Friday 31 October 2014

Indranee Rajah: Parents, bosses 'must look beyond paper qualifications'

Govt is committed to doing so, though it will take time
By Amelia Teng And Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

PARENTS, students and employers need to look beyond paper qualifications and recognise workers' skills and abilities - something the Government is committed to doing - said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

But, she acknowledged yesterday, this will take time.

"The traditional thinking was that there's only one path to success, but I think the reality is that it is much more complex," said Ms Indranee, who led the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee.

Last month, the Government accepted ASPIRE's recommendations to improve the quality of education and job prospects of Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic students.

These include giving students the chance to work while studying, and helping workers build up their skills.

"It's not one-size-fits-all," she told a 200-strong crowd of students, staff and alumni who attended the National University of Singapore's (NUS) monthly U@live forum. It was the first dialogue on the issue since the recommendations were accepted.

Security guards to get better salary, training with Progressive Wage Model

Move comes after mounting concerns over cheap sourcing, long overtime hours
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 30 Oct 2014

Come September 2016, security officers will see basic starting monthly wages increase by about one third and clearer pathways for training and career progression, when the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is adopted as a licensing requirement for the security sector.

The Government’s move to mandate the model as part of licensing requirements — in line with recommendations by the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) — comes after months of foot-dragging by the sector in adopting the model, as concerns mounted over cheap sourcing and long overtime hours.

It comes two months after a mandatory licensing scheme — of which the PWM is also a requirement — came into effect in the cleaning sector.

Under the PWM, the basic monthly salary for a full-time security officer would be S$1,100. Currently, the median monthly basic pay of a full-time security officer is about S$800. An officer can earn about S$2,000 after overtime pay and other allowances.

There are about 33,000 active security officers in Singapore, of which 29,000 are Singapore citizens and permanent residents. Part-time security officers, which unionist Hareenderpal Singh said forms 30 per cent of all active security officers, will not be placed on the wage ladder. Instead, the STC recommended that their basic wages be pro-rated based on the number of hours worked as compared to a full timer’s typical contractual hours.

Returning ISIS fighters 'pose threat to region'

Indonesian military chief to meet counterparts to defuse the danger
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE commander of Indonesia's armed forces (TNI) said yesterday that he plans to call for a meeting of his counterparts from the region to discuss how best to counter the threat of extremism from militant group ISIS.

General Moeldoko told a public lecture in Singapore that ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was a significant threat to regional security.

And its full impact would be felt when its fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and even a handful from Singapore return home.

"When they return to their countries... it is not easy to predict what actions they might conduct. This is why we need to think about scenarios to anticipate what might happen when they return," he told reporters later.

Gen Moeldoko, who was on a three-day visit that ended yesterday, said there were no detailed plans for this proposed regional conference yet, but he hoped to discuss it with Asean defence chiefs when they meet in Malaysia early next year.

Indonesia has been cool towards the United States-led global coalition against ISIS, saying military action alone cannot fix the problem.

But officials are concerned about the threat, with at least 60 Indonesians fighting in Syria and Iraq. Several have joined Malaysian fighters to form a military unit, which analysts fear could expand ISIS' reach in South-east Asia.

Seat-hogging students a headache at cafes

Most students oblige when told to move, but some can be difficult, say operators
By Olivia Ho And Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

WITH exams around the corner, cafes are full of students poring over their books, oblivious to the fact that they are taking up precious seats for other patrons.

And this is causing problems for many cafe owners, who have to deal with students who overstay their welcome and refuse to leave when asked.

At D'Good Cafe in Holland Village, the situation has become so bad that it now bans studying at its premises from noon to 2pm. The cafe can seat about 100, but during exam season, it is nearly always full.

"Most students understand, but some can be quite difficult and become arrogant when we ask them to move," said store manager Gary Esplana, 28.

The problem is shared by independent cafes and major chains alike.

A spokesman for coffee chain Spinelli said: "Seat-hogging does pose a challenge for us. However, most of (the students) understand our constraints and are willing to come back after the cafe's peak period."

Ms Serene Foo, 30, a retail store manager at Spinelli's Velocity outlet, said students usually come in the morning and stay till evening.

She recalled one student who occupied four seats with her laptop, bag and notes.

"During lunch, she left for about two hours and it got very crowded, so I collected her things and brought it into the staff area," said Ms Foo, adding that she later explained her actions to the student, who was fine with it.

At Lorong Mambong cafe T Time at 93 Degrees, barista Lisa Tan, 17, expressed frustration at customers who "order minimum items but stay maximum hours".

"Some days, we close at 11.30pm but the students stay till midnight, so we have to close late," she said.

The issue of seat-hogging by students came under scrutiny this week after a student by the name of Yap Huixin had complained on the Facebook page of Starbucks Singapore.

She said staff there had moved her belongings after she had left her table and belongings unattended for 30 minutes.

That sparked a furore online, with most netizens taking the side of the coffee chain.

Court of Appeal rules that Section 377A that criminalises sex between men is constitutional

Court upholds law banning gay sex
It rejects case that Section 377A of Penal Code is unconstitutional
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE highest court in Singapore has upheld Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men, rejecting arguments that the provision contravenes the Constitution.

In ruling that the provision is constitutional, the three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday rejected two separate challenges to strike down the law.

Mr Gary Lim, 46, and Mr Kenneth Chee, 38, as well as 51-year- old Mr Tan Eng Hong, argued that the provision was discriminatory and should be declared void.

Their case was that Section 377A infringed their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violated their right to life and personal liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9. The offence carries up to a two-year jail term for men who commit acts of "gross indecency" with other men, in public or private.

Mr Tan first filed a challenge against the statute in 2010 after he was charged with having oral sex with a man in a public toilet. Mr Lim and Mr Chee later filed their own challenge. Their cases were separately dismissed by the High Court last year but their appeals were heard together in July.

More vulnerable children, youth to be placed with foster families

By Laura Elizabeth Philomin, TODAY, 30 Oct 2014

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking to move more vulnerable children and youths living in institutional homes into the care of foster families, with the aim of doubling the number of foster parents over the next few years.

To that end, it announced today (Oct 29) an S$8 million three-year pilot that would appoint voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to set up fostering agencies. From next year, the appointed agencies will help to recruit more foster parents, and provide better support services for them in the form of counselling and training, for example.

Currently, the MSF is the only formal provider of foster care. There are over 235 foster parents in its existing Fostering Scheme, and it intends to increase the number 500. The aim is for more of the 700 to 800 children in the 23 children’s homes to join the existing 325 children placed with foster families.

Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing noted that despite the best efforts, the institutional environment in children’s homes is “artificial at best”. “If we believe that a homely environment is best for our children, then it’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to see how we can generate this more homely environment for low-risk children in need,” he said at the Rehabilitation and Protection Care conference at Mandarin Orchard hotel.

Mr Chan noted that many Singaporeans are apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of fostering. “Our challenge is to learn from others to see how we can better support foster families and encourage more to come onboard,” he said.

While the Fostering Scheme caters mainly to children below six, the MSF hopes the expanded pool of foster parents will give older children more chances of being placed with foster families.

Medifund provides S$130 million in aid in FY2013

TODAY, 29 Oct 2014

More financial aid from Medifund was provided to help needy patients with their medical bills in Financial Year 2013.

About S$130 million in Medifund assistance was provided in FY2013, a 27 per cent increase from S$102 million a year ago. Of this aid, elderly patients received about S$43 million — 30 per cent more compared to the estimated S$33 million a year ago.

Some 30 per cent more applications were also approved, from 587,000 in FY2012 to 766,000 in FY2013.

“This higher amount of Medifund assistance given reflected the wider range of services covered by Medifund and was supported by Government’s capital injection of $1 billion in FY2013,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement.

For instance, Medifund Junior was introduced last year to better target assistance at children from needy families. Medifund was also extended to support patients who need care at the polyclinics or services such as dental, antenatal and delivery.

Medifund was set-up in 1993 to assist Singaporeans who are unable to afford medical bills, even after Government subsidies, Medisave and MediShield. Medifund assistance varies according to the patient’s financial situation.

In FY2013, about 93 per cent of the successful applications received full assistance, with their outstanding subsidised bills fully paid for by Medifund. The figure is similar to last year’s figure. On average, the amount of Medifund assistance provided was S$1,579 per inpatient treatment, and S$103 per outpatient treatment.

Singapore still 'most business-friendly economy': World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2015

By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE has been crowned the most business-friendly economy in the world for the ninth year in a row.

According to the league table compiled by the World Bank, Singapore's regulatory environment is highly beneficial for entrepreneurs.

The "Doing Business" report released yesterday measures the ease of doing business in 189 economies based on 11 business- related regulations, including starting a firm, getting credit and electricity and trading across borders.

By those measures, Singapore led the pack with a score of 88.27. New Zealand was close behind with 86.91.

The rest of the top 10 comprised Hong Kong in third place, followed by Denmark, South Korea, Norway, the United States, Britain, Finland and Australia.

Entrepreneurs in Singapore need an average of 21/2 days to set up a company, while in Eritrea - the economy that placed lowest in the ranking - investors usually need about 84 days, according to the report.

Still, the World Bank report cautioned against viewing the ranking as "an all-encompassing measure of an economy's goodness".

"'Doing Business' measures a slender segment of the complex organism that any modern economy is," said World Bank senior vice-president and chief economist Kaushik Basu in a foreword to the report.

"Economic efficiency is not the only measure by which we evaluate an economy's performance," he added. "An economy can do poorly on 'Doing Business' indicators but do well in macroeconomic policy or social welfare interventions."

While the accolade "suggests that Singapore will keep its competitive edge, the country will need to brace itself for slower growth next year, being one of the most open and trade-oriented economies", said IG market strategist Ryan Huang.

Thursday 30 October 2014

2014 Forbes Global CEO Conference dialogue session with PM Lee

PM Lee on democracy: Asian states must find own way
Power structure, politics in nations in the region work in different ways
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh And Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE Western media may paint popular democracy as a good thing but politics operates in different ways in Asia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"If you look at the countries in Asia, you'll know these are complicated countries and they work in different ways.

"Even when you have elections, the power structure, the politics, the government functions in different ways in these countries," he added.

For instance, in Thailand, beyond the elected government, the king and the military play critical roles, he said.

Mr Lee made the point at a dialogue on the opening night of the three-day Forbes Global CEO Conference, which brings business leaders together to discuss global economic issues.

Replying to a question on the fate and future of popular democracy in the region, Mr Lee called it a slogan.

"I think each country has to find its own way forward. I don't think there's salvation in saying, oh, we need more democracy and that will make these countries prosper," he said, citing recent events in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong as a case in point.

In India, he noted, a new government is at the helm every now and again. This makes it harder for the country to address fundamental challenges.

In China, however, "they have no elections, but that doesn't mean they don't have the problems (faced by) a government which is legitimate, which is functioning well, and which is subject to checks and balances".

On Singapore, he said an elected government is in place.

"Yet if you ask whether that is a formula which will automatically yield a good government and a successful country for the next 50 years, nobody can say.

"It depends on the people, it depends on the values of the society, it depends on the quality of the leaders and the connection between the leadership and the population."

Monetary Authority of Singapore's sobering take on Singapore economy 2014

GDP and productivity growth to remain constrained; core inflation to stay above historical average
By Kelly Tay, The Business Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has presented a sobering prognosis of the Singapore economy - GDP expansion will continue to be muted, productivity growth will remain constrained, and core inflation will stay above its historical average on the back of labour cost pressures. The manufacturing sector, too, continues to face difficulties from land and labour constraints, although one positive is that companies have been moving up the value creation chain successfully.

In reiterating its 2014 GDP growth forecast of 2.5-3.5 per cent in its twice-yearly Macroeconomic Review on Tuesday, the central bank also sought to put it in perspective: "This should be seen in the context of the domestic economy settling down to a slower, but more sustainable growth path. With Singapore's relatively high real GDP per capita of US$61,000 (S$77,723) and labour productivity of US$99,700 on a purchasing power parity-adjusted basis (as at 2013), the moderation in the medium-term growth rate is in line with global experience."

In response, UOB economist Francis Tan said: "I see this as the MAS trying to temper growth expectations, to remind people to be more realistic. An abundance of labour is no longer part of the equation, so we won't be seeing growth of 6 or 7 per cent any longer."

Looking ahead, the MAS said that a "broadly similar" pace of growth is expected in 2015, and that the Singapore economy is "on track for moderate growth" despite some external and domestic headwinds. It qualified, however, that the performance across sectors will be uneven. "Sectors that cater to final demand in the US will fare relatively favourably, while those that are tied to the eurozone and China could be weighed down by the sluggish performance in these economies. Concomitantly, some of these external-facing industries will continue to grapple with resource constraints and falling product prices.

"Meanwhile, domestic-oriented sectors will remain resilient on the back of firm underlying demand, although those segments that are more reliant on labour input, or face greater competition, could experience profit margin pressure," said the central bank.

Centralised plan to help overstretched borrowers cut debt

Some of them have ended up owing more than their annual incomes
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

CONSUMER credit here is in a healthy state overall, although "a small group of borrowers" have over-extended themselves, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

About 3 per cent of unsecured borrowers have racked up debts exceeding their annual incomes, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

Unsecured credit includes credit cards, where there is no collateral tied to the loan.

Mr Tharman, who is also the Finance Minister and MAS chairman, was speaking at an event to mark the 10th anniversary of Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS).

"As CCS has found, people fall into debt problems for various reasons. Over-spending, such as on travel and cars, and job-related changes, are the two most common reasons," he said.

Close to two-thirds of these borrowers earn incomes above the median level. More than half have tertiary education qualifications.

To help over-extended borrowers cut their debts, Mr Tharman announced that CCS will offer a centralised repayment solution.

This means borrowers will not have to approach multiple creditor banks to negotiate the reduction of their debts. Instead, CCS will coordinate across all of a borrower's creditor banks to work out a centralised repayment plan.

Get flu and shingles vaccinations at four Guardian pharmacies

Parkway Shenton, Guardian team up to offer service at 4 mall pharmacies
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

GO SHOPPING. Watch a movie. Then get a flu or shingles vaccination at a mall.

In a first effort to make vaccinations accessible in retail settings, Guardian pharmacy is teaming up with health-care group Parkway Shenton to provide such jabs at four of its high-traffic outlets.

Blood tests and health screenings, all administered by Parkway Shenton nurses, are also available at Northpoint City, Serangoon nex, Ngee Ann City and Great World City malls.

And cervical cancer vaccinations and medical consultations could be offered in the future.

"This will cater to the hectic lifestyles of Singaporeans who may not have time to visit the doctor's," said Guardian's chief executive, Ms Sarah Boyd, who inked a two-year agreement with Parkway Shenton yesterday.

The jabs will be done in a private room and are expected to take about 10 minutes. Those interested can make an appointment at any Guardian outlet.

The wait to get vaccinated should be much shorter than in polyclinics, said Ms Boyd.

But it comes at a price. A flu jab at Guardian will cost $30, which is $5 more than at polyclinics. Shingles vaccinations will cost about $280, $40 more than at hospitals like Tan Tock Seng.

But seniors above 50 may get discounts with a specialised card, said Guardian.

And for the needy, 1,000 low-income elderly folk will be given flu vaccinations for free.

HDB Lease Buyback Scheme needs better awareness: Halimah Yacob

Seniors are not aware of the various ways they can monetise their flat due to a lack of awareness of the scheme as well as a lack of financial literacy, Mdm Halimah said.
By Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Oct 2014

Within three weeks of changes being announced to the Lease Buyback Scheme on Sep 3, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) received 500 queries, almost thrice the number they receive in a typical month. The Lease Buyback Scheme allows eligible seniors to retain part of the lease on their HDB flat, and sell the remainder back to HDB for retirement income.

HDB says it has about 250 officers who are able to provide financial counsulting, but seniors have to apply for the scheme first, before such counselling sessions can take place.

Speaker of Parliament and Chairwoman of the People’s Action Party Seniors Group Halimah Yacob said it is a real challenge, building awareness of the scheme.

"In 2009, when they (HDB) introduced the Lease Buyback Scheme, what they did was they had these exhibitions at the housing estates. It is not useful for everyone - because the five-roomers, the executive flat, the private property owners, they are not going to benefit. They had exhibitions at specific areas like Bedok and MacPherson. I think that would be helpful. So that people can come and get a sense, ask the questions they want to ask," she said.

However Mdm Halimah said there is a larger issue at play - a lack of financial literacy among seniors, although there are existing programmes to help them better manage their money.

“But the problem is - the attendance is not so good. So again, it's a question of whether they are aware. Secondly, it is a question of whether they feel there is a need for them to attend. So making a compelling case for them to feel that there is a need for them, it is useful for them to attend, I think it is something we need to look at,” Mdm Halimah added.

Semakau landfill to get green power grid

By Feng Zengkun Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE world's prettiest landfill will soon become greener.

Singapore will start building a power grid at the lush Semakau Landfill next year, to show how renewable energy from the sea, sun and wind can be combined with other technologies to provide a stable source of electricity.

The hybrid micro-grid is the first in the region and is believed to be the largest in the tropics.

It will produce about 1MW of power for a start, which will be used on Semakau. That amount of power is enough for small islands and villages, and can act as an emergency power supply for cities.

In Singapore, it would be enough to power about 250 four-room Housing Board flats.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran announced the project yesterday at the opening of the inaugural Asia Clean Energy Summit, which is part of this year's Singapore International Energy Week.

He said the project could allow Singapore and its partners to provide electricity to island communities and remote villages. The research could also be used to improve cities' power grids.

"All of these are acute needs in Asia... and Singapore aims to play a meaningful role in Asia's clean- energy journey despite our geographical limitations," said Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry.

Aerostat: Singapore to get giant 'eye' in the sky

By Jermyn Chow Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

A GIANT balloon, equipped with sophisticated radar equipment, will watch over Singapore from early next year.

The 55m-long helium-filled teardrop, known as an aerostat, will hover at around 600m - more than twice the height of UOB Plaza One, Singapore's tallest building. It can spot hostile threats from as far as 200km away, double the distance covered by the Republic's ground radars.

It can scan up to Malacca for straying light aircraft, for instance, and detect small boats coming in from Indonesia's Pekanbaru. The information will be shared with other security agencies such as the coast guard.

The balloon, which Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday called "the protector in the sky", will be tethered to the ground inside a military camp, but Dr Ng did not disclose where, or how much it will cost.

Experts, however, said the blimp should not be surrounded by tall buildings or be near areas with plenty of flying activity.

Dr Ng said that it will improve the country's surveillance capabilities "significantly", by filling in the gap caused by tall buildings here blocking Singapore's existing early-warning systems.

"In order for you to see far, you have to be either very high and you make sure that no buildings block you... but we are also building up 40-storey buildings. Soon, I expect maybe even 50-storey or higher buildings," said Dr Ng, at a ceremony to recognise personnel whose ideas cut cost or improve productivity.

It will also be cheaper to launch and operate the aerostat, which will be run by the Republic of Singapore Air Force, than fly Gulfstream 550 surveillance planes round the clock.

The balloon will save $29 million in operating costs a year, said Dr Ng, stressing that "it can be airborne 24/7". "It is unmanned, cost effective, and sustainable."

Singapore is the first South-east Asian country to get such a high-tech balloon, which has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in the US, Britain and India since the 1980s. US troops use aerostats with cameras to spot insurgents in Afghanistan.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Singapore, China launch direct trading of currencies on 28 October 2014

Move set to lower cost of doing business and boost trade links
By Esther Teo, China Correspondent In Suzhou, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE and China will start direct currency trading today, in a move set to lower the cost of doing business. It will also boost the already strong trade links between the two as Beijing pushes to internationalise the yuan.

Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli announced the move yesterday at a high-level bilateral meeting in eastern Suzhou that he co-chaired with Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Mr Teo indicated that direct currency trading could be a game-changer.

"This is a very major and significant development. I still remember my first visit to China 30 years ago. The currency was not even unified then and we had foreign exchange certificates. (The yuan) was not tradable at all," Mr Teo told reporters.

"But today, we have direct trading between the (yuan) and the Singdollar... It will reduce the cost of doing business and make it more convenient," he added.

Before this, companies that wanted to convert large amounts of the Singapore dollar to yuan, or vice versa, had to do so via an intermediate currency.

Last year, bilateral trade rose 11 per cent year on year to reach $115.2 billion. Singapore is China's largest foreign investor with US$7.3 billion (S$9.3 billion) worth of investments last year, while China is Singapore's largest trading partner.

Yesterday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore also said it has proposed to allow China-incorporated financial institutions to issue yuan-denominated debt instruments in Singapore directly. This will help to diversify long-term funding for Chinese financial institutions by allowing them to tap the global institutional investor base in Singapore, it added in a statement.

Amid reforms to internationalise its currency, China has launched direct trading with several currencies: the euro, the British pound, the Japanese yen and the New Zealand dollar.

Singapore, China mark 20 years of ties in Suzhou

Success of joint industrial park 'testament to positive collaborations'
By Esther Teo China Correspondent In Suzhou, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

THERE is a "special significance" to holding high-level meetings between Singapore and China this year at Suzhou city because the success of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is testament to the positive collaborations between the two sides over the years, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli said.

The SIP, the first government- to-government project set up in 1994, and Tianjin Eco-City, a government-led project that was launched in 2008, both showcase the pioneering spirit and innovation that have marked Sino-Singapore bilateral ties and injected vitality into them, he added.

Mr Zhang was speaking at a welcome dinner in Suzhou last night, ahead of today's meeting of the 11th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), the highest- level mechanism for bilateral cooperation. He co-chairs the JCBC with Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

"It is of special significance to us to hold the JCBC in Suzhou. It is the best commemorative event for the 20th anniversary of the SIP," Mr Zhang said at the dinner attended by both Chinese and Singapore officials and businessmen.

While the SIP occupies just 3.3 per cent of Suzhou's land and holds 7.2 per cent of its population, it generates 15 per cent of the city's economic growth and 20 per cent of the city's trade, he pointed out.

The park was designed to allow Singapore to share its industrialisation experiences with China.

DPM Teo noted the SIP's "solid international reputation as a modern industrial park" that has been replicated across China, for instance, in the western Xinjiang region and eastern Anhui province.

He also touched on the "close and substantive" relationship between the two states, which has seen Singapore become China's largest foreign investor and China turn into Singapore's largest trading partner.

Exhibition on 700 years of Singapore's history to open at the National Museum

Take a walk through 700 years of history
National Museum's new exhibition traces key aspects of Singapore's past
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

THE wail of an air raid siren pierces the air as visitors sidestep a bomb prop that has "crashed" through the floor of the National Museum, in a space bathed in dramatic red lighting.

This is the scene at the Syonan-To section detailing life in Japanese-occupied Singapore. It is part of a new exhibition called Singapura: 700 Years, which opens today.

The exhibition, occupying an area of approximately 1,500 sq m, has been designed to give visitors an immersive experience. It chronicles key aspects of the Republic's history, from its early years as a humble fishing village to its status as an independent nation-state.

Housed in basement Galleries 1 and 2, it will stand in as the museum's main exhibition, while the other permanent galleries like the History Gallery undergo a year-long revamp to mark the country's 50th year of independence. The exhibition has six sections, including Ancient Singapore (1300 to 1818) and Independent Singapore (1965 to 1975).

National Museum director Angelita Teo said the exhibition will serve as a test bed for the redesign of the other galleries, as it strives to redefine the conventional museum experience through more interactive and multi-sensory features.

These include a re-creation of Changi Prison, which housed Allied prisoners of war, and voting booths set in the context of Singapore's merger with Malaya.

Instead of cramming in historical information, curators worked on developing bite-size stories from the community to spark visitors' interest.

More opting for fuss-free burial at sea

Buddhists and Hindus form majority of those wanting ashes scattered there
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

HE HAS spent more than three decades of his life navigating the sea and, when the time comes, Mr Ong Kai Cheng, 63, hopes he can do the same in death.

The Buddhist bumboat operator has instructed his three children to release his ashes into the sea after he dies.

"I do not wish to trouble my children by making them pray to me after my death," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Ong's sentiments are echoed by a growing number of individuals whose last wishes are to have their ashes scattered at sea, rather than having them stored in niches at columbaria.

Undertakers here have seen an increase in the number of sea burial requests, with the majority coming from Buddhists and Hindus.

Singapore Casket, for example, oversees more than 20 sea burials a month, compared with fewer than 10 five years ago. At Serenity Casket, for every 50 funerals, about five to eight are sea burials. This, said its funeral director Elson Chong, is more than the two to four the parlour conducted five years ago.

The bumboat operator, Mr Ong, is also taking more people out to sea to scatter the ashes of their loved ones: from once or twice annually 10 years ago to the current minimum of four a month.

The growing popularity of sea burials is due to a number of reasons, funeral directors told The Straits Times. The main concern is to not burden their offspring or family members during the annual Qing Ming Festival, said Mr Nicky Teo, director of Funeral Solutions. During the festival, Chinese families pay their respects to their departed loved ones at the cemetery or columbarium.

Others opt to have their ashes scattered at sea so that their descendants have more freedom in where they can pay their respects. Said Mr Roland Tay of Direct Funeral Services: "Some people have children who live abroad, so by scattering the ashes at sea, they believe the future generations can complete their prayers any time, anywhere."

$45m for projects to energise power industry

By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE has set aside $45 million to boost its power systems and industry, and will also create the Singapore Institute of Power and Gas to train people.

In addition, more consumers will, from next July, be able to buy electricity from retailers of their choice or the wholesale market, instead of having to buy electricity from SP Services at the regulated tariff.

These initiatives were among the projects announced by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran at yesterday's opening of the annual Singapore International Energy Week.

The five-day event at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre is a platform for professionals, policymakers and commentators to discuss issues.

Mr Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, said the new measures were to "diversify our energy sources, foster greater competition in the electricity market, and reduce costs and enhance flexibility for businesses".

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) will use the $45 million in two projects. The $20 million Energy Training Fund is to train Singaporeans to be technical professionals for the power sector.

Mr Quek Poh Huat, energy utility provider Singapore Power's senior adviser, said the fund "addresses the impending shortage of technical professionals due to an ageing workforce".

The EMA set up the Power Sector Manpower Task Force in 2012, which Mr Quek chaired, to resolve manpower issues.

It said last year that the power sector's employees had a median age of 48, and the sector would need 2,400 more technical professionals in the next decade.

To help the manpower efforts, Singapore Power will also set up the Singapore Institute of Power and Gas to provide courses, which will be launched next year.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Tan Chuan-Jin explains trade-offs considered in decision-making

Coming up with right policy requires one to be hard-headed: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2014

THE trade-offs that society has to make were at the core of a dialogue yesterday, where Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin explained some of the hard-headed considerations the Government must contend with for a balance in policies.

There are numerous solutions to issues as diverse as foreign labour quotas and carving out more cycling paths. But each also has its own trade-offs, he said.

Mr Tan, speaking at a dialogue with residents after touring Keat Hong ward in Chua Chu Kang GRC, raised the issue of the delicate balancing needed on foreign labour as an example of the kind of trade-offs the Government considers when making decisions.

"While we want to look after the interests of Singaporean businessmen who feel the pinch... the broader situation is that you'd want to keep the growth (of foreign labour) at a more sustainable rate," he said to those seeking a relaxation of foreign labour quotas.

"At the same time, you have some Singaporeans who... want jobs for Singaporeans only. Ultimately that's a fallacy because we hurt only ourselves.

"Competition is happening whether foreigners are here or not. Jobs are being outsourced, and if the company isn't here, the jobs are not even in Singapore."

Trying to balance such diverse views and come up with the right policy requires one to be hard-headed, Mr Tan said, echoing what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech to the National University of Singapore Society earlier this month.

PM Lee had said that Singapore must be good-hearted but also hard-headed. Policies must keep facts in mind, and deal with stark realities like the rapidly ageing population and low fertility rate.

Yesterday, Mr Tan said that even on some straightforward issues, decisions are often hard to make, as resources are finite.

Educating migrant workers on their rights, even before they reach Singapore

The Migrant Workers' Centre has produced a new video to explain proper employment practices and workers' rights to migrants.
By Faris Mokhtar, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Oct 2014

Most migrant workers' complaints stem from costly agency fees or false promises of employment conditions made by agents or middle-men in their home countries, according to the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC).

To tackle this, the local non-profit organisation, with support from the Manpower Ministry, has produced a video that seeks to explain what proper employment practices and workers' rights in Singapore are about, even before they step into the country.

MWC said that while some organisations can seek recourse for abuses that take place in Singapore, there is little they can do to recover overpaid agency fees done overseas.

"It is important now that we put in place this 'Pre-Departure Video' to let them understand more about how and what and when they come to Singapore, what kind of rights they have,” said Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of MWC. “Because many of them told us before they come, they are already locked in with a big sum of money. And at the same time, they really do not know the terms and conditions that they will face when they come to Singapore and work."

A two-minute trailer of the "MWC Pre-Departure Video" was screened at a Deepavali celebration event on Sunday (Oct 26) evening, which also saw about 5,000 migrant workers receiving free dinner. The event was held at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India.

Tote Board-Enabling Lives Initiative: $30 million fund to help people with disabilities and their caregivers from January 2015

By Eileen Poh, Channel NewsAsia, 26 Oct 2014

This was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at a community health screening event on Sunday (Oct 26).

The Tote Board, which provided the funds, will partner SG Enable and the National Council for Social Service (NCSS), under the Social and Family Development Ministry, to deliver this initiative over the next five years. SG Enable is an agency set up by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to provide support to people with disabilities.

“Especially for the very significant proportion of persons with disabilities who are able to work in some way, able to be independent - that's a very important emphasis going forward - helping them in the transition from school to work. And helping them in subsequent life transitions - one important one that will be coming up before long is that parents will be getting older and some will pass on,” said Mr Tharman.

“We want to ensure that persons with disabilities who were previously looked after by their parents have a way of managing, with community support as well as some independence of their own, using assistive devices and being able to be mobile, being part of the community."

S$26 million of the S$30-million fund will be set aside to support projects and new innovations in areas such as data and technology, for instance a speech-generating device that reads out words when buttons are pressed. It is typically used to help those with communication impairments.

Dr Wong Meng Ee, co-founder of iC2 PrepHouse, a resource centre for the visually impaired, said building public awareness of disability issues is also important.

"There needs to be knowledge to be accessible to teachers, to specialists, professionals, who work with persons with visual impairment for example,” he explained.