Saturday 31 January 2015

Sengkang plot not for commercial columbarium: Khaw Boon Wan

By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

NO COMMERCIALLY-driven columbarium will be built on land set aside for a Chinese temple, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament yesterday.

He explained that the project in Sengkang was awarded to funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land (EPL) because Housing Board officers assumed that the company was acting for a religious group.

"For 20-odd years, we would never have thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit-making venture like building a Chinese temple," said Mr Khaw, adding that a review of the tender process was ongoing. "The key point is... we do not want a commercial columbarium, and we won't have one.

"But having reached such a situation, I will find a way to try to unwind this."

While a commercial columbarium was ruled out for the site, an incidental columbarium offered as a service by a temple was acceptable, he said.

Mr Khaw added that the Ministry of National Development is in talks with EPL, whose parent company, Life Corporation, had raised $20 million to fund the project.

Soon after the company's plans for the columbarium were shot down yesterday, it asked the Australian Securities Exchange, on which it is listed, to stop trading in its shares for 48 hours.

The controversy ignited last month after a Straits Times article highlighted that a new columbarium was going to be built next to the Build-to-Order project Fernvale Lea, catching future residents by surprise. At first, the authorities said the columbarium could go ahead as it met guidelines.

Yesterday, MPs Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) questioned if it was fair for a purely for-profit company to challenge religious organisations for scarce land.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) and the Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) asked if enough checks were done before a site reserved for a place of worship was awarded to a commercial firm.

Mr Khaw explained that private companies have always been able to bid for such sites. However, these firms were either set up by or in joint ventures with religious organisations. EPL was the first to break the mould.

"The officers assessing the tender just assumed (EPL) must be affiliated to some religious organisation, and because it made the highest bid, (the tender) was awarded to it."

He said the government had been looking to tighten tender rules even before the controversy broke. Some religious organisations had complained about losing bids to groups with smaller congregations or to those with deeper pockets.

"It is not easy to assess needs, especially when different kinds of religious organisations are involved, but we will find a way. We will seek religious wisdom. We will meditate on it."

Parliament Highlights - 29 Jan 2015

Parliament passes MediShield Life Scheme Bill
By Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

Parliament on Thursday (Jan 29) passed the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which will provide universal insurance coverage for all Singaporeans.

The Health Ministry is also reviewing the list of pre-existing medical conditions which warrant additional premiums and will inform Singaporeans who are affected.

To help Singapore citizens who will have to pay higher premiums - despite various subsidies - the Government has raised what is known as transitional subsidies.

In the first year, all citizens will get 90 per cent subsidy on the net increase in premium - instead of 80 per cent announced previously. In the second year, they will get 70 per cent subsidy - instead of 60 per cent. They will enjoy 40 per cent subsidy in the third year and 20 per cent in the fourth year.

* MediShield Life Scheme Bill Passed Into Law

The Health Ministry on Thursday (Jan 29) said it will begin checks to calculate each household's eligibility for MediShield Life premium subsidies in a few months' time.

For the data to be accurate, Singaporeans will need to update their address in their IC. There will also be letters sent to them in a few months' time, to give them more information on how to confirm their estimated household make up.


More than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) rose and spoke about the Bill. Among the issues raised was the confusion between MediShield Life and Integrated Shield plans, and whether Singaporeans have to pay for both MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plan premiums.

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor explained: "This is clearly not the case. Let me explain it this way. MediShield as it is today forms the foundation of all Integrated Shield Plans, and the IPs ride on this foundation to provide additional coverage targeting the Class B1/A wards or private hospitals.

"When MediShield Life is launched, it will become the new foundation. To use everyday language, MediShield Life is like plain Milo, which is tasty enough for most people. IPs are like Milo Dinosaur or Milo Godzilla, which taste even richer than Milo but will definitely cost more."

20 new speed cameras to be installed at 11 locations from 1 March 2015

Beware: Digital speed traps ahead
Police hope they do for speeding what cameras did for running red lights
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

DIGITAL red-light cameras have made drivers more wary of running a light, and now the Traffic Police are hoping their new digital speed traps will have the same effect.

Last year, 120 digital red-light cameras were installed at traffic junctions resulting in 38,977 drivers caught, more than double the 18,796 caught in 2013.

Thirty more cameras will be put up by the end of September.

The Traffic Police are taking the same approach with the scourge of speeding, an area of concern it flagged yesterday in its annual release of statistics.

It will install 20 digital speed traps, which transmit wirelessly and do not rely on film, at 11 locations starting from March till the end of the year.

Mr Bernard Tay, chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said: "The new measures will deter motorists who are tempted to flout safety rules whenever they are in a hurry."

The new cameras will be painted in bright orange and have reflective strips. Eight, such as one along Loyang Avenue, are in new locations. "Speeding continues to be one of the very bad habits of our motorists," said Traffic Police Commander Sam Tee.

Last year, 278,545 drivers were caught speeding, an increase of 6.5 per cent from the 261,540 the year before. The number of fatal accidents involving speeding also increased by three to 42 last year.

But while road fatalities decreased from 160 to 154 last year, another concern is the spike in the elderly pedestrians among them, from 17 in 2013 to 25 last year.

Big spike in cyber scams drives up crime stats

TODAY, 30 Jan 2015

A startling three-fold jump in the number of cyber-cheating cases drove up the total number of crimes here for the first time since 2009, the police’s latest annual crime statistics show.

Overall, there were 29,984 cases reported last year, 7.4 per cent more than in 2013. While most crime classes continued to register declines, e-commerce cheating or extortion on cyberspace climbed from 510 cases to 1,659 cases last year, in addition to blips in statutory rape and outrage of modesty cases.

Shoppers who were duped into making multiple payments for purported online bargains made up the bulk of these cases. The 904 cases last year was more than triple that in 2013. Crooks would put up advertisements for products at low prices but ask for payments repeatedly on the pretext that the goods would be delivered eventually.

Bogus emails from online payment service PayPal asking victims to disclose their personal information was another favoured scam, with the number of cases jumping from nine in 2013 to 122 last year.

And despite warnings in the last six years, women still fell for cheats posing as Casanovas online to ask for monetary “help”. Such cases more than doubled to 197 last year, involving a whopping S$8.8 million. Similarly, there were more than twice as many people falling prey to hoaxes of their loved ones being kidnapped last year.

New Internet scams have also emerged, in the form of fake gift cards or virtual credits being peddled online, the police warned yesterday. There were 149 such cases reported last year, with victims losing a total of S$138,700.

To curb the growing trend of online crimes, the police said they will carry out more exercises to educate the public on the scammers’ modus operandi.

Do Singapore neighbourhoods risk death by cappuccino?

By Pow Choon Piew, Published The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

BY ALL accounts, gentrification should not exist in Singapore, at least not in the conventional sense of the term, which refers to the displacement of a lower-income population from a neighbourhood by new groups of middle and upper class residents.

With an often-lauded public housing programme that accommodates more than 80 per cent of the population in Singapore, the story of residential displacement and eviction due to the vagaries of gentrification "turf wars" seems remote in the city-state.

It is not surprising, then, that gentrification as a term has seldom been invoked in the context of Singapore, be it in official planning documents or academic literature. State housing provision, it is assumed, has provided an effective buffer that keeps gentrification at bay.

But is this starting to change?

Why it's wise to steer clear of stem cell clinics

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

TENNIS star Rafael Nadal, who crashed out of the Australian Open this week, was reported in late 2013 and again late last year as having received stem cells for his joint and back problems.

This sort of free publicity involving celebrities can only boost business for stem cell clinics, which are already operating in China, Ukraine, Italy, Panama and Mexico, among others. But stem cell science is unsettled and stem cells are not ready for therapeutic use. If so, it is very reasonable to call them rogue clinics that one should keep well away from.

No Singapore-registered doctor may use stem cells except in a formally approved clinical trial. Those who do otherwise, whether they do it here or elsewhere, risk disciplinary action.

Surprisingly, rogue stem cell clinics are flourishing in the United States, and there are now even chains of such clinics on both coasts of the country. If seriously ill Singaporeans reason that medical practice must be regulated stringently in the US, they may well seek stem cell treatment there. Given how much more needs to be done before we can be sure stem cells work safely and for which ailments, these clinics are clearly not as well regulated as one might imagine.

Priced up to US$20,000 a pop just seven years ago, market competition seems to have driven prices down. On its website, one US clinic posts a flat fee of US$7,600 (S$10,300) for treatment of various conditions with stromal vascular fraction (SVF), the stem cell product commonly used in these clinics.

Made from a patient's body fat extracted by liposuction, SVF has not been proven safe or effective. In fact, neither that nor any other stem cell product offered by these clinics has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the country's drug and medical devices regulator.

Volunteers may act for mentally incapacitated

New scheme lets them help manage finances for those unable to do so
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

A NEW scheme where volunteers help to make financial decisions for people who can no longer do so for themselves is being firmed up here.

Currently, someone who loses his mental capacity due to, say, mental problems or dementia, and has nobody to help manage his affairs, has his assets locked.

No one can help him withdraw his money or sell his flat, for instance, even if this is needed for him to stay in a nursing home, or to pay for his funeral when he dies.

But soon, volunteer guardians called "professional deputies" may extend a lifeline to such folk, mainly the elderly, who have not appointed a "donee" under the Lasting Power of Attorney scheme to make financial decisions such as selling their house and operating their bank accounts, if necessary.

The effort, which is roping in volunteer lawyers and social workers, among others, complements the Mental Capacity Act (MCA), say experts.

So far, under a one-year pilot led by the Law Society, four individuals have been matched with about 10 volunteers.

While the Act does not preclude the appointment of professional deputies, this is usually confined to trust companies which help those with no kin.

"The MCA need not necessarily require amendments if the pilot scheme were to be implemented," explained a spokesman for the Law Society. "The pilot went well, helped the beneficiaries and enabled us to discover issues that may arise when implementing the scheme on a larger scale," he added.

15th Social Service Office officially launches in Serangoon

By Nadia Jansen Hassan, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

The 15th Social Service Office (SSO) in Singapore was officially launched on Thursday (Jan 29) by Mr Seah Kian Peng, Adviser for Braddell Heights.

The office has been running since October 2014, and has benefited some families who can now choose to go to it because it is closer to their homes. It has handled more than 500 cases so far, and 224 individuals are currently receiving financial assistance from the SSO.

One of those receiving assistance is a 49-year old single mother with eight children, and she said having a one-stop centre with multiple services has helped ease her burden.

"Being a single mom, before receiving help previously, I had to run around a lot and my time with my family was very little. Now with this help, I have time to focus, I have quality time with my children, and it helps me with the rental fee that is being paid by them; my income is enough for my children."

During the launch, it was also announced that 50 needy families in Serangoon will receive help from March. This is through S$2 meal tokens, which they can exchange at any five selected food outlets to get their meals subsidised - about eight to 10 times a month.

Friday 30 January 2015

PM Lee calls for clean, not cleaned, city

PM reacts to meadow of trash that music fans left behind
Help S'pore progress from cleaned city to truly clean, he posts
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

REVELLERS at the Laneway music festival last weekend left a meadow of trash at the Gardens by the Bay, prompting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to urge Singaporeans to pick up after themselves.

He posted a picture of the litter-strewn meadow taken last Saturday, contrasting the scene to a picture of a Myanmar football fan picking up litter after a match at the Singapore National Stadium last November.

"It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city," he wrote on Facebook yesterday.

"All of us can play a part - picking up our own litter, educating our children and grandchildren, and reminding others to do the right thing."

Some of the 13,000 festival-goers said they assumed the organisers hired cleaners for the all-day event, while anti-littering advocates said the Laneway detritus was another example of a deep-seated societal problem.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council (PHC), said he has heard Singaporeans argue they are providing cleaners with jobs, an excuse he said was a self-justification.

"It is so easy to pick up after yourselves. The problem here is a selfish, take-things-for-granted ingrained mindset," he said.

A National Environment Agency survey in 2010 found that one-third of the respondents said they would litter if they could get away with it.

"It didn't occur to me to take my trash away when I left because there was trash everywhere left by others," said Mr Wei Chua, 28, a senior product manager who was at the 19-act festival from late afternoon until midnight. "So, it seemed like an understanding that the festival hired cleaners."

A standard ticket to the festival cost $165, a price that sales executive Ho Minwei assumed factored in cleaning costs.

"There is no way that a festival of this scale could leave the grounds spotless, so the cleaning fees should be built into the price of the ticket," said the 27-year-old.

Still, she is concerned about the littering problem in Singapore, and picks up trash in her Housing Board neighbourhood. "There is nothing I can do about the root cause, which is that people assume someone will take care of their litter," she said.

Mr Liak noted that Singapore has 70,000 cleaners for five million people, while a city such as Taipei has 5,000 cleaners for a population of three million.

On a recent work trip, a PHC delegation spoke to officials in Taipei, where schools do not hire cleaners, so students are taught from a young age to clean up after themselves, he said.

"They told us, cleaning is a part of education. It teaches the value of labour and that it is not shameful to sweat," said Mr Liak. "In Singapore, we have let things deteriorate until we now have a crisis of cleanliness."

'Fear and paralysis' in Taiwan's policymaking

Ex-minister warns about reluctance to make correct but unpopular decisions
By Li Xueying, Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

IN TAIWAN, 1,000 litres of tap water cost NT$7 (S$0.30). In Singapore, consumers pay seven times more - NT$50.

Little wonder then that the Taiwanese guzzle 274 litres a day each on average against Singaporeans' 155 litres. And the chickens will come home to roost by 2030 when Taiwan is confronted with a severe water shortage, warns Dr Lee Hong-yuan.

Yet, the former interior minister found it tough going when he tried to introduce a plan two years ago to build water-recycling plants. Calls for water prices to be raised - something he has lobbied for in the past two decades - were deemed even more politically untenable, with legislators unwilling to support such a plan.

This fear of making "correct but unpopular decisions" has paralysed policymaking, and Taiwan's officials and politicians - with an eye constantly on the next election - are crafting short-term policies only that look just one or two years down the road, he charges.

"Long-term plans that require 10 or 20 years to be realised - they don't exist any more..."

Taiwan "is kidnapped by our own democracy", asserts Dr Lee in an interview about his new book, How To Make Taiwan A First-Rate Country.

Released on Jan 7, it is generating buzz, having made it to best seller lists with 12,000 copies sold. This is amid a general malaise within Taiwan, one of the so-called Four Asian Tigers together with South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Concerns abound over the rising costs of living, stagnating wages and the sense that the island is lagging behind its peers.

Dr Lee, who left the government last February, sidesteps the question of what "rate" he thinks Taiwan is at today, but alludes to a certain nostalgia in society for the 1980s, when Kuomintang (KMT) strongman Chiang Ching- kuo was in charge.

"We were not quite a modern country but the economy was booming, everybody had hope and was motivated," recalls the 58-year-old, a hydraulic engineer by training.

By contrast, today, "everyone is depressed and people complain about their salaries".

"I don't feel any good energy. If you turn on the TV, you see our very popular talk shows blaming the government. The whole society is jammed with negative messages," he says.

Singdollar gets surprise tweak in January 2015 as oil changes the landscape

It will appreciate slower as inflation eases; interest rates tipped to rise
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

IN A surprise move, the central bank has acted months ahead of its scheduled meeting to tweak its exchange rate policy and ease the rise of the Singapore dollar.

The almost unprecedented step was prompted by plunging oil prices, which have quelled inflation and eased the need for a strong Singdollar to combat rising prices.

After the 8am announcement by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the Singdollar slid as much as 1.1 per cent against the greenback yesterday.

Interest rates also started creeping up. The trend is expected to continue, and could see mortgage payments rise in the months to come, economists said.

MAS also dramatically cut its inflation forecasts for this year yesterday, on the back of plunging oil prices.

This was the first time since the bust in 2001 that MAS adjusted monetary policy outside of its regular meetings in April and October each year.

Economists said it was the first unscheduled move in recent memory outside of a crisis. Plunging oil prices provided the trigger, falling from US$85 a barrel in November to US$49 now.

MAS said it will maintain the modest appreciation of the Singdollar against a basket of other currencies, but seek to reduce the pace at which it strengthens.

MAS uses the exchange rate as its main tool to strike a balance between controlling inflation from overseas and laying the foundations for economic growth.

A stronger currency helps counter inflation as imports are cheaper in Singdollar terms. On the other hand, a weaker Singdollar helps exporters whose goods become less expensive in foreign markets.

Falling oil prices have made fighting inflation less of a priority as falling oil prices make other goods cheaper.

MAS now expects inflation to come in between negative 0.5 per cent and 0.5 per cent this year.

Singapore's SEA Games 2015 budget: $324.5 million

Organisers hope event will leave legacy of a sports culture in country
By Jonathan Wong and May Chen, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE will spend $324.5 million to host the SEA Games in June, but expects this investment to reap long-term benefits by ingraining sport into the country's social fabric.

It is this building of a sporting culture, more than gold medals or economic spin-offs, that the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) hopes will be the legacy of the June 5-16 multi-sport meet.

Besides keeping events affordable - entry to half of them will be free - SINGSOC will also launch a series of community engagement activities in the coming months. These will include a mass rally on March 7 in Orchard Road and a 50-day countdown.

But it is looking past the 12-day Games - which will involve more than 7,000 athletes and officials in 36 sports - for a wider and deeper impact.

Hosting the SEA Games was a key platform for Vision 2030, the Government's push to make sport a way of life in Singapore, SINGSOC executive committee chairman Lim Teck Yin said at a media briefing yesterday.

"One legacy of the Games is that all the people involved will continue to be involved (in sport) and continue to drive the message that we can live better through it," added Mr Lim who, as a boy, accompanied his father around Singapore at the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games and fell in love with sport.

The Games will come on the back of the Government's initiatives to promote a sporting lifestyle. Last March, it pledged $1.5 billion as part of its Sports Facilities Master Plan to strengthen the sporting landscape, which aims to provide Singaporeans with a venue to play and exercise at within 10 minutes of their home by 2030.

Nominated MP Benedict Tan, who is president of the Singapore Sailing Federation and recently spoke passionately in Parliament about the worrying state of the country's sports culture, was optimistic about SINGSOC's intentions.

He said: "We want to move away from the old model where elite athletes take part and everyone else watches... Winning a medal is only a part of it. The bigger part can be resilience and national pride.

"How do you translate that medal into national pride? That is where you have to get Singaporeans from all walks of life involved, even the non-active people."

While some will baulk at the Games' allocated budget - it cost $10 million to run the 1993 edition - Mr Lim, who is also chief executive of Sport Singapore, said this was the minimum amount needed in today's context, and that SINGSOC would not overspend.

Remote Gambling Act that takes effect on 2 February 2015 will not affect gaming industry, says MDA

Singapore poised to block all roads to unlicensed gambling websites
By Lim Yi Han and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

FROM Monday, punters in Singapore will no longer be able to access a host of unlicensed online gambling sites.

That is when the new remote gambling law, which was passed last October to clamp down on unregulated online betting, takes effect, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced yesterday.

It is understood that the ministry has drawn up a list of online sites, including those for sports betting and casino games. Internet service providers will start blocking these sites from Feb 2.

The authorities, however, assured developers of online social games such as Candy Crush that the curbs will not impact them, as long as they do not include facilities which allow players to convert tokens into actual money or prizes in real life.

The online gambling industry here is estimated to have raked in some $500 million last year.

The Remote Gambling Act criminalises a host of remote gambling activities, which includes phone betting. Gamblers may get up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine, with stiffer penalties for those guilty of luring people under 21.

Internet service providers and financial institutions which fail to abide by a blocking order will face punishment. There is also a ban on online gambling ads.

MHA said those providing remote gambling services have had sufficient notice of the regulations.

Since the law was passed, major foreign online gambling sites such as have already asked Singapore customers to close their accounts. At least three banks here - DBS, OCBC and UOB - have already blocked payments to such sites.

The new law has raised concerns that social games would be hit. But the Media Development Authority said legitimate social media gaming would not be impeded.

Leader-boards which reward top players, or tournaments where players can win prizes or money in real life, will also be allowed, as long as these are not casino-style games.

Manpower Ministry launches three-week enforcement operation at construction sites

MOM steps up checks on construction sites
3-week blitz to cover more than 200 sites to ensure safety first in CNY deadline rush
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

THE Manpower Ministry has started a three-week enforcement blitz to stamp out unsafe workplace practices at more than 200 construction sites.

The initiative comes after investigations into eight deaths in January last year showed contractors were rushing work and disregarding key safety procedures to meet deadlines before the Chinese New Year break.

The operation, which is on top of regular inspections MOM conducts throughout the year, will end by early February, said a press statement.

Inspectors are looking out for lapses in formwork, work-at-heights and lifting operations, among others.

On Jan 23, a Bangladeshi worker died after being struck by a formwork panel, a mould for concrete to be poured into, while assembling it with three colleagues.

The accident happened along Alexandra Terrace at a worksite managed by Shimizu Corporation. The company was engaged by developer Mapletree Business City.

The ministry has instructed the contractor to stop assembly of formwork panels and investigations are ongoing.

Between 2010 and 2013, the number of workers who were killed in the month of January ranged from zero to three.

Contractors disagreed that deadlines are rushed in the run-up to Chinese New Year, saying they have no lack of labour for the festive period among their mainly Indian and Bangladeshi workers.

'Use inter-faith relations to combat hate on Web'

Visiting rabbi and terror expert says S'pore in good position to do so
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE can capitalise on the strong bonds between communities to pioneer an inter-faith website or online social media platform where religious leaders of different faiths can correct misconceptions, an advocate of Jewish and human rights said yesterday.

This will help create better understanding of religions and counter the insidious effects of negative stereotypes, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who studies the spread of terrorism and hate over the Internet.

"Good relationships exist here between the different religions. This is not the case everywhere. So Singapore can use this as a way to combat hatred and propaganda on the Internet," he told The Straits Times in an interview.

Such a platform could also highlight the values that the different faiths have in common.

Rabbi Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. The work of the US-based Jewish human rights group includes an annual study on the growth of terrorist and hate speech online.

He is on a two-day visit to Singapore and yesterday attended the International Holocaust Remembrance Day observance ceremony, jointly organised by the British Council, British High Commission and Embassy of Israel at the Singapore Art Museum.

He said that with extremist ideology and propaganda spreading online, a platform where religious leaders can respond to questions would be a unique way in which Singapore can contribute to using social media for good.

The number of sites with hate speech and extremist propaganda has shot up to over 30,000, according his centre's study last year. This compares with 20,000 sites in 2013.

But such numbers still pale in comparison to the actual impact that such sites can have, he said.

"A single post or image can get re-tweeted and shared and can reach over a million people. The impact when things go viral is devastating," he explained.

Attap Valley Bunker: Pre-war British bunker to open its doors to public on 7 and 14 February 2015

By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

A LUSH expanse of forest that hugs the northern coast of Singapore holds a secret prewar bunker built before 1942.

Back then, carts hurtling along a railway track now hidden by mud would deliver weapons and explosives deep into the British military facility.

After more than 70 years under lock and key, the little-known bunker in Woodlands will finally open its doors to the public for two days next month.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) will conduct tours of the site on Feb 7 and 14 as part of its efforts to commemorate Singapore's fall to the Japanese 73 years ago, and its subsequent liberation three years later.

Last April, several government agencies approached the board to do a heritage assessment of the place, which is managed by the Singapore Land Authority.

Researchers found the Attap Valley Road Bunker - decommissioned in 2002 by the Defence Ministry and returned to the state - to be of "historical interest".

This prompted the NHB to request for public access, said its group director of policy Alvin Tan.

"We decided to open up the bunker because it is a well-preserved structure which played an important part in the British Far East defence policy," he said.

After consulting a 1945 British Naval Base map from Australia's National Library, NHB learnt that it is the last surviving bunker of the British Naval Base's Armament Depot.

NTUC launches $3m training grant to help PME members

NTUC ramps up courtship of PMEs
Latest $3m push aims to attract more professionals to join partner groups
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

THE labour movement is accelerating its push to reach beyond its traditional working-class base and draw more professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) into its fold.

Its latest effort is a $3 million grant to lure more PMEs to join its partner professional groups. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will then help with training and development.

The courtship of the PMEs - or "gold-collars" in the words of labour chief Lim Swee Say - is inevitable.

They will form the majority of the workforce and the NTUC can stay relevant and effective only if it supports the professionals, he said.

"We will see more and more PMEs in our workforce, and more and more PMEs facing the challenges of employment and employability," said Mr Lim, who is secretary-general of the NTUC.

"The tripartite framework is effective in looking after rank-and-file workers... but it is incomplete in looking after the interests of PMEs," he added yesterday at the launch of the grant.

This comes on the back of legislation, which was passed last week in Parliament, to allow rank-and-file unions to represent executives as a group with collective bargaining rights.

The amendments to the Industrial Relations Act also let unions help older PMEs facing individual re-employment disputes after turning 62, which was previously not provided for.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Vacancies rise as locals spurn low-paying jobs

By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2015

LOW pay and a long work week, with shift hours to boot.

These are the main reasons why Singaporeans are not filling a rising number of job vacancies here.

The number of vacancies climbed 8.9 per cent to 67,400 in September last year, the highest in six years, according to a Manpower Ministry (MOM) report released yesterday.

Across occupations, sales assistants, security guards, waiters and office cleaners were the most sought after, accounting for 10,030 openings.

These were also the jobs which had the most vacancies that employers struggled to fill with citizens and permanent residents.

Among the top reasons cited by the MOM for the high numbers of vacancies: unattractive pay, a long work week and physically tough work.

For instance, for shop sales assistant positions, which had 3,730 vacancies, the median pay was just $1,741. Employers also struggled to hire security guards, a job for which the median pay was just $1,678.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted: "There's very low incentive for Singaporeans to work in those sectors because they can get better pay doing something else."

Four in five vacancies last year were in the services industry, especially community, social and personal services. This reflected "the expansion of childcare and pre-schools, health care and tertiary institutes", said the MOM.

New malls also boosted hiring in wholesale and retail trade, accommodation and food services, and administrative and support services, said the ministry.

Another reason for the climb in vacancies is that companies are unable to get foreign workers to fill the gap, said Singapore Retailers Association vice-president R. Dhinakaran.

Majority of Singaporeans support alcohol restriction on sale and consumption

Wide support for 'night caps' on drinking in public
Young people among those in favour of proposed alcohol curbs: Survey
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2015

THERE is strong backing from all segments of Singaporeans, including young people, for the proposed laws to clamp down on late-night public drinking.

This finding in a phone survey commissioned by government feedback unit REACH after a plan to ban drinking in public from 10.30pm to 7am, and stop retail shops from selling alcohol after 10.30pm, was presented in Parliament last week.

Overall, 81 per cent of the 1,145 polled said they were in favour of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Bill, which is expected to be debated at the end of this week.

In the group aged between 15 and 29, at least seven in 10 backed the Bill.

The survey polled around 200 people from that age group.

The support was even stronger among older respondents, peaking at 92 per cent among those aged 60 and above.

REACH said that those polled from Jan 20 to Jan 26 were chosen randomly and were "representative" of the national population in terms of gender, age and race.

More than eight in 10 of those surveyed did not think that their lifestyle and activities would be affected by the possible new regulations.

Former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said: "I believe the majority don't feel the restrictions are a curb since they don't drink very much. And the hours - 10.30pm to 7am - are when many of them are indoors. But for the younger ones, perhaps it will present an inconvenience. It is a drastic change from what they are accustomed to."

Some people online had described the new laws as too strict.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh suggested that the views of some may have been over-represented online.

"It's a medium the young are very comfortable with so that's where you will find their views," she said. "The older folks can afford to drink in pubs and restaurants, and in their own homes. But the young certainly prefer to party away from the scrutiny of their parents."

Bankruptcy cases from licensed lending on the rise

By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2015

MORE bankruptcies here are arising from licensed moneylending activities, according to a report submitted to Parliament by the Estimates Committee yesterday.

The report showed the proportion of bankruptcy orders with proofs of debt filed by licensed moneylenders jumped from 7.3 per cent in 2012 to 10.5 per cent in 2013.

There were 210 of these bankruptcy orders in 2013, up from 128 in 2012 and 80 in 2011.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng said this trend might be due to the number of licensed moneylenders here peaking in 2011, when they numbered 249.

As of 2013, there were 200 licensed moneylenders.

"Due to the increased access to licensed moneylenders then, the number of bankruptcies arising from that naturally increased, following a time lag," said Mr Seah.

He said the Estimates Committee is concerned that the "amount of lending was on the rise" and stressed the need for measures, such as restricting access to lenders and lowering interest rates, to ensure that "vulnerable groups who need the service of moneylenders are adequately protected".

He added that "licensed moneylenders still have an important role to play", as the alternative would be for people to borrow from unlicensed lenders, which would be harder for the Government to monitor.

The report expressed concern that the growth of businesses such as pawnbroking and moneylending, especially in the heartland, might indicate a growing number of such transactions among vulnerable groups like lower-income Singaporeans.

Family-owned firms in S'pore 'least prepared for succession'

Study finds its 58% score lags behind Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines
By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2015

FAMILY-OWNED businesses in Singapore are among the least prepared in South-east Asia for what will happen after the current business leader retires or steps down, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) released yesterday.

Only 58 per cent of Singapore business families have prepared for succession while just 35 per cent have established formal wealth management structures such as private foundations and 41 per cent have trusts to manage inter-generational wealth transfer, the EIU found.

Its research report, titled Building Legacies: Family Business Succession in South-east Asia, was commissioned by the Labuan International Business and Financial Centre (Labuan IBFC).

The study found that Indonesian family-run businesses reported the largest share of companies - 78 per cent - with formal succession plans, followed by Thailand (74 per cent), Malaysia (66 per cent), the Philippines (60 per cent), and Singapore (58 per cent).

Said Mr Kevin Plumberg, editor of the EIU report: "Our research shows somewhat surprisingly that business families in Singapore, a financial hub for the region, lag in their use of foundations, trusts and external advisers when it comes to succession issues, whereas family-run companies in Indonesia are leaders."

The report, based on a survey of 250 majority family-owned businesses in the region, also found that customers and investors have more trust in a family-owned business with a succession plan than those without, with 71 per cent of regional family business leaders acknowledging that it is easier to attract investment with a succession plan in place.