Sunday 31 January 2016

Workers’ Party duckweed Daniel Goh is now a NCMP

WP's transfer of vacant NCMP seat a political manoeuvre
How the WP's NCMP motion was turned around by PAP
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2016

It was a proposal put up by the Workers' Party (WP), a parliamentary motion to declare Ms Lee Li Lian's Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seat vacant and to have it filled in accordance with the law.

But in the end, the opposition party refused to vote for it, and it was the People's Action Party MPs who unanimously voted for the motion.

When WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) was called upon by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob shortly after 5pm, he read the motion and explained why his party moved it: It objects to the NCMP scheme in principle, but believes in being a "rational and responsible" party working within the system.

Madam Halimah then read the motion, and debate began.

PARLIAMENT: People's Action Party's Chan Chun Sing filed an amendment to the motion to fill the third #NCMP seat in...
Posted by TODAY on Friday, January 29, 2016

Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East), who defeated Ms Lee on Sept 11, warned against using the law to "pick and choose which best losers from different constituencies" should enter Parliament.

In Mandarin, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) accused the WP of being contradictory, criticising the NCMP scheme yet taking up seats.

Rising to defend their party were Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang).

Ms Lim explained Ms Lee's rationale and noted there was precedent for filling a rejected seat. Mr Png said WP was merely aiming "to implement to the letter of the law what is provided in Section 53 of the Parliamentary Elections Act".

Government Whip Chan Chun Sing then took the floor, and charged the WP with criticising the NCMP scheme even as it deliberately used it to its advantage.

The PAP would support the move to fill the seat, he said. "But the motion must reflect the truth."

In a move that blindsided the WP, he proposed an amendment.

Parliament would declare the seat vacant and resolve to fill it - "but regrets that Ms Lee Li Lian, having stood as a WP candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of voters, and that the WP supports this political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary- general criticises NCMPs as just 'duckweed on the water of a pond'."

Saturday 30 January 2016

Labour Market 2015: Job growth hits 17-year low, but real wages up 7%

Tight labour market and low unemployment push up median incomes, says MOM
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

Faced with slowdowns in global demand and local labour supply, Singapore saw local employment grow at its slowest pace last year since 1998 amid the Asian financial crisis.

The expansion almost came to a halt. Just 100 more citizens and permanent residents were in jobs at the end of last year compared with the year before, although unemployment remained low, said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday.

But citizens who were in jobs enjoyed higher pay, as the labour market tightness and manpower shortages in some industries helped push up median incomes last year.

Median income, including employer Central Provident Fund contributions, for Singaporeans working full-time grew 6.5 per cent from June 2014 to June last year to reach $3,798. The growth was 7 per cent after adjusting for negative inflation of 0.5 per cent.

Overall, employment grew by 31,800, the slowest pace in 12 years. This brought the total number of people in jobs here to 3,655,600 as of last month, based on preliminary labour market data for last year.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said the sharper slowdown in local employment growth is probably because residents tend to be in white collar jobs, which are more vulnerable to external shocks than the foreigner-heavy blue collar jobs.

But most of those who wanted to work were able to - the overall unemployment rate remained low at 1.9 per cent last year, down from 2 per cent in 2014. That for citizens was unchanged at 2.9 per cent.

That is why Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the situation now is very different from 2009, when a drop in employment growth was accompanied by a sharp uptick in unemployment due to a lack of jobs. "I don't call it a downturn yet... One thing is certain, as we go through this period of uncertainty, we must come out to be more manpower-lean; we must come out to be more productive."

Manufacturing shed workers for a second year running, ending with 22,400 fewer workers than it started with. Its output was 5.2 per cent lower last year than in 2014.

More workers lost their jobs last year, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors, which saw 5,000 and 7,800 redundancies respectively. A total of 14,400 workers were let go last year, up from 12,930 in 2014, continuing a steady rise since 2010.

Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 4

Surge in people appointing guardians to act for them
8,360 signed up last year for Lasting Power of Attorney after process became cheaper, easier
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

There was a big jump last year in the number of people appointing guardians to make decisions on their behalf should they lose their mental faculties, after the process was made cheaper and easier.

In all, about 8,360 applications for the Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) were accepted, an increase of almost 160 per cent over the previous year. About seven out of 10 applications were made by people aged 56 and older.

Please help me share this info about the LPA or Lasting Power of Attorney. Most if not all of us need to do this. Help...
Posted by Tan Chuan-Jin on Friday, January 29, 2016

The LPA is a legal document that lets a person appoint an individual to make key decisions for him when he becomes unable to do so. Anyone who is at least 21 years old can draw up or be named in the LPA.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin disclosed the figures yesterday when replying to Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC).

The changes that made the process easier and more convenient were introduced in late 2014.

The basic form used by most applicants was simplified, with less legal and technical jargon, and reduced from 15 pages to eight.

The $50 application fee for the form was also waived for citizens.

New law enables South Koreans to 'die well'

New law enables terminally ill patients to reject treatment and die with dignity
By Chang May Choon, South Korea Correspondent In Seoul, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

As she ages, housewife Lee Hyeon Seon, 60, is becoming more afraid of contracting some form of cancer - the number one killer in South Korea. If that happens and she becomes seriously ill, she hopes that her children will respect her wish to reject artificial life-prolonging treatment in hospital and allow her to spend her final days at home.

This way of dying with dignity, also called "well-dying" in South Korea, has been the subject of a national debate for nearly two decades, since two doctors were convicted of assisted murder and given suspended prison terms in 1997 for pulling the plug on a brain-damaged patient at the request of his wife.

Come 2018, Ms Lee will be able to indicate how she wants her life to end, when a well-dying Bill comes into effect.

The law, which allows incurably ill patients to opt out of life-prolonging treatment, was passed by the National Assembly on Jan 8, paving the way for the development of palliative and hospice care services that are lacking in the country.

This is similar to the Advance Medical Directive Act passed in Singapore in 1996. Taiwan adopted similar legislation in 2000.

In South Korea, critics and religious groups have criticised the Bill, saying it can be deemed as disrespect for life and goes against Confucian values of filial piety.

There are also concerns over the potential for abuse if doctors allow patients and their family members to choose death over treatment.

But the law has drawn support from elderly folk. A survey last year showed that nine in 10 Koreans aged 65 and older did not want to receive treatment to extend their lives if they knew they were suffering from an incurable disease.

"I don't want to prolong the pain and suffering," said Ms Lee. "It's my own life. I want to make my own decision how it should end."

GoodLife! Makan: Seniors cook up camaraderie in novel void deck kitchen

Project in Marine Terrace part of efforts to draw elderly out of their flats to cook, interact with others
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

Something is brewing in a corner of Marine Parade.

The usually empty void deck at one block of flats is often filled these days with old folk busy chopping vegetables or peering over bubbling pots on sleek kitchen tops.

On Wednesday, the lunch item of the day was popiah. Some elderly residents came down from their rental flats at about 9.30am to help slice turnips and carrots, and pluck the tail ends of bean sprouts. Others helped keep an eye on the soup stock.

This cosy communal cooking scene has been playing out every morning for the last three months at Block 52, Marine Terrace.

The open-concept kitchen project is the first of its kind here.

"With the ramping up of various meal, home help or befriending services that deliver food or services to the doorsteps of the elderly, we observed that some of them have become overly cocooned in their flats," said Mr Samuel Ng, chief executive officer of Montfort Care, a network of programmes.

"Such efforts can unintentionally breed a mindset of dependency and entitlement," he added.

Instead of starting another meal delivery service or a volunteer-run soup kitchen, Monfort Care social workers told the 92 seniors living alone in the area: If you want a free meal, go downstairs and cook it yourself with your neighbours.

Mr Ng said: "By doing this, they see themselves as participants and contributors instead of just being recipients or having the social stigma of being labelled as 'stay-alone seniors'." This also gives them the chance to interact and build social networks, he added.

Universal Periodic Review: UN praises Singapore's social policies

Member states laud its efforts to improve care for vulnerable groups like the elderly, disabled
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

United Nations member states have praised Singapore's social policies as well as its strategies to foster racial and religious tolerance.

At Singapore's second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, a "significant majority" welcomed its efforts to improve care for the elderly, the disabled and other vulnerable groups, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

They also commended its ratification of UN conventions on disabled rights and human trafficking.

Grateful to Ambassador Chan Heng Chee who led Singapore's delegation for our 2nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday, January 28, 2016

The UPR looks at human rights in each of the 193 UN member states every 4-1/2 years. Some 113 states spoke at the 3-1/2-hour session.

However, some called for Singapore to abolish the death penalty, caning, detention without trial and section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sex between men.

A Singapore delegation, led by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, explained the nation's "pragmatic" stance on such issues.

The death penalty, for example, deters the most serious crimes like murder and drug trafficking.

"No civilised society glorifies the taking of life," said the delegation. "The question is whether, in very limited circumstances, it is legitimate to have capital punishment so that the larger interest of society is served."

Friday 29 January 2016

Fingerprint scans for all visitors to beef up Singapore's border security

This measure will also allow travellers to use automated clearance lanes when they leave
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2016

From June, all travellers arriving in Singapore by land, air or sea will have their fingerprints taken at checkpoints, as the Republic tightens its defences against terrorists.

The fingerprint records will be used to verify the identity of each traveller before he is allowed to enter Singapore, said Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee in Parliament yesterday.

The move will also allow travellers to use automated clearance lanes or self-service kiosks when they depart, he added.

Other measures to tackle the heightened terror threat include more surveillance cameras in Housing Board estates and public areas by this year, and more patrols along the coastline.

For now, only those opting to use automated immigration clearance lanes are required to scan thumbprints using biometric technology.

All travellers arriving at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal are also being fingerprinted as part of the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority's (ICA) pilot BioScreen project. The Straits Times understands that ICA is in the midst of installing fingerprint scanners in manned immigration counters at all checkpoints.

Mr Lee said that Singapore has to strengthen its borders amid the persistent terrorism threat posed by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and foreign fighters now returning to their home countries who could carry out attacks.

With the fingerprinting technology, immigration authorities can maintain a high level of security at checkpoints, while "facilitating efficient travel".

Singapore is second most popular Asia-Pacific destination: MasterCard Asia Pacific Destinations Index 2015

11.81m visited in 2015, Bangkok in top spot: MasterCard report
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2016

Singapore was the second most popular destination in the Asia-Pacific among international visitors last year, after Bangkok, a new report has found.

Despite the hype surrounding the Republic's Golden Jubilee year, the number of visitors who stayed at least one night here - 11.81 million - dipped 0.4 per cent compared with 11.86 million in 2014.

Experts attribute this to the strong Singapore dollar and an unstable geopolitical environment in the region last year.

The Thai capital attracted 21.90 million visitors last year, while Tokyo was third, with 11.76 million.

The top three sources of visitors to Singapore were Indonesia (16.1 per cent), China (13.9 per cent) and India (7.3 per cent), together accounting for more than a third of total arrivals.

Global payments company MasterCard compiled data from national tourism boards for its inaugural Asia Pacific Destinations Index, which was released yesterday.

The index ranked 167 destinations, drawn from 22 countries in the Asia-Pacific, according to the number of overnight visitors, their length of stay and total spending.

Thailand dominated the list of top 10 most popular destinations, with Bangkok (first place), Phuket (fifth) and Pattaya (eighth).

In terms of total spending, Singapore came in third, after Bangkok and Seoul. Visitors spent US$14.1 billion (S$20.1 billion) here last year, down 7.3 per cent from US$15.2 billion in 2014.

On average, last year's visitors to Singapore spent US$255 per day, and stayed 4.7 nights each.

The tourism industry in the Asia-Pacific is the largest in the world, based on total contribution to gross domestic product, having overtaken Europe in 2014. The robust growth is set to continue, driven by increased consumer wealth, particularly from China, said Mr Matthew Driver, group executive of global products and solutions in the Asia-Pacific at MasterCard.

Changes to political system to prepare Singapore for long term: PM Lee Hsien Loong

NCMPs to get full voting rights; commission will be set up to review Elected Presidency
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor, Politics, The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday announced changes to the political system aimed at making it more open and accountable, and one the Government believes will help Singapore continue to succeed in the long term.

In the most significant change to the system since Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) were introduced in 1984, these best-performing opposition candidates who lost will get the same voting rights as elected MPs. The minimum number of opposition MPs in Parliament will also go up from nine to 12 after the next general election.

Together with nine Nominated MPs, the change ensures at least 21 MPs are not from the ruling party.

The Nominated MP and GRC schemes will remain to ensure civil society and ethnic minority voices in Parliament. But the average size of GRCs will be reduced further, with more single seats, when boundaries are next reviewed.

The President will also remain elected, but a Constitutional Commission will be appointed with Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon as chair, to review three broad areas.

These are: Keeping the eligibility criteria up to date, strengthening the Council of Presidential Advisers and ensuring that minorities have a chance to be elected.

The commission will include distinguished jurists, academics and corporate executives. They will consult the public and make recommendations on improving the system by the third quarter of this year.

PM Lee was speaking in Parliament on the third day of the debate on the President's Address.

What are the powers of an elected President? What can his "second key" unlock?
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Over 90 minutes, he drew on some of the problems other governments face today as well as Singapore's experience to make the case that while the current system is working well, it has to be updated to work well into the future.

"We have to have a system where all the political parties, and especially the PAP, have to fight hard, stay lean and responsive to the people, and win the right to govern afresh in each election," he said.

"Parliament will always be the place to debate and to decide important policies, where alternate views will always have a place. The opposition will never be shut out and the Government will be held to account, so that the government of the day - whoever that may be - is always kept on its toes," he added.

Mr Lee's speech comes months after the People's Action Party won a strong mandate - 83 out of 89 seats and 70 per cent of the popular vote at the Sept 11 General Election.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam had, in opening the 13th Parliament, said that for Singapore to have good policies, it also needs "good politics".

Expanding on the theme yesterday, Mr Lee said there was no need to change the system if his Government was concerned with just its current term or the next. But it was his generation's responsibility to have institutions and a system that will work well under a new prime minister and a different electorate.

The system, he said, had to be designed around five core principles: Ensure high-quality government; keep politics open and contestable; maintain accountability for the Government; uphold a multiracial society; and have suitable stabilisers and checks and balances in the system.

Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 3

Tackling fault lines, through words and actions
The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2016

Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary said Singapore's acceptance of one another, regardless of race, language or religion, can also apply to other differences. Here is an edited extract:

One Saturday in July 2015, I was at the Padang, as I had the privilege to be the reserve commander for the PAP Community Foundation's marching contingent for the National Day Parade.

Just in front of me, to my left, were three young soldiers, also on reserve duty. They were joking and poking, pushing and shoving, enjoying each other's company.

Then the music started, the first few bars of Majulah Singapura. We began to sing as we had done many times before.

But something was different that afternoon. Maybe it was the excitement of the dress rehearsal, or maybe it was just a sense of whimsy or foolishness, but these three young soldiers started to sing as loud as they could.

Whatever the reason, the aunties and uncles around me also raised their voices. In my mind's eye, the enciks behind us began to sing even louder.

So louder and louder we sang, until it was a roar full of pride (and) passion. When the last notes faded, we looked around and smiled; we all agreed we had felt something special that afternoon.

When I left the Padang, I was rushing back to my constituency for an SG50 celebration.

As the night came to an end, we were in the multi-purpose hall. I found myself standing in front of a stage filled with kids. The last song was to be Majulah Singapura. I turned around and found a small boy on the stage behind me.

"We're going to sing Majulah Singapura, are you going to sing?" I asked him.

"Yes Uncle."

"Do you know the words?" I said.

"Yes Uncle, I know all the words," he replied, full of excitement and energy.

We began to sing, he did not know the words, not at all. As the first verse finished with "Berjaya Singapura", you could hear him trying loudly to sing, but you couldn't really hear the words. He was completely out of time.

His parents began to have a worried look on their faces. I smiled at them and shrugged, it was okay, he was doing his best, a little child trying his best to sing our Majulah Singapura. Throughout this song, we heard his little voice trying harder and harder to get it right. When we finished, we all laughed and high- fived and hugged.

I have told this story many times. After a while, I began to think about how people would respond, what questions I might be asked. And there was one question that occurred to me that would be very natural in many parts of the world, and maybe would have been very natural in the Singapore of 50, 10 and perhaps five years ago. I was never asked this question.

In the six months I have been telling the story, I have never once been asked about the race of the soldiers and the little boy.

What does that say? Because it doesn't change the story. The story is about Singapore and Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion.

Thursday 28 January 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong's speech at the debate on President’s Address 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed Parliament during the debate on the President's Address. He announced changes to strengthen Singapore's political system by making it more open, contestable and accountable to the people.
27 Jan 2016

Madam Speaker,

I rise in support of the Motion.

The President and many members of this House have spoken about the bracing challenges that we face in the future — terrorism, the economy, maintaining our social cohesion, amongst other things. Indeed, it is a daunting list. But as members have emphasised, we have every reason to be confident that we can overcome them, one by one, together.

The question is: How do we do that? How can we build a stronger Singapore? How can we progress together? For Singapore to succeed, what must we do? One fundamental requirement, beyond individual policies, was what the President said at the end of his speech — that we need good policies, but we also need good politics.

Members would have read the addenda to the President’s Address. These comprehensive documents lay out the agenda for this term of Government.

The business of Government is to govern. Voters elect us to develop policies, to implement them, to make things happen. They want policies which respond to people’s needs, like enhancing social safety nets, making housing more affordable and accessible, improving public transport, managing the growth of foreign workers. They want to see policies that will enable our people to achieve their aspirations, for themselves and for their children: Investing in education at all levels, for example with SkillsFuture; Implementing major projects which transform Singapore, like Changi Airport – building T4, putting up Project Jewel, planning for T5 – or Jurong Lake District, or the Southern Waterfront City. One by one, brick by brick, building a better Singapore.

That is what this Government has done for many years. And this is what my Government will do in this term. We will fulfil our promises. But in order to have these good policies done, we also must have good politics, because the two go hand-in-hand. Good politics make sure that we will elect governments who will develop good policies, who will expand our common space and strengthen our society for the future. If we have good politics, then we have the best chance of having our system continuing to work for us, instead of against us, over the long haul.

If we are only concerned over the next five or 10 years, we do not have to make any changes in terms of politics, because the system is working now, and will continue to do so for the next 10 years, maybe a bit longer. The actors are in place. We are familiar with one another. We know where the levers are. We know the response function — you press this button, this will happen; you pull that lever, something else happens. We know how to make it work today.

But if we are thinking beyond this term and this team, about a new PM and a new Cabinet, and a new population, different electorate, then we will need to keep Singapore able to work well with them in charge and with them being the team that leads Singapore. Then, it is prudent to consider what possible adjustments may become necessary now, in good time.

It is not an urgent task that you must do today instead of tomorrow. But it is this generation’s responsibility to make sure that our political institutions and system continue to work well, well beyond the term of this team, and work well for future generations.

Manufacturing declines 5.2% - worst showing in 14 years

Sharp annual fall reflects deepening recession in sector; December's drop steeper than economists' forecast
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The manufacturing sector declined 5.2 per cent last year over 2014 - the worst performance in 14 years.

The dismal 12 months was underscored by a 7.9 per cent decline in output for December - the 11th straight month of decline.

The broad-based fall in production last month was steeper than the 7.2 per cent slide tipped by economists in a Bloomberg poll and worse than the revised 6.4 per cent drop in November, according to Economic Development Board data yesterday.

The decline last year highlights the deepening recession the sector is going through.

"This is the sharpest annual contraction in the sector since the bust in 2001, when industrial production fell 11.6 per cent," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Firms are feeling the heat.

Mr Lau Tai San, chairman and managing director of Kim Ann Engineering, a speciality metals supplier to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), said the fall in OEM volumes is hurting supporting industries like engineering shops, fabrication shops and sub-contractors.

He says businesses are facing difficulties in collecting payments, and that some of his customers are extending their payments by more than 30 days.

"We try to sympathise with customers, gauge them individually. Hopefully banks can do likewise. Market sentiment is not looking very good but we believe after mid-year, maybe there will be a slight improvement," said Mr Lau, who is also vice-president of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Economists are not expecting a turnaround any sooner than that.

Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 2

Speak with one moderate voice against extremism: Yaacob
Minister calls on Muslims to step up vigilance and not let actions of a few affect social trust
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

When the Jemaah Islamiah terror network was uncovered 15 years ago, the Malay/Muslim community rose strongly to counter the threat.

As terrorism poses a renewed threat today, the community must likewise be vigilant to keep Singapore safe and secure, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament.

"We must press on to reach out to every segment of the community, and speak with one rational, moderate voice against exclusivist and extremist doctrines," he said in his first speech on the subject this year.

Extra vigilance is also needed, "whether against radical ideologies, errant preachers, or of any suspicious activities around us".

"We must stand as one united people and not let the radical actions of a few spread fear and suspicion among the different communities in Singapore," Dr Yaacob said yesterday, the second day of debate on the President's Address.

Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information, said the Government has been able to work with a proactive community, led by organisations such as Muis, Pergas and the Religious Rehabilitation Group, to build resilience against extremist forces.

"But the risk of radicalisation remains because of the sheer accessibility and spread of information on the Internet," he added.

Last year, four radicalised Singaporeans were detained for planning to fight alongside terror group ISIS and, last week, the Government announced the arrests of a group of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers planning armed violence abroad.

On Monday, several MPs spoke about the need to strengthen bonds between Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans at a time when terror attacks have divided other societies.

"Everyone will suffer when the social harmony that we're used to abruptly erodes": Dr Maliki Osman urges both Muslim and non-Muslim groups in Singapore to "act and react in constructive and adaptive ways" to threat of terror. #ParliamentLIVE UPDATES:
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Monday, January 25, 2016

It was a theme Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman picked up on yesterday, saying non-Muslims had to understand that terrorism is based on radical ideologies and teachings that are "completely" against Islam.

"To believe that violent extremism is Islamic and that terrorists are religious Muslims, our society will fall into the terrorists' trap to sow discord," he said.

"All non-Muslims in Singapore can help preserve social harmony by doing small but important things such as correcting misconceptions or stereotypical and anti-Muslim remarks or actions by family members and friends, and also in social media."

Dr Maliki added that the Muslim community must also "act decisively - give the clear message and assurance that we denounce violence".

Singapore and UNICEF: Working for Children

Got milk? Book chronicles Singapore-UNICEF partnership
By Rachel Chia YT, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Older Singaporeans may remember receiving packets of milk as well as vaccinations against tuberculosis while in primary school, just after the country emerged from World War II.

But not many know that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) organised and coordinated the distribution of milk and vaccines here, beginning in 1951.

These and other collaborations have since been recorded in a book, Singapore And UNICEF: Working For Children, which was launched yesterday to celebrate both the group's 70th anniversary and the Republic's Golden Jubilee last year.

The 144-page book, written to chronicle the 50 years of history between Singapore and UNICEF, includes stories from Singaporean UNICEF staff on their humanitarian work worldwide, alongside pictures, interviews and first-hand accounts from volunteers and consultants, such as Singapore's former UN ambassador Tommy Koh.

The book also documents other collaborations, such as the raising of $38,000 for UNICEF by students from Nanyang Technological University in 1992, as well as the commissioning of artwork featured on popular UNICEF international greeting cards by four local artists - Yong Cheong Thye, Lee Hock Moh, Cristene Chang and Tay Bak Koi.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told a crowd of about 70 people during the book's launch at the Singapore Art Museum: "I used to be quite skinny as a child and I remember the free milk programme which we all had to line up for. But I must admit that it wasn't until I actually went through the book that I realised that both the BCG immunisation programme and the milk supplementation programme were in fact pioneered by UNICEF.

"It is a good reminder that we have benefited from the wonderful work of UNICEF... and Singapore ought to do more to support UNICEF."

LRT train door mishap exposes design flaw

MRT trains cannot be driven if a door is not locked; action against driver for not taking enough care
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Transport operator SMRT Corp yesterday shed light on how a door of a Bukit Panjang LRT train could have been flung open during a journey between stations last week, suggesting that the cause of the incident was a design flaw in the system.

The incident last Friday morning occurred after a signalling fault during commuting hours forced SMRT staff to override the driverless Bukit Panjang LRT system and drive the trains manually.

But while the SMRT staff member who took over the driving of the train had checked that all doors were fully closed before moving off, he failed to ensure that they were locked and that the "Doors locked" light on the train console had come on. At 6.47am, the door at the rear of the two-car train opened while it was travelling from Bukit Panjang station towards Senja station.

This caused the train's safety system to apply the emergency brakes.

The door was then closed manually by the driver and the train continued on its journey. SMRT spokesman Patrick Nathan said disciplinary action has since been taken against the employee.

SMRT noted that trains on other lines, namely the North-South, East-West and Circle lines, cannot be driven if any one of their doors is not locked.

"We would like to assure all passengers that trains serving the Circle Line and North-South and East-West lines are designed to ensure all doors are closed and locked before moving off in both automatic and manual modes," said Mr Nathan.

Referring to the Bukit Panjang LRT, he said: "We are also exploring with LTA (Land Transport Authority) and (train manufacturer) Bombardier on improving the (system's) design such that trains in manual mode cannot move until all doors are closed and locked."

He added that "operating procedures for manual driving of LRT trains will be reinforced".

Malaysia's Attorney-General clears Najib of corruption over cash gift from Saudi royals

By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Malaysia's Attorney-General has cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of corruption in a multimillion-dollar case that has led to calls for the latter to resign.

Attorney-General Apandi Ali said yesterday that the US$681 million (S$974 million) that was deposited into Datuk Seri Najib's personal bank account was a personal donation from the Saudi royal family.

Mr Najib yesterday welcomed the Attorney-General's statement, declaring on the Prime Minister's Office Facebook page that "it is time for us to unite and move on" now that the issue "has been comprehensively put to rest".

The Wall Street Journal said last year that the money had come from firms linked to state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Tan Sri Apandi said the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) had recorded statements from witnesses, including the donor, and concluded that the money - deposited just prior to the 2013 General Election - was not "given corruptly" and was not used as "inducement or reward" for Mr Najib to do anything in his capacity as Prime Minister.

He said Mr Najib returned US$620 million to the Saudi royals in August 2013. He did not say why the donation was given in the first place and what the Prime Minister did with the remaining US$61 million.

Mr Najib, also Finance Minister and 1MDB's chief adviser, has repeatedly denied using public funds for personal gain. He has told supporters that as Umno president, he is tasked with raising funds for Umno.

Urban terror in the new media age

Witnesses to terror attacks need to take action or, at the very least, not become unwitting aides to publicity-seeking terrorists
By Farish A Noor, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

The recent terrorist attacks in Jakarta, though claiming fewer casualties when compared to earlier attacks in Indonesia, have nonetheless caught the attention of the global media and have become sensational news by now.

By virtue of grabbing the headlines, those who were responsible for the attacks have already succeeded in securing at least one of their objectives: to make their presence known and to be talked about. This puts the media and the global fraternity of security analysts in a difficult position, where discussing such attacks also means giving the perpetrators of violence what they want, which is publicity.

For several years now we have seen how acts of terrorism have evolved and adapted to the realities of the media age we live in, where almost everyone in any modern city would be equipped with some form of portable communications technology. The availability of such technology, and the fact that we live in a virtual age where almost everything - from the contents of one's handbag, to what we eat for lunch - is photographed and instantly put on the Internet for the world to see, means that the urban landscape is more connected today than ever before. This is something that all radical groups, of whatever ideology or orientation, are well aware of. This has led to the evolution of a slightly different kind of terrorism, one that is a child of the media age we live in today.


From the attacks in Paris to Istanbul and Jakarta, we have seen how violent groups and individuals have targeted crowded modern cities that are well-connected via the medium of cyberspace. There is a pattern that is obvious here - these are modern, connected cities where no one is likely to get lost and where Internet connectivity is saturated.

Such urban environments foster a sense of common city feeling, where residents of Paris or Jakarta feel they belong to an urban community, complete with a lingo, street culture and insider references that only they can understand.

On the one hand, there is a positive thing about this: It lends a sense of common belonging to people who might otherwise feel a sense of alienation from living in crowded cities with populations that go up to tens of millions, allowing the people of London to feel like "Londoners" and the people of Paris to feel like "Parisians" - a virtual nation-in-itself that is distinct.

But to any militant who wishes to disrupt or weaken that sense of cohesiveness, that same sense of unity also renders such communities vulnerable in another way. For when Paris is attacked, thousands of others also feel vulnerable; and when Jakarta is attacked, then everyone who lives anywhere in that city feels he might be the next victim. In the face of such a threat, which is seemingly random (though it is not), communities in large cities need to develop a sense of collective agency.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Singapore's detention laws 'sufficient to foil attacks'

By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

Singapore's security laws are sufficient to detain extremists before they can execute any violent acts, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam has said, adding, however, that the Government has continued to ponder the need for added preventive measures.

Speaking to reporters yesterday on the sidelines of a conference in Kuala Lumpur on deradicalising terrorists, he said "process-related" aspects of security measures were being looked at.

"We've been thinking about this for a long time," Mr Shanmugam said when asked about the possibility of Singapore adding more preventive anti-terror laws, as Malaysia has done and Indonesia is planning to do.

"We thankfully have the Internal Security Act and the Internal Security Act allows us to move well ahead of the terrorists," he said.

"As it stands now, the detention laws are sufficient."

Malaysia last year added several preventive laws to give it wider powers to cripple terrorist activities but the new legislation, especially the National Security Council Act, has been criticised as moves by the current administration to stifle dissent and override checks and balances in the government.

Indonesia is also looking to enact new preventive laws this year after the deadly Jan 14 attacks in Jakarta, as it is not a crime as yet to support or join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group. ISIS has taken responsibility for the Jakarta attacks and is threatening more in the region.

The minister also said there was no "specific and existing threat" that he could point to, but cautioned that there are "terrorists moving around the region who have in the past targeted Singapore".

"There is both the developments internationally and the movement to radicalise people, which has had an impact on our people. Some of them have become radicalised, we have had to deal with it," he said.

Parliament debate on President's Address 2016: Day 1

World has changed and Singapore needs to change with it: MPs
Relook economic growth strategies, decision-making style: Ong Ye Kung
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

Singapore needs to evolve to keep up with the changing world and cannot cling tight to the old ways that have brought the country to where it is today, said MPs in Parliament yesterday.

As the country enters its next phase of development, it should relook its economic growth strategies and style of making decisions, said Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Mr Ong, first of the next-generation leaders to speak in the debate on the President's Address, added: "Evolution is absolutely necessary because no city stays successful by standing still. Animals develop sharper claws, longer beaks and harder shells in order to survive."

Likewise, Singapore must develop new traits to survive in a more complex and competitive world.

But as it evolves, it should hold fast to some principles, and he cited three: integrity, meritocracy and an openness to the world.

Mr Ong was among 17 MPs who spoke yesterday, the first day of the debate. Keenly aware of the global economic slowdown and the terrorism threat around the world, they suggested ways for Singapore to deal with these challenges.

Hong Kong most expensive housing market in the world for the sixth year in a row

Hong Kong housing market 'the most unaffordable'
By Rennie Whang, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

Hong Kong has emerged as the most unaffordable housing market among 367 metropolitan areas in nine countries, according to a survey by United States urban planning researcher Demographia.

In Hong Kong, median home prices were 19 times the median annual gross household income as at the third quarter of last year. This was up from 17 times in 2014 and the highest recorded in the 12 years of the survey.

A 430 sq ft flat would be expected to set a buyer back more than US$750,000 (S$1.1 million), according to data from the Hong Kong Property Review. However, analysts have predicted that Hong Kong's property bubble will burst as US interest rates rise. The government has also pledged to boost housing supply to meet demand, further prompting predictions for prices to fall, AFP said.

Sydney came in second and Vancouver, third. The survey covered Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Britain and the US.

Overall, the most affordable metropolitan markets were in the US, which had a moderately unaffordable rating of 3.5 in all.

The survey considers median multiples of 3.0 and below as affordable; 3.1 to 4.0 moderately affordable; 4.1 to 5.0 seriously unaffordable; and 5.1 and above severely unaffordable.

Singapore was ranked fifth. Its median multiple was 5.0, similar to 2014 and an improvement over 5.1 in 2013, when it was first formally included in the survey.

Singapore eager to host venture capitalists: Vivian Balakrishnan

By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

Singapore's smart nation initiative was born out of paranoia, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan recalled yesterday.

The Government did not want Singapore to be left out of the digital age, he added. He highlighted the confluence of global talent, money and technology, especially in the American high-tech start-up hub of Silicon Valley.

Dr Balakrishnan oversees the smart nation programme here, which was rolled out about two years ago.

Met a high powered group of venture capitalists at the Kauffman Fellows Global Summit this morning. The ongoing fourth...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday, January 25, 2016

He was speaking at a welcome fireside chat to open the South-east Asia Venture Capital Summit held at the Capitol Theatre yesterday.

The two-day summit is organised by the Kauffman Fellows, a non-profit organisation that teaches leadership to venture capitalists.

Dr Balakrishnan pointed out that globally there was no shortage of funds from well-connected investors to bankroll entrepreneurs with good ideas. Technologies, including data analytics, real-time monitoring and artificial intelligence, were emerging and leading to breakthroughs in healthcare and autonomous vehicles, he said.

"There's now the potential to do things that were hitherto unimaginable," he told the more than 200 venture capitalists, half from overseas, who are attending the summit.

Inflation in 2015 lowest in almost 3 decades

December's consumer price index down for 14th straight month amid lacklustre growth
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2016

Singapore's consumer prices fell the most in almost three decades last year amid very low oil prices, lacklustre economic growth and the soft housing rental market.

Still, most economists do not expect the central bank to deploy monetary policy to combat this long funk in growth and inflation.

They expect the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to maintain its Singapore dollar policy instead of acting to slow the currency's appreciation - barring a major shock or signs of recession.

Data out yesterday showed December's consumer price index - which measures inflation - slid 0.6 per cent over December 2014.

This was its 14th straight month of contraction and Singapore's longest stretch of negative inflation since the global financial crisis.

It brought inflation for all of last year to negative 0.5 per cent - the first full-year negative inflation reading here since 2002, and the lowest in 29 years, noted DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Falling private road transport and housing costs were the main drags on inflation last month. But their impact on household daily expenses was limited. The MAS core inflation measure, excluding these two items to better gauge everyday expenses, rose to 0.3 per cent last month from 0.2 per cent in November.

For the whole of 2015, core inflation came in at 0.5 per cent.

Households in the lowest 20 per cent income group experienced the largest fall last year. This group experienced a negative 1.1 per cent inflation rate, compared with 0.3 per cent for the middle 60 per cent and 0.7 per cent for the top 20 per cent.