Thursday 30 April 2015

Expect letters on MediShield Life from May 2015

By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2015

FROM tomorrow, Singapore citizens and permanent residents will receive letters from the Government telling them about MediShield Life and how to update their household information.

These are being sent out to ensure that people do not lose out on subsidies meant to help them cope with higher premiums under the compulsory health insurance scheme.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor explained: "Updating your particulars is important as we want to compute premium subsidies based on accurate and up-to-date information in the government database."

It is the first time the Government is using a system of "household eligibility checks" to compute subsidies, instead of having citizens apply for them. Dr Khor asked for the public's "patience and cooperation" in this "massive administrative exercise".

To ensure that MediShield Life premiums are kept affordable, the Government will set aside nearly $4 billion in subsidies over the next five years.

Up to two in three Singapore households, mainly the lower to middle income, will get premium subsidies, aside from transitional subsidies that apply to all Singapore citizens. The premium subsidies are computed based on age, the annual value of the person's residence, household monthly income and whether the person owns multiple properties.

The Government has records of a person's income, address and property ownership from databases such as the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's (IRAS).

Some people may need to update their government records, for example, those who did not update their identity card addresses when they moved out, or those who have new tenants but did not update their records with the Housing Board.

Each of the Republic's 1.2 million households with Singapore citizens or permanent residents will receive a letter between tomorrow and May 12.

Six out of 10 households will receive "call-to-action" letters, urging them to log on to to check their household particulars. They should do so by the deadline stated in the letter, usually five weeks later, and can log in using their SingPass or a reference number on the top right-hand corner of the letter. They should check their address and revise their household composition based on instructions on the website.

A manpower-lean economy driven by productivity: Chuan-Jin

Outgoing Manpower minister paints future scenario for Singapore
By Lee U-Wen, The Business Times, 29 Apr 2015

THE future of Singapore is one where the economy must grow with fewer workers and a higher level of productivity, outgoing Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said on Tuesday.

It is a situation the country cannot run away from as a mature economy and society, he said, but added that the Republic's fate "need not be pre-determined" by this, so long as everyone pulled together in the same direction.

Writing in his final May Day message ahead of his move to the Ministry of Social and Family Development on Monday, he identified the two trends that will shape Singapore's future in the coming years:

One is that the labour market will remain tight, as the growth of the local labour force slows down towards the end of this decade.

The other is that the government will, at the same time, keep the foreign workforce growth sustainable and let it expand at the current pace.

He noted that it was "encouraging" that the economy grew by 2.9 per cent last year, and is expected to grow by between 2 per cent and 4 per cent this year, amid this tighter labour market and an uncertain global economic environment.

"We must press on with our efforts to become a manpower-lean economy that is driven by productivity, innovation and skills, and one that can create good jobs and sustain wage growth for our workers," said Mr Tan.

I was chatting with Lim Swee Say the other day and he asked me, of the various things we had done and moved in Singapore...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Sunday, May 3, 2015

He added that the government, as the key enabler of the SkillsFuture national movement, would help workers upgrade their knowledge and skills to stay relevant and take advantage of career opportunities in this new-age economy.

The unions, on their part, should encourage their members to take ownership of their learning and careers, and persuade their management partners to embark on SkillsFuture initiatives.

As for companies, they have to proactively develop their workers, provide career pathways and recognise their contributions as they move up the ladder, he said.

And with more older Singaporeans in the workforce, the government will give them greater assurance in employment and retirement through initiatives such as the additional Special Employment Credit, which encourages employers to hire those aged 65 and up.

Meanwhile, in his first May Day message since becoming president of the Singapore National Employers Federation last September, Robert Yap stressed the need for employers to press on with productivity drives and to reduce their reliance on manpower.

Finnish millionaire feels sting of $78k fine for speeding

The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

HELSINKI - Getting a speeding ticket is not a feel-good moment for anyone. But consider Mr Reima Kuisla, a Finnish businessman.

He was recently fined €54,024 (S$78,295) for travelling at a modest, if illegal, 103kmh in a 80kmh zone. And no, the €54,024 was not a typo, or a mistake of any kind.

Mr Kuisla is a millionaire and, in Finland, the fines for more serious speeding infractions are calculated according to income. The thinking here is that if it stings for the little guy, it should sting for the big guy, too.

The ticket had its desired effect. Mr Kuisla, 61, took to Facebook last month with 12 furious posts, in which he included a picture of his speeding ticket and a picture of what €54,024 could buy if it was not going to the state coffers - a new Mercedes. He said he was seriously considering leaving Finland."The way things are done here makes no sense," he said, adding: "For what and for whom does this society exist? It is hard to say."

The Nordic countries have long had a strong egalitarian streak, embracing progressive taxation and high levels of social spending. Perhaps less well known is that they also practise progressive punishment when it comes to certain fines. A rich person, many citizens believe, should pay more for the same offence if justice is to be served.

Operation WE Clean Up! - Pick up litter, spruce up Singapore

Over 8,000 volunteers expected at event on Sunday, cleaners get Saturday off
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2015

THIS Sunday, step outside and join thousands of other people in sprucing up Singapore.

More than 8,000 people are expected to volunteer for the Public Hygiene Council's (PHC) first national litter- picking event, called Operation We Clean Up!

The council organised a similar one-day event last year, but it was confined to the Bedok neighbourhood.

This year, it is setting its sights on rubbish across the island and inviting everyone to show their love for the country by cleaning up schools, parks, offices, void decks and other places.

Many organisations, town councils, schools, firms and individuals have responded to the call and organised cleanup groups at more than 130 locations.

Town councils will cease general area cleaning in nearly 70 precincts on Saturday to give the cleaners a rest and show the volunteers on Sunday how much trash there is in a single day in common areas such as void decks.

The PHC will give the cleanup groups items such as gloves, wet wipes, tongs and trash bags. It is also urging those who cannot join the groups to do their part by picking up at least three pieces of rubbish on Sunday.

PHC chairman Liak Teng Lit said a clean Singapore would improve life in other aspects.

"If you look at what has been happening in Singapore - the rat infestations, reports of choked, smelly drains, cockroaches and mosquito breeding - littering plays a key part in all this," he said.

The country's cleanliness has been on the decline despite an army of cleaners picking up after people.

Earlier this year, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote that Singapore is likely to become a "garbage city" if not for the cleaners, after pictures surfaced online of the mess left behind by people who went to a concert at Gardens by the Bay.

Last year, the National Environment Agency issued about 19,000 tickets for littering, almost double the number in 2013.

There were also 688 instances of Corrective Work Orders being imposed by the courts last year, more than double the 261 cases in 2013.

Mr Liak and leaders of environment groups said they hoped the mass clean up session would stir people to pick up after themselves and others as a matter of course, and also deter them from littering.

SCDF investigating video of 'wrecked' dorm on 24 April 2015; SCDF to punish 23 officers in dorm-trashing video

SCDF 'will leave no stone unturned' in video probe
Trashing of dorm, swearing and smoking an 'isolated incident', it says
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2015

THE Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has assured the public it will "leave no stone unturned" in investigating two videos circulating online that show its personnel trashing a dorm, swearing and smoking.

In a one-minute clip uploaded to Facebook on Monday afternoon, the men can be seen in a dorm surrounded by upturned bed frames and mattresses, with belongings strewn all over the floor.

A second clip uploaded yesterday showed the personnel, wearing uniforms that suggest they are sergeants, cheering and filming themselves at the Civil Defence Academy in Jalan Bahar as a man smears black liquid, believed to be shoe polish, on the floor.

Many netizens urged the SCDF to punish the men involved, saying their actions reflected poorly on the force.

Colonel Abdul Razak, director of the SCDF's public affairs department, said the force is "as perturbed as the online viewers or members of the public on the matter".

He added: "Let me stress that this is an isolated incident of this nature. It does not reflect the culture, the discipline, the decorum and conduct of SCDF officers and men, be it our front-line NSFs (full-time national servicemen) and regulars, or even our operationally ready NSmen.

"Let me assure you that we take this matter very seriously, and will leave no stone unturned and will update you on the outcome."

Hoarding in HDB flats: Pest-infested flat plagues neighbours

Family live in fear of roaches for 16 years with hoarder next door
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2015

EVERY night for the past 16 years, Ms Nur'Ashikin Zainol and her family have shut the windows of their Eunos Crescent flat before sleeping, for fear that cockroaches would join them in bed.

"Every day, we encounter five to 10 cockroaches. In the night, when you go to the toilet, you will surely kill one or two," said the 33-year-old cake decorator.

Her husband, building maintenance technician Fazlan Sahat, 33, said the pests have even wriggled into his pants before.

"Just the other night, a cockroach nearly crawled into my son's ear," Ms Nur'Ashikin said.

The source of the infestation? A three-room flat next door, occupied by Mr Lim Chin Ting, 74, and his wife, Madam Soh Siew Zhen, 66.

Pest-infested Eunos Crescent flat: Neighbours have been living in fear of roaches for 16 years with hoarder next door....
Posted by The Straits Times on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A musky, sour stench hung over the couple's flat when The Straits Times visited yesterday.

Stacks of newspapers, clothes, boxes, empty bottles and cans, and even a bicycle wheel lined the walls. The items filled the rooms and kitchen to a chest-high level, and there was only a narrow passage left for walking.

Dozens of cockroaches were crawling around, while dead ones peppered the sticky floor and even the walls.

But Mr Lim, a drink-stall assistant, said he is not bothered by the grime. "I'm used to it," he said in Mandarin, shrugging.

He said his wife hoards the items, and he sleeps on the living room sofa as there is nowhere else to rest. "If I touch her stuff, she will scold me."

The couple, who have lived there since 1977, are not on speaking terms.

Mr Lim said Madam Soh's habit became much worse about five years ago. "Every day, she brings back two or three bags."

New NUS centre to help tackle population woes

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 29 apr 2015

SINGAPORE'S citizen population by 2060 will shrink to that of the early 1990s if the country's low birth rates persist and it shuts its doors to immigration, Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said yesterday.

It will then have about 2.6 million citizens but what's worse is that a large number will be older.

The consequences are dire as there will be fewer than 1.5 working-age citizens for every senior citizen compared to 10:1 in 1990, she pointed out.

"Things will look very much better if we raise our birth rates, remain open to immigration at a calibrated pace, and enable seniors to make continued contributions to society," she said.

Singapore's demography has changed in the past 50 years. The World Bank ranks Singapore 2nd in the world for life...
Posted by Grace Fu on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ms Fu, who is in charge of population issues, was speaking at the opening of the Centre for Family and Population Research, launched by the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Like many developed nations, Singapore is dogged by the looming problem of a greying population as a result of low birth rates.

The scenario she painted was one of several possible projections in the controversial 2013 Population White Paper, which set out plans for infrastructure to cope with a potential population ranging from 6.5 million to 6.9 million by 2030.

Yesterday, in noting the White Paper, NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said the new centre is "well positioned to contribute" to the understanding of the population challenges facing Singapore.

Ageing at home: Old folk in a smart new world

Technology is powering solutions for seniors and caregivers
By Radha Basu, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 26 Apr 2015

Mr Goh Ban Kim, 98, is too feeble to walk, cannot talk, uses a catheter and needs to take a dozen pills a day for a host of medical conditions.

When his caregiver and daughter Goh Tok Cheng, 56, is at work, the family's helper Widiya Nengsih, 24, checks his blood pressure, sugar levels, urine and temperature regularly. She then uploads the information using a software application known as iUvo Health Notes.

Madam Goh, who lives in a spacious semi-detached house in Katong, views all the information at her office in Shenton Way.

"This app is really a blessing," she says. "It enables us to monitor him just as he would be monitored at a nursing home - except that, despite being very ill, he can still be in his own room, at home."

Her father's happiness in his last years, she says, stems from being at home, among loved ones. "Ultimately, that's what iUvo helps us give him."

As tens of thousands of Singaporeans hurtle towards old age, software technologies and devices designed to help the elderly are slowly finding favour here.

Some - like motion sensors and smoke detectors - ensure home safety. Others empower people facing physical and cognitive challenges, so they can retain their dignity and independence. Yet others - like the iUvo (in Latin, "iuvo" means to "help") - enable caregivers to better manage seriously ill patients at home.

Developed in Singapore by two tech-savvy general practitioners - Dr Choo Wei Chieh and Dr Eugene Loke - the app allows dozens of pages of medical information to be uploaded if necessary.

"As a person ages, his medical file can become quite thick," says Madam Goh, an assistant vice-president with a foreign bank. "We can retrieve everything at the touch of a button, to show to family members or doctors."

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Next-gen leaders: Who's in the frame?

The latest Cabinet changes are likely to be the last before the next general election. How is Singapore's political succession plan progressing? Insight finds out.
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2015

THERE were not many major changes in the Cabinet reshuffle announced earlier this month - the fifth since the 2011 General Election (GE).

Three ministers were moved around, one got added responsibilities, and another was promoted.

But with the next general election having to be held by January 2017, the spotlight falls on this current slate of ministers as they are likely to be the ones going into electoral battle alongside Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

And it is not just the impending GE that gives the latest moves extra significance. Taken as one of a series since 2011 to prepare for a leadership transition, this reshuffle also incorporates those who are likely to take Singapore into 2020 - the deadline that PM Lee, the country's third holder of the office, has set for stepping down - and beyond.

A key tenet of governance here has always been to build up a good team in the wings to pass on the baton to. Succession planning has long been part of the Government's DNA, and PM Lee embarked on the task from the moment he took office in 2004.

But with four out of 19 current office-holders already 60 and older, and five more joining those ranks by 2020, the job of grooming people to take over from them has become more pressing.

While senior-level ministers typically remain in power even into their 60s and 70s in other countries, in Singapore's context of renewal, it is not unusual for them to step aside for a younger team which could be more in tune with the changing hopes and aspirations of voters as fresh issues arise.

The two deputy prime ministers, Mr Teo Chee Hean, 60, and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 58, are among those who will be above 60 by 2020.

Singapore's first prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23 aged 91 of severe pneumonia, warned back in 2008 that the country would be in deep trouble if it did not find its fourth-generation political leadership by the next two elections.

Health scares earlier this year involving PM Lee and then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin further strengthened the renewal focus.

In February, the Prime Minister's Office announced that PM Lee had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery and was given a clean bill of health. The same month, Mr Tan was diagnosed with pleural effusion, where fluid builds up in the space between the lungs and rib cage.

The news of PM Lee's illness sparked a warning from the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in its risk update in February, that "the Government still needs to bring in new blood in order to create confidence that the system has the capability of grooming generations of leaders, going forward".

Amid these concerns, Emeritus Senior Minister and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, who also had surgery for prostate cancer last November, said that the fourth-generation leadership team was taking shape.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Public Service: How has it changed and how will it continue to change in future?

Values that stand the test of time in public service
Three abiding values in Singapore's system of governance - the pillars of incorruptibility, meritocracy and impartiality - need to remain in the future, although the definition of meritocracy and the recruitment process need updating.
By Eddie Teo, Published The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

WHEN I joined the public service in 1970, Mr Lee Kuan Yew already had 11 years to work on transforming the public service which he inherited from the British to one which better suited an independent Singapore.

There was already a strong ethos of incorruptibility.

I recently met Mr David Rivkin, the president of the International Bar Association, who asked how our ethos of zero-tolerance for corruption was imparted to, and sustained in, the public service. I told him there had been no training classes or brainwashing sessions.

But public servants watched and followed the example shown by our political masters. We were incorruptible because they were incorruptible. We saw that they lived simple, frugal and unostentatious lives and dedicated themselves totally to nation-building and improving the lives of Singaporeans. All the older public servants who worked closely with our pioneer generation political leaders will have stories to tell about their frugal habits. To people like Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee, there was no such thing as work-life balance. Work was life, and life was work.

For public servants, the national narrative of ensuring Singapore's survival was also very powerful and very inspiring to anyone who looked for meaning and purpose in his career. We also saw how the law against corruption was applied to all, regardless of position, by the CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau). So we were motivated by the exemplary conduct set by our bosses and the inspiring goals they set out, and, at the back of our minds, we were restrained by fear. Money as a form of incentive played no role then.


MR LEE also inherited the Public Service Commission (PSC), but he made one important change to the British way of governance. He replaced promotion on seniority with promotion on merit. Hence, for the first time, we saw young able officers overtaking their older colleagues in the public service. This clearly upset many older public servants, but Mr Lee and his colleagues paid scant attention to that. To them, meritocracy meant not only promoting people on the basis of merit and not connections, but also doing it on an age-blind basis. The best, not the most senior, got promoted.

I recall that in the early days, some public officers made it to permanent secretary in their early 30s - something unheard of today. I was appointed director (of) SID (Security and Intelligence Division of the Ministry of Defence) when I was 31. I recall one grey-haired Japanese intelligence chief trying to unsettle me at our first meeting by saying I was the same age as his grandson.

There is a common misconception among members of the public who still think that public servants are selected and promoted on the basis of their academic credentials. It is true that Mr Lee sometimes gave the impression that to him, academic brilliance was of prime importance. But even he knew that character was more important than intelligence, and I recall him saying that having a smart crook in our system was worse than a simple crook.

As early as in 1976, Mr Lee had said in Parliament, when defending the public service against criticisms by a PAP MP: "Can he get a job done? Can he get a team to work for him? Is he a talker or a thinker, or a talker and a doer? The best, of course is the man who thinks before he expounds and, having expounded, he then acts. It has nothing to do with whether he has got a PhD or a school certificate or even a Standard VI qualification."

Lim Swee Say: Singapore 'must act to avoid regressing'

Republic risks becoming ordinary if it fails to boost jobs, skills: Swee Say
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE risks regressing to become "just a normal country" unless it moves faster to enhance workers' skills and create new jobs, labour chief Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

The country should also venture ahead of its competitors in weaving technology into manufacturing, services and daily life, said Mr Lim in his final May Day message as secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

Failing to improve on the skill and job fronts in tandem may lead to shortages of both, and a mismatch between those available, he said. This may in turn lead to a rise in unemployment, structural unemployment and underemployment.

"We could then regress and become just a normal country with an ordinary economy and ordinary workforce. This will be painful," he warned.

Singapore, which has been praised for its exceptional economic performance over the past few decades, should take the lead in areas like future manufacturing using robots, future services where customers are more involved, and being a smart nation where technology is more integrated, he added.

Mr Lim, who will move from NTUC to be Manpower Minister next week, also paid tribute to the pioneer generation, and all workers and tripartite partners, for contributions to Singapore's transformation over the last 50 years.

They have helped secure the economic conditions that workers here enjoy, he said. These are a tight labour market with enough jobs for workers of various ages, fair wage increases and bonuses, a higher re-employment age ceiling and industrial peace.

In her May Day message, NTUC president Diana Chia highlighted the role of union leaders over the years, from standing up to errant employers in the 1960s to accepting the flexible wage system in the 1980s, which raised Singapore's competitiveness.

She added that the three-way partnership between the unions, the Government and employers needs to be brought to the sectoral level as well. "Government agencies work with employer groups and trade unions in each sector to chart out strategies that will deliver productivity and skills breakthroughs so that Singapore and Singaporeans can continue to prosper," she said.

The labour movement is celebrating May Day this year with the theme, "Together As One, Brighter Future For All", and has lined up a series of activities to mark the occasion.

At its annual May Day dinner at Orchid Country Club tomorrow night, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will present awards to 96 individuals and companies.

On Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will speak at the May Day Rally at The Star Performing Arts Centre.

Lessons from INTRACO, Singapore’s original trailblazer

By Dr Faizal Yahya, Published TODAY, 28 Apr 2015

Former government-linked companies such as DBS Bank and Singapore Airlines have become world-class Singapore brands. But not many people would immediately think of INTRACO as a Singapore brand or remember its contributions to Singapore’s early industrialisation.

INTRACO, which is listed on the Singapore Exchange, describes itself today as a company trading in materials and infrastructure, and providing supply and installation of building-related products. This is quite a change from its goal when the International Trading Company — INTRACO’s original name — was set up by the Singapore Government in late 1968. At the time, INTRACO was tasked to explore new overseas markets and find new sources of raw materials at competitive prices to support Singapore’s export-oriented industrialisation (EOI) strategy. Created alongside DBS and the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), INTRACO was considered by the then-Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee as the most complex, difficult and challenging undertaking among the three institutions.

In 1972, INTRACO was listed on the Singapore Exchange to raise capital and to align the company’s operations with market rules. Two years later, the Government incorporated it into the portfolio of its main investment holding company, Temasek. Over the next 30 years, INTRACO created export markets for Singapore products and sourced for imports for the domestic market.

It was only in 2003 that the Government divested the company as part of a larger move to reduce its shareholdings in government-linked companies, either because they were already successful commercial entities or because they had outlived their original purpose. In INTRACO’s case, unlike its pioneer peers DBS and JTC, it had lost its relevance as a state enterprise. This was despite it “blazing a trail” overseas for Singapore, as Dr Goh had put it when the company was first created. What were the main reasons for INTRACO’s fate and are there lessons for nation-building we can draw from its experience?

Singapore posts largest decline in financial literacy across Asia Pacific: MasterCard 2014H1 Financial Literacy Index

By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE has fallen to sixth place for financial literacy, recording the largest decline out of 16 Asia-Pacific markets, according to a annual survey by MasterCard.

The key reason for the overall decline in financial literacy here seems to be a fall in consumers' understanding of basic money management, said MasterCard yesterday.

Going by the survey results, people in Singapore are finding it harder to keep up with bills, budget effectively and manage unsecured loans, it added.

Singapore slipped four points to score 68 points in MasterCard's fourth financial literacy index. It was previously ranked second in the region.

But the struggle to improve financial literacy is taking place throughout the region, said MasterCard.

According to its survey, progress in improving basic finance knowledge and skills across the Asia-Pacific has stalled as 12 of 16 countries record lower scores in financial literacy.

While Singapore's ranking saw the biggest decline, the survey also showed generally disappointing results in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan.

"Crucial to improving financial literacy is encouraging education at an early age," said Ms Deborah Heng, group head and general manager of MasterCard Singapore.

"A practical understanding of how to manage money, including saving and borrowing, should be provided by parents and taught at school. The goal is to develop financial know-how so that people can effectively manage money matters such as household cash flow and loans."

Free train, bus rides on National Day 2015

By Lester Hio And Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

TRAIN and bus rides this National Day will be free.

Public transport operators SBS Transit and SMRT announced this yesterday in a joint statement, saying commuters will be able to enjoy both train and bus rides without having to tap their transit cards, from the start to the end of service hours on Aug 9.

Fare gates leading to train services run by SMRT and SBS will also be opened to allow people to board trains on multiple train lines for free.

"The free travel offered by SBS Transit and SMRT on Singapore's 50th birthday will encourage people to attend National Day celebrations islandwide," said the statement.

Housewife Janice Goh, 48, plans to take full advantage of the free rides.

"My family and I might take different buses that day and get off at random stops, just to explore places in Singapore we haven't seen before," she said.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew welcomed the move in a Facebook post yesterday, saying it will allow commuters to get to different venues for National Day celebrations without having to worry about parking or congestion.

He added that the Land Transport Authority will work with SBS and SMRT to make the necessary adjustments to cater for increased travel demand.

Wong Kan Seng: Neutral Singapore can facilitate frank speaking

Hosting global and regional meetings is critical to putting Singapore on the world map, says former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, 68, who helped organise the inaugural Singapore Forum earlier this month that attracted Asian policymakers and corporate leaders. In his first one-on-one interview since 2007, Mr Wong also tells Rachel Au-Yong about life after the 2011 General Election (GE), and how the daily political grind has changed over the 30 years he's been an MP.
The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2015

Singapore hosts many of these international and regional forums, including the Singapore Summit (which looks at finance and economic issues in Asia) and the Shangri-La Dialogue (on security and defence). Why do we need another one?

The Singapore Forum is a useful platform where we bring together the leaders and policymakers of our region.

It is not just for people in government, or who have left the government. We also brought businessmen from the region, because government policies, particularly economic ones, affect businesses, and investments depend on the conditions in the country. This forum gave business leaders and policymakers the chance to hear each other, get their ideas across and questions answered.

It's also good to hold the forum in Singapore. We are a small country, we have no contentious issues, or stakes in disputes that are of concern to some neighbours. And being a small country, we trade with the rest of the whole world - of course, we would have an interest in what goes on in the rest of the world.

What's so important about a country's neutrality in hosting a forum?

If a forum were to be held in a country that has a dispute with another, and a subject of contention comes up, it can become heated without much enlightenment on the issues being raised. Singapore does not have that kind of contention, say, with regard to territorial disputes.

Even when disputes like these are discussed here, there isn't the angst and emotions involved than, say, if such a forum were to be held in Japan, China, the Philippines or Vietnam.

I'm not the only one who says this. Many participants who attend other forums here, like the Singapore Summit, say Singapore is the right place to facilitate a frank exchange of views.

Shift in attitudes towards death penalty

More countries either abolishing it or scaling back crimes it applies to
By Melissa Sim, US Correspondent, In Washington, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2015

THE global attitude towards the death penalty appears to be shifting, say experts, as more countries either dispense with capital punishment or scale back the crimes it applies to.

While there are no exact figures, human rights group Amnesty International reported at least 778 executions in 2013.

The number represented a 14 per cent rise from 2012, due to a spike in executions in Iran and Iraq, but was markedly lower than the 1,146 executions in 2003.

The death penalty has come under renewed spotlight since a diplomatic row erupted between Australia and Indonesia over Jakarta's decision to go ahead with the execution of two Australian ringleaders of the "Bali Nine" drug smuggling gang.

Experts attribute the declining use of the death penalty to a number of factors, including studies which cast doubt on its deterrent effect against crime, and a change in attitude among citizens as well as the authorities.

Global statistics do not include China, which is secretive about such figures, but Chinese activists say the worldwide trend is being matched in the country.

The Dui Hua Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian organisation based in California, estimated there were 2,400 executions in China in 2013, down from 12,000 in 2002.

"If you aggregate global numbers, the People's Republic of China becomes the tail that wags the dogs," said law professor Frank Zimring of Berkeley University.

Furthermore, about 140 countries - or seven in 10 - either no longer have the death penalty or are not using it, said Amnesty International's death penalty expert Chiara Sangiorgio.

Countries such as Benin, Fiji and Madagascar are in the process of abolishing it.

This is a far cry from 1945, when just eight countries, including Iceland, Panama and Venezuela, had abolished the death penalty.

On the flipside, countries with the highest number of executions in 2013 included China, Iran, Iraq and the United States.

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Terror's evolving threat to Singapore

By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2015

A FEW weeks after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States, two Al-Qaeda operatives arrived separately in Singapore to start scouting for targets.

A plan was formed to detonate six truck bombs across the island.

The men, codenamed Mike and Sammy, met members of a clandestine radical network, surveilled targets and made plans to buy ammonium nitrate for the bombs.

Targets included embassies, an MRT station, water pipelines and the defence and education ministries.

Fortunately, the Government was tipped off and, by December, the first group of 13 Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members had been arrested, which averted a terror attack and its painful consequences.

By then, Mike and Sammy had left the country. Mike was actually Indonesian bomb-maker Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, who was killed in a shootout in the Philippines in 2003. Sammy is a Canadian called Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who is now serving a life sentence in the US.

Since the 2001 arrests, 66 individuals have been detained here under the Internal Security Act for terror-related activities.

This wave of global terrorism has posed the most significant threat to Singapore in recent decades. The threat has grown, and is unlikely to go away anytime soon in this globalised world.

Nepal Earthquake: Singapore sends supplies, personnel

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

SINGAPORE has sent two planes carrying supplies and personnel to aid earthquake-stricken Nepal.

Last night, two C-130 aircraft, carrying contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), set off for the Himalayan state.

<<Relief Efforts begin for Nepalese Earthquake>> Tonight, two C-130s took off to help in the Nepal Earthquake rescue...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Sunday, April 26, 2015

Nepal is struggling in the aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck on Saturday, leaving thousands dead.

Among the men and women who set off for Nepal was a team of six from the Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre. They will help the Nepalese authorities coordinate relief efforts.

Also on board the aircraft was an SCDF search and rescue team.

Another aircraft, with a contingent from the police, including members of its Gurkha unit, and a second batch of SCDF officers, is scheduled to leave this morning.

Gurkhas are trained Nepalese who serve in foreign militaries; Singapore's Gurkha contingent has been active since 1949.

As Singapore's leaders authorised this wave of assistance for Nepal, they took to social media to express their condolences to the Nepalese nation and made special mention of Singapore's Gurkhas.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday that the Gurkhas in Singapore must be worried about their families and friends back home. "Our thoughts are with them," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean visited the Gurkhas here yesterday morning.

Jane’s Walk: Take a walk where you live

Six hundred people will go on 21 walking tours around Singapore this weekend as part of the global Jane’s Walk movement
By Gurveen Kaur, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2015

Singapore’s scorching heat has not put off a growing number of residents who are signing up to pound the pavements and explore the city on foot.

Global movement Jane’s Walk returns from Friday to Sunday for its third annual edition of free volunteer-led walking tours. More than half of the 21 tours here have been fully booked since registration opened on April 7, while the eight remaining tours are filling up quickly.

The tours have close to doubled from 11 last year. Four tours were conducted in 2013.

Among the tours still available are a walk along the Green Corridor – the nature-filled former KTM railway land – and another to learn about the changing urban landscape of Singapore’s first satellite public housing estate, Queenstown.

Other new tours offered this year are a leisurely dog walk in the Tanglin Road and Dempsey Hill area and, for those who are up for a challenge, a jog through the city’s park connectors from Geylang to Gardens by the Bay. Avid cyclists are welcome to ride along. For history buffs, there are tours of neighbourhoods such as Bishan and Clemenceau Avenue.

Ms Mai Tatoy, 45, organiser of Jane’s Walk in Singapore, says the walks have been gaining popularity. “Even before I attempted to reach out to media outlets to promote the event, some tours were already fully booked,” she says.

Jane’s Walk, which takes place this weekend in more than 130 cities worldwide, began in Toronto in 2007 to honour Jane Jacobs, a CanadianAmerican urban design activist who died in 2006, aged 89. Jacobs had advocated walking as a way to get to know a city. Every May on the weekend closest to May 4 – Jacobs’ birthday – volunteers in different cities introduce participants to the myriad facets of the city’s neighbourhoods.

Ms Tatoy says: “The walks are a way for city dwellers to be a tourist in their own city and learn the history and stories behind an urban space.”