Tuesday 30 June 2015

AMK residents share their memories of Lee Kuan Yew

They recall stories of ex-PM as they mark 100 days of his death
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

THE late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was someone who was never tired and was always concerned about what was happening on the ground.

Retired Istana driver Abdul Sulaiman, 84, said this yesterday as he recalled fondly memories of his former boss. He was speaking at an event to mark the 100th day of Mr Lee's death, which is tomorrow (30 June).

It is a Chinese tradition to mourn for 100 days.

Mr Lee, Singapore's first prime minister, died aged 91 on March 23.

"Mr Lee was a perfectionist. But he was easy to work with, once I knew what he wanted. He was not aloof, and we were always in a conversation in the car," said Mr Abdul at the event at the Yio Chu Kang Community Club.

Mr Abdul, an Ang Mo Kio resident who was a driver at the Istana for more than 30 years, added: "Mr Lee did not know the meaning of being tired... He was always alert. Singapore is where it is now because of Mr Lee, and I'm very thankful for him. I'm sad that I could not attend his funeral because I was in hospital at the time."

At the event, Mr Tan Hock, 69, a retired businessman, Mr R. Sommasundram, 66, a retired senior producer, Mr Lee Seng Giap, 80, a retired translator and Mr Tan Bak Chua, 59, a retired advertising executive - all of them Ang Mo Kio residents - also related their stories about Mr Lee to the 200-strong crowd.

There was also an exhibition featuring a collection of magazine and newspaper clippings from Singapore and overseas about Mr Lee's death.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Seng Han Thong, who also spoke at the event, said: "Since Mr Lee's passing, many residents shared with me their feelings for Mr Lee, their experiences and how Mr Lee impacted their lives. This is a platform for residents to share, so grassroots leaders and other residents can learn from them."

NDP 2015: Mobile column back with more variety

Veteran at front of convoy as NDP highlight celebrates past and present
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

A CONVOY of 177 war vehicles will rumble past the Padang this Aug 9 as the mobile column returns after five years.

Twenty-six types of vehicles are making their debut at National Day Parade (NDP) 2015, making the line-up the most diverse.

These include a combat ambulance, an armoured engineer vehicle used primarily for clearing mines or demolishing wire obstacles, as well as an upgraded version of a battle tank.

Also unveiled for the first time is a 22m-long specialised marine craft, which is used for the defence of bases.

Other vehicles that will be on parade include Home Team vehicles such as a combined platform ladder.

NDP 2015, which celebrates Singapore's 50th year of independence, will have a touch of nostalgia, said Major Cai Dexian, chairman of the mobile column.

"This year's mobile column will hark back to mobile columns of the past, all the way back to the original mobile column in 1969, where it's a grand, formal and precise display of military capabilities and military precision," he said.

To pay tribute to the pioneers, a retired colonel who took part in the first mobile column in 1969 will be among those leading the convoy.

Maj Cai said the significance of the mobile column was "not the vehicles themselves, but what they represent, and they represent a commitment to defence".

Singapore, Australia strengthen ties with signing of strategic partnership agreement

By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott marked 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries by witnessing the adoption of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that will bring about new levels of cooperation and exchanges in defence, the economy, foreign affairs, and arts and culture.

The accord, signed at a ceremony at the Istana on Monday, paves the way for increased intelligence sharing to combat terrorism, more access to military training areas in Australia, and collaboration on fighting cybercrime.

There will also be annual meetings of Australia and Singapore leaders alternating between the two countries as hosts.

On the economic front, financial markets will be integrated and aviation and maritime connectivity will be enhanced. The flow of skilled labour and visitors will also be increased.

The Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement will also be reviewed early to look for new trade and investment opportunities.

There will also be more cultural exchanges between the people of Singapore and Australia. Singaporean students will get more internships in Australia while civil servants from both countries will conduct short term study visits.

Heritage institutions and museums will facilitate more travelling exhibitions, loaning of artefacts and co-curate exhibitions.

To build on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, a host of Memorandums of Understanding were signed between agencies from both countries to establish more specific frameworks for cooperation.

Mr Abbott is in Singapore on the last day of a two-day official visit. He is accompanied by an Australian delegation which includes Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles and a business delegation.

Alexandra Hospital closes for renovation; Ng Teng Fong General Hospital officially opens 30 Jun 2015

Last patients moved to Jurong hospital; Alexandra to reopen in third quarter
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2015

SINGAPORE'S only colonial-style hospital, Alexandra Hospital, closed its doors to patients yesterday to undergo renovation works.

Its last 19 patients were taken by ambulances yesterday afternoon to the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) in Jurong, which opens officially today (30 Jun).

It’s our last night at #AlexandraHospital before we open our doors at #NTFGH and we have just transferred all our...
Posted by JurongHealth on Monday, June 29, 2015

But those who are fond of Alexandra Hospital's colonial-era facade and its luxurious garden with 500 plant species and over 100 butterfly species, need not fret.

It will reopen and take in patients in the third quarter of this year, and be run by the team behind the upcoming Sengkang General Hospital.

That team will move to the new hospital in 2018.

Alexandra Hospital will then become the second campus of the National University Health System, which is less than 4km away.

A Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman told The Straits Times that it plans to maintain Alexandra Hospital's "healthcare heritage while intensifying land use".

The ministry has called a tender for a masterplan and feasibility study on the longer-term use for the site. This will take a year or more to complete.

Alexandra Hospital, which sits on a sprawling 110,000 sq m site, dates back to 1938 when it was called the British Military Hospital.

It got its current name in 1971 when the British withdrew from Singapore and handed the hospital over to the Government.

Downtown Line Stage 2 back on track for Dec 2015 start

Bukit Panjang commuters' woes will ease then: Minister
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

THE 12 stations of Stage 2 of the Downtown Line will open this December after all, as longer construction hours and more efficient work processes managed to make up the time lost when a key contractor went bust in 2013.

Announcing the good news during a ministerial visit to the Zhenghua ward in Bukit Panjang yesterday, Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew assured residents that their journeys to the city centre - now troubled by light-rail breakdowns and traffic congestion - would be eased by year end.

Get ready to hop on the Downtown Line 2(DTL2) to enjoy the sights and festivities in town later this year, because DTL2...
Posted by Land Transport Authority – We Keep Your World Moving on Saturday, June 27, 2015

He credited the support of residents for longer construction hours as a key reason that works could catch up to the original schedule, which hit a snag when Austrian firm Alpine Bau filed for insolvency in June 2013. It was the main contractor for the three stations of King Albert Park, Sixth Avenue and Tan Kah Kee.

Two other builders, Australia's McConnell Dowell and South Korea's SK E&C, took over Alpine's contracts, and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) re-looked and sped up work processes. For example, it built a local control centre at Little India station so that it could commence testing of the system while work continued on the three affected stations, said Mr Lui.

"I think this will be welcome news to people living in the western and north-west corridor," he told reporters after the dialogue.

The journey time from Bukit Panjang to the financial district, which is now about an hour, will drop by 20 minutes with the Downtown Line, which has four interchange stations to link residents to the North-East, North-South and Circle Lines.

Kampung spirit in Marine Parade hailed

Minister recalls how neighbours there helped after burglars attacked him
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

HE GREW up in Marine Parade, and lived for more than two decades in the area. Even today, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, 42, remembers fondly the strong kampung spirit there.

He recalled how he and his brother were victims of burglary when he was about 10 years old.

They were walking home after buying food from the nearby hawker centre one day but did not realise they were being followed.

After opening the door to their flat, two men rushed in from behind and pushed them to the ground. The men tied the boys up and threatened to kill them, before ransacking the place and making off with what they could.

Mr Wong said: "We were, of course, very traumatised by that incident. But our neighbours looked after us, and made sure we were okay."

The community even raised funds and got a security guard to be stationed at the void deck of his Housing Board block for a few months after the incident, he said.

"The sense of community help was tremendous," said Mr Wong yesterday at a carnival held by the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots pre-school at Marine Parade.

The event was to mark the nation's golden jubilee and pay tribute to the Marine Parade community for their support for the pre-school. Mr Wong himself attended the pre-school.

Racial integration: What the US can learn from Singapore

By Fareed Zakaria, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

IN THINKING about the United States' enduring racial divide, I found myself intrigued by lessons from an unlikely source: Singapore.

To help prepare for a trip there this week - as a guest of the National University of Singapore - I asked the country's Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam what he regarded as the country's biggest success.

I imagined he would talk about economics, since the city-state's per capita gross domestic product now outstrips that of the US, Japan and Hong Kong. He spoke, instead, about social harmony.

"We were a nation that was not meant to be," Mr Tharman said. The swamp-ridden island, expelled from Malaysia in 1965, had a polyglot population of migrants, with myriad religions, cultures and belief systems.

"What's interesting and unique about Singapore, more than economics, are our social strategies. We respected peoples' differences yet melded a nation, and made an advantage out of diversity," he said in an interview, echoing remarks he made at the St Gallen Symposium last month in Switzerland.

How did Singapore do it?

By mandating ethnic diversity in all of its neighbourhoods. More than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing - all of it is well regarded, some of it very upmarket. Every block, precinct and enclave has ethnic quotas.

This is what people mean when they talk about Singapore's "nanny state", and the minister readily admitted it. "The most intrusive social policy in Singapore has turned out to be the most important," he said.

"It turns out that when you ensure every neighbourhood is mixed, people do everyday things together, become comfortable with each other, and most importantly, their kids go to the same schools. When the kids grow up together, they begin to share a future together."

Malaysia’s dress code uproar 'stems from intolerance'

Prominent Malaysians call on government to intervene, stop moral policing
The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's recent incidents of strict enforcement of dress codes at government buildings is due to the rise of intolerant attitudes among certain "holier-than-thou" Muslims imposing their Islamic values on Malaysians of other faiths, said former high-ranking civil servants and lawyers.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insider, they called on the government to intervene and stop what they see as a trend of moral policing, following an uproar over the incidents.

They were referring to a string of cases this year involving women and men deemed to be indecently dressed and denied entry into some government buildings.

Human rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan said government departments were not places of worship where austere dress codes would be imposed.

"They have to realise that these government offices are public premises to serve the public and not (places) to tell them how to dress," she told the news portal.

"They have gone overboard in seeking to enforce a dress code.

"Who gave them the right?"

Greeks pay price of Tsipras' populist ploys and missteps

PM's tactics anger creditors and put his country on brink of disaster
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

WHEN Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras won power in January, he was hailed by many as the man to revolutionise not only his country's politics, but also those of all Europe.

Aged only 40, he is Greece's youngest prime minister in almost two centuries. More importantly, he seemed to herald the rise of a new generation, one which took the existence of a united Europe for granted, but also wanted to refashion the continent.

Instead, Mr Tsipras' experiment has taken his country on a wild and largely irrelevant economic and political roller coaster which is almost certain to end in a disastrous crash when Greeks vote in a referendum scheduled for July 5. And, far from being upended, Europe's political class has reaffirmed its grip.

The moral of the Tsipras story is that youth, good looks and shrewd tactics are still no substitute for logic and strategy.

The secret of Mr Tsipras' success was his ability to grab attention by playing the role of a disciplined youth in the midst of an undisciplined mob, by charting a road for those who would otherwise be going in all directions.

In 1990, when a Greek government plan to cut educational spending sparked off massive protests throughout the country's educational establishments, it was Mr Tsipras, then just 16, who represented the protesters in negotiations with the government.

And, after spending a decade joining every hopeless fringe radical movement in Greece, Mr Tsipras defied political gravity by achieving what nobody thought possible: welding together a coalition of green environmentalists and left-wingers. The Syriza movement he heads fronted hard-hitting electoral campaigns, catapulting him to victory.

As those close to him knew from the start, Mr Tsipras' informal public demeanour was a carefully constructed facade. His trademark refusal to wear neckties is intended as a snub to Europe's political establishment. Yet it's also a controlled one: The shirts he wears are immaculate and the suits are well-tailored, giving him both the appearance of spontaneity and authority.

It was reasonable, therefore, to expect that the man who cultivated his own brand of "radical chic" would also know how to tone down his rhetoric when in power. For he needed to, since he won power by promising the impossible, by vowing that Greece will abandon its economic austerity programme, yet still get the subsidies and credits from the European Union and remain in the euro zone.

To everyone's surprise, Mr Tsipras did neither, and ended up infuriating Europe.

One reason for this catastrophic mistake is that Mr Tsipras continued to treat the European talks to avert his country's bankruptcy as an extension of Greek domestic politics. He played the anti-German card by encouraging demands for compensation for Germany's occupation of Greece during World War II, an absurd claim. This played well at home, but embarrassed the Germans, Europe's biggest paymaster.

Mr Tsipras' decision to send Dr Yanis Varoufakis, his sharp-tongued Finance Minister, to deal with negotiations was equally disastrous. There is nothing politicians hate more than being lectured at as though they were first-year university students, which is how Dr Varoufakis treated the negotiations.

Monday 29 June 2015

Taipei water park blast: 'It was hell' after ball of fire turns joy to terror

The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2015

TAIPEI (AFP) - Witnesses described the scene at a Taiwan water park as "hell" after a ball of fire ripped through a crowd at a "colour party" on Saturday.

The blast occurred as coloured powder that was being sprayed on the partygoers ignited.

Amateur video footage showed young revellers dancing in front of a stage and cheering as clouds of green and yellow powder covered them.

But their joy turned to terror when the powder suddenly erupted in flames, engulfing them in an inferno as they ran screaming for their lives.

Some were dressed only in swimwear. Images from the scene showed many with severe burns being cared for.

One male student who sustained minor injuries described the scene as "hell".

"There was blood everywhere, including in the pool where lots of the injured were soaking themselves for relief from the pain," he told reporters.

His visibly shaken girlfriend added: "I saw lots of people whose skin was gone."

Ambulances had struggled to reach the scene, and victims were carried away on rubber rings and inflatable dinghies as friends desperately tried to get them out. Around 1,000 revellers were at the Colour Play Asia event at Formosa Fun Coast water park, according to officials.

Several major hospitals in Taiwan have been asked to donate skin grafts and surgical equipment to help treat the injured, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said.

One father broke down as he spoke of how his daughter was in intensive care with third-degree burns. "She was attending a music concert... Why would there be an explosion?"

With every adventure, there will always be risk

By David Lim, Published The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

The tragic deaths of trekkers and adventurers on Mount Kinabalu following the June 5 earthquake in Sabah have raised the question about handling risk, and the appropriateness of mountain-based adventure activities for children.

Every year, globally, thousands of children travel to high altitudes without incident. These include trips to ski resorts, and hiking in countries with developed emergency and evacuation procedures, as well as to more remote destinations.

In assessing risk, it's important to separate what's known as "subjective" risks from "objective" risks.

Subjective risks refer to risks that are known and, to a degree, manageable. These include climbers' rate of acclimatisation as they move to higher altitudes.

Often, the faster the ascent, the higher the risk of adults and children being affected by acute mountain sickness and more serious conditions like fluids accumulating in the lungs (high altitude pulmonary edema) or brain (high altitude cerebral edema), both life-threatening.

Only one study has shown that children are more susceptible to altitude-based ailments, and that's only when they have prior or pre-existing upper respiratory tract illnesses. There is no conclusive evidence that they are more or less susceptible than adults to altitude problems.

However, there is an issue with what I term "competency reserve" that is of greater concern where children are involved.

In the presence of peers or a mixed group of peers and adults, some young children may find it hard to articulate how they feel, or draw attention to a specific health condition. This is less of an issue as children mature.

But pre-teens or more introverted teenagers may express problems like loss of appetite or poorly defined aches in a way that may mask more serious symptoms.

In general, the larger the gap between the existing competencies of a child or adult and experience and knowledge of a situation in the mountains, the greater the onus on the accompanying guide to ensure that the "controllable" does not spiral downwards into an "uncontrollable" situation.

Deadly attacks across 3 continents

Strikes in Tunisia, France, Kuwait; ISIS claims responsibility for Kuwait hit
The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

BEIRUT - Terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait yesterday, leaving a bloody toll on three continents, prompting fresh concerns about spreading extremist influences.

The deadliest attack was in Tunisia, where gunmen opened fire at a beach in the Mediterranean tourist town of Sousse, killing at least 27 people. Security forces killed at least one attacker.

In Kuwait, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a bomb that ripped through a Shi'ite mosque during Friday prayers, leaving 25 dead.

In France, attackers stormed a US-owned industrial chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory, in what the French authorities said was a terrorist attack.

There was no statement of responsibility for the attacks in Tunisia and France.

British holidaymakers caught up in the attack in Tunisia said tourists ran from the beach when they realised they were under gunfire. "Over to our left, about 100m or so away, we saw what we thought were firecrackers going off," Mr Gary Pine, from Bristol, told Britain's Sky News by telephone. "But you could see quite quickly the panic that was starting to ensue from the next resort along from us."

Obama's legacy finally takes shape

This is the week that will define Obama's presidency.
Posted by NowThis on Friday, June 26, 2015

He scores healthcare, trade, gay marriage victories
The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Washington - Mr Barack Obama came to office vowing to bring "change" to America, and after years stymied by partisan battles, a momentous week has left him emboldened and with a stronger claim to have fulfilled that promise.

Last Friday, Mr Obama sat in the residence of the White House, preparing a eulogy for another victim of another mass shooting in the United States. For six years he had used successive tragedies to cajole and coerce Congress into tightening gun laws but failed. Now he would be paying homage to Mr Clementa Pinckney, a slain South Carolina preacher he had known since 2007.

In the immediate aftermath of the Charleston shooting, Mr Obama seemed almost resigned to the limitations of his quickly fading presidency. America would get to grips with the problem "at some point", he said. It was a far cry from his first-term invocations of the "fierce urgency of now".

America's first black president is fond of repeating another dictum borrowed from Martin Luther King Jr, that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice". The phrase is woven into a rug that encircles Mr Obama's desk in the Oval Office. The murder of nine African Americans, including Mr Pinckney - by a suspected racist 21-year-old white man from the deep south - showed just how long that arc can be.

As Mr Obama wrote, the phone rang. His senior adviser and long-time friend from Chicago, Ms Valerie Jarrett, informed him that the US Supreme Court had made gay marriage legal across the country. It was a decision that crowned a momentous week in American history and in Mr Obama's presidency. In just a few short days, he had won a major trade battle with Congress and the Supreme Court had upheld housing rights and swept aside the last major threat to his signature domestic policy achievement - expanding health care to millions more Americans. "Obamacare" was here to stay and now gay marriage had been enshrined in law - something unthinkable just a few short years ago.

"Progress," he said shortly after in the White House Rose Garden surrounded by euphoric West Wing staff, "often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back.

"And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

Years defined by biting Fox News criticism, the ultra-conservative Tea Party and congressional gridlock suddenly seemed to have been swept aside.

Masterplan to protect Singapore's marine biodiversity announced

New blueprint to conserve Singapore's marine heritage
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Coral reefs and other marine habitats will be better protected under a new plan that also maps out ways of re-populating Singapore's waters with giant clams and sea turtles.

The Marine Conservation Action Plan, helmed by the National Parks Board (NParks), is the first official one to protect and enhance Singapore's marine heritage.

It was launched yesterday by Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee at the NParks' Festival of Biodiversity at VivoCity.

It is important for us to conserve our rich and thriving biodiversity. At the launch of the Festival of Biodiversity...
Posted by Ministry of National Development on Saturday, June 27, 2015

Among its projects is one to increase the population of the Neptune's Cup Sponge in local waters. The sponge was thought to be globally extinct in the early 1900s until it was re-discovered off St John's Island in 2011. Singapore is now the only country with a known living specimen.

NParks is working with Tropical Marine Science Institute researcher Lim Swee Cheng on the project.

He told The Sunday Times that researchers hope to understand "basic but important" questions on the animal's biology and ecology, such as how it feeds and reproduces, its growth rate and role in the ecosystem.

"We have been monitoring one sponge and discovered that it is a fast-growing species, contrary to what many scientists thought; it doubled in size in three years," he said.

Under the plan, NParks will also pilot two dive trails to get more Singaporeans interested in marine life.

Complete with 20 underwater signboards that serve as activity stations and markers, they will open at Sisters' Islands Marine Park in September for approved operators to use for tours.

Concert to celebrate Ruan Ensemble's 10th anniversary

By Leong Weng Kam, Senior Writer, The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

A year after Ms Zhang Ronghui arrived from China to play the ruan in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), a handful of primary schoolgirls asked her to teach them to play the ancient string instrument.

That was 17 years ago. By 2005, she had 15 students and started the Singapore Ruan Ensemble to perform at concerts and other public events.

The group has now swelled to 50 members, who have performed here and abroad, and will mark its 10th anniversary with a gala concert next Sunday.

Ms Zhang, 42, the SCO's zhong-ruan principal, told The Sunday Times that the group has come a long way and she is glad her students have done well.

Besides winning numerous awards at national music competitions, four of them - Ms Lo Chai Xia, 28, Ms Koh Min Hui, 24, Ms Clara Tan, 24, and Mr Jonathan Ngeow, 25 - won top prizes at the inaugural China International Ruan Competition in Beijing in 2010.

Ms Zhang, the group's artistic director, won a best teacher's prize in the same competition.

Ms Lo and Ms Koh are now professional musicians with the SCO.

The ruan, which is less well-known than Chinese instruments like the erhu and pipa, is a round-shaped four-string instrument that comes in four different types and sizes.

People's Association trains volunteers to cope with MERS and haze

By Priscilla Goy, The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

Given Singapore's international transport links, it is "only a matter of time" before the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) hits the country, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

He was speaking at the launch of an awareness programme by the People's Association (PA) in which 2,000 grassroots volunteers will be trained over the next four weeks to cope with any outbreak of haze and MERS.

Recalling how Singapore suffered an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Mr Teo told the audience at the event, held in Pasir Ris: "We have succeeded in tackling this kind of healthcare crisis before, and we can learn from that experience to do even better."

Prevention is better than cure!Yesterday morning, 300 grassroots volunteers were trained on health care and personal...
Posted by The People's Association on Saturday, June 27, 2015

The first of the four training sessions, involving about 360 volunteers from Pasir Ris West grassroots organisations, was held yesterday.

They learnt facts about the haze and MERS, tips on healthcare, personal hygiene, preventive measures and ways to build their immunity against the haze.

Grassroots volunteer Goh Soo Theng, 59, said in Mandarin: "MERS hasn't arrived here yet, so our understanding of the disease is more limited. The training will help us to better explain it to residents during house visits."

First batch of SAF Volunteer Corps complete basic training

First military volunteers complete basic training
Parade held for 226 women, PRs and new citizens in first cohort of SAF volunteer corps
By Jermyn Chow,  Defence Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 28 Jun 2015

For two weeks, Ms Siti Khairunessa Abdul Kadir did not tell her mother that she was picking up basic soldiering skills in Maju Camp.

Instead, the 30-year-old nurse lied that she was overseas on a volunteer mission.

It was only yesterday that Ms Siti, in her green fatigues, revealed what she was really up to - leaving her surprised mother in tears but filled with pride.

She was among the first 226 military volunteers who successfully completed their two-week basic training and became newly minted "soldiers" of the Singapore Armed Forces Volunteer Corps (SAFVC).

They comprised women, first-generation permanent residents and new citizens, all of whom are aged between 18 and 45 and not liable for national service.

At a parade held at Maju Camp yesterday, the volunteers stood up straight with hands clasping their rifles in the blistering heat, while loved ones and friends took photographs and cheered them on.

Sunday 28 June 2015

SAF gets its first female general

SAF poster girl first woman to be promoted brigadier-general
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

IT WAS a thirst for adventure that led Colonel Gan Siow Huang to sign up with the air force 22 years ago.

The armed forces agreed she was a good fit when it made her and three other women the first female recipients of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship in 1993.

Back then, the military was looking to groom talented women into military leaders though it "didn't know how far women could go", said Col Gan, 40.

A poster girl for SAF's recruitment campaign for women, Col Gan rose through the ranks, and yesterday became the first woman to attain the rank of brigadier-general in the SAF.

Congrats to the SAF commanders and officers who will be promoted from 1 July! Am happy that one of them is our first...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, June 26, 2015

Seven colonels headed the SAF's annual promotion list, and received their first star as brigadier-general or rear-admiral.

The others were Colonel Lam Sheau Kai and Colonel Kenneth Liow from the army; Colonel Lew Chuen Hong and Colonel Frederick Chew from the navy; Colonel Kelvin Khong from the air force; and Colonel Paul Chew from the Military Security Department.

With them, the top echelons of SAF will now have more than 20 generals and admirals.

In all, 413 officers, 74 military experts and 34 warrant officers from the three branches of the military earned promotions and were presented with their certificates at a ceremony at the Ministry of Defence yesterday.

Gay marriage legalised across US

Same-sex marriage legalised across US
Supreme Court ruling marks historic triumph for gay rights movement
The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the United States Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry in a historic triumph for the American gay rights movement.

The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the ruling, gay marriage will become legal in all 50 states.

The ruling marked the third big victory this week for President Barack Obama, whose administration supports gay marriages.

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld by 6-3 Mr Obama's healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, by rejecting a conservative legal challenge.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 60 to 38 to grant Mr Obama "fast-track" power to negotiate trade deals and speed them through Congress. That could propel the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership over the finish line.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing on behalf of the court, said the hope of gay people intending to marry "is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right".

Mr Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases, was joined in the majority by the court's four liberal justices.

In a dissenting opinion, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling "says that my ruler and the ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court".

No premium hike for IPs in MediShield Life's first year

But insurers give notice that payments for integrated plans will go up after that
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

PEOPLE on integrated health insurance plans (IPs) that cover them at private hospitals will not see an increase in their premiums with the introduction of MediShield Life later this year.

The five insurers offering a total of 21 IPs have promised to keep premiums as they are for a year following the launch of the compulsory national medical insurance, which is incorporated into all the integrated plans.

Before yesterday, insurers had merely said premiums for IPs covering public hospitals would remain unchanged for a year. More than half of such plans, however, are for private hospital treatments.

But the Life Insurance Association Singapore (LIAS), which represents the insurers, also gave notice that premiums will go up after the first year. It said IP claims had been rising by an average of 12 per cent to 17 per cent a year, with private hospital claims rising the fastest.

LIAS added that the premium freeze does not apply to riders, which cannot be paid for with Medisave funds, unlike the IP premiums. People with riders have full coverage of all hospital bills, including the deductible.

MediShield Life will provide better coverage than the current MediShield insurance, with higher claim limits and lower co-payment by patients facing big hospital bills. But premiums will also be higher - ranging from a small increase of 11 per cent for older people to a tripling of premiums for young adults.

Private insurers pay the MediShield premiums for their IP policyholders, and collect payouts on their behalf when they make claims.

Breast cancer info made simple for patients

By Ariel Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

A NEW comic booklet aimed at informing breast cancer patients about treatment options and coping strategies was released yesterday by Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Breast Clinic on its fifth anniversary.

Titled Life After Diagnosis, the 21-page booklet follows a fictional patient through her diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.

It discusses surgical and treatment options as well as diet and exercise. It also provides information on breast reconstruction surgery and advice on financial help and coping strategies.

Dr Juliana Chen, director of the Breast Clinic, said the booklet would help doctors communicate with less-educated patients.

The comic format was not meant to "trivialise" breast cancer, but would help patients face their diagnosis with "cheer and positivity", she added.

The booklets' illustrations and Chinese translation were done by the clinic's doctors, surgeons and other staff. Two thousand copies have been printed in English and 2,000 more in Chinese.

Dr Chen told The Straits Times many patients sought alternatives such as traditional Chinese medicine or avoided treatment altogether out of fear. "With education comes empowerment so that we can remove their fears."

Legalise cannabis? No way, says Masagos

Medicinal value not proven, he says at anti-drug event
By Hoe Pei Shan And Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

LOBBYISTS around the world may be pushing for the legalisation of cannabis, but it is "wrong and dangerous" to view it as a soft drug, Second Minister for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli warned yesterday.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 20th Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign carnival at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Mr Masagos, who is also Minister (Prime Minister's Office) and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, tried to "dispel myths" surrounding marijuana, the other name for cannabis.

These myths are increasingly being perpetuated online by social media and foreign news reports about legalisation of the drug in other parts of the world, most recently in several American states, for its purported medicinal value.

But these medical benefits for pain and epilepsy management "are not conclusive", said Mr Masagos, pointing to how cannabis has not been approved for use by medical authorities worldwide, not even by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Cannabis is addictive and "especially harmful to young people", he added, which is worrying as the number of young drug abusers in Singapore has been on the rise.

There were 1,110 abusers aged under 30 arrested last year, up 34 per cent from 826 in 2010.

"My message to youths is this: Keep saying no to drugs, whatever form they come in. They will ruin your lives and your future," he said.

In order to find ways to better address the growing problem of drug abuse, a Task Force on Youth and Drugs was convened last year.

Chaired by Mr Masagos, it surveyed 700 people aged 12 to 29, of whom 237 were abusers, and came up with several recommendations and measures.

Among them is a new counselling, support and guidance programme for youth abusers that incorporates parental input in the rehabilitation process.

The Ministry of Home Affairs will also form an Anti-drug Abuse Advocacy Network bringing together families, youth leaders and the medical community in an effort to raise awareness of latest drug trends.

37 detained in Johor for taking illegal route to Singapore

Johor to monitor exit points round-the-clock after 37 nabbed for illegal exit at Causeway
The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2015

JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Johor Immigration Department will start monitoring exit points round-the-clock to prevent people from entering Singapore illegally.

Its director Rohaizi Bahari said the department had launched an operation codenamed Ops Ikrar (Serkap) yesterday to nab these people.

He said 36 Malaysians and a Singaporean man were detained at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) complex following the operation from 5am until 8am.

The operation was launched following a news report in The Star on June 25 that some Malaysians working in Singapore were bypassing the Johor CIQ complex.

Mr Rohaizi said although those bypassing the Johor CIQ had valid Singapore work permits, it is still a serious offence to exit the country illegally.

He said although they may possess valid Malaysian passports, some of them could have been barred from leaving the country due to several reasons, such as being declared bankrupt.

Mr Rohaizi said they were caught while walking along the Johor Baru-Singapore railway line along the Causeway.

They shun the proper channels at the CIQ complex just to avoid the congestion at the checkpoints every morning, he said.

Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said he was shocked to hear about the illegal route near the complex.

"I will be contacting the relevant agencies to beef up security. I view this seriously as it is not good for relations between the two countries," he told The Star yesterday.

Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi said he was aware of the issue, and added that it was not just a problem in Johor but nationwide.