Thursday 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015

Car-free Sundays for parts of CBD & Civic District

Parts of CBD and Civic District to try out car-free Sundays
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2015

Parts of the Central Business District (CBD) and Civic District will go car-free every last Sunday of the month in a pilot project to kick off early next year.

Under the six-month trial, cyclists and joggers will be able to enjoy a 4.7km route of fully and partially closed roads in the area in the morning, with community activities and mass workouts also being organised for the public.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) called a tender earlier this month to appoint an events management company to run the monthly programme, slated to start on Feb 28. A URA spokesman said: "This pilot is a step towards a 'car-lite' city, and aims to promote active lifestyles and enhance liveability in the city."

He added that it was "a way to reclaim the roads for cycling, jogging and walking, and make the city a more people-friendly and enjoyable place".

He said the roads to be closed - which include St Andrew's Road, Connaught Drive, Fullerton Road, Robinson Road and Shenton Way - were chosen because they are "under-utilised" on Sunday mornings.

The URA said it will review the six-month car-free pilot to see if roads in some areas can be closed on a regular basis on weekends for sports and community activities.

The car-free Sundays will coincide with an ongoing project to transform the Civic District - the area around the Padang, which is home to landmarks such as the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, the National Gallery and Esplanade Park - into a walkable precinct.

The first phase of the $66 million project has been completed, with the second stage to be finished by the fourth quarter of next year.

Proposal to raise smoking age from 18 to 21

Public views sought on this and 3 other proposed new rules to discourage smoking
By Aw Cheng Wei and Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2015

The health authorities are proposing to raise the minimum age of smoking from 18 to 21, and ban menthol and other flavoured cigarettes to step up their efforts to discourage people from lighting up.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB), along with the Health Ministry and Health Sciences Authority, yesterday began a 12-week public consultation to get views on these proposed rules.

The Health Promotion Board, together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), are...
Posted by Health Promotion Board, Singapore on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Other measures being considered include having the same plain packaging for different brands, and putting bigger graphic health warnings on packets.

There are already restrictions on smoking here, which include curbs on advertising and a ban on lighting up in public places. Earlier this month, shops were also told they would have to stop displaying tobacco products in 2017.

Singapore already has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, with the smoking rate falling from 18.3 per cent in 1992 to 13.3 in 2013. The aim is to cut this to 12 per cent by 2020, the HPB said yesterday.

The latest proposed curbs are based on international studies, among them those from American, British and Canadian institutions.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported in 2008 that people who do not start smoking before the age of 21 are unlikely to start. The authorities here are considering making it illegal for anyone below 21 to buy, be in possession of and use tobacco products.

Wednesday 30 December 2015

"SWAT Team" to tackle outbreaks of infectious diseases in Singapore; Taskforce on strengthening outbreak detection and response completes its review

'SWAT team' may be set up to tackle disease outbreaks
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2015

A Ministry of Health (MOH) task force is considering setting up a national-level "SWAT team", comprising infectious disease experts who can be mobilised at short notice to respond to outbreaks in any healthcare institution here.

Such a team will strengthen Singapore's capabilities to respond to outbreaks, said Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat, as it is not feasible for every healthcare facility to have a full-fledged infection control response team that can respond to complex and unusual outbreaks.

The "SWAT team" is one of four measures being considered by the task force set up earlier this month to help Singapore better respond to unusual infections, in the wake of the hepatitis C outbreak at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) earlier this year.

Mr Chee, chairman of the task force, gave the update at Tan Tock Seng Hospital yesterday at the launch of an SG50 book and video about Singapore's experience in overcoming infectious diseases.

Other measures being considered include reviewing standard operating procedures, making better use of technology and reviewing the list of notifiable diseases under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Mr Chee said: "The 'SWAT team' members can come from different institutions in Singapore (in) both public and private sectors.

"There could be a few full-time members while the rest are experts from our hospitals, universities and government agencies who MOH could call upon and activate during an outbreak."

To date, 25 patients who were warded at SGH have been diagnosed with the same family of hepatitis C virus. Eight patients have died, with the hepatitis C virus infection "a likely contributory factor" in seven of the deaths.

An independent review panel found that while there were solid reporting procedures for well-known infectious diseases and epidemics, these were not effective in catching an unusual and unfamiliar outbreak like the hepatitis C infections.

Associate Professor David Lye, senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Infectious Diseases Department and Institute of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology, said a "SWAT team" is a fantastic idea. "We are small and we do not have the same number of experts in every institution. The 'SWAT team' allows us to get experts from different areas together very rapidly and work together on an emergent issue," he said.

Say 'hi' to Nadine, the companion robot

She looks human, chats and can keep kids, elderly company; she even has a temper
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2015

She may not be sparkly like C-3PO, the golden droid of Star Wars fame, but humanoid robot Nadine glows with a charm of her own.

Sci-fi comes home! Meet Nadine, a humanoid developed by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, who can interact with you and has her own personality.
Posted by 938LIVE on Monday, December 28, 2015

She can hold a conversation, remember what she was told previously, and gets angry if insulted. To top it all off, she looks almost like a human being, with a full head of hair and dewy skin.

Nadine was one of two robots unveiled yesterday by researchers from the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Institute for Media Innovation. Professor Nadia Thalmann, director of the institute and Nadine's creator, believes humanoid robots like Nadine could be a solution for an ageing population and shrinking workforce.

She said: "Social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce problem by becoming personal companions for children and the elderly at home. They can even serve as a platform for healthcare services in the future."

"Where is the toilet? What is nice to eat here?" The second version of the EDGAR robot unveiled by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore today can answer these questions: (Video: Sherlyn Goh)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The other robot star was Edgar, who, unlike Nadine, is clad in plastic and metal, the more recognisable robot skin.

Nadine, who was built at a cost of $300,000, appears more human as she was built as a companion robot. Edgar was built to dispense knowledge instead of hugs.

New Yishun Community Hospital takes in its first patients

Community hospital opens 2 wards; a dozen recovering patients move over from KTPH
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2015

The 428-bed Yishun Community Hospital (YCH) opened its doors to patients yesterday, a move that should ease the bed crunch faced by the adjoining Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

Two wards, with 68 beds in total, are now open, said Ms Pauline Tan, Singapore's former chief nurse who now heads YCH. Five wards, with 170 beds in all, will be opened by next April, she added.

The hospital will gradually open its other wards, but is not expected to be fully open by next year.

Yesterday, the new hospital took in its first dozen patients, all recovering patients from the 590-bed KTPH, where space is tight as its occupancy rate averages more than 95 per cent - the highest of all public hospitals here.

About 200 of YCH's beds can be converted for use by KTPH should the need arise. Such "swing beds" are now the norm for community hospitals next to a general hospital.

The new hospital, which will also house the Geriatric Education and Research Institute, costs $320 million. A community hospital generally costs about half as much as a general hospital to build and operate, as its patients are not critically ill, but on the road to recovery.

Ms Tan said the hospital is opening "on time and on budget".

YCH mimics the home environment, she said. Patients who are able to, have to eat their meals in the dining area and not in bed. The idea is to get them well and home as soon as possible, she said.

Alexandra Health System (AHS), which runs KTPH and YCH, has a team of 30 people - nurses, therapists and a doctor - who visit patients at home to help them manage their transition back to their homes and any chronic ailment.

Bukit Panjang’s first hawker centre sees sizeable crowds on opening day

By Stacey Lim, TODAY, 29 Dec 2015

Bukit Panjang’s first hawker centre drew sizeable crowds on its first day of operations today (Dec 29), with packed tables seen during lunch time.

Although several coffeeshops operate nearby, patrons told TODAY they were eager to see what fresh offerings the centre would bring, while some observed slightly lower prices.

Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market Opens today !!!
Posted by Bukit Panjang Constituency on Monday, December 28, 2015

Located at the junction of Bukit Panjang Road and Bukit Panjang Ring Road, the hawker centre is one of 20 being built by the Government over the next few years to ensure the availability of affordable food options.

It is operated by NTUC Foodfare, following recommendations by an advisory panel to let social enterprises manage hawker centres, instead of the National Environment Agency.

Foodfare’s tenants are required to operate at least 12 hours a day and offer at least two items capped at certain prices — moves that were criticised by some hawkers.

When TODAY visited the centre — which also has a wet market — today, the 500-seater centre was mostly full, and almost all 28 cooked food stalls were open.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Political leadership is not for parlour intellectuals

Inside the minds of great leaders
Do Asian political leaders need to be strong? Machiavellian? This veteran journalist who has interviewed quite a few - from Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad to Thaksin Shinawatra - distils the essence of Asian leadership.
By Tom Plate, Published The Sunday Times, 27 Dec 2015

Do so-called "larger than life" individuals make history, or is it history that makes leaders seem larger than life?

This age-old question rises to spectacular relevance and prominence when examining both Asia's inclination towards soft authoritarians as well as the West's often-thoughtless response to such archetypal leadership. Before exploring the attributes of leadership in Asia, let us first turn to a seeming digression that illuminates the leadership phenomenon of our times.

Back when I was a social-science major, I viewed my greatest professors with awe. There was Earl Latham and George Kateb at Amherst College, as well as Richard Falk and George Kennan at Princeton University. These capacious minds refused to imprison history behind the bars of mathematical modelling or bracket out professorial judgment even in the face of social-science data, should it seem marginal or dubious.

In considering the vital role of leadership, certainly with regard to Asia in the post-war era, quantifiable social science tells us only so much. I, along with my former professors, would agree with the late Noel Annan, Cambridge don and champion of Isaiah Berlin, who once put this matter rudely: "Social scientists have depersonalised acres of human experience so that history resembles a ranch on which herds move, driven they know not why by impersonal forces, munching their way across the prairie."

Perhaps that is harsh.

Social scientists do tend to glaze over the unquantifiable force of personality in history, but in fairness it must also be stipulated that journalists often dwell on it precisely because it is so visible, accessible, and indeed assessable as it were, on the surface. We political journalists overuse the word "leadership", as if an answer for nearly everything, and elevate "charisma" to the status of some overriding magical elixir when, in fact, charisma is more of a media construct than anything strictly quantifiable.

Even with this admitted, there is a problem for the serious journalist analysing Asia, and it is bluntly this: The astonishing economic rise of Asia over the past few decades cannot possibly be understood without spotlighting national leaders and appreciating their particular leadership styles.

SG50 has stirred new Singapore spirit: Heng Swee Keat

Strengthening the sense of 'one people' and keeping economy vibrant are key for next lap
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2015

As Singapore's Jubilee year draws to a close, the man who helmed the national celebration believes it has sparked a new Singapore spirit and given people a greater sense of home.

"That to me is the biggest achievement of SG50," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who headed the SG50 Steering Committee.

The celebration also brought to the fore six highly desirable values, he added. They are: empathy, integrity, harmony, resourcefulness, resilience and responsibility.

These strengths are important for reinforcing the Singapore spirit to lift the country to the next level, he said as he took stock of SG50 in an interview with the media earlier this month.The experience has already given him ideas for the next lap, part of which he leads as chairman of the Committee on the Future Economy.

The other part is the SGfuture dialogue series, led by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

Mr Heng identified two key focus areas for the new journey: strengthening the sense of "one people", and keeping the economy vibrant.

To build on the SG50 momentum, the Government did not wait.

The SGfuture dialogue series took off this month and will run until the middle of next year, during which Singaporeans will discuss issues such as building a sustainable home and fostering a caring community, among others. The dialogues will draw inspiration from the ongoing Future Of Us exhibition, which presents possible scenarios of life in Singapore years from now. They will be organised by non-profit organisations and government agencies.

By the year end, organisers would have held 16 sessions with more than 800 participants, said the SGfuture secretariat.

But beyond the series of dialogues, Mr Heng wants to encourage people to get their ideas off the ground and transform them into reality by, for instance, starting projects of their own or volunteering with non-profit organisations.

Johor Sultan says much to learn from Singapore, talks about late son

The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2015

JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, the ruler of Malaysia's state of Johor, has said there is much to learn from Singapore's success, while making it clear that he is above politics and does not favour any politician.

He also feels that Prime Minister Najib Razak should be given a chance, as every Malaysian prime minister had also made mistakes in the past.

"There is so much we can learn from Singapore. They have done... so many things that are correct and efficient," said the sultan.
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, December 27, 2015

During an hour-long exclusive interview with The Star newspaper to wrap up the year, the Johor ruler also spoke emotionally on an array of issues, including his late son Tunku Laksamana Tunku Abdul Jalil - who passed away on Dec 5 after being diagnosed with stage-four liver cancer - as well as his relations with the Prime Minister and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

He also spoke on the dangers of vaping and why it had to be banned immediately, describing it as a "technology drug", which was threatening the society.

Crazy About Chinese: Mum's portal to teach Mandarin

Ex-TV host Diana Ser has set up an online site to teach the Chinese language with videos starring her daughter Jaymee
By Gwendolyn Ng, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2015

Local host Diana Ser's proficiency in Mandarin and English has not only helped her score emcee gigs - it also snagged her a husband, actor-turned-bank executive James Lye.

"According to my husband, he was sitting with his back to the television when he heard the English-speaking host suddenly switch to Mandarin," recounts Ser, 43.

"He swivelled his chair around and saw me on TV. He thought to himself, 'Wow, who's this babe?' Those were his words. Later on when we met, he remembered me from when he saw me on TV."

After a nine-year courtship, the couple tied the knot in 2004. They have three children: Jake, nine, Christy, seven , and Jaymee, four.

Ironically, her two older children are reluctant to speak Mandarin. This inspired her to set up an online portal, Crazy About Chinese.

Launched last month, the site is filled with articles and videos to encourage parents to teach their children the Chinese language through daily activities.

Her youngest daughter Jaymee is the star of the videos, while the others make cameo appearances.

Ser says: "My attitude towards Chinese learning is to not give up on any learning opportunities. For English-speaking families, the odds are against us.

"We must surround our children with the Chinese language. I try my best to speak Mandarin at home. I play Mandarin children songs in the car."

Victimhood: Life is unfair to me and it's your fault

A disturbing trend of victimhood is taking hold in the United States, with people feeling entitled to behave selfishly because they feel they are victims of society
By Arthur C. Brooks, Published The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2015

Back in 1993, the misanthropic art critic Robert Hughes published a grumpy, entertaining book - Culture Of Complaint - in which he predicted that America was doomed to become increasingly an "infantilised culture" of victimhood.

It was a rant against what he saw as a grievance industry appearing all across the political spectrum.

I enjoyed the book but, as a lifelong optimist about America, was unpersuaded by Hughes' argument. I dismissed it as just another apocalyptic prediction about our culture.

Unfortunately, the intervening two decades have made Hughes look prophetic and me, naive.

"Victimhood culture" has now been identified as a widening phenomenon by mainstream sociologists. And it is impossible to miss the obvious examples all around us.

We can laugh off some of them: For example, the argument that the design of a Starbucks cup is evidence of a secularist war on Christmas.

Others, however, are more ominous. On campuses, activists interpret ordinary interactions as "microaggressions" and set up "safe spaces" to protect students from certain forms of speech. And presidential candidates on both the left and the right routinely motivate supporters by declaring that they are under attack by immigrants or wealthy people.

Who cares if we are becoming a culture of victimhood? We should.

Secondary 1 postings: Harder to switch schools

Secondary schools told by MOE not to take in pupils whose PSLE scores don't meet cut-off
By Pearl Lee and Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 29 Dec 2015

Pupils going on to Secondary 1 next year who hope to transfer to another school are facing a harder time owing to a new directive from the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The Straits Times understands that last month, MOE told all secondary schools not to take in transfer pupils whose Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) scores did not meet their cut-off points during the school transfer season.

Before this, schools with vacancies after the Secondary 1 posting exercise could accept students with lower scores who appeal.

The Ministry of Education told all secondary schools not to take in transfer pupils whose PSLE scores did not meet their cut-off points during the school transfer season.
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, December 28, 2015

Each year, MOE places Primary 6 pupils in secondary schools based on their scores, school choices and the vacancies in a school. The PSLE score of the child who takes up the last spot in a school becomes the school's cut-off point.

Children were notified about their schools last Tuesday. Those who wanted to transfer schools on the grounds of special needs had to approach their desired school by last Wednesday, while the rest can submit appeal forms before their preferred schools' closing dates.

When contacted, MOE confirmed the directive yesterday. It said students are posted to schools based on "objective and transparent measures of academic merit" and appeals afterwards "should be aligned to these same principles, to be fair to the other students".

School leaders told The Straits Times the change is meant to reduce the flow of students between schools after the posting period.

Rising trend of self-harm among the young

Data shows more boys, younger kids cutting themselves on arms, legs to cope with stress
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2015

More teenagers are cutting themselves on their arms or legs in an attempt to cope with emotional stress or frustration.

The trend of self-harming is also becoming apparent in younger children and in an increasing number of boys, according to new data from the Singapore Children's Society. Fifty teens reported self-harming last year, up from 44 in 2013 and 36 a decade ago.

The proportion aged 14 and below was 66 per cent in 2013 and 60 per cent last year, compared to 56 per cent in 2005.

Last year, 36 per cent of those who injured themselves were boys, up from 28 per cent in 2005.

Meanwhile, the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) has seen more people calling its hotline and e-mailing about self-harm behaviour, though it does not track the number of cases, as callers remain anonymous.

Last year, about half of those under 30 who used SOS' E-mail Befriending service admitted to hurting themselves deliberately. The SOS received 6,000 e-mails last year, up from 5,000 in 2012.

I remember: Movies in the 1960s

Enduring scoldings, slaps for love of his craft
By Ho Ai Li, The Sunday Times, 27 Dec 2015

A young Ang Hao Sai did not flinch when he was scolded and even slapped by his foreman at Lam Kok, an art studio specialising in movie billboards and posters.

"Other people would have left but I didn't," said Mr Ang in Hokkien.

The 64-year-old is one of the last movie-billboard painters in Singapore. He stayed to work because he loved to paint and wanted to learn the craft.

As he was not interested in his studies, his parents had suggested that he become an apprentice at the art studio. So when he was 12, he left school to join Lam Kok. He stayed at his workplace to save money from commuting, and would stay up late to practise drawing. At first, the young apprentice did chores like cleaning toilets and buying coffee for his colleagues.

His break came when his boss noticed his diligence.

"One night, I was practising painting until 2am or 3am. The boss saw me when he forgot something and came back," recalled Mr Ang.

He was later given the more important task of filling in the background colours of movie billboards, which were painted by a team specialising in various aspects, from the backdrop to clothes and faces.

Lam Kok was the biggest of five or six such studios in the 1960s and business was brisk, said Mr Ang.

It even painted publicity materials featuring naked women for racy films for Malaysian cinemas, he said.

Many are happy to home in on HDB's SERS now

Greeted with apprehension when it was introduced two decades ago, the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) is now often seen as a boon, replacing old flats and relocating residents. The Sunday Times looks at how far the scheme has come.
By Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 27 Dec 2015

Twenty years ago, Madam Lee Gaik Hoon and her family were told by the Government that they had to move out of their four-storey flat in Boon Tiong Road.

She was worried about having to adjust to an unfamiliar environment. But her fears were allayed when she learnt that her replacement flat would be on the same road in Tiong Bahru.

"I remember feeling very excited. Our old place had no lifts and only one toilet, so the change was for the better," said the housewife, who moved into her new four-room unit in 1999. That was the very first instance of the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), where old Housing Board (HDB) estates are demolished and replacement units are offered to residents.

Madam Lee's family is among more than 39,000 households across 79 sites which have come under SERS since it began in 1995.

The scheme aims to improve residents' living environment and the use of land.

Said HDB deputy chief executive officer Yap Chin Beng, who oversaw SERS' inception: "While we continue to improve the design and facilities in our new projects and new estates, we will also not leave older estates behind."

Ageing flats can be upgraded, or torn down and replaced. Blocks chosen for SERS are usually around 30 years old. But not every site is suitable for redevelopment, hence the name of the scheme.

Sunday 27 December 2015

Downtown Line 2 starts 27 Dec 2015

MRT's Downtown Line 2 a step towards 'car-lite' Singapore, says PM Lee
Republic has invested heavily to make public transport world class and people's choice
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 27 Dec 2015

The 12-station Downtown Line 2 (DTL2), which comes online today, has been described by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as a step towards a "car-lite" Singapore.

Two million people already take the bus or train twice or more each day, according to the Land Transport Authority (LTA). That works out to about two out of every five people in Singapore.

"Public transport is the most efficient way for our people to get around in a compact city like ours," said PM Lee, as he opened the new line yesterday during a ceremony at Botanic Gardens Station, one of the stops on DTL2.

"Ultimately we aim to make Singapore a safe, green, car-lite city."

The country has been investing heavily to make public transport accessible and convenient in the last decade, said Mr Lee, so that it will become people's mode of choice for transport. With a new MRT line and extension to be opened almost annually from next year onwards, the rail network will double to 360km by 2030. It will be comparable to those in London, New York and Tokyo, he added. This means that eight in 10 homes will be within a 10-minute walk of a train station.

"From now till 2019, we are also adding 99 new trains. The Sengkang-Punggol LRT system is also currently being upgraded," said the Prime Minister. "And equally important, we are investing heavily in infrastructure and maintenance improvements to reduce train disruptions to make for a more reliable public transport system.

"We are good, notwithstanding the incidents we have from time to time, but we are far from as good as we want to be, as we can be and as some others are. We want to be world class and we are working hard to get there."

There will be free rides on the Downtown Line from Dec 27 to Jan 1, and to help with overcrowding, extra staff will be deployed to the stations, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan. Kenneth Lim)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, December 25, 2015

Close to 30 schools are within a 10-minute walk of stations along DTL2's route, which starts in Bukit Panjang and passes through the Bukit Timah corridor towards Rochor before connecting to Downtown Line 1 at Bugis Station.

With the new line, PM Lee expressed his hope that morning jams along Bukit Timah Road will become a thing of the past.

Saturday 26 December 2015

MRT's past 'teething problems'

Teething problems are common whenever a new train line opens, so the Transport Minister was right to warn commuters to expect them when the new Downtown Line 2 opens on Sunday.
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan's recent emoji-sprinkled blog on the chances of Downtown Line 2 having "teething problems" after it opens on Sunday has elicited two types of responses from the public.

Cynical ones see Mr Khaw's post as a move by a master politician out to manage public expectations.

More generous observers say the minister is merely laying it out as it is: Teething problems are a known phenomenon, hence the public should expect them.

Both sides have reasonable grounds.

If Mr Khaw was managing expectations, he would not be the first politician to do so. But he does it in the nicest way possible, peppering the message with personal anecdotes. In this case, he draws a parallel to his oldest daughter's teething stage as an infant.

Given Singapore's MRT history, Mr Khaw's message is quite understandable. When the country's first trains started plying the North-South Line nearly three decades ago, there were technical glitches that took more than two years to resolve.

Even when the line had been running for several years, there were embarrassing incidents - such as a derailment in 1999 that was caused by human error. Fortunately, it was an empty train and the only impact was a seven-hour service disruption.

When the North-East Line - the world's first driverless heavy rail system - was completed, it was ridden with teething problems that delayed its opening by more than six months. Engineers initially could not even get the autonomous trains to move.

Then, there were innumerable difficulties with the line's 500 computer systems - which the Land Transport Authority initially denied, but later admitted to. It was so problematic that operator SBS Transit warned then that there would be on average one 15-minute delay every two days. (As it turned out, there was one every 10 days.)

The earliest major breakdown happened within days of its delayed opening - a technical fault at the Punggol station disrupted service for 90 minutes.

And soon after the Circle Line started operating in stages from 2009, it experienced a string of breakdowns which were mostly caused by power faults.

Next, when the Downtown Line 1 started running two years ago, it was hit by a breakdown on its very first day, followed by two more within the next three months.

One apparently was caused by a child who accidentally activated a detrainment switch (which cuts power, and allows passengers to leave a train in an emergency).

To be fair, these incidents are not unique to Singapore. Even the most reliable rail system in the world faces teething issues.

Singapore's social cohesion must not be allowed to fracture: DPM Teo

Should Singapore ever fall victim to a terror attack, trust will be the nation's greatest defence to rally together and rebuild in the aftermath, says Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia.
By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Dec 2015

As extremist terror grows increasingly globalised, no country can guarantee that it will not fall prey to attacks one day, said Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview, Mr Teo, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security, said should an attack ever befall Singapore, the country's social cohesion must not be allowed to fracture.

"Trust is a very fragile thing. You can never take it for granted," he said. "It’s something which you have to work on all the time, every day, to make sure that where there are potential points of friction, you try and deal with them beforehand; where something actually comes up, you manage it in a constructive way."

Mr Teo added that this trust between communities in Singapore is also the nation's greatest defence, to rally together, reject the attack and rebuild in the aftermath.

"(It) provides us with a reservoir of strength and resilience should we ever face an attack," he said.

Mr Teo raised the example of pro-active steps taken by the Muslim community in Singapore to strengthen itself against the ideology of the Islamic State militant group, noting that messages of peace, social cohesion and harmony and a rejection of extremism, radicalism and violence are woven into Friday sermons at mosques across the island.

The Muslim community here promotes and practises Islam in the context of a multiracial, multi-religious society where mutual understanding and tolerance is required, he said.

"This is quite different from the context in a number of countries, with preachers coming from their countries of origin. And the tendency therefore is to preach and practice an Islam which is contextualised to their original countries, and not to the countries in which they have settled and become citizens," he stated.

"This creates a problem because we have alienation. You have young people and people from the community (who are) not quite sure how to place themselves in the (wider) community and still be observant of their faith and beliefs."

He added: "We have another situation where a number of Muslim-majority countries, where Islam has now become a major part of politics, and enters into the political competition. Then there is an opportunity also, for those who are more radical, who are more extreme to find a platform in this competition with political Islam."

Inflation stays negative for 13th straight month in November 2015

By Chia Yan, Min Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

Inflation stayed in negative territory for the 13th straight month in November, amid the soft housing rental market and low oil prices.

Economists say Singapore is not at risk of sinking into deflation, but they note that the deepening oil price slump and tepid global growth might prompt the central bank to ease the appreciation of the Singdollar against its trade-weighted basket of currencies next year.

The consumer price index, a measure of headline inflation, fell 0.8 per cent in November from the same month last year.

This marks the longest stretch of negative inflation Singapore has experienced since the global financial crisis.

Economists do not regard this run of falling prices as "deflation", a term reserved for a more sustained and entrenched economic problem with often dire results.

This bout of negative inflation is largely the result of cheaper oil, along with loan curbs that have dampened both the property and car markets.

Last month's fall was slightly more than economists' estimates of a 0.7 per cent decline, and follows a fall of similar magnitude in October's consumer price index.

Private road transport costs slid 1.7 per cent in November over the same month last year, compared with a steeper 2.3 per cent decline in October, as petrol pump prices ticked upwards.

Accommodation costs fell 3 per cent, similar to the decline in the previous month, reflecting the soft housing rental market.

Overall services inflation edged down to 0.7 per cent from 0.8 per cent in October, mainly reflecting the lower cost of healthcare services following the introduction of MediShield Life.

Food inflation also moderated to 1.6 per cent last month from 1.8 per cent in October, on account of a slower rise in the prices of non-cooked food and restaurant meals.

This kept a lid on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) core inflation measure, which strips out accommodation and private road transport costs to better gauge everyday expenses. It came in at 0.2 per cent last month, from October's 0.3 per cent.

Government forecasters expect core inflation to pick up gradually next year. It is tipped to come in at between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent, compared with around 0.5 per cent for the whole of this year.

Managing Workplace Harassment: MOM, NTUC and SNEF issue Tripartite Advisory

'Onus on employers' to fight harassment
MOM, NTUC and SNEF issue advisory on preventing and managing such situations
By Olivia Ho and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2015

Employers were yesterday urged to take the lead in fighting workplace harassment and advocate zero tolerance towards such behaviour among their staff.

The Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) are banding together to encourage bosses to take harassment seriously.

They posted a document advising bosses to implement procedures such as a hotline for victims to report harassment safely and better training for human resource personnel to deal with such cases.

They also suggested preventive measures such as better lighting and more closed-circuit television coverage in the workplace, as well as encouraging employees to get a colleague to accompany them to places where they feel unsafe.

The advice was developed by the three partners in the wake of the Protection from Harassment Act, which was passed in Parliament in March last year.

It illustrated how harassment at the workplace can take different forms, such as bullying, sexual harassment or even stalking. It said harassment has economic as well as emotional costs, as it causes anxiety to the affected staff, which could affect their morale and productivity. The company's reputation could also be at stake.

It also gave advice on how companies can investigate harassment complaints and, if necessary, help employees make reports to the police or State Courts.

The three partners will promote the advice through their various channels. An SNEF spokesman said: "We have sent the advisory to all our members, comprising more than 3,000 organisations with a combined workforce of 750,000."

He added that SNEF has also developed a course for employers on "Prevention and Addressing Workplace Bullying and Harassment", and will work with other chambers and associations to promote it.

Singapore-based scientist wins top science and technology award of Islamic world

She wins top science award for Muslims
Her research work 'improved human life, expanded perceptions about the world'
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2015

A Singapore-based scientist has won the top science and technology award of the Islamic world, which comes with a US$500,000 (S$702,000) cash prize.

Professor Jackie Ying, 49, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), will be awarded the inaugural Mustafa Prize in the Top Scientific Achievement category today, in a ceremony to be held in Teheran, Iran. This prize is for individuals whose research has improved human life and "expanded... our perception about the world".

Among her numerous scientific contributions, Prof Ying was recognised in particular for her role in developing glucose-sensitive nanoparticles that deliver insulin to diabetic patients only when their blood glucose levels are high. The system does away with external blood glucose monitoring by finger pricks, and allows insulin to be delivered orally or via the nasal passage, instead of through injections.

Professor Hossein Zohour, head of the scientific committee of the Mustafa Prize, said the groundbreaking research holds "great promise for improving the quality of life of mankind".

The other top award winner, under the Nano Science and Nanotechnologies category, was Jordanian chemist Omar Yaghi, co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. The pair edged out 600 other nominees, including Nobel laureates and scientists at the top of their fields.

The Mustafa Prize recognises leading researchers and scientists of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, and Muslim researchers from around the world.

Helping seniors get around with EASE: Enhancement for Active Seniors

74,000 households have opted for HDB scheme that makes flats elderly friendly
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2015

When Mr Krishnamuthi Palappan had his left leg amputated a year ago due to complications from diabetes, moving around at home, especially when going to the toilet, became a struggle.

"It was very difficult to move from my wheelchair to the toilet seat," said the former security officer, who lives in Serangoon.

With the help of social workers, he applied for grab bars to be installed in his master bedroom toilet under the Housing Board's Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme earlier this year.

The scheme, launched in July 2012, allows home owners to fit their flats with elderly-friendly features such as grab bars, ramps and slip-resistant treatment for toilet tiles. Home owners pay only a small part of the cost.

Almost 74,000 households have applied for EASE as of the end of last month, said HDB. Of these, about 45,000 opted for EASE under the Home Improvement Programme, while another 28,600 applied for the safety features directly.

In response to feedback from residents and grassroots leaders, EASE was enhanced in August last year.

The minimum age criterion for direct applications was lowered from 70 to 65, and the improvements were extended to the second toilet in a flat. Because of this, 24,000 households had grab bars installed and slip-resistant floor treatment done in their second toilets.

Some 5,300 households, or a fifth of direct applicants, also became eligible with the lowered age criterion.

Mr Krishnamuthi, 69, who lives with his wife and younger son, was one of them. He said the six grab bars in his toilet are "very helpful".

"Going to the toilet is so much easier now," he said.

Singapore made most progress among four societies: Poll

It's voted overall No. 1 in social progress, topping China, Taiwan and HK in survey
By Kua Yu-Lin, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2015

TAIPEI • Singapore has made the most progress among four ethnic Chinese societies in Asia, in the eyes of people living there, according to a recent study.

The social progress survey was carried out by Singapore's Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, Beijing's Horizon Research Consultancy Group, The University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme and Taiwan's Global Views Monthly magazine from mid-September to mid-October and published late last month by Lianhe Zaobao and Global Views.

The survey measures overall social progress through nine indicators: government administration, parliamentary efficiency, media credibility, talent supply and demand, social order, corporate responsibility, mutual trust, market response and wealth distribution.

Singapore was voted overall No. 1 by respondents of the four regions, followed by mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in this order.

Among the survey respondents, 67.8 per cent of Taiwanese, 59.2 per cent of Hong Kong people, 54.8 per cent of mainland Chinese and 47.8 per cent of Singaporeans voted Singapore as the society which made the most progress, reported Global Views.

Thursday 24 December 2015

SG2015: Insight and hindsight

This year has been an eventful one, but Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death made the most impact
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 20 Dec 2015

Years from now, observers will no doubt look back at 2015 as an eventful year for Singapore's political scene. Singapore turned 50 and its big, exuberant party was supposed to have been the key event of the year packed full of activities.

There was also the long-anticipated general election which many were expecting to be held this year.

But both events were eclipsed, to some extent, by the death of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, 91, in March.

The late Mr Lee had been hospitalised for pneumonia in February, and his condition worsened by the day. Regular updates about his condition cushioned Singaporeans to some extent when his death on March 23 was announced. But his passing still sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief that saw half a million Singaporeans turning up at Parliament House to pay their respects. It also reminded people of the enormous achievements the pioneer leaders accomplished in just half a century, and stirred a patriotic fervour that would, some analysts argued, help boost the People's Action Party's showing at the Sept 11 General Election.

Analysts and opposition supporters alike had regarded this election as a coming out party for the opposition. Huge crowds turned up at the rallies of the Workers' Party, the strongest opposition contender, further buoying its confidence.

But on Polling Day, Singaporeans returned the ruling PAP to power, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong securing his strongest mandate yet of 69.9 per cent.

In February this year, the Government also announced Singapore's largest-ever Budget - with a total estimated expenditure of $68.2 billion - as it hastened its leftward shift towards a more compassionate and inclusive society.

This was also the year the ISIS threat hit home, as social media postings identified Singapore as a possible target for attacks.

Four Singaporeans were detained under the Internal Security Act for wanting to join the militant group.

The Sunday Times examines these highlights of 2015.