Friday, 13 March 2015

Parliament Highlights - 11 Mar 2015

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Transport

Lui vows to claw back confidence in rail system
Minister admits recent disruptions have hit faith in public transport
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

WHILE an occasional breakdown or even a severe disruption on a very rare occasion is tolerable, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday that he was "most upset" with the rail situation in the last few weeks.

The recent disruptions have come as a setback after a year when rail reliability seemed to be improving.

Yesterday, Members of Parliament asked about what was being done to fix a rail system bugged by both disruption and security problems.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Cedric Foo (Pioneer) zeroed in on the five disruptions between Feb 23 and March 3, as well as Monday's shutdown of the Bukit Panjang LRT.

He asked for a progress report on the implementation of recommendations made by the Committee of Inquiry after the 2011 breakdowns as well as when the system could "return to stability".

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said commuters' "trust in the reliability of our MRT system has been severely tested" while Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) described the LRT incident as a "major disappointment".

Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and opposition MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) wanted to know what was being done to improve the security of the system given the recent break-ins and track intrusions.

Minister Lui conceded that the recent series of rail incidents had "undermined confidence in the public transport system".

"It's something that we will need to work hard to rebuild, and I give you my full assurance that we will be watching this very, very closely," he said.

He said that it had been "a long and difficult journey to claw our way back to a position where we can say that reliability has improved some".

Last year, the public transport operators made significant inroads in improving reliability, he said.

The number of train withdrawals on the North-South and East-West lines halved to 1.1 per 100,000 train-km, from 2.2 in 2013, while delays on the same lines lasting more than five minutes fell to 1.3 per 100,000 train-km, from 1.6 in 2012, he noted. Even the Bukit Panjang LRT's train withdrawal rate had fallen to 4.5 per 100,000 car-km, from 6.1 in 2012.

But Mr Lui admitted that there was "much more we need to do".

Indeed, there were 12 major breakdowns of more than 30 minutes each last year - 50 per cent more than in 2013, and the highest number in at least four years.

Mr Lui said that operators must intensify their maintenance, undertake more predictive and preventive measures and improve overall processes.

On security, the minister also said "we can and must do better", in the light of the recent intrusions, which Ms Lim said were fortunately not terrorism-linked.

On the Bukit Panjang LRT saga, Mr Lui said there would be a "systemic health check". That included investigating whether the trains added recently had anything to do with Monday's electrical fire.

Commuters happier now: LTA survey
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

AFTER a four-year decline, commuter satisfaction with public transport rose last year, with the MRT registering the biggest improvement.

An annual survey, commissioned by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), was conducted by UniSIM in October last year - though much water has flowed under the bridge since then.

It found that the satisfaction level had improved by close to three percentage points to 91.3 per cent, from 88.5 per cent in 2013. This makes the results the best since 2010.

Satisfaction levels with the MRT rose by nearly four points to 92.8 per cent. Bus commuters were also happier, with a 1.9-point improvement to 90.2 per cent.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in Parliament yesterday that the survey results showed that commuters were starting to feel the effect of the improvements made over the last few years.

These include more buses and trains injected into the system.

He noted, however, that despite the intensive efforts that the LTA and rail operators have put in over the last few years, more needs to be done to improve rail reliability, given the recent spate of breakdowns.

A look at the individual service attributes of public transport also revealed a less rosy picture.

For instance, crucial attributes such as waiting time, reliability and travel time garnered less than seven points out of 10.

Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Cedric Foo (Pioneer) said: "Public transport mode share has been increasing from 59 per cent of trips during the morning and evening peak hours in 2008 to 66 per cent in 2014. This is good news... (but) it would be disconcerting if the mode share increased only because commuters have no other choices but a below-par public transport."

Mr Lui said he was confident that "we can regain commuter confidence" in the public transport system, as seen in the turnaround in satisfaction trends since the massive breakdowns in 2011.

He added that Singapore would have a far more comprehensive rail network by 2030, and that would mean commuters would have more alternatives should a certain line be affected by an incident.

More immediately, 99 more trains will be added to the rail system from the middle of this year.

Zero car growth 'likely in future'
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

CARS could become even more costly down the road.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo told Parliament yesterday the annual allowable vehicle growth rate is likely to go down to zero - from the 0.25 per cent today.

This is a reversal of what Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said in 2011. Mr Lui said then that the growth rate would not be reduced to zero, saying such an outcome would go against the aspirations of people who want to own a car.

Mrs Teo did not give an indication of when the cut would happen, merely saying it was a likelihood "in the future".

Motor traders said growth dropping from 0.25 to 0 per cent would be insignificant in the near term on the back of an imminent certificate of entitlement (COE) supply bonanza.

"But it will be glaring when COE numbers start falling again in five to six years," said Mr Ron Lim, general manager of Nissan agent Tan Chong Motor.

Against a growing resident population and rising affluence, prices are likely to climb because of growing demand for an increasingly scarce commodity.

Mrs Teo said: "As long as incomes continue to grow, it is unlikely for private car ownership to be a low-cost transport option."

Singapore Vehicle Traders Association secretary Raymond Tang said: "If it's zero growth, is it still necessary to have a COE system? It becomes a one-for- one replacement."

Some experts however, reckon car buyers need not be overly worried about the cut as it was not an immediate move and predicted it would not be a permanent move.

Mrs Teo also said during yesterday's debate on her ministry's budget that there were "no immediate plans" to smoothen the cyclical COE supply pattern by holding back some certificates in the coming bountiful years for the next dry spell. She said that it was difficult to arrive at the right number to hold back.

"The upshot is that this is not a straightforward exercise," she said.

Dr Park Byung Joon, an urban transport management expert at UniSIM, said that did not mean the Government was dismissing such a move altogether.

"It doesn't have to do it until 2017," he said. "There'll still be plenty of COEs to hold back then.

"For me, 'no immediate plans' does not mean 'no'."

Motor Traders Association president Glenn Tan said flattening the COE supply pattern was crucial for the motor industry.

"We don't want a peak-and-trough problem," he said.

"We don't want to hire and fire people. We can't cut our showrooms in half when the COE supply plunges."

Mr Tang said there should be greater clarity so that businesses and consumers can plan better.

T5 to cement Changi's air hub position
Aim is to cut connecting flight times, walking distances at mega-terminal
By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

THE giant new air terminal to be built in Changi will focus on shortening the time for travellers to catch a connecting flight and reducing walking distances, as Singapore seeks to cement its position as a hub for air travel within Asia and across the world.

Slated to open in a decade, Terminal 5 will initially be able to handle up to 50 million passengers. Room for another 15 million to 20 million passengers will be added in future if needed.

With the main T5 building set to be bigger than T2 and T3 combined, it is important that the connecting times for passengers changing flights and walking distances are kept short, said industry analysts.

A steering committee led by Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo had earlier rejected two proposed layouts.

The final plan features long linear piers instead of sharp corners and cul-de-sacs to allow for more efficient parking and movement of aircraft.

Taxi firms may need to standardise own fare structures
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

CAB companies may soon have to standardise the fare structure of their own fleet of regular taxis.

"A standardised structure will enable commuters to compare rates across taxi companies more easily," said Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo during a parliamentary debate yesterday.

She added that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will announce more details later.

While this move may help to defuse some of the confusion passengers face, simplification of taxi charges across the entire industry will not happen any time soon even though the complex taxi fare structure has been a longstanding bugbear of commuters.

There are reportedly close to 10 different flag-down charges, three different metered rates and more than 10 kinds of surcharges.

Mrs Teo explained that most of the variability of fares comes from the flag-down fare, which ranges from $3.20 to $5.

Focus group discussions held by the LTA found that commuters did not want to see fares go up, while cabbies did not want them to come down, if fares were to be standardised.

Mrs Teo said flag-down rates may have to be left to the taxi companies to decide for now, because of the differing costs of buying and hiring out taxis, and changing market conditions.

However, the Government could consider standardising other components such as surcharges and booking fees, she said.

It found that 96.2 per cent of respondents were satisfied with taxi services last year, compared with 95.6 per cent in 2013.

Mrs Teo said taxi availability standards, which mandate that cab operators have the bulk of their fleets plying the roads during the peak hours, have worked.

Some 87 per cent of all taxis are on the roads during those hours, which translates into an additional 1,500 or so available taxis.

The taxi utilisation rate has also increased by three percentage points to 68 per cent in a year.

Third-party taxi-booking apps have also helped to match more passengers with empty cabs, she added.

Govt looking into rules on personal mobility devices
LTA to hold consultations on whether to allow their use in shared spaces
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

WITH the growing popularity of motorised bicycles and other personal mobility devices such as kick scooters, the Government is looking into rules on their use.

This will include deciding whether they can be used on shared spaces such as footpaths, in parks and on the roads.

To do this, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will hold a consultation exercise in the coming months.

Announcing this yesterday, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said that while there are currently rules in the Road Traffic Act, as well as in regulations by the National Parks Board (NParks) and under the by-laws of some town councils that could apply to the use of such devices, they lack clarity.

The rules may not be clear to the man in the street, and may not be consistently applied, he said during a parliamentary debate yesterday.

"Since the law is silent, a strict interpretation of the rules could suggest that they should not be allowed on both footpaths and shared paths.

"However, this is clearly not a sensible policy, since they are a convenient way to get around the neighbourhood and are increasingly common," he said.

Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport Cedric Foo highlighted an urgent need to set out clear rules and norms, given the increasing use of personal mobility devices on pathways.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said that motorised bicycles, which can reach speeds of up to 120kmh, are becoming a "major hazard" on pavements and roads.

Dr Faishal said that there are currently around 11,600 authorised motorised bicycles, and over the past five years, NParks had issued 220 summonses to riders for using them in parks and park connectors.

In the same period, the Traffic Police issued around 3,500 summonses to cyclists, including those on motorised bicycles, for cycling on footpaths.

Dr Faishal noted that given the differences in views on such devices, there may not be a "one size fits all" solution.

Instead, there could be a general set of rules and norms that apply across Singapore, but slightly different rules tailored to the needs of individual towns.

In Tampines, for example, there are rules such that residents can use footpaths for both cycling and walking.

Given the coordination needed between different government agencies to manage cycling and walking issues, the LTA will take the lead and head a new active mobility unit.

Dr Faishal also said that there are plans to extend pilot schemes for bicycle-sharing, which are currently being worked out for the Jurong Lake District and the Marina Bay city centre, to Tampines and Pasir Ris.

However, this will depend on the response of potential service providers.

Bidding soon for bus routes in 2 estates
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

BUS operators will soon bid to run bus routes in Punggol and Pasir Ris estates, as the Government continues its move towards a contracting model.

A tender for a package of 25 routes serving the two areas will be called in the second quarter of this year, said Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew yesterday.

The operator who wins the contract is expected to run bus services from the second half of next year, with about 400 buses, for a start. This will grow to about 500 buses in 2021, in tandem with new developments in the area and a projected growth in ridership.

Under the new model, the Government will own all bus fleets and infrastructure, with the operators in charge of running the routes and meeting service standards.

This bus package is the second to be tendered out under the contracting model, which will "inject more competition into the industry" and better meet commuters' needs, said Mr Lui.

The tender for the first bundle of 24 routes in the western part of the island attracted 11 bidders when it closed in January. The contract is expected to be awarded in the second quarter of this year.

Out of the 25 routes in the latest contract, 22 are currently run by SBS Transit, with three new services to be announced later.

Buses under the package will depart from Changi Airport Bus Terminal, Changi Village Bus Terminal, Pasir Ris Bus Interchange and Punggol Bus Interchange. They will be based at a new bus depot located off Loyang Avenue that will be completed in June this year.

A third tender for bus routes in the Mandai area will likely be called later this year. The eventual plan is to progressively carve out all bus services in Singapore into 12 packages, to be run by three to five operators after 2022.

Port expansion at Pasir Panjang being accelerated
Container handling capacity will be increased by more than 40%
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

EXPANSION plans for the Pasir Panjang container port are being accelerated to cater for growth at the port.

Phases 3 and 4 will be fully operational by the end of 2017, two years ahead of the original plan, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said during the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday.

Last year, the port recorded a 4 per cent increase in container throughput to 33.9 million 20ft equivalent container units (TEUs).

And growth is expected to continue in tandem with regional demand, Mr Lui said.

The Pasir Panjang expansion will add new handling capacity of 15 million container units per annum, increasing total capacity by more than 40 per cent to 50 million container units.

Port operator PSA will invest about $3.5 billion in these new facilities, which will enable Singapore to handle more of the largest container ships, which are about 400m long.

"This expansion will provide sufficient capacity while development work on Tuas Port is under way," Mr Lui said.

Apart from infrastructure works, the maritime sector is getting a $65 million boost to attract, develop and retain talent to grow Singapore as a global hub port and international maritime centre.

The money will go into the Maritime Cluster Fund for Manpower Development. This brings the total amount put into the kitty since 2007 to $115 million.

Another $6 million will be spent over the next five years by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) under an existing scholarship programme to support more students who aspire to become captains and chief engineers.

The schemes will encourage more maritime businesses to improve employees' skills and allow more Singaporeans to take up seafaring careers, Mr Lui said.

Ms Lin Ming Ling, 26, an operations trainee at Oldendorff Carriers Singapore, is one such beneficiary who received 50 per cent funding for a $25,000 four-month programme in the Netherlands in 2012.

"The grant helped to lessen my financial burden and helped me progress in my career," she said.

Apart from financial backing, MPA is working with companies to develop management associate programmes to groom local talent for leadership positions and develop structured career progression pathways, Mr Lui said.

Responding to Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who asked about maritime safety, Mr Lui said the number of incidents has dipped from 1.7 incidents per 100,000 vessel movements in 2010 to 0.5 last year.

This year, the industry will be paying special attention to enhancing safety for small harbour and pleasure craft by installing enhanced transponders.

"The prospects for the maritime sector are bright and the Government will continue to ensure that the industry is future-ready so that Singapore and Singaporeans can take advantage of the many opportunities available," Mr Lui said.

Measures to ensure transport security in place
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

SECURITY measures recommended for Singapore's public transport system will be fully in place by 2017, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Government will continue to help transport operators boost their security, he added.

The measures that have been taken include installing more closed-circuit television cameras, having regular police patrols on MRT trains and carrying out regular exercises with the operators to identify areas for improvement.

The multi-agency Public Transport Security Committee has recommended reinforcing perimeter fences around bus and MRT depots, stronger lighting and formalising the security standards for public transport facilities.

The committee, formed in 2004 after the Madrid train bombings, made the recommendations after reviewing the security of the public transport network in 2011 and 2013.

Recent break-ins at MRT depots by vandals, who spray-painted trains, have raised concerns about the level of security of Singapore's transport facilities.

Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked about the time lag between the reviews and the implementation of their recommendations.

Replying, Mr Lui said it was due to expansion works at some depots. "Some of these (measures) will actually need to be implemented in time with the expansion of the facilities," he said.

As for aviation security, Mr Lui said security agencies and Changi Airport Group regularly review all security measures. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has also audited Singapore's aviation security regime and found it "robust and in compliance with all of its aviation security standards". He added: "We are committed to make air travel for Singaporeans as safe as is practical."

Diesel vehicle green scheme extended to 2017
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

A SCHEME to encourage owners of higher-emission diesel vehicles to scrap their vehicles will be extended to 2017, starting this August.

The move will make vehicles with Euro II and Euro III ratings eligible for the Early Turnover Scheme (ETS), which will give their owners a discount on the certificate of entitlement (COE) for a more environmentally friendly vehicle.

Currently, the scheme encourages the early replacement of older and more pollutive Pre-Euro and Euro I vehicles.

The European emission standards, which have been progressively implemented in Singapore, set the acceptable exhaust emission limits for new vehicles sold in European Union member states.

The extension of the scheme will benefit businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday when she announced the change.

It will run from Aug 1 this year to July 31, 2017 and is expected to affect about 59,000 Euro II and Euro III diesel vehicles under the COE Category C, which is for goods vehicles and buses.

Under the scheme, the replacement has to be a Euro IV or Euro V vehicle, for which owners will pay a pro-rated COE premium instead of bidding for a COE.

On average, they get a discount of more than $20,000 on the COE, as they can transfer the remaining COE period of their existing vehicle to the new vehicle.

They also receive a bonus COE period proportionate to the existing vehicle's remaining lifespan. It varies with different vehicles.

This bonus COE period will be raised for those who opt for an even greener Euro VI vehicle.

"With more vehicles eligible for the ETS, there would likely be more Category C vehicles which will be replaced directly, without needing to bid for a new COE," Mrs Teo said.

"Both the demand for and the supply of Category C COEs are thus likely to decrease correspondingly," she added.

Women-only cabins not practical in Singapore
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

ANY move to set aside some MRT cabins for women only would likely be hard to enforce and may not be the best use of train capacity, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew said yesterday.

"There are practical difficulties and challenges, such as how to and also how strictly to enforce the rule," he said. And it may lead to overcrowding in other cabins.

"From the experience that we had garnered from other systems, the women-only cabins are often utilised less, meaning that more commuters will have to crowd into the remaining cabins or they will simply have to wait for the next train."

Mr Low said cost inefficiency and under-utilisation of capacity should not dissuade the Government from pursuing the idea.

"How does that inefficiency cost compare to protecting women from being molested? Is the minister not concerned with the uptrend of molestations on public transport?" he asked.

"That comes to a fundamental question: What is the trade-off between maximising economic efficiency and commuter comfort and safety?"

But Mr Lui disagreed with how Mr Low framed the question. Commuters, especially at peak hours, want to board the first train they can, he said, adding: "It is not about maximising cost efficiency. It is about maximising the use of the capacity and space on board the trains. If we under-utilise the capacity, especially during the peak hours, then you will exacerbate the crowding problem."

He said surveys showed commuters ranked safety of the MRT system higher than any other attribute: "The situation in Singapore is very, very different from a number of other countries that may have no choice but to institute such a measure, even at the expense of inefficiency."

Paving the way for a car-lite, low-waste future
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

ONE day in the future, the mobility dreams of young Singaporeans may well centre not on costly, pollutive cars but lightweight, eco-friendly devices like electric scooters on which to zip from home to bus or train and then on to work or leisure.

A peek into that future was provided by several MPs who joined the scrutiny of the Ministry of Transport's (MOT's) budget. Their questions and the responses of two office holders suggest that despite recent headline-grabbing rail service disruptions and persistent complaints about peak-hour congestion, the shift towards a more sustainable, less car-reliant future is gaining momentum.

Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam urged regulators to stay ahead of innovations such as personal mobility devices (PMDs), which include electric scooters, as these can tilt the balance in favour of public transport by making the "last mile" to home or office that much easier for commuters.

But not everyone was as welcoming of PMDs and other alternative modes of transport, including cycling.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said their proliferation could pose a danger to pedestrians.

In response, Parliamentary Secretary (Transport) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said the ministry is working to establish clear and consistent rules and norms which will balance the interests of PMD users and pedestrians.

A pleasant surprise was his assurance that there would be room for flexibility, including "a slightly different set for towns that are ready to embrace more progressive rules and norms, for example in allowing cyclists and users of non-motorised PMDs to also use footpaths". The solution need not be "one size fits all", he added.

To be sure, most of the MPs who spoke were more concerned about longstanding transport issues of taxi fares, cost and supply of COEs as well as bus and train reliability and capacity.

Observing that the share of peak-hour trips on public transport rose to 66 per cent last year from 59 per cent in 2008, Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) said this was good news as extensive use of public transport is "the only sustainable way forward for a small city state like Singapore".

But he added: "We want to achieve this high mode-share because public transport is cost-effective, reliable and comfortable ... it would be disconcerting if the mode-share increased only because commuters have no other choices but a below-par public transport (system)."

That was also the sentiment of Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling (Chua Chu Kang GRC). She described in detail her constituents' transport woes due to over-crowded buses and a lack of feeder bus services connecting them from home to shops and the nearest MRT station.

Among the MPs who spoke on cars was Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC). He critiqued the way COEs are now categorised, and called for a more effective way to ensure affordability of COEs for small cars.

In defence of the COE system, Senior Minister of State (Transport) Josephine Teo said it exists to control the vehicle population size.

She also pointed towards a future where the growth rate for the car population may have to be further cut from the current 0.25 per cent a year to 0 per cent.

By then, attitudes towards private car ownership may have shifted, if Mrs Teo's reading of present trends is accurate.

She said: "With the emergence of the sharing economy, many people, especially the younger generation, see the wisdom of renting or purchasing services when needed, rather than tying down funds for things they do not use all the time. They think it is smarter to be free of a car loan, and rely instead on a mix of transport options including buses, trains, walking, cycling, taxis or car-sharing services. The shift is taking place even in the United States, which is as car-loving a society as one can find."

Technology and shifting global norms - including the rise of the green movement - are working in MOT's favour for they not only enable people to choose lifestyles in line with a more sustainable future but also make these choices desirable.

Other ministries with sustainability on the agenda, such as the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), can also tap into this shift to address key challenges of waste reduction and water conservation.

MEWR is beefing up Singapore's water production capacity by building a third desalination plant - a crucial addition in the light of recent dry spells - as well as seeking to change water consumption habits.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the goal is to cut water use from the current 150 litres per person per day to 140 litres per person per day by 2030.

What might help push this campaign along is a water-saving device that doubles as an object of desire - one as cool as an electric scooter, perhaps.

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of National Development

More public rental flat applicants used to be home owners
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

NEARLY six in 10 public rental flat applicants today are former home owners who sold their flats.

This worrying trend comes even as the Government increases access to public rental flats for those who need it, he said.

Among this group are families that have cashed out on their homes for short-term gains only to suffer later, he added.

Dr Maliki cited a woman who sold her flat in 2010 and got cash proceeds of nearly $200,000. After several bad decisions, she lost it all and stayed at void decks and the beach before getting a public rental flat in 2013.

"We have seen many cases like Madam A (the woman)," he said.

The Government wants to help families move from renting flats to owning their own homes, but it needs to be done in a considered manner, said Dr Maliki.

He pointed out that some of these tenants face a steeper climb towards home ownership as they no longer qualify for certain subsidies and grants, which were already used when they bought their previous flats.

He said that as tenants are likely to be older, they also face problems getting sufficient housing loans.

Some of these families may have been caught in the rental trap because they sold their flats and used the proceeds "unwisely or even irresponsibly".

"Will our society support giving them more housing grants than what other families, including lower-income families, receive?"

He added: "Would such a well- intended policy change result in moral hazard?... We will work out a more inclusive and compassionate approach, with greater incentive for self-reliance, and stronger community support."

In response to MPs' questions during the debate on his ministry's budget, Dr Maliki also outlined plans aimed at helping low-income families find a home.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris- Punggol GRC) and Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) wanted to know how the Government could further help low- income families get homes, while Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) wanted public rental rules to be eased for unwed mothers.

Dr Maliki said the Housing Board's supply of rental flats will be further ramped up to 60,000 by 2017, from 51,000 today.

The average waiting time for rental flats has also dipped to 5.5 months today, down from 21 months back in 2008.

Rents have also stayed low. The lowest rental rate of $26 a month for one-room flats has remained unchanged for the past 35 years. Two-room rental flats start at $44 a month.

"That is why, even as we ramp up supply, we must continue to be judicious in allocating these highly subsidised rental flats, so that we target help where it is most needed, and stretch each dollar to help as many as possible," Dr Maliki said.

Some tenants, eager to go from renting to owning their homes, are looking forward to changes that can facilitate this jump.

One of them is housewife Mandee Hameed, 42, who lives in a one-room rental flat in Jalan Kukoh with her husband and her two daughters, aged 22 and two.

After renting for four years, her family successfully applied for a three-room Build-to-Order flat in Yishun last year.

"The main reason for moving is my baby," said Ms Mandee.

"I don't think it's a good environment for her to grow up in."

Family spent $198k from flat sale in less than 2 years
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

SHE sold her four-room flat and collected nearly $200,000 in cash proceeds. But after a series of bad decisions and ill fortune, Madam A and her family spent all the cash and had to seek help in getting a rental flat.

He said he had seen many cases such as that of Madam A, who sold their homes for short-term gains but later suffered for it.

In Madam A's case, her family had sold her four-room flat in 2010 after they could not keep up with the mortgage payments.

The sale yielded $198,000 in cash proceeds, which Madam A used to buy a weekend car and to rent a private apartment.

But things took a nasty turn.

The mother of three invested a large sum in a business venture that turned out to be a scam. Her husband also developed a serious medical condition, and much of the flat proceeds went towards his medical bills.

Less than two years after selling their flat, they had spent all the proceeds.

Unable to afford to buy or rent another flat on the open market, Madam A, her husband and their oldest son resorted to sleeping at void decks or the beach. Their three younger children, meanwhile, stayed separately with different relatives.

After they appealed for a public rental flat, the Housing Board accepted their application on compassionate grounds.

In 2013, the family of six moved into a two-room rental flat, where they still live.

"We have seen many cases like Madam A. With better outreach and community engagement, we hope home owners will make informed choices and not be easily taken in by the promise of short-term gains without realising the serious long-term implications," said Dr Maliki.

Govt to call for Rail Corridor proposals soon
It will invite ideas for masterplan and design concepts for green stretch
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

WORK on planning for the future of a 24km green stretch of former railway track will begin soon, with the authorities set to make a formal call for ideas.

The upcoming request for proposal (RFP) is for a masterplan and design concepts for the Rail Corridor, which runs from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

"The RFP will enable us to firm up the overall plan and design for the Rail Corridor, which will then guide how it will be realised in the coming years," said Mr Lee in the debate on his ministry's budget.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has incorporated public feedback into the planning and design goals, which will be part of the RFP brief, he added.

A public exhibition will be held later this year to showcase the proposals received.

"However, given that the length of the Rail Corridor is 24km, there is no rush to work on the whole stretch all at once."

Mr Lee was replying to MPs' questions on green topics such as tree conservation.

To Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who wanted protection for old trees, Mr Lee said that removing old trees is done "only after very careful consideration".

"Where possible, we will find new homes for these mature trees, and have transplanted some 2,100 trees just last year alone," he added.

Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) of the Workers' Party wanted specific guidelines - perhaps set out in legislation - for when environment impact assessments are required for development projects.

In reply, Mr Lee said only that these assessments are applied "to projects that may most adversely impact our protected natural spaces, and coastal and marine environments".

Separately, the Building and Construction Authority yesterday gave details of a $20 million fund to test new energy-efficient technologies, such as under-floor cooling systems, in actual buildings.

The GBIC-Building Energy Efficient Demonstrations Scheme aims to mitigate the financial risk of testing out new technologies, by co-funding costs such as equipment and installation. It will also cover the cost of removing the technology if the trial fails.

The scheme is one of three activities under the $52 million Green Buildings Innovation Cluster (GBIC) programme launched in September.

Plankton blooms' link to fish deaths under study
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

RESEARCHERS from several organisations are working with the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) on the link between plankton blooms and fish deaths, to shed more light on the causes of the mass deaths at Singapore's fish farms.

The AVA will also help fish farmers put in place contingency measures to minimise the fallout from such incidents in the future, Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman said.

It will also not impose the minimum production requirement of 17 tonnes of fish for every 0.5ha of farm space on affected farms, a concession it made last year after similar plankton bloom problems.

He was replying to Parliamentary Secretary Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC), who wanted to know what the Government was doing to help the affected fish farms. So far, about 600 tonnes of fish have died, with farms near the East Johor Strait the worst hit.

But the situation has improved, said Dr Maliki at the debate on his ministry's budget.

Plankton is a main food source for sea creatures but an unexpected population explosion can suffocate them. Such blooms could be triggered by factors such as dry weather and pollution.

While his ministry is looking at what can be done to reduce pollution, Dr Maliki said it also needs to "better understand the science behind this phenomenon".

This is the second year in a row of mass fish deaths at the farms.

The AVA is collaborating with agencies such as the National Environment Agency, National Parks Board, national water agency PUB and research institutes like the Tropical Marine Study Institute at the National University of Singapore on the study.

Dr Maliki advised fish farmers to learn from counterparts who have installed resilient preventive systems and to tap funds to buy the equipment.

Earlier this month, the AVA also awarded a tender to develop closed fish rearing systems to five companies.

These systems shield fish from external harmful forces. Many farmers rear fish in net cages in the open sea, exposing their stock to unnecessary risks.

Maliki rebuts Pritam on upgrading bias
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

MINISTER of State for National Development Maliki Osman yesterday rejected suggestions by Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) that grassroots groups were slow to push for upgrading programmes in opposition wards.

Dr Maliki said the Ministry of National Development (MND) has been fair to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and treated it no differently from other town councils.

The Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs), grassroots bodies appointed by the Government, had worked with the WP town council to identify upgrading projects under the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC) programme, he said.

A list of 17 projects was finalised, of which 12 were proposed by AHPETC.

Mr Singh had sought to give his version of events to the House, saying CCCs had been slow in working with his town council to secure funding from the ministry.

He said AHPETC made contact with the CCCs in May 2012 on CIPC funding but, after a series of correspondence, "there has been no substantive update".

Dr Maliki replied that the CCCs have to raise funds for the proposals and "need a bit more time to implement the projects".

"I don't know why Mr Singh would now turn around, blame the CCCs for tardiness, and unfairly paint them in such a negative light in the eyes of the public, when the CCCs... gave significant consideration to the town council's proposals and were prepared to support many of them," Dr Maliki added.

In response, Mr Singh said "the CCC can work much faster as shown by the previous town council management", adding that $12 million was allocated to the CCCs through MND between 2009 and 2011 but "nothing has been allocated to AHPETC since 2012".

Dr Maliki said CIPC funds were disbursed through CCCs and so "it is therefore incorrect for Mr Singh to say that MND had previously given CIPC funding to the former Aljunied town council, but withdrew it from AHPETC".

The WP won Aljunied GRC in the May 2011 general election and formed a town council that included Hougang. It took in Punggol East after winning it in the January 2013 by-election.

Dr Maliki also said AHPETC was given six Home Improvement Programme and three Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) projects from 2012 to 2013, "comparable to the number of projects received by other town councils".

But "when it comes to exerting its autonomy even against prevailing HDB policies, it is the AHPETC that has been especially aggressive and often with total disregard to such national policies".

Dr Maliki said AHPETC had unilaterally cut NRP works at Serangoon North avenues 1 and 2 as it exceeded the approved budget.

"The local grassroots informed HDB that residents had the impression that the items were cut by HDB because AHPETC was run by the opposition. Again, this is a mischievous distortion," he said.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said the consultants for the Serangoon project were appointed before the WP took over.

"The architects and other consultants were in a sense passed over from the previous town council management to work with us," she said, adding that the project's management fee was 3.5 per cent, which "is within market norm".

Dr Maliki also said AHPETC had given "the bulk of the projects to Hougang SMC, although Aljunied GRC has more eligible projects", adding that this was a call MPs could make.

Mr Singh said three precincts in Hougang and 20 in Aljunied had been nominated for the upgrading programmes. He said more Hougang precincts were picked as "Hougang wasn't given any main upgrading or interim upgrading projects prior to 2011".

WP-run town council accused of ignoring rules
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

THE Ministry of National Development already has a system to deal with disputes between residents and town councils, said Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, rejecting a call by Workers' Party chair Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) for a tribunal to deal with them.

AHPETC even wanted residents to maintain and repair their own letterboxes, he added.

Also, AHPETC has been leasing public spaces at Hougang Central Hub and Kovan City to businessmen for profit, against HDB guidelines that control the frequency of such activities to mitigate the impact on shopkeepers, Mr Lee said.

"A number of shopkeepers are unhappy about this. HDB has... written several times to remind the town council of the guidelines, to no avail," he added.

Responding, Ms Lim said: "We believe that the town council has a legitimate interest and is empowered to manage, not just maintain, the common property. Exactly what the ambit of that is has still not been decided."

Last year, AHPETC was found guilty of organising a Chinese New Year fair without a permit from the National Environment Agency (NEA), and fined $800. AHPETC has appealed against the ruling. Mr Lee said the court case was about NEA's enforcement actions, and not HDB's rules on managing the use of public spaces.

As for the HDB letters to AHPETC, Ms Lim said a neutral tribunal could resolve issues with circulars from agencies that "we find to be inconsistent with certain laws". "The circular does not have the force of law anyway."

Mr Lee said "we're not here to debate the merits of guidelines". "Suffice to say there were guidelines in place which all town councils abide by, and for which there's been no compliance in this particular regard by AHPETC."

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

10 more hawker centres to be built
By Audrey Tan. The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

TEN more hawker centres will be built over the next 12 years in a bid to moderate hawker rentals and keep food prices affordable, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said yesterday.

The additional centres will be built in new estates or in existing ones that have relatively few hawker centres, such as Bidadari, Sengkang and Bukit Batok, Ms Fu told Parliament during the debate on her ministry's budget.

These will come on top of the 10 hawker centres in 10 years that the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) had committed in 2011 to build. The first two of those centres will open in Bukit Panjang and Hougang this year.

"Altogether, the 20 new centres will inject an additional supply of more than 800 cooked food stalls and we believe this will help to further moderate rentals," Ms Fu said.

The 800 new stalls amount to a more than 10 per cent increase in cooked-food stalls here. As of January, there were 6,046 of them.

Raising the number of stalls is the latest in a series of policy changes to ensure that hawker centre food prices remain affordable, Ms Fu said in Mandarin.

Among other things, the Government has disallowed stallholders from subletting or assigning their stalls to someone else, and removed the concept of reserve rent so that stall rentals fully reflect market conditions - in some cases falling to as low as $1.

"Our hawker centres are essential social infrastructure - they provide a clean and hygienic environment for our hawkers to ply their trade and enable Singaporeans to access good food at affordable prices," Ms Fu added.

Adding more stalls is expected to help keep food prices in check, going by an analysis conducted last year by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and MEWR.

It showed that while the actual price of food may differ from one hawker centre to another, prices are on average 8.4 per cent lower if there is one other stall in the same centre selling a similar type of food. A hawker centre has about 50 stalls and there are usually a number of them selling similar types of food.

In response to concerns from Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) about a 2013 report by the Consumers Association of Singapore that showed rising hawker centre rents were linked to more expensive food, Ms Fu said there is "little substantive evidence... that rentals are the main drivers of hawker food prices".

She said rentals typically comprise only about 12 per cent of a hawker's total costs - a small fraction compared to raw materials like ingredients, which make up more than 50 per cent of costs.

Manpower accounts for another 17 per cent of costs, while utilities take up 9 per cent.

Ms Fu also noted yesterday that over 85 per cent of hawkers pay less than $1,500 in monthly rent. Those who pay more are mostly located in the city, such as in Newton or Maxwell, she said.

In an area like Toa Payoh, hawker centre rents average around $650 a month, with more than half of the stalls - primarily subsidised ones - paying $320 or less.

Even if such stalls are excluded, average rents are about $1,100 a month. This "compares favourably to the coffee shops or foodcourts nearby", she added.

Hawker's monthly rent for stall? Just $1
By Audrey Tan. The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

HAWKER Ng Khai Choon, 48, secured a stall to sell Indian food at the Commonwealth Crescent Market for a monthly rental rate of just $1.

He has occupied the corner unit on the market's second floor since January this year, after moving from Amoy Street Food Centre when it closed for renovations last December. He paid a monthly rental rate of $900 at Amoy Street, but for the next three years, it will be $1 a month.

Since the National Environment Agency lifted reserve rental rates in 2012, it rents out hawker stalls that receive single bids over two tenders, rather than require competition from multiple bidders.

Echoing what Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu said in Parliament yesterday about raw materials - not rental rates - making up a large proportion of a hawker's total costs, he said most of his costs stem from ingredients for his dishes, especially his signature kambing (mutton) soup.

"Mutton is extremely expensive. It makes up about 60 per cent to 70 per cent of my total cost," he said.

Mr Ng runs the stall, Bombay Modern Indian Cuisine, single-handedly and thus does not incur extra manpower costs - although he intends to hire help by the middle of next year.

He pays about $300 a month for utilities, and more than $600 a month in cleaning fees.

While he declined to reveal his total monthly takings, he said it was enough to make ends meet.

He added: "I am very lucky to get the stall for just $1, it means I pay only $36 in rent for three years!"

Third desalination plant to be built
Move to meet rising needs but water supply expansion not infinite: Vivian
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE will build a desalination plant in Tuas to treat more seawater, to meet the country's growing water needs.

Announcing this yesterday in Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said the new plant will also help to tide Singapore over dry spells.

He noted that Singapore had experienced dry spells last year as well as reduced rain this year. "We need to prepare for periods of drought and dry spells in future," he said. Singapore currently uses about 400 million gallons of water a day, but this could almost double by the year 2060.

The new desalination plant will be the third in the country when it is completed in 2017.

With it, Singapore will be able to produce up to 130 million gallons of water a day from seawater, up from the current maximum of 100 million gallons a day. The Government is considering building more desalination plants.

Desalinated water, or treated seawater, now meets up to 25 per cent of current water demand and is expected to continue to meet up to 25 per cent of demand by 2060.

Newater, which is treated used water, is slated to meet up to 55 per cent of Singapore's water demand by 2060, up from as much as 30 per cent now. Singapore's two other national taps are treated rainwater and water imported from Malaysia, but the agreement with Malaysia will expire in 2061.

Dr Balakrishnan noted, however, that Singapore's water supply cannot be expanded infinitely, so Singaporeans should help to conserve water.

The Government may have to impose water restrictions during prolonged dry spells and droughts, such as making it illegal for people to use water to wash cars, so it is now studying whether it needs to refine existing legislation, he added.

Separately, national water agency PUB is calling a tender to study the feasibility of using underground space, such as rock caverns, for the redevelopment of its water reclamation plant and Newater factory in Kranji.

The plant and factory are expected to be redeveloped and expanded around the year 2030, as part of the integrated used water system consisting of the Changi, Tuas and Kranji water reclamation plants in east, west and north Singapore respectively.

"The relocation of utilities infrastructure underground has the potential to free up surface land for other uses, and create a more pleasant living environment for people to live, work and play above ground," PUB said.

The feasibility study is expected to be completed by next year, and will look at the challenges of constructing and operating a plant in an underground cavern.

These include the need for back-up systems for power, odour control, air ventilation and other mechanical systems. Designs to cope with potential floods or fires will also be needed.

'Clean your own neighbourhood day' as part of anti-littering drive
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

EVERY year, town councils are going to set aside one day when residents will clean their own neighbourhoods. This is part of a plan to battle the ever-mounting litter problem.

Other steps to be taken include officers of the National Environment Agency (NEA) being kitted out with body-worn cameras - like those used by the police - to capture abuse and attacks by people.

"We will also make it easier for members of the public to submit video or photographic evidence which we can use for investigation and prosecution," Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament yesterday, when he announced a raft of anti- littering measures being considered by his ministry, which oversees the NEA.

It is also looking at ways to get people to clean up after themselves at major events, including this year's National Day Parade.

"Spectators and participants will be encouraged to clean up the Padang at the end of each show and its fringe celebrations... as a reflection of our national pride."

These moves are prompted by the attention drawn to the issue in January, following Facebook posts from three politicians, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

They had commented on the appalling amount of rubbish left behind by about 13,000 concert- goers at the Laneway Festival at Gardens by the Bay.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said the standard of cleanliness has fallen, with his ministry's surveys showing that from 2006 to 2010, the litter observed or collected had almost doubled.

The cleaning bill for public places comes to a projected $120 million a year, with some hot spots being cleaned once every two hours, he added.

Responding to Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), he said the NEA's Community Volunteer Scheme will no longer be just for volunteers of non-governmental organisations such as the Waterways Watch Society and Singapore Kindness Movement.

Others can join as well, and all volunteers will get the same training as new NEA officers, giving them "similar status and authority as a regular NEA officer", he said, adding that the laws will be amended later.

"We must become more like Japan and Taiwan, where it is peer pressure and role modelling that set the standard," he added.

Tighter industrial emissions standards for better air quality
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 11 Mar 2015

Industrial emissions standards will be tightened to improve air quality standards, as industries such as power stations and oil refineries account for a significant portion of particulate matter and sulphur dioxide emissions, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (March 11).

The annual mean for PM2.5 was 18 microgrammes per cubic metre last year, more than the 2020 target of 12 microgrammes per cubic metre. Meanwhile, the highest 24-hour mean for sulphur dioxide was 83 microgrammes per cubic metre last year, also far from the 2020 target of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Last year, industries such as power stations and oil refineries accounted for almost all of the locally generated sulphur dioxide emissions and 43 per cent of PM2.5 emissions.

“We are therefore working with the companies involved in these industries to reduce their emissions and we will be tightening the industrial emissions standards for a range of air pollutants in order to help us achieve our targets for cleaner air,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

More details will be released later this month.

In addition, Category C diesel vehicle owners will soon receive greater impetus to go green. The Early Turnover Scheme (ETS) will be expanded to include owners of Cat C diesel vehicles with Euro II/III emissions standards.

Both Members of Parliament Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) and Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) noted that diesel-driven vehicles are key domestic contributors of PM2.5 pollutants here. They asked if the ministry has further plans to reduce harmful emissions from these vehicles.

At present, vehicles account for 57 per cent of local PM2.5 emissions.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said from August, these light commercial diesel vehicles will be given a certificate of entitlement (COE) bonus of 10 per cent of the remainder of the vehicle’s 20-year lifespan. The heavy commercial diesel vehicles will be given a COE bonus of 90 per cent of the remainder of its 20-year lifespan.

On the issue of transboundary haze, Dr Balakrishnan said the trigger conditions for the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which was passed in Parliament last year, have not been invoked yet. Despite the increased number of hot spots in Riau last year, wind conditions prevented a repeat of the haze episode in 2013, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan also reiterated the importance of cooperation with foreign governments and private companies.

“I don’t intend to engage in barbs with other foreign politicians, but let me just say this: Remember that it is not just Singaporeans who are the victims, but there are even more Indonesian victims who are suffering because they are living right in the midst of the peat fires,” he said.

Two pilot programmes to recycle food waste
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE will embark on two pilot programmes this year to encourage more people to recycle their food waste, said Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu in Parliament yesterday, during the debate on her ministry's budget.

In a two-year trial, two hawker centres will each get a recycling machine to convert their food waste and leftover food into compost or water.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will show the hawkers and cleaners how to segregate the food waste properly so it can be recycled. The two centres will be announced later.

The Government will also start a district-level food-waste recycling trial in Clementi, said Ms Fu, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

This will help the Government to see if it is economically viable to collect food waste from shopping malls, schools, hospitals, office buildings and other places, and treat all of it off-site at a centralised recycling facility.

Clementi was chosen as it is near the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant, where the food waste will be recycled. The pilot will look at the feasibility of recovering energy from food waste and used-water sludge at the plant.

Several MPs spoke yesterday about the need to tackle the growing mountain of food waste. About 788,600 tonnes of food were thrown away last year, slightly less than the 796,000 tonnes in 2013 but still much more than the 606,100 tonnes in 2009.

Only 13 per cent of last year's waste was recycled, even though food now accounts for about 10 per cent of all waste in Singapore.

"Food wastage is never good, but it is even worse in Singapore, where we import 90 per cent of all we eat," said Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC).

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said most of the food waste is generated by businesses.

He noted that a study by Nanyang Technological University students had found the majority of the waste is created by wholesalers and retailers who discard fruit and vegetables with blemishes. "Another major contributor of food waste is the food and beverage industry where the industrial practice is to produce more than what can be sold," he added.

Last year, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore and NEA commissioned a survey to find out people's perceptions, behaviour and attitudes towards food wastage.

Ms Fu also said yesterday that more will be done to tackle electrical and electronic waste, which is a growing concern.

The NEA will form a national voluntary e-waste recycling partnership programme to bring producers, retailers, recyclers and others together to raise awareness and to provide better recycling infrastructure.

The Government is considering restricting the use of hazardous substances in certain electrical and electronic equipment, and is also looking at options for a regulated system to treat and recycle both waste streams.

Recycling machine turns hotels' food waste into compost for garden
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

EACH day, the Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel the Stamford hotels recycle about 100kg of their combined food waste using an on-site recycling machine.

The hotels are next to each other in the City Hall area. They have their own kitchens but also share one kitchen, where they installed the recycling machine in 2012.

The Eco-Wiz Dry System Model DV100 cost $37,500, but has helped them to cut back on the food that is thrown away.

The machine converts about 5 per cent of the food waste it processes into compost.

This is used as fertiliser in the hotels' herb garden, or by food recycling firm Eco-Wiz in planting experiments at its education centre.

The rest of the waste is turned into liquid.

"The machine can process all food types, but we refrain from feeding in onions and citrus foods," said Mr Robert Stirrup, executive chef of both hotels.

The acidity of onions and citrus foods in the converted fertiliser affects the soil in the herb garden, he explained.

"We also try not to feed the machine shells and bones as they take a much longer time to process," he said.

To reduce their food wastage, the hotels also donate food to local charity Food From The Heart, which distributes food to the less fortunate.

They also reuse egg shells as a base for composting in the herb garden.

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

Malay/Muslim MPs ask about families, education
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

SIX Malay/Muslim MPs yesterday sought updates on the community's efforts to uplift itself and strengthen its families, with some concerned about how it can cope with issues such as high divorce rates and debt.

They wanted to know how steps taken by community groups to help different layers of society, from giving pre-schoolers a headstart to helping adults upgrade their skills, were faring.

They also had questions about the curricula of kindergartens in mosques, and the disbursement of zakat, or tithe, contributions.

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (Nee Soon GRC) asked for updates on education and development programmes for young people.

"The community has a large youth base, and they are an asset to us," he said. "If developed well, these youths present opportunities for us to develop a community of excellence for future generations."

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked how self-help group Mendaki planned to get more involved in early childhood education, while Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) wanted to know if its training arm, Mendaki Sense, could help adults seeking to upgrade their skills build up their training portfolio.

Dr Fatimah also asked about the "relatively high" divorce rates in the Malay/Muslim community, and programmes to strengthen families. Figures show that 1,662 Muslim couples split up in 2013.

The financial health of the community was raised by Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), who spoke about how households can be taught to better manage finances.

He said: "Good financial planning remains a key to maintaining strong and resilient families. Debts open doors to social problems and vices."

Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) asked about zakat spending, and where leftover funds go towards.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim will respond to these queries when the debate continues today.

Identify, celebrate what it is to be S'porean: Baey
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

AS SINGAPORE celebrates its 50th year of independence, it is important to identify what defines its people as Singaporeans, said Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) yesterday in Parliament.

"What reaches and touches the mind, heart and soul of Singaporeans and binds Singaporeans to Singapore? It cannot be something we do or evoke a celebratory mood every 50 years, or even every year during National Day," he said, as he kicked off the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Noting that it was natural for Singaporeans to be swept up in the mood of SG50 celebrations, he said it was important to channel these positive energies into building a stronger, more united Singapore for the next 50 years.

"What we do today on the occasion of SG50 will define the future of Singapore," said Mr Baey.

The national identities of many citizens of other countries are tied with their racial and cultural identities, he said.

But many Singaporeans are descendants of immigrants, with some of mixed parentage, and so "our racial and cultural identities are actually distinct", he noted.

"Yet, we have to embrace and accept all as part and parcel of being Singaporean," he said, adding that as a result, Singapore as a country does not seem to have anything that is very distinctive culturally.

What Singapore does have - such as Singlish - have gained recognition only recently, said the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Community and Youth.

Singling out other "uniquely Singaporean" facets that deserve to be celebrated, he cited the xinyao genre of local Chinese songs, which exemplifies a ground-up "passion and pursuit of people with ideas and creativity".

Getai performances represent "street life, coffee shop talk, what an average Singaporean does every day", added Mr Baey.

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