Monday 29 February 2016

National policies will adopt more inclusive approach: Tan Chuan-Jin

Next Enabling Masterplan to ensure initiatives include people with special needs
By Priscilla Goy, The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

National policies and schemes, such as SkillsFuture and Smart Nation, will adopt a more inclusive approach towards people with disabilities.

Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday that the next Enabling Masterplan - a blueprint on programmes for people with disabilities - should ensure that national initiatives cater to all Singaporeans, including those with special needs.

The current five-year masterplan ends this year. Mr Tan said his ministry is putting together a committee to start the development of the next masterplan, and will announce details of who is in the committee.

Government initiatives such as the SkillsFuture movement to boost skill levels and promote lifelong learning, and the Smart Nation drive of using technology to improve people's lives, should be just as relevant for people with disabilities, said Mr Tan.

"After all, skills development and technology adoption can be effective enablers. They make a tremendous difference to people with disabilities, to help them realise their potential... and contribute back to society to the best of their abilities."

It's a tough job, so 'show care to family caregivers'

By Chitra Kumar, The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

When Madam Jayamalini Ariatheven's husband walked out on her eight years ago, after a marriage that involved arguments and domestic violence, she was left to look after their three sons, two of whom have special needs.

Feeling helpless, she attempted suicide in 2008, taking about 100 anti-depressant pills and alcohol.

"I wanted to die. I didn't bother about my kids. It was selfish," said the 40-year-old at her four-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang.

With motivation from her doctor, social worker and friends, she realised she had to live for her sons.

"They understood what I was going through. They consoled and counselled me, giving me tips on how to handle my children," said Madam Jayamalini, whose mother died in 2005, and who has lost contact with her father and elder sister.

In a Facebook post last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing stressed the importance that friends, colleagues and employers can have in helping people like Madam Jayamalini.

"Family caregivers are often the ones who need a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on as looking after persons with special needs requires emotional strength and renewal more than anything else," he wrote.

Childcare enrolment surges as more mums go back to work

Other reasons include more such centres opening and parents' faith in programmes
The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

The number of children enrolled in childcare centres has surged, as more such centres are set up and mothers go back to work, and there is a rise in parents' confidence in the quality of programmes offered.

Childcare enrolment hit a high of 95,414 last year, more than double the 44,224 in 2005, according to latest figures from the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

This has grown alongside a significant increase in the number of childcare places - there were 123,327 last year. A decade before, the figure was just 59,433.

ECDA, the government agency that oversees pre-school education, told The Sunday Times that there are enough childcare places for one in two children, a target that was set for 2017 but has been met ahead of schedule.

There were enough childcare places for one in three children three years ago, and one in six in 2009. Last year alone, 113 new centres opened - an average of two each week. This is the largest increase in at least a decade, bringing the total number of centres to 1,256 as at end-December.

More are set to open this year, including five mega centres that can each take in 300 to 500 children.

ECDA explained that half of the new centres last year were opened by anchor operators (AOPs), which get public funding and priority in securing HDB sites.

They also have to offer affordable prices, with full-day fees capped at $720 a month. Most of the centres are at HDB void decks.

Around 26,000 new HDB flats were completed last year, close to the record set in 2014, when 28,000 flats were completed.


Experts said having more childcare places lets more mothers return to the workforce, since fewer grandparents are keen on being the primary caregivers of the children.

Ministry of Manpower figures show that the labour force participation rates among female residents have been on the rise.

From 2000 to last year, the rate for women aged 30 to 34 jumped by 13 percentage points, and by 20 points in the 35 to 39 age range.

About eight in 10 women in these two groups are working or actively looking for a job, making dual-income families more the norm.

Hearing test for older residents at mobile clinics

NUH partners PA to screen 8,000 residents aged above 40 in heartland over next 2 years
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

Freelance tour guide Alex Wong did not realise he had the television turned on too loudly until his family started complaining.

The 67-year-old went for a $5 hearing test at a special mobile clinic at a Yuhua seniors' activity centre that he frequents for karaoke last month and found he had moderate hearing loss and needed a hearing aid, which he paid $169 for.

He was not the only one who failed to realise his hearing was impaired. About 500 residents in Bukit Panjang, Tampines West, Yuhua and Nee Soon Central have gone for subsidised hearing diagnostic tests in Mobile Hearing Clinics (MHCs) in the heartland since Dec 14. About 82 per cent of those screened suffer from some degree of hearing loss, with 70 per cent of them diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss that could progress in severity.

The National University Hospital will continue to partner the People's Association to screen 8,000 residents above the age of 40 over the next two years.

This $4.6 million programme, which started last December, was launched by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Yuhua MP Grace Fu yesterday.

Ms Fu said that hearing loss could hasten the ageing process, and urged more residents to go for these screenings. "Sometimes hearing loss would result in isolation, loss of interaction with friends, and as a result, a diminishing social circle... it could lead to early onset of dementia and other psychological and physiological processes as well,"she said.

The screenings cost $5, with an additional $15 for those who need further evaluation. MHC's clinical adviser Lynne Lim said that not enough go for such screenings. "Only one in 10 who can be helped by hearing aids (use) them. This is a pity as fitting a hearing aid early rather than when the hearing loss is severe achieves better outcomes."

Hearing aids run from $1,800 to $3,200 and eligible residents can get at least 90 per cent off the price (capped at $2,700, or whichever is lower) through financial assistance from the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund or the Health Services Development Programme fund.

Former PAP old guard Lee Khoon Choy dies at 92

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

Former politician Lee Khoon Choy, a member of the People's Action Party old guard who also served as Singapore's ambassador to Indonesia in the 1970s, died yesterday.

His son, National University Heart Centre deputy director Lee Chuen Neng, said his father "passed away in tranquillity" at the National University Hospital in the morning, after battling pneumonia for two weeks. He was 92.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean yesterday described Mr Lee as "a giant of our times" for helping to smooth strained relations between Singapore and Indonesia in the 1970s.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, also in a Facebook post, said founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had spoken of the pivotal role Mr Lee played, adding: "It was his deep appreciation of culture and history that gave him that special insight and tact that is so essential in diplomacy."

Mr Lee, whose political career spanned 25 years, was known for his tact, and represented Singapore as a diplomat from 1968 to 1988.

He was appointed ambassador to Indonesia in 1970, shortly after the end of Konfrontasi, a period of hostilities when Indonesia opposed the formation of Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part from 1963 to 1965. Singapore had hanged two Indonesian marines in 1968 for a bombing at MacDonald House which killed three people.

Mr Lee, with his knowledge of Indonesian customs, persuaded Mr Lee Kuan Yew to wear a batik shirt on an official visit to Indonesia in 1973, and to scatter flowers over the graves of the two men. The gesture helped mend ties, and the following year, Indonesia's then President Suharto visited Singapore.

Ubin Learning Lab: $2 million learning facility opens on Pulau Ubin on 27 Feb 2016

Ubin Learning Lab to benefit environmental groups, students, researchers studying island
By Chitra Kumar, The Sunday Times, 28 Feb 2016

To help researchers, students and environmental groups study Pulau Ubin, a $2 million facility was opened yesterday on the south- western tip of the island.

Two buildings at the former Celestial resort have been refurbished to house the Ubin Living Lab.

With the completion of its first phase, the facility has meeting and seminar rooms that can accommodate about 100 people, two laboratories, a multi-purpose hall and basic accommodations.

The Ubin Living Lab is an integrated facility to support studies of heritage and rich biodiversity on the island,...
Posted by Ministry of National Development on Saturday, February 27, 2016

An additional National Parks Board (NParks) site office, a basic first-aid room and an outdoor campsite have also set up within the compound. The second and final phase will include potable water and electricity provided by renewable energy sources.

The initiatives were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014 under The Ubin Project after requests from the Friends of Ubin Network.

Public consultations were also held in which Singaporeans asked the Government to protect the island's biodiversity and enhance it natural habitats.

Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, who was at the opening ceremony, said: "Over the next few months, several exciting plans will be rolled out. Community in Nature programmes such as coastal clean-ups, field studies and nature workshops will be held here, using the Ubin Living Lab as a focal point and launch pad.

"A mangrove arboretum will also be set up by NParks and the community within Ubin Living Lab, near Sungei Puaka. Thirty-five mangrove species will be introduced as part of the ongoing reforestation efforts under the Ubin Project, of which eight are critically endangered."

Sunday 28 February 2016

Play It Forward: Youth get chance to volunteer via sport

Play It Forward initiative aims to allow them to volunteer at ActiveSG academies and clubs
By May Chen, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

Like many 17-year-olds, Tan Tuan Wang often felt like an aimless teenager, one prone to making bad decisions. That all changed after being a part of Saturday Night Lights (SNL), a football programme aimed at improving the lives of underprivileged and at-risk youth.

Three years on, he is now an assistant coach in the SportCares programme and wants to pay it forward - by "playing it forward".

The 20-year-old is signing up to be a volunteer coaching assistant under Play It Forward, an initiative that will offer young people the chance to give back through sport.

Have you been wondering what Singapore football legend Aleksandar Duric has been up to since retiring? Well, the former Tampines Rovers Football Club striker is now part of 'Play It Forward', a venture launched by National Youth Council, Singapore & Sport Singapore. What a guy!
Posted by FOX SPORTS Asia on Friday, February 26, 2016

Launched yesterday by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, it will equip youth with the skills and chance to volunteer at the various ActiveSG academies and clubs.

The first batch of volunteer coaching assistants will do so at the ActiveSG football academy under principal Aleksandar Duric, a former national footballer.

Said Tan, who will graduate from Republic Polytechnic with a diploma in sport coaching in May: "SNL helped me become a better person and make better decisions. The coaches guided me as a person and I just want to give back.

"Through the skills I got from my coaches in SNL, I can change other people's lives, be their anchor and help them make better decisions (too)."

The initiative, backed by Sport Singapore and the National Youth Council (NYC), is largely inspired by the SGfuture dialogues held so far, where sports volunteerism and the engagement of youth through sport emerged as a pet topic.

Meet the new Ah Meng: Singapore Zoo

Granddaughter Ishta picked to take on zoo icon's mantle and its name
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

The Singapore Zoo has a new ambassador, and its name is Ah Meng.

Eight years after the death of the iconic Sumatran orang utan, four-year-old Ishta was picked from its six living descendants to take on its grandmother's mantle, and its name.

Announcing the move at the zoo yesterday, Wildlife Reserves Singapore's (WRS) chief executive officer Mike Barclay said it took the zoo all this time to pick a new Ah Meng "out of respect" for the icon.

It was a long selection process, added head keeper of great apes Kumaran Sesshe. The other contenders for the role were Ah Meng's youngest son Satria, granddaughters Chomel and Endah, and great-grandsons Bino and Putra.

But granddaughter Ishta ultimately won because it shared its grandmother's traits, such as an even temperament and penchant for durians, said Mr Sesshe, 41.

The original Ah Meng, who became popular for its friendly demeanour during breakfast sessions with visitors and got to meet celebrities such as Michael Jackson during its tenure as animal ambassador, died on Feb 8, 2008, at the ripe old age of 48.

Ah Meng arrived at the zoo in 1971 after it was confiscated from a family that was keeping it illegally. Former keeper Alagappasamy Chellaiyah, 65, who cared for it from its arrival until it died, remembered his former companion fondly.

"She became a household name; people would say, 'I'm going to see Ah Meng', not 'I'm going to the zoo'.

"When she passed away, more than 4,000 people came to her funeral, which was amazing. I thought, who would want to come to an orang utan's funeral," he said, choking up.

Talcum Powder and Cancer

Talc link to ovarian cancer 'unproven'
It is used in everyday products; evidence of connection still inconclusive, say experts here
By Lin Yangchen, Geraldine Goh, Assistant Foreign Editor and Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

The link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder is still unproven, said local experts.

Concerns about products containing talc were raised this week after healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay US$72 million (S$101 million) in compensation to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using the company's products containing talc for years.

It is now facing around 1,200 lawsuits over claims that it failed to warn customers about studies that linked talc to ovarian cancer.

Local doctors say talc, a soft mineral that can be found in nature, is used in everyday products, including cosmetics, deodorants and even chewing gum.

Dr Elaine Lim, senior consultant at the National Cancer Centre Singapore's medical oncology department, said: "The evidence regarding a link between talc and ovarian cancer remains inconclusive."

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Elisa Koh explained that ovarian cancer is believed to be caused when the ovaries become inflamed, which can happen when they are irritated by a foreign substance.

"The issue is the entry of the powder through the genital tract. Using it on the chest or face is unlikely to be a problem," said Dr Koh, who works at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the use of talc-based body powder in the genital region as "possibly carcinogenic", in the middle of five categories ranging from "carcinogenic" to "probably not carcinogenic".

This means that there is limited evidence that such powder causes cancer in humans.

Face up to slower growth and productivity push: Lim Swee Say

By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

Singapore's "golden era" of galloping economic growth in the past 50 years is over, and everyone working here will have to accept slower growth while continuing to boost productivity, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

But it is not all doom and gloom, though, he stressed at a forum on tripartism, or the uniquely harmonious ties among the Government, employers and workers here.

The other stalwarts of tripartism present were economist Lim Chong Yah, founding chairman of the National Wages Council; and Singapore Airlines chairman Stephen Lee, who was president of the Singapore National Employers Federation for more than 26 years.

Mr Lim said the Government, businesses and the labour movement were in the midst of identifying skills and jobs of the future in 25 sectors of industry, so they could design better careers for most.

He also said that rapid and disruptive improvements in technology and higher automation would not necessarily lead to loss of jobs, but create even more jobs to complement newfangled machines. The aim was to shape every Singaporean as "precious human capital".

Mr Lim said that if everyone kept pursuing the sort of growth that took per capita income here from US$516 in 1965 to US$56,742 in 2014, "even if the operation is successful, the patient may be dead".

He pointed out that a country's gross domestic product has two parts - growth in the national pool of workers and the rate of productivity - and noted that the size of the Singaporean workforce would decline from now on, given the ageing population and ever-fewer births.

Household income up, with biggest rise for poorer families

Increase across all income groups amid tight labour market, higher employers' CPF rate
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

Families in all income groups in Singapore earned more last year because of the tight labour market and higher contribution rate of employers to a worker's Central Provident Fund (CPF) account, government figures show.

For employed households, the median monthly income was $8,666, a 4.9 per cent increase over 2014, after adjusting for inflation.

That means half of all families with at least one working person earned more than $8,666.

The increase in real income is even greater when the family's income is divided by the number of people in the household. It works out to 5.4 per cent per household member.

But what is most heartening in the figures released yesterday is that the rise is most significant in the bottom 30 per cent.

The biggest jump - 10.7 per cent - is for the 10 per cent of households right at the bottom. For the next 10 per cent of families, it was 8.3 per cent and above them, 7.2 per cent.

The increases are due to ongoing government schemes that boost the earnings of low-wage workers, like the Workfare Income Supplement programme.

The well-off who are in the top 10 per cent also saw a substantial income rise - 7.2 per cent.

For the rest, the increase in average incomes ranges from 5.7 per cent to 6.7 per cent.

These figures on the family income of citizens and permanent residents are from the annual Key Household Income Trends report put out by the Department of Statistics. The income growth across the board resulted in a relatively stable Gini coefficient of 0.463 last year.

Saturday 27 February 2016

Daily cleaning by students will be introduced in all schools from January 2017

A clean way to pick up good habits in schools
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2016

To instill a sense of responsibility for shared spaces, and hopefully impart good habits for life, all schools will involve their students in daily cleaning activities by the end of the year.

This was announced yesterday by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which explained that it will be left to schools - some of which already include five to 10 minutes of cleaning activities - to come up with their own programmes.

Cleaning can take place before the first lesson, or during recess, for instance, and involve the cleaning of classrooms or common areas such as corridors. But toilets will be excluded.

Cultivating Good Habits for Life through Everyday Responsibilites
Catch our Xingnan Primary School students take on classroom cleaning responsibilities together. These daily activities aim to cultivate good habits, personal and social responsibility not just in schools, but also at home.
Posted by Ministry of Education, Singapore on Friday, February 26, 2016

Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said during a visit to Xingnan Primary in Jurong West yesterday: "Getting the kids involved in such daily activities is really a good way to get them to learn personal responsibility and even social responsibility."

Ms Denise Phua, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, hopes students will learn to pick up after themselves instead of expecting others to do so.

"It gives more respect to the school cleaners when cleaning is seen as everyone's joint responsibility and not only of those who are paid to clean up after us," she said.

There were some who wondered if daily cleaning would take up too much of the students' class time.

But many who reacted to the news wrote about their own school memories of tidying up after using a classroom, and lauded the move, saying students will be able to take ownership of their shared spaces.

ERP 2.0: LTA to roll out next-generation ERP from 2020; New ERP system roll-out delayed till 2023 due to global microchip crunch

Gantries to make way for islandwide ERP by 2020
LTA awards contract; new system can charge according to actual distance travelled
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2016

Singapore has cleared the way for its next-generation Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system, which will have islandwide coverage and the ability to charge according to distance travelled.

It will be built by local company NCS and Japan's MHI Engine System, Land Transport Authority chief executive Chew Men Leong announced yesterday.

The new system will replace the current gantry-based ERP system in place since 1998. It will be rolled out from 2020.

There will be an 18-month transition period between the old and new systems, when motorists will swop their current in-vehicle unit for a sophisticated, smartphone- size on-board unit.

Among other things, this unit will be able to alert drivers of priced roads well in advance, before turn-offs to alternative routes. It will also inform them of charges and provide real-time traffic information. LTA said drivers armed with this information can better decide when to drive, which route to take or leave the car at home and take public transport instead.

The Government will foot the bill for the first on-board unit.

During the transition period, motorists can expect no change to the current charging regimen. After the transition phase, LTA will look into the option of distance-charging, as the technology is in place.

If LTA goes down that road, it could mean significantly higher ERP charges for road users with high mileages, such as taxi drivers, deliverymen and bus operators.

SkillsFuture as a National Movement - Let’s Think About It

Let’s Think About It - SkillsFuture as a National Movement
24 Feb 2016

Singaporeans are often regarded as system thinkers rather than creative people. Is our culture killing innovation? How can we become an innovative society?

Watch “Let’s Think About It” - Ang Geck Geck, Candice Ong, Izzat Ismail, Ravi Krishnan and Russell Tham will share their views and stories with DPM Tharman on Singapore’s economic challenges and how SkillsFuture can benefit Singapore and Singaporeans.

NTUC submits Budget 2016 recommendations

'Tighten rules for firms not intent on hiring Singaporeans'
NTUC's Budget proposals also call for review of Workfare and Employment Pass criteria
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 26 Feb 2016

The labour movement has called on the Government to review the criteria for Employment Passes, and to distinguish between companies committed to hiring Singaporeans and those that are not.

"This is to ensure our workers have fair opportunities at their workplaces. At the same time, the Government should tighten enforcement on companies that show no intent to develop a Singaporean core of workers," the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said yesterday.

The Labour Movement has submitted our recommendations for this year’s Budget to the Ministry of Finance. Our...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Thursday, February 25, 2016

This review should meet the varied needs of industries while giving them the incentive to build a strong Singaporean core of workers, NTUC added in its recommendations for Budget 2016, which it submitted to the Finance Ministry yesterday.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver the Budget statement in Parliament on March 24.

NTUC also called for better protection of contract and low-wage workers in its recommendations based on four themes: Strengthening the Singaporean core, improving productivity, enhancing training and skills upgrading, and improving retirement adequacy.

War between China, US highly improbable: Bilahari Kausikan

IPS-Nathan Lectures: Lecture II - US-China Relations

War is unlikely but distrust runs deep
Road to new modus vivendi will be long as powers grope forward
By Bilahari Kausikan, Published The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2016

US-China relations set the tone for East Asia: When they are stable, the region is calm; when they are roiled, the region is uneasy. In time, the same will hold true, I believe, for other regions as well. United States-China relations will certainly be a, if not the, central pillar of any new post-Cold War international order.

US-China relations are mature; it has been 44 years since president Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing transformed the global strategic landscape. US-China relations are intricately interdependent across a broad spectrum of domains. And US-China relations are infused with deep strategic distrust.

The US and China are currently groping towards a new modus vivendi with each other and the rest of East Asia. The complexity of US-China relations and hence the complexity of the adjustments between them are a large part of the uncertainties of our times.

I am not clairvoyant. My purpose here is to sketch some of the issues that will have to be confronted. In particular, I want to deal with the roots of the strategic distrust that exists between them. Unless that is understood and dealt with, no matter how well the US and China may work together on climate change or terrorism or finance or any other specific issue, a stable new equilibrium will be difficult - if not impossible - to achieve. And even if some sort of equilibrium is reached, it will be difficult to maintain.

Despite or perhaps because of their long experience of each other, US-China relations have been rife with misunderstanding. The most persistent in recent times is the notion that economic reform will lead to political reform. American attitudes towards China have oscillated between hopes and fears that perhaps say more about America than China. What is surprising is that despite persistent misunderstanding, there has been so little trouble, although when trouble ensues it has been spectacular, as during the Korean War.

Friday 26 February 2016

Singapore economy grew 2% in 2015, slowest since 2009

2% growth last year, with gloomy outlook for 2016
MTI warns of manufacturing woes, growing global risks, and expects lower wage growth
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2016

The Singapore economy grew at a modest pace last year, but things could take a turn for the worse this year, with an increasingly bleak outlook.

Risks to growth are rising, with the global economic outlook growing gloomier since the start of the year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said yesterday.

MTI also warned that the solid wage growth enjoyed by Singaporeans last year is unlikely to be repeated this year, with the tight labour market likely to see some slackening ahead.

Last year, the economy grew a modest 2 per cent, the weakest rate of growth since 2009, and down from 2014's 3.3 per cent expansion, data from MTI showed yesterday.

The economy expanded at just 1.8 per cent in the last three months of last year, lower than the previous estimate of 2 per cent, as the manufacturing sector contracted further.

Growth this year is likely to stay within the 1 per cent to 3 per cent range, said MTI.

The sober message from MTI prompted several private sector economists to cut their forecasts for this year.

Half of new HDB flats in 2016 to be in mature estates: Lawrence Wong

9,000 flats in mature estates for 2016
Half of all new public flats offered this year will be in mature estates, to help meet high demand for these locations.
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits  Times, 25 Feb 2016

This means that around 9,000 Build-To-Order (BTO) flats will be launched in towns such as Ang Mo Kio, Bedok and Bukit Merah, where amenities and transport nodes are usually better developed.

But National Development Minister Lawrence Wong also explained that the Housing Board cannot continue to add to mature estates because space is a constraint.

Speaking yesterday at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, he said: "We are trying to do more for mature estates because we know that there is demand. So, this year, we are going to have about half of the flats set aside for mature estates and half for non-mature.

"That is already a higher proportion than it used to be."

New flats in mature estates made up about a third of the 15,100 BTO units launched last year.

"In the longer term, the majority of flats will still have to be in the non-mature estates," said Mr Wong, who was speaking to reporters after visiting HDB's revamped sales atrium and showflat gallery.

"Flats (in mature estates) are very popular, and there is not much space (there) to build new flats. So, there will always be more demand than there is supply."

Minister Wong's visit to the Refurbished HDB Sales Atrium & My...
During his visit to the refurbished Housing & Development Board's Sales Atrium, Minister Lawrence Wong shared about our efforts to help extended families stay together by providing larger flat options in mature estates. In the February 2016 BTO exercise launched yesterday, 70 3Gen flats in the Alkaff Oasis BTO project will be on sale. He also encouraged first-timers to opt for flats in the non-mature estates as the success rate is higher, and are more affordable for them too. For more info on the latest BTO launch:
Posted by Ministry of National Development on Thursday, February 25, 2016

HDB yesterday put up 4,170 BTO flats for sale, including 1,594 flats in Bidadari, located in the mature estate of Toa Payoh.

Some 1,655 flats in Bukit Batok and 921 units in Sengkang are also on offer.

The deadline for applications is next Tuesday.

Portraits of Love: 40 years between photos for couple

Home nursing service project takes portraits of patients with loved ones
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2016

Until recently, the only formal photograph that Madam Qui Jok Poh had with her husband, Mr Khoo Piak Choon, was taken more than 40 years ago on their wedding day.

Now, the couple, both in their 70s, have a new photo together, thanks to an initiative by the Home Nursing Foundation (HNF).

Since August last year, the voluntary welfare organisation has been working with photographer Kelvin Lim to take portraits of patients with their loved ones.

During the Chinese New Year week, the foundation delivered framed prints of these photos, enlarged to around A4-size, to the families.

The project, called Portraits of Love, is aimed at giving patients something to treasure and take their minds off their illnesses.

"When we visited them, we noticed that they tended to have very few photos," said Ms Agnes Ho, manager of communications and development at HNF. "Whatever pictures they had were treasured by them."

Madam Qui, 75, said: "We're too busy with other things and we're old. We haven't taken a photo in many years."

Ms Ho said that they met some initial resistance from older patients, who thought that they were having funeral pictures taken.

Those who were won over, however, got the royal treatment as the foundation enlisted the aid of volunteer make-up artists to help their clients look their best.

"For many of them, it was the first time they were pampered like that," Ms Ho said. "They were very happy."

S$3 billion national ageing action plan officially launched

By Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 25 Feb 2016

Seniors in at least 50 neighbourhoods can look forward to visits and calls by community befrienders, as part of an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.

The full report of the S$3 billion plan, which was first announced last August, was officially launched on Wednesday (Feb 24) by Senior Minister of State (Health) Amy Khor.

Calling ageing the most important demographic shift here, Dr Khor, who spoke at an SGfuture dialogue session, said the plan will enable the Government to build Singapore into the best home to age in.

There are over 70 initiatives under the plan across 12 areas spanning health and wellness, volunteerism, housing and employment, among others, to be achieved over the next 10 to 15 years.

Giving an update on some of the initiatives on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said the community befriending programme, was piloted in three neighbourhoods, and will expand to at least 12 neighbourhoods this year, “to keep social isolation and poor health at bay among vulnerable seniors”.

The ministry plans to work with voluntary welfare and grassroots organisations to recruit volunteers in at least 50 neighbourhoods.

Void deck railings to stop ball games

Complaints by residents prompt action by town council
By Yeo Sam Jo, Alexis Ong and Rachel Chia YT, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2016

A set of barriers that caused confusion among residents of a Queenstown Housing Board block when they were installed at its void deck were set up to stop football being played, Tanjong Pagar Town Council clarified yesterday.

Three railings, each around 3.5m long, were erected across the void deck at Block 143 Mei Ling Street last Saturday, leaving residents scratching their heads and wondering what they had been put there for.

One Facebook user posted a photograph of them and wrote: "(This) space, originally filled with so much potential for use and creativity, is now effectively transformed into a dead space."

The town council's public relations manager, Ms Shirley Aloysius, told The Straits Times the bars had been installed after complaints were received about football being played there. As well as causing noise, it also resulted in dirty walls and damaged light fittings.

The miscreants were told to stop playing football, as it was not allowed in the area, but to no avail.

"Upon discussion with (MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chia Shi-Lu) and the Residents' Committee (RC), we installed the barricades... to discourage football activities.

"We would like to encourage our residents who wish to play ball games to use the proper amenities which are available nearby."

Such bars can also be found at other multi-purpose halls and void decks in Strathmore Avenue, Mei Ling Street, Stirling Road and Commonwealth Drive. But Ms Aloysius stressed that these barriers are removable in the event of weddings and funerals, which often take place at these spaces.

People’s Association updates training on financial management

Courses for grassroots leaders enhanced after lapses were flagged by Auditor-General
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2016

Volunteers who manage public funds in constituencies across Singapore can now tap on a new course to get them familiar with procedures and discuss challenges they might face.

This improved course on financial management for grassroots leaders was among several new programmes announced by People's Association deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

It comes in the wake of a report by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) last July that identified lapses in financial procedures, tender contracts and related-party transactions in several grassroots bodies.

Mr Chan visited the West Coast campus of the National Community Leadership Institute (NACLI) in Buona Vista to observe several of the courses yesterday.

He also told reporters that new measures to improve financial management have been put in place.

These include simplifying many of the accounting processes and putting more focus on training.

NACLI, which is the PA's training arm, aims to offer 1,000 courses this year, up from 900 last year. Some 250 are new, while another 350 will have their curricula enhanced.

Many of the new and enhanced programmes, which range in length from half a day to two days, feature scenario-based training and small discussion groups that include both grassroots leaders and constituency office staff.

Thursday 25 February 2016

No collusion in petrol pricing: Competitive Commission of Singapore

Wholesale fuel and petrol pump prices aligned: Study
Competition Commission says statistics over six-year period also reveal no price collusion
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2016

Petrol pump prices have moved in tandem with wholesale fuel prices, according to a study by the Competition Commission of Singapore.

Based on data from Jan 1, 2010 to Jan 31 this year, the study found that while cost changes are not passed on entirely or immediately to consumers, there was "no significant" difference in time taken for rises or falls to filter to the pumps.

It noted that pump prices are influenced more by wholesale fuel prices rather than prices of crude oil, as the latter is a raw material which has not yet been processed.

During the period reviewed, every 10-cent change in wholesale fuel price resulted in a seven-cent change in pump prices.

Between June 2014 and this January - when crude prices fell by 67 per cent (or 59 Singapore cents per litre) - the wholesale petrol price fell by 53 per cent (52 cents), and the pre-discounted price of 95-octane petrol fell by 15 per cent (35 cents).

After discounts, rebates and February 2015's increase in petrol duty were stripped out, the 95-octane petrol price fell by 24 per cent (45 cents) in the period.

The commission said it did the study in response to public queries on why petrol prices did not seem to have fallen in tandem with crude oil price changes.

NEA to step up efforts to tackle rat problem amid rising complaints

Agency received more complaints last year than in 2014, amid greater public concern
By Chitra Kumar, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2016

Singapore's rat problem is showing no signs of letting up.

About 6,700 complaints were received by the National Environment Agency (NEA) last year, up from around 4,000 in 2014.

The number of food outlet inspections also rose from around 140,000 in 2014 to about 148,000 last year, while enforcement actions were taken against over 190 owners, up from 80.

The NEA, which revealed the figures this week, plans to boost efforts to treat detected rat burrows, including those that fall under the responsibility of other agencies.

Other measures are also being considered, though no details have been given.

The public has been growing increasingly concerned about the rodent problem since a rat infestation near Bukit Batok MRT station in December 2014 and the discovery of a dead rat in a vegetable dish at a Chinese restaurant in Marina Square just over a year ago.

Star Control Pest saw its rat-control work increase by 25 per cent last year.

Its general manager Bernard Chan, 46, told The Straits Times: "In the past, when people and businesses talked about rats, they showed less concern.

"The Bukit Batok incident drew a lot of attention. Our customers are now showing more concern, especially after that Bukit Batok incident and the one at Marina Square."

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Singaporeans urged to be more security conscious: DPM Teo

Security agencies will work over the next few months to raise awareness of threats: DPM
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2016

Even though Singapore's security agencies will continue to watch over the Republic's key installations, they cannot be everywhere to protect the "soft targets" that terrorists are increasingly eyeing, like schools and shopping centres.

Singaporeans themselves must be more "security conscious" and aware of the threats to look out for, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. In the event of a terror attack, they should know how to protect themselves and their loved ones.

He said during a visit to a key installation yesterday that security agencies here will work together over the next few months to heighten Singaporeans' awareness of threats.

Their timely response can help contain or mitigate the consequences of an attack, reducing the damage and casualties, he told reporters yesterday, after visiting citizen soldiers deployed to patrol Jurong Island, the main location for the country's petrochemical industry.

"These are important critical moments, sometimes even before the security forces can arrive," added Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security.

With recent attacks in innocuous places such as outside a Jakarta cafe and inside a Parisian threatre, Mr Teo urged Singaporeans to "expect the unexpected" and be prepared.

"The realisation that such a threat exists is already quite widespread in Singapore. But we want people to understand the nature of the threat and how it can affect them even in their daily lives, when they least expect it," said Mr Teo.

CPIB Corruption Reporting Centre to open in Whitley

By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2016

A Corruption Reporting Centre is set to open in December in Whitley, near Stevens MRT station, to make it more convenient for the public to report suspected corruption cases.

The centre, part of moves announced earlier by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to keep corruption at bay in Singapore, will be located at the premises of the Whitley Neighbourhood Police Post.

The police post will cease operations from next Monday to facilitate the handover of the premises located at 247 Whitley Road, said the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the police yesterday.

A CPIB spokesman told The Straits Times: "The upcoming Corruption Reporting Centre is situated in a convenient and accessible location outside of the CPIB headquarters to encourage members of the public to walk in and make corruption complaints."

Currently, the public can lodge corruption reports at the CPIB headquarters in Lengkok Bahru near Redhill, call its 24-hour hotline on 1800-376-0000, or go to its website at They can still report suspected cases in these ways after the new centre opens.

CPIB's Heritage Gallery - now at the headquarters - will be located within the 155 sq m Corruption Reporting Centre, to allow the public to learn more about corruption matters as well as the history of Singapore's fight against graft.

Currently, visitors who want to tour the gallery at the headquarters have to make an appointment, but they will be able to just walk in when the new centre opens.