Saturday 30 April 2016

Integrated North-South Corridor to be ready in 2026

Vehicles to run mainly underground, with lanes for buses; bike and pedestrian paths on surface
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

The North-South Corridor, the first expressway here to have dedicated bus lanes and a cycling route, is targeted to be ready in 2026.

Major construction work on the expressway, Singapore's first integrated transport corridor, will start next year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday. It will be calling several tenders on the planned corridor to link towns in the north to the city in the coming months.

The project was initially a vehicular expressway to be completed in 2020, but it was announced in January that the highway will be redesigned as the first integrated transport corridor here.

There will be cycling and pedestrian paths throughout the surface of the 21.5km expressway. Vehicles will ply mainly underground, on a highway which will have one of three lanes in each direction reserved for express bus services.

Said LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong: "The North-South Corridor underpins our commitment towards a car-lite Singapore, by optimising our land transport infrastructure to better meet the needs of all Singaporeans."

With the new corridor, bus passengers travelling from towns in the north, such as Woodlands, Sembawang or Ang Mo Kio, could have journeys to the city shortened by up to 30 minutes. Besides long-haul routes, inter-town bus services could also leverage on it.

Yesterday, the LTA said the corridor's cycling path will link up with existing cycling infrastructure, including the Park Connector Networks and dedicated cycling path networks in HDB estates.

ASEAN Open Skies: Sky's the limit for ASEAN airlines flying within bloc

By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

ASEAN countries pushing for free skies, to give travellers more flights, lower fares and new destinations, have reached a key milestone.

All 10 member states have ratified a deal allowing airlines that meet safety requirements to fly freely from their home countries to any city within the bloc.

In other words, the airlines from ASEAN countries will be able to make as many flights within the bloc as they want - as long as the airports can support them. The deal takes effect immediately.

Typically, air services are bound by government-to-government deals that stipulate how many flights airlines can operate and with which aircraft size.

But the ASEAN agreement, sealed about four months behind schedule, comes with a caveat from Indonesia. For now, it has agreed to include just five airports in Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya, North Sumatra and South Sulawesi in the deal.

Countries are sometimes reluctant to remove all barriers for fear that their carriers may not be able to compete effectively with foreign airlines, though experts say the ASEAN deal is still a positive step.

Aviation law professor Alan Tan of the National University of Singapore told The Straits Times: "This is great news for travellers... They can look forward to more flights at more competitive prices."

Among the big winners are low-cost carriers like AirAsia, Tigerair and Cebu Pacific, whose operating models are perfectly suited for the region where no two points are more than a few hours apart.

Six in 10 intra-ASEAN flights are already cornered by low-cost carriers and the proportion is expected to increase.

Rail breakdowns: Where does the buck stop?

Design of the system and state of the infrastructure among the tough areas that need fixing
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2016

Monday's four-line failure of Singapore's rail system should not have happened.

The July 7, 2015 breakdown which crippled the entire North-South and East-West lines - which account for three-quarters of all rail trips - should not have happened.

The March 22 accident this year which killed two young SMRT workers should not have happened.

Perhaps the same could be said of previous security breaches of highly secured train depots by vandals. Or even the SMRT bus driver strike that broke Singapore's 26-year blemish-free record.

If one were to look at these incidents coldly as scores in a report card, SMRT chief Desmond Kuek, who has been in the job for 31/2 years, would have a lot to answer for.

But is it fair to lay it all on the shoulders of Mr Kuek, a retired general and former chief of defence force?

The short answer is "no", even if he must be held accountable for some lapses. SMRT shareholders and its board of esteemed directors should decide which.

In his first interview with The Straits Times over three years ago, the suave and candid helmsman declared: "There are clearly managerial, structural, cultural and systemic issues (within SMRT) that need addressing." Fixing those "deep-seated" issues, he said, "is one of my top priorities".

Was Mr Kuek too gung-ho? After all, is it realistic to expect one man to undo things which have taken years to develop?

To put it bluntly, Mr Kuek has inherited a company which has not been focused on its core business for nearly a decade in its pursuit of enhancing "shareholder value". Perhaps in not so many words, a Committee of Inquiry convened after two massive breakdowns in December 2011 indicated as much.

The company underwent a hollowing out of its engineering expertise as executives disenchanted by the corporate emphasis on retail and rental left.

And yet the way SMRT has turned out is not all the doing of the company itself and its board. The Land Transport Authority (LTA), as regulator, has a part to play, and perhaps even the Ministry of Transport.

'JI, not ISIS, is bigger threat' to South-east Asia

Singapore don tells US House panel that Jemaah Islamiah poses a more resilient threat to region
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

While the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is grabbing all the headlines, the militant network that will remain the larger longer-term terrorism threat in South-east Asia is the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), US lawmakers were told at a hearing.

The point was made by Dr Joseph Liow, Lee Kuan Yew chair in South-east Asia Studies at the Brookings Institution, on Wednesday. He was part of a four-member panel testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security about the terrorism threat in the region.

Dr Liow said that while the emergence of ISIS-related activity illustrates how resilient and evolutionary the threat of terrorism has become, the authorities must retain a sense of perspective.

"There are multiple groups operating in South-east Asia that are intent on using some form of political violence to further their ends. Many are at odds with each other; not all are seeking affiliation to, or enamoured of, ISIS," he said.

"Indeed, while ISIS appears an immediate concern, a case can be made that the longer-term, possibly more resilient, terrorist threat to the region may not come from ISIS but from Jemaah Islamiah."

Dr Liow, who is also dean of Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said he was particularly disturbed to see JI leaders given prominent media coverage whenever they denounced ISIS. He cited convicted JI terrorist Abu Tholut as an example.

Said Dr Liow: "There is a problem there. These people have a jihadi agenda as well. They will very quickly be able to use the visibility and publicity they have been given to advance that agenda."

Rally speeches, govt records now on National Archives portal

By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

Addressing the young nation at the 1968 National Day Rally, then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew said it had been a "splendid year" for the country.

With determination and confidence written on his face, he said "the figures sparkle" and the next step was to chart out the course for the year ahead.

That stirring speech and others that listed the key developments and challenges of the Republic, as captured in the annual National Day messages and rally speeches by Singapore prime ministers over the decades, are now available to the public on the National Archives of Singapore's (NAS) online portal

They include Mr Lee's early rally speeches, which were also delivered in Hokkien, from 1966 to 1979.

The recent addition of these audiovisual recordings to the NAS portal was announced by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at his ministry's work plan seminar yesterday.

The clips were assembled over the past year by NAS' audiovisual team, which worked to sync silent film footage with sound tapes.

Dr Yaacob said these speeches give an insight into the outlook of the nation's leaders at each stage of the country's development.

He said: "These National Day speeches will help us gain a better understanding of the challenges that Singapore faced, the aspirations that our leaders shared with our fellow citizens and the policies that have shaped Singapore and made it what it is today."

Pulau Ubin Cultural Mapping Project: 'Living heritage' study of Ubin wraps up

Year-long research records structures and islanders' skills, shows island is not in decline
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

One of the few Singaporeans who know how to build and repair kampung houses and dig wells still resides on Pulau Ubin.

Mr Ahmad Kassim is 80 years old and has been living on the island for 70 of them. He can rattle off the various steps involved in what is usually a two-month process of building a kampung house.

"You go into the forest to collect suitable wood, lay the foundation, build the frame... Eventually, you add the zinc roof," he said.

"It takes gotong royong (kampung spirit) to complete it."

His expertise was uncovered and recorded by anthropologist Vivienne Wee and her research team as part of the first comprehensive study of Pulau Ubin's living heritage.

Dr Wee, managing director of anthropology company Ethnographica, was commissioned by the National Heritage Board (NHB) to map the island's social history.

Her year-long research, which has just concluded, recorded about 90 structures, including houses, huts and coops, on the 10.2 sq km island, off the north-eastern coast of mainland Singapore.

It also identified other skills of islanders, including the cultivation of indigenous fruits, herbs and spices; fishing and crabbing by line, hook and trap; and having knowledge of wildlife such as hornbills and wild boars.

The study further puts to rest the assumption that the island is a sleepy backwater island in decline.

Uncle Ringo, old but gold: Travelling funfair offers old-world charm

Travelling funfair offers old-world charm with carousel and ghost-train rides, and game stalls
By Pang Xue Qiang, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2016

While theme parks typically offer fast and furious rides that send one's pulse racing to an adrenaline high, the rides at this amusement park are more likely to send one waltzing down memory lane.

At Uncle Ringo funfair, things do not look like they have moved on from 1984, the year when Mr Lee Woon Chiang - or Uncle Ringo - started the amusement park.

There are 1980s attractions such as a carousel, a ghost train and bumper cars, as well as stalls offering games like tossing a ring onto a bottle, bursting balloons with darts and tikam tikam, where one makes guesses to win prizes.

"There is no such place like this left in Singapore. You cannot find the same ambience at modern theme parks like Universal Studios. It's different," said the 64-year-old who started the fair in the same year his only child was born.

While amusement parks like Great World and Kallang Wonderland have come and gone, Uncle Ringo funfair is believed to be one of the rare old-school amusement parks remaining today.

But it does not stay at one place for long - the travelling funfair pops up in large open fields in different parts of the island and packs up after two weeks to a month.

It appears at different places about six times a year and is found usually during public holidays such as National Day as well as the June school holidays.

"I wanted to create something that can bring joy to children. It's a playground for people of all ages, because all of us have a child inside us," said Mr Lee, who used to sell recycled chemicals before starting the travelling fair.

Thursday 28 April 2016

PM Lee on the line between politics and policy in Singapore

'Politics, policies have to fit for Singapore to stay special'
If it is to endure and prosper, Singapore has to keep this virtuous circle going, says PM Lee
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

Good policies need good politics, and if Singapore does not get its politics right, a good civil service will be in jeopardy in spite of safeguards, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"For the system to provide stable, consistent good outcomes for the long term, politics and policy have to fit closely together," he told 300 Administrative Service officers.

"And if either one goes wrong, the system may well malfunction," he warned.

In his speech at the annual Administrative Service promotion ceremony and dinner, Mr Lee said even as the civil service must be impartial, it is not independent of the elected government - unlike the judiciary.

"Policy and politics cannot be separated so neatly and absolutely."

Policies do not exist in a vacuum but start with a political objective - to meet the people's aspirations.

In elections, political parties reflect these aspirations and put forth their programmes, and voters elect the party they deem best, he said.

That party forms the government and produces the leadership - which then sets the direction and works with the civil service to design and implement policy.

"So policies are ultimately derived from the mandate of the elected government," he said.

Mr Lee also warned that Singapore's civil service - high-quality, clean, effective - cannot be taken for granted, nor can its survival.

Plans for nationwide locker system for easier and cheaper parcel deliveries: Tharman

By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor and Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 27 Apr 2016

It is a common headache for both online shoppers and deliverymen - the eagerly awaited parcel arrives but nobody is at home to receive it.

There are plans to solve this problem by placing lockers near people's homes, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday, adding that Singapore would likely be the first country to do this nationwide.

Mr Tharman, also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, was speaking at the opening of consumer goods sourcing giant Li & Fung's subsidiary LF Logistics' regional distribution hub in Jurong West.

E-commerce is on the rise, but "last-mile" delivery - that final link in the logistics chain from the seller to the customer's doorstep - is still an inefficient business in many parts of the world, including Singapore, he noted.

According to Visa's 2015 Consumer Payment Attitudes Survey, over 70 per cent of consumers here shop online at least once a month.

While there are many players in last-mile delivery, what would really help the industry is common infrastructure, Mr Tharman said.

So the Infocomm Development Authority and economic agencies are working with businesses on these "federated lockers" for small parcels. "It will be implemented in areas with higher demand first, before we scale this up in neighbourhoods around the island to create a nationwide common parcel locker system."

Details such as the cost of the project, timeline and the number of lockers are set to be unveiled later.

Couple who lived on lorry move into rental flat

HDB allows them to rent entire two-room flat; they will buy own flat after son's birth
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

After nearly two years of living in a lorry, rice delivery man Ong Poh Hwa and his Vietnamese wife finally have a roof over their heads.

Last Thursday, the couple, who are expecting their first child in August, moved into a two-room flat in Bedok North under the Housing Board's Interim Rental Housing Scheme.

"We were really happy when we got the keys," Mr Ong, 44, told The Straits Times in Mandarin.

"The size of the flat does not matter. It's better than living outside - at least we have a proper shelter from bad weather."

Mr Ong and his wife, 34-year-old Nguyen Thi Phu Vinh, had spent the past two years living in the lorry Mr Ong uses for work. They would park at night at Changi Beach, where they did their laundry and showered in public toilets.

The couple, who had met when Mr Ong worked in Vietnam for a rice exporter from 2009 to 2013, would also sleep on cardboard in the back of their open vehicle.

They had previously rented a room in MacPherson for $650 a month, but found it too costly for Mr Ong's monthly take-home salary of $1,520. Mr Ong's wife cannot work here as she is on a social visit pass. They are also not eligible for a public rental flat or a new subsidised flat.

After their plight was shared by the media last month, social workers and the HDB stepped in to help.

Mr Ong was offered the option of sharing a three-room interim rental unit with another family, but he declined this as it would have been inconvenient with his newborn son.

The HDB then made an exception and offered the family an entire temporary rental flat for one year. This was because Mr Ong had committed to buying a home after his son's birth, which would make the family eligible for a Build-To-Order flat.

Excluding utilities, the couple have to pay a $400 monthly rent.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

When wages race ahead of productivity: Should we worry?

Sustaining pay rises for all
Last year was a bumper year for workers, with real median wage for Singaporeans rising 7 per cent. This strong wage growth was attained despite stagnating productivity. Can higher wages be too much of a good thing? Toh Yong Chuan and Joanna Seow study the issues.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

Singaporean workers had much to cheer about last year.

Citizen unemployment was low and the labour market remained tight with more jobs chasing available workers, even though redundancies grew as well.

The nominal median wages of Singaporean workers grew 6.5 per cent last year.

After adjusting for the negative inflation of 0.5 per cent, the real growth of wages was 7 per cent.

But even as wages raced ahead, productivity growth remained tepid. It shrank by 0.1 per cent last year.

This has led some analysts to question if these wage increases are sustainable over the longer term.

Can too much wage growth be a bad thing in the long run?


The problem of wage growth outstripping productivity growth in Singapore is not a new one.

In fact, a chart drawn up by The Sunday Times on productivity and wage changes in the last decade found that wages grew faster than productivity in eight of the past nine years.

The only year when wages lagged behind productivity growth was in 2010 when productivity grew 11.6 per cent and median gross income grew 2.5 per cent as Singapore rebounded from the global financial crisis. (See chart.)

When asked if it is worried about wages rising faster than productivity, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) would only say: "Wage growth may fluctuate from year to year, and it is useful to look at a longer period."

Singapore, Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic ties on 26 April 2016

PM Lee, Abe pen letters to mark 50 years of ties
Both countries can tap common assets to take friendship to greater heights: Japan PM
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 26 Apr 2016

As Singapore and Japan mark 50 years of diplomatic relations today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said both countries should tap what they have in common to lift their ties to greater heights.

In an exchange of letters with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to mark the occasion, Mr Abe noted both countries have achieved "miraculous economic growth in such a short period of time".

They also share traits like excellent human resources, high-quality infrastructure and the rule of law.

"Tapping more into these assets, I strongly believe that we can elevate our bilateral relations to a higher level," Mr Abe wrote, adding that he looks forward to celebrating the milestone year with Mr Lee when he visits Japan in September.

Mr Lee, in his letter to Mr Abe, said Singapore has been working closely with Japan to advance their common interests.

Mr Lee added that Japan plays a key role in the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region, and is an important partner in the US-Japan Security Alliance. He wrote: "Singapore hopes that it will continue to play this role actively, to the benefit of itself and the region."

Singapore and Japan established diplomatic relations on April 26, 1966, and copies of the letters to mark the 50th anniversary of ties were released by Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry last night. In their letters, both leaders traced the "enormous" growth in ties between their countries in the last 50 years.

Mr Lee cited close bilateral cooperation in diverse areas such as trade and investment, third-country training programmes, healthcare and cultural exchanges.

Particularly significant is the economic relationship, both leaders said, with both Singapore and Japan ranking among each other's top investment destinations.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Radicalisation and its threats to a small nation

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2016

A string of high-profile attacks in Paris, Istanbul, Jakarta and Brussels in the past five months has left little doubt that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses real danger to people everywhere.

Singaporeans are no exception.

In those attacks, the terrorist group has shown a high degree of sophistication and planning. Bombs were set off in a coordinated manner to inflict maximum casualties and sow widespread panic. ISIS today poses a far graver threat than its predecessor Al-Qaeda ever did, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament earlier this month.

As devastating as suicide bombings and shootings are, they represent the conclusion of a journey that begins with radicalisation.


Terrorism is today broadly defined as the use of violence to intimidate people and governments. Its perpetrators have a political agenda. To achieve their goals, religion and ideology are used to divide society along sectarian lines to incite hatred.

ISIS, which grew to prominence in 2013, has shown a mastery of global communication networks, using the Internet to disseminate graphic videos and electronic magazines to spread its perverted form of Islamic teachings. These include convincing Muslims that to be true to their faith, they should migrate to ISIS-held territories to fight and kill non-believers. On social media, sympathisers and militants echo these messages and reach out to the curious and impressionable.

Twitter said in February that it has closed more than 125,000 accounts since last year over links to terrorism, most of which were ISIS-related.

Unfortunately, several Singaporeans have fallen prey to the militant group's twisted ideas. Some, like Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, and Harith Jailani, 19, were self-radicalised through online propaganda and aimed to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS. The two were detained by the Internal Security Department last August.

Another potential ISIS terrorist, Mustafa Sultan Ali, 52, was arrested by the Turkish authorities and deported while trying to cross into Syria. He was detained by the Singapore authorities last July.

There also was polytechnic student M. Arifil Azim Putra Norja'i, 20, the first ISIS-linked individual who posed a threat on Singapore soil.

He planned to assassinate President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong if he was unable to travel to Syria. If that was not possible, he would carry out attacks in public places, with weapons such as knives. He was detained in April last year.

Last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said two Singaporeans at a religious school in Yemen were detained for their involvement in skirmishes there. Many were also alarmed by the case of Wang Yuandongyi, 23, who was detained for trying to join a Kurdish militia that is battling ISIS in Syria.

But cases are not confined to Singaporeans. Last November, 27 Bangladeshi workers were arrested and deported after they were found to have met regularly to discuss carrying out armed jihad in their home country.

The message is clear: Singapore does not condone supporting or carrying out armed violence, no matter how it is rationalised or where the battlefield is. Such acts show "a dangerous tendency to support the use of violence", said the MHA.

More worrying is what happens when those who have gone to Syria return home. About 500 South-east Asians are known to be fighting in Syria, and a number have returned.

Student care centres for all primary schools by end-2020

MOE says timeframe is to ensure quality; such facilities already in place at 130 out of 190 primary schools
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2016

Student care centres will be set up in all of Singapore's primary schools but it will take until the end of 2020 to happen, as the Ministry of Education (MOE) has told The Straits Times that it does not want to compromise on quality.

The in-house centres offer services such as meals, homework supervision, games and, in some cases, tuition for pupils after school.

Currently, nearly 70 per cent, or 130 out of 190, primary schools here have such a centre, up from fewer than 50 four years ago. Over the same period, enrolment in them has jumped from 3,000 to 15,000 pupils.

The MOE told The Straits Times that such arrangements offer "important after-school support for students, especially those who do not have a conducive and structured environment after school hours".

Demand for after-school care services has grown over the years, with centres at some primary schools having to hold ballots for places. Each centre takes in 60 to more than 300 pupils.

Some oversubscribed centres even have waiting lists. "Where there is high demand, schools have been working with operators to expand the capacity of their centres," the MOE said.

The centres are typically run by external parties such as voluntary welfare organisations or commercial operators.

Last year, four self-help groups came together to form a joint venture company which runs six care centres in schools.

The partnership allows schools to better support the development of pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by tapping on the resources of these groups. The self-help groups are on track to reach a targeted 30 centres by 2020.

South Korea cuts food waste with 'pay as you trash'

Country has adopted creative ways to manage food waste problems and promote recycling
By Chang May Choon, South Korea Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

Moving to South Korea from the US in 2012, English teacher Michelle Svensson was shocked to find that she had to separate her food waste and dump it in a centralised bin within her apartment compound.

"It's kind of disgusting," said the 29-year-old half-Swedish, half- Korean mother of two.

"My husband and I really hated taking the food waste out because it'd smell so bad and it's so embarrassing to go into the lift when there are other people inside."

The couple have since invested in a food waste processor that turns their scraps into dried powder that can be used as fertiliser, saving them the hassle of making the dreaded trip down to the food bin, and 10,000 won (S$12) a month in food trash disposal fees.

Food waste management is a big issue in South Korea, part of a larger recycling trend the government initiated in the 1990s to encourage households to throw away less trash and ease the pressure on landfills. Food waste, which used to be treated at sewage plants and dumped in the sea, is now mostly recycled as animal feed or compost.

The country has cut its food waste from 5.1 million tonnes in 2008 to 4.82 million tonnes in 2014. As of late 2013, the government had spent 185.1 billion won on building public facilities to recycle food waste, according to data from the Environment Ministry.

Paper, cans, bottles, plastic and iron are also recycled, contributing to an overall recycling rate of more than 80 per cent. The rest is buried or incinerated.

A volume-based food waste disposal system has been in place since 2013. Some flats require residents to pay for garbage bags, while others have a centralised bin that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to weigh how much waste each household dumps and bill it accordingly.

Japan's new business language - English

By Hiroshi Mikitani, Published The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2016

TOKYO • Five years ago, I stood before several thousand mostly native Japanese speakers and addressed them in English. From now on, I told them, Rakuten - Japan's largest online marketplace, of which I am the chief executive officer - would conduct all of its business, from official meetings to internal e-mail, in English. I still remember the shocked expressions on the listeners' faces.

Their reaction was certainly understandable. No major Japanese company had ever changed its official language. But the simple fact is that adopting the English language is vital to the long-term competitiveness of Japanese business.

Of course, my decision faced plenty of criticism. One of my fellow Japanese CEOs went so far as to call the plan "stupid" - notable, in a country where executives do not generally criticise one another in the press. Clearly, I would have to fight an uphill battle for cultural acceptance.

But I was not deterred. A seismic shift demands that we adapt to a new landscape, and a seismic economic shift is exactly what Japan has undergone in recent decades, driven by the forces of globalisation and digitisation. The only way to compete in this inter- connected Internet age is to speak the language of the market - and that language is English. Though the number of native English speakers is dwarfed by the number of, say, native Chinese speakers, English is the language of global business.

Yet Japan continues to work inside a linguistic bubble - not least because many firms in Japan are oriented towards the domestic market and pay little heed to global trends. But this approach is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Switching to English makes Japanese firms more competitive, while opening employees' eyes to the outside world.

Monday 25 April 2016

Fare cuts by Uber, Grab will hurt sector: Taxi body

Strategy unhealthy and unsustainable, and 'price war' will hit private-hire car drivers and cabbies alike, says NTA
By Adrian Lim, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

The National Taxi Association (NTA) has criticised the recent price cuts by Grab and Uber, saying they not only hit their drivers' earnings but, if left unchecked, could also hurt the taxi industry and, ultimately, commuters.

"It's an unhealthy and unsustainable business strategy," said NTA executive adviser Ang Hin Kee.

On April 14, Uber cut fares for its UberX private chauffeur service by an average of 15 per cent. Four days later, Grab slashed its GrabCar prices by up to 14 per cent, with minimum fares falling from $8 to $4.

Cab firms, which had fares comparable to those of UberX and GrabCar before, are now under pressure, Mr Ang told The Sunday Times. But a "price war" would mean both private-hire car drivers and cabbies having to do more trips and driving longer to earn the same amount.

"We don't want to go down this road," he said.

Mr Ang, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, pointed out how both app companies were still taking their 20 per cent cut from their drivers, despite having shaved fares.

The worry is that if private-hire car firms end up dominating the market, they can then start raising prices, and charge a premium.

"The new players will (first) offer a lot of goodies... But when they have the market share later on, they could exercise the right to earn profits," said Mr Ang. "What checks and balances do we have to ensure that both commuters and drivers are not taken advantage of?"

Earlier this month, the Government said that by the first half of next year, Uber and GrabCar drivers must be licensed and undergo background and medical checks, and also have to register their cars.

Mr Ang said that while the taxi industry welcomes competition, the playing field is not level, given that cab operators must factor in "compliance costs". These include the bulk of cabbies having to meet certain standards set by the Land Transport Authority, such as covering 250km each day and being on the road during peak hours. Fleets also have to be serviced regularly.

"Cab firms hire teams of people to manage this, and these costs are passed down to the taxi drivers through their rentals," said Mr Ang.

While these yardsticks benefit the public, he believes similar standards should be imposed on the private-hire car business. Alternatively, have these requirements lifted from taxi firms, he suggested.

Cafe owners worried as home bakers rise as 'rivals'

But greater oversight of those who do not need to be licensed could stifle hobby baking
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

From low-carb protein loaves to mango sticky rice tarts, more home bakers here are whetting appetites with their unique artisanal offerings. As they work from their own kitchens and do not run a brick- and-mortar shop, they are not required to be licensed by the National Environment Agency.

Most sell their products through word of mouth and social media.

However, concerns have surfaced over whether the authorities should be keeping a closer tab on the industry. In a forum letter published last month, Ms Chong Siew Yen, 41, highlighted how home bakers who sell their products to the public are putting licensed bake shops at a disadvantage.

"We are competing with a higher cost, which includes rental, utility bills and licence fee," she wrote.

Home bakers come under the Housing Board's Home Based Small Scale Business Scheme, which allows them to practise "baking on a small scale for sale" in homes "without turning the flat into a bakery".

But Ms Chong, who owns The One Bake Shop in Toa Payoh, and other cafe owners The Sunday Times spoke to believe that such a definition is a grey area that home bakers could exploit. "I've noticed several of them selling their baked goods to corporate clients and even catering a spread for functions," she said.

Ms Jessica Loh, who started dessert cafe Shiberty Bakes this month, said: "If I sell my cakes to my friends, is that not commercialism in a minor way?"

After baking from home for about four years, she decided to open her cafe at Owen Road. "If you want to reel in the big clients, they will definitely require you to be licensed and operating in a commercial space," she explained.

However, running a cafe in Singapore is extremely costly, she added.

"It makes the business very cut-throat."

For housewife Shireen Shen Jega, 31, home baking has become a viable way to pursue her passion while selling her bakes for a small income.

The mother of two, who has been baking cupcakes and customised cakes for the past three years, has dreamt of opening a cafe, but the high costs of doing so has held her back on several occasions.

Clamping down on home bakers would stifle opportunities for those who are simply pursuing it as a hobby, she added. "We have only one person doing the baking and that's definitely not going to generate a lot of business, compared to an established bakery," she said.

"In today's tough economy, we should be looking for opportunities to help everyone supplement their incomes."

More child abuse cases being investigated

Better detection by agencies - from schools to hospitals - results in larger number of serious cases probed by MSF unit
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

For the better part of a year, the storeroom was her home. It was where an 11-year-old slept, ate, studied and used a bucket to relieve herself.

She was so afraid of being punished that she did as she was told, remaining there even though the storeroom was not locked.

She was allowed out only for a daily bath - and to go to school, where she never spoke of her ordeal.

Her mother and stepfather regarded her as a jinx, the cause of all their woes. And they ordered her siblings not to talk to her.

Her case came to light only after the school counsellor noticed that she often reeked of urine, and had changed from being a vocal child to a listless soul.

Better detection of child abuse cases by a host of agencies - from schools to hospitals - has resulted in more cases of serious abuse being investigated by the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Child Protective Service (CPS).

Last year, the CPS received 2,022 reports and inquiries about child abuse. Of this, it investigated 551 that were instances of serious abuse.

This was an increase of about 40 per cent over the period from 2012 to 2014, when it probed between about 380 and 400 cases of serious abuse a year, CPS director Carmelia Nathen told The Sunday Times.

Last year's 551 serious abuse cases included instances of rape and molestation, and serious injuries inflicted by a family member.

The value of prevention in the war on diabetes

By Chia Kee Seng and Benjamin Ng, Published The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2016

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong recently declared war on diabetes in Singapore.

This clarion call for government agencies, the private sector and the rest of the community to go all out to fight the disease is timely and much needed. It also underscores the Government's intent to invest immense resources in new initiatives and programmes to fight the disease.

But why is it necessary to single out diabetes and take such bold, multi-sectoral action against a single disease?

When we consider the current and projected number of diabetics, the severity of diabetes-related complications and the enormous costs to both the individual and country, the rationale becomes clear and self-evident.

Singapore is home to more than 400,000 diabetics today. Estimates suggest that diabetes will affect almost 670,000 people in 2030, and an alarming one million by 2050 if we do not act now to arrest this trend. This increase is not merely due to an ageing population. It is also caused by the rapid rise in the proportion of overweight and obese young adults. In addition, today, there are about 10,000 patients who are suffering from the complications of diabetes. That is expected to increase to at least 25,000 by 2050.

Diabetes, with its complications, exerts a staggering toll on the country with increased healthcare expenditure, loss of productivity and the psycho-social burden on society. A recent study by the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and University of Southern California estimated that in 2010, diabetes among the working population cost Singapore more than $1 billion, and that figure is likely to exceed $2.5 billion by 2050.

As with any warfare, a well-planned strategy is crucial. Mr Gan identified five fronts on which this war would be fought: prevention, screening, control, education and stakeholders' engagement. What is particularly refreshing about this war plan is the major shift towards preventing the onset of diabetes and engaging every stakeholder.

Elected Presidency: Who gives a shit?

Elected presidency scheme has several contradictions
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

There were no queues to attend the public hearings last week to look into changes to the elected presidency (EP) scheme.

If the empty seats were a reflection of how interested Singaporeans were in the matter, you have to say not many were.

It isn't surprising.

Twenty-five years after the EP was mooted and debated, the experience so far has been largely uneventful, save for two occasions when questions arose about the role of the highest office in the land.

The first was when President Ong Teng Cheong, the inaugural EP, clashed with the Government over what information he was entitled to regarding national assets which made up the country's reserves.

That early conflict made the Government wary of a president who might have different ideas about his role; the first indication perhaps of trouble ahead.

The issue surfaced again in the 2011 presidential election when some among the four candidates saw the EP's role differently from the official view, and campaigned accordingly.

It alarmed enough people who called for more to be done to educate Singaporeans about the nature of the office.

Looking back now, these hiccups were not unexpected, given the novelty and inherent ambiguities of the office.

They might have seemed troublesome at the time but in reality the issues they raised helped the public understand better what was at stake and focused attention on areas which needed greater clarity.

Singapore signs Paris Agreement on climate change

True test of Paris accord - 'turning words into actions'
Singapore stresses need to boost momentum as China and US - world's top polluters - pledge to adopt deal by year end
By Melissa Sim, US Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 24 Apr 2016

The Paris Agreement to curb global climate change must now pivot from diplomacy to implementation, said top officials gathered at the UN headquarters where 175 nations signed the landmark accord, making it the biggest one-day endorsement of a global deal.

The accord is a "strong affirmation that diplomacy is essential and capable of solving problems on the global commons", said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan at the ceremony on Friday.

But he emphasised the importance of turning words into action and building on the momentum from the Paris meeting of last year.

"We all need to remember that we have to take decisive pre-2020 actions in order to create a solid foundation for our post-2020 commitments," Dr Balakrishnan said.

The deal reached in December commits states to hold global warming to well below 2 deg C.

While there are hopes that the deal can be brought into force before the initial target date of 2020, many states still require a parliamentary vote to formally approve the accord.

Taking the lead on this issue were China and the United States - the world's top greenhouse gas producers - which pledged to adopt the accord by the end of the year.

"The urgency of this challenge is only becoming more pronounced... The United States looks forward to formally joining this agreement this year and we call on all of our international partners to do so," said US Secretary of State John Kerry, reminding the audience at the United Nations that 2015 was the hottest year on record and last month was the hottest-ever-recorded March.

The Paris accord will enter into force only when ratified by at least 55 nations representing 55 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Together, China and the US account for 38 per cent of these emissions.