Monday 30 June 2014

Higher Medisave withdrawals for palliative care from 1 Jan 2015

Easing of caps next year among changes in sector announced by Health Minister
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

Palliative care services for the sick and dying will be ramped up significantly over the next six years as Singapore's population ages.

There will be more hospice beds, home palliative care services and a new graduate diploma course to train more doctors.

People will also be allowed to use more of their Medisave money for these services, with no withdrawal cap for those who are terminally ill.

Announcing these plans yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong described palliative care as "a critical piece in our overall efforts to provide good and appropriate care to help patients age and die in place with dignity".

Speaking at the sixth Palliative Care Conference at Singapore Polytechnic, he said the Ministry of Health will invest in developing four areas of palliative care - improving the quality of care, expanding services, ensuring affordability and raising awareness.

Today, 5,000 people receive palliative care at home each year. By 2020, at least 6,000 will be cared for this way. The number of palliative care beds will also more than double from 147 today to 360.

On top of that, community hospitals will back up hospices by having beds for patients who take a sudden turn for the worse, or have other critical needs.

Two regional health-care groups, led by Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, will train staff at 14 nursing homes with a total of 2,800 beds in advance care planning, geriatric care and end-of-life care.

To make sure people can afford such care, the ministry will ease the current caps on Medisave withdrawals.

From Jan 1 next year, the daily withdrawal limit for palliative care will go up from $160 to $200 and the lifetime limit for home palliative care from $1,500 to $2,500.

Singapore to get even hotter and wetter: State of the Tropics 2014 Report

Climate report predicts city will be warmest place on earth by the turn of the century
By Grace Chua, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

Tropical countries such as Singapore will be a lot hotter and wetter by the turn of this century if climate change predictions come to pass.

Weather considered extreme today could well become the norm, with temperatures rising by as much as three to four degrees Celsius and heavy storms becoming more frequent and intense.

Singapore already has one of the hottest tropical rainforest climates on earth.

"Equatorial Singapore will not just be warmer than it is now, but warmer than anywhere on earth with year-round rainfall," ecologist Richard Corlett warns in the first State of the Tropics report by Australia's James Cook University (JCU), which is launched today in Myanmar, Singapore and Australia.

Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore were among 11 international universities that helped to develop the report's framework and review the final product, targeted at policymakers, researchers and others.

Tropical regions are typically those where the mean temperature of the coolest month is above 18 deg C, with a small annual range of temperature.

The report's focus on the tropics reflects how this is a critical zone of population and economic growth, with an impact on the rest of the world, said JCU media and communications head Richard Davis.

The university plans to update the report every five years.

Remembering Lim Bo Seng, Singapore's war hero

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jun 2014

Future generations must not forget the sacrifices made by Singapore's pioneers, and peace for a country comes only when one is able to defend the nation, said the family of Singapore’s war hero Lim Bo Seng.

They were at a ceremony at Kranji War Cemetery on Sunday morning to mark 70 years since his death at the hands of the Japanese military police during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya and Singapore.

The ceremony was organised by Changi Museum.

Lim Bo Seng was one of many operatives in Force 136 tasked to infiltrate and conduct sabotage missions in Japanese-occupied Malaya.

The agents were trained in India and sent to their missions which were often dangerous, but conducted by ordinary civilians who were compelled by a greater cause.

His son, Dr Lim Whye Geok, said he was only four years old when his father left Singapore to join Force 136.

He said his memories of his father have been built up through stories shared by his eldest sister, and from a diary Lim Bo Seng had left behind for his wife after his death.

The Rickshaw puller who saved Lee Kuan Yew

Happy 'reunion' as two grandsons of Koh Teong Koo meet former PM's brother
By Cassandra Chew, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

Trishaw rider Koh Teong Koo pedals steadily down Oxley Road, pulling up at No. 38, the home of Singapore's prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

A group of his friends trail in a car from a safe distance, expecting him to be turned away by the Gurkha guards at the gate. None of them believes his story that he regularly visits the home of Singapore's most powerful man.

Then, to everyone's surprise, the gates are opened and Mr Koh cycles right in.

It turns out their coffee shop buddy is no ordinary trishaw rider, but the only one in 1970s Singapore with close ties to the Lee family.

It is a story the late Mr Koh's surviving friends relate with relish. What his friends did not know either, was that the Lees always described Mr Koh as the man who saved Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life during World War II.

His story began in 1934 when he arrived in Singapore from Fujian province in China at the age of 22. Like many of his kinsmen from the Hock Chia dialect group, he became a rickshaw puller.

In 1937, a Peranakan housewife, Madam Chua Jim Neo, got him to start taking her four sons and daughter to school by rickshaw. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was her eldest.

Said Mr Lee's youngest brother, Dr Lee Suan Yew: "Imagine that, one man pulling at least four of us at one go. You have to be very strong to do that."

Mr Koh also put his green thumb to work, growing sweet potatoes and cucumbers in the Lees' backyard at Norfolk Road, in the Farrer Park area, where they lived until 1942. "Teong Koo also taught me how to rear chickens and ducks," recalled Dr Lee.

But to the Lees, Mr Koh is best remembered for taking care of Mr Lee when it mattered the most - when the Japanese invaded Singapore in 1942.

English is here to stay

By Lee Kuan Yew, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

THAT English has become a dominant world language is a consequence of history.

The British Empire spread English to many parts of the globe, first through colonisation in the 17th and 18th centuries and then through its leadership in the Industrial Revolution.

The US' subsequent economic superiority and political leadership secured English as the first or second language of many countries today.

For countries to shift to any other major language, such as French or Spanish, would be extremely complicated and problematic. I can see no circumstances under which Mandarin (China's official language) would displace English as the world's most important language.

Although Mandarin has the largest number of native speakers, virtually all are in China. The Chinese historically weren't colonisers, so there are no far-flung former Chinese colonies speaking Mandarin today, the way the former colonies of England, France and Spain still speak the languages of those countries.

In any event, Mandarin would be a very difficult language for the rest of the world to learn and master.

Even if you put Chinese words into pinyin form (Roman characters), there are four tones to each character (often monosyllabic) that clarify the meaning.

Regardless, I don't see the Chinese discarding their Mandarin characters and converting entirely to pinyin as they are proud of their language, which has survived more than 5,000 years.

Leaning on the PISA tower of success

Education adviser to OECD puts up robust defence of global benchmarking tests
By Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent In Paris, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

Andreas Schleicher does not mince his words when asked about those who want to know why Shanghai or Singapore teenagers perform so well in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an influential global benchmarking test he oversees.

"When an American or European wins an Olympic gold medal, we cheer them. When a Chinese does, we say it must have been due to doping or the result of inhumane training," the education adviser to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tells The Sunday Times in an interview.

"I have been asked many times about the sampling done in Asian countries, including Singapore. PISA provides all the technical data in detail. PISA results are based on robust and internationally comparable data. They have been carefully designed and validated."

Students from across the spectrum are tested, he stresses, not just those who are smarter or from better schools. So in Singapore, the teenagers tested came from all streams and more than 160 schools, including Islamic religious schools or madrasahs.

To those who suspect the PISA results, he says: "So we have to ask ourselves are these countries cheating? Or are we cheating ourselves?"

He has overseen the triennial test for 15-year-olds since it was launched in 2000. East Asian students, including those from Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, have held pole positions and even moved up, triggering a wave of anxiety among parents, teachers and politicians in Western nations.

What my 8-year-old learnt at a Philippine school

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

Like many parents, I sent my eight-year-old daughter Deborah for extra lessons during the June school holidays which end today.

But she didn't attend an enrichment centre in Singapore; she spent three days at an elementary school in Cauayan city, a nine-hour drive north of the Philippine capital Manila.

It came about after my daughter came home from school in early January asking why she did not get to go overseas during the December school holidays. "My classmates went skiing and to Disneyland," she protested.

Our family did not go away on holiday last December, but we have taken our children to Malaysia, Thailand and Japan previously. My wife and I were taken aback that children as young as eight were already comparing where they went for vacations.

Worried about where this might lead, we wondered how to give our daughter a bit more perspective about life and holidays. Which was how we came up with the idea for a visit to the Philippines.

Our resourceful Filipino maid Maricel, who lived in Cauayan before she came to work for our family eight years ago, arranged for Deborah to join her nine-year-old daughter Charelle at her school.

Cauayan city has a population of just 122,000, according to the 2010 census, and is set in the midst of rice and corn farms, with few buildings taller than the three-storey city hall.

$400,000 gone in a day

Elderly cleaner Goh Kah Keow, who was cheated of her life savings by con artists from China, was afraid of growing old with no money
By Bryna Singh, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

It took her more than 60 years of sweat and toil to squirrel away $400,000. But in less than half a day, Madam Goh Kah Keow, 74, lost her entire life savings to five con artists from China last November.

Her case hit the headlines about a week ago, after two of the five Chinese nationals were jailed more than eight years in total for their heartless scam. The other three grifters remain at large.

While many Singaporeans felt for Madam Goh, there were also those who wondered how an uneducated and unskilled worker came to have so much savings.

It was, ironically, a fear of growing old without a nest egg that led to her frugal and resilient ways, she tells SundayLife!.

"When I was very young, older people used to tell me that growing old without money was a terrible thing. That frightened me," recalls Madam Goh, who is single and lives alone in a studio flat in eastern Singapore.

That comment also propelled her to work hard. The third of seven siblings, Madam Goh says her family was too poor to send her to school.

From the tender age of 10, she started earning her own keep, first as a babysitter, then as a washer woman. She was also a factory worker for a while and took on a host of cleaning jobs.

"I worked so hard. I would work on Saturdays and Sundays. Sometimes, I would try to pack in three different cleaning jobs one after another, just to earn extra cash," she says in Mandarin.

Multiple jobs aside, she would also collect newspapers to sell.

"I think I fell in love with money," says Madam Goh, who has never married. "I did not find any work tough. Everything that I could do with my hands to earn money, I did."

Singapore Chinese Orchestra breaks Guinness records

SCO breaks two world records
It pulls off feats at first concert at National Stadium, a highlight of Sports Hub open house
By Lydia Vasko, The Sunday Times, 29 Jun 2014

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) broke two Guinness World Records for the largest Chinese drum ensemble and largest Chinese orchestra performance.

These were feats they pulled off during the first concert at the National Stadium, at the newly opened Singapore Sports Hub last night.

The record for largest Chinese drum ensemble was made during its performance of the song Power Singapura! composed by Quek Ling Kiong and Phang Kok Jun.

They were led by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong.

The rest of the concert was conducted by SCO music director Yeh Tsung, 64, who led an ensemble of 4,557 musicians and choir members through a 90-minute mega-concert titled Our People, Our Music 2014, which also garnered them a second Guinness World Record.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Queenstown area set for biggest SERS project to date

31 blocks in Commonwealth Drive, Tanglin Halt Road to be redeveloped; replacement sites ready from 2019
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

THE biggest collective redevelopment for public housing is in the offing for one of the country's oldest neighbourhoods in Queenstown.

Time may be up for 3,480 flats in 31 blocks along Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive, which are slated to be demolished under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme, or SERS.

Residents, who found out only yesterday, will be offered new flats in the nearby Dawson estate, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan announced in a blog post yesterday.

The affected blocks are 24 to 38, and 40 to 45 Tanglin Halt Road, and 55, 56, 58 to 60, and 62 to 66 Commonwealth Drive.

The revamp will also require 157 market and hawker stalls, 50 shops and four eating houses to move out. A new neighbourhood centre will be built, but other redevelopment plans are still pending.

Residents, many of whom have lived in the area for more than 50 years, will be given the choice of relocating to one of the five new sites along Dawson Road, Margaret Drive and Strathmore Avenue, which will have new developments by between 2019 and 2020.

SERS was introduced in August 1995 to rejuvenate ageing Housing Board blocks and has been implemented at 78 other sites, covering 349 blocks. Residents are offered replacement flats.

This is the largest project to date. The flats in question were completed between 1962 and 1963. Ranging from two-room to four-room flats, they are all owned. Residents will be compensated based on market value.

For instance, a three-room flat in the area would fetch between $305,000 and $390,000.

HDB and National Environment Agency (NEA) officers have begun going door to door to inform residents and business tenants of the changes.

Thomson Line groundbreaking ceremony, 27 Jun 2014; LTA using ice walls for first time in MRT tunnelling

Work on Thomson Line gets into full swing
22-station line will open in 3 phases; North-South Line to have new station
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

WORK to build the 30km Thomson Line will move into full swing, after a ground-breaking ceremony for Singapore's sixth MRT line yesterday.

The $18 billion, 22-station line will run underground from Woodlands to Gardens by the Bay, and open in three phases from 2019 to 2021.

At the ceremony, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew also announced that a new North-South Line station named Canberra will be built between Yishun and Sembawang. A feasibility study for the additional station has been completed, he said, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will provide more details later, such as its exact location and when it will open.

The Thomson Line will serve estates in the northern and central parts of the island, including Woodlands, Sin Ming, Thomson and Kim Seng. It will also ease crowding on the North-South Line and provide commuters with alternatives during service disruptions, said the minister.

"More than 400,000 commuters living and working along the Thomson Line will enjoy greater ease of access, more travel options and also shorter and more direct journeys," said Mr Lui.

He cited how residents from Springleaf estate in Sembawang will need only 35 minutes to travel to Great World City, compared to the current 60 minutes.

The Thomson Line will provide 60 per cent more capacity along the North-South corridor, Mr Lui added.

With six interchange stations, the line will give commuters more alternative routes and minimise inconvenience during disruptions, he noted.

The line will eventually be linked to Johor Baru via a rapid transit system link at Woodlands North station.

S'pore remains No. 1 venue for meetings

Republic ranked top country for third year and top city for 7th year running
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

SINGAPORE has once again emerged as the most popular place in the world to hold meetings.

It was ranked Top International Meeting Country for the third year running, and Top International Meeting City for the seventh consecutive year, said the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) yesterday.

The 2013 global rankings were drawn up by the Union of International Associations, a non-profit research institute and documen-tation centre based in Brussels.

Last year, 994 of the meetings in Singapore were run by organisations of "a significant international character" - more than any other country in the world, said the union.

In comparison, there were 799 such meetings in the whole of the United States, and 635 in South Korea, which came in second and third respectively in the country category.

Singapore's tally last year was a 4.4 per cent increase from the year before, and made up almost one in 10 of all meetings held across 174 countries and 1,465 cities.

Notable events held here last year include the 60th Chartered Financial Analyst Institute Annual Conference, the World Engineers Summit and the World Retail Congress Asia Pacific.

Singapore's good infrastructure, efficiency, vibrant business environment and strategic location in Asia made it a choice destination for meeting planners, said STB in a statement.

Alexandra Health scheme wins UN public-service award

By Grace Chua, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

The Alexandra Health System on Thursday became Singapore's first healthcare system to win a United Nations Public Service Award - for a scheme to keep people out of its hospital.

Its Ageing-in-Place or AIP programme was the Asia-Pacific winner in the 'Improving the Delivery of Public Services' category, one of four groups.

The United Nations did not say how many nominations there were in each category for each region, but 704 nominations from 80 member states were submitted in total for the annual awards.

The Alexandra Health programme aims to understand why repeat hospital visitors to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, or 'frequent flyers', keep having to be re-admitted.

The programme, which started in 2011, identified 400 patients with three or more hospital admissions within six months. Staff visited them at home to review their unmet needs, and customised care plans with them to better manage their conditions.

During home visits, for example, community nurses might work out why a patient was not taking his medicine, or evaluate the safety of his home to prevent falls.

Saturday 28 June 2014

MediShield Life premiums unveiled on 27 June 2014

$4 billion boost keeps MediShield Life affordable
For almost all S'poreans, premiums will be lower or they will rise a little
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2014

WHEN the new MediShield Life scheme is implemented next year, almost all Singaporeans should either pay lower premiums than today, or face a small increase of less than $100 a year.

And those who want to upgrade coverage using Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) should be able to opt for a standardised IP that will provide coverage at B1-class level. These are among the key recommendations of the MediShield Life Review Committee which submitted its full report to the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday.

Accepting the recommendations, MOH said the Government will spend $4 billion over the next five years on subsidies for MediShield Life.

The 11-member committee was asked last November to come up with recommendations for a national medical insurance plan that will cover everyone for life, with better benefits than the current MediShield while keeping premiums affordable.

Benefits for the new MediShield Life scheme, announced three weeks ago, include raising daily and annual caps and removing the lifetime claims limit. This will halve the number of subsidised patients who, after insurance, have hospital bills of $3,000 or more a year - from nine in 10 to four in 10.

Yesterday, the committee revealed the schedule of premiums that go with these higher benefits.

"Premiums will go up because of better protection and coverage for all, but the Government will provide support to keep premiums affordable," it said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also emphasised this in an interview with journalists in the United States, saying that "affordability should never be an issue".

This support will come in the form of permanent subsidies of between 15 and 50 per cent for those with a monthly per capita income of up to $2,600 - covering two-thirds of the population. The rest face higher premiums, but there will be transitional subsidies over four years to ease them into it.

MOH also promised to ensure that Medisave withdrawal limits can continue to fully cover MediShield Life premiums. It noted that the additional 1 percentage point employer Medisave contribution from next year will be sufficient to cover the increases in premiums for most households.

This means that almost all households will not need to dip into their Medisave reserves.

Yesterday, committee chairman Bobby Chin also pledged that the new premiums will not change for the first five years.

PGP Listening Point: Booths to be set up to explain Pioneer Package

The pop-up booths will be located in places frequented by elderly folk
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2014

MORE booths where seniors can ask about the Pioneer Generation Package are to be set up across the island, to ensure they understand the benefits they will get.

Manned by public servants and volunteers, the booths will be sited at spots frequented by the elderly but will be there for only a few days.

The first booth, which opened yesterday, is opposite the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in busy Waterloo Street near Bugis.

It will be there for two days and will be open from 11am to 6pm today. After that, it will be moved elsewhere.

Plans have yet to be finalised on the locations of these pop-up booths, said Dr Amy Khor, co-chair of the task force responsible for communicating the details of the package to the pioneers, who are Singapore citizens aged 65 and older this year.

Threat of world war behind us? Think again

By Michael Vatikiotis, Published The Straits Times 27 Jun 2014

FOR some years now the world has been told that war is a thing of the past.

Numbers have been deployed to measure the reduction in war deaths, papers written about the shifting shape of conflict, and while the world is still a messy place, we have all been assured that the old threat of clashing powers leading to world war and nuclear annihilation is behind us.

Not quite. Like the situation a century ago, it all seems to be about the redrawing of maps and the reordering of states.

And just as then people imagined that local trouble would stay that way, the potential for larger conflagration is largely ignored. Sleepwalkers, as the writer Christopher Clark described European nations in 1914.

The major powers today are just as oblivious, it seems, to the risk of wider conflict growing out of the Middle East.

The sudden dissolution of the old boundaries drawn by the great powers a century ago is allowing once localised insurgencies to acquire the capacity to occupy territory and threaten the integrity of established states.

Thus, the Sunni insurgents of western Iraq are connected to the sprawling civil war in Syria, with all its fanatical and communal hues.

And this has, in turn, allowed the Kurds to carve out their proto-state with alacrity. This risks opening a path for new-age Persian adventurism, bringing the threat of Israeli use of nuclear weapons one small step closer to reality.

Western aversion to intervention in this throw-back to the geopolitics of antiquity will be tested.

Friday 27 June 2014

PM Lee marks 10th anniversary of US-Singapore FTA in Washington on 24 June 2014

PM Lee urges US business community to back TPP
'Good chance' trade pact can be completed this year, he says
By Fiona Chan Senior Economics Correspondent In Washington, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged the business community in the United States to put its weight behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which he described as "vital" to America's international standing and engagement in the Asia-Pacific.

Amid rapid changes in Asia's strategic landscape, the deal is all the more crucial for the US to crystallise its presence in the region, Mr Lee said on Tuesday. He was speaking at a reception to mark the 10th anniversary of the US- Singapore Free Trade Agreement, a deal that helped pave the way for the TPP.

China, which is not part of the TPP, is now the top trading partner of many Asian countries including the US' allies, while Asian economies are also becoming more integrated, Mr Lee noted.

As such, "for the US to engage in the region, and to expand its influence and its relevance to Asian countries, trade policy has to be a key instrument", he said.

"There has to be substance; if I may say, there has to be beef in the hamburger," he quipped, a reference to disagreements over tariffs on US beef exports to Japan, which remains one of the unresolved issues in the pact.

On a more serious note, he added: "The TPP is the most important deal on the table or anywhere on the horizon in this respect."

Mr Lee also noted that talks on the TPP are still on track to wrap up this year. The comprehensive free trade pact covers a dozen nations, including Singapore and the US, which in total make up 40 per cent of the world economy and a third of global trade.

There is a "good chance" that TPP negotiations will be completed this year, Mr Lee said.

"We are almost there, and I'm encouraged by President (Barack) Obama's promise to constructively resolve the remaining issues and I think we should be able to conclude it this year."

Mr Lee had reiterated the need for US support to complete the TPP at a dialogue organised by the US think-tank Council on Foreign Relations earlier in the day.

He told about 145 diplomats, academics and journalists the TPP "awaits just a last step to being completed and then the crucial steps to be ratified".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Dialogue at Council on Foreign Relations, 24 June 2014

On democracy, China and regional tensions
IN AN hour-long dialogue with the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tackled a sweeping range of questions on Asia.
The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014


South-east Asian countries "do value human freedoms and welfare but they also have other priorities and political imperatives", PM Lee said in reply to a question about democracy in the region.

Each country has its own perspective and what is key is whether it can deliver "for the welfare of the people, for the stability of the country, for the opportunities for the next generation".

"If you can deliver that, that's more important than the forms and the precise way the rules are expressed," he added.

For instance, while communist Vietnam has no elections, it is "very sensitive to ground pressures" - not just about foreign issues such as Vietnam's territorial disputes with China but also domestic issues like corruption.

For Myanmar, the military regime changed because the people "hated the status quo".

But its path to democracy will be difficult, rife with "new demons" such as unleashed tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minorities, Mr Lee added.

In Indonesia, which has enjoyed stability in the past 10 years under elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Mr Lee said he hopes the next president "will continue the good work".

Friendship among diplomats

The nature of their work dictates that diplomats lead a nomadic existence. They meet many people but do they form any real friendships on their tours of duty?
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2014

DIPLOMATS lead a nomadic life.

They represent their countries at their embassies and consulates all over the world. After several years in a foreign country, they would either return to work for a while at their capitals or go to another foreign country. In the course of a diplomat's career, it is not unusual for him or her to have served in five or six countries.

In view of this, one may ask whether it is possible for diplomats to form deep friendships, or only transactional ones? In any case, isn't diplomacy about promoting and protecting a country's national interests? What is the relevance of friendship to successful diplomacy?

I want to address these questions by telling three stories.

Brajesh Mishra

THE first story is about my friendship with an Indian friend called Brajesh Mishra. In 1968, when I was young and inexperienced, I was appointed as Singapore's Ambassador (Permanent Representative) to the United Nations in New York. I was very fortunate in having many mentors at the UN.

The Indian delegation was led by the distinguished Ambassador G. P. Parthasarathy and his two able lieutenants, Brajesh Mishra and Alfred Gonsalves. All three helped me to understand how the UN worked and how to be an effective representative of a small and new country.

Extra $100 a month for disabled pioneers: Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme

Pioneer scheme ramps up aid for elderly disabled
About 9,000 recipients already identified, sign-ups start in July 2014
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

SINGAPOREANS in the Pioneer Generation who need help with getting around and looking after themselves will get an extra $100 a month from September.

The Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme, first announced in February, is meant to help this group with expenses such as medical and home care bills, or even the cost of hiring a domestic worker.

Announcing this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said: "We are hoping to have as smooth an application process as possible."

About 9,000 citizens will be told by mail that they have been included in the scheme.

People who automatically qualify include those currently getting help under ElderShield, the Interim Disability Assistance Programme for the Elderly, and the Foreign Domestic Worker Grant.

Other applicants must first be assessed by any fully registered doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or occupational therapist.

To qualify, they must permanently require assistance with at least three of six daily activities: bathing, getting dressed, using the toilet, moving from the bed to a chair, and moving on a level surface.

Application forms are at community centres or social service offices. They can also be downloaded from

Sign-ups start next month, and forms should be e-mailed or posted to the Agency for Integrated Care, which is administering the scheme.

Frail seniors match-made with caring befrienders

13 seniors benefit from pilot scheme started in Kreta Ayer neighbourhood
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

RETIREE Chan Chew Lock, 78, and his brother Chew Mun, 75, suffer from slight dementia and live on their own in a one-room rental flat. Until a week ago, there was no one to check in daily on them in case they needed help.

But now they have a friend in one of their neighbours in Block 51 Chin Swee Road - Mr Goh Kim Eng, 73, who visits them twice daily for a chat. "I'm healthy and I have so much time, so I decided to help," said Mr Goh, a retired restaurant cleaner.

They were "match-made" under a pilot programme started by grassroots groups in the Kim Seng precinct of the Kreta Ayer neighbourhood. Some 13 people have benefited since its launch six months ago, the area's Member of Parliament Lily Neo told reporters yesterday.

Called Ageing Gracefully @ Home, the programme was started at Blocks 51 and 52 Chin Swee Road as they have the highest proportion of seniors, said Dr Neo, who is an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC and adviser to the grassroots groups there.

Almost half of Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng's population, or 16,324 people, are aged 50 and above. More than half of them are older than 65.

Dr Neo said she has met frail elderly citizens who have problems looking after themselves. But the programme matches seniors with a befriender - usually a neighbour living in the same block - to help look in on them.

Civil servants' rebuttal proper: PMO

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

IT IS "completely in order" for civil servants to defend Singapore's interests by correcting misrepresentations about the country, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) yesterday.

And when the integrity of the Prime Minister and his Government's policies is questioned, an official reply from the PM's press secretary is also appropriate.

The PMO issued the statement in response to media queries over the propriety of recent letters by civil servants that rebutted articles in two foreign publications.

Last week, PM Lee Hsien Loong's press secretary Chang Li Lin wrote a letter to The Economist.

Before that, the Singapore Consul-General in Hong Kong, Mr Jacky Foo, similarly wrote to the South China Morning Post.

The Economist article discussed PM Lee's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, who alleged that PM Lee had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies.

Ms Chang said in her letter that the libel was not "alleged", as The Economist put it, because the blogger had "publicly admitted accusing PM Lee of criminal misappropriation of pension funds, falsely and completely without foundation".

She also refuted the journal's view that the Government saw short-term benefits from the lawsuit as it would deter online discourse. What is at stake, she said, is "the sort of public debate Singapore should have", adding: "The Internet should not be exempt from the laws of defamation."

The PMO said: "When aspersions are cast on the integrity of the Prime Minister and his Government's policies, an official reply from the PM's press secretary is completely in order."

This is no different from what press secretaries in most other governments do, it added.

Post-Little India riot: Some shops struggle six months on

Six months after the riot broke out at Little India, residents say they feel safer, but some small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jun 2014

[ Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013 ]

It has been six months since a riot broke out at Little India. Thanks to better crowd management and the restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area, residents say the area now feels safer and more orderly.

Although the buzz has returned to the streets of Little India on Sundays, it is now quieter after 9pm. One reason is that buses ferrying foreign workers back to their dormitories now leave the area earlier, which is good news for residents.

"They stop drinking by 11pm, and they are quieter now. Last time, they broke bottles at midnight even, then it would wake up the children," said Yoosuf Sha, a resident.

Last December's riot was Singapore's worst public order disturbance in over 40 years. In the aftermath, measures were swiftly put in place to keep the situation under control, such as restrictions to the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Why childcare supply and demand don't add up

Why are there queues for childcare centres when national figures show there are vacancies available? Inflated demand and mismatch in prices help explain that discrepancy.
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2014

QUEUEING is said to be one of Singapore's national pastimes. People line up for anything, from the latest tech gadget to toys and Toto tickets. But sometimes, a long queue prompts a sharply worded statement from the authorities.

Late last month, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) told childcare operator E-Bridge to "thoroughly review" its registration process. This was after more than 100 people queued for a place at one of its new centres in Punggol - a day before registration opened.

Demand for childcare services is known to be particularly high in Punggol and Sengkang, which are new towns with many young families. But hasn't the Government ramped up building of childcare centres in recent months? Is there a shortage of childcare places, or is there something else going on?

To answer this, first consider figures published on the ECDA Child Care Link website. This shows there are still childcare places lying vacant.

According to the latest available figures, as of April, the number of children enrolled in childcare centres as a proportion of capacity is 80.7 per cent islandwide, 82.1 per cent in Sengkang and 86.1 per cent in Punggol.

While total enrolment has almost doubled in the past eight years, so has the number of full-day childcare places.

More centres are continuing to be set up, to provide enough places for one in two children, up from one in three last year.

But hairdresser Stephy Lim, 26, who was first in line at E-Bridge in Punggol, said she did not feel the effects of this on the ground.

She added: "I'm not surprised by the length of the queue, because there are also hundreds on waiting lists at other centres."

How does one square long wait lists with official figures that show vacancies still exist?