Sunday 31 August 2014

Health subsidies to benefit 1.2 million people as pioneers join Community Health Assist Scheme from 1 September 2014

This is nearly double the number that qualified for such assistance in Jan
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

ON MONDAY, 1.15 million people will be able to pay less at some GP and dental clinics, as subsidies kick in for 300,000 pioneer generation members.

This is nearly double the number that qualified for such benefits in January.

"In fact, a doctor has actually told me that some pioneers have already called up to pre-book appointments for September," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday, during a visit to GP and dental clinics in Bedok South.

Now, there are 850,000 people on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), a nationwide programme for middle- to lower- income households.

This includes 150,000 pioneer generation members who had previously qualified because of their income level or housing type.

The remaining seniors will join the scheme, which gives them subsidies at more than 1,100 participating GP and dental clinics, on Monday.

On the same day, lower- to middle-income Singaporeans will also start getting subsidies of between 60 per cent and 70 per cent at specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs) - more than the 50 per cent subsidy for regular patients.

But Dr Khor stressed that these additional subsidies are applicable for subsidised bills only.

Those who wish to seek subsidised care should see a polyclinic doctor or - for those who have CHAS cards or belong to the pioneer generation - a GP on the CHAS scheme, she said.

"If need be - if the doctor assesses that they need specialised care - then they can be referred to the SOC for subsidised care," she said.

Dr Khor also said she had received queries from pioneer generation members on whether they should still apply for CHAS cards.

She suggested that those who fall in the lower- to middle- income bracket should do so, as this means they would get even higher subsidies at SOCs.

One person who has already booked her slot ahead of time is housewife May Leong, 65. Yesterday, she made a dental appointment for January next year.

"I know the scheme starts in September, so I wanted to see what kind of dental benefits they had available," she said.

CHAS scheme: MOH monitors claims by clinics

DR QUEK Koh Choon ("Emphasise ethics in health care"; Aug 15) and Mr Alfred Wong Kwok Wai ("Prevent abuse of subsidy scheme"; Aug 16) raised the concern that some clinics on the Community Health Assist Scheme might mark up their charges for patients claiming CHAS subsidies.

The CHAS scheme has allowed general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics to partner the Ministry of Health (MOH) in making subsidised primary care more accessible to lower- and middle-income Singaporeans within the community.

Come next Monday, all 450,000 pioneer generation Singaporeans will also enjoy subsidised GP and dental services at the CHAS clinics.

MOH agrees that as members of a respected profession, doctors are expected to adhere to the highest standard of professionalism and always act in the best interest of their patients.

The Singapore Medical Council's Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines state that doctors cannot abuse the doctor-patient relationship for personal gain. Indeed, the vast majority of our doctors do observe this code and guidelines closely.

Aside from the ethical issues with overcharging, the CHAS claims submitted by clinics are monitored by MOH. Clinics have been and will continue to be called upon to account for any exceptional claims.

Prices charged differ from clinic to clinic and from patient to patient, depending on the condition, treatment provided, medication prescribed and length of consult.

We encourage clinics to display their common charges such as consultation fees prominently, and to address any price concerns that patients may have, especially with regard to the type of medication prescribed and its cost. This will make the charges more transparent to patients.

MOH will continue to monitor the situation. Members of the public can contact us on 1800-ASK-CHAS (1800-275-2427) for more information and to provide feedback.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health
ST Forum, 30 Aug 2014

Changi General Hospital to get one-stop medical centre

Slated for 2017, it will handle patients with multiple medical conditions
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

PATIENTS at Changi General Hospital (CGH) with many medical conditions will have it easier when CGH opens a new one-stop medical centre in 2017.

Instead of having different appointments and going from clinic to clinic, patients will be able to make fewer hospital visits and head to just one place when they do so. The new $220 million, nine-storey centre located next to the main CGH building will house specialist outpatient clinics and about 140 consultation rooms. It is expected to host 400,000 patient visits a year.

Patients who have various ailments, for example diabetes sufferers who also have kidney or heart problems, will go under the care of one main doctor at the centre. This doctor will work with other doctors and nurses involved in treating the patient for different conditions, to come up with just one care plan for the patient.

"It is increasingly common for patients to suffer from not just one but multiple conditions, for which they need to consult several doctors," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a ceremony yesterday where plans for the centre were announced. "Each doctor may prescribe a different care plan and this can confuse patients and affect how they receive treatment and the outcome," he said.

The chief executive of CGH, Dr Lee Chien Earn, said the hospital planned this centre because it is seeing more patients with multiple conditions. Last year, CGH saw 13,500 such patients, up from 11,900 the year before.

Mr Hey Bong Koi, 66, who sees various specialists at another hospital for ailments such as heart problems, stomach inflammation and asthma, said such a centre will be helpful.

"When a health problem crops up, I don't know which specialist to see and sometimes I forget to tell this doctor about a new medication that another doctor put me on, and this is dangerous because the different medications may be incompatible," said the retiree.

Too young to go under the knife

By Salma Khalik Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

THERE are some things that youth should not be exposed to, too early in life - smoking, drinking and cosmetic procedures are among them.

And just as there are laws to prevent those who are under 18 years old from buying alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, so too should there be a ban on children and teenagers under 18 going for cosmetic treatments.

The popularity of cosmetic procedures among youth has shot up in the United States, and possibly here.

Statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show that 230,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients under 18 years of age in the United States in 2011 - up from just 14,000 in 1996.

This led a team headed by Dr Ng Jia Hui of Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to look into how popular cosmetic treatments are among youth here.

They surveyed 1,164 junior college and 241 medical school students and found that one in three junior college students and one in four medical students approve of their peers going for such treatment.

Only 14 admitted to having had such procedures. The three favourite areas for treatment were the nose, eyes and skin.

Also, one in nine JC students and one in six medical students "were keen on body contouring of areas such as the thighs, buttocks and abdomen", the team said in an article in the August edition of the Singapore Medical Journal.

The team of three doctors and a dentist added: "A large percentage of the JC students did not have any knowledge of the risks associated with cosmetic procedures.

"Even among the medical students, 35.7 per cent of the students were unaware of any risks."

And among those who said they were aware of the risks, not all knew what the real risks were.

President's Award for Teachers 2014

Inspiring teachers win awards
Five honoured for their innovative teaching methods to engage students
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

PUPILS in Ms Sim Lucy's Chinese class at Guangyang Primary are sometimes seen raising their arms or even throwing a punch.

They are not asking questions - or being naughty - but obediently learning Chinese using a set of hand actions developed by Ms Sim to help her charges remember how to write Chinese characters.

A punch represents a dot, while a raised arm stands for "shu" or a vertical line in Chinese script.

Ms Sim, 49, has also written songs using phrases lower primary children have to learn. They learn while singing in class.

"I didn't like Chinese when I first started, but lessons are now fun and I am more attentive in Chinese class," said eight-year- old Alegria Lim.

Said Ms Sim: "Students these days are not like before, they don't just sit down and listen to you, you really have to engage them."

For her efforts, she received the President's Award for Teachers yesterday.

Four others - Madam Linda Lim from Chongzheng Primary, Ms Rezia Rahumathullah from Da Qiao Primary, Ms Wendy Wong from Geylang Methodist Secondary and Dr Muhammad Nazir Amir from Greenview Secondary - also won the award this year.

They received the award from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana yesterday.

Civil service raises pay to keep pace with market

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

PAY hikes of about 5 per cent have been made this month for thousands of mid-level civil servants to ensure that their salaries are comparable to those in the private sector.

Citing factors such as economic growth, competition faced by the civil service "in the hiring market" and a labour market that remains tight, the Public Service Division (PSD) said yesterday that it had made selective adjustments.

These benefit some management executive officers - specifically those at the middle level who work on policies and oversee operations, among other roles - and all management support officers, technicians and clerks.

The Straits Times understands that executive officers who received the pay hikes include those making over $10,000 a month.

Salaries of junior and senior executive officers were not reviewed as these were deemed to be in line with the market, the PSD said in a a statement.

"Having studied private-sector salary data, the PSD has selectively made salary adjustments for some generic schemes of service in August 2014 to close the gaps with the market and ensure that salaries remain competitive."

Salaries of civil servants are reviewed annually and adjusted when necessary to keep pace with the market, it added. "We are careful not to lead the market."

Salaries that were found to be competitive were not adjusted.

The adjustments this month do not apply to civil servants in specialised schemes, such as accountants, police officers, teachers and foreign service officers.

It was previously announced that Home Team officers would get increases of 5 per cent to 12 per cent this month, while public-sector nurses would get increases of 5 per cent to 20 per cent over the next two years.

Tharman tells banks to do more to re-employ older workers

He lauds 9 banks for doing their part; workers also urged to stay nimble
By Siow Li Sen, The Business Times, 30 Aug 2014

BANKS should do more to promote re-employment of older workers, said Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Finance.

Singaporeans are by and large healthy in their 60s, and can expect to live longer than before, he said on Friday.

Many wish to continue working if possible, and to keep mind and body active, he said. "We have to ensure that older workers who wish to remain meaningfully employed have the chance to do so," said Mr Tharman, who was speaking at the 60th anniversary dinner of the Singapore Bank Employees' Union (SBEU).

This has been a major focus for the labour movement, and SBEU has been an active advocate over the years, he said. For example, SBEU managed to get banks to agree to move towards a retirement age of 60 in 1991. This was two years before the law was amended to set it at 60, he said.

Through SBEU's efforts, nine banks - covering about three- quarters of SBEU's ordinary membership - now offer re-employment to workers aged 62, up to age 65.

The nine banks are OCBC, United Overseas Bank, Standard Chartered, HSBC, Maybank, Bank of America, RHB, Bangkok Bank and Credit Agricole.

"They are re-employed on more or less the same terms: in particular, the workers re-employed in the same roles do not see any cut in wages, and continue to receive the same annual increments, variable bonus payments and allowances as their younger counterparts.

"They also receive the same annual leave entitlement," he said.

"These nine banks value their older workers, and continue to reward them accordingly. They are certainly a positive example for other banks in Singapore," said Mr Tharman.

"I want to commend employers for doing their part to recognise the value of older workers," he said. For example, Maybank was recently awarded the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices Exemplary Employer Award 2014 for its efforts.

Although employers are required by law to offer re-employment to eligible employees who turn 62, up to the age of 65, Maybank offers re-employment beyond 65.

More choosing HDB loans on fear bank rates may rise

Tighter lending rules may have also made them more appealing: Experts
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

BANK loans may have lower interest rates than Housing Board loans at the moment, but the fear that rates may rise has prompted more flat buyers to opt for the board's fixed concessionary loans.

Tighter home loan rules may have also made HDB loans more attractive, said experts.

The latest data from the HDB shows more buyers taking loans from it - 94 per cent of loans granted for new flats were from the HDB in the first seven months of this year, up from 92 per cent last year and 91 per cent in 2012.

Similarly, more buyers of resale flats have been taking up HDB loans over bank loans.

In the first seven months of this year, concessionary HDB loans formed 38 per cent of loans granted for resale flats. It was 27 per cent last year, and 24 per cent in 2012.

The growing popularity of HDB loans comes despite bank loans' lower interest rates. With global interest rates at a low, bank home loan rates start from around 1.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent. In contrast, the HDB concessionary loan rate - fixed for the loan's tenure and pegged at 0.1 per cent above the prevailing CPF interest rate - is now 2.6 per cent.

But buyers may prefer HDB loans as they know that low bank rates will not last, said experts.

"Although bank interest rates are currently lower than HDB interest rates, buyers are recognising that (bank interest rates are) due for an increase and may want the 'certainty' offered by the HDB loan," said SingCapital chief executive officer Alfred Chia.

The HDB itself warned that the low global interest rate environment will not last indefinitely.

"Hence, we advise flat buyers to take a long-term view, understand the loan terms offered by HDB and different banks, and assess the monthly loan repayments based on different interest rate scenarios," said a spokesman.

HK mulls over plan for retirement protection

Govt-appointed panel recommends those above 65 get $480 monthly
By Li Xueying Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2104

RETIRED security guard David Yu, 70, can barely get by on a HK$2,500 (S$400) handout each month. With no savings or children, the widower has to depend on the government for help.

If a plan to provide universal pension for all elderly Hong Kongers comes to pass, he says wistfully, life will not be so hard.

As Singapore debates how the Central Provident Fund should be improved to better help the elderly retire, fast-ageing Hong Kong is also grappling with the difficult issue of retirement protection after a government-appointed committee made its recommendations last week after a year of discussions.

Hong Kongers above 65 years old should receive HK$3,000 (S$480) a month, the money coming partially from a one-off government injection of HK$50 billion and also from a new "payroll old age tax", with employers and employees contributing between 1 and 2.5 per cent of their salaries. The government will pay half the expected annual expenditure.

"Poverty among our elderly is really serious. And it's not going away - it will go from bad to worse," the head of the five-member team, veteran social work academic Nelson Chow, said in an interview.

But the proposal is highly controversial, with businesses up in arms about the new tax, while others worry about its sustainability. So while Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying has made poverty alleviation a key plank of his administration, the plan is likely to take a long time to pass, if at all. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has said the city needs "an informed public debate to get some broad consensus on this very controversial subject before we could really take it forward".

Saturday 30 August 2014

Seven pillars of a good retirement savings system

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Just improve it. The Central Provident Fund, that is.
By Joseph Cherian, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

THERE is a famous American South saying that goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". In the more enlightened North, branding gurus and academics would prescribe a rebranding exercise for ailing entities.

Let me explain why the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system ain't ailing nor broke (no pun intended), and why we should actually be celebrating the fact that some folks from the pioneer generation almost 60 years ago had the foresight and extraordinary prescience to come up with a mandatory, fully-funded, defined contribution social security savings system that is able to provide for our basic retirement expense needs with assurance.

Ain't broke...

A DEFINED contribution (DC) plan - like the CPF, the 401(k) programme in the United States and Australia's Superannuation scheme - is one in which the employee, along with the employer in many cases, make contributions to an employee's individual retirement account on a monthly and tax-advantaged basis.

In a defined benefit (DB) plan, the sponsor promises to provide the retiree with a pension income, which is usually a function of her salary, tenure of service and so on.

The CPF savings scheme, along with CPF Life, an annuity plan with a clear schedule of benefits, is almost a hybrid of the two plans. But that is where the similarities end.

In America, many DB plans are going broke or are grossly underfunded, which means they are making promises to future retirees that they cannot keep.

As a consequence, the trend around the world is for systems to move towards a CPF-like, hybrid DC/DB retirement savings system - that is, with fully-funded individual accounts that cumulate over one's working years, with some (but not a large) amount of investment and withdrawal flexibility, and that converts to a life annuity upon retirement.

The beauty of the CPF system is that it has been practising this for many years, with savings rates of up to 5 per cent per annum. There is also the recent CPF Life annuity scheme, both fully-guaranteed by the Government. There is an employer-matching and tax-advantaged supplementary retirement scheme to boot.

The CPF offers 3.5 per cent interest for the first $20,000 of Ordinary Account savings, and 2.5 per cent for sums above that in the OA. It gives 5 per cent on the first $40,000 of balances in the Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts (SMRA) and 4 per cent for sums above that in the SMRA.

REACH NDR 2014 Public Forum

'More clarity in two weeks'
Minister: Fund's flexibility, Minimum Sum among panel's considerations
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

SINGAPOREANS will have a better idea of what the Government envisages for the Central Provident Fund (CPF) in the next two weeks, when a panel finalises its review of areas in need of improvement.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that among the issues being considered are increasing the degree of flexibility for withdrawals of the savings, addressing the uncertainty surrounding the Minimum Sum and boosting support for the elderly.

Mr Tan made the point last night when addressing 140 people at a public forum on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech.

The session, organised by government feedback unit REACH, was held at *Scape and moderated by REACH chairman Amy Khor, who is also Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower.

One participant said there was a "communications problem" in how the Minimum Sum has been publicised. He asked Mr Tan whether the projected Minimum Sum for each cohort could be made publicly available in advance, but with a caveat that the figure is an estimated sum.

Mr Tan replied: "The variable is inflation. So if we perhaps settle it at 2 per cent every year, then I can actually give for sure. So we're actually looking at it, whether we can just take that uncertainty out of the whole equation.

"If inflation turns out to be very erratic, then we will reset it again."

He later added: "We are going to look at how we can be clearer. Basically it's the uncertainty; the more certainty we have, the less anxiety... That's something we are quite tempted to do but we will go through the review panel to see if it is something we want."

PM Lee had said in his rally speech that the Minimum Sum will be raised to $161,000 for those turning 55 next July. He said he did not see a need for further major increases.

The other hot topic at the forum was education, with one participant saying he hopes the Government "will not swing the pendulum too much".

Unionists worried about new CPF option

They fear low-wage earners will come to grief if they withdraw lump sum cash
By Toh Yong Chuan And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

AN UPCOMING move by the Government to let workers who retire withdraw part of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings in a lump sum worries unionists.

They fear it will bring grief to the very group of workers whose well-being they have always strived to protect: the low-wage earners. These rank-and-file workers have traditionally formed the backbone of NTUC's union membership.

A lump sum withdrawal will reduce what is left in their CPF savings for the monthly payouts, they told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a closed-door dialogue yesterday.

This concern was uppermost on the mind of Mr Benjamin Tang, president of the Port Officers' Union and a member of the highest decision- making body in the National Trades Union Congress.

He told reporters after the dialogue: "The ones who are making the most noise... to withdraw more of their CPF are basically the very workers the unionists, the labour movement and the Government are really concerned about."

The dialogue was held for the unionists to ask questions on PM Lee's National Day Rally speech.

At the rally two weeks ago, the Prime Minister had said CPF members will soon have the option of a lump sum withdrawal after they retire, but the withdrawals will be capped.

Details have not been finalised but the limit could be set at 20 per cent of their total savings.

Mr Tang told reporters that PM Lee acknowledged their concerns and assured the 550 unionists at the meeting that the CPF will remain a "retirement nest egg".

Another issue that was raised was on a new report to improve the career prospects of polytechnic and ITE students.

Recommendations on how this can be done was made by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee last week.

Unionists said they hoped for fair opportunities for both degree holders and non-degree holders.

They also want to see a "parallel pathway" that allows workers to progress in their careers, regardless of their academic qualifications, NTUC said in a statement last night.

Tharman lists ways to address inequality

S'pore must ensure its people have chance to reach full potential, he says
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

WHILE harsh poverty might not be a problem here, Singapore, like all other countries around the world, has to ensure that its people have the chance to achieve their full potential, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

This can be done by providing access to quality infrastructure for all sections of society and by ensuring that learning and developing technical skills can be a pathway to success, he added.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking in a dialogue session with social enterprise consultant Crystal Hayling at the Base of Pyramid World Convention and Expo, held at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.

The inaugural three-day convention is focused on how to alleviate poverty for those living at "the base of the pyramid" around the world, through innovative products and solutions.

Ms Hayling noted that of the three billion people in the world who live on less than US$2.50 (S$3.12) a day, none of them is in Singapore, but that the issues of rising cost of living and income inequality are heating up here.

The first thing that Singapore has to do then, Mr Tharman said, is to ensure that not just the average Singaporean, but also the lower income, can have a better life.

This means growing incomes and providing access to high- quality housing and high-quality and affordable public education and public health facilities. And this is a challenge.

"You need insurance systems, you need public subsidies and you also have to have sustainability built into the system," he said.

Singapore has had reasonable success so far and can share its experiences with countries that might need help, while learning from them in return, he added.

"It's not just about exporting lessons from Singapore. It's also about learning ourselves, because each time we... get involved with a project (elsewhere in the world), there's a lot of learning involved," he said.

"Some innovation might be required in a new environment, some rethinking, and even when we come back to Singapore sometimes those innovations can be adopted. Participating at the base and all levels of the pyramid involves learning. So we can never get too caught up in our own successes. We can always do better."

Another aspect of helping all citizens achieve their full potential involves ensuring that people do not get locked out of the marketplace, Mr Tharman said. This means developing the technical education system and working with employers to ensure that people with technical skills can find good jobs.

Social media may not spur diversity of views: Survey

Some may be even less inclined to disagree with the majority online
By Jeremy Au Yong U.S. Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

THE long-held notion that new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are the great leveller of political participation online has been debunked, at least according to a new survey.

In a study covering some 1,800 adult respondents, researchers found that the spiral of silence - a tendency of people not to speak up on policy issues in public if they believe they hold a minority view - occurs as much in cyberspace as it does in real life.

In fact, the results suggest that some people may be even less inclined to disagree with the majority in cyberspace than they would in person.

The findings came from a study by Pew Research that involved asking people about their willingness to discuss the controversial leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Some 86 per cent said they were willing to discuss the issue in person, while just 42 per cent said they would post about it on Twitter and Facebook.

And of the 14 per cent who were unwilling to talk about the issue in person, only 0.3 per cent were willing to take those views online - an indication that social media did little to help break down the walls.

"We found that those people who have the strongest opinions on an issue are the most likely to speak out through social media," Dr Keith Hampton, the Rutgers University professor who co- authored the study, told The Straits Times.

"In the example of those with a very strong opinion, this alone is enough to overcome the spiral of silence. The tendency is one reason why minority, and possibly more moderate, voices are less likely to join the conversation."

The issue of social media's role in encouraging online discourse and the ability of netizens to self-moderate hits close to home for many Singaporeans.

Thinking hard about Singapore's choices

A new book that challenges 'the Singapore consensus' scores some hits and some misses
By Vikram Khanna, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

ONE of the unfortunate realities of economic discourse in Singapore is that outside the Government, there is relatively little research on practical public policy, especially social policy.

So the publication of the book, Hard Choices: Challenging The Singapore Consensus, featuring the views of scholars who do not serve in Government comes as a breath of fresh air - even more so for the fact that, as its sub-title suggests, it questions some long-held assumptions and dogmas, some of which have been baked into policy for decades.

Policymakers, academics and members of the public have come to accept as axiomatic certain policy ends and means - what the book's authors describe as "the Singapore consensus". For example, it is more or less taken for granted that economic growth is always good, universal government-funded welfare schemes are generally bad, meritocracy is an unmitigated plus, an ageing population portends serious problems and home ownership is good for everyone.

The authors of Hard Choices seem to believe that these axioms are open to question, or at least qualification.

The book consists of a series of essays, which have been published before separately, but which pack a powerful intellectual punch when put together in a volume. The essays are organised along different themes, though these sometimes overlap.

HDB retracts notice asking residents to consider 'debarking' noisy dogs

HDB says it agrees the issue should have been handled more sensitively
Channel NewsAsia, 28 Aug 2014

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) said a notice put up in Ang Mo Kio, advising residents to possibly 'debark' their dogs if they make too much noise, does not accurately reflect its position.

The notice had listed debarking as one option, alongside obedience training sessions and training collars, to manage the problem of excessive barking by dogs, which HDB says, could become a nuisance to neighbours. It went viral on social media, with some animal lovers labelling the suggestion "barking mad".

In a statement issued in response to Channel NewsAsia's enquiries on Thursday (Aug 28), HDB said the notice has been taken down and apologised for the anxiety caused to dog owners.

"The notice had meant to seek the assistance of dog owners to help manage the issue of excessive dog barking at an Ang Mo Kio block, arising from complaints received. We agree it should have been handled more sensitively," the statement read.

HDB said when residents complain about excessive dog barking, they have always advised and counselled dog owners to manage their pets' barking and behaviour through obedience training.

"Debarking should only be considered by pet owners as a last resort when all other measures, especially training, are ineffective and only if the dog owner considers it an option," HDB stated.

An advisory on the website of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority also says debarking surgery is a "solution of last resort".

Prior to HDB's confirmation that the notice was withdrawn, non-profit organisation Agency for Animal Welfare wrote on its Facebook page that it had written to the Ministry of National Development at 5am on Thursday regarding the issue. Hours later, it posted: "The AMK HDB notice has been removed. We thank MND Ministers of State, Mr Desmond Lee and Dr Maliki Osman for their swift and responsive wisdom and kindness".

Baseless claim about non-payment of foreign worker salaries

MR ALEX Au's letter ("Salary non-payment a big issue for migrant workers"; Monday) paints an inaccurate picture.

Through our outreach efforts, we encourage workers with salary claims to come forward to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Last year, the ministry received about 3,000 salary claims involving foreign workers. This is less than 0.5 per cent of work permit holders here.

Independent research companies, using professionally accepted methodologies, have corroborated our view that migrant workers feel they are generally well treated here. Interim findings of a survey conducted by Nexus Link showed that 90 per cent of foreign workers are satisfied working here.

We are therefore curious as to how Mr Au could make the sweeping statement that around 130,000 foreign workers may be either partially or not paid salaries at all. We trust he realises that it is not appropriate to listen only to the employees' side of the story to bolster his claim of widespread non-payment of salaries.

In adjudicating a salary claim, MOM listens to both sides in the dispute. Should an employer be found to be errant, we will take tough action, such as debarment from employing foreign workers. Where the offence is particularly egregious, they may also be prosecuted.

Other than enforcement, MOM also helps affected workers to recover their salaries. For the majority of substantiated claims that the employer is in a position to pay, MOM has ensured that the foreign workers receive their claims in full.

If the employer is facing financial difficulties and cannot pay, foreign workers may choose to seek adjudication with MOM, or settle the claim through conciliation. Some workers have chosen the latter, because they were aware their employers were just not able to make full payment.

At no point is the worker pressured into accepting a settlement. It is unbecoming of Mr Au to cast aspersions on MOM officers who work tirelessly to help all employees, including foreign workers, resolve their salary claims.

MOM is and remains committed to protecting and upholding all workers' rights and interests. This includes allowing victimised workers to change employers and continue working in Singapore while their cases are being investigated.

We also earlier announced the mandatory issuance of itemised payslips within two years. Employers of work permit holders are already required to pay their workers' salaries through direct transfers into their bank accounts if workers request it.

Then Yee Thoong
Divisional Director
Labour Relations and Workplaces Division
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 29 Aug 2014

Commercial clusters to bring jobs closer to homes

WE THANK Mr Ng Ya Ken for his interest ("Second city for S'pore makes long-term sense"; last Friday).

One of our key planning strategies is indeed to create commercial clusters outside the city centre to provide job opportunities closer to homes, and reduce congestion and travelling times to and from the city centre.

We have progressively developed commercial clusters islandwide such as Tampines Regional Centre, Novena, one-north at Buona Vista and Changi Business Park.

In the west, Jurong Lake District is shaping up well to become the largest regional centre outside the city centre. A mix of office, retail, food and beverage (F&B) and entertainment uses are being added to Jurong Gateway, the district's commercial precinct, to meet the needs of residents, workers and visitors.

At the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Jurong will be further transformed with the development of a community-centric Jurong Lake Gardens and a new Science Centre. Public transport systems such as road and rail will be enhanced in the coming years to support the development of the area. These new developments will shape the west into a great place to live, work and play.

In the north, we have started developing the Woodlands Regional Centre with the sale of the first office site in April. With more than 100ha of developable land as well as good transport connectivity, and surrounded by greenery and waterfront views, Woodlands Regional Centre is set to be Singapore's Northern Gateway.

When fully developed, Woodlands Regional Centre can provide approximately 100,000 new jobs and a good mix of retail and F&B offerings to residents in the north. It will also house the first business park in the north.

We are also planning for more high-value-added jobs in Punggol and Seletar Aerospace Park, and these will combine with the Woodlands Regional Centre to form the North Coast Innovation Corridor.

We are mindful that these decentralised commercial centres should not inadvertently create localised strains on our transport infrastructure. Jurong Lake District and Woodlands Regional Centre will be served by new MRT lines such as the Jurong Region Line, Cross Island Line and Thomson-East Coast Line. With jobs closer to home, alternative greener modes of mobility such as walking and cycling will in time become viable.

However, as we build up more commercial centres outside the city centre, there will still be demand for core financial and business services activities in our central business district (CBD) due to its prime central location, good connectivity and potential synergies with other businesses. We will continue to provide sufficient high-quality commercial space within our CBD and Marina Bay area.

Richard Hoo
Group Director (Strategic Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority
ST Forum, 29 Aug 2014

Army camps, schools set to get rooftop solar panels

More will also be installed for public housing through HDB bulk tender
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

SOLAR panels could soon be seen in army camps, schools and more Housing Board blocks.

The HDB will call a tender next year for such technology. Possible government agencies which may take part are the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

It will be the first tender to aggregate demand across government agencies for solar photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight to electricity.

MINDEF is looking at installing them on the rooftops of camps, while MOE might use them on the rooftops of schools, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in a blog post yesterday.

HDB's bulk tenders mean several government agencies can benefit from lower costs.

Mr Khaw said HDB is taking the lead in the tender because it has the greatest experience in installing solar panels here.

There are now 176 HDB blocks with solar panels; the figure will rise to 300 next year. They help to power lifts and corridor lighting, at a time when town councils are being hit by rising energy costs.

In March, the Government said it wanted to raise adoption of solar energy to 350 megawatts-peak (MWp) by 2020, or about 5 per cent of annual electricity demand.

Mr Khaw noted that HDB will contribute 220MWp, with solar panels at 5,500 HDB blocks.

"This could generate enough electricity to provide for common services and households in a town the size of Woodlands," he said.

Friday 29 August 2014

One-stop community hub a boost for charities: Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub

Paya Lebar facility which houses five VWOs to open on Saturday
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2014

AT ONE block, rows of old people tuck into steaming plates of rice and mixed vegetables whipped up on the spot by a soup kitchen.

Next door, a support group session for those who struggle with addictions gets under way.

In the opposite building, a group of teenagers sit hunched over piles of aircraft headsets, slotting them into neat packets.

People with different needs can soon get help at the same place, with the launch this Saturday of a community hub in Paya Lebar that brings together five voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).

Beneficiaries will be able to "shop" for the services they need, be it free legal advice or tuition, within the six-building cluster.

The charities also benefit as they can collaborate more and cut costs by sharing their expertise and facilities, such as a basketball court and football field.

Managed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), the hub adds to a similar one at Tiong Bahru managed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

The facility at 11 Jalan Ubi will be launched by Manpower Minister and Marine Parade GRC MP Tan Chuan-Jin, who had pushed for it to be sited in his ward.

It is taking over buildings of the former NorthLight School and Geylang Serai Vocational Training Centre.

Three of the five VWOs - Willing Hearts, The New Charis Mission and We Care Community Services - have already moved in.