Sunday 8 March 2015

Parliament Highlights - 6 Mar 2015

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Education

Learn for skills and life, not just grades: Heng Swee Keat
He urges change in the way parents, employers and teachers view education
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

EDUCATION should be about more than just chasing marks and aceing exams, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday when he called for a transformation in Singaporeans' attitude towards learning.

This is necessary as jobs will keep changing in future and people will need to keep learning, master skills and learn for life, he said.

Parents would have to give up their obsession with grades; employers would have to hire based on skills, not degrees; and teachers should strive for an all-round development of their students.

The new road map for the future was set out by Mr Heng in an hour-long speech in Parliament that spelt out the rationale for the radical move.

The education system, which has served Singapore well for the past 50 years, is at a crossroads, with two options.

One is a path with a narrow focus on grades and examinations, which could descend into "a spiralling paper chase and expanding tuition industry".

It leads to a dystopian future where stress levels climb, and "the system churns out students who excel in exams, but are ill-equipped to take on jobs of the future, nor find fulfilment in what they do".

"Unemployment or under-employment becomes pervasive. Everyone is worse off," Mr Heng said. "This is a grim road, but sadly one which other societies have already trodden down."

The other is a road no country has travelled, he said.

It requires employers to look beyond paper qualifications when hiring or promoting, and educators to focus on building a strong foundation of values in students.

Parents will need to recognise their children's strengths and build their characters instead of being preoccupied with grades.

But the route is uncharted territory, said Mr Heng, adding that Singaporeans will have to be pioneers in plotting the way forward.

His ministry always draws attention, and the debate on its budget saw 22 MPs rising to ask what it plans to do to improve the education system.

The four-hour debate started with Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, expressing his worry about whether there will be enough jobs for the increasing number of university graduates.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) called for new types of schools without any streaming exam in the first 10 years, while Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) wants the ministry to look into why parents spend so much on tuition for their children.

Mr Heng, in laying out his new road map, said the change will entail three major shifts.

One is to go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery of skills. In doing so, Singaporeans will become resourceful, innovative and pioneering in the field of their choice.

Second, develop a lifelong learning habit among Singaporeans so that they are equipped for changing economic realities.

The third is to move from learning for work to learning for life, so that a student develops interests beyond work and a commitment to serve society.

To make it all happen, the Government will introduce several key measures.

These include getting more students to do internships as well as expanding education and career counselling at all levels, from primary school onwards.

Workers will be offered more bite-size modular courses and generous fee subsidies.

In summing up, Mr Heng said: "These are fundamental changes that will take time. But we need to take the first step now, and take it together."

Students relying too much on tuition: MPs
Removal of PSLE for 10-year through-train model among suggestions raised
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 6 Mar 2015

The perennial issue of students relying heavily on tuition was raised by several Members of Parliament today (March 6), as the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Education (MOE) began.

Mounbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan raised concerns of tuition becoming a “crutch” for students, such that they have “lost the skill of self-directed learning”.

“They will always have a safety net in their tuition teachers,” said Mr Lim, as he suggested that schools can ask students performing well to consider if they really need tuition.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) noted the pervasiveness of the tuition industry, where even polytechnic students go for such extra classes.

She said: “Many Singaporeans hold dear the mental model that for a good life, you will need good academic results to get into good schools so that you can get into a good university which is the passport to a good job, good salary, good spouse, hopefully good children and the cycle repeats.”

Ms Phua felt that the education landscape is shaped by a system where students are primarily promoted by academic scores and assigned to schools based on results from high-stake exams.

Making suggestions to reduce the stress levels of education here, she called for the removal of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and to start a 10-year through-train school model. Among other things, she also called for specialised schools such as the Gifted or Special Assistance Plan schools to be done away and students of mixed abilities to be placed under one roof.

“Employers including the civil service must lead the way to find more aggressive ways of hiring, promoting and recognising employees beyond the usual academics,” she added.

Likewise, Non-constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong asked for a public survey to be done so as to gather views on implementing a 10-year through train school here.

Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang SMC) also highlighted the huge amounts of money spent on tuition, even as the MOE has stated publicly that tuition is unnecessary. Mr Png asked for a public survey to be done to properly assess the tuition culture.

Pointing to the “Teach Less Learn More” move started by MOE in 2006 to spur holistic education, Mr Png said: “I am not sure how much lesser the schools are teaching right now but the perception on the ground is the students are learning more from tuition”.

More students to qualify for MOE bursary
Household income ceiling raised so that more can apply
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

MORE students from lower-income families will soon be able to apply for a bursary from the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Similarly, the per capita household income ceiling for the bursary will be raised from $1,250 per month to $1,500.

"I want every Singaporean to have access to learning opportunities, whatever their starting point," Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday during the debate on MOE's budget.

The bursary, which ranges from $200 to $500 a year, is open to students who fall within the qualifying income bracket and whose grades are in the top 25 per cent of their cohort.

The Government is also helping schools to provide better support for their students.

Primary schools with more children from lower-income families will receive annual government grants of $40,000 per year until 2017.

Secondary schools and junior colleges can each get annual grants of $60,000.

Currently, all schools receive a grant of $30,000.

The money will help ramp up school-based financial assistance for students.

The school-based financial aid scheme helps students through measures such as transport allowance and meal coupons.

It can cover students who do not qualify for the MOE's financial aid scheme - such as a student who is facing a family crisis.

Special education (SPED) schools will be supported too.

They will receive average annual grants for their school-based financial assistance scheme of $25,000 until 2017, up from the current $15,000.

Minister of State for Education Sim Ann said: "Parents of children with special education needs are more likely to face additional financial outlay."

"That is why it is so important to help them with affordability," added Ms Sim, who is also the Minister of State for Communications and Information.

Students who are now receiving financial aid from the MOE will, from next month, be given a $120 transport credit per year, to defray the costs of public transport.

SPED school students on MOE's financial aid will also be eligible for this transport credit.

For primary school pupils who take the school bus, the financial aid scheme will be expanded to cover half of their bus fees.

SPED school students who ride the school bus are already eligible for transport subsidies from the Ministry of Social and Family Development that cover up to 80 per cent of fees.

"No child should be left behind whatever their starting point," said Mr Heng.

"We are doing more to support students with a weaker start, be it learning needs, special needs or financial needs."

Other measures


Primary and secondary schools and junior colleges: From this year, students will not have to pay fees for national exams, which include the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), O-, N-, and A-level exams. The fees ranged from $19 for the PSLE, to between $300 and $600 for the rest.

Special education schools: Students do not have to pay to take national exams, nor for exams that lead to a national vocational certification.

Public schools that offer International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) exams: Students will receive subsidies equivalent to the exam fees waived for A-level students. The amount is about half of what the IBDP costs. The IBDP exams are not administered by the local exam board.

Polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education: Full-time students will not have to pay exam fees, which are about $25 a year for ITE students and $30 for poly students.


Edusave: Primary and secondary school students will receive a one-off top-up of $150 to their Edusave accounts this year. This is on top of the $200 and $240 the Education Ministry puts annually into the accounts of a primary and secondary school student respectively.

Post-secondary education account: Singaporeans aged 17 to 20 will receive a one-off top-up of either $500 or $250 this year, depending on the annual value of their homes.

Grant to boost pre-school internships
Early Childhood Capability Grant will support longer, structured stints
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

ASPIRING pre-school teachers in the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will soon be able to gain more work experience through longer and more structured internships. These will last 51/2 months - almost twice as long as current stints.

Students will be assigned to mentors who are certified as teachers by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), have at least three years of experience in the sector, and have completed a mentoring course recognised by ECDA.

From this year, childcare centres and kindergartens that host full-time students in early childhood studies can tap a new ECDA grant to get more of them to take interns from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Temasek Polytechnic and ITE.

Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, said in Parliament yesterday: "We need more companies to support enhanced internships from polytechnics and ITE, to provide meaningful work assignments and mentoring by experienced professionals."

The Early Childhood Capability Grant will support the cost of deploying mentors, providing stipends and other materials.

Participating operators will get $1,700 for each intern, to recognise extra work for teachers who act as mentors, or to hire relief staff to cover their duties.

In addition, they will be given $200 per intern for teaching materials and resources required for the interns to complete projects as part of their courses.

ECDA will also co-fund half of the minimum monthly stipends of interns - $600 for those from ITE and $700 for polytechnic interns.

The first batch of 24 final-year students in Ngee Ann Polytechnic's child psychology and early education course will start their stints in September.

They will be followed next year by 97 Temasek Polytechnic early childhood studies students in March, and 80 students doing ITE's Higher Nitec in early childhood education in September.

By 2019, 400 students would have done revamped internships.

Pre-school operators said the new grant will encourage them to take in more interns, at a time when the sector struggles with retaining teachers.

Mrs Liaw-Tan Xinhui, director of Ameba Schoolhouse, said: "It's a win-win situation. Centres can train students in their final year of studies whom they could hire and students get job experience and an allowance."

Eshkol Valley Preschool managing director Vincent Yap added that longer stints will give student-teachers more time to build better rapport with children.

"That will help them to deliver lessons better, and have a good experience. Hopefully they will have a better impression of the industry and stay on," he said.

This initiative is part of SkillsFuture, a national effort to integrate education, training and career progression. Other plans include a pilot to familiarise secondary school students with companies and polytechnics to help them make better decisions about their future courses and careers.

To strengthen the link between study and work, the Ministry of Education has appointed the five polytechnics and ITE to coordinate initiatives with industry partners in 17 sectors. For example, Republic Polytechnic, the sector coordinator for logistics, has gathered 12 firms for a year-long, work-study scheme.

Teen gets financial help and pays it forward by tutoring peers
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

FROM the day he started Secondary 1 in 2012, Poh Jia Qi has received help to pay for things such as school fees, textbooks and school meals.

The Teck Whye Secondary School student, who has been on the Ministry of Education's (MOE) Financial Assistance Scheme, also gets help from the Opportunity Fund. This is one other source for schools to tap to provide further assistance to needy students by subsidising school-based enrichment programmes.

"I am fortunate to be able to receive similar opportunities as my peers," said Jia Qi, 16, who lives in a four-room Housing Board flat in Teck Whye with his parents and two school-going brothers, aged 19 and 14.

"I don't have to worry about my financial situation and can focus on my studies," he added.

His father works as a cleaning supervisor while his mother is a coffee shop assistant. They take home a total income of $2,500 monthly.

Both parents welcomed the enhancements in subsidies to needy students. Jia Qi's mother, Madam Wong Meow Foon, 48, said: "Children should not be denied an education just because they cannot afford it.

"I am thankful that my children are able to receive more help. But they must work hard and make full use of the opportunities given to them."

Last year, Jia Qi began coaching his friends in mathematics through the school's peer tutoring programme.

He was one of the students praised by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat for paying it forward at a young age.

Said Jia Qi: "I like helping my classmates, especially with maths problems that they have trouble with. I would like to give back as much as I can."

Subsidies, bite-size courses for workers
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

BY THE second half of this year, Singaporeans can choose from a range of 200 bite-size, modular courses offered by the universities and another 100 run by the five polytechnics.

Among the courses are one on digital forensics by Singapore Polytechnic and another on counselling and coaching by Republic Polytechnic. Nanyang Technological University will run a course on naval architecture and marine engineering, while SIM University will offer one on functional genomics, which is the study of genes and how they affect the working of the body.

The courses will be taught using a blended learning approach, in which students will learn online as well as attend classes at the universities and polytechnics.

They can take standalone modules to gain particular skills, or take several and "stack" them to attain a diploma or degree.

Participants who are aged 40 and above will receive government subsidies that cover at least 90 per cent of the cost of courses funded by the Ministry of Education (MOE) at universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.

The national training body, Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), will pay up to 90 per cent of skills upgrading course fees.

Participants can use their SkillsFuture Credits - the cash grants that all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive from next year - to offset the remaining fees.

The revamped training programmes, along with the higher subsidies and study awards, are part of the Government's SkillsFuture initiatives to encourage workers to develop the deep skills needed to take Singapore's economy to the next level.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who gave details on the upgrading opportunities for adults yesterday during the debate on his ministry's budget in Parliament, said with this array of courses, the system is even more open and flexible. He said it allows workers to create their own learning pathways and build a portfolio of skills, tailored to their needs and at their pace.

He said: "It empowers each of us to take charge, direct our own learning, and build our own unique skills map."

Responding to MPs' concern on whether the increased subsidies from the Government would result in the courses becoming another form of qualification for Singaporeans to chase, Mr Heng said that workers should not do so.

Instead, they should focus on mastering and, more importantly, using deep skills to gain higher wages, he said.

He also urged companies to make the best use of workers' higher skills as it will lead to higher productivity and higher profit margins.

The companies can then raise workers' pay.

"Higher skills, higher productivity, higher wages. This is the virtuous cycle that we must seek to create," he said.

More student care centres
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

MORE schools will have after-school care services for families who need an extra hand to help take care of their children.

The Education Ministry will bump up the number of schools with such services from the current 105 to 140 by the end of next year.

This year, 15 more student care centres will be set up, followed by 20 next year. The number of children served by the centres will grow from more than 10,000 to more than 12,000.

Demand has risen for student care centres in schools in recent years, with some centres even needing to conduct balloting for places.

These centres, which are run by voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators, offer services such as homework supervision and meals.

In Parliament yesterday, several MPs such as Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio) and Mr Patrick Tay (Nee Soon) spoke on the importance of student care centres for dual-income families.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday during the debate on his ministry's budget: "Many parents told me that they appreciate the structured, supportive environment that student care centres provide for students after school."

A mission to change a nation's attitude towards learning
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

THE Education Minister spoke calmly but the challenge he laid before the House during scrutiny of his ministry's budget yesterday, was nothing short of staggering.

It is to overhaul this country's entrenched approach to school, studies and success - an approach that has not only worked for plenty of people here but also won praise internationally.

It involves overturning decades of received wisdom about the surest route to a good life, a formula Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) summed up thus:

"Many Singaporeans hold dear the mental model that for a good life, you will need good academic results to get into good schools so that you can get into a good university which is the passport to a good job, good salary, good spouse, hopefully good children and the cycle repeats. This is a mental model that cannot be talked away. People can only be convinced if they see and encounter sufficient evidence and personal experiences to replace it."

Well, replacing it is what Education Minister Heng Swee Keat would have people do.

In its place, he held up a new education paradigm comprising three shifts in attitudes:
- go beyond learning for grades to learning for mastery;
- learn not just in schools but throughout life; and
- learn not for work but for life.
It is a bold transformation which will need the "collective will and action of employers, teachers, parents and students", he said. What's more, "this is a path that no society has charted out fully yet. I've been looking at education systems around the world. Charting this new territory will require us to once again be pioneers".

Of the 21 MPs who spoke on the budget estimates for the Education Ministry, most said they, too, want change. Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) criticised the reliance on tuition, calling it a "crutch" that could cost students the skill of self-directed learning.

Ms Phua and Mr Inderjit Singh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke about an unhealthy obsession among parents with getting their children into top schools and among employers with hiring graduates from these schools. Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) questioned the approach schools take to develop character. Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong called for a broader understanding of giftedness, beyond that used in the Gifted Education Programme.

One worrying fact that emerged from their speeches is that grades may be the only benchmark many have for quality. After decades of living in what a former education minister once described as an "exam meritocracy", many employers, parents and students may not know how to judge the worth of a school, and indeed, the worth of a person, apart from grades and paper qualifications. They need help to make a paradigm shift to valuing mastery and lifelong learning.

The good news is that the seeds of how to do so were also present in yesterday's debate, in the stories Mr Heng told, and in the passion with which some members spoke about the learning that mattered to them.

On a recent visit to the Rolls- Royce factory in Seletar, Mr Heng met Siti, an Institute of Technical Education student who is studying aerospace technology. She became interested in aeroplanes when she worked at a bookshop in Changi Airport and wondered how planes fly. Today, she is a Rolls-Royce-ITE scholarship holder and thrilled to have the chance as an intern to work on the Trent 1000 engine, a complex piece of machinery.

And that is what SkillsFuture is about at a personal level. It is about each person paying attention to what sparks an interest in him or her, daring to pursue that interest, and investing time and effort to master the skills needed to turn that interest into a career.

Nominated MP Rita Soh did that. In primary school, she loved art class. She shared with the House her joy in making art using different media, from potato cuttings to plasticine. Later, when she took classes in technical studies and woodwork, she "fell in love" with making things with her hands and decided to pursue a career that let her keep doing so. Today, she is an architect for whom success springs from having the passion to master a craft.

Of course, stories alone cannot nudge a society to change but the economic reality is such that even those who do not want to change may have change forced upon them. Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) spoke of middle-aged, middle managers displaced from manufacturing sector jobs as a result of economic restructuring. He tried to help several find jobs but most could not cope with a transition to the services sector.

That too is part of the new paradigm, and explains why lifelong learning will have to become a way of life for workers of all ages.

As Singapore navigates this change, resistance may well be futile, for the plan is to bring everyone along.

For as Mr Heng put it: "What is special about our mission is that we are not thinking about the future of education in just one school or one university. We are thinking about the future of education for our whole nation."

That is a bold undertaking, one befitting a surprisingly successful small nation as it turns 50.

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Home Affairs

Home Team to get 2,000 more officers
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

ANOTHER 2,000 officers will be added to the Home Team in the next five years to ensure that it has enough muscle to keep Singapore safe, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

Still, this is a slower pace of recruitment compared with the last decade, when 5,400 officers were brought in, boosting the Home Team from about 19,300 officers in 2004 to 24,700 last year.

The 2,000 to be added include uniformed and non-uniformed officers for the police and civil defence forces, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, Central Narcotics Bureau and Prisons.

"There are natural limits to how much we can grow the Home Team, given the smaller cohorts of young Singaporeans entering the workforce each year," Mr Teo told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget. "We will partially address this issue by re- employing more of our officers."

The retirement age for uniformed junior officers was raised to 55 in 2013, matching that of senior officers. Both may be given extensions to work until 60. The ministry plans to further leverage technology and involve the public to help alleviate manpower issues.

But Mr Teo assured the House that the Special Operations Command (SOC) will get the manpower it needs to respond effectively to large-scale incidents.

In the wake of the 2013 Little India riot, Singapore's worst public disorder incident in 40 years, then police commissioner Ng Joo Hee told a Committee of Inquiry he would need 1,000 more police officers. This would let him deploy more men to the SOC.

Mr Teo said yesterday the SOC is on track to add 300 officers by 2017, and aims to recruit 150 officers by the year end. "This involves selecting very good people, making sure that they are well trained and properly equipped. So, it takes a bit of time."

'Stay united' should terror acts occur
DPM Teo: Home Team will build up capability to react to threats swiftly
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

IN SPITE of Singapore's best efforts to guard against the terror threat, it is not possible to ensure an attack will never happen here, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean told Parliament yesterday.

Singaporeans therefore have to be ready to stand united as a community, and maintain social cohesion and harmony in the aftermath of an incident, he said.

On its part, the Home Team will continue to deter and deal with terrorism by securing Singapore's borders, strengthening infrastructure and building up its capability to respond to threats swiftly and effectively, he added.

He said he agreed with Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC), who said Singapore had to ensure its society was ready to withstand a terror attack.

"Those who carry out such attacks seek to divide our society and strike fear in innocent people," said Mr Teo. "If an incident were to occur, we must stand united as a community and condemn the violent acts of these particular individuals. Such extreme views do not reflect the beliefs of the wider community, and indeed are rejected by them.

"As Singaporeans, we must continue to build on what we have in common, rather than accentuate our differences. We must also carry on with our daily lives, reach out to each other, and not allow fear to paralyse our society."

His comments come amid global concern about the danger posed by the conflict in Syria and Iraq, which has drawn more than 20,000 foreign fighters from over 60 countries, a number far greater and more diverse than in the Afghan conflict in the late 1980s.

An estimated 350 fighters from South-east Asia have gone to Syria and Iraq, Mr Teo noted.

"Upon their return home, these fighters may be more prone to violence. And almost on a daily or weekly basis, we see new revelations, videos of fighters from our region who have been involved in Syria and Iraq," he added.

Mr Teo said self-radicalised individuals may also be influenced by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group to carry out attacks in their countries that are hard to detect and prevent.

Last December's Sydney siege, January's Paris attacks and last month's Copenhagen shooting took place even when these countries were on high alert, he noted.

He also gave an update that Singapore has detained 66 people for terrorism under the Internal Security Act since 2002, and 57 of them have since been released.

Currently, nine people are under detention and 21 are on restriction orders that regulate their movements, including some who wanted to fight overseas.

Mr Teo noted that community and religious groups, such as Singapore's Religious Rehabilitation Group - Muslim leaders who counsel detainees and radicalised individuals - play a key role in deterring terrorism. They have also produced material to rebut hardline ideology.

Individuals, too, can play a part. "If you notice any signs that a friend or family member has possibly been radicalised, you should alert the authorities," he said.

"Acting pre- emptively could help stop them from harming themselves and protect others from harm. Through such alerts, we have been able to refer young people who were becoming radicalised for religious counselling, to bring them back onto the correct path."

Home Team invests in technology to do job better
It will make best use of officers, get public involved to keep S'pore safe
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

MAKING the best use of Home Team officers, relying on technology to enhance their abilities, and getting the public more involved.

These are the three pillars that the Home Affairs Ministry plans to strengthen to continue keeping Singapore safe and secure, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

His ministry expects spending to go up by 11.7 per cent to about $5 billion for the next financial year, to help deliver on the three fronts, combat terrorism and growing cybercrime, and meet the needs of an ageing population.

Spending on systems and technology will also more than double - from about 8 per cent in the past five years to about 20 per cent over the next five years.

DPM Teo said: "We will allow technology to do the things that technology does better so that officers can do other things that, with their personal interaction and judgment, can do better."

By 2016, police cameras, which Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said has worked to deter potential harassers in cases of illegal moneylending and provided crucial evidence for investigation, will be installed at the void decks and multi-storey carparks of all 10,000 HDB blocks.

All 164 motorcycle counters at Woodlands and Tuas Checkpoints will be automated by the end of next year, to not just speed up clearance but also allow officers to focus on critical tasks such as screening travellers with high-risk profiles, said DPM Teo.

The Traffic Police will install 30 more digital red light cameras, bringing the total number to 150. The cameras have been a success, said DPM Teo.

When first installed in March last year, the number of violators caught shot up sharply. But this has since gone down, with motorists more wary now.

The Home Team will continue to put more boots on the ground. It plans to add 2,000 officers over the next five years, and at the same time retain talent.

Officers, said DPM Teo, will be given more opportunities to advance into senior ranks.

More full-time and operationally ready national servicemen will be deployed to the front line to complement regular officers.

But the community also has a "major role in keeping Singapore safe and secure", said DPM Teo.

He pointed out how the five million smartphone cameras in pockets here and the increasing number of vehicle cameras are resources which can be tapped into.

Crowdsourcing will not just help police get information on traffic violations and crimes, but could also prove critical should there be a major incident, he said.

DPM Teo said these strategies are needed given that demands on the Home Team will continue to go up not just because of external threats, but also Singapore's growing importance as an international hub and changing population.

More than 500,000 people passed through the checkpoints every day last year - a 33 per cent increase from 2009 - and numbers are expected to grow.

The number of citizens aged 65 and above grew from 318,000 in 2009 to 415,000 last year. This has resulted in 31 per cent more ambulance calls over the period. With elderly citizens expected to number 900,000 by 2030, demand for emergency services will only climb.

Despite the challenges, it is important to remember that Singa- pore's overall crime rate of 589 cases for every 100,000 population remains low compared to other cities such as London and Hong Kong, said DPM Teo.

Crash barriers among border security measures
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

EVERY day, more than 500,000 people pass through Singapore's various checkpoints.

With the surge set to keep growing, the Ministry of Home Affairs will use technology and reinforced infrastructure to the fullest to fortify the country's borders.

Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean laid out the measures to secure the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints in the light of recent breaches.

Steps already taken include the installation of 119 CCTV cameras and new mobile crash barriers that will stop vehicles from dashing through.

An integrated command-and- control structure is also in place to improve coordination among officers from the various agencies, such as the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), police and Customs.

In the pipeline is the installation of even more advanced barriers, such as crash-resistant walls and fences that are difficult to climb. These will be phased in over the next three years.

These are among the key measures recommended by a 2014 review committee, set up following unrelated breaches on land and at sea.

Early last year, two Malaysians drove past the Woodlands checkpoint and entered Singapore illegally. One was a delivery driver, and the other, a teacher, who was later declared to be of unsound mind.

Last August, three foreigners sneaked into Singapore by boat via Raffles Marina, after finding out that it was guarded only from 9am to 5pm.

DPM Teo also disclosed that by June 2017, the two checkpoints will have another 1,000 CCTV cameras to further improve coverage and monitoring.

The cameras will be connected to a video analytics system to enhance the identification of vehicles and security threats such as intrusions and unattended baggage, he added.

Technology will also be used to speed up clearance and reduce congestion.

All 164 motorcycle counters at the two land checkpoints will be automated by the end of next year, compared to 43 now, said Mr Teo.

And next month, ICA will begin a trial to capture fingerprints of all people arriving at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

This will verify a traveller's identity before he is allowed into Singapore, and facilitate automated clearance at departure.

If successful, the system will be progressively implemented at other checkpoints, Mr Teo said.

At sea, the ministry will equip the Police Coast Guard (PCG) with better surveillance and interception capabilities to deal with intrusions and disable vessels committing illegal acts.

It will also integrate the marine command bases of the PCG, ICA and Singapore Civil Defence Force for better response to security threats, he added.

These are on top of an earlier- announced move to set up land- and sea-based barriers around Singapore's coastline.

Responding to Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), Mr Teo said the report of the checkpoints review committee will not be made public.

"The report is an internal report because it covers many security-related issues which are not appropriate to put out in public," he said.

New CID unit to fight cybercrime
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

WITH love scams and online cheating cases on the rise, the police force will beef up its capabilities by setting up a unit called the Cybercrime Command, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said yesterday.

The unit will be part of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and specialise in cyber investigations, digital forensics and cybercrime policy, he said.

In addition, specialists in investigating such crimes, such as digital forensic officers, will be stationed at each of the six major police divisions across the island by the end of the year, he added.

"This will ensure that our frontline units are equipped with the necessary skills to investigate cybercrime cases," he said.

Enhancing capabilities is just one part of a three-pronged policing strategy that also involves tapping technology and partnering the community to tackle cybercrime.

Mr Iswaran, in Parliament yesterday, set out the approach in his reply to Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) and Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), both of whom said such crimes had risen significantly.

Latest police statistics show that cheating cases involving e-commerce have more than tripled, from 510 cases in 2013 to 1,659 last year.

Internet love scams, which target mainly women, more than doubled from 81 in 2013 to 197 last year. And the amount the fraudsters stole reached $8.8 million, against $5.8 million, in the same period.

Mr Iswaran said while the crime of cheating is not new, the ubiquity and anonymity of the Internet have opened up a new avenue for criminals and syndicates to operate.

He said: "Individuals from all walks of life have fallen victim to these ruses, including well-educated and tech-savvy professionals.

"Police from all over the world are grappling with the difficulties of tracing, apprehending and bringing the perpetrators of cybercrime to justice, as well as to recover lost monies."

To combat this problem, the Home Affairs Ministry has stepped up its public education efforts and launched a website to increase people's awareness of common scams, he said. It will also find more ways to partner the community online, he added.

Social media, for instance, can be invaluable in crowdsourcing information to help police solve crimes, Mr Iswaran said.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said there are about five million smartphone cameras in Singapore and almost a million vehicles on the road - an increasing number of them with cameras installed.

"The police will take a major step to improve its existing platforms for members of the public to send in videos on traffic violations and crime-related information," he added.

Ms Iswaran said the police will also work with Interpol's new Digital Crime Centre, based in Singapore, as well as international and regional law enforcement agencies to overcome the scourge of cybercrime.

Police portals get more videos
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

NEARLY 100 videos of traffic violations have been submitted to the Traffic Police through its online feedback portal since last December, Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said yesterday.

He said more people were coming forward with videos and pictures to facilitate investigations, and encouraged more to do so.

"Every smartphone, GoPro camera, and in-vehicle recording device can be put to good use and are potentially valuable sources of information," he said in Parliament yesterday.

Apart from the Traffic Police's portal, the police's CrimeStopper portal also received more public reports, up 63.4 per cent from 1,121 in 2013 to 1,832 last year.

Meanwhile, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said arrests and fatalities from drink-driving and red-light violations had dipped, after enforcement by the Traffic Police.

"We have seen improvements in our road traffic situation and our road fatality rate has decreased by more than 50 per cent over the past two decades," said Mr Masagos, who was responding to questions on road safety.

He added that the Traffic Police would be installing 20 new digital cameras to tackle the speeding problem. The number of speeding violations last year had risen by 6.5 per cent from the year before.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) had earlier raised concerns about heavy vehicles speeding.

"Very often, I could see heavy vehicles travelling along the... second or third lane on a four-lane road, especially in the expressway, so they probably are speeding," he said.

He asked if there were checks to make sure speed limiters - which are mandatory in heavy vehicles - are not tampered with.

In response, Mr Masagos said additional speed limiter inspections have been introduced for those previously caught for speeding. This has led to the number of heavy vehicles caught multiple times for speeding dropping - from 270 in 2013 to 230 last year.

"We will continue keeping a close watch on the situation," said Mr Masagos.

He also announced that the Traffic Police will be launching a new road safety campaign called "Use Your RoadSense" to encourage road users to be more patient and careful.

More details on the campaign will be revealed later.

Surveillance cameras for all HDB blocks, carparks by next year
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

CAMERA footage has helped police solve more than 430 cases and provided investigative leads for more than 890 cases since 2012, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran in Parliament yesterday.

The surveillance cameras, or Polcams, have been installed at 4,400 HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks, he said, adding that the Government is on track to installing them at all 10,000 HDB blocks and carparks by next year.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said he had received feedback from MPs that residents have welcomed these electronic eyes and asked for installations to be sped up. "We are going as fast as we can," he said.

Video cameras - which include body-worn cameras (BWCs) and in-vehicle cameras for frontline officers and police vehicles - are part of a greater effort to harness technology in fighting crime.

Mr Iswaran noted that footage from BWCs can be encrypted and will have an indicator light to show when recordings are taking place. There are safeguards to ensure footage cannot be downloaded, edited or deleted without authorisation, he added.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam had on Thursday raised privacy concerns over footage recorded by Polcams.

Yesterday, Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) also asked if there were standing operating procedures governing the use of BWCs.

Mr Iswaran assured Ms Lim that protocols governing the use of BWCs would be established, and that there were safeguards in place.

"There are stringent guidelines, standard operating procedures and system security features to guard against data breaches and the misuse of data," he said.

Drug addicts getting younger, cannabis abusers on the rise
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

DRUG prices have fallen because of an increased supply in the region, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

Giving an update on the overall drug situation in Parliament yesterday, Mr Masagos also flagged two worrying trends - one, that drug abusers were getting younger, and two, that the number of cannabis abusers was on the increase.

More Singaporeans were also arrested at checkpoints when returning home from abroad, after urine tests showed they had been abusing drugs.

There were 64 arrested last year, 36 per cent higher than the 47 nabbed in 2013, according to statistics from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

Mr Masagos noted that international drug syndicates have formed networks within Southeast Asia to manufacture, receive and distribute drugs to the region.

"Unfortunately, Singapore remains a major destination for these drugs, either for trans-shipment or for imports," he added.

He said this in response to Mr Edwin Tong (Moulmein-Kallang GRC), who had raised concerns that drugs might be getting cheaper and more accessible on the street.

Mr Tong had said earlier that enforcement agencies had to remain vigilant, even as arrests of drug abusers and recividism rates of ex-drug offenders go down.

He pointed out that even though the street value of drugs seized had decreased markedly to $8.1 million last year from $20.5 million in 2013, the quantity of drugs such as cannabis seized was increasing.

Voluntary welfare organisations have started seeing abusers as young as 13 or 14 come forward for treatment, Mr Tong said.

"The drug problem is a serious social tragedy, and we cannot look at it only in terms of the individual drug abuser who suffers from the addiction," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Masagos reaffirmed Singapore's zero-tolerance stance towards drugs, adding that the Government would tackle both drug supply and demand.

"We rehabilitate those who consume drugs, even as we take firm action against repeat abusers," he said.

He noted that tough laws had kept the streets largely free from drugs.

Still, 35kg of cannabis was seized last year, a 10-year high. That quantity can feed more than 5,000 addicts for a week, noted Mr Masagos.

He added that the CNB is both monitoring the rise in the sale of drugs online and the trend of youth travelling overseas to experiment with drugs.

Mr Masagos, who co-chairs a taskforce which is tackling the youth drug abuse problem, said the taskforce's findings will be released later this year.

He added: "Our laws have kept crime low and deterred organised drug syndicates from operating in Singapore. Let us keep it that way."

Taking public partnership to the next level
Shift in role for volunteers: from passive to active first responders
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

VOLUNTEERS on bicycles fitted with first aid kits, fire extinguishers and emergency equipment will soon be a weekend feature in the heartland.

They will be central to the Neighbourhood Active Responder Programme (NEAR) - a pilot scheme to be launched by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and the police this month.

It is part of a major push by the Government to get the community more involved in Singapore's well-being, a point that was repeatedly stressed in Parliament yesterday.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said: "The safety and security of our community is our collective responsibility."

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said the police are looking to empower individuals and groups to "take ownership of the safety and security of their homes and neighbourhood". He described community partnerships as indispensable to the Ministry of Home Affairs' work.

It was a theme first raised yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the Home Affairs Minister, who said the public had a role to play in fighting crime, keeping the roads safe, reducing risk of fire and responding to medical emergencies, for instance.

In saying public partnership needed to be taken to "the next level", he added: "We will better organise, facilitate and support these community efforts."

Under NEAR, volunteers will be trained to respond to residential fires and medical cases needing first aid. They will also patrol their estates on weekends to deter crime and look out for suspicious characters. So far, about 100 people have signed up.

Mr Masagos said: "NEAR represents a fundamental shift in the roles that volunteers play in the community - from passive to active first responders."

NEAR will be launched in the Tampines East and West constituencies on March 21, and is expected to be rolled out to other constituencies later.

The SCDF's "Save a Life" initiative will be launched in the third quarter in six constituencies, and go islandwide by end-2018.

As part of the scheme, more volunteers will be taught to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use portable defibrillators. There will also be a mobile app to alert users to nearby cardiac emergencies, and where the closest automated external defibrillator (AED) is.

AEDs will be installed at every two to three blocks in the pilot constituencies, such as Bedok and Bukit Panjang.

Mr Iswaran also urged the tech-savvy younger generation to get involved, saying the Government will extend its outreach in the online world.

"Every smartphone, Go-Pro camera and in-vehicle recording device can be put to good use and are potentially valuable sources of information," he said. "Police will provide the platforms and portals to enable this."

43-year veteran trains his sights on next generation
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

IN 1974, at the age of 21, he was a constable at Pasir Panjang Police Post, regularly patrolling the neighbourhood.

Today, at the age of 62, Deputy Superintendent Azmy Abdullah is still serving the country. He is now the officer in charge of a training wing at the police's Training Command, where recruits are put through their paces.

After passing his retirement age of 55, he was re-employed by the Singapore Police Force. "I had the opportunity to pursue my other interests after retirement, but then I thought, why waste the invaluable knowledge and skills that I have gained over the years?" he told The Straits Times.

In his 43-year career with the Home Team, DSP Azmy has also been posted to other departments including the crime branch, the Central Narcotics Bureau and the Traffic Police.

But the father of two grown-up children still remembers his second posting in Pasir Panjang fondly.

"I found it an enriching experience and had some amusing but proud moments when the folks treated me like their village chief, despite the fact that I was just in my early twenties with no rank.

"They saw police officers not just as their protectors, but also as their advisers, counsellors and leaders in conflict situations in their 'villages'."

To him, age is just a number.

"I think that age is a case of mind over matter - if you don't mind, it doesn't really matter," he said. "Although the training that I conduct now is physically demanding, I don't feel it.

"This is because of my belief that the work I do now is important and purposeful."

Committee of Supply Debate: Ministry of Trade and Industry

Restructuring 'puts S'pore on growth path'
Economy's good showing since global crisis proves this: Lim Hng Kiang
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

DESPITE significant challenges both at home and abroad, Singapore has grown faster than other developed economies and key Asian peers since the global financial crisis, Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said in Parliament yesterday.

He noted that seven years after the crisis struck, the global recovery remains relatively weak and this lacklustre performance is expected to persist.

Still, the Singapore economy has managed to grow by an average of 4.7 per cent annually since 2007, faster than developed economies like Japan, the United States and the European Union.

Singapore also did better than Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong over the same period, Mr Lim showed in a set of charts during his ministry's Committee of Supply debate.

He was responding to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked about Singapore's economic outlook amid the tepid global landscape.

Singapore's unemployment rate has remained low, Mr Lim said. It has not exceeded 3 per cent since 2007, even in the depths of the financial crisis.

Salaries are also rising. Median incomes of employed households headed by Singaporeans have gone up by an average of 2.9 per cent yearly, even after adjusting for inflation, since 2007.

These numbers show that efforts to restructure the economy in recent years have put Singapore on the right track towards long-term growth, Mr Lim said.

These efforts are gaining traction among firms that manufacture goods or export services, which have seen strong labour productivity growth, he added.

"We should persevere (in these efforts)... so that we can replicate these improvements in the other sectors, particularly the domestic-oriented sectors."

The minister also outlined plans for the long-term health of Singapore's economy, including efforts to develop new growth areas like advanced manufacturing and schemes to help local enterprises go abroad.

This was after some MPs - such as Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) - asked how the ministry plans to create jobs for increasingly educated and qualified Singaporeans.

Citing the professional services sector as an example, Mr Lim said Singapore has become a choice location for regional headquarters activities.

Firms such as McKinsey and KPMG have chosen to base their Centres of Excellence here, carrying out research in diverse fields ranging from analytics and growth markets to consumer insights and cyber security.

To equip Singaporeans with the skills to support future growth, the Economic Development Board (EDB) will work with companies to build their training capabilities as part of the SkillsFuture initiative, Mr Lim said.

EDB will support these efforts in seven pilot sectors: logistics, electronics, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, precision engineering, marine and aerospace.

SMEs to get more help to build tech prowess
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

SMALL and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get more help to keep up with leading-edge technologies, Parliament was told yesterday.

To encourage more SMEs to tie up with and learn from larger companies in their supply chain, the Partnerships for Capability Transformation (PACT) programme will be extended by another three years to March 2018.

"PACT has achieved good progress," Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang said during the debate on budget estimates for his ministry. He added that the programme will be developed to provide "greater support for co-innovation" between SMEs and larger companies.

PACT was introduced in Budget 2010 to help manufacturing firms build their capabilities and track records, and is supported by the Economic Development Board (EDB), Spring Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. In 2013, it was expanded to include more industries and new forms of collaboration.

SMEs can tap PACT for funding support of up to 70 per cent of development costs for approved projects such as joint product development and test-bedding of innovative solutions.

To allow more projects to qualify, the scheme will now support all SMEs so long as the larger firms they partner are committed to developing their capabilities, even if the larger firms do not qualify for funding.

Also, water and energy solutions firms that were unable to use Singapore as a test bed due to limited land, air space or climate conditions will get a lift. EDB is piloting a $15 million Overseas Living Lab programme to help Singapore-based firms in these sectors test and commercialise their technologies overseas, Second Trade and Industry Minister S. Iswaran said. The pilot programme will run over the next two years.

The new initiatives complement other tax incentives and grant schemes announced on Budget day that encourage SMEs to grow through mergers, acquisitions and overseas expansions.

News to brighten small businesses' bottomlines
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

COFFEESHOPS, kindergartens and music schools may see cheaper electricity bills come July.

They are among some 10,000 small businesses which can start choosing their electricity supplier and package later this year, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran told Parliament.

This move to increase competition in the retail electricity market is part of Singapore's strategy to better meet its future energy needs, he said during the debate on the Ministry of Trade and Industry's budget yesterday.

Last year, the amount of energy that a company must use before it can choose its energy supplier was lowered from 10,000 kilowatt hours (kwh) per month to 4,000 kwh.

This made 15,000 companies eligible to pick their own retailer and package.

About 1,600 firms applied to do so, including Pet Lovers Centre and not-for-profit groups like the Alzheimer's Disease Association.

On July 1, the threshold will be lowered further to 2,000kwh. And it may soon be removed completely, Mr Iswaran added. The Energy Market Authority is studying the approach and implementation timeline for this, in consultation with industry stakeholders.

The other two prongs of Singapore's energy security strategy are to continue to improve its energy infrastructure and develop a strong core of energy professionals, Mr Iswaran said.

In response to Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC), who asked about the progress of the Government's plans to expand liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, Mr Iswaran said Singapore plans to develop a second LNG terminal, to be located in the east.

"A second terminal will enhance our energy security by geographically diversifying our LNG import infrastructure," he said, adding that it will support new industrial sites and power plants.

The first LNG terminal, which began operations in May 2013, is also steadily expanding, he added.

When a fourth storage tank is completed by 2018, it will be able to hold 800,000 cu m of the gas, up from 540,000 cu m now, he said.

Also, local professionals in the power sector are being trained so that Singapore has a strong pipeline of talent to meet the sector's needs.

3D printing among new growth areas in R&D expansion
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE will step up research and development (R&D) efforts in new growth sectors such as robotics and additive manufacturing, which includes technologies like 3D printing.

This will reinforce an ongoing move to help local companies create new products and services and generate new revenue streams, Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to questions from MPs Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC), Ong Teng Koon and Vikram Nair (both Sembawang GRC), who had asked about the outcomes of the Government's heavy investments in R&D after the state committed to pumping $16.1 billion into R&D from 2011 to 2015.

To encourage manufacturing firms to take advantage of disruptive additive manufacturing technologies, an additive manufacturing centre will be set up later this year, Mr Iswaran said.

The centre, jointly set up by A*Star and the Economic Development Board (EDB), will house state-of-the-art industrial grade equipment and allow researchers to work with partners from industry such as Rolls-Royce.

A*Star, EDB and the National Research Foundation will also launch a national robotics programme later this year.

The programme, which will pull together capabilities across public research institutions, aims to develop robotics technologies and test-bed initiatives across various sectors.

But "innovation is not just about new or breakthrough products", Mr Iswaran said. He noted that companies can also benefit from "innovative process improvements to their operations".

To help in this area, A*Star's $51 million technology adoption programme, introduced in 2013, aims to make technology more accessible to smaller companies.

To date, the agency has worked with more than 4,000 companies under the programme.

Besides catalysing new growth areas for the economy and helping companies raise productivity, R&D also creates good jobs for Singaporeans, the minister said.

In reply to Mr Ong's question about the proportion of Singaporeans in R&D jobs and their career options, Mr Iswaran said that there were about 32,000 research scientist and engineer jobs in 2013, of which 70 per cent went to locals.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC), on the importance of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Singapore, should contracts for piped natural gas from neighbouring countries not be renewed:

Energy security is a strategic imperative and a priority for Singapore... It therefore becomes vital that Singapore has a new source of sustainable natural gas supply that is sourced globally.

It is not the price of natural gas that concerns me. Availability is the key here. We must have the ability to buy and store and use natural gas at whatever the price if we are in a situation where LNG is denied to us. I cannot imagine a modern city like Singapore being devoid of electricity. What are Singaporeans to do in such a situation? It is too scary to even imagine. LNG fulfils this important role of energy security. The Government, in its wisdom, has invested heavily in making sure we have the capability to receive LNG... I am very relieved to note that we are well on our way to making sure Singapore will not be left in a literal state of darkness in the future.

STB working on new ideas to reinvent Orchard Road
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 7 Mar 2015

WITH tourism growth slowing, an exercise to develop new ideas to rejuvenate Singapore's premier shopping belt is under way.

Second Minister for Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said yesterday that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is conducting an exercise called "Envisioning Orchard Road" to develop "a common vision and new ideas" for the 2.2km boulevard.

It will study consumer insights and engage local stakeholders to understand key challenges in a process that should wrap up by the year end, he added.

Tourism growth is expected to be flat this year, he said. Visitor arrivals should be in the range of 15.1 million to 15.5 million - up at most 3 per cent from last year.

Tourism receipts are also expected to be modest, in the range of $23.5 billion to $24 billion, up at most 2 per cent from last year.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) asked what is being done to ensure Singapore remains vibrant, given the "intensifying competition for the global tourist shopping dollar".

Mr Iswaran said that last year, the STB worked with the retail industry to test new initiatives to revitalise Orchard Road, such as a five-month pop-up showcase of local designers. And since last October, a 660m stretch has been pedestrianised on the first Saturday night of the month. Tonight marks the last Pedestrian Night of the six-month trial.

Meanwhile, the STB will extend support for innovative lifestyle events and concepts that have strong tourism appeal and the potential to be scaled up.

Through its $5 million Kickstart Fund, 13 such projects have been tested so far.

The STB will double the maximum funding for projects to $150,000, and extend the maximum duration of support to one year, said Mr Iswaran.

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