Saturday 30 January 2016

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.

There is another form for those with larger, more complicated assets and who wish to grant specific authorisation to their appointees. Its $200 fee is not waived.

The fee waiver, which started in September 2014, will end on Aug 31 this year. A spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development said it is studying the possibility of extending the waiver.

Since the LPA scheme began in 2010, more than 20,000 LPAs have been accepted - a figure Mr Seah said was "too small", given the much larger number of people eligible to sign up for an LPA.

Mr Tan agreed but added: "It's a balance between making (the application process) easy and safeguarding the interests of the individual."

He said he would look into making people more aware of it.

Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) suggested using the approaches taken by such schemes for the elderly as MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package.

With MediShield Life, one-to-one consultations were held at several community clubs to help people understand the new compulsory health insurance scheme.

The Pioneer Generation Package had "ambassadors" visiting seniors at home to explain the healthcare benefits they would receive from the Government.

But Mr Tan said a mindset change might be needed too. "A lot of people talk about Singaporeans being under-insured... I don't know whether it's because we are 'pantang' (Malay for superstitious) or we try not to think about the inevitable.

"But at some point, we will all degenerate as we grow older, physically and mentally, so this is something that we know is necessary."

He added: "I think, intellectually, many of us grasp it. But I'm not sure whether we (can) emotionally... hoist it on board."

SAF to keep backing battle against ISIS
Multinational coalition has asked for the S'pore Imagery Analysis Team's continued help in fighting terror group
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will continue to send military personnel this year to support the multinational coalition battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as the threat posed by the militant group persists.

The Imagery Analysis Team, sent to the Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters in Kuwait last September, will be deployed again this year, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

The coalition forces had asked for the team, whom they found useful as their first imagery analysis capability at the Kuwait headquarters, said Dr Ng.

The team provided "useful intelligence support", allowing troops to identify terrorist infrastructure and facilities and avoid hitting civilian areas, he added.

Another reason the SAF is continuing its deployments is that ISIS is a long-term terrorism threat, he said. "By contributing to the international effort to tackle the threat at source, we are contributing directly to our own safety."

Dr Ng was replying to Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), who asked how effective a role SAF played in the anti-ISIS coalition and whether Singapore's involvement will be expanded.

The defence minister said that as the fight evolves, Singapore will assess regularly the relevance and effectiveness of its contributions.

It will also work with partners to see how best Singapore can contribute in ways "that are within our means and capabilities".

Singapore was the first South-east Asian nation to join the international fight against ISIS, sending a liaison officer to the United States Central Command Headquarters in December 2014. The SAF had also sent an intelligence planner to Kuwait in January last year.

It also supported air-to-air refuelling with its KC-135 tanker aircraft from last May to August, during which the plane flew 52 sorties and refuelled 142 coalition aircraft.

Many countries, including Malaysia, have also joined the coalition, Dr Ng said, as they recognise that citizens at home cannot be protected "unless the source of this radicalisation is disrupted".

"We join this fight because if we do not triumph over extremist terrorism, the danger and risks to our citizens here...
Posted by cyberpioneer on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The role of the Muslim community in combating extremism was also discussed. Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said policies exist to help manage diversity and differences in faith within the Muslim community.

In his reply to Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), he cited the Singapore Muslim Identity project set up by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). It lays out the desired characteristics of Muslim religious life in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

If the practices and ideologies of any group are found to be "fundamentally errant", Muis will issue a fatwa to pronounce what it finds objectionable and provide guidance to the Muslim community.

"There is no place for exclusivist and extremist doctrines," he added.

Groups like the Religious Rehabilitation Group also protect the Muslim community against radicalisation, said Dr Yaacob.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said religious groups and foreign preachers who promote teachings that threaten the social fabric have no place in Singapore.

"Freedom of religion is guaranteed under our Constitution. But any religious group... that preaches values or promotes actions that are directly contrary to our social harmony, or threatens our safety, will be treated as a security risk," he said in his reply to Mr Yam. "The protocol is a very straightforward and transparent one... If his (preacher's) teachings are contrary to our values, he will be denied entry."

Foreign preachers intolerant of other religious faiths will be barred: K Shanmugam
The Home Affairs Minister said that those promoting values or actions directly contrary to Singapore's social harmony and cohesion will be treated as a security risk.
By Linette Lim, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Jan 2016

Religious groups and foreign preachers expounding teachings that threaten the social fabric have no place in Singapore, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.

"Freedom of religion is guaranteed under our Constitution. But any religious group, whether registered or informal, that preaches values or promotes actions that are directly contrary to our social harmony, or threatens our safety, will be treated as a security risk," he said in Parliament on Thursday (Jan 28).

He added that foreign preachers will not be allowed to come to Singapore if their teachings are intolerant of other religious faiths and practices.

If an overseas religious leader's teachings are contrary to Singapore values, he will be denied entry, says Minister K Shanmugam Sc.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr Shanmugam was responding to questions by MP Alex Yam on whether informal religious groups are looked into for potential risks, and what controls exist for overseas religious leaders planning to visit to Singapore.

“You are probably referring to a gentleman – if you look up on the internet – who has said, for example, that it is absolutely wrong to wish Christians ‘Merry Christmas’, said Mr Shanmugam.

“The protocol is a very straightforward and transparent one – What are his teachings? What has he said, whether in Singapore or outside Singapore? – and if his teachings are contrary to our values, he will be denied.”

Mr Shanmugam also said that the local Muslim community and religious organisations have also put in “considerable effort” to counter the radical ideology of jihadist terrorist groups like ISIS, including tailoring their messages and engagement platforms to better reach out to young people.

'Focus on heart' in next phase of nation building: Ng Chee Meng
Ng Chee Meng urges people to draw on inner strength of 'Singapore heartbeat' to stay united
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

In a speech sprinkled with feel-good anecdotes, Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng yesterday spoke of the need for Singapore to have an inner strength to stay united and be a caring society. And the source of that strength is founded in what he called the Singapore heartbeat.

But in the pursuit of economic development in the past 50 years, Singapore has come to be known for its "head" because of its pragmatism.

However, last March, the former defence chief saw - and was moved by - the swell of emotions Singaporeans displayed during the state funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was in charge of organising the funeral.

The Economist magazine, he said, had called it "an improbable patriotism".

It probably was the reason for Mr Ng's call to Singaporeans yesterday to also focus on ways to keep the heart beating strong into the next phase of nation building.

He said: "In a fast-changing world with growing diversities and forces that could pull our society apart, Singapore will need a source of inner strength to keep us united. I call this the Singapore heartbeat."

Mr Ng, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport, spoke at length on how to unite the society and nurture deep bonds of kinship to strengthen the heartbeat, even as the country beefs up its economy and security. "The idea of the Singapore heartbeat is that all of us are indispensable and complementary parts of a living system," he said, likening Singaporeans to organs that have to work together to keep a body healthy.

He urged every Singaporean to find a place to be part of the nation's progress while the country needs to provide the opportunity for everyone to discover and develop his strength.

To that end, education plays an important role in ensuring all children get equal access to opportunities in schools, have multiple pathways to success and reach the fullest of their potential.

Social nets will also be strengthened to ensure social mobility because "the strength of our social fabric lies in the spirit of mutual support within our society".

The heart, he added, is where people hold the things they cherish. Hence, a strong heartbeat is forged by the bonds of kinship and the pride of being Singaporean.

But these are not fleeting feelings that arise from an occasion - as these will not anchor a nation.

What endures is Singaporeans showing their love and care for their fellow countrymen "on an ordinary day and in ordinary ways".

Mr Ng described how a cabby left his taxi by the road to take a wheelchair-bound passenger to the doorstep of her high-rise flat.

Such small gestures form the basic rhythm of the Singapore heartbeat, he said.

Another heartwarming story was about an initiative that involved around 80 Chong Pang residents trained to help people with dementia while patrolling their neighbourhood.

Then there were the two young men who started The Hidden Good movement, capturing secretly on camera the everyday kindness of Singaporeans - from reaching for groceries on the top shelf in the supermarket for another person to a commuter giving up a seat on the MRT train.

"Our Singapore heartbeat is about such altruistic acts but it is also much more than that," he said. "We must build the Singapore heartbeat to forge our collective core strength, our collective resilience and our social cohesion."

That, he added, is the path to an "exceptional and enduring Singapore for our children and our children's children".

MP Patrick Tay proposes limit on PME numbers for firms that do not hire enough Singaporeans
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

Companies that do not hire enough Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) should be given a limit on the number of foreign professionals they can hire, Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) said yesterday.

Calling it the PME dependency ratio, he said it is akin to the restrictions employers face for hiring foreigners with low- to mid-level skills. Stricter conditions should also be imposed on these firms when they apply for employment passes for their foreign PMEs, the labour MP said.

At the same time, companies should be encouraged to retrench local PMEs last when they have to downsize. These measures will counter nationality bias in the workplace, which still exists in the IT and financial sectors, and encourage employment of Singaporeans over foreigners, said Mr Tay.

The economy needs to be led by local PMEs in order for them "to fully exploit the labour market and yet be able to fully realise their potential and skills", he said.

Newcomer Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) had similar concerns. More PMEs are approaching the Employment and Employability Institute for help, with 337 people registering for its programmes last year. This is an increase from the 128 in 2014, he noted. Retrenched PMEs often struggle to find jobs that match their last-drawn salaries and they end up with lower-paying jobs, he said.

Mr Saktiandi said PMEs with specialised skills need to be redeployed to suitable fields of work.

Companies also have to be more open to hiring older professionals.

One way he suggested was to match PMEs with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up the majority of companies here. This "makes great sense", he said, as SMEs face high labour costs, manpower shortage and increasing competition.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) observed that Singaporeans are getting retrenched more often. She proposed a radical idea: each time a company lays off a Singaporean worker, the Government should cancel a work pass given to the firm for hiring a foreign worker.

Call to rethink mindsets about age
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

As the number of elderly Singaporeans rises and more older workers want to work longer, several MPs yesterday put forward a number of suggestions on how to tap their experience and keep them active.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) said age discrimination should be stopped and older workers ought to be allowed to "work for as long as they can and want".

Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How urged employers to "retune" their thinking and mindsets about what "each age cohort is physically capable of doing as individuals, within corporations and for the country".

"What should be reckoned as 'working-age population' is shifting," said Mr Heng, who is also deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

And failing to recognise this changing reality "is to live in the past, and be guilty not only of mindless ageism and misjudgment, but indeed of wasting national resources to our own detriment", he added.

Companies should therefore tap into the valuable knowledge and experience that a greying workforce had accumulated over their careers, he said. If they did not do so, they would only be inflicting upon themselves "corporate or industry dementia". He said: "If they fail to intelligently tap and hold on to persons with such valuable assets and instead lose them through retirement or short-sighted retrenchments, they lose important institutional memory, knowledge and expertise."

Earlier this week, several MPs also spoke about the well-being of the elderly and ways to ensure Singaporeans remain active in old age.

Yesterday, Ms Tin said that the elderly should be encouraged to continue to contribute and serve the community, and cited how a group of seniors in her constituency are volunteering their time to help other elderly residents.

Greater bonds could also be built between residents and the elderly, said Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC). She proposed developing more inter-generational facilities that can benefit both young and old, such as integrating eldercare centres into schools.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) said the Government should not compromise on social support for the "vulnerable" and "disadvantaged". Despite improvements over the years, some residents in need still did not qualify for help, she said, urging agencies to exercise discretion in assessing such cases.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) added that those with physical disabilities are still finding it hard to secure employment. "This runs the gamut from the low-skilled disabled who lost the job of cleaning airline headphone sets to technology, to a hearing-impaired university degree-holder who missed (out on) employment opportunities due to the fact that human resources personnel failed to note that the job seeker can respond only to SMS messages and not telephone calls," he said.

More could be done, such as making it a must for companies with over 500 workers to hire staff with disabilities, he added.

Speech of the day

How to draw strength from our diversity
The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2016

In her maiden speech, Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) spoke in English and Malay about help for the vulnerable in society as well as about diversity and the hopes of the Malay/Muslim community. Here is an edited extract of her points on diversity and the community:

As we write the next chapters for the next 50 years, we need to look at how, as a mature society, we handle diversity of views.

Diversity can be a strength if ideas can be synergised and used for the good of the people. However, it is also a potential divisive factor. How do we make it our strength and not cause our fall?

I feel that the Prime Minister's announcements yesterday regarding increasing the numbers of NCMPs in Parliament and extending powers of NCMPs are concrete steps towards bringing diversity of views in Parliament.

I, therefore, welcome this proposal as it allows for a respectful discourse on real issues that matter and leads to the shaping of useful and important policies.

I also feel that the approach of encouraging diversity of views should be extended to the masses. However, beyond creating the platforms and spaces, for the exercise not to be merely lip service, I believe there needs to be a push for more open debates and discussions.

For instance, in the light of the increasing wave of terrorist attacks and influence globally, inevitably some attention is now placed on the Muslim community in Singapore.

The Muslim community has expressed concern over the increasing Islamophobia and the observation that some Muslims are growing somewhat more distant from the rest of the Singaporean community. There is a need to have very frank conversations about real issues facing the community.

These conversations may possibly be difficult but this is an effort that should be put in by all in the community, not just the Singaporean Muslims.

Our efforts in encouraging racial and religious harmony can no longer be at a superficial level of attending each other's cultural events.

We should allow for space to talk about our identities, our religious practices such as the burning of incense paper, the wearing of the tudung, the playing of music during Thaipusam, for example.

There is a need for faith in the maturity of the Singapore people and a realisation that the preservation of our individual identities or practice of our respective religions does not necessarily mean that our common spaces are encroached or that we are distancing ourselves from each other.

Perhaps there is a need to redefine the common space. Perhaps there are new norms that Singaporeans can agree upon. We must allow for such discussions to flourish and work towards achieving consensus.

I think it is important for the Government to take steps to encourage open discussions on these issues so that any prejudices and misunderstandings can be eradicated immediately. There should also be reminders to condemn and stop Islamophobia.

One other thing in the minds of our community is the tudung issue. As a woman who wears the tudung, I hope that all women can pursue their career choice and I hope this can be reviewed and flexibility be given where possible so that they can choose their own careers.

However, when we ask for something from the Government, I hope that we as a community can be mature and discuss with respect. We know there are implications on whatever decisions that we wish for in terms of a plural society.

The Malay/Muslim community also has aspirations and hopes to see Malays in all fields, including leadership. PM Lee yesterday spoke about changes to the Singapore Constitution, including having smaller GRCs and the change in criteria for the Elected President.

We would like to see representation from our community but I would like our Malays to be chosen because he or she is the best and not because of his or her race. We do not want this selection to be a symbolic one only.

Over the past few days my colleagues in this House have shared their perspectives and proposals on how to move this country forward. The breadth of issues raised and variety of ideas shared are a testament to the diversity and dynamism of the members. This in turn reflects the diversity of Singaporeans whom the members represent.

We may not all agree with each other but we debate respectfully. I believe this decorum can extend beyond this House because Singaporeans are responsible people who care about the nation.

We do not argue for the sake of argument and always seek consensus, not conflict.

While there is much fear and uncertainty about what the future will bring, I feel a sense of excitement on the possibilities for this Little Red Dot.

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