do we make them better?"

The report shows that total employment has finally surpassed its pre-recession level. "The good news is we're back to zero," Mr Evangelist said.

But job losses and gains have been skewed. Higher-wage industries - like accounting and legal work - shed 3.6 million positions during the recession and have added only 2.6 million positions during the recovery.

But lower-wage industries lost 2 million jobs, then added 3.8 million.

With 10.5 million Americans still looking for work - the unemployment rate is 6.7 per cent - employers feel no pressure to raise wages for those who are working. As a result, the average household's take-home pay has declined through the recession and the recovery to US$51,017 in 2012 from US$55,627 in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.

With joblessness high and job gains concentrated in low-wage industries, hundreds of thousands of Americans have accepted positions that pay less than they used to make, in some cases, sliding out of the middle class and into the ranks of the working poor.

Uphill task to get homes to cut waste

By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2014

WHEN visitors come to Singapore, they always remark on how leafy and clean the island is. That is, until they find out how household recycling works - or doesn't.

While 61 per cent of all the rubbish chucked out last year was recycled, this was hardly the case for household waste streams such as plastic and food waste. Just 11 per cent of plastics and 13 per cent of food waste were recycled.

"Our overall recycling rate is around 60 per cent, but at the domestic (household) level, it is only around 20 per cent," said Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in the Budget debate in February.

In 2010, British visitor Mary Veel wrote to The Straits Times Forum to express her surprise at Singapore's dismal progress in recycling.

"England is not particularly well-organised in many areas, but in the matter of recycling, we appear to have mastered more of the issues involved," she wrote.

Singapore residents, too, complain about recycling not being a social norm, and about a lack of infrastructure. "The concept of recycling is lacking in Singapore, compared to other developed countries. All one needs to do is look into any rubbish bin to find recyclables mixed with organic garbage," wrote Mr Elgar Lee last year in a letter to The Straits Times.

What exactly does recycling entail and why does it matter that Singapore is no role model in this area?

When you harvest newspapers or cardboard or cans instead of putting them into the bin, that is the first step. But after that, the materials need to be collected and processed. Newspaper gets pulped and turned into new paper; glass bottles are melted down and re-shaped into new ones.

Technologically, those steps are relatively easy. But collecting enough material to justify the cost of investing in a paper mill, or distributing the recycled paper to users, can be much harder.

Yet in a society that consumes more and more, recycling makes our environment a little bit more sustainable.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Labour chief calls for nation of better customers

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2014

WORKERS providing a service are not the servants of their customers, said labour chief Lim Swee Say, as he called for a nation of better customers in his annual May Day message released yesterday.

Overly demanding customers would cause even more of a strain on the labour crunch, which is here to stay for years to come, he added. “As we strive to become a more advanced economy, we must also strive to be a nation of better customers and better people.”

Although Labour Day on May 1 has traditionally been used by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to celebrate workers’ contributions to Singapore, the labour movement is turning its focus – for the first time – to customers, with a campaign to get them to show more appreciation to workers.

“Instead of complaining that the service standard in Singapore is still not good enough, why don’t you ask yourself ‘Are the customers in Singapore good enough?’” said Mr Lim, who is NTUC secretary-general.

Mr Lim in a media briefing last week on NTUC’s May Day celebration plans.To kick off the campaign, 1,000 union members will fan out across Singapore on Labour Day this Thursday to say “thank you” to 100,000 workers.

NTUC is also mulling over plans to get workers to highlight model customers. The effort could help firms cope with the labour crunch, said Mr Lim, noting that workers are shunning service sector jobs as “customers are adding to the stress”.

He also warned: “The labour market will remain tight until 2020, and even tighter all the way to 2030.”

A better way to improve social graces

By William Wan, Published TODAY, 25 Apr 2014

With the prevalence of smartphones and social media today, it is becoming more common to see images and video clips of bad behaviour and mischief being posted online and shared. The intention, no doubt, is to publicly shame the perpetrators of these acts. This cannot be a healthy social norm. As much as we want people to be more gracious, shaming them into doing so is not the way to go about it.

Shame is a feeling that one is a bad person whereas guilt is a feeling that one has done a bad thing. In her research on children, psychologist Karen Caplovitz Barrett found that shame makes the subject feel small and worthless, and he or she usually responds by lashing out at a target or escaping the situation altogether. It can be devastating as it is a negative judgment that goes to the core of one’s personhood.

Guilt, though an equally negative judgment, addresses only the unacceptable action, which can be corrected by better conduct.

In Prof Barrett’s study, when children feel guilty, they tend to experience regret and remorse, and they feel empathy for the one hurt by the bad action and consequently seek to correct it.

If you want someone to improve his behaviour, deliberate shaming is clearly not the answer, though a feeling of guilt may help. So what can we do?


Ideally, it would be great if we can agree that the culture of shaming is not positive and wholesome for society. May I put forth a simple suggestion to set us on this journey of eradicating public shaming. Let’s call it name-and-fame instead of name-and-shame.

The next time you see someone doing a good deed, a kind act or something worth holding up to, take a photo or record a video of it. Then post it up on your social network and share it with others. Also, do not forget to go forward and pat the person on the back to celebrate his act.

Singapore and France: Building ties to tackle common challenges

By Jean-Pierre Bel, Published TODAY, 28 Apr 2014

In October 2012, my Prime Minister, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, visited Singapore and signed a strategic partnership between the Republic and France. This was Singapore’s second such partnership, following one with the United States.

I met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong exactly a year later and took up his invitation to visit Singapore from April 20 to 22. Besides meeting PM Lee again, I called on President Tony Tan and had useful meetings with Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Ms Grace Fu.


One of the main reasons for my visit was to strengthen people-to-people exchanges between France and Singapore on areas of common concern.

Lying more than 10,000km apart, our countries appear to be very different. France has a much longer history and her population is more than 10 times that of Singapore.

However, we are facing some similar challenges. These include integration of foreigners in our societies, an ageing population and inter-generational bonding, and climate change.

On immigration and the integration of foreigners, at a time when the far-right discourse is gaining ground in Europe, we have a duty to demonstrate that an open and fair society is beneficial to all.

France has adopted measures to facilitate the integration of foreigners and fresh immigrants into French society. These include offering classes on French language and culture, helping them in their job search and holding workshops with school representatives to ensure their children adjust well in our school system.

I believe both France and Singapore are well placed to reconcile our respective national identities with globalisation and the challenges it poses to our societies.

The population in both countries is ageing and this has heightened healthcare concerns among the people. Faced with this common challenge, we both have to find ways to optimise our healthcare systems and work towards greater efficiency, even though our starting points are very different.

There is also a key difference in the way our social safety nets operate. One area we can work together is to study how best to utilise manpower and technology to provide the best care for the elderly.

In an ageing society, it is critical that the healthcare system provides for the needs of the most vulnerable citizens, including the poor and lonely. France introduced universal medical coverage in 2000, much like the MediShield Life scheme being introduced here, which is especially aimed at ensuring that low-income earners are also able to afford healthcare. This universal coverage is available not only to French citizens, but also to foreigners residing in France.

Three self-help groups may get bigger grants: Lawrence Wong

Govt prepared to match their efforts to reach out to needy: Lawrence Wong
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2014

THREE self-help groups with plans to step up community outreach might enjoy increased funding from the Government, as part of efforts to build stronger social safety nets and help low-income families.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong told reporters on the sidelines of a community dialogue at Bukit Batok East that the Government is prepared to increase grants to the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) and the Eurasian Association (EA) to match their efforts to reach out to the needy.

The three are looking at ways to raise more funds for their communities, including increasing their Central Provident Fund check-off rates, which are amounts individuals contribute towards self-help groups on a monthly basis.

The Government provides a matching grant to donations raised by self-help groups - up to an annual cap.

Just last year, the Government raised the cap for the matching grant for Yayasan Mendaki, the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and Malay Muslim organisations from $4 million to $5 million from this financial year onwards, in response to their increased efforts to help the community.

Sinda now receives up to $1.7 million a year, while EA gets not more than $200,000 annually.

CDAC does not receive yearly grants.

It received a one-off grant of $10 million to be used from 1992 to 1997.

Both SINDA and CDAC welcomed more government support, saying they have been expanding their outreach and enhancing their programmes.

PA kicks off bid to craft a million flowers from plastic bags

By David Ee, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2014

TECK Ghee in Ang Mo Kio GRC yesterday hosted a "bring your own bag" event with a difference.

The special guest was the ward's Member of Parliament, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who brought 20 plastic bags and joined 500 residents and volunteers in turning the bags into flowers.

The event kicked off the People's Association's (PA's) effort to get people islandwide to craft one million flowers from used bags, as a way to show their love for the nation as it approaches its 50th birthday next year.

The flowers, which represent people's wishes for Singapore, will eventually be part of a gigantic "flower bed", which will be displayed at the opening of Chingay 2015, to be held on Feb 27 and 28 at the F1 Pit Building.

The PA is inviting groups across the island to take part, including schools, businesses, faith groups, clan and immigrant associations, and ordinary households.

After Chingay next year, the "flowers" will be shown at the PAssionArts Festival next April. They will then be sold to recycling firms to be turned into flower pots or new bags.

Monday 28 April 2014

ActiveSG: Free $100 sports credit & lifetime membership for all Singaporeans from 26 April 2014

No excuses now for staying out of the pool
All citizens, permanent residents to get $100 to spend on sports facilities, fitness classes

By Fabius Chen, The Sunday Times, 27 Apr 2014

It is an offer even the most laid- back of couch potatoes might find hard to resist: free lifetime membership and $100 in credits to enjoy a sporting lifestyle.

That could work out to 100 visits to the swimming pool, 30 hours of table tennis or three months of unlimited gym access. The credits can also be used for fitness classes such as zumba and bokwa.

The game plan is part of Sport Singapore's new ActiveSG movement that aims to encourage people of all ages to get up and embrace a sporting lifestyle.

With all 3.8 million Singaporeans and permanent residents eligible for the $100 worth of ActiveSG$, the Government is dangling a $380 million carrot.

"It's significant enough to get people off to a good start but also something within our budget," said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong yesterday, at the launch of the movement at Jurong West Sports Centre.

As one of the key recommendations under the Republic's Vision 2030 sports masterplan launched in 2011, ActiveSG will customise programmes for young and old alike - good news given the backdrop of rising obesity levels and an ageing population.

And a new membership portal - - will allow those with similar interests to team up for competitions.

Safe cycling by-laws in Tampines get more bite

More systematic way to enforce volunteer wardens' efforts in tackling errant cyclists
By Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 27 Apr 2014

Singapore's model cycling town is beefing up its enforcement of safe cycling practices.

Tampines, whose widened footpaths are shared by pedestrians and cyclists, is the only town council here to have amended by-laws to allow it to haul up errant cyclists.

Now, it has come up with a more systematic way of going after them.

Volunteer wardens who patrol the neighbourhoods to educate cyclists and tell reckless ones off can now issue written warnings in the presence of auxiliary patrol officers (APOs). After residents receive three warning notices, they will be issued a summons.

In the past, these officers would issue writs of summons in an ad-hoc manner when they carried out occasional enforcement blitzes. Wardens and APOs would usually issue verbal warnings and take down the particulars of reckless cyclists - people who endanger the life or safety of another person.

Said Ms Irene Ng, MP for Tampines GRC: "We just want to have a system in place so that even as we ramp up our efforts to promote cycling, we also ensure that the neighbourhoods remain safe."

"Issuing summonses is always a last resort," she said, adding that reckless cycling incidents in Tampines had not increased.

Around 370 summonses have been issued in Tampines since 2010, with 1,121 verbal warnings, Ms Ng revealed yesterday after a training session for 40 new and existing wardens.

There are now close to 100 wardens across Tampines. They are out on duty twice a week on average.

Kampung Admiralty: 'Modern kampung' to launch in Jul 2014 BTO; First batch of residents collect keys on 12 Aug 2017

New HDB housing complex is the first to put so many different facilities under one roof
By Janice Heng And Grace Chua, The Sunday Times, 27 Apr 2014

Homes in Woodlands' upcoming "modern kampung" - the first of its kind - will be launched in this July's Build-to-Order exercise.

To be completed in 2017, the all-in-one Kampung Admiralty includes two blocks of Housing Board studio apartments, centres for medicine, childcare and eldercare, and shops.

Seniors who live in Woodlands, or whose married children live there, will get priority for the 100 or so flats. Prices are not yet available but studio apartments ranged from $83,000 to $125,000 in recent launches. These flats, on 30-year leases, are designed for elderly residents.

"This will be their retirement kampung," Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday at the ground-breaking ceremony for the project.

In an interview last year, he had said that more such integrated buildings would be built if this one is successful.

Buildings that combine housing and retail, for instance, are not new. Back in the 1980s, Bras Basah Complex featured HDB flats above a shopping complex.

But this is the first time such a project has involved the collective effort of eight government agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, National Environment Agency and Early Childhood Development Agency, and put so many different facilities under one roof.

On the ground floor is a sprawling plaza where residents can take part in community events or shop.

One floor up is a 900-seater hawker centre.

Admiralty Medical Centre, run by Alexandra Health System, takes up the third and fourth floors.

"For those who are elderly and frail or home-bound, our health-care staff will be able to use the medical centre as a base to reach out to them," said group chief executive officer Liak Teng Lit, adding the centre will also reach out to residents to encourage healthy living.

Higher up, there are eldercare and childcare centres around a community park and even a farm where residents can harvest their own vegetables in the community farm.

The housing blocks, which rise from the fourth to 11th floors, have their sixth floor set aside for a recreational centre.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Upgraded Geylang district to keep its Malay character: PM

By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

A BUSTLING market in the heart of Geylang represents the area's unique spirit and heritage and even as plans are under way to upgrade and modernise the neighbourhood, its special Malay character will be retained.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made this pledge yesterday at the Geylang Serai Market's 50th anniversary celebrations, and gave stallholders and residents an idea of the Government's plans for Geylang.

Existing buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the Wisma Geylang Serai, will be redeveloped. When completed in 2017, it will host new facilities and activities to bring the community together.

A construction tender will be called later this year, and a workgroup helmed by Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman has been busy with the project, said PM Lee.

At the same time, little touches such as Malay motifs will be added to lamp posts and street signs in the area, which has served as a social centre for the local Malay community.

Mr Lee also related to his audience of about 300 stallholders, community leaders and residents, how he had met a Woodlands resident who travelled to the market to shop for clothes earlier. This attested to the market's popularity, he said.

"From humble beginnings, Pasar Geylang Serai now occupies an important place in our social landscape," he said.

Not only does the Malay community organise events there, but other races also head there to enjoy the Hari Raya bazaar, said Mr Lee, who spoke first in Malay and then in English.

Even tourists visit the market to buy the baju kurung, the traditional Malay dress, and to enjoy Malay cuisine, he added.

S'pore did well in social integration, says UK minister

There is much Britain and Republic can learn from each other, she says
By Nilanjana Sengupta, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2014

SINGAPORE has a great record of integrating its communities and allowing them to co-exist harmoniously, while still retaining their unique religious, ethnic identities, Britain's Minister for Faith and Communities Sayeeda Warsi said.

Britain, too, has a long history of integrating religious communities, "but there are things we can learn from each other", Baroness Warsi told The Straits Times.

She met Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli to find out about "some of the forward planning or table top exercises Singapore does in the event of potential community tensions".

"That is something we can look up and learn from," added Ms Warsi, who is also Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ms Warsi, who arrived in Singapore on Wednesday on the last leg of her three-nation South-east Asia trip, also called on Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

She also visited the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). She left for Britain last night.

Discussions on freedom of religion and belief were one of the elements of her visit. The other was Islamic finance.

The Pioneer Club: Muhammad Ariff Ahmad

Literary icon in Malay community
Affectionately known as Cikgu (teacher in Malay), retired lecturer Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, 89, is a literary lion in the Malay community, the authoritative voice on its language, literature and culture. His expertise led him to help late composer Zubir Said craft the lyrics of Singapore's National Anthem. A prolific and award-winning author and poet, he received Singapore's highest literary honour, the Cultural Medallion, in 1987. He tells Maryam Mokhtar how the experiences in his growing-up years, including the Japanese Occupation, and teaching career influenced his writing, thinking and outlook on life.
The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

When did you start thinking of being a writer?

As a young boy, I would read Malay magazines and dream of being a storyteller. I was especially drawn to the way poems were written. Every word has a connotation beyond its meaning. It goes deeper than prose.

What experiences in your growing-up years led you to be a writer?

In 1936, I was in Primary 3 at the now-defunct Tanglin Besar Malay School. I am not sure if my teacher really liked to teach the way he did or if he was simply slacking off, but he held a storytelling competition in class.

I won and the prize was five cents, which was a lot in those days. I split it with my younger brother because between us, we got three cents each day to spend in school.

Another influential force was when I was in the Boy Scouts. The short stories I wrote were turned into sketches and performed at campfires. That encouraged me to tell more stories.

National service for the 21st century

Offer young Singaporeans a menu of options in national service beyond the military.
By Parag Khanna, Published The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

"SWITZERLAND doesn't have an army, it is an army."

So described the American writer John McPhee the Swiss military in his famous reportage La Place de la Concorde Suisse.

For over 200 years, conscripted Swiss men have trained to mobilise to defend the whole country in less than 48 hours. In a referendum last year, an overwhelming 73 per cent of Swiss citizens showed continued support for mandatory conscription.

Singaporeans also believe that full-time national service (NS) is essential for defence, identity building, fitness and other reasons. But like all venerable institutions, NS must evolve with the times to remain relevant to the challenges it is designed to address.

The state has substantial and diverse priorities. These include national defence and internal security, social services, and a desire to stimulate creativity and promote economic growth. Singapore's NS should therefore be broadened to encompass these functions in a way that does not compromise fundamental security needs.

21st century info-states

SINGAPORE and Switzerland are what I have called "info-states". These are societies where data, technology, master planning and alternative scenarios are as critical to governance as democracy. The two countries are often characterised as having inverted political systems, with Switzerland having a "bottom-up" system while Singapore maintains a "top-down" one. But Singapore and Switzerland can also be viewed as being quite similar, not least for their propensity to top many global competitiveness rankings.

A strong military is vital to protecting such small countries that are rich in financial, technical and human capital. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is thus unstinting in its pursuit of military excellence. It must continue to acquire all the assets necessary to deter aggression: military, cyber and economic. But even with razor- sharp defences, info-states fundamentally thrive on connectedness. Their economic and diplomatic footprint will always be far larger than their military one.

How to keep the water flowing

By June H.l. Wong, Published The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2014

THE present method of dealing with the ongoing water crisis is in dribs and drabs. What Malaysia needs is to learn water resource management from other countries, and better do it fast.

What fools we Malaysians are. What wasteful, short-sighted fools!

I came to this conclusion after learning about the Singapore water story a couple of weeks ago and from conversations with my sister visiting from Sydney on how New South Wales coped with prolonged drought in the state.

First, Singapore and its water supply. I was down south for a meeting of Asia News Network newspaper editors, which included a field trip to the PUB, the national water agency.

I didn't think it would be interesting, but as the briefing by PUB director George Madhavan unfolded, I found myself lapping up the story about a nation that worked out a 50-year plan to ensure its water security.

The plan, known as the "Four National Taps", was to build "a robust and diversified supply of water", derived from local catchment, imported from Johor, recycled through technology (called Newater) and desalination.

The aim was simple but ambitious: collect every drop of rain, every drop of used water and recycle every drop more than once.

And that is done through two separate systems. The first is a comprehensive network of drains, canals and rivers that collects rainwater which is stored in 17 reservoirs before it is treated for drinking.

Two-thirds of the land area is water catchment, which "makes Singapore one of the few countries in the world to harvest urban storm water on a large scale for its water supply", says the PUB website.

The other system collects used water. It is recycled, using membrane technology and ultraviolet disinfection, into high-grade reclaimed Newater.

It's so clean, it's safe to drink and industries love it.

Singapore is still getting water from Johor but the Government plans to be weaned off that supply when the second water agreement expires in 2061. By which time, desalination should provide 25 per cent of the state's water needs.

Simultaneously, a lot of effort goes into educating the public and the young on water conservation.

Clearly, the Singapore model has worked because a two-month drought at the beginning of the year did not dent its water supply. There was no rationing or dry taps in the city.

Licensing scheme for cleaning firms: Only 70 sign-ups

But officials believe more companies will submit applications, given time
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

ONLY 70 cleaning firms have applied for mandatory licences under a new regulatory scheme that kicked in earlier this month, but the authorities said they are not concerned, yet.

While the sign-ups make up less than 10 per cent of the estimated 900 registered cleaning companies here, officials believe it is still early days.

"It has only been a month since the new scheme was introduced. We need to give industry players time. More applications will come in," said National Environment Agency (NEA) deputy chief executive Khoo Seow Poh yesterday.

Senior unionist Zainal Sapari agreed. The National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general said the number of firms is likely to fall because some cannot meet the requirements.

"The number of firms may shrink in the coming few months. Some may merge or exit the business because of the new rules," said Mr Zainal, who is also MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

The companies have until Sept 1 to comply. After that, those without licences will not be allowed to operate.

A key requirement of the new scheme is that firms use a "progressive wage model" to pay their workers.

The model sets a wage ladder, where workers in low-wage jobs can earn higher pay through training.

Reflect on purpose of community projects: Chuan-Jin

Minister advises student leaders to step back, appreciate bigger picture
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2014

IT IS easy to think up ideas for social and community activities, but it is more important to reflect on the purpose behind them, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin told student leaders yesterday.

"There are endless activities that we can do. But understanding the purpose (and the) potentially larger reason will... give you a certain sense of clarity about why it is so important," he told about 180 undergraduates at a community leadership symposium at the National University of Singapore.

It was important to think about an individual's role in the bigger scheme of things, he said.

Community projects allow people to reach out to care for others, and are the start to enacting change in the society, he added.

Sharing his experience as chairman of the executive committee of the 2009 National Day Parade (NDP), Mr Tan said it was important for people to "sit back, reframe and ask ourselves: What are we trying to do, and what is the purpose of this?"

Citing an example, he said each year, Primary 5 pupils are taken to watch the NDP Preview.

"Every year, we are preoccupied that students get there safely and get home quickly, parents don't complain, job done. But it is not a transportation exercise. It is an opportunity for the Primary 5 kids... to watch, enjoy, and at the same time reflect and learn something," he said.

Similarly, community work is linked to the larger values of caring for and loving others, which help people appreciate what they have and feel that they are part of a lovely community, he said.