Thursday 31 March 2016

NKF to build $12m mega dialysis centre in Jurong; Newest dialysis centre in Jurong West offers nocturnal dialysis

It will offer 24-hour dialysis, boosting access for patients and easing load of other centres
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2016

To cope with rapidly rising kidney failure numbers here, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is building its largest dialysis centre - a $12 million complex in Jurong with 24-hour dialysis, dedicated to kidney care.

The new facility, 10 times the size of regular centres, is expected to have 200 dialysis stations and will cater to 2,000 patients a week, taking the load off the foundation's 29 other centres - particularly those in the west that are nearly full.

Adding a night dialysis slot enables centres to expand capacity, and also makes going for dialysis more convenient for patients with busy day jobs.

NKF is the main dialysis provider here, and nearly all of its 3,800 or so patients have high blood pressure, while three-quarters have diabetes. Both conditions are on the rise in Singapore, and are also leading causes of kidney failure here.

According to the latest Singapore Renal Registry Report, there were 5,521 people on dialysis in 2013, up from 5,244 the year before. It is the only option apart from a transplant, and patients must undergo the procedure for life.

Apart from dialysis, the Corporation Road complex, likely to open in phases starting next year, will teach patients how to carry out peritoneal dialysis - a special form of dialysis that can be done at home.

Plans for the centre were announced by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday, at the opening of the NKF's first 24-hour dialysis centre in Jurong West, which gives patients more flexibility to choose when they want treatment.

Of the yet-to-open facility, he said it "will greatly expand access to subsidised haemodialysis services to the renal patients in the western region".

He noted, too, that NKF must go beyond offering dialysis services and tackle the problem at its root, through better education and prevention programmes to curb the onset of kidney diseases.

Robotics can help transform Singapore's SMEs, says Iswaran

By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2016

Robotics solutions - which received a big boost in Budget 2016 - may help transform Singapore's small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the economy restructures, but the process will require more than just the technology.

The adoption of robotics still needs cultivation among SMEs, while some workers will need reskilling to move up the value chain in a more automated economy, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said yesterday.

"Robotics is interesting as it can be applied in different industries... We want to see how some of these solutions can be incorporated into our existing businesses, partly as a solution for productivity, partly also to allow them to pursue new types of opportunities," he said when visiting Aitech Robotics and Automation in JTC's CleanTech Park.

"What we want is to find ways for SMEs to be able to adopt the technology. But SME owners have to first understand what is the potential, and then for them to cross the Rubicon and try it."

Alongside abundant government grants, one way to encourage wider adoption of robotics technology is to have a leasing model, where SMEs can acquire the technology at a lower cost, Mr Iswaran suggested.

His visit to Aitech came days after Budget 2016 included a $450 million expansion to the National Robotics Programme.

The initiative underpins the Government's push to make automation the centrepiece of Singapore's economic transformation.

Made in Singapore, plugged into the world

Manufacturing in Singapore is not an outmoded sector. Instead, it is a job multiplier and can be a source of innovation as well as a vital way to plug the Republic into the global manufacturing network.
By Arnoud De Meyer, Published The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2016

For more than 30 years of my professional career, I have been passionate about manufacturing.

I love factories, how to streamline and operate them, how to automate them, how to enhance the quality of their output, and how to make the logistics flow smoother. But over dinner conversations in Singapore, I am often asked why this country still needs a robust manufacturing sector. Would it not be better for Singapore to become a pure services economy? As only slightly more than 15per cent of the world's GDP is generated by manufacturing, would it not be better to leave that to China, India, Vietnam and other countries with low labour costs?

My answer is a resounding no!

Manufacturing accounts for 20 per cent of Singapore's GDP. I am deeply convinced that we need to keep it that way, if not increase it.

Why? I see three good reasons.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

K Shanmugam at NTU Ministerial Forum 2016

Four key challenges for Singapore in next 50 years
Shanmugam cites balancing of Budget, an ageing population, competition, terrorism
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2016

Four key challenges confront Singapore in the next 50 years, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

These are: balancing financial prudence with higher social spending, a rapidly ageing population that does not replace itself, competition from abroad and terrorism.

Speaking to students at a forum in Nanyang Technological University, where he also answered questions on a range of issues, Mr Shanmugam outlined the "sobering reality" that the Government has in recent years been spending more than it collects.

This, he added, is possible because earlier generations of Singaporeans had saved enough, allowing the Government to tap on the income derived from investments.

He noted that whenever the Budget comes around, MPs, whether from the People's Action Party or the opposition, will "stand up and talk about how the Government should be spending more, because that is popular".

But he added: "Always ask yourself, every time a proposal is put forward, where is the money going to come from? Who is going to pay for it?" He warned the students that their generation will end up having to pay more taxes to clear the debt.

Singapore is one of the fastest greying populations in the world.

Besides raising healthcare costs, an ageing population will affect the country's economic vibrancy and tax base, and result in fewer young people available for a defence force.

Mr Shanmugam shared a news article on how adult diapers will soon outsell baby nappies in Japan, and noted that Singapore is ageing even faster than Japan.

Abroad, Singapore faces both regional and global competition, with many countries trying to eat its lunch, he said. Whether it is Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong vying to be the next top financial hub, Thailand trying to overtake Singapore as the region's largest air hub, or countries like Indonesia and Malaysia moving up the petrochemical value chain, Singapore cannot afford to take its position in the world for granted.

On terrorism, he said the Government views the threat of a terror attack as the highest it has ever been for Singapore.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Chan Chun Sing - 有话要说

27 Mar 2016

有话要说2 - Hear Me Out S2

总理公署部长兼职总秘书长陈振声 Chan Chun Sing 在节目中,回忆在单亲家庭成长的经历和童年趣事.


Singapore's future according to Lee Kuan Yew

By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew was asked how he wanted to be judged by history, he replied: "Ah, history... I'm dead by then."

That was during an interview in 2009 with the authors of the book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going.

I remembered thinking at the time that it was so like him: unsentimental to the end, and dead right.

But though he didn't want to dwell on what that judgment might be, he had plenty to say about the future of this place after his death.

And we the authors were very keen at the time to get him to talk about it, pressing him about this scenario and that.

How did he see Singapore's politics changing? How long would the People's Action Party be able to remain in power? How might its demise occur? What will happen in 10, 20 or 50 years from now?

He had agreed to do the book with us because he wanted his views to reach as many people as possible, but especially younger Singaporeans, never mind if they agreed with him or not.

So, on the first anniversary of his death, I thought it fitting to put together those views, not about what he had achieved, but the future which he was so concerned with in his later years.

Some of the following extracts were said in different parts of the year-long interviews we had with him, but for the purpose of this piece, I have edited and put them together.

I think he would have wanted Singaporeans to reflect on what he had to say.

What goes on in Parliament?

By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2016

Singapore has an international reputation as a country where there is strong rule of law. Singaporeans are also known as a law-abiding bunch, and there is even the Singlish phrase "law by law" to describe the tendency here to meticulously follow the rules.

But where do these laws come from in the first place?

Parliament is where the laws of the land are proposed, debated and approved. However, the House, as the august chamber is referred to, performs other important functions as well in holding the Government accountable for its actions and spending.


Members of Parliament are elected at general elections that take place every five years or so. There are currently 89 seats for elected MPs, of which 82 are held by the ruling People's Action Party and six by the opposition Workers' Party. One seat is currently vacant after the sudden resignation of a PAP MP earlier this month.

Singapore's parliamentary framework, adopted from Britain and known as the Westminster system, has evolved over the years to include other categories of MPs.

Civic District Tree Trail to be launched by NParks on 1 May 2016

New avenue of 22 heritage rain trees unveiled as part of upcoming civic district tree trail
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2016

They watched over Singapore long before its independence from the British, and some even date from the 19th century.

Now, some of the Civic District's trees - such as the angsana and rain tree - are to get greater recognition as part of a 3km-long Civic District Tree Trail to be launched by the National Parks Board (NParks) on May 1.

It will include monthly guided walks and markers at all 20 stops along the route, which starts at the entrance of the Istana and ends at the Raffles' Landing Site.

Among the highlights of the trail is an avenue of 22 heritage rain trees in Connaught Drive which was unveiled in a ceremony officiated by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee yesterday, in conjunction with Car-Free Sunday.

It is the largest number of trees in a single avenue to be endorsed under NParks' heritage tree scheme, which identifies important green landmarks.

More than 250 trees have been selected since the scheme was launched in 2001. They were evaluated by a panel that includes NParks staff and landscape experts, based on criteria such as their rarity, size, health and social, cultural or historical significance.

Some of the heritage rain trees in Connaught Drive date back to the mid-1880s and have witnessed key events in the district, including Singapore's declaration of independence from the British by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1963, and Singapore's first National Day celebrations in 1966.

Monday 28 March 2016

Terror strike ‘only a matter of time’ say Singaporeans in survey

3 in 4 Singaporeans believe terror strike here 'only a matter of time'
Changi Airport seen as likeliest target
By Danson Cheong, Benjamin Tan and Rebecca Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

Three in four Singaporeans believe that it is only a matter of time before the country comes under a terror attack, with Changi Airport the likeliest target. But a third of people surveyed worry that not enough is being done to prepare its citizens for the eventuality.

These figures came out of a Sunday Times poll last week of 500 people across all ages and demographics who were surveyed at locations across the island, including transport hubs, shopping areas and Changi Airport.

The survey was carried out after a coordinated attack in the Belgian capital of Brussels killed 31 people and injured 300. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives in the departure lounge of Brussels airport, before a third blew himself up on the subway at the end of rush hour.

Nearly nine in 10 of those The Sunday Times spoke to had heard of the attacks in Brussels, and most were worried of something similar happening here, pointing to Singapore's position as a travel and business hub for Asia, and its support for the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS).

Some also highlighted how ISIS has already hit close to home by attacking Indonesia, and that members of the jihadist group had also been arrested across the Causeway while planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Malaysia.

When asked, those surveyed said they were most worried about attacks on "soft targets". Around 130 highlighted tourist attractions such as Sentosa, while 183 thought MRT stations and bus interchanges could be targeted. Over 200 each pointed at Singapore's financial district or its malls, especially those along Orchard Road. But nearly half of those surveyed believed Changi Airport would be the likeliest target.

Singapore Flight Information Region: Safety First in managing airspace

By Barry Desker, Published The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2016

The Straits Times reprinted the article "A strange anomaly in management of airspace" (March 21) by Chappy Hakim, former Indonesian air force chief, which appeared in the Indonesian- language newspaper Kompas on March 14. He argued that Indonesia must reclaim the airspace over the Riau Islands currently managed by Singapore as a matter of sovereignty, pride and nationalism.

Although Mr Chappy acknowledged that Europe Flight Information Regions (FIRs) crossed national boundaries, he exclaimed that "we are not Europe".

Mr Chappy's comments display a fundamental misunderstanding of the international system of FIRs established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which has been in operation since 1946. ICAO has emphasised safety of navigation in periodic discussions on re-aligning FIRs. Sovereignty has not been the key issue. Mr Chappy's argument is ironic as Indonesia manages the airspace over Australian-owned Christmas Island and independent Timor Leste.

Just a year ago, Indonesian Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan had said that Indonesia was not ready to take over the management of airspace above Riau and Riau Islands provinces from Singapore because of limited resources and the huge investment needed to do so.

"It (the takeover of the airspace) is a safety issue. We will take it over when we are ready, but currently we are not ready," he said in Batam, Riau Islands, on March 13 last year, as reported in The Jakarta Post.

Indonesian commentators are often mistakenly under the impression that Singapore retains the revenue from managing the airspace. In reality, the agreement between Singapore and Indonesia provides for Indonesia to receive the revenue collected by Singapore in air navigation charges on civil flights over Indonesian airspace delegated to Singapore.

Physical and verbal abuse against nurses 'on the rise'

Many such cases tend to happen at A&E and intensive care units, where emotions run high
By Linette Lai, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

When one of her patients began to throw a tantrum - shouting and banging her head against the walls - 31-year-old nurse Nur stepped in to try and calm her down.

But the hysterical woman kicked her in the chest, leaving her winded and shaken for the rest of the day.

Incidents like these are not uncommon, said Ms Nur, who declined to give her full name.

In her 14 years as a nurse, she has seen colleagues bitten, slapped and punched at work - both by patients and their family members. "This is something we didn't talk about at school, and it can be quite traumatising for young nurses," she said. "Even verbal abuse just spoils your day and lowers your morale, but you still have to carry on with the shift."

Worryingly, nurses who spoke to The Sunday Times said they felt such incidents of verbal and physical abuse are on the rise.

All of them said they had been on the receiving end of such abuse before, and that roughly four in 10 patients are likely to raise their voices against healthcare staff.

Last November, local medical journal Annals Academy of Medicine also published an editorial estimating that seven in 10 healthcare workers have faced physical abuse, and that there is generally "significant under-reporting" in this area.

Those at greater risk tend to be young and female, as well as front- line staff who come into contact with patients more frequently.

A taste of life in an 'HDB-style' dorm for foreign workers

Aw Cheng Wei spends four days and three nights staying in a Woodlands foreign worker dormitory with an HDB apartment theme to get a sense of the workers' living conditions and find out how they spend their time.
The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

In a part of Woodlands overlooking the Sembawang River, two high-rise blocks offer three-bedroom apartments and amenities ranging from basketball courts to a gym and supermarket.

Woodlands Westlite is almost like a Housing Board estate and is populated by people of three dominant nationalities - Indian, Bangladeshi and Chinese. Others include Thai and Myanmar nationals.

Its 2,500 residents live in apartments that are like four-room HDB flats, with four sleeping in each of the three bedrooms, and sharing a living room, two toilets and a kitchen. At most purpose-built foreign-worker dormitories here, more than 10 workers sleep in one room.

Woodlands Westlite, which was completed last July, is one of the larger and better-equipped dormitories for foreign workers here.

The HDB apartment theme is a new concept that Westlite, one of Singapore's biggest dormitory operators, is trying out, said dormitory manager Robert Lau.

Having four workers to a room allows more privacy, he said, and is aimed at helping those who work in shifts. "Whenever a worker comes back from his shift, he can turn on the lights without disturbing too many of his co-workers," he said.

Earlier this month, the dorm opened its doors to The Sunday Times and allowed this reporter to stay there for four days.

Singapore most expensive city for expatriates

Expats go local to get the most out of Singapore
Earlier this month, this country was for the third year in a row ranked the most expensive city in the world for expats. While many say that with budgeting, living here is quite affordable, some have found that trying to emulate their life back home can get costly.
By Ng Huiwen and Dominic Teo, The Sunday Times, 27 Mar 2016

The cost of high-end housing, private schools and cars may be sky high in Singapore, but for many expatriates, going "local" makes living here quite affordable.

And that means eating at hawker centres, buying groceries from wet markets and eschewing private transport for trains and buses.

This is what many of them told The Sunday Times when asked about Singapore's thrice-awarded title of being the most expensive city in the world for expatriates.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the research and analysis division of British media firm The Economist Group, produces the worldwide cost of living survey to help firms come up with compensation packages and allowances for expatriates and business travellers.

It takes into account more than 400 individual prices across 160 products and services in calculating its cost of living index.

Singapore has placed top since 2014, and was ranked first again in the latest report earlier this month, ahead of Zurich and Hong Kong, which shared second place, with Geneva coming in third.

The Singapore Government responded to this with a detailed post on its website to explain why the country was top of the chart.

A key reason was the Singapore dollar's strong appreciation against the United States dollar in the last decade, and the type of upmarket goods that the survey takes into account, such as filet mignon and international newspapers.

It also reported that the prices quoted by the EIU for many products and services were far more than what Singaporeans typically pay.

Expats whom The Sunday Times spoke to said the cost of living depends on the lifestyle they choose.

Italian Joe Galeotti, a 48-year-old hairstylist, added: "You can either have a meal for less than $10 at the foodcourt or $200 at a restaurant... I choose the former as it makes more sense to me to eat Asian food when I'm in an Asian country."

Many said they have fallen in love with Singapore's public transport.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Budget 2016: Partnering for the Future

Singapore Budget 2016


Budget to 'build our future together': Heng Swee Keat
Prudent plan balances focused relief for households and firms with longer-term goal of preparing them for future
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The first Budget of the Government's new term was unveiled yesterday - a prudent plan that balanced targeted relief for companies and households with the longer-term objective of getting them future-ready.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, delivering his maiden Budget, set the tone early on in his relatively compact speech. With SG50 celebrations over, it was time to plan for Singapore's next 50 years, he said.

On the economic front, this means not just helping firms and industries ride out current economic uncertainties but, more importantly, transforming them through deeper innovation and collaborations.

Workers, who will have to adapt to changing job demands, will get further help to learn new skills, and the most vulnerable households will get enhanced support to ensure they do not get left behind. "Core for us to succeed is the spirit of partnership," declared Mr Heng, who circled back often to this theme. "Together, we are weaving a rich tapestry - each thread a different colour and texture, but woven together to give strength and resilience to our economy and our society."

Mr Heng acknowledged that firms are facing tough conditions, from rising costs to slowing export demand. But while the outlook is subdued, he noted that the economy is still expected to grow. "We must not let pessimism take hold, lest it creates self-fulfilling expectations. The Government will continue to monitor the situation, and stands ready to act if conditions warrant."

Nonetheless, he announced a package of measures to provide smaller companies with some short-term relief, such as raising the corporate income tax rebate from 30 to 50 per cent and a new scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) borrow working capital more easily.

But firms hoping for further delays to foreign worker levy hikes would mostly have been disappointed - he deferred levy increases for work permit holders in only the marine and process sectors, for a year.

Mr Heng stressed that even as firms navigate the current uncertainties, they must keep their eye on the future. "The global economic landscape is changing, and our challenges are pressing. We have a narrow window. We must find every opportunity to transform, to emerge stronger in the coming years."

Thursday 24 March 2016

Preparing for the economy of the future

By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

On paper, the national SkillsFuture drive - which will help chart the next phase of Singapore's development - gets top marks for preparing Singaporeans for constant change.

Many of the jobs available today, such as social media specialists, Uber drivers and market research data miners, were unheard of a decade ago. Similarly, some jobs today may not exist in 10 years' time.

In the push for an innovation-driven economy, it is commendable that the Government is taking bold steps to help young Singaporeans to explore their passions, and to upgrade the skills of the adults throughout life, regardless of starting points.

Currently, there is a plethora of initiatives introduced under the SkillsFuture umbrella, aimed at developing deep skills and lifelong learning in Singaporeans, whether they are in school, mid-career or in their silver years.

Putting programmes in place is the relatively easy part of dealing with change. The tough part is changing mindsets.

Last November, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum that it is not a matter of Government initiatives and training schemes, but a matter of culture - taking pride in mastery.

He added that Singapore needs to change its education culture - to move away from an obsession with children's grades and focus more on giving them diverse experiences.

For decades, the conventional route for many young Singaporeans has been to secure a place at a recognised university and graduate with a good degree, and end the journey with a stable job with a decent starting salary.

The misguided pursuit to be like North Europe

By Nitin Pangarkar, Published The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

The groundswell of support for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign in the United States, particularly among college-age students, has opened up some interesting possibilities and debates.

Mr Sanders' campaign is centred on his ambitious agenda to make the American economic system more like that of Northern European countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. It is a cause that has struck a chord on US campuses and rattled the campaign of Mrs Hillary Clinton, the widely expected shoe-in for the Democratic nomination.

Apparently, the millennials in the US are fed up with the income inequality resulting from the capitalist system and hence are drawn to Mr Sanders' ideas. Throughout its history, the US has been loath to even use the word welfare, let alone become a welfare state, hence it chooses the term entitlements (over welfare payments) instead.

Over the last few years, the Northern European system has received much admiration, including in Singapore. In fact, several Singaporeans have asked me, why can't Singapore be like Sweden? Unfortunately this pursuit of the Northern European economic model is based on a number of misconceptions and incomplete information.

SMRT accident on 22 March 2016: 2 maintenance staff killed on tracks near Pasir Ris station

Safety lapse in track accident, says SMRT
Trains should have been stopped from going into sector where track work was being done
By Adrian Lim and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2016

A day after two of its trainees were hit and killed by an oncoming train just outside Pasir Ris station, SMRT has disclosed that a key safety procedure was not followed.

The rail operator revealed yesterday that a group of 15 technicians, including the victims, failed to notify a station signal unit that they were stepping back onto the track.

That meant a train travelling at 60kmh on an automatic mode was not diverted to an alternate platform or told to stop. The driver applied emergency brakes when he saw staff on the track, but it was too late.

"We take responsibility and apologise for the tragic accident," SMRT added in its statement released yesterday evening. This came just hours after Mr Nasrulhudin Najumudin, 26, and Mr Muhammad Asyraf Ahmad Buhari, 24, were buried at the Muslim cemetery in Lim Chu Kang.

SMRT said it has established a team to evaluate all workplace safety procedures and instituted mandatory work-team level safety reviews.

Tuesday's incident, which saw the station closed for three hours, left many puzzled on how the men could have been hit. SMRT had said initially that procedures were followed. The men, who were investigating a possible fault with a point machine used for trains to change tracks, were walking single-file on a 0.5m-wide access walkway alongside the track, and facing the direction of oncoming trains as they were supposed to. But after "carrying out investigations round the clock", SMRT yesterday revealed more on what had happened.

Brussels attacks: Airport, subway hit by blasts; dozens dead

ISIS claims responsibility for strikes; Belgium releases photo of three suspects at airport
By Tan Dawn Wei, In London, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

Brussels was rocked by multiple blasts that left nearly three dozen people dead yesterday, casting a pall over Europe as countries scrambled to tighten security at home.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called it "a black day" and raised the country's terror alert to the highest level after explosions tore through the international airport and a busy metro station, killing 34 people and wounding 187.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came four days after the capture in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, wanted for his suspected role in the Nov 13 attacks in Paris that were also claimed by ISIS.

The Belgian authorities released a picture of three suspects at the airport pushing trolleys with suitcases.

The first two blasts ripped through the main terminal at Brussels Airport just before 8am (3pm in Singapore), bringing down a ceiling near check-in counters. Witnesses spoke of panic and gruesome scenes of dismembered bodies.

"A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast," airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told Agence France-Presse. About an hour later, a third blast hit commuters at Maelbeek station, which is close to European Union offices.

"Our fears have become reality," said Mr Michel, confirming that the airport attack was a suicide bombing and calling on his people to "show calmness and solidarity".

Analysts were quick to suggest that yesterday's bombings could be a retaliatory attack. During last Friday's raid, police said they uncovered a large number of weapons and believed that Abdeslam was planning more attacks from Brussels.

Brussels shut its public transport network after the blasts.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: One Year On

Nation to remember Lee Kuan Yew today
Tree-planting, forum among events to commemorate his death one year on
By Charissa Yong and Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

Across Singapore, events from tree-planting ceremonies to an academic forum and a morning walk take on special significance today.

They are among the activities planned by various groups to commemorate the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at age 91 this day last year.

Organisers said these events are meant to celebrate his life as a reminder to Singaporeans of what it took for modern Singapore to be built, and what it will take to ensure the country's success.

Singapore Polytechnic student Fu Kah Deng, 19, hopes they will be "a call to action for Singaporeans to work hard", in keeping with what Mr Lee stood for.

At a remembrance ceremony that will start at 11am at The Arts House, past and present MPs will pay tribute to Mr Lee by remembering the values he stood for and the principles he upheld in Parliament.

The venue - home to Singapore's Legislative Assembly which Mr Lee entered in 1955, and to its Parliament from 1965 to 1999 - was where Mr Lee delivered many of his fiery speeches as an assemblyman and, later, as Prime Minister.

In Tanjong Pagar, the constituency Mr Lee represented for nearly 60 years until his death last year, residents and grassroots leaders will gather at Tanjong Pagar Community Club this evening to share their thoughts on Mr Lee and their aspirations for Singapore.

Vera Ang, 11, is among those slated to speak and she plans to talk about Mr Lee's "spirit of standing firm".

Pupils at Mr Lee's alma mater, Telok Kurau Primary, will also pay tribute to him. A special assembly will be held in his honour at the school he attended from 1930 to 1935.

At night, a group of volunteers, brought together by People's Action Party supporters, plans to hand out electric candles to passers-by across from the Padang, where over 450,000 people queued for hours last year to pay their last respects to Mr Lee.

There will also be exhibitions at various museums. A new video installation by local film-maker Royston Tan will be screened at National Museum. It showcases photographs of Singaporeans during last year's week of national mourning. Also on display is an artillery shell casing from the 21-gun salute fired during Mr Lee's state funeral procession.

A selection of the more than 1.3 million tributes - including letters, notes, cards and artworks - that poured in after his death will be put up at the National Library.

"It's not common for Singapore to celebrate an individual this way, and it shouldn't be a spectacle," said National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Nhor Sharafina Sarfrazul, 22. "But Mr Lee was someone who did a lot for the country and there is a need to remember him."

US astronaut tweets shot of Singapore from space

How does Singapore look when viewed from space?
By Lee Min Kok, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2016

US astronaut Tim Kopra had a unique perspective of Singapore and he did not hesitate to share it.

From 420km up and at a speed of about 28,000kmh, the current commander of the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) snapped the little red dot, then tweeted the photo. Mr Kopra's tweet last Saturday - with the hashtag #CitiesfromSpace - has since been retweeted 980 times, collecting over 2,400 likes.

The night image depicts Singapore as an intricate network of yellow lights. Several large areas, including the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, are shrouded in darkness.

The 52-year-old, who assumed command of the ISS last December for Expeditions 46 and 47, has also tweeted night photos of Beijing, New Delhi, New York and Dubai. His day photo collection includes shots of Rio de Janeiro and California.

NUS tops Asia again in latest QS university ranking 2016

It is region's best university in 25 subjects; NTU is first in Asia for materials science
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2016

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has yet again emerged as Asia's best performing university, in the latest university ranking by the London-based education consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) released today.

It has been the region's top performing university since QS introduced rankings by subjects in 2011.

This time, it was ranked as the region's best across 25 subjects - four more than last year. This includes three of the six new subjects the QS ranking introduced this year - anthropology, nursing, and social policy and administration.

NUS deputy president of academic affairs and provost Tan Eng Chye said the improvement is "a strong recognition of NUS' strengths and expertise as a comprehensive university in a diverse range of subject areas".

"As Singapore builds up world-class research capabilities in areas that are critical to the nation and the economy, NUS is well poised to contribute its leading expertise to address national challenges and improve lives of Singaporeans," he added.

NUS came in third in the world for civil and structural engineering and fifth for chemical engineering. NUS had 11 other subjects, including electrical and electronic engineering and chemistry, that made the global top 10.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was first in Asia for materials science.

NTU president Bertil Andersson said the university started out primarily as an engineering university but has since excelled in other areas, such as science and education.

NTU had two subjects ranked in the world's top 10, down from three last year. It was sixth for materials science and eighth for electrical and electronic engineering.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Singapore's water success has H2O expert worried

People here taking free flow of clean water for granted: Prof Biswas
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

When it comes to water, Singapore may be a victim of its own success, says world renowned water expert Asit Biswas.

Water supplies are drying up at an unprecedented rate. But with the authorities here so efficient at making such effects invisible at the turn of the tap, Singapore residents continue to take a free flow of fresh, clean water for granted, Professor Biswas believes.

So if he had his way, he would increase water prices here by 30 per cent immediately.

"In my view, water prices should have been increased a long time ago," he said, pointing out that they have remained stagnant for nearly 16 years.

Water Day 2016
On World Water Day, only one in ten people has access to clean water. Take a closer look at the impact -
Posted by Reuters on Monday, March 21, 2016

Prof Biswas, who a decade ago won the Stockholm Water Prize - considered the water industry's Nobel Prize - for his outstanding contributions to global water resource issues, added: "Singaporeans now use water profligately for all household chores, as well as for bathing and hygienic purposes."

According to national water agency PUB, the price of potable water for domestic households is currently about $1.50 per cubic metre, or 1,000 litres, (not including GST) for households using 40 cubic m or less per month.

Each Singapore resident uses 150 litres of water per day, enough to fill almost two bathtubs.

This is far more than the usage in other cities with comparable standards of living, such as Estonia's capital Tallinn, Europe's most water-saving city, where each person uses 95 litres daily, Prof Biswas pointed out.

20 PUB water projects to be completed in next 5 years

More fun ahead at Hougang waterways
Three projects worth $19m launched to transform 2.2km into community space
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

Residents of Hougang town can look forward to three more community spaces along waterways in the neighbourhood by 2018.

These are among 20 projects slated for completion in the next five years under the ABC (Active, Beautiful, Clean) Waters programme.

Work on the three Hougang projects at Hougang Avenue 10, Sungei Pinang and Serangoon Reservoir, over a total distance of 2.2km, starts next month.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Hougang projects yesterday morning.

"I know many residents are looking forward to this, and I hope you enjoy it when it is done. I look forward to coming back and visiting it myself," Mr Lee said in a speech.

He urged residents to keep the waters clean, adding that otters may visit if the waters are well looked after.

Some upcoming features include a new deck over the canal at Hougang Avenue 10, which can be used for community events. A pedestrian bridge across Sungei Pinang will better connect the housing areas to amenities such as Punggol Park.

There will be more greenery at the three locations to liven up the concrete structures, and a fishing spot along the edge of Serangoon Reservoir will also be built.

The three projects will cost about $19 million.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh, an Ang Mo Kio GRC MP who oversees the Sengkang South division, an area which will benefit from the new projects, said the bridge will help pedestrians, including the elderly and those in wheelchairs, to go to Punggol Park and enjoy the facilities there.

Youth in Singapore shunning religion: General Household Survey 2015

Reasons put forward for trend include country's relative stability, influence of liberal ideologies
By Melody Zaccheus, Pang Xue Qiang and Ng Keng Gene, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

Having prayed to Buddha as a child and after spending her early teens worshipping Jesus, copywriter Hannah Jasmine Kok, 23, no longer believes in the divine.

She said she left the Buddhist faith at 13 as she could not relate to rituals she performed with her parents, and dropped out of church after three years because she "didn't think it was going anywhere".

Now an atheist, she said: "I think it is highly improbable that any god exists. There is no evidence for it."

Ms Kok is one of a growing number of young people here with no religious affiliations.

The Department of Statistics' General Household Survey 2015 report released earlier this month found that those who said they had no religious affiliation constituted 18.5 per cent of the resident population last year - up from 17 per cent in 2010.

Of this group, many were young. About 65 per cent were aged between 15 and 44, and about 23 per cent between 15 and 24, compared with 14.6 per cent among residents aged 55 and above.

The religious composition as a whole remained relatively stable - 43.2 per cent of the resident populace identified as Buddhists or Taoists, 18.8 per cent as Christians, 14 per cent as Muslims and 5 per cent as Hindus. The number of Christians increased marginally, while other religions experienced slight declines.

Monday 21 March 2016

2 weeks of paternity leave to be legislated: Josephine Teo

2nd week of paternity leave, now voluntary for bosses, to be made mandatory: Josephine Teo
By Charissa Yong, In Copenhagen, The Sunday Times, 20 Mar 2016

Fathers will soon get more leave to spend time with their newborns.

A second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, will be made compulsory, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo said.

"We are looking at when we should put this into law," she told the Singapore media on Friday, at the end of a visit to Denmark and South Korea to study population policies.

Mrs Teo, who oversees population issues, also said that employers will be given adequate notice.

When paternity leave was first introduced in 2013, they were notified of the change four months before the law kicked in. "They adjusted quite well. I'll see what I can do to give them a little more notice."

This extension of paternity leave, paid for by the Government, is one of the changes - to help parents balance work and family as well as lift birth rates - likely to be announced when Parliament debates ministries' plans next month.

Singapore had 33,793 citizen babies last year, 600 more than 2014, and the highest figure in 13 years.

There are also plans to let working mums share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands. Couples can now share only one of the 16 weeks.

Mrs Teo feels this can be expanded as some mums would like to return to work sooner. "We are in consultation with employer groups and the labour movement," she said.

Also being studied are more childcare facilities for infants under 18 months, including arrangements like having professional caregivers look after small groups at home.

The Government will also discuss more flexible work arrangements with employers and unions.

Several companies have expressed concern about these moves raising business costs, but Mrs Teo said such pro-family policies had to be seen from a broader perspective.