Tuesday 29 September 2015

Post GE2015: PM Lee Hsien Loong names Cabinet aimed at leadership succession

Cabinet changes take effect 1 October 2015; Khaw Boon Wan to be new Transport Minister
Coordinating ministers will help tackle complex matters, mentor younger ministers
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Sept 28) announced a renewed and restructured Cabinet with the aim of readying a team to lead Singapore soon after the next general election.

Mr Lee said he had moved boldly to put fourth-generation leaders in roles of heavy responsibility to test and train them. Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will act as Coordinating Ministers and mentors.

Mr Teo will oversee national security and strategic planning, while Mr Tharman will oversee economic and social policies. Outgoing National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan will be Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure, as well as Transport Minister. Mr Lee said the appointment of coordinating ministers was made with an eye on a more complex policymaking environment, and the need to coordinate responses to broad challenges that involve multiple ministries.

For example, Mr Khaw's role overseeing infrastructure will let him "tie together closely the different aspects of urban planning and infrastructure provision", Mr Lee said, citing elements such as housing and rail and IT infrastructure.

Two ministries whose scope of work has expanded will have two ministers each: Education, and Trade and Industry. Each will have different responsibilities but work closely together, he said at a press conference at the Istana to announce the 20 Cabinet members and 17 other office-holders.

New MPs, former defence chief Ng Chee Meng and former senior civil servant Ong Ye Kung will both be Acting Ministers for Education. Mr Ng will oversee schools while Mr Ong will oversee higher education and skills training.

Both are seen as key members of the fourth-generation leadership team, and Mr Lee said of the group: "I want people tested, I want people developed, I want people exposed and known to the public, and confidence built up, and the team shaken down, so that within the team, they know who can do what, how they can work together, and who can emerge as a leader of the team."

His successor as Prime Minister would "most likely" come from among the members of this new Cabinet, if not, something has gone "very, very unexpectedly", he said.

Other ministers tipped to form the core of the next leadership team will also take on heavier roles.

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong will take over National Development, while Education Minister Heng Swee Keat will take over from Mr Tharman as Finance Minister.

The new Cabinet is one of the youngest in recent history, with over half under 55 years of age.

Ms Grace Fu will be Singapore's first female full minister to helm a ministry - Culture, Community and Youth. Mr Masagos Zulkifli will be Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan will become Minister for Foreign Affairs, taking over from Mr K. Shanmugam, who helms Home Affairs and Law.

The presence of seasoned coordinating ministers also gives him the confidence to put newer ministers in tough roles, Mr Lee said.

Both DPMs emphasised mentorship in their roles. Said Mr Teo: "A major responsibility now is to help PM to develop a new team, to help, guide, mentor, share our experiences and to help them to succeed."

Mr Tharman said a five-year runway to prepare a new team is more than what most countries have. "Here we've got five years, shorter than has been the normal practice in Singapore, but I think in time doable, because these are good men and women, and we've got experienced hands still in Cabinet."

Singapore reveals new sustainable development programme at UN summit

TODAY, 28 Sep 2015

Many issues of sustainable development cannot be addressed unilaterally, and renewed commitment and enhanced partnerships from all stakeholders — including states, international financial institutions and civil society — will be needed for the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to work, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

To that end, Singapore will be launching a new Sustainable Development Programme under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), a long-running initiative that conducts 300 courses for 7,000 officials from developing countries each year. The new programme will offer leadership training and work with UN bodies on development plans and solutions for the developing world.

Dr Balakrishnan announced this as he delivered Singapore’s national statement at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York City yesterday (Sept 27).

The 2030 Agenda is a new long-term global development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

Citing the transboundary haze currently plaguing Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore as an example of an issue that cannot be dealt with unilaterally, Dr Balakrishnan noted it has affected the health of millions in the region, damaged the economy and the large quantities of carbon dioxide released are setting back efforts to mitigate climate change.

“Countries are individually tackling the problem of transboundary haze. But we need closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure in order to prevent errant companies from profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

He also outlined Singapore’s approach to sustainable development, which he said is underpinned by two factors: Pragmatism in governance and implementation, and partnerships to build capacity.

Road safety begins with me

By William Wan, Published The Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2015

Cyclists in Singapore have it hard. On the road, they are the lightest and least protected road users. On pavements and the ever-expanding Park Connector Network, they are the heaviest, and therefore have a responsibility to look out for more vulnerable pedestrian traffic. In that context, they are perceived as inconsiderate and aggressive bullies.

Park connectors and parks have cycling paths, but mostly for leisure-biking. For those who cycle as an alternative to public transport and those for whom cycling is a serious hobby or exercise, they are forced to share paths and roads with other users who aren't always welcoming of their presence.

There is also a deeper problem with the demographics of victims of cycling accidents. Far too often, they are young children and the vulnerable elderly.

In some instances, cyclists put themselves at risk by failing to observe basic rules and safety, such as riding recklessly across zebra crossings (in the first place, they should not be riding but dismounting and walking with their bicycles), riding at night without headlights or reflectors in the rear, riding against traffic and so on.

Motorcyclists on roads and expressways are similarly vulnerable. Motorcyclists and their pillions form a disproportionately large component of fatal road accidents.

The most recent immediate example was of the Toyota Vios who cut off, then jammed his brakes within the Marina Coastal Expressway, causing the motorcyclist to swerve and slide, throwing him and his pillion rider wife off their vehicle, dangerously onto the road where other cars could have easily run over them.

Those who drive cars, on the other hand, are quick to seize upon what they perceive as the arrogant and irresponsible behaviour of two-wheeled fellow road users - sometimes, as in this last incident, goading and behaving irresponsibly themselves to precipitate accidents in a passive-aggressive form of road rage.

The result is a road dynamic that borders on the toxic.

Cyclists vulnerable to cars and other vehicles may behave in an unruly fashion themselves, believing they deserve some special consideration. Through the power of social media, we are visually treated to a close-range look at how some cyclists ride dangerously through traffic and, in more than one instance, behave aggressively towards automobile drivers - bicycle rage, if you will.

Watching these videos, I am reminded of how chihuahuas yap away at dogs many times their size and weight. But that is the debilitating effect of rage. It blinds us and impairs our judgment of our vulnerability.

Rules on parking labels for disabled set to be tightened

Review follows spike in number of users and feedback on abuse of reserved spaces
The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2015

Those who ferry passengers with disabilities may soon find it harder to get the coveted label that allows them to park at parking spaces reserved for those with disabilities.

The authorities are looking to tighten how these labels are issued, following a spike in the number of people using them and feedback on the shortage of such designated parking spaces because of abuse.

In future, passengers who use smaller mobility aids, such as walking sticks or frames, may not qualify for the parking labels.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said: "There is competition for these parking spaces due to the ageing population and we would like to reserve them for those who need it most, especially for those who use bulky equipment such as wheelchairs."

An accessible parking space is 11/2 times bigger than a usual one.

Last year, 1,229 Class 2 parking labels were issued, 62 per cent more than the 757 in 2010.

They are given to disabled people who are being ferried by caregivers and allow vehicles to be parked in the allotted spaces for up to 60 minutes each time.

Over the same period, the number of Class 1 parking labels given to disabled drivers increased by 39 per cent, from 271 to 377.

Cars with such labels can park at designated spaces with no time limit, and can do so for free for the first hour at carparks run by the Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The government committee reviewing the scheme is also looking at how the number of reserved parking spaces for the disabled is calculated. More accessible parking spaces may be built in areas with larger numbers of elderly people.

Currently, developers are required to provide a parking space for the disabled for the first 50 regular parking spaces they build, with an additional space for the next 50 and every subsequent 200.

This ratio aligns to the 2 to 3 per cent - or some 90,000 - of people with disabilities in the population.

The multi-agency committee, led by the MSF and the Ministry of National Development, is expected to announce its recommendations next year.

They are expected to address longstanding issues which have been raised by the community as early as 2012.

SG Enable, a government-established body that offers services for people with disabilities, receives on average 10 complaints each month about the misuse of carpark labels.

Half of the complaints are about able-bodied individuals driving vehicles with a Class 1 label.

The other half come from disabled drivers who cannot find parking spaces because some motorists using Class 2 labels exceed the permitted time or use the reserved spaces even when they are not ferrying disabled passengers.

ITE rate of success on the uptrend

85% awarded full certificates last year; school pushing to do even better
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2015

More students are completing their courses at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Last year, 85 per cent graduated from the vocational institute with a full certificate within three years, up from 78 per cent a decade ago.

ITE chief executive Bruce Poh told The Straits Times that it hopes to push the success rate to 87 per cent this year.

In an interview with The Straits Times, he said the improvement is a result of several factors, beyond helping students in their studies.

"Many of the students who come to us have socio-emotional issues, whether from the family, or they might not have been performing well in school," he said, adding that some have self-esteem problems.

More students have been able to cross the financial hurdle, with the help of bursaries from the ITE, community development councils and citizens consultative committees or the Education Ministry.

Some 52 per cent of ITE students are on financial aid, up from 43 per cent from 2011 to 2013.

Last year, about 900 students benefited from a special one-off allowance meant to help them tide over short-term financial difficulties, up from 500 in 2011.

The ITE also started an initiative in 2010 to give students $150 each month for expenses such as meals and transport. More than 1,200 needy students receive these funds each year.

On the socio-emotional front, the institution has also hired more student-care officers who counsel students. It now has 14, from just four in 2006.

Since last year, the ITE has recruited 11 educational psychologists and learning support specialists to support students with special needs.

Students also meet their class advisers, who are like "form teachers", for an hour of bonding each week. Some lecturers make regular home visits to find out more about students' backgrounds.

Monday 28 September 2015

What's in store for the Singapore economy?

Amid a slowdown and uncertainty in the global economy, what lies ahead for Singapore? Insight looks at whether it might be time to review the country's economic strategy, and how growth can be more inclusive. We also look at what Singapore could do to secure its economic future.
By Wong Siew Ying, The Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2015

It was about five years ago that the world averted financial ruin, saved only by the trillions of dollars pumped in by taxpayers and governments around the world.

The heady days of 2010 saw China overtake Japan as the second- largest economy in the world while the price of crude oil climbed to nearly US$91 a barrel.

Singapore also celebrated in the afterglow of that close shave, with its economy growing 15.2 per cent, the fastest annual rate on record.

It was also in 2010 that the Government endorsed a report that looked at long-term strategies for the Singapore economy and how the country should position itself in the post-financial crisis world.

The Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) had said then that the next 10 years would provide greater opportunities for growth, but would also present greater challenges due to land constraints and slower workforce growth.

It proposed bold ideas to grow the Singapore economy - higher productivity, improved skills and more innovation - strategies it believes will transform the economy, raise living standards and enable Singapore to take full advantage of the opportunities emerging around the world. Today, the picture is completely different, and a lot less optimistic.

China is expected to record below 7 per cent growth, the slowest in six years; a barrel of crude oil can be bought for just US$48; and Singapore could slip into a technical recession this year, with growth forecast at just 2 to 2.5 per cent.

The changed circumstances have prompted some experts to call for a review of the plans made by the committee back in 2010, a suggestion which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated the Government was open to considering .

"Every few years we've had an economic review. I did one, probably the first one, 30 years ago back in 1985, and since then we've done one every five to 10 years.

"And maybe it's time for us to take a look again," he said during a dialogue at the Singapore Summit last Saturday.

Is it time to chart a new path? What should be examined or changed? Insight takes a look at some of the key areas that should be reconsidered.

Heartland businesses must innovate to stay relevant: Tharman

By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

Heartland businesses are a key thread in Singapore's social fabric but they have to do more if they are to remain at the heart of the future economy, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

Speaking at the Singapore Heartland Enterprise Star awards, he said: "In order to make sure that heartland enterprises are part of our future, we have to make sure that they are able to innovate and survive."

And small businesses must be a source of innovation as Singapore presses forth with its "restructuring journey", he added.

"We must focus more on real innovations, not just simple solutions such as purchases of basic IT devices like laptops and other devices," he said at the event, which was held at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The annual event was organised by the Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore and the Lianhe Wanbao daily.

Mr Tharman also urged leaders of small businesses to focus more on developing the labour force.

"That is our most important objective - to enable everyone to discover their potential and feel fulfilled. It is only by developing our people in each enterprise that we can get get real value from our investments."

He also singled out a few of the winners of this year's awards for their innovative approaches to traditional businesses. Mr Tharman cited incense and candle company Lijay Tradings, which was named the most innovative firm after growing its sales by creating fruit-shaped incense products to attract younger customers.

Herbal hair treatment firm Bee Choo Origin was also lauded by Mr Tharman as an "old economy" business that has gone global.

Singapore sets aside S$75 million to host ASEAN Para Games 2015

Govt wants to use event to boost disability sports culture in Singapore
By Adelene Wong, TODAY, 27 Sep 2015

Some S$75 million has been set aside for the hosting of the ASEAN Para Games (APG) in Singapore (Dec 3-9) which the Government hopes will be a catalyst to help transform and strengthen the culture for disability sports here.

This was revealed by Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong today (Sept 27) at an event to promote the biennial multi-sport regional games for disabled athletes.

Speaking at the Unified Football Tournament held at Toa Payoh HDB Hub today, which saw Singapore football legends and school students playing seven-a-side football with Team Singapore cerebral palsy footballers, Wong said that Singapore will be ready to host the APG for the first time come December.

“We have set aside something close to S$75 million for this Para Games. All the detailed plans are in place, so we are just finalising the details, and we will be ready in December,” he told reporters on the sidelines. “Preparations are all in the final stages. Most of the technical details are being taken care of. We have been talking to all the different countries.”

Around 3,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries will be taking part in the APG, which will be the second major regional Games that Singapore is hosting in its Golden Jubilee year.

In June, the Republic hosted the South-east Asian Games for the first time since 1993. The Games, which cost S$324.5 million, featured 4,370 athletes from the region competing in 402 events in 36 sports.

This December’s APG will feature 15 sports. The list includes traditional sports such as swimming and athletics and four new ones — badminton, bowling, sailing and shooting. Singapore will be competing in all 15 sports.

Exercise consumer power to fight the haze

By Ang Peng Hwa, Published The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The ongoing and unhealthy level of the smoke haze from Indonesia poses questions we have to answer: Are the strategies we have been using to fight the haze failing? And if they are not, what else can we do?

When a friend asked me those questions recently, I replied: "It looks like our strategies are not working, but actually, without them, the haze we are experiencing will be even worse. We should keep the strategies we have but realise that as those responsible are morphing and adapting, so we need to morph and adapt our strategies."

I agree with my colleague Euston Quah ("When the haze doesn't go away"; The Straits Times, Tuesday) that fighting the haze will cost us money and time. However, in one crucial area, I disagree with him.

Unlike Professor Quah, I believe consumers need to boycott the paper and palm oil that are being produced by recalcitrant offenders and we need to sue the Singapore companies involved.

We should note that although it is not called a boycott, consumers are already avoiding palm oil, if they can help it. Try looking for palm oil on our supermarket shelves. None can be found. In contrast to olive oil producers, who are proud to tout their family name, palm oil producers are embarrassed by their product. So they label their product as "vegetable oil" or "mixed vegetable oil".

If consumers are avoiding palm oil, why is there still global demand?

Well, global demand is driven by the widespread use of palm oil by large companies in a wide range of products. If you used lipstick or toothpaste this morning, you may have used palm oil.

The product is so widely used in so many products that the largest global buyer, Nestle, is responsible for just 4 per cent of global demand. This small percentage means demand for palm oil is spread among many companies. This makes it difficult to quickly dampen demand by targeting a few large companies. Any strategy to target companies that use palm oil has to be multi-pronged.

There are a few other reasons we have to act as consumers.

Pre-school teachers get help to move up ladder

New programme prepares them to take on more responsibilities at their workplace
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

Pre-school teacher Joanne Tan, 25, has been working at St James' Church Kindergarten for 31/2 years and now wants to take on a larger role at work - perhaps becoming a senior teacher, an assistant level head, or teaching art and music.

Now, a new Professional Development Programme (PDP) will let early childhood educators like Ms Tan spend 180 hours over three years on courses and projects that will prepare them for more responsibilities at their workplace.

The programme - announced by the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) yesterday at the Early Childhood Conference and Carnival - is the latest development in a push to improve pre-school education, including certifying more centres for their quality.

The Professional Development Programme will put teachers through courses run by universities and polytechnics, including a compulsory module in teacher and centre leadership, while they continue working.

Some modules can also count towards a specialised diploma, advanced diploma or a degree in Early Childhood Care and Education.

Employers will have to nominate teachers for the programme and only pre-school educators with at least three years' experience are eligible.

The ECDA will pay out $12,000 in cash awards to those who remain employed at the same workplace. This develops talent in the sector and also helps retain staff.

"It's professional development for people like me," said Ms Tan. "This opens up doors to leadership roles."

$8m drive by maritime sector to ease manpower shortage

SkillsFuture support, job portal, cash incentives to attract more than 1,200 to maritime sector
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The maritime sector is pumping more funds into easing its manpower shortage, with a tripartite committee earmarking $8 million for a new job portal, training awards and incentives, as well as tapping SkillsFuture programmes.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced some of these initiatives yesterday at the Singapore Shipping Association's 30th anniversary gala dinner.

The new schemes are aimed at attracting more than 1,200 Singaporeans to seafaring and port operation careers in the next five years.

Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) chief executive Andrew Tan said: "With manpower, it's not something for which you can just turn on the tap and it comes out. You have to spend years building a pipeline."

In the sector's first effort to receive help and funding under SkillsFuture - a government initiative to get Singaporean workers to upgrade themselves - an Earn- and-Learn programme starting next year will place fresh polytechnic graduates in jobs as port operations officers, seafaring officers and marine engineers.

Singaporeans will receive an incentive of $5,000 for completing the year-long training programme, while participating employers will be eligible for grants of up to $15,000 per trainee.

Hong Kong's Occupy Movement a force no more

Euphoria of massive movement long gone, pro-democracy camp divided and diluted
By Li Xueying, Hong Kong Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The occupiers are under siege.

A year ago, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers mobilised to block major roads for 79 days in a bid to force Beijing to liberalise rules on the election of the city's chief executive. They failed.

Today, the euphoria and unity of the Occupy movement has long dissipated, with the pro-democracy camp, by its own admission, divided and diluted.

By contrast, Beijing and its allies in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) have mounted a multi- pronged offensive to set the agenda in Hong Kong.

The central government is unleashing combative comments on how Hong Kong should be governed - with the implicit threat of hardline policies to follow.

It is also working diplomatic channels to pressure foreign governments to desist from offering support to activists.

Beijing will not budge on its Aug 31 directive rejecting universal suffrage in 2017 elections, Professor Lau Siu Kai, a leading adviser to Beijing on Hong Kong, says in an interview.

But even as Beijing wields sticks, it is dangling carrots. It is courting moderate pan-Democrats to become what it terms "loyal opposition". Prof Lau defines that as those who will not be antagonistic to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

On whether such tactics will work - Democratic Party leader Emily Lau has declared her party will not be "window dressing" for the CCP - Prof Lau says that time is on its side.

Beijing, after all, is playing the long game.

Says Prof Lau, vice-chairman of the state-sponsored Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies: "This is a long process that will take more than 10 years.

"But I'm hopeful that as the older pan-Democrats who built their careers on opposing the CCP fade out, a more moderate camp will emerge because otherwise, by continuing with confrontational methods, it will meet with more pressure, more internal divisions and lose even more support of the public."

This optimism was borne out of a certain reading of the massive Occupy movement.

It was a vehicle for the people to "ventilate" their anger with the local government for not solving their livelihood problems, and frustration with a closed political system that produced such a government.

"The lesson for Beijing was that Occupy in fact demonstrates the political pragmatism of the Hong Kong people."

Idealistic student activists played a leading role in Occupy but Prof Lau dismisses suggestions that they will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. "There will be sudden spurts of student activism, but (even) Joshua Wong has already lost steam. When young people say they are looking at the long term, they are quitting."

Mid-Autumn this year is extra special, says PM Lee

GE over, haze clears and moon is visible, he says as he celebrates with residents
By Wong Siew Ying, The Sunday Times, 27 Sep 2015

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park was a hive of activity as some 5,000 residents celebrated the Mid-Autumn Festival with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

PM Lee, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, joined them for a lantern procession around the park's promenade and later said this year's celebration was a little more special for two reasons.

"First, we had the general election two weeks ago. Now that it's over, we can celebrate. Thank you for your support," he said, speaking in Mandarin.

9月26日【中秋节快乐】“最近几天,烟霾很多,大家心情都比较烦一点。今天烟霾被风吹到别的地方了,我们今天晚上可以看到一个圆圆的明月,非常地高兴。所以,但愿人长久,千里共婵娟。” 李显龙总理 Lee Hsien Loong 今晚出席德义区的中秋活动时,祝福大家中秋节快乐。中秋前夕,全岛各地纷纷举行庆中秋活动。当中,德义区傍晚更吸引了5000个居民聚集在碧山-宏茂桥公园,齐庆中秋。
Posted by 8频道新闻新加坡 Channel 8 news on Saturday, September 26, 2015

Another reason was that the haze which shrouded Singapore in recent days had cleared "so we can see the moon" and the night was very beautiful.

Resident Melvin Hoon, 50, an engineer, agreed and was glad the skies had cleared in time as his 11-year-old son had been looking forward to the event.

"Kids like these events. If it was cancelled due to the haze, they won't get a chance to enjoy outdoor activities," said Mr Hoon.

PM Lee wished residents well with a Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival greeting and said he hoped "we will have a good year ahead and next year will be better".

Honour founders with memorial park: PAP Seniors' Group

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The seniors' wing of the People's Action Party has called for a memorial park to be set up in Fort Canning Park to honour the founders of modern Singapore.

The PAP Seniors' Group (PAP.SG) wants it to have artistic sculptures and features such as pools and landscaped gardens, where visitors can reflect on Singapore's journey as a nation.

The group also called for spaces for exhibitions, talks and activities for children.

But as far as possible, the exhibits and design should not feature personalised monuments to honour individuals or individual statues or busts, the group said in its proposal released to the media yesterday.

The group, chaired by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, has given its recommendations to the steering committee in charge of canvassing views and coming up with a Founders' Memorial to honour Singapore's pioneer leaders. The Founders' Memorial Steering Committee was set up in April, a month after the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The 15-member panel is headed by Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang.

Explaining why it chose Fort Canning Park, the PAP.SG said it is big enough for a proper memorial that can accommodate large numbers of visitors, and with enough space left for future expansion.

The group said the site is accessible to the public and was previously a seat of political power. In the 14th century, palaces of former Majapahit kings were on the hill, known as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill in Malay), and Sir Stamford Raffles built his first residence there soon after arriving in Singapore in 1819.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Mr Lee Kuan Yew 'an admirer of US, but not afraid to criticise it'

PM Lee's message at US memorial service for LKY organised by influential Americans
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2015

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a lifelong admirer of the United States, but not an uncritical fan of the superpower, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

In a message read out at a private memorial service in New York City for Mr Lee, who died in March aged 91, PM Lee said that Singapore's founding father "understood the vital role of American leadership".

"He knew that without the US presence, there could be no stability or prosperity in Asia. It was a view he steadfastly held for the rest of his life."

The memorial service was organised by former US treasury secretary Robert Rudin and hedge fund billionaire Ray Dalio, and attended by luminaries like former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a close friend of Mr Lee's, and former US ambassador to Singapore Jon Huntsman.

PM Lee's message was read out at the service by Singapore's ambassador to the US, Mr Ashok Mirpuri.

Every trip that Mr Lee made to the US - during which he met not just political leaders and their aides, but businessmen and captains of industry as well - "brought him new insights and increased his admiration for the US system", said PM Lee.

Mr Lee admired America's faith in free enterprise and open competition, and its ability to attract talent; its openness and inclusiveness made the US economy and society the most dynamic in the world, he believed.

"He was grateful for the generosity of the American spirit, which made US dominance in Asia a benign and welcome source of stability and prosperity for so many Asian countries," said PM Lee.

"Even when America experienced crises and downturns, Mr Lee never wavered in his confidence that American creativity and resilience, its ability constantly to reinvent itself, would enable the US to overcome any challenge and retain its leadership role in the world."

But Mr Lee was not an uncritical fan of the American system, said PM Lee.

He differed with conventional American wisdom, especially on the role of the media as a fourth estate, and the relevance of Western liberal democracy in Asia.

He believed that a wealthy and mature nation like America could "roll" with the peculiarities of its system, but that it could not be replicated wholesale in Singapore, or other countries, which had to find their own ways.

Mr Lee famously openly sparred with American journalists and personalities on these topics, occasions he relished, said PM Lee.

"Not everyone would concede the argument, but he persuaded many Americans that he spoke from experience and conviction, and that he had a point.

"It earned him many admirers, even among those who did not fully agree with him."

On a personal level, the openness, warmth and generosity of the American people left the deepest impression on Mr Lee, said PM Lee.

Sydney Brenner: Mentor to a nation's science ambitions

Sydney Brenner, who played a critical role in building Singapore into a scientific powerhouse, is here for an exhibition in his honour next week. The molecular biology pioneer, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2002, was instrumental in setting up the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and helping shape research efforts here. Carolyn Khew looks at his life in science.
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2015

Here are excerpts from A Heroic Voyage: Sydney Brenner's Life In Science, a companion booklet published by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in conjunction with the 2015 Sydney Brenner Scientific Symposium and exhibition.

The excerpts include a foreword by Professor James Watson and other details about Dr Brenner's early life and scientific career.

AN EXCELLENT TRAVEL COMPANION, Message by James Watson, Chancellor Emeritus, Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory

Over the course of my career, I've had the privilege of tackling some of the most fundamental questions in biology, working alongside some of the finest minds in science to solve them. In this six-decade-long quest, Sydney Brenner has been an invaluable colleague and personal friend.

My first encounter with Sydney was in April 1953, in the heady days just after our discovery of the structure of DNA. Sydney had driven from Oxford to Cambridge that cold, spring morning - just to be among the first to look at our model. We went for a long walk that day - six hours as I recall, and the first of many over the years - because there was so much to talk about.

As important as it was, the structure of DNA was just one part of the puzzle; we still needed to figure out how the RNA transcribed from DNA could be "read" into proteins. Twenty of us, led by George Gamow, formed the RNA Tie Club, to share ideas on molecular biology... And it was Sydney who eventually worked out that the genetic code was non-overlapping and degenerate, and discovered what messenger RNA and ribosomes were really doing. As if all that wasn't enough, he followed it up by establishing an entirely different kind of model system - the nematode worm - so wonderfully complex and simple at the same time.

Then there were the exciting, frenetic years of the Human Genome Project. We kept up our exchanges, with him in the UK and me in the US, doing as much science as possible while being responsible for entire research institutes.

Genomics owes a great deal to him and his ideas; not just for the worm, which is what his Nobel Prize was for, but also technologies like massively parallel signature sequencing, which allowed gene expression to be analysed on a scale few could have imagined earlier.

We both embarked on our careers in an extremely exciting time for molecular biology and have enjoyed front-row seats. In 1954, Sydney and I actually drove through the eye of a hurricane while on a road trip across the US to Caltech. Then as now, I'm glad to have had such an excellent travel companion for the journey.

What the PAP can learn from Britain's Labour Party

By Peter Mandelson, Published The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2015

I first had the privilege of being introduced to Singapore by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the 1990s, and have been returning here once or twice a year ever since.

One thing that has always struck me is the keen interest in what goes on in Britain, and the similarities in some respects of Singaporean and British politics.

During this last week in Singapore, my experience has been no different. Almost everyone I met was eager for me to explain what has happened in the British Labour party, and what the recent election of Mr Jeremy Corbyn as the party leader means for the direction of my country and for the party I have belonged to for over 40 years and about which I care deeply.

It occurs to me that one of the reasons for this intense interest is that Singaporeans see - quite rightly - some of their own politics reflected in those of Britain.

British Labour and the Singaporean People's Action Party have in some senses a common heritage. Both had their roots in social action, the empowerment of labour and the principles of social democracy.

As the global economy has evolved over the last 50 years, and with it the nature of society and the concept of "labour", both parties have come under pressure.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I worked with Mr Tony Blair and Mr Gordon Brown in Britain to re-orient and rebuild the Labour party so that it could represent a broader swathe of the British electorate, so that it could be progressive in all senses of the word and look towards the future rather than remain in the past.

In 2011, the PAP was facing a similar crisis of confidence here in Singapore and suffered its poorest election result. The problem was that Singaporean society had evolved quickly and politics was struggling to keep up.

The party had begun to be seen by some as out of synch and out of touch with the needs of ordinary Singaporeans. The election results were a wake-up call: Evolve, or become irrelevant.

Thousands of young graduates struggle to find jobs in South Korea's rigid labour market

But President Park's bid to revamp rigid labour laws faces opposition
The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2015

SEOUL • In the past year, Ms Kim Yoon Sung applied to about 120 companies for a job, and could not land even one.

Instead, the 26-year-old South Korean is on her fourth outsourcing contract. She is one of tens of thousands of young graduates struggling to get regular employment in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

"It's become normal for people in my generation to fail, even after writing applications to well over 100 companies," Ms Kim said. "The situation is just getting tougher."

South Korea's rigid labour market is increasingly seen as a drag on an ailing economy, prompting President Park Geun Hye to push a revamp in labour laws that would be the biggest in nearly two decades.

Ms Park wants to make it easier for companies to fire underperformers, base wages on merit, shorten work hours, ease outsourcing rules and expand unemployment insurance. The reforms will change the system of stable employment and seniority-based remuneration that was enforced by the unions, and underpinned South Korea's breakneck economic growth into the 1990s.

Her ruling party hopes to push labour reform legislation through the current session of Parliament ending in December, but faces opposition from some unions and the main rival party.

However, the conglomerates that have driven South Korea's emergence as an industrial power support more flexible labour laws.

"This is the first time in many years that we are trying to do something to change a problem that is getting ever more serious," said Dr Kim Dong One, the dean of Korea University Business School.

In an economy dominated by companies like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor, limited labour flexibility makes it harder to build up the service sector.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the more strident of two big labour umbrella groups, says the reforms would hurt job security and wages, and destroy collective bargaining. It has vowed to oppose all ruling party candidates at parliamentary elections due next April.

Volkswagen emissions scandal: Blow to a nation's pride and global standing

The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2015

BERLIN • As Germany has emerged as the dominant actor in Europe, it has lectured Greece and other debtor nations on the virtues of thrift and lately wagged its finger at countries that baulk at receiving a share of refugees from the killing fields of Syria. Its right to lead, based on a narrative of self-sacrifice and obedience to rules, was generally acknowledged.

That is one reason the Volkswagen scandal has shaken the country's very core. More than just a tale of corporate misdeeds, the disclosure of systematic cheating by one of Germany's most iconic companies has delivered a sharp blow to its conception of itself as an orderly nation and tarnished its claim to moral leadership of the continent.

It was perhaps inevitable that Volkswagen's chief executive, Mr Martin Winterkorn, would quickly step aside on Wednesday after disclosures that the company deceived regulators over emissions from its diesel cars. But the effects on Germany are likely to play out for some time, even as it copes with a huge influx of migrants attracted by its reputation as Europe's beacon of opportunity and as it continues to find its footing as an often-ambivalent global power.

Further, the timing puts Germany in an awkward spot ahead of the global climate conference in Paris in December, where it had hoped to hold out its transformation as an industrial power reliant on a lower-carbon energy system as a model to the world.

In the immediate aftermath, Germany's leaders scrambled to distance themselves from the scandal and to mitigate the damage to the auto industry, which accounts for one in seven German jobs.

"The damage that a few people have caused for the firm and its workers is huge," said German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel as he toured the annual car show in Frankfurt on Wednesday. But, "we must take care that doesn't unleash a whole debate about the auto industry in Germany or the German economy," he continued.

Indonesia should not have to apologise for the haze, says VP Kalla again

Strong comments from Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam over Indonesia's 'shocking statements'
The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The ongoing haze crisis, which has affected the lives of millions across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, has started to draw strong comments from leaders here.

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, in a Facebook post on Thursday night, expressed his unhappiness at what he referred to as "shocking statements made, at senior levels, from Indonesia, with a complete disregard for our people, and their own".

"How is it possible for senior people in government to issue such statements, without any regard for their people, or ours, and without any embarrassment, or sense of responsibility?" wrote the minister.

Mr Shanmugam did not name any of his Indonesian counterparts or elaborate on the statement in question at the time.

http://tdy.sg/1PBtxbC - "How many months do you think everybody (our neighbours) enjoys the fresh air from our green...
Posted by TODAY on Friday, September 25, 2015

His post on social media came after Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla had reiterated that Indonesia need not apologise to its neighbours over the haze.

Speaking at a dialogue at the Indonesian Consulate-General in New York on Thursday, Mr Kalla said Indonesia needs only to ensure that forest fires that cause haze do not recur, Kompas daily reported yesterday.

"Look at how long they have enjoyed fresh air from our green environment and forests when there were no fires," said Mr Kalla.

"Could be months. Are they grateful? But when forest fires occur, a month at the most, haze pollutes their regions. So why should there be an apology?"

He also accused "companies from neighbouring countries" of paying locals to clear lands using the slash-and-burn technique, which have led to the blaze.

Mr Kalla had made similar remarks in previous years.

The most recent occasion was in March this year, when he rapped neighbouring countries for complaining about the haze, asking them to be grateful instead for the clean air they enjoy for the rest of the year.

"For 11 months, they enjoyed nice air from Indonesia and they never thanked us," he said at the time. "They have suffered because of the haze for one month and they get upset."

Singapore takes Indonesian companies to task over haze in September 2015

Singapore clamps down on five firms over haze
Legal action started; govt leaders also speak out against Indonesian officials' comments

By Chang Ai-Lien and Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

In its toughest anti-haze measure yet, Singapore has begun legal action against five companies it believes are among the culprits behind Indonesia's polluting fires.

It has also slammed statements from Indonesian officials over the crisis that forced the Republic to close schools yesterday when air quality became hazardous.

Naming the firms for the first time yesterday, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan stressed that the haze was a man-made problem that should not be tolerated. "Ultimately, errant companies must know that there is a price to be paid for damaging our health, environment and economy," he said.

Ongoing investigations by NEA have indicated that the haze may have been related to fires in lands held via concessions...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday, September 25, 2015

Haze levels here peaked at a 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading of 267 to 322 at 8am yesterday. They improved slightly later but remained very unhealthy. The three-hour PSI showed greater fluctuations - hitting 341 at 5am and dropping to 80 at 2pm, before rising again to 154 at 9pm.

Unhealthy haze pollution - when the 24-hour PSI is over 100 for at least 24 hours - has occurred four times since Sept 10.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which has been gathering evidence by monitoring hot spots, smoke plumes, maps, meteorological data and satellite images, yesterday served Singapore-listed firm Asia Pulp and Paper a legal notice to supply information on its subsidiaries in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as measures taken by its suppliers in Indonesia to put out fires in their concessions.

Four Indonesian companies - Rimba Hutani Mas, Sebangun Bumi Andalas Wood Industries, Bumi Sriwijaya Sentosa and Wachyuni Mandira - have been told to take measures to extinguish fires on their land, not to start new ones, and submit action plans on how they will prevent future fires.

Under Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, those guilty can be fined up to $100,000 a day, capped at $2 million, for causing unhealthy haze.

MOM lodges police report over fake post asking employers to give paid day off due to haze

MOM lodges police report over hoax post
By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2015

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has lodged a police report about a social media post that claimed it had declared a "voluntary non-work day" yesterday as a result of the haze.

[Update: MOM has lodged a police report regarding this.]It has come to our attention that a post claiming to be from...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Thursday, September 24, 2015

In its own Facebook post yesterday, MOM also debunked the hoax message that is believed to have started on the messaging service WhatsApp before spreading to other forums. "(This) post is fake and the contents are not true," it said. "While there is no national shutdown of workplaces, employers should not compromise the health and safety of their employees as they continue functioning."

It also urged members of the public to use only its official website and official Facebook page "for all informational and transactional needs concerning MOM matters".

Police confirmed that a report has been lodged and it is looking into the matter. The bogus message, claiming to have been made by MOM, said bosses would be encouraged to give their staff a paid day off and civil servants would work a half-day until noon. It stated that this decision was made because the haze was forecast to be in the very unhealthy range yesterday.