Friday 13 March 2015

Parliament Highlights - 12 Mar 2015

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Health

Medisave Minimum Sum requirement to be scrapped next year
Maximum sum to be renamed and fixed for each cohort at age 65
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

FROM next January, people no longer need to have a minimum sum in their Medisave account before they can withdraw their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings at age 55.

The requirement will be scrapped.

Currently, the stipulated amount is $43,500, and those with less have to top up their Medisave with money from the Ordinary Account in their CPF.

The change, announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament yesterday, affects many people, as almost half of those who turn 55 currently do not have this sum in their Medisave.

But the maximum sum for Medisave will not be scrapped, Mr Gan said in his reply to Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC), chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health.

This sum, which will be raised annually to keep pace with the higher draw on Medisave by the elderly, will go up from $48,500 today to $49,800 next January.

Excess amounts will be moved to the Special and Retirement Accounts.

Mr Gan also said the Medisave maximum sum will be renamed Basic Health-care Sum from next January and will be fixed for each cohort when they turn 65, with no subsequent changes in their lifetime.

At present, any increase in the maximum sum applies to everyone, regardless of age.

The changes are part of a move to improve the Medisave scheme, said Mr Gan.

The first step was taken in January this year, he added, when the Medisave contribution rate of employers was increased to help Singaporeans save more for their health-care needs.

Another major change he announced concerns the amount of Medisave people can use to pay for the premiums of the private health insurance they buy. These schemes incorporate the basic MediShield insurance.

Now, the maximum they are allowed to use from Medisave for these Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) is a flat rate of $800 for people aged 65 and younger, rising to $1,400 for those aged 81 or older.

After MediShield Life replaces MediShield later this year, the amount that can be used for IPs will be tiered according to age groups. For the basic MediShield Life, there will be no limit on the use of Medisave for the premiums.

Mr Gan said: "We will have to balance between helping Singaporeans pay for their IP premiums using Medisave, and ensuring that Medisave is adequately preserved for health-care needs, especially for the lower- income."

Several MPs, including Dr Chia and Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, asked for Medisave to cover more chronic ailments.

Mr Gan said it will not include eczema, which Mrs Chiam had asked for. But he assured her there is subsidy for its treatment and financial help for those who still cannot afford to pay.

But from June 1 this year, Medisave can be used to pay for treatment of four more conditions: epilepsy, osteoporosis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. It brings to 19 the number of chronic conditions covered by Medisave.

The amount allowed is up to $400 a year. But people aged 65 and older can use an additional $200 from next month.

The various moves are part of a masterplan to build a quality health-care system that will be sustainable in keeping Singaporeans healthy, said Mr Gan.

"We have made a lot of progress... but we must also look ahead into the future," he added.

More clarity on private health plan premiums
Insurers have to present products more transparently in future: Gan
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

WHEN Singapore introduces the MediShield Life insurance scheme for large medical bills this year, it will affect how much a person can withdraw from his Medisave savings to pay for the premium of his private health insurance.

Up to 60 per cent of Singaporeans have bought such private insurance. These schemes incorporate the basic MediShield plan.

These Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) pay for a better-class ward than the subsidised B2- and C-class wards covered by the basic MediShield plan.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) expressed concerns over the depletion of Medisave through the escalation of IP premiums.

He argued that as people get older and their Medisave runs low, they "will naturally downgrade to MediShield Life, leaving IP providers to cream off all the premiums already paid over the years".

Replying, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong noted that, at present, "Singaporeans are not aware of how much Medisave is being used for MediShield and how much is directed towards the additional private insurance component".

In future, insurers will have to "present their products more transparently and accurately" to help people make informed decisions, he added.

How Medisave can be used to pay for premiums in future will reflect this with greater clarity.


People up to age 65 can use a maximum of $800 every year from Medisave to pay for the premiums of MediShield or any private IP.

The amount increases with age to $1,400 a year for those aged 81 and older.

These amounts are enough to pay in full the premium of the current basic MediShield for people of all ages.

It is also enough to cover in full the most expensive private IP premium for those under the age of 50, without them having to use cash from their pockets.

But older people with private IP premiums higher than the maximum $800 to $1,200 have to fork out cash to pay the difference.


THERE is no change for people who have only the basic MediShield Life. Their entire premium can be paid using Medisave.

But the 60 per cent of people with private IPs will get a new formula later this year on how much Medisave they can use.

The premium for the MediShield Life portion of their IP can be paid in full with Medisave.

But the additional premium for their private plan will face a new Medisave cap that will vary with age - with younger people allowed to use less and older people more.

The precise amounts will be announced later, but these are unlikely to cover the entire premium of the pricier IPs for treatments in A-class or private hospitals.

In future, even young people with expensive IPs will likely have to pay for part of their premiums in cash.

Ensuring patients get 'bang for their buck'
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE has to start planning now for the changes the country's health-care system will need beyond 2020, in order to keep costs affordable as the population ages, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

And for it to remain sustainable in the long term, "deeper transformative changes (are needed for) both the way care is organised as well as the way it is delivered".

Mr Gan said enhancing subsidies, introducing MediShield Life and putting more money into Medisave are all steps in the right direction. "But such measures are insufficient on their own. We must also ensure that our health-care bill grows at an affordable pace so that we - as individuals and as a society - can continue to afford it," he said.

One way is making the best use of available health-care resources. He said patients rely on health-care providers to advise them on appropriate treatments. These providers must "play their part in delivering cost-effective services".

To help them, the Health Ministry will place more emphasis on assessing new health technologies, including both devices and drugs, to ensure they are useful and cost effective.

"This will ensure that patients get the most bang for their buck for the treatment and medications they receive," Mr Gan said.

In the long term, the plan is to fully integrate the various aspects of health-care provision - from general practitioner clinics to hospitals to nursing homes, and among the private, public and volunteer sectors.

The aim is to have one integrated national health-care system, he said. Hence, by the end of this year, all community hospitals will have their computer systems linked to public hospitals and polyclinics, so patient information can be shared and is complete.

This should improve patient care, Mr Gan said.

Casting his eye over the changes in recent years, he said a lot of progress has been made under the Healthcare 2020 masterplan, including ramping up infrastructure.

The rate at which more hospital beds are being added "is more than double that in the last decade". Rehabilitation facilities will also more than double by 2020.

While work on increasing facilities will continue, Mr Gan said "we must also look ahead to the future".

"We have started our planning processes to prepare for the future. We must continue on this journey to innovate and transform our health-care system to ensure a quality, sustainable one beyond 2020 to keep Singaporeans healthy."

New Bukit Panjang polyclinic to help ease strain
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

A NEW polyclinic will be built in Bukit Panjang as part of the Health Ministry's efforts to make primary care more accessible. The new facility will help relieve the strain on other nearby polyclinics, such as the one in Choa Chu Kang, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

The ministry had earlier announced plans to build six new polyclinics - to add to the existing 18 - by 2020. The six include the Bukit Panjang polyclinic and two others in Jurong West and Punggol announced earlier. Mr Gan added that the existing Yishun and Marine Parade polyclinics are also undergoing re-development.

Elaborating, Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said the Yishun polyclinic will move to a new location at the junction of Yishun Central and Yishun Avenue 9 by 2018. It will also be expanded.

Meanwhile, the Marine Parade polyclinic will be expanded from one to two storeys by next year. Dr Lam said: "These expansions will allow us to meet expected demand even as the population in the estate grows and ages."

He said construction of the new Jurong West and Punggol polyclinics will start later this year.

Dr Lam also announced a new primary care centre in Sembawang, which will treat a range of patients similar to those seen by regular polyclinics. But it will likely adopt a different model of care.

"It will be a test-bed for the introduction of new care models, innovative ideas and care processes," he said. The centre will be developed by the Alexandra Health System, which also manages institutions such as Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Making home and community services more affordable
Private operators can bid with VWOs to run subsidised care services for elderly in move to raise capacity
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

BETTER subsidised home and community services are on the cards as private operators have been invited to join voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to bid for them, said Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor yesterday.

These services include home nursing, day care and day rehabilitation services.

All operators can now take part in the Ministry of Health's (MOH) Build-Own-Lease tenders for the provision of subsidised aged care services, she said.

Previously, most subsidised home and community services were provided by VWOs.

The change in policy would help Singapore scale up capacity and provide affordable care for a greying population, she said.

Capacity was an issue, given feedback about long waiting lists at certain care centres, said Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC).

But this has already improved somewhat, Dr Khor noted, citing how an elderly patient now faces a shorter wait of about 20 days for admission into day care, down from 30 days last year.

When it comes to choosing providers of home and community services, the Government will look at care models and affordability of fees, she added. The Government may also request more bundled services for future centres.

Recently, it solicited proposals from private organisations and VWOs for a senior care centre at Ci Yuan Community Centre in Hougang. Providers had to tender to operate day services in the senior care centre as well as offer home-care services out of the centre.

Extending the tender of subsidised services to private operators is part of an ongoing effort to expand home and community services for seniors to age in familiar surroundings.

"We want to fulfil our seniors' aspirations to age in place and enable their children to take care of their parents at home for as long as possible," Dr Khor said.

Besides expanding capacity, the Health Ministry will also pay close attention to the quality of home and community care.

Last year, new home-based, community and palliative care guidelines were proposed. These have been finalised and will be implemented soon.

With Singapore's population ageing, several MPs raised concerns about health-care manpower. "Caring for the elderly requires much human touch and many aspects cannot be automated through productivity measures," said Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC).

She noted that in Britain, for example, one in five nursing homes was found to have a lack of staff to provide adequate care.

Fortunately, Singapore is on track to meet its health-care manpower targets of expanding the workforce by 20,000 staff from 2011 to 2020, Dr Khor said.

In the last four years, Singapore's health-care professional workforce expanded by 9,000. Health-care job roles have also expanded as technology takes over more mundane jobs.

Senior patient service associate Rajasoluchana Rasayam, 34, for instance, needs to do less administrative work with advanced IT systems at Tan Tock Seng Hospital nowadays.

Instead, her role has been expanded to include more meaningful tasks such as drawing blood for patients, which helps in the diagnosis of diseases.

"There is career progression and I have been given more opportunities to grow," she said.

MOH will continue to look into training, remuneration and flexible work arrangements to encourage a higher take-up of health-care jobs, Dr Khor said. She also hoped more mid-career entrants, women re-entering the workforce and retired nurses will join the health-care workforce.

Ramping up mental health care
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

MEASURES to tackle mental health problems through a community approach will be stepped up to ensure timely help to those at risk and peace of mind for neighbours.

Dementia care facilities will also be ramped up to meet the needs of an ageing population, said Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor.

"Sometimes, it does take a village to enable patients to recover, and recover well in the community," she said during yesterday's Budget debate.

She was addressing the concerns of several Members of Parliament, including Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC), regarding mental health issues.

"Real day-to-day issues such as neighbourly disputes due to alleged smells, conspiracies on fixing each other and littering... threaten to deepen the animosity between neighbours, making it even harder for patients or family members to consider mental health issues and seek professional help," said Ms Tin.

In response, the Health Ministry plans to build more local community support networks made up of grassroots leaders, volunteers, social work agencies, the police and town councils.

At Kembangan-Chai Chee, for instance, volunteers have been given basic mental health and eldercare education to help them identify residents at risk and link them up with appropriate resources.

The Health Ministry is exploring the possibility of setting up such networks in 50 constituencies. General practitioners (GPs) will also play a part. The ministry aims to train 120 GPs by 2017 and set up more allied health and specialist-led teams to tackle mental health issues in the community.

The Institute of Mental Health's aftercare services - where discharged patients at higher risk receive phone calls and home visits - will be expanded.

Capacity for dementia care will also be beefed up, said Dr Khor. The number of dementia day care places will be increased from 650 to 3,000 by 2020.

MOH may standardise packaging for cigarettes, ban display of tobacco products at cashiers
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

A public consultation on the standardised packaging of tobacco products - plain boxes with graphic health warnings - will be carried out at the end of 2015, said Parliamentary Secretary Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim on Thursday.

If implemented, tobacco products will get the same plain packaging and have any promotional aspects - like trademarks, logos, colour schemes and images - removed. But the mandatory health warnings will remain.

The objective is to decrease the appeal of cigarettes and other tobacco products, and increase the visibility of health warnings.

Australia is the only country to have implemented standardised packaging, which it did on Dec 1, 2012. New Zealand, Ireland, France and the United Kingdom have also announced their intention to introduce such packaging.

Associate Professor Faishal announced the public consultation as one of several tobacco control measures, in the debate on the Health Ministry's budget. The Government will continue to help smokers quit through health campaigns. His ministry will also push to ban point-of-sale displays of tobacco products, like cigarettes at a cashier, later this year.

New and emerging tobacco products that appeal to the youth may also be banned, he said. In a statement, the Health Ministry highlighted that some countries have prohibited the sale of tobacco for oral use, while others have prohibited electronic cigarettes.

Shisha - one such emerging product - was banned in Singapore in November 2014, "to prevent its proliferation and entrenchment in Singapore."

"We intend to do the same for other types of emerging tobacco products later this year."

Associate Professor Faishal also told Parliament: "I would very much like to hear your views."

One in 3 Singaporeans now on health help scheme CHAS
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

One in three Singaporeans - or 1.2 million people - are now on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), said Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min on Thursday.

This includes members of the pioneer generation, who are eligible for special CHAS subsidies.

And around 500 new general practitioners (GPs) and dental clinics have come on board the scheme in the past year, making for a total of more than 1,300.

Dr Lam also said that the Health Ministry will be keeping a close eye on these clinics to make sure they do not abuse the scheme.

He was responding to a question by Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng, who said he had received feedback that the cost of treatment at some CHAS clinics is unexpectedly high.

Dr Lam noted that different clinics charge different prices, and that prices tend to vary depending on a patient's condition.

"But we expect CHAS GPs to price reasonably, bearing in mind CHAS patients are expected to be lower- to middle-income," he said.

He encouraged patients to ask for itemised receipts if charges are not made clear, and added that they should call the CHAS hotline if clinics do not make satisfactory replies.

Singapore will have a continued supply of obstetricians, says Lam
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 12 Mar 2015

Between 60 and 70 new obstetricians will graduate over the next five years, ensuring that there will be no shortage of obstetric services, said Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min on Thursday.

He added that Singapore also has enough trained, experienced midwives who are also able to deliver babies in restructured hospitals.

He was responding to a question from Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin, who asked how changes in medical indemnity coverage for doctors could affect the supply of obstetricians.

In February, The Straits Times reported that more than a quarter of obstetricians here said they planned to stop delivering babies within the year following a change in the terms of their insurance plans.

Ms Kuik suggested that the Health Ministry (MOH) provide post-retirement protection for these doctors so that they will continue to practise.

"MOH is discussing with professional leaders and other stakeholders how best to address the issue," Dr Lam said. "MOH will also consider ways to work with relevant parties to minimise impact on services and expectant mothers."

What seniors want: To learn new things, volunteer skills
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

SENIORS want to spend their golden years meaningfully, and the Health Ministry is working on ways to help them do so.

This includes the chance to learn new things or volunteer their skills, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

He was sharing the findings of focus group discussions on successful ageing, in which more than 1,300 Singaporeans had taken part.

"At the community level, seniors also enjoy social activities with their families and friends and suggested having more spaces and programmes in the community to support these interactions," he said.

Mr Gan said the ideas raised in discussions would be studied by the various ministries and developed under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.

For example, the Health Ministry (MOH) is working with the Education Ministry to study how to expand the scope and scale of learning opportunities for seniors.

It is also working with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to make volunteering more accessible, attractive, and meaningful. Details will be announced when the action plan is ready later this year.

Mr Gan also paid tribute to senior citizens such as Mr Harbhajan Singh, 74, a senior nurse manager in Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"Because of the commitment and devotion of pioneers like Mr Singh, we have today a modern and robust health-care system," he said.

To recognise their contributions, Mr Gan added, MOH has teamed up with the Singapore Business Federation to offer special benefits to seniors.

These include dining discounts, free or discounted entry to places of attraction, as well as discounted hotel stays and travel packages.

Also included are free courses offered by the Council for Third Age's senior learning providers.

Transport subsidy extended to 1,000 more seniors
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

A TRANSPORT subsidy that is currently given out to the wheelchair-bound seniors will be extended to seniors requiring some form of mobility assistance, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said in Parliament yesterday.

The transport subsidies come under the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF) and is for those attending Government-funded day rehabilitation, dementia care or dialysis services.

Starting next month, the subsidy will be extended to include those who require "some form of mobility assistance", she said. This includes, for instance, those who need to use walking sticks.

The improved scheme is also meant to encourage seniors to attend rehabilitation follow-ups.

Dr Khor said: "The fact that the elderly may not follow up with rehab could be due to other factors, such as (having) no transport to day rehab."

Dr Khor was responding to questions from Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) on why some seniors do not attend rehab follow-ups, which subsequently affects their recovery.

With the enhanced scheme, an additional 1,000 seniors will benefit from transport subsidies. Currently, 2,000 seniors get transport subsidies under the SMF. "The level of funding support given will be based on mobility needs," Dr Khor said.

The Health Ministry expects to provide an additional $14 million from the fund to support eldercare operators in providing transportation.

Besides providing transport subsidies, MOH has also stepped up efforts to encourage seniors to attend rehab follow-ups by providing subsidies for home rehabilitation since April last year. With more rehab needs, the number of physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists in the public and step-down care sectors has grown by 40 per cent to more than 1,200 today. Course intakes in local institutions for speech and occupational therapy as well as physiotherapy have also been increased, said Dr Khor.

Singaporeans aged above 60 can also tap the fund to get subsidies of up to 90 per cent on hearing aids. Since 2013, close to $17 million in subsidies have been given out through the fund, she said.

Greater peace of mind on health care
But new ways must be found to encourage people to do their part
By Fiona Chan, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

COPING with health-care costs has been a major worry for many Singaporeans, but recent measures by the Government are helping to ensure that Singaporeans have less reason to fret.

Among the moves announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament yesterday were more drug subsidies for those who need continuing care after leaving the hospital, and extending the use of Medisave funds and Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) subsidies to cover a wider variety of chronic conditions.

Seniors aged 65 and above will also be able to use another $200 a year from their Medisave to pay for outpatient treatment, he said in response to calls by Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) for more flexibility in Medisave use. At the same time, Mr Gan reiterated that Singaporeans will be able to use Medisave to pay for premiums under the MediShield Life insurance scheme, which will cover all Singaporeans for life.

For those who want to add enhanced coverage to cover the costs of a more comfortable hospital stay, the Government is working with private insurers to develop a new standard Integrated Shield Plan. This will be rolled out in the first half of next year, Mr Gan assured Dr Chia and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), who asked for a progress update during the debate on the Health Ministry's spending plans.

Together, these actions increase the Government's share of health-care spending, make Medisave more useful, and allow more risk-pooling through MediShield Life.

And there is little doubt they will help lessen Singaporeans' concerns about their medical bills. But regular reminders about the importance of staying healthy could also be useful. By the time something goes wrong with a person's health, it is often too late to do much about it.

That's why Dr Chia's suggestion yesterday for a HealthFuture scheme - borrowing from the new SkillsFuture initiative - was intriguing. He proposed a HealthFuture account for each Singaporean, to be used for healthy lifestyle programmes such as smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise classes or health screenings.

Just as the SkillsFuture account aims to help Singaporeans maintain their employability through credits that can be used for training courses, the HealthFuture account could encourage them to proactively upkeep their health.

Such an account would prompt Singaporeans to "invest in our own health, for now and for the future", Dr Chia said. He suggested that HealthFuture funds could take the form of contributions by the Government, employers and individuals, or come from Medisave, adding: "We all recognise the importance of keeping healthy and disease prevention, but walking the walk is far more difficult than talking the talk."

Responding to Dr Chia's idea, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim reminded the House that "Singaporeans do not necessarily have to spend money to keep healthy".

"First and foremost, investing in health needs to start with our own personal decision to stay healthy," he said. He cited steps the Health Ministry has taken to encourage such a decision, including advertising campaigns for healthy eating and an upcoming health and wellness mobile app.

How effective this has been in changing the behaviour of Singaporeans, however, is difficult to tell. They may need a jolt from a more radical idea like HealthFuture, which has the potential to increase the sense of control and immediacy that people have about their health.

In fact, a similar scheme already exists in the form of national sports movement ActiveSG, which offers a $100 credit for the use of sports facilities to anyone who signs up as a member. It has drawn 670,000 members since its launch last year, a testament to the power of financial incentives.

Building on both ActiveSG and Dr Chia's idea, perhaps those Singaporeans not inclined towards sports could be allowed to use the $100 credit for pre-approved health programmes instead.

To give them a greater sense of urgency, these credits could adopt a "use it or lose it" policy. If not used within a year, the credits would expire.

While such a scheme will involve some initial outlay, it could prove cheaper in the long term if Singaporeans are galvanised into overcoming obesity and smoking, or going for health screenings that could detect any problems early.

This would be one key way to ensure Singapore's health-care system remains sustainable and affordable over time, which was a concern of many of the 19 MPs who spoke during the debate on the Health Ministry's budget.

But, as Dr Fatimah noted, everyone has a role to play in keeping health-care costs down. Patients should keep themselves up-to- date on health issues and have realistic goals, while health-care providers should not "over-service" patients, and policymakers must walk the ground to better understand the issues, she said.

As Singapore's population ages and health-care spending continues to climb - from $9 billion this year to a projected $13 billion in 2020 and even more beyond that - it will be crucial for each Singaporean to take responsibility for his or her health, as early and as regularly as possible.

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

Nationwide survey to get better grasp of Singapore's heritage
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

A NATIONWIDE survey to assess Singapore's heritage by mapping out its historic sites, structures, traditions and cultures will soon be under way.

The aim is to gain a more complete understanding of historical sites across the island and their heritage value, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

The survey will factor in the age of buildings, places where significant historical events took place as well as the architectural, social and cultural merits of certain landmarks to the community.

It will be led by the National Heritage Board (NHB), which will call a tender in the next two months. The survey is expected to last two years. The NHB said more details on the survey's methodology will be revealed after that.

The NHB will use the survey's findings to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to "enhance heritage considerations" at each stage of land planning. This includes the 10-year Concept Plan or the five-year Master Plan, Mr Wong told Parliament.

During the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Nominated MP Tan Tai Yong and Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) had raised the importance of implementing a heritage impact assessment framework. Both asked if the Government would be formalising a framework and addressing gaps across the various agencies that deal with heritage issues.

In response, Mr Wong said the Government has been stepping up its investments in heritage research and assessments, and plans to do more.

He cited environmental impact assessments in planning and building new infrastructure projects, and said a similar approach can be applied to heritage through the nationwide survey.

The study will also rely on information from archives, field visits and research, and working closely with the community, he said. Key findings will be shared with the public.

Some heritage experts have been asking for a more holistic approach to the field, citing a hodgepodge of rules on heritage and conservation matters, and conflicting development priorities.

Yesterday, Mr Wong also announced a new heritage advisory panel comprising members from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and experts across disciplines. They will help contribute to the survey and advise on best practices, including those used in other countries, he added.

The NHB said the panellists could include experts such as historians, architects, anthropologists and sociologists.

A new grant will be launched to fund heritage research by NGOs and institutions of higher learning. Their findings will be included in the survey.

Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin hopes more details about the nationwide survey can be made public through each stage of the process. She described it as a good idea, but a "huge undertaking".

"It is important to understand what methodology will be used and who exactly will be carrying out the survey," Dr Chua said.

$740m plan to revitalise civic district
Highlights include a Jubilee Walk featuring works of local artists
By Akshita Nanda, Arts Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

A TOTAL of $740 million is being invested in the civic district, from mapping out a commemorative Jubilee Walk to mark the nation's 50th birthday, to refurbishing the forecourt of the Esplanade - Theatres On The Bay.

"It's an important investment in our heritage, to remind us of the common history that unites us as a nation," Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong told Parliament yesterday at his ministry's budget debate.

The National Gallery Singapore - housed in the City Hall and former Supreme Court buildings and scheduled to open in November - is among several sites along the 8km Jubilee Walk in the downtown and Marina Bay area, with trail markers to help passers-by appreciate their cultural and historical importance.

The Esplanade is another site on the Jubilee Walk. It will close its forecourt for upgrading works from March 22 to July 31, though the area can still be accessed via underground links from the City Hall and Esplanade MRT stations. The forecourt reopens in August with more garden features, seating and better pedestrian connections to public transport, Esplanade Park and the new Jubilee Bridge to the Merlion Park.

As for the National Gallery, Mr Wong said it will give sneak previews of its refurbished premises in the next two months. A gallery spokesman said details will be available on the gallery's Facebook page soon. He also said that the ministry is looking into enhancing and conserving the Singapore Art Museum, to complement a major revamp of the displays and public spaces at the National Museum of Singapore, to be completed by September. Other upgrades include a paved connection and new lawn between the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and the Asian Civilisations Museum. The museum is adding new galleries and a new entrance opening onto the Singapore River.

Three works by home-grown artists have been commissioned for the Jubilee Walk by the National Arts Council's Public Art Trust, set up last year to bring art closer to Singaporeans. Along the Singapore River will be a series of stone and steel sculptures reinterpreting the national symbols, titled The Rising Moon by Han Sai Por and Kum Chee-Kiong, and Cloud Nine: Raining by Tan Wee Lit, which will mimic a floating cloud and shower water drawn up from the river.

At the Asian Civilisations Museum will be a sound sculpture installation, 24 Hours In Singapore by Baet Yeok Kuan, which will broadcast a day's worth of sounds from around the island, from a school's raising of the national flag to the chatter at a market.

"I grew up in the 1960s and have seen the changes in Singapore, so I wanted to do something related to memory," Mr Baet, 53, told The Straits Times. "This can be an archive of sounds and 20 years later, people can listen to the sounds and see how things have changed."

Mr Wong also said a public consultation would begin on two mid-sized theatres that were part of the original building plans for the Esplanade. No timeline was given for the consultation and eventual building of the theatres.

The Esplanade's concert hall seats 1,600 and its theatre holds 2,000 but Mr Benson Puah, chief executive of the Esplanade, told The Straits Times that medium-sized spaces "are most ideal" to present traditional arts from Singapore and the region as well as "85 per cent of what happens around the world for theatre and dance".

Fund for national monuments gets $7m boost
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

A GOVERNMENT scheme that co-funds restoration and maintenance work for national monuments has received a $7 million boost.

Over the next five years, 31 religious and non-profit national monuments can tap $12 million from the National Monuments Fund - more than double the first tranche of $5 million provided when the scheme was introduced in 2008.

The fund will also include a new maintenance component, which non-profit monument owners can apply for to alleviate some of the costs of upkeep and prevent deterioration, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

The maintenance component can be used to fund preventive measures to preserve monuments and potentially curb expensive restoration costs in the long run.

For instance, it can be used to fund regular checks for termites and water penetration problems.

The funding cap per application has been raised from $1 million to $1.5 million.

During the ministry's budget debate, Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) asked what was being done to preserve the country's heritage, such as its heritage sites and national monuments.

Professor James Boss, chairman of St Joseph's Church's restoration committee, welcomed the ministry's move to inject more funds into this area, especially for maintenance.

The church, which was gazetted a national monument in 2005, recently completed a $1 million restoration of its century-old stained glass windows.

Prof Boss noted that soil movement from developments could considerably damage the structures of some old buildings in Singapore.

"Along the way, work can be done on these structures to upkeep and maintain their appearance," he said.

'Solid case' for Gardens' UNESCO bid
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

THE Singapore Botanic Gardens has a "solid case" to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, he said he hopes to bring back a jubilee present for the country when the results are announced in June or early July.

To qualify for the UNESCO mark, nominated sites must have "outstanding universal value". This means they must also occupy a unique position in the history of the world, and not just in their local communities.

The Gardens was "instrumental in transforming South-east Asian history", said Mr Wong.

For instance, research and experimentation conducted at the Gardens introduced rubber to the South- east Asian region, he said.

By May, the International Council on Monuments and Sites will make a recommendation on whether the site should be inscribed.

The recommendation will be considered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee - a group of 21 countries - when it meets in Germany in late June or early July.

It can approve or deny the Botanic Gardens bid, or defer its decision and request more information.

The 74ha Gardens was established in 1859, and draws more than four million people each year. It is home to more than 10,000 types of plants and pioneered rubber cultivation, tapping techniques and orchid breeding.

$25m funding for traditional arts over five years
By Lee Jian Xuan, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

SOME $25 million in funding will be pumped into the traditional arts over the next five years, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan told Parliament yesterday.

"It is… important for us to build inclusive communities that interact and play with each other, regardless of race, language or culture. This is something the traditional arts can do," he said during the debate on MCCY's budget.

Mr Tan raised the example of flute player Tan Qinglun from Ding Yi Music Company who taught himself how to play the Indian flute, and went on to perform in a sold-out fusion concert at the Esplanade last year.

His story shows how different cultures can be welded together to "make art that honours our traditions", he said.

Responding to queries from Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), Mr Tan said the money would be used to help traditional arts groups rent spaces, upgrade their skills and support them to organise competitions.

Funds will also be set aside for schemes to nurture young practitioners and audiences, and to support arts groups in documenting their history and practices.

Following consultations with artists, the ministry is also looking to revitalise the ageing Stamford Arts Centre as a "centre with a focus on the traditional arts", said Mr Tan.

Restored in 1988 from an old primary school, the centre now houses nine arts groups, with late theatre pioneer Kuo Pao Kun's company Theatre Practice as its anchor tenant.

These groups, which have to vacate the centre, are getting help from the National Arts Council (NAC) to relocate.

The Straits Times understands that the centre will be redeveloped next year.

Traditional arts groups here hailed the moves as much needed in an often overlooked sector.

"We need more resources to research other art forms, develop a proper Malay dance syllabus in schools, and send our dancers to Malaysia and Indonesia to expose them to cultural dance there," said Mr Azrin Abdul Rahim, executive director of Malay cultural group Era Dance Theatre.

Mr Mohan Bhaskar, who heads the Indian arts company Bhaskar's Arts Academy, says his company could use extra funds to do more to reach out to the community, especially seniors, and defray the cost of producing shows.

He also hopes to find a bigger space for his company, which currently has a teaching wing at the Stamford Arts Centre.

"Our priority is to have a centre to combine our teaching and performing wings. Both functions are important. They allow us to groom a new generation of Singaporean performers," he said.

Makeover for *SCAPE to draw more visitors
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

ORCHARD Road youth hangout *SCAPE, a five-storey hub that includes shops and an outdoor space, will get a makeover this year to make it more of a draw.

While it has seen footfall pick up by 8 to 10 per cent a year in the last three years, its average monthly footfall of 440,000 is less than that at other malls, which can be more than a million.

Under the revamp, its 1,700 sq m outdoor Youth Plaza will be reconfigured to include a bandstand for music performances and more seating areas.

An indoor gallery where events and forums used to be held will be turned into a 100-seater hall for film screenings, recitals and talks.

"The physical spaces at *SCAPE will be refreshed. There will be more spaces and better equipment for our young Singaporeans to hone and display their talent," said Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling in Parliament yesterday.

A "first-stop centre" for youngsters to find out about youth events here is also in the works.

The mix of tenants in the hub will be also tweaked to include more popular brands and offerings such as blog shops and cafes.

New programmes for the year are expected to revolve around music, dance and media - areas which drew strong interest from the 1,000 young people consulted last year. For example, *SCAPE will host the inaugural National Youth Film Awards in July.

The revamp aims to make it a more appealing place, where young people can pursue their passions and develop their talents.

*SCAPE, run by a non-profit organisation of the same name and sited next to the Cineleisure shopping mall, was opened in 2010.

Besides programmes, it offers affordable retail spaces to encourage young entrepreneurs, who can bid for an outdoor booth to sell goods part-time. Those who do well can rent a shop space in the basement full-time. The mall now houses about 110 youth start-ups and commercial tenants.

Some 25 youth interest groups, from a show choir to a graffiti art group, also use the space for sports, performing and visual arts, and community projects.

Shortly after the space opened in 2010, tenants reported slow business and some asked for rents to be lowered.

"It can be quiet on weekdays but traffic picks up during the weekends due to the bazaar," said entrepreneur Jonathan Tan, 25, who used to have a booth at the bazaar. "The outdoor overhaul is a good idea because it can generate crowds which may then draw traffic indoors."

SportCares helps teen to chase dream, find purpose
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

MOHAMED Zulkhairi Putera, 13, developed a rebellious streak when he entered secondary school last year. He broke curfews, hung out with bad company and vented his frustrations on his parents.

At the root of his unhappiness was that he felt his running talent went unrecognised after his new school switched its focus from running to football.

"I was a sprint champion in primary school but suddenly my dream of becoming a competitive runner was dashed," he said.

His father put him into SportCares, a programme that uses sports to help at-risk youngsters build character and find purpose.

After receiving training under the programme, Zulkhairi eventually made it into the Singapore Sports School through running. He now volunteers for events such as the SEA games outreach programmes.

He is one of 5,000 at-risk or underprivileged young people who have gone through the SportCares programme in the three years since its launch in 2012, said Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Low Yen Ling in Parliament yesterday.

So far, individuals and organisations have donated $1.7 million to the programme. Others volunteer as mentors.

Employees from Changi Airport Group, for example, became trainers and mentors to students from Northlight School, playing football with them every Saturday night. The company also funded the rental of the football fields.

Besides organising football and running clinics, SportCares also roped in upper secondary and tertiary student leaders to teach values and character development to underprivileged children in primary schools, using sports.

Said Zulkhairi: "I have experienced for myself how sports helped me become more confident when my talents were acknowledged and I volunteer so that others can have those opportunities too."

Roadmap for companies to give back to society
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

COMPANIES that want to give back to society will soon have a guide by which to do so.

The National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) will develop the Singapore Roadmap for Corporate Giving, which will also recognise the best examples of corporate giving.

The NVPC said strategies in the roadmap "involve leveraging on platforms, models, research and advocacy, to facilitate companies in Singapore to start and grow giving".

Companies will also be encouraged to collaborate with one another and community groups in their giving efforts, it added.

Companies have been donating more money - the gross amount of donations by companies to Institutions of A Public Character charities has doubled between 2004 and 2013.

But they should also rally staff into volunteering, Ms Low said.

Logistics firm Amos International, for example, involves its staff in food distribution to the needy and outings for underprivileged children, helping more than 600 people since 2010.

Ms Low also urged all Singaporeans, including seniors, to give back to society.

To encourage more seniors to volunteer and help them do so more effectively, the South West Community Development Council is working with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to provide a training grant for senior volunteers in the district.

The council and ministry will also pilot a service to match volunteers based on their skills with the needs in the district.

The ministry said it will share further details at a later date.

New mosque for Tampines North to cater to growing needs: Yaacob
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

MUSLIM residents living or working in Tampines North and nearby Pasir Ris will get a new mosque in their neighbourhood, as more homes are built there.

"The timing for the mosque's development will be planned to meet both the growth in resident population there and prayer spaces in the area," Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.

He was speaking during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's budget.The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) is a statutory board under the ministry.

"Our mosques are a central focal point in our community's religious life," Dr Yaacob said. "We are committed to ensure that our mosques provide a safe and nurturing space conducive to worship and religious education."

He noted that since the Mosque Building Fund was set up in 1975, Muis has built 23 new mosques and upgraded 39 older ones, and would add 87,300 prayer spaces by the end of this year.

But he acknowledged that some mosques still face overcrowding issues on Fridays, and efforts are under way to have more prayer spaces in the East.

When Al-Ansar Mosque in Bedok reopens next month, it will have 4,500 prayer spaces, up from 3,500 before upgrading.

Darul Ghufran Mosque in Tampines will also be upgraded next year to add 1,000 prayer spaces and improve its learning facilities, and Muis is looking at ways to make better use of the space at Al-Istighfar Mosque in Pasir Ris.

Elsewhere, three new mosques will be ready soon: Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol is due to open by Ramadan this June, and construction of Maarof Mosque in Jurong West and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands has begun.

Dr Yaacob commended the community for its strong support for the Maarof and Yusof Ishak mosques, which had raised $2 million each.

The spirit of giving was also seen in the steady rise in zakat contributions, he added.

They hit about $32 million at the end of last year, up from $22.8 million in 2010.

Adult Muslims are obliged to give 2.5 per cent of their wealth as zakat, or tithe. Dr Yaacob said: "The culture of giving is what makes us strong and what brings us together as a community."

Muis has also broadened the qualifying criteria for recipients, and 1,000 more recipients stand to benefit from this year.

Mosques are also reaching out to the community, working with other groups to help residents.

Dr Yaacob said the NTUC's U Care Centre will start working with Al-Mukminin Mosque in Jurong East to educate low-wage workers on training schemes and their employment rights.

Muis is also looking at providing religious classes more widely, including starting extra sessions and extending operating hours for religious classes for youth.

Its Adult Islamic Learning classes are now on offer at 13 mosques, with about 2,300 students, Dr Yaacob said. And Muis is looking to develop eight new modules for the programme this year to better cater to Muslim adults.

"The Office of the Mufti is committed to developing more modules that help put current issues into perspective, while at the same time shedding light on common misperceptions or misinterpretations of Islam," he added.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on how the Malay/Muslim community's progress over the past 50 years was largely due to its fighting spirit and working hard alongside others to build the new nation:

As we reach 50 years of nationhood and look back with gratitude at the work of our pioneers, it is important that our community, especially our young, never lose sight of the values and path we took to progress. Like our parents, we must not be distracted by the calls we hear that seek to undermine and belittle the progress of our community under this current Government. If we do this, we do this with little regard for our future and our children's future. On the other hand, the choice we made 50 years ago has proven to bring about the life that we want. Let's stay the course, continue to work hard at seizing the opportunities created by our Government, and work together with other communities to build an even better nation for ourselves and other Singaporeans.

National exam fees to be waived for madrasah students too
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

There are six full-time madrasahs, or Islamic religious schools. They are funded by the Muslim community and up to 400 Primary One pupils are enrolled in the system each year.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth will assist the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore with the exam fees.

Dr Yaacob said that education was the foundation of the community's progress and would continue to be a key focus.

He said self-help group Mendaki has completed a review of its education programmes.

The coming months will see measures to help parents guide their children in reading and learning from an early age.

Mendaki will also expand its tuition scheme to six mosques this year for the first time, start a mentoring scheme for lower secondary students and set up more homework cafes for students.

Syariah Court plan to protect divorcees' kids
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

MUSLIM couples on the brink of a break-up have to give the Syariah Court their plan on caring for the children after the divorce.

The scheme will start this year for parents of children under 14, and will be extended to those with children up to the age of 18 from 2017, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced.

The move aims to better protect the welfare of children whose parents are seeking divorce. The court, which administers divorce and inheritance cases based on Islamic family law, will work with other agencies to aid divorcing couples.

Dr Yaacob told the House he was heartened by the Syariah Court's marriage counselling programme, started in 2004 to give couples a shot at reconciliation. "(It) is over and beyond what the Syariah Court set out to do - to settle divorces amicably and deliver just outcomes," he said.

"Yet it reflects the commitment of (the court), like the rest of our Malay/Muslim organisations, to improve constantly to serve the needs of the community."

Under this programme, the Syariah Court has worked with 15 groups to counsel over 27,000 couples contemplating divorce. More than 40 per cent changed their minds, choosing to stay together, Dr Yaacob said.

Volunteers turned flat into 'warehouse' in aid effort
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

WHEN Malaysia's East Coast was hit by severe floods last December, Mr Mohksin Rashid, 29, started a collection for dry rations and food for victims.

Within a day, the Tampines flat of the founder of non-profit group Majulah Community "looked like a warehouse", said co-founder Khairu Rejal, 35. Within a month, they got 1,000 volunteers and distributed over 20 tonnes of food, mosquito nets, solar lights and items to affected areas, and raised $25,000 for schools and water filtration systems.

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim cited the duo as an example of youth galvanising the Muslim community to help others, saying their energy and passion gave him confidence in its future.

Said Mr Khairu: "Young and elderly people came... to help pack the donations. We were very humbled. I still tear up when I reflect on what happened."

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Social and Family Development

Wanted: Help with pre-school expenses, support for single parents
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2015

MEMBERS of Parliament called for improvements to be made to the social service sector, during the debate on the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) budget yesterday.

Of the 14 MPs who spoke, six focused on pre-schools, asking for services to be made more affordable and for the manpower crunch to be eased.

Others wanted more help for people with disabilities and single parents, and better coordination in the delivery of social services.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said it was important to attract and retain pre-school staff, as insufficient manpower limits the rate at which more childcare centres can be opened.

Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) called for more training opportunities and clear progression pathways for teachers.

Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC) raised concerns about how operators were using their additional subsidies - a point also brought up by Ms Lee, who asked MSF to consider capping fees.

"Otherwise, each time the Government increases the grants, the operators will seize the opportunity to up their charges. Parents do not benefit," she said.

Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong suggested that operators share resources to increase their productivity.

His ideas included housing several operators under one roof so they can share facilities, and clustering them to share back-end office support.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) called for more help for adults with disabilities.

Noting the lack of day activity centres and caregivers for them, Ms Phua said: "New day activity centres can be filled even before they officially open."

Mr Png asked for an update on an idea in the 2012-2016 Enabling Masterplan to open eldercare centres for adults with special needs.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) and Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) wanted benefits for married parents to be extended to single ones.

For instance, single mothers should get 16 weeks of paid maternity leave like married ones, instead of eight.

Said Ms Lee Li Lian: "The state should recognise them as parents regardless of their marital status. Their parental responsibilities and their children's needs are the same... This is not about encouraging more single parents, but ensuring better and fair support for the children."

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing will respond to the queries when the debate continues today.

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