Saturday 28 February 2015

IPPT Gold, silver standards revised after trial; Implementation of new IPPT from 1 Apr 2015

By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Feb 2015

AFTER a three-month trial, the Singapore Armed Forces has finalised the military's new fitness test that will be rolled out on April 1.

The revised Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), which will be made up of sit-ups, push-ups and a 2.4km run, is expected to enable more servicemen to pass or do well enough to collect the monetary incentives.

The three-station IPPT, which was unveiled in July last year, will no longer have the shuttle run, standing broad jump and chin-up stations as part of its test.

It is part of moves to make the IPPT less of a chore for NSmen, many of whom used to fail it and had to be sent for remedial training.

After trials involving some 5,000 servicemen late last year, the SAF revised upwards the minimum standards they have to meet to attain the silver or gold award.

This requires servicemen to run faster and collect more points in order to get the awards and qualify for cash incentives of up to $500.

This is because trial results showed that more than a quarter of participants, most of whom had bagged gold and silver awards, clocked slower times for their 2.4km runs than in the current test.

The Singapore army's assistant chief of general staff (training), Colonel Ng Ying Thong, said the latest tweaks will "further stretch and challenge" the fitter group of servicemen to do better, yet not demotivate the majority to train and pass the IPPT.

Overall, most of the participants in the trial bettered their previous performances in the current test.

For instance, 88 per cent of the trial participants did more, if not as many, sit-ups, while 73 per cent of them ran faster or maintained their timings during the 2.4km runs.

Pre-enlistees who want to be exempted from extra weeks of physical fitness training before Basic Military Training (BMT) can start taking the new three-station test from next week.

Youth 'cannot afford to take S'pore's success for granted'

Two veteran diplomats also pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's contributions
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

TWO Singaporean envoys paid tribute to the contributions of Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew at a US think-tank on Wednesday, while stressing that the country's success cannot be taken for granted by its young.

Speaking at an event at the Brookings Institution, former Singapore ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee and former Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Bilahari Kausikan told a US audience about Mr Lee's approach to governance and foreign policy, but made clear that the matter of whether the country can stay on track was very much an open question.

Asked about anxieties he had over the changes in South-east Asia in the 50 years since Singapore became independent, Mr Kausikan replied: "My main concerns are actually internal.

"I think Singapore can cope. We certainly have much more capability to cope, to adapt in the economic field, the foreign policy field and the defence field. But whether or not the different generation has the will and the nous to do these adaptations is another matter."

He said he worried about whether or not young Singaporeans would assume that Singapore was no longer vulnerable.

"In order to create relevance, in order to constantly adapt, you need to have a very clinical, indeed cold-blooded ability to assess your own situation," he said.

Professor Chan voiced similar concerns in her address to the crowd.

After laying out some of Mr Lee's principles on governance, she concluded by saying: "Though Mr Lee's ideas last, I would say millennials in Singapore have different ideas but I do hope they have enough sense to understand what works for Singapore, preserve what works and adjust some of the ideas to the present time."

In the short term, she said, the legacy of Mr Lee's ideas would carry on because they have been institutionalised, but the future is far from certain.

"Mr Lee, in the last few years, has said what happens in Singapore in the future really depends on the young leaders and the next generation of leaders. He leaves it up to them," she said.

Tale of two cities holds lessons for Singapore

Boston, a former port turned IT hub, shows the importance of economic complexity. Detroit, dependent on the car industry, is the flip side.
By Peter Ho, Published The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

CITIES, like all human systems, are enormously complex.

But it was not always so. Until about 12,000 years ago, people lived in small nomadic groups as hunter- gatherers.

Then, during the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture emerged and people began to produce food, instead of just hunting for it. The nomadic life of the hunter-gatherers began to be replaced by more sedentary societies based in human settlements like villages and towns. Villages and towns grew into cities over time.

The urban milieu became the catalyst for the development of a multitude of new human capabilities. Over time, people were no longer just hunters or farmers. They became builders, craftsmen, businessmen, entertainers, teachers, scholars, and so on.

As inhabitants of towns and cities took on increasingly specialised roles, and as cities grew, social and economic complexity increased.

But the human impulse is to reduce complexity. The complexity that began to emerge in towns and cities created an imperative for a new form of organisation - government - to manage it. An early, rudimentary form of government was the council of elders, which governed through consensus rather than imposed rules.

But cities evolved, they grew larger and more complex. Furthermore, ambitious rulers began conquering other cities and extending their reach of power. The challenges of controlling geographically diverse and complex cities demanded a more sophisticated form of urban governance than just the council of elders.

Singapore special envoy for Andhra Pradesh

Gopinath Pillai will act as adviser, liaison in projects
By Nirmala Ganapathy India Bureau Chief In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE has appointed a special envoy to the southern Indian state Andhra Pradesh, where it is involved in developing a capital city from scratch.

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, together with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, announced the appointment of Mr Gopinath Pillai to advise the state government on companies in Singapore and help liaise with them on the greenfield capital city project and other potential projects. Mr Pillai is ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Singapore is a centre for international capital and private equity. Those are all people who could be invited to come and look at Andhra Pradesh. Ultimately whether they actually invest depends on macroeconomic conditions and political stability but we are committed to try to help," said Mr Shanmugam at a joint press conference with Mr Naidu.

"He (Mr Pillai) can play a role because he is ambassador-at-large... He has been in the public sector and is in the private sector and he is known to the government of Andhra Pradesh. So we felt he would be a good fit," said the minister, who was on the second day of his two-day visit to India.

Singapore is helping the state create its capital on swathes of land, with Singaporean firms Surbana International Consultants and Jurong International developing the masterplan.

The state has to create a new capital because it will lose its current one to India's newest state, Telangana, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh last year. Hyderabad is their joint capital for 10 years while Andhra Pradesh builds a new one.

The masterplan is being developed in three stages with the first phase comprising a 7,325 sq km state capital region, to be ready by June.

The second stage will be a capital city master-plan for a 220 sq km city and the third a seed development masterplan for an 8 sq km development.

"By June of this year, the first cut of the master-plan will be ready. So that is very, very, I think, quick progress. So based on the masterplan, we can go further beyond that," said Mr Shanmugam.

The project is seen to have the potential to be a landmark project for Singapore as it looks at deepening strategic ties with India.

Mr Naidu called it "the rarest opportunity".

Two fostering agencies by June 2015 to train, support foster parents

Move to put more kids with families rather than in children's homes
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times. 27 Feb 2015

TO ENCOURAGE more people to be foster parents and better support existing ones, the first two dedicated fostering agencies will be set up by June. More will follow thereafter.

The two agencies will be run by voluntary welfare organisations MCYC Community Services Society and Boys' Town, said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing during a visit to Boys' Town yesterday.

This move is part of an $8 million, three-year pilot scheme announced last year to place more children in foster families instead of institutional settings.

"We know from our own experience and the experience of other countries that no matter how hard we try, the children's homes are still an institutional environment and not the most natural environment that our children can grow up in," said Mr Chan.

The roles of the agencies include recruiting and screening foster parents, and providing better support to them.

Divorcing Muslims to learn about how split affects kids

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

FROM April, Muslim couples finalising their divorce must attend a session at the Syariah Court that aims to help them understand the impact of their break-up on their children.

Couples have to attend a one-off session before collecting their divorce certificates from the court in Bukit Merah.

Only couples with children below 14 need to attend it, but there are plans to extend it to those with children under 21.

The two-hour consultation session is among the programmes to be offered by the PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre, which helps divorcing or divorced Muslim couples. Similar sessions for those in civil marriages were introduced this year, and are carried out in the Family Court.

The new programme was announced yesterday by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, after he met educators from the Cinta Abadi Marriage Preparation Programme for the Malay/ Muslim community.

Although there are legal means to resolve issues involving children, such as asking for custody, emotional issues must be dealt with as well, he said.

"This is an investment on our part to ensure that, even after separation, the child's future is well looked after... because this is a difficult time," he told reporters.

Other programmes include a course for parents on how emotional conflict between parents might affect their children, and a course to help children come to terms with the divorce.

The PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre is one of four divorce support specialist agencies started this year, and the only one to cater specifically to Muslim couples.

'It's older workers or no workers'

Tight labour market means firms need them despite cost hike
By Aw Cheng Wei And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

THE changes to the Central Provident Fund system may make older workers costlier to hire but they are still likely to be able to find jobs and hold on to them.

This is because there are just not enough workers in a tight labour market to do the jobs, said firms.

A dozen employers told The Straits Times that they would not shy away from re-employing older workers because of the hikes, which were announced in this year's Budget.

According to data from the Manpower Ministry, the median gross monthly income of a full-time worker aged between 50 and 54 was $3,100 last year.

The figure does not include the employer's CPF contribution.

This means that employers will pay about $30 more each month to the CPF accounts of this group from next year, when contribution rates go up 1 percentage point. This works out to about $360 a year per worker.

Employer contribution rates for workers aged above 55 to 65 also rise by between 1 and 0.5 percentage point.

But while costs will rise, it still makes sense to retain good older workers rather than hire a fresh, untrained young worker, said Mr Darren Tan, director of Chua Chu Kang Marble.

"It is still cheaper than training new ones," he said.

Ms Karen Tan, director of frozen foods manufacturer CS Tay, said that her company will absorb the increase.

About 20 workers in her company are over 50 and earn an average of $3,000 monthly.

She said: "As long as they are fit to continue working, hard-working and diligent, I don't mind paying the difference."

The Government will ease the transition through two wage subsidies.

Firms can claim the Temporary Employment Credit, which pays 1 per cent of wages this year and next, and 0.5 per cent of wages in 2017.

The Special Employment Credit also covers an extra 3 per cent of wages when companies rehire staff who are 65 and above this year, on top of the 8.5 per cent of wages they can already claim when they hire workers aged above 50.

Friday 27 February 2015

SkillsFuture scheme: How it can help you

Credits or cash grants for training courses last a lifetime
The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2015

- What are SkillsFuture Credits?
Cash grants from the Government for professional development courses.

- Who is eligible for them?
Singaporeans who are 25 and above from next year.

The credits last a lifetime, so even retirees who are not working can use them.

- When can the credits be used?
The Government will introduce them next year.

- How will the system work?
Eligible Singaporeans will be informed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) when and how their SkillsFuture Credit accounts can be used.

- How often will the credits be topped up?
More than two million Singaporeans aged 25 and above will get an initial $500 credit next year.

Regular top-ups will be made in the future.

- What courses can the credits be used for?
Government-supported training courses. These include Ministry of Education-funded courses at polytechnics and universities and those offered at public agencies such as the WDA.

The credits can be used for courses related to a person's job or to pick up another work skill - for example, one could learn wine appreciation in order to become a sommelier. The credits cannot be used by individuals to pursue hobbies such as fishing, gardening or sports.

Paying for that surge in Budget spending

By Chan Kok Hoe, Published The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

BUDGET 2015 calls for a massive $11 billion rise in expenditure on the previous year.

While substantial grants are planned for the middle class, the poor and elderly, innovative businesses and workers keen on skill mastery, a large proportion of the increased spending has gone towards improving Singapore's transport and logistics infrastructure.

Development expenditure will increase by more than 40 per cent over FY2014 and is expected to grow to $30 billion by the end of the decade. By then, overall spending will have reached 19.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

How does the Government plan to pay for all of this? For the current Budget year, the Government has eschewed tax increases, choosing instead to run a deficit of $6.7 billion, or 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Both the corporate income tax and the goods and services tax (GST) are unchanged. A sizeable $717 million rebate will result in personal income tax receipts falling in FY2015. While top personal income tax rates are due to rise in 2017, this is designed to raise only sufficient funds to cover the $350-million-a-year Silver Support Scheme (for the elderly poor).

Deficit spending is made possible because the Government holds ample current reserves. Indeed, the report on FY2014's fiscal position reveals a substantial boost to current reserves. The Government incurred a deficit of $130 million, which was $1 billion smaller than initially estimated. The FY2013 Budget surplus has also received an upward revision - it is now $5 billion, rather than $3.9 billion.

That revisions tend to improve the fiscal position is unsurprising. The Government has a track record of being prudent and conservative in its Budget estimates, often underestimating revenues and overestimating expenditures. But it is worthy to note that the revision for FY2014 is considerably lower than the $1.5 billion to $3 billion that analysts from OCBC, DBS and UOB had expected.

It also marks the third consecutive year of declining revisions. It is likely that the Government has improved the accuracy in its estimates, though the fact that 2014 economic growth was almost exactly as projected also helped.

These upward adjustments boost current reserves to about $15 billion, which is more than sufficient to finance the $6.67 billion projected deficit.

The remaining current reserves could help finance another Budget deficit in FY2016, but not beyond. This is because the next general election must be held by January 2017, and current reserves must be transferred to past reserves when the Government's current term ends.

Bridging social divide calls for more than HDB flats on prime land: Chan Chun Sing

Minister for Social and Family Development calls for designs of facilities that foster social mixing
By Rennie Whang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

THE rich-poor divide in society cannot be bridged simply by building more Housing Board flats on prime land, said the Minister for Social and Family Development yesterday.

While the Government might build such flats, achieving the aim of greater mixing across social divides called for more than this, as it entails people being willing to interact and foster strong community ties, said Mr Chan Chun Sing. Good designs and careful planning can help foster this, he added.

He was responding to a question on whether the Government would consider increasing interaction between the haves and have-nots by building HDB flats on prime land, like Marina South.

Real social mixing goes beyond buildings, but more importantly, it is about the more successful people reaching out and "giving their time, talent, treasures", he said.

Mr Chan was speaking at the inaugural Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS) mentorship programme for students.

HK's first Budget after protests tries to repair city's image

Measures include one-off tax breaks and help for affected businesses
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

HONG Kong is spending HK$290 million (S$51 million) to help affected businesses and polish its image following the 79-day Occupy movement, which Financial Secretary John Tsang says may have dampened "investors' confidence" in the city.

Travel agents, hotels, restaurants and transport operators will get a waiver of licence fees for six months. And to "rebuild" Hong Kong's international image, the tourism board and information services will be allocated an extra HK$106 million for promotional efforts.

The first Budget announced after the civil disobedience campaign that ended on Dec 15 was notable for its generous HK$34 billion package of one-off sweeteners - including hefty tax cuts.

But it was the bid to repair the city's image after the protests that caught the eye. "Such self-inflicted harm does not serve the city well," said Mr Tsang.

But while the measures are "psychologically useful", analysts say the jury is still out on whether investor confidence in Hong Kong has indeed been hit.

Advisory council submits proposals to boost support, recognition for NS

Channel NewsAsia, 25 Feb 2015

The Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (ACCORD) on Wednesday (Feb 25) announced it has submitted 18 proposals to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) aimed at boosting support and recognition for National Service (NS).

The 18 proposals include initiatives to help ease the transition for servicemen returning to school after full-time NS, encourage community organisations and small businesses to show appreciation for those in uniform and strengthen MINDEF's engagement with women's organisations, according to the ministry's press release.

ACCORD also proposed that MINDEF enhance the way it recognises and commends employers, businesses and organisations that go the extra mile to support NS.

Singtel opens centre to fight cyber breaches

It allows security firm FireEye to highlight suspicious activity on the telco's network
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2015

SINGTEL has set up an advanced security operations centre (ASOC) that can track, identify and quickly stop online breaches.

The centre, set up in collaboration with leading global cyber security firm FireEye, aims to equip organisations with rock-solid cyber defences.

It will also offer its customers help to prevent advanced persistent threat (APT), one of the most malicious pieces of software yet developed.

The move is timely, given the increased frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks, said Mr Bill Chang, Singtel's chief executive of group enterprise.

The first South-east Asian cyber threat report, produced by the telco and FireEye, found that 23 per cent of their customers here were exposed to APT attacks from July to December last year.

Attackers want to steal intellectual property and insider information from leading companies, said the report, released yesterday.

It added that the attackers are also after intelligence on rival governments which have long-running political disputes, especially those involving disputed areas in the South China Sea.

Governments, telecoms and financial services are the top three sectors targeted for attacks, said the report.

The ASOC is the first facility of its kind in the world to integrate Singtel's network operations with FireEye's security operations centre, which collects intelligence on cyber threats as well as monitor cyber attackers' behaviour.

The integration gives the ASOC's 50 cyber security experts a complete picture of Internet traffic, corporate networks and devices, such as PCs, to identify security incidents and make swift responses.

Yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim opened the ASOC, based at Singtel's headquarters in Comcentre.

He said that given the ubiquity of cyber threats, organisations must consider cyber threats when designing their IT systems and networks, not as an afterthought.

He added that the newly formed Cyber Security Agency - to be launched on April 1 - will reach out to organisations "to share the message that establishing cyber security measures early will benefit them" by protecting them from reputational and financial risks posed by cyber threats.

Thursday 26 February 2015

8 UK law schools to lose spots on recognised list for intakes from Academic Year 2016/17 onwards

Change will apply to student intakes from AY2016/17 onwards
By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 25 Feb 2015

Following warnings of a looming glut of lawyers here because of a surge in the number of Singaporeans heading overseas to read law, nearly half of the 19 United Kingdom law schools recognised for admission to the Singapore Bar will be dropped next year.

The decision to cut eight UK law schools from the list of overseas scheduled universities (OSUs) follows a review by the Singapore Institute of Legal Education (SILE), which was called for by a high-powered committee in 2013 to ensure the quality of returning UK graduates.

The number of OSUs has remained at 35 since 2006, including universities from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, America and Singapore.

In a press release yesterday, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) said it had accepted the SILE’s recommendation, adding that the reduced list of 27 OSUs would apply to prospective intakes from Academic Year 2016/17.

The schools dropped are all from the UK:
- University of Exeter
- University of Leeds
- University of Leicester
- University of Liverpool
- School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
- University of Manchester
- University of Sheffield
- University of Southampton
MinLaw said: “Transitional provisions will be put in place to ensure Singapore citizens and permanent residents who have secured a place before the relevant cut-off date in any of the UK OSUs omitted from the list are not adversely affected by the change.” The ministry and SILE are still working out the provisions.

Based on estimates obtained from Contact Singapore that the fourth Committee on the Supply of Lawyers cited in its 2013 report, the eight schools accounted for 30 per cent, or 221, of the 729 Singaporean law graduates from the UK in the past three years.

Memorising answers won't score you the As

With few repeat questions in national exams, students must know concepts
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

IN THE months leading up to last year's O-level examinations, Zachary Branson spent half of his eight hours of daily revision time ploughing through a stack of 10-year-series assessment books.

The former St Gabriel's Secondary School student did the questions in these books - which compile questions from past O-level exams and are updated every year - a few times.

Zachary, 17, who now attends Yishun Junior College, said: "If I got a question wrong, I would redo it until I got it right.

"Some of my classmates would memorise the answers for certain subjects, and they paid extra attention to repeated questions."

For four decades, students and teachers here have sworn by these books for N-, O- and A-level exam preparation, relying on repeated questions and model answers to gauge what examiners are likely to ask and look for.

Available at major bookstores from January each year, the books are usually sold out by August.

But in the last five to seven years, questions from past years tend not to be replicated, particularly for chemistry, economics, mathematics and physics, authors of 10-year-series books said.

The authors, mostly tutors with good track records, analyse the questions and supply model answers.

Questions for these exams are developed by the University of Cambridge International Examinations and Singapore's Ministry of Education. The ministry's Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board did not give reasons for the change.

It would only say that practice with 10-year-series books can familiarise students with the exam format, but they should not rely on them too much as they need to be able to apply the concepts they have learnt in new contexts.

New support group for colorectal patients

Volunteers visit CGH weekly, share stories on living with ostomy bags
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

WHEN accountant Shiv Kapur was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2006, it hit him like a bus.

"I just went blank," said the 62-year-old. "I saw the doctor's lips moving, he was saying something, but nothing went in."

For weeks, he withdrew into a shell until his wife convinced him to attend a cancer support group session.

There, he met cancer survivors who encouraged him to stop fearing cancer and start living life.

It turned his life around.

Last year, Mr Kapur and several colorectal cancer survivors started a support group, the Ostomy Association of Singapore (OAS). It has over 40 members.

Figures from the Singapore Cancer Registry show that between 2009 and 2013, about 8,900 patients were found to have colorectal cancer - the most commonly diagnosed cancer here.

Patients undergo chemotherapy and surgery.

Some have to wear external pouches called ostomy bags connected to their colorectal system to collect waste.

About one in five colorectal cancer patients may need such bags, estimated National University Hospital surgeon Cheong Wai Kit.

While the bags can be hidden under clothes, some patients are self-conscious and avoid going out.

"They are afraid these bags may leak and they get embarrassed," said retiree Thomas Lee, 64, a volunteer at OAS.

"But cooping themselves up at home is not a solution."

Online database captures S'pore's rich biodiversity

Users can click on an animal to find how the flora and fauna interact
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2015

A NEW online database has been launched compiling research on how Singapore's flora and fauna interact with each other.

Called Animals and Plants of Singapore, it is managed by Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and went live on the museum's website this month.

Users can click on an animal and find links to information on the plants or animals it feeds on - though work on the site is ongoing and not all species have links in place yet.

The database provides a name and a photograph of each species. For further information, users must click on the links to external sources, such as pages created by the National University of Singapore's life sciences classes, or the museum's Singapore Biodiversity Records - an online collection of "flora and fauna in Singapore, including sightings of uncommon or rare species".

Professor Rudolf Meier, deputy head of the museum, said the goal is to understand how different species interact to sustain Singapore's green spaces.

"Animals and Plants of Singapore will track these interdependencies by linking species pages of prey and predators, or plants and pollinators," he said.

"If we had a dedicated person or team doing the research, it would be as time-consuming as writing an academic paper for each species. But by tapping already-published research and observations, the site can be updated more frequently."

Prof Meier hopes the site will make it easier for people to appreciate Singapore's diverse ecosystem and give them a reliable source of information.

S'pore, Sri Lanka reaffirm ties, to expand cooperation

Shanmugam offers new leadership help in areas such as urban planning
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE and Sri Lanka explored ways to expand cooperation between the two countries during Minister for Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam's two-day visit to Sri Lanka, aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

The visit by Mr Shanmugam, who ended the Sri Lanka leg of a South Asia visit yesterday, is the first high-level contact between the two countries since Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena came to power last month, after elections that swept the Mahinda Rajapaksa government out of office.

Mr Sirisena has made improving governance, strengthening government institutions and greater accountability the priorities of his 100-day reform agenda.

Mr Sirisena "expressed support for deeper cooperation between Singapore and Sri Lanka" during a meeting with Mr Shanmugam, who offered the new leadership help in areas including water management, urban planning, judicial governance and financial management, said a press release from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

Mr Shanmugam also invited the Sri Lankan government to send its officials to train in Singapore in these areas.

RSAF takes part in Australia's Avalon Airshow 2015

Channel NewsAsia, 24 Feb 2015

The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) is taking part in the 12th Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition.

The event, also known as the Avalon Airshow, is being held from Tuesday (Feb 24) to Mar 1.

The RSAF is participating with three F-16C fighter aircraft, two Super Puma helicopters and two PC-21 trainer aircraft.

The Defence Ministry said the RSAF’s participation underscores the close and long-standing defence relations between Singapore and Australia. Since 2008, the Royal Australian Air Force has participated with its aerobatics team and aircraft in the static and aerial displays of the Singapore Airshow.

Reactions to Budget 2015

S&P gives Singapore top unsolicited rating following Budget 2015 announcement
Ratings agency Standard & Poor's notes that investments in the S$68.2 billion budget "significantly outsize" the S$705 million transfers to households, and addresses both longer-term fiscal challenges and immediate health and transport constraints.
Channel NewsAsia, 24 Feb 2015

The Republic's Budget for Financial Year 2015 "shows the strength of the government’s institutional and governance effectiveness", and would keep Singapore's credit strong despite its ageing population, Standard & Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) said in a media release on Tuesday (Feb 24).

A day after the Budget was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the ratings agency issued a top AAA unsolicited rating on Singapore. The unsolicited rating should not be interpreted as a change to the country's Credit Rating or Rating, said S&P.

While the Government forecast a projected Budget deficit of S$6.7 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2016, S&P said it estimated that "the general government account will remain in surplus over the fiscal years ending March 2015 and March 2016", after accounting for revenue not reported as part of the Budget.

S&P noted that investments in the S$68.2 billion budget - including efforts to boost innovation, skills training, as well as funding to meet the needs of Singapore's ageing population - "significantly outsized" the S$705 million transferred to households. “These measures should help maintain Singapore's credit strengths even as the population ages at one of the fastest rates in Asia."

Added S&P credit analyst Yee Farn Phua: "The Singapore budget focuses on longer-term fiscal challenges even as it addresses the immediate capacity constraints in transport and health services, areas that will see significant increases in spending."

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Budget 2015: Ask the Finance Minister

Being Robin Hood not Singapore Government's strategy: DPM Tharman
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam - speaking at MediaCorp's Budget forum, Ask the Finance Minister, on Tuesday evening (Feb 24) - says Singaporeans have to take collective responsibility to build their society.
By Wong Siew Ying, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Feb 2015

A day after unveiling Budget 2015 in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam urged Singaporeans to get involved and take a collective responsibility in building a strong society.

Mr Tharman was speaking at MediaCorp's Budget forum, Ask the Finance Minister, on Tuesday evening (Feb 24), and he addressed wide-ranging questions about this year's Budget measures.

This year's Budget is aimed at providing support for all Singaporeans at different phases of life - cash supplements for needy elderly in the form of the Silver Support Scheme; the SkillsFuture initiative to help Singaporeans, young and old, to continue to learn and deepen their skills; and a range of measures to help businesses innovate and expand beyond Singapore.


Some questions raised during the hour-long forum focused on the training of employees: Whether there can be more flexibility on the range of approved courses, as well as if there are enough service providers to offer training for various industries and revamp training programmes to better suit older workers.

Mr Tharman said that companies could consider working with trade associations to craft relevant training programmes, which could even be held within the company's premises. Larger firms can also conduct training collectively for the industries, he said.

But he also pointed out that SMEs have to break out of a "vicious circle" in the area of staff training.

"I think we have to tackle ageism in Singapore. There is sort of a quiet, unstated discrimination among the mid-careers and those who are in their 50s. Mid-40s and 50s, it's usually not so easy for them to get back in," said the Deputy Prime Minister.

"They are good people, hardworking, who have accumulated a lot of experience. Sometimes a particular industry has folded, but they have got skills which are relevant to other industries, and I think collectively, employers working with the Government have to make it easy for them to come back in, give them the training required and let them prove their full worth. That's a resource for Singapore and also the right and fair thing to do for those individuals.

"I think many of our SMEs are today in a vicious circle: No time to train people, no time to invest in the person because you are not sure if the person will be with you two years, or maybe even a year from now. As a result, people leave and turnover is higher because they are not even sure they have a future with the firm.

"We have got to break out of that vicious circle by investing in people, giving them a sense of ownership in the firm. It is hard for SMEs individually to do it, but SMEs collectively can do it - SMEs working with industry associations, setting up their own training facilities, sharing trainers, joining forces so that each of the SME benefits from being part of that coalition."

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Budget 2015: Building Our Future, Strengthening Social Security

Singapore Budget 2015

Budget boost for the middle class
Sandwiched class gets help with childcare, school, training expenses
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2015

SINGAPORE'S Budget, as it celebrates 50 years of independence, was firmly focused on preparing the nation for a challenging future while addressing the present needs of the middle class and the poor.

As widely expected, the "sandwiched class" - caught between taking care of their children and supporting their aged parents - received a big helping hand with childcare, school and training expenses, enhanced Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and support for elderly parents.

Middle-class parents hailed the expansion of a childcare subsidy scheme and the waiver of national exam fees. Similarly, seniors aged 55 and above cheered the cash fillip of up to $600 in the form of an enhanced GST Voucher to help them with daily expenses.

What is more, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in declaring that "we have to keep the tax burden on the middle income low, so that they get to keep what they earn, as much as possible", announced a 50 per cent tax rebate capped at $1,000 to benefit 1.5 million taxpayers - while slapping a surprise two percentage point hike on the rich in the top-tier tax bracket from 2017.

As for the nation's next phase of development, Mr Tharman outlined major steps in four areas: building a pool of highly skilled workers, helping businesses innovate and expand abroad, investments in economic and social infrastructure, and strengthening the social security network for retirement.

Total government expenditure in the jubilee year is estimated to be $68.2 billion, the largest ever and an increase of almost 20 per cent from financial year 2014's $57.2 billion spending.

While spending on defence and education remains a top priority, transport spending will rise by $4.8 billion, mainly due to a fifth terminal for Changi Airport and new MRT lines. Health-care spending will rise by $2 billion to cater to new facilities and subsidies for MediShield Life.

The Budget will see a bumper deficit of $6.7 billion mainly due to $6 billion set aside for investments in Changi Airport, research and productivity, but which Mr Tharman said will be funded from previous years' surpluses.

To ensure a new generation of craftsmen in a range of sectors, the Government will set aside $1 billion a year on average from now until 2020 on SkillsFuture programmes to encourage lifelong education and training. This includes a SkillsFuture Credit scheme for each adult citizen aged 25 and above, a step mooted by NTUC which welcomed the move.

"We must become a meritocracy of skills, not a hierarchy of grades earned early in life - a society where people keep learning and pushing their potential, and are valued for their contributions at each stage of life," said Mr Tharman.

Small and medium-sized enterprises will get greater support and funding to try out new ideas and venture abroad.

And older workers aged 50 to 65 will gain from enhanced CPF contribution rates.

As for the bottom 20 per cent to 30 per cent of low-wage Singaporeans, those aged 65 and above will get extra help under the new Silver Support Scheme, which will give them handouts ranging from $300 to $750 every three months for life, starting from next year.

Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said the Budget sent a clear message that healthy growth is essential to generate enough surpluses that can be redistributed for an inclusive society.

Added Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob: "In today's context where many countries are tightening their belts with austerity measures... we are fortunate that our Government through prudent management can increase our social spending instead."

Parliament will debate the Budget from March 3 to 13, during which various ministries will give details of their plans for the year.