Thursday 28 January 2016

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".

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) called on all Singaporeans "not to get involved in foreign politics or religious movements which could disrupt our delicate social balance and erode the goodwill which has taken years to build".

Several MPs also spoke on the need to strengthen national identity, as well as on what could be done to prepare citizens for a rapidly changing economic landscape.

Dr Yaacob said the Singapore Muslim community has been shaped by such values as moderation, respect for differences, inclusiveness, and openness to diversity.

But in recent times, some quarters in society have been holding stronger, if not intractable, views.

"Online media trends, migration, and regional and global influences threaten to accentuate our differences and bring culture wars that are taking place half the world away to our doorstep," he said.

"Our community needs to continue to stand together to foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding," he added.

While the Government will continue to serve as a community arbiter, this will be an increasingly difficult job "as we try to balance competing views and interests, and as our usual approach of negotiating sensitive matters carefully and discreetly is being challenged".

"If we should be intolerant of anything at all, it would be against the intolerant, particularly those who sow discord, spark disunity and incite hatred," he said.

The debate resumes today.

'Continue to work with Govt to lift Malay/Muslim community'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The trust and confidence of Malay/Muslim Singaporeans has enabled the Government to work with the community to tackle key challenges in the past, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told the House.

This link between state and community has strengthened over the years, and allowed the community to thrive, he added, calling for an even stronger partnership to tackle difficult challenges ahead.

One such challenge is that of a rapidly evolving and volatile economy, and Dr Yaacob said businesses and workers have to be "more productive, adaptive and committed to continual upgrading".

"Without this commitment, the consequences will be grave. We may have a pool of well-meaning, hard-working workers, but they lack the skill sets to compete and do well in the new economy," he said.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted the number of Malay workers undergoing skills upgrading training is "still low" compared with the other communities.

"This can affect the ability of our Malay workers to get good jobs when Singapore's economy undergoes renewal," he said.

Dr Yaacob said the current challenges are not insurmountable. He cited how the consultation and engagement between Government and community led to, for instance, Mendaki being formed in 1982 to address the under-achievement of Malay students. More recently, initiatives to raise the education quality in madrasahs were announced.

Such state-community engagement on sensitive matters is not unique to the Malay/Muslim community, he said, citing the relaxation of rules on live music in the Thaipusam procession after over 40 years. There was some measure of give-and-take, but importantly, "an openness and appreciation of needs and constraints as state and community worked together to arrive at the best possible solution".

The perspectives of the Government and communities may not always be aligned, but "we want to work with the community to realise multiple possibilities, and to dabble less in narrow binaries", he added.

"It is how we manage those differences to allow for a greater plurality of views and ideas, and yet not pull the society apart," Dr Yaacob said.

"It is always easier to dismiss differences for their perceived potential divisive effects. But it is far more enlightened and progressive to look for ways to accommodate some of the differences in order to enlarge the common ground."

'Need for all to boost Singapore's harmony'
Maliki: Help correct misperceptions and reject terrorists' bid to divide society
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The persistent threat of terrorism and radical ideologies has made it more urgent for every Singaporean to do their part in strengthening the country's harmony, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said yesterday.

Non-Muslims, he said, can help correct misconceptions or stereotypical and anti-Muslim remarks or actions by family members and friends, as well as on social media.

Muslims, he added, need to send a clear message that they denounce violence, just as community and religious leaders have been doing each time a terror attack takes place.

He said a military solution alone will not be enough to fight terrorism, "which aims to exploit potential racial and religious fault lines and destabilise society by causing mistrust among different religions and races".

"Each of us needs to pay special attention to strengthening our social and psychological defences, two of the five pillars of Total Defence."

Dr Maliki, who was the first speaker in yesterday's debate on the President's Address, noted that the fight against violent extremism will not be quick or easy.

Scholars and Islamic religious leaders have noted that terrorists who claim to be motivated by religious ideology often turn out to have little and incomplete understanding of Islam, he said.

Unfortunately, radicals' misrepresentation of Islam has caused anxiety and even fear between Muslims and non-Muslims in Singapore.

While this tension "is understandable as a natural human reaction given the misinformation, if left unaddressed, it will surely - and not necessarily slowly - lead to suspicion and one group blaming the other".

If there is an abrupt end to the social harmony in Singapore, everyone will suffer, Dr Maliki added.

He said every group needs to make the effort to understand the other, and "act and react in constructive and adaptive ways".

Non-Muslims need to understand that terrorism is based on radical ideologies and teachings that are completely unIslamic.

To believe otherwise would cause society to "fall into the terrorists' trap to sow discord", he added.

Dr Maliki said Muslims need to reject any forms of violence in the name of Islam. It is also important for community and religious leaders to equip them so they can discern correct Islamic teachings from the multitude of alternative extremist views that are available online.

He cited recent cases where radical preachers called on Muslims to abstain from wishing Christians Merry Christmas. The messages were spread via SMS and WhatsApp.

He said he was heartened that many Singapore Muslim leaders have dismissed such calls, and said that they have "no Islamic basis".

While such calls, taken alone, may seem insignificant, Dr Maliki said if they happen often and "the Muslim community does not have the religious ballast to fight the ideological challenge, one can only imagine the religious fault lines it could create in our society".

Non-Muslim leaders should also speak up on how people should and should not treat Muslims, he added.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) also said every Singaporean had a role to play in staying united, as social integration is built "one encounter, one day at a time".

"And occasionally, when we accidentally step upon one another's toes, we must always remind ourselves to take the high road for the greater good," she added.

To strengthen social harmony, she suggested improving community bonding programmes and stepping up public education to better promote responsible behaviour online.

Give more help to freelancers, low-wage workers, PMEs: MPs
Suggestions on pay increases, training and credit policies made to narrow income gap, ease pain of restructuring
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The pain of economic restructuring will be felt most keenly by low-wage workers, freelancers and professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), MPs said yesterday when they called for more help to be given to them.

One suggestion is to make it compulsory for employers to follow the National Wages Council's (NWC) guidelines on pay increases for low-wage workers. Another is to provide systematic training to older PMEs who switch careers.

Since 2012, the NWC has recommended four rounds of pay hikes of at least $50 and $60 for workers earning up to $1,000.

But labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said many low-wage workers in non-unionised companies and outsourcing industries have yet to get the higher pay.

"Employers view NWC's recommendations as merely guidelines," noted Mr Zainal, a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general.

If it cannot be made mandatory for all, at least make it so for the cleaning, security guard and landscape sectors, which hire a large number of low-wage workers, he said.

Mr Zainal also urged companies to give annual increments that are built into the low-wage workers' basic pay and annual wage supplements, or the 13th month bonus, that workers on outsourced contracts do not normally get.

He also wants government-linked companies to outsource their work to firms that adopt the NTUC's progressive wage models, which tie salaries to skills.

These measures can narrow the widening income gap and give low-wage workers a lift, he said.

Another labour MP, Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), championed the cause of freelancers, pointing out that there are about 200,000 of them, and their numbers are growing.

Businesses should see these freelancers as a resource and not as cheap labour, said Mr Ang, an NTUC assistant secretary-general.

While unions have now opened their doors to them, policies have yet to keep up, he added.

For instance, the Housing Board's loan policies for freelancers are "too conservative", he said, and banks are "very conservative" in approving their credit card applications.

"As freelance work grows to become a popular career choice, it is timely to tailor policies to be more inclusive to freelancers," he said.

Veteran MP Cedric Foo (Pioneer) called for greater protection for PMEs. He worries that PMEs would face discrimination should their foreign bosses prefer workers from their own country.

"This is prevalent in certain sectors of our economy and also in certain companies more than others," he said, adding that PMEs have little protection as there is no quota or ceiling on the number of foreign professionals companies can hire.

Companies that employ an unusually high number of foreign PMEs should be asked to correct the imbalance, said Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

They should be required, she added, "to submit a detailed plan on how they intend to train and develop Singaporeans for those jobs".

For older PMEs, she urged the Government to provide training to help them switch careers and to find them new jobs through earn-and-learn programmes.

Singapore 'needs risk-takers to spur growth'
Willingness to make mistakes needed for companies to thrive in future: Chee Hong Tat
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Five years ago, Tan Seng Kee Foods tapped technology used to preserve milk products to extend the shelf life of its preservative-free fresh noodles.

The company met setbacks and challenges along the way, but pushed on and eventually succeeded, enabling it to sell its noodles overseas.

This attitude of risk-taking, and willingness to make mistakes, is what companies will need to thrive in the future, said Mr Chee Hong Tat, Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health, yesterday.

He was one of several MPs who spoke about how to spur growth amid the fast-changing global economy. Their solution: Encourage innovation so local businesses stay relevant.

Mr Chee said innovation - such as in reclaiming smaller islands to form Jurong Island and reclaiming waste water to make Newater - had been the key to Singapore's success in the country's first 50 years.

Calling on Singaporeans to stray from their comfort zones, he said: "It is fine if we just want to cruise along in maintenance mode and make small, incremental improvements. But it is not good enough if we want to deal with difficult challenges and bring Singapore to the next higher level. To do that, we need to embrace the enterprising spirit of our pioneers and we need to innovate."

In the case of Tan Seng Kee Foods, the major breakthrough - which took almost two years of research and experimenting - allowed the springy yellow noodles used in dishes such as Hokkien mee to last up to six months with refrigeration. This opened doors to more business opportunities overseas, said the company's executive director Raymond Tan, 43.

The family-owned small and medium-sized enterprise, which used to supply noodles to just local hawkers, wet markets and wholesalers, now exports its noodles to the United States, Middle East and Europe.

Singaporeans too need to change their mindsets towards failure, to encourage risk-taking, said Mr Chee. He added: "As a society, we must not be intolerant of genuine mistakes and come down too hard on people who try and fail."

"We should teach them how to innovate, communicate complex ideas and recognise macro patterns": In #Parliament, MP Henry Kwek urges the Government to "prepare children to do what machines cannot do".
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Monday, January 25, 2016

Mr Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) said Singapore urgently needs to build more businesses with "disruptive models" to grow the economy.

Among his suggestions to achieve this are removing unnecessary regulations that may trip up businesses based on new business models.

He also called on the Government to set up an advisory centre for start-ups that will provide the regulatory and public-sector information that the firms will need.

Concrete changes aside, Singaporeans and businesses alike will need confidence before they can innovate, said Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera.

He said: "Confident citizens would dare to switch industries, to start a business, to take time out from working to reskill or further their education. Confident companies would not be so insecure about future business costs and rentals that they cannot invest in big bets about the future or secure the funding to do so."

Help SMEs seize opportunities: MPs
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Singapore's economy dominated the debate on the President's Address yesterday, but the focus shifted from the previous day's theme of weathering storms to thriving in a fast-changing environment.

MPs were keen to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) compete and to encourage new start-ups. Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer), in summing up the challenges of the new economy, pointed to the rise in robotics, the move of services to countries with lower labour costs, and "disruptive technologies" that shake up the status quo.

"Such developments could be viewed as threats, but if we are nimble, they also present Singapore with many new opportunities," he said.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon gave examples of how some SMEs had seized such opportunities.

Engineering firm Sanwa Group, for instance, formed a consortium with six local companies to exploit the new growth area of additive manufacturing.

The collaboration worked because the SMEs did not see each other as rivals, said Dr Koh. "In fact, members acknowledged that the competition was global, and that they had to collaborate in order to survive and succeed."

MP Henry Kwek (Nee Soon GRC) gave five suggestions for building a good environment for start-ups.

For instance, he said, research labs here should make their findings available to the market swiftly and affordably, and preferably to Singapore-based businesses.

The Government could set up "sandboxes" where start-ups can test their ideas on a small scale first. Also, it can start an advisory centre to help them with regulatory and public-sector information, he said.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) was blunt about the inefficiency of some schemes, saying: "It is time to do away with generic government support schemes that served more as 'subsidy schemes'... rather than address (the businesses') underlying lack of competitiveness."

She did not name any scheme, but said future ones should focus on helping companies create innovative products.

She also suggested encouraging large Singapore companies - perhaps with tax incentives - to take smaller Singaporean suppliers overseas with them when they secure projects abroad.

To make sure that training is aligned with industry needs, the Government could also take a cue from Sweden's competitive bidding system for government funding of training programmes, she added.

Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Health Chee Hong Tat said that help for start-ups could be extended to the heartland. He suggested taking start-up incubators - similar to the JTCLaunchpad@One-North - to Housing Board estates.

But amid the slew of ideas, Dr Koh sounded a note of caution: "Will over-supportive policies stifle the fighting spirit and the desire to succeed, much like how over-watering a plant will kill it?"

As Singapore seeks to help SMEs, this question should be kept in mind, he said.

MPs call for social hubs where the elderly will not be left alone
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

More Singaporeans are living longer but many are also left on their own, MPs noted yesterday as they suggested how the wider community can help fight such isolation.

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan), noting the low retention rate of older workers by employers, said there should be integrated social hubs to help the elderly stay mentally and physically active.

Even though many seniors who are not re-employed live with their families, they still feel isolated if they have little communication with their children, who work long hours, or if they do not have activities to occupy them, she said.

"Over time, such isolation has detrimental effects on their health, and naturally increases their healthcare costs," she added.

An integrated social hub would provide a one-stop location for the elderly to meet others, take part in activities and receive opportunities for training, employment or volunteering, she said.

These hubs could be located in community clubs and house voluntary welfare organisations, while social service offices and constituency offices can coordinate resources accordingly, she added.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) made a similar call for such centres, and asked for a community agency to oversee such efforts and ensure their sustainability.

She also said the Government should set up a website so that interested retired professionals have an avenue through which to volunteer their time and expertise.

"Having a central system that can tap on their services would help them occupy their time and keep in touch with society while saving money and manpower for the relevant party," she said .

She also urged town councils to link alarms in rental flats occupied by the elderly to a 24-hour emergency medical service unit. This can ensure that help is available for vulnerable seniors at all times.

Such systems are now monitored by a Housing Board Senior Activity Centre in the daytime, and by neighbours in the evening.

Mr Chee Hong Tat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said the issue of an ageing population is, in fact, an opportunity for different sectors to come together and think up new solutions.

Mr Chee, who is Minister of State (Health), said his ministry was working with architects and community leaders to create a senior- friendly environment at Kampung Admiralty. If successful, these ideas can be implemented in other estates and also exported overseas to grow the economy.

English proficiency should be mandatory for new citizens: Darryl David
By Linette Lim, TODAY, 26 Jan 2016

While foreign talent is needed for Singapore to progress, a basic level of English-language proficiency and mandatory annual community service hours should be among the pre-requisites for Singapore citizenship, Mr Darryl David suggested in Parliament today (Jan 26).

“I believe that we need to attract the best talent from around the world and bring in new knowledge and skill sets that are not available locally,” he said. “However, I would urge the Government to consider introducing language and other assimilation requirements for PRs before they are granted Singapore citizenship.”

Grassroots leaders gave feedback that some new citizens do not get involved in activities as they feel they are unable to communicate with fellow residents of different ethnicities: Darryl David, suggests a basic English test for people applying for Singapore citizenship. #Parliament
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mr David said the challenge today is not in the integration between ethnic groups, but between Singaporeans and new citizens.

“At a community event welcoming new citizens last year, I observed that there were quite a few new citizens who had trouble communicating because of their inability to speak basic English,” he said.

“Grassroots leaders have also provided feedback: Some of the new citizens tend to not get involved in community events and activities because they feel that they aren’t able to communicate with their fellow residents of different ethnicities.”

His recommendations could help new citizens develop a deeper understanding of the wider community and society that they are in, said the MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC.

“These measures would undoubtedly help new citizens assimilate and integrate better into our social and community fabric, and that in turn would allow them to better contribute to Singapore’s growth and development,” said Mr David.

NCMPs speak on future of Singapore's political landscape
PAP MPs rebut their points, saying diversity of voices in Parliament already guaranteed
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Two new Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) of the Workers' Party (WP) got their first taste of verbal sparring in Parliament yesterday, as they sought to highlight the potential negative effects of having one party in power for more than 50 years.

Mr Leon Perera argued that greater political diversity was needed for robust debate on policies, while Mr Dennis Tan said the governance of national institutions must be strengthened.

Veteran People's Action Party (PAP) MPs, however, took issue with the points they raised.

Mr Cedric Foo (Pioneer) said the Government had made constitutional guarantees of alternative voices in Parliament, while Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) indicated that the WP should take a look at its own town council if it was serious about the proper management of public bodies.

Mr Perera said some had interpreted the outcome of last year's general election - which the PAP won with 69.9 per cent of the votes - as a sign that "we were one united people".

But "casting the election result as a badge of national unity is deeply unhelpful" as it suggests that "what unites us as Singaporeans is our support for one political party".

Instead, unity comes when disagreeing parties can still recognise each other as Singaporeans, he said.

"We must learn to agree to disagree without branding one who disagrees with us as our enemy or as someone who has disrespected us," he said. "Let us debate and disagree but remain united as Singaporeans. That is real unity worth fighting for."

Mr Perera also said "the non-existence of any viable alternative party other than the ruling party" was a "danger facing Singapore's political landscape in the long term".

"Let me remind him that at the last GE, every seat was contested, and that Singapore voted for the PAP and 6 other Opposition members is the outcome of this voting ... The presence of Mr Perera as an NCMP himself was a creation of the PAP Government": Cedric Foo responds to an earlier speech made by Leon Perera in #Parliament. Read Mr Perera's original comments:
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mr Foo countered: "Mr Perera bemoans the low number of opposition MPs in this House, yet in the same breath he calls for open contest and for more democracy."

He pointed out that every seat in the last election was contested and the results were "the outcome of an open contest and I hope he and his party will respect the outcome".

Mr Foo also noted the Government had introduced the Nominated MP and NCMP schemes to provide for non-partisan voices and a minimum number of opposition members. "In fact, the presence of Mr Perera as an NCMP himself was a creation of the PAP Government... and I know of no government that guarantees there will be at least nine opposition members in Parliament."

Mr Tan, in his speech, said national institutions, including the civil service and statutory boards, must be further strengthened. "The independence and political neutrality of the civil service and statutory boards must be fiercely maintained so that Singaporeans will always have complete confidence in the non-partisan nature of these institutions."

He reiterated his party's call for a Freedom of Information Act and an "independent office of ombudsman" to investigate alleged wrongdoing by public servants.

Singapore must also promote social justice and take care of the less privileged, Mr Tan added.

Mr Seah said he totally agreed that "we should all embrace" strengthening of governance in organisations. It matters, be it a listed company, sports association or religious institution. "I dare say also in the town council," he added, alluding to financial and governance lapses in the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.

Mr Seah also said the PAP "takes great pains to ensure" there is social mobility in Singapore. Many ministers, including the Prime Minister, have stressed that "we should leave no one behind".

More people now qualify for legal aid, says Indranee
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The Government has expanded criminal legal aid here and is committed to promoting access to justice, Senior Minister of State (Law) Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

She told Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan that the Law Ministry broadened the means test for legal aid in 2013, and 25 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents now qualify for legal aid - up from 17 per cent before.

This means about 300,000 more people are potentially covered under the Legal Aid and Advice Act.

She was replying to Mr Tan, who wanted a review of the limits as the annual disposable income eligibility cap of $10,000 was "too restrictive".

But Ms Indranee said the $10,000 cap was arrived at after taking into account deductibles, which were expanded in 2013: "Sometimes, the perception is that that parameter of the $10,000 is too strict. But, in fact, what we have done over the last couple of years is to expand the coverage even though the amount of $10,000 has not itself increased."

Someone who makes $30,000 a year but has a net disposable income of $9,000 would thus qualify for legal aid, she added.

Under the Enhanced Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (Clas), the Government commits up to $3.5 million yearly to cover operational costs, disbursements and below-market rate fees to volunteer lawyers, she added.

The additional funding helped Clas lawyers provide legal aid to 1,300 people last year, compared to 431 people in 2014. "In effect, by providing the increased funding, my ministry is supporting criminal legal aid," she said.

Mr Tan, a lawyer, also wanted accused persons to be able to consult a lawyer privately, for up to one hour, before their police statements were taken. He said suspects should have early access to legal counsel, instead of possibly being detained for days or weeks without the chance to speak to one.

But Ms Indranee said the courts determined that access to legal counsel should be available within a reasonable time, and not immediately after arrest: "It has been explained in this Parliament before that we need to strike a balance between the rights of the accused person to consult his legal counsel, and the public interest in ensuring that the police are able to effectively investigate each case."

Allowing a suspect to communicate with third parties before police conclude their work can compromise investigations, she said.

Merger of IDA, MDA spurred by changes in tech
By Irene Tham, Technology Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

The upheaval that the swift changes in the infocomm technology and media industries have caused in other sectors, such as transport and property, is the reason for the merger of two government agencies, Parliament was told yesterday.

The move will put Singapore in a stronger position to seize the resulting economic opportunities, said Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, citing two possibilities.

He also said the new Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) - arising from the merger of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) - will be formed in the second half of the year. The IDA regulates and promotes telecommunications services while the MDA oversees content in traditional media such as television.

Pointing to the disruptive nature of new technologies, Dr Yaacob noted that the world's biggest taxi company, Uber, does not own a single car. Likewise, the largest provider of accommodation in the world, Airbnb, owns no hotels or rooms.

These changes can only accelerate, he added as he pointed out the risks and rewards.

One such possibility lies in the converging of infocomm technology and media spaces.

Telcos and pay-TV operators StarHub and Singtel are facing increasing competition from overseas online video distributors such as Netflix and iTunes, as well as local start-ups. One such Singapore start-up is Viddsee, an online platform that allows free streaming of short, made-in-Asia films. Last year, the start-up reeled in US$2.3 million (S$3.3 million) in funding, led by Japan-based investment firm CyberAgent Ventures.

The second opportunity that Dr Yaacob pinpointed is in big data. The public sector, for instance, is looking at ways to use public data to build solutions that better meet citizens' needs.

"With the declining cost of sensors and cloud storage, it is now possible to connect devices to the Internet and to each other," he said.

Singapore is already rolling out these smart sensors to capture and transmit securely all kinds of surveillance, traffic and weather data to relevant public agencies for analysis.

Dr Yaacob said IMDA will continue the work of its two predecessors, in teaming up with companies in Singapore and abroad to groom local talent. He added that a new Government Technology Organisation (GTO) will be set up in the second half of the year to lead national digitisation efforts.

It will absorb the heavy coding functions of IDA's Government Chief Information Office.

Its engineers will also support the rollout of smart nation projects, including the sensor network.

In addition, the GTO will take charge of a crack team of Singapore government data scientists and software engineers housed at its Hive facility in Fusionopolis.

This group is a new breed of IT experts hired to address the needs of a smart nation, such as in transport and healthcare.

Changes proposed to CPF and Women's Charter
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Changes that will allow Central Provident Fund (CPF) members to choose their CPF Life plan only when they want to start receiving their payouts from the national annuity scheme were presented in Parliament yesterday.

Instead of making a decision at age 55, as was the case previously, the proposed amendments will let members opt for their preferred plan just before they want to start receiving monthly payouts - which will be from age 65.

The change was among the recommendations made by the CPF Advisory Panel last year. The proposed changes to the CPF Act will enable these to be implemented.

Other proposed changes include giving members more flexibility to withdraw savings from their CPF retirement accounts without having to pledge their properties, and enhancements to two CPF insurance schemes - the Dependants' Protection Scheme and the Home Protection Scheme.

Other changes proposed yesterday were to the Women's Charter.

These include voiding a marriage of convenience, which is an immigration offence; allowing women to provide for their current or ex-husband if he becomes incapacitated and cannot work; and making parents going through a divorce attend a mandatory parenting programme to reduce the impact of the divorce on their children.

Also tabled was the Pioneer Generation Fund (Amendment) Bill, which proposes that the income or means of a pioneer generation individual - most of whom are aged 67 and above this year - be disregarded when benefits are determined. They include subsidies to healthcare costs. The Finance Ministry said that benefits given to the pioneer generation are meant to "honour their contributions and therefore do not vary based on income or means".

Speech of the day

Citizens and civil service part of a whole
The Straits Times, 27 Jan 2016

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, spoke about nation-building and collaboration among citizens. Here is an edited extract:

Recently, I had a senior (although still young) civil servant observing one of my Meet-the-People Sessions. The combination of youth and seniority is sometimes an indicator for high fliers, but it can be an unpropitious mix. This officer observed what we did that evening.

At the end of the session, as we were sharing, he turned to one of my key volunteers, exasperated, and he asked: "Why do you keep writing us these letters to make exceptions? You know that we cannot do that. You don't waste time writing, we won't waste time replying."

I am very seldom speechless and very seldom at a loss for ideas. But that night, I paused on both counts.

Does our public service need to change?

On the one hand, this high flier is right. Some residents do ask me to write letters that are beyond the pale. One resident lives in a landed property and owns three cars. Unfortunately, her house is only big enough to have one carpark lot.

She expects the Government - i.e. me - to provide her with lots for her two other cars. If not, she told me, the Government is lousy and she would vote against me in the next election.

My reply - given verbally - was quite a strong one. With hindsight, I was lucky that she did not record a video of me on her handphone.

A Ministry for Social and Family Development (MSF) officer was not so lucky. I am sure you areall familiar with the incident that occurred at the Social Service Office at Boon Lay, where a man went to demand his late monthly social assistance.

The Social Service Office, knowing that this man was going to have another baby, had initiated an early review, and increased the amount of assistance for the family from $600 to $800 per month. This unfortunately resulted in a delay of a few days in the crediting of financial assistance to the recipient.

Even as the MSF staff was trying to explain this, the recipient, loud and hectoring, demanded "his money". After several minutes of this, the officer was riled up enough to say "we don't owe you".

The whole exchange was put up on social media. Two things were clear to me: 1. The man seeking assistance intended to record everything because the recording started with his session. 2. That there is a strong sense of entitlement and the tone he took was that the officer indeed "owed" him the money.

Both sides were not right, but my sympathies lie with the officer.

I have noticed a recent rise of self-administered vigilante justice among members of the public. The weapon of choice - the handphone; judge and jury - the social media public. This has to change.

On the flip side, I have also seen some very bad responses by civil servants, the very few which give the Government as a whole a bad name.

This is not who we are. This is not what we dream of becoming.

We cannot demand that rules be broken on every occasion that benefits us, without care for fellow Singaporeans.

We should have neither vigilante justice from the public nor high-handed behaviour from civil servants.

We must not see (Singaporeans as) people to be herded by rules that cannot be broken.

At the same time, we must not see our collective good as largesse to be exploited, our public service as servants to do our bidding, to bear our anger, to right our personal wrongs.

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