Tuesday 31 May 2016

Majulah! 50 Years of Malay/Muslim Community in Singapore

Book commemorating 50 years of the Malay/Muslim community launched
Prominent figures also featured in new book tracing the evolution of the community
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 30 May 2016

The composer of the Singapore national anthem Zubir Said, the Republic's first woman Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob and footballer Fandi Ahmad were among the notable figures mentioned at the launch of a book on the Malay/Muslim community.

The 700-page Majulah! 50 Years Of Malay/Muslim Community In Singapore was launched by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing at The Arts House yesterday.

Mr Chan took over as the event's guest of honour from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who remains in hospital after suffering a stroke during a Cabinet meeting earlier this month.

"I know that he would dearly like to have come here to give his support and affirmation to what the Malay and Muslim community has done in Singapore and for Singapore," said Mr Chan, who is also labour chief.

The launch was attended by some 100 guests including former President S R Nathan, Minister-in- charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Social and Family Development Faishal Ibrahim, labour MP Zainal Sapari, community leaders and foreign dignitaries.

The book, which traces the evolution of the Malay/Muslim community here and its progress in fields such as education and the arts, was published by World Scientific.

Singapore's third bus operator Tower Transit launches first 9 services on 29 May 2016

First Tower Transit buses hit the road; bus operator likely to bid in next tender
Singapore's third bus operator set to compete in next tender, likely in June, to run more routes
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 30 May 2016

Even as its first nine bus services started plying the roads yesterday, Singapore's third bus operator, Tower Transit, already has set its eyes on expanding its presence here.

The Anglo-Australian firm, which won the first government bus contract a year ago, said it will compete in an upcoming tender - likely to be held next month - to run more bus routes.

It sat out the previous tender - which was won by British firm Go-Ahead - so as to concentrate on launching its operations here.

"We are very committed to growing our business in Singapore and we will absolutely be bidding for the third bus package," Tower Transit chief executive Adam Leishman told The Straits Times.

He said the firm's attention to customer experience, its engineering capabilities and its success in recruiting locals to become bus captains put it in good stead to contribute to Singapore's transport sector.

Tower Transit's debut on the roads here marks a key step in the restructuring of Singapore's bus industry to raise service standards.

Under the contracting model, operators are subject to stricter reliability standards, with performance incentives or financial penalties given depending on whether standards are met.

Monday 30 May 2016

Emergency Preparedness Day: SG Secure in the Neighbourhood

Shanmugam calls for unity when terror strikes
He says need to come together as a community just as important as ability to cope during actual attack
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 29 May 2016

Coming together as a society after a terrorist attack is as important as learning how to cope during the actual incident, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Besides knowing how to respond from the outset, citizens need a sense of "community cohesiveness" to move on, he said, speaking at Chong Pang's revamped Emergency Preparedness Day, the first of a series of exercises to prepare people for possible terror scenarios.

There have been terror attacks around the region and security agencies arresting people in neighbouring countries, while the authorities here have seized plans to attack Singapore and arrested those wanting to attack the Republic and assassinate its leaders, he pointed out.

"If an attack takes place, how do we react the day after? Do we point fingers at each other in our multiracial, multi-religious society? Or are we able to come together as a society and move on?"

He added: "The aim of terrorists is to divide us... and it becomes more fertile ground for them to recruit people. We need to come together and say that this is an isolated incident by some radicalised elements."

Mr Shanmugan, who is also an MP for Nee Soon GRC, was speaking to residents after he watched a simulated terror attack yesterday morning, where two gunmen stormed a heartland coffee shop and took five people hostage.

Don't pack dangerous goods when preparing to travel: CAAS

Dangerous goods are items that include explosives or are flammable, corrosive or poisonous. They also include seemingly non-dangerous items such as cosmetics and power banks.
By Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia, 27 May 2016

Ahead of the holiday season, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) wants to remind passengers to avoid packing dangerous goods in their check-in luggage and hand-carry bags.

CAAS has expressed concern that passengers are not fully aware of what "dangerous goods" are, and the dangers they pose if carried on board.


Dangerous goods are items that include explosives or are flammable, corrosive or poisonous, including fireworks, camping gas, lighter fluid, pesticides and paints.

They also include seemingly non-dangerous items such as power banks and certain types of cosmetics products such as nail polish remover.

CAAS Airworthiness and Flight Operations Director Tan Kah Han said these items may not look like threats, but could be flammable. "When you go on board the aircraft and they catch fire, it’s something that concerns everybody.”

Saturday 28 May 2016

Singapore has 'avoided income stagnation': DPM Tharman

Those from low-wage families outdid peers abroad in climbing income ladder: DPM Tharman
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 27 May 2016

Singapore is doing relatively well when it comes to the ability of the next generation to do better than their elders, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

It has avoided income stagnation for the low- and middle-income groups so far, and low-income families here have outperformed their peers elsewhere, he added.

In Singapore, for instance, 14 per cent of those born in the bottom quintile, in terms of income, made it to the top quintile by their late 20s, according to a 2015 study by the Ministry of Finance. This is double that seen in the United States and slightly higher than the 12 per cent observed in Denmark.

Mr Tharman, also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, was delivering the opening speech at an international conference on inter-generational transfer, human capital and inequality held in Singapore for the first time.

At the three-day conference at NUS University Town, attended by 250 academics from over 30 countries, he dwelt on various strategies in education and housing that countries including Singapore - which has adopted many of them - can look at to preserve social movement within society.

Firstly, urban planning matters. Many studies show a profound link between where one lives and how well one moves up in life.

Singapore's fundamental strategy, said Mr Tharman, is integrating people of different socio-economic groups and ethnic backgrounds in the same neighbourhoods.

The problems with ethnic enclaves and segregation are avoided by design through housing quotas and estate planning. Everyone has access to the same leisure and transport facilities as well as schools and, therefore, there is a higher likelihood of equal opportunities.

Aspects like unemployment, for example, are sometimes associated with certain neighbourhoods in other countries.

"The result of all this is that, while we have disadvantaged families and individuals in Singapore, we do not have a single disadvantaged neighbourhood," said Mr Tharman.

MAS eases car loan rules with effect from 27 May 2016

Bigger car loans over longer tenures as MAS eases curbs
Regulator says move is timely as demand has moderated; observers divided on the impact
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2016

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has eased car loan guidelines, just three years after instituting them.

For cars with an open market value (OMV) of $20,000 or less, buyers can now borrow up to 70 per cent of the purchase price, up from 60 per cent.

Buyers of cars with OMVs of more than $20,000 can borrow up to 60 per cent of the purchase price, up from 50 per cent.

Separately, the loan tenure has been raised to seven years from five.

MAS deputy managing director Ong Chong Tee said: "In 2013, when we introduced the measures, our immediate aim was to help restrain escalating COE (certificate of entitlement) premiums and consequent inflationary pressures.

"Since then, demand conditions have moderated and it is timely to ease the measures."

Industry observers were surprised by the news, which one said "came out of the blue". But they were divided over the impact it might have.

Friday 27 May 2016

In an ambiguous world, can Singapore cope?: Bilahari Kausikan

Domestic strength key for Singapore to stay relevant
Veteran envoy stresses three aspects that are crucial for that internal strength
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 26 May 2016

Singapore, as a small city-state, needs to have a sound domestic foundation in order to remain relevant in the international arena, said ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan.

And that internal strength hinges on three aspects: politics, policy and the role of the civil service, and social cohesion, Mr Bilahari said yesterday in his fifth and final lecture as the Institute of Policy Studies' S R Nathan Fellow.

With politics, partisan interests should be kept out of foreign policy. But in reality, this is hard to achieve, he added.

In countries with long histories, partisan debates over foreign policy are conducted in a framework of shared assumptions on what ought to be in the fundamental interests of the nation, regardless of which party is in power, he said.

Singapore's opposition parties, so far, have not shown they "have any concept of the fundamental national interest", he added.

Mr Bilahari criticised the Workers' Party's Mr Pritam Singh for asking in Parliament in 2013 about Singapore's Middle East policies that "could have stirred up the feelings of our Malay-Muslim ground against the Government".

Noting that Singapore has been consistently even-handed in its relations with Israel and Palestine, he said: "The Arab countries understand our position and have no issue with our relations with Israel.''

Also excoriated was the Singapore Democratic Party's Dr Paul Tambyah, who called for a reduction in the defence budget in favour of health spending, pointing out that Singapore had a history of being non-aligned in its foreign policy.

Mr Bilahari retorted: "If the good doctor really thought that being non-aligned is an adequate substitute for deterrence through a strong SAF, he ought to consult a doctor of another sort without delay: a psychiatrist."

Scheme takes safe cycling message to schools

It will also be piloted at foreign worker dorms and community centres, before public roll-out
By Danson Cheong and Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 26 May 2016

Students could soon be learning basic bicycle handling skills, cycling etiquette and how to recognise off-road signs and markings under a new programme that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is rolling out in secondary schools.

Launched yesterday at Qihua Primary School in tandem with the start of the Singapore Road Safety Month, the half-day Safe Cycling Programme will have both theory and practical sessions.

Students will learn how to manoeuvre through crowded spaces, share paths with pedestrians and other cyclists, and pick the best routes to go by bike.

The LTA said the programme will complement plans to boost active mobility here. Last month, the Government accepted a list of recommendations from an expert panel to allow cycling on footpaths. These are expected to be passed into law by the year end.

Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim, who chaired the expert panel, said in a speech yesterday that the new programme was "a follow-up" to the recommendations. It will help students "internalise what they need to do in real-life situations", he said.

Thursday 26 May 2016

Why reading should be a compulsory subject in school

Reading not only improves grades but also nurtures better citizens
By Tan Tarn How, Published The Straits Times, 25 May 2016

Let's make reading a compulsory subject in our primary and secondary schools. In fact, let's make it examinable too.

This idea might seem hare-brained at first glance. But I believe that it will transform us not only as individuals but also as a nation.

The benefits of reading are widely established. As I argued last year in a commentary titled "Out with tuition, in with reading" co-written with Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee, an expert in reading and libraries from the National Institute of Education, research has shown how reading not only improves school grades, but also enables a flourishing life as adults and nurtures better citizens.

I see readers as lucky beings with a light, one that illuminates a little of the mystery of life and pierces the darkness of ignorance for themselves and for others.

How will reading as a subject work?

Research shows that young children need help to read independently and with pleasure, so that can be the role of lower primary teachers.

Later on, up to secondary school, teachers can go on to talk about how to get more out of reading fiction, how to read non-fiction more efficiently, how to read critically, and how to choose books. Better still, rather than tell, teachers can show and share the sheer fun of reading.

However, the key is that most lessons will simply be class time set aside solely for reading, half an hour to an hour a day. The teacher will go round to help struggling kids, or just to chat with them about what they are reading or wish to read.

Each level will have a recommended list of both easy and difficult books, which students can borrow from the school library. Students need read only some of the books on the list, and can also choose to read books beyond the list.

The list should have a very wide range of titles: fiction, non-fiction, novels, poetry, science, biographies, history, philosophy, gastronomy, sports; and Singaporean, regional and international works. It will include books related to other classroom subjects. For instance, biographies of scientists, mathematicians and artists, travelogues, popular science or history books, or books on language. Students must also read some books in their mother tongue.

Why make reading compulsory?

Singapore orders Swiss BSI bank unit shut as 1MDB probe widens

1MDB probe: BSI Bank told to stop operations in Singapore
MAS cites poor management oversight and orders first bank shutdown in 32 years
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 25 May 2016

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has ordered the closure of BSI Bank's operations here over anti-money laundering rule violations, as the bank's Swiss parent faces criminal proceedings in Europe in a deepening probe into scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"BSI Bank is the worst case of control lapses and gross misconduct that we have seen in the Singapore financial sector," MAS managing director Ravi Menon said yesterday.

The MAS condemned poor management oversight and gross misconduct by some bank staff as it effected the first such shutdown of a merchant bank here in 32 years.

The closure is also the most dramatic development in the 1MDB probe, which now spans at least seven jurisdictions, including Singapore, the United States and Hong Kong.

The MAS has also referred six individuals from BSI to the public prosecutor to evaluate if they have committed criminal offences.

The Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland said it has opened criminal proceedings against BSI SA Bank, BSI Bank's Swiss parent, over suspected deficiencies resulting in it being "unable to prevent the commission of offences", including suspected money laundering.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

ISIS video shows terror battle is about winning young hearts, minds: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 24 May 2016

The latest propaganda video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showing child fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia firing guns, burning their passports and denouncing their citizenships — while a wanted terrorist delivered a provocative message for regional governments — has raised concerns among terror experts.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday also weighed in on the “disturbing” 16-minute clip, calling it a reminder that “this fight against terrorism is global and above all, about winning hearts and minds of the younger generation”.

Noting that the video showed footage of young children “excelling in unarmed combat, drills with rifles and knives”, Dr Ng wrote on Facebook: “Many of them should be in school getting a proper education to ensure a bright future. Instead they spend their days in training camps, indoctrinated to hate their fellow countrymen in Malaysia and Indonesia, burn their passports as a sign of their allegiance to terror groups like ISIS, and drilled to kill innocent lives.”

Dr Ng described the clip — which named Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as countries which “created trouble” and “damaged” Islamic beliefs — as “the first ISIS video that targets South-east Asia explicitly”. “But unfortunately, I expect more to come,” he said.

What the 'CV of failures' really reveals about career setbacks

Not all rejections are equal and those followed by successes stop mattering at once
By Lucy Kellaway, Published The Straits Times, 24 May 2016

Professor Johannes Haushofer, an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton, last month published a CV recording every professional failure in his career to date. He listed the university courses he didn't get on to. The academic jobs he failed to land. The papers that were turned down for publication. The fellowships that went to someone else instead.

The resulting "CV of failures" was a Twitter sensation and picked up by newspapers around the world. So humble! So inspirational! So brave! - was the verdict. The whole thing was so popular it constituted what Prof Haushofer called a meta failure - as it attracted far more attention than his entire academic output combined.

Although amusing, his curriculum vitae doesn't strike me as brave in the slightest. If you teach at Princeton, listing your failures takes little courage. To say that the Stockholm School of Economics turned you down feels more like a taunt: Look what they missed. It is not humble: it is a humblebrag.

To prove how easy it is to be blase about failure when you've had some success, last week I cheerfully sat down to compose my own CV of rejections. It involved quite a lot of brain-racking as my memory has done me the service of forgetting most of my failures over the past 40 years but, as far as I recall, it goes roughly like this.

Commitment of Government critical for rule of law, good governance: Chief Justice

Detention case highlights Govt's compliance with law pronounced by judiciary
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 24 May 2016

A few weeks after the Court of Appeal freed alleged match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan from detention without trial, the Ministry of Home Affairs reviewed its legal position and released three others who had been similarly detained.

Citing the case in a speech he gave recently in the United States, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the apex court released Tan on the ruling that detention is permitted only if the detainee's activities caused harm in Singapore. But the grounds for Tan's detention failed to show how his activities did this.

Tan was later re-arrested and detained on fresh grounds that set out the relevant threat in Singapore.

Noting that the Home Affairs Minister then reviewed the detention of three other detainees and revoked it in the light of the court's ruling, CJ Menon said it is critical to have the commitment of the Government in complying with the law pronounced by the judiciary, to have rule of law and good governance.

In his address to the American Law Institute in Washington, DC last week , he focused on the instrumental role played by the courts in upholding the rule of law. CJ Menon is the only Singaporean to be elected a member of the institute, an independent organisation established in 1923 that produces scholarly work to clarify, modernise and improve the law.

In his speech, The Rule Of Law: The Path To Exceptionalism, he said that despite the vast differences in the legal systems, history and culture of the US and Singapore, both nations share a commitment to the rule of law, although the application could differ in practice.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Smart Nation report card: Let's get digital

Catching a bus is now a breeze, as is renewing a passport. But how far has Singapore really come in its Smart Nation drive? The Sunday Times speaks to those with their finger on the (pulsing) screen, including the minister overseeing it, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

Creation of new high-tech jobs? Tick

Improved quality of life? Tick

Impact on society? Tick

When Singapore launched its Smart Nation initiative in November 2014, these were the goals the minister in charge of the drive, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, wanted to achieve.

Other facets have emerged as the digital push went into overdrive: openness of data and the notion of creating solutions.


Asked for his report card on the Smart Nation project in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times recently, Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Foreign Minister, says: "By looking at these areas, in terms of jobs, business, quality of life and openness of data and the whole (notion of) creating solutions, I think we have made reasonable progress in the past 18 months."

In terms of jobs, he says, based on reports in the media, there is a shortage of engineers, computer scientists, cyber security experts and data analysts, which is a good sign because "we have generated demand for jobs by Singaporeans".

There is no question then that Singaporeans know something is afoot, and that there are fresh opportunities for those who want to switch careers and get retraining in infocomm and communications technology (ICT) skills. General Assembly, a global educational firm that teaches digital technologies to mature students, for instance, has even opened an office here.

"Even the universities are getting better-quality students, truly interested in computer science, and this is good," he says.

There is a greater sense of community ownership, participation and problem-solving on the Internet - whether it is in coming together to help deliver masks during the haze or to identify and help those with special needs.

Organ donations remain low despite changes to law

Average wait for kidney transplant still 9 to 10 years, and 1 to 2 years for liver or heart
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 23 May 2016

Singaporeans are still not donating their organs despite several legislative changes made over the years to enlarge the donor pool.

"The numbers of deceased organ transplantation for kidney, heart and liver (have) remained low for the past 10 years," said a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman.

There were 58 such organ transplants last year, compared with 69 in 2006, the latest figures from the National Organ Transplant Unit show. These numbers are a far cry from those in other developed countries such as Spain and Norway, which have eight times the number of cadaveric kidneys for every million people.

Donations from living donors - which are much better for recipients than cadaveric organ donations - have seen only modest growth. Last year, 58 people donated their kidneys and livers, up from 34 in 2006.

Despite legislative changes, such as including Muslims as donors, the average wait for a kidney is still nine to 10 years and one to two years for a liver or heart. Many people with heart and liver failure here die each year, and thousands with kidney failure are on dialysis.

The availability of organs for transplantation is influenced by factors such as public awareness, and societal views and religious beliefs, said the MOH spokesman.

"Even with legislation aimed at improving deceased organ donations, there is a need to continuously engage the public to raise awareness about the issues around organ donation and transplantation, including the benefits of transplantation," she added.

Last year, 334 people were on the waiting list for kidney transplants, with 54 people waiting for a liver and 23 for a heart.

Indonesia needs to stop acting as a “big brother”: Johannes Nugroho

High time Jakarta treats Singapore and other South-east Asian countries as equals
By Johannes Nugroho, Published TODAY, 22 May 2016

Tensions between Indonesia and Singapore are simmering as a kerfuffle is developing over the decision by a Singaporean court to grant a warrant to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for an Indonesian businessman suspected of involvement in last year’s forest fires. The warrant was obtained after the businessman, whose identity remains hidden, failed to turn up for an interview with the Singaporean authorities while he was in the city-state.

The saga took an interesting twist as Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied its counterpart’s repeated claims that a formal complaint against the warrant had been lodged by the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore.

The reason for Indonesia’s umbrage remains unclear, although implicit in the protest was the notion that Singapore had tried to force Indonesia’s hand in acting against responsible parties for last year’s environmental disaster, which saw much of South-east Asia engulfed in a haze. Jakarta’s reaction suggests that it deemed Singapore to have overstepped its scope of action. By contrast, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) felt that it had every right to prosecute those deemed responsible, based on the 2014 Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

To be fair, Singapore’s move was both logical and laudable. However, it was an inadvertent slap in the face for the Indonesian government. Chiefly, politicians in Jakarta were worried that, if successfully pulled off, it was bound to be seen by the public as a derogation of sovereignty: that an Indonesian national could be arrested and even tried in a foreign country.

To Airbnb or not to Airbnb...

Can Singapore make room and rules for Airbnb and other home-sharing offerings?
As URA continues to study issue, residents and hospitality players remain divided
By Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From stylish apartments to cheerful single rooms, tourists in search of alternative lodgings in Singapore are spoilt for choice.

The website of Airbnb, a leading player in the home-sharing market here, has options such as a Kallang shophouse for $249 a night, a Tiong Bahru flat for $114 or a room in East Coast with queen-sized bed and balcony for a mere $48.

According to Airbnb, there are about 6,000 properties listed on its website here.

Other home-sharing websites have set up here as well, such as PandaBed and Roomorama.

Yet, it is currently illegal for private and public home-owners to lease their properties for less than six months.

While a few home-sharing site listings are for long-term options, most are for short stays, which means they are breaking the law.

The authorities are still trying to decide if rules should be relaxed for private properties.

From January to April last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) held a public consultation to assess if this short-term rental policy for private properties needed to be reviewed.

But last Wednesday, more than a year on, the URA said it needs more time to consider the issue.

In the meantime, enforcement action will still be taken, it added.

Under current rules, private home-owners who lease their units for less than six months can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to a year.

Monday 23 May 2016

F-35: The future of the RSAF?

The F-35 has been billed as the world's most advanced fighter jet. It flies at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth capabilities and is armed with a supercomputer. But production has been hit by flaws, delays and ballooning costs. Has Lockheed Martin done enough to persuade Singapore that this jet is the future of its air force? The Sunday Times examines the issue
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent In Dallas Fort Worth, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

Welcome to Dallas Fort Worth, where production of what has been labelled the world's most advanced fighter jet is continuing apace.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can travel at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth features that make it tough to detect by enemy planes and radars, and high-tech systems which let it strike the enemy first before being spotted.

But the plane, which Lockheed Martin started developing in 2001, has also become a lightning rod for criticism. It has faced delays, ballooning production costs and a series of production flaws, such as a fuel tank prone to exploding, a vulnerability to lightning strikes and even a faulty ejection seat which could snap a pilot's neck during ejection.

But that has not stopped 11 countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan, from buying the F-35, with Denmark possibly joining the list after its defence ministry made a pitch to Parliament two weeks ago to opt for fifth-generation aircraft.

Now, Lockheed is looking to sew up a multibillion-dollar deal with Singapore, which is in the final stages of considering if it will also go down the F-35 route and buy both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B, which takes off from shorter runways and can land like a helicopter.

Singapore's Marine Life Conservation Efforts

Sisters' Islands to be heart of marine life conservation
Plans include nursery for corals, turtle hatchery and facilities where people can get close to nature
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From Singapore's first sea turtle hatchery to a floating pontoon with see-through panels, detailed plans to transform Sisters' Islands into the heart of the country's marine life conservation efforts were revealed yesterday.

Announcing these yesterday on St John's Island, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee highlighted how, despite covering less than 1 per cent of the world's surface, Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of hard corals, a third of the world's total.

"We may be small, but we are large in our marine richness," he said, as he highlighted the need to ramp up conservation efforts and to raise awareness among Singaporeans of the life in surrounding waters. "The marine park is meant for Singaporeans, and we hope our people will love it, grow it and take ownership of this park."

The 40ha Sisters' Islands Marine Park, first announced in 2014 and about the size of 50 football fields, comprises the two Sisters' Islands - which are a 40-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier - surrounding reefs and the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor. Its ecosystem supports corals, anemones, seahorses, fish and other marine life.

With the help of a $500,000 donation from HSBC, a turtle hatchery will be set up on Small Sister's Island by the end of next year.

The island will be a dedicated site for marine conservation and research. It will have a coral nursery where rare corals can be grown before being transplanted onto Reef Enhancement Units (REU) on the reef. Yesterday, HSBC also donated $180,000 for nine REUs under the new Seed-A-Reef programme.

Open to the public, donations of at least $20,000 will pay for an REU - an artificial scaffolding to which corals attach and grow.

To encourage Singaporeans to take ownership of the marine park on the islands, they will be able to also "sponsor" a coral for $200 in the new Plant-A-Coral initiative.

Sunday 22 May 2016

HDB launches Friendly Faces, Lively Places Fund to help promote community bonding

By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

A new fund which residents can tap has been created to encourage community bonding in public housing estates.

The Housing Board has set aside $500,000 over the next five years for the new HDB Friendly Faces, Lively Places Fund, which aims to spur residents to initiate ground- up, community-building projects. They can propose activities and apply for a grant of up to $10,000.

This is an increase from the $1,000 available for each activity under another scheme to encourage neighbourliness - the Good Neighbours Project.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who announced the new fund at the start of HDB's Community Week at the new Bedok Town Plaza yesterday, encouraged residents to apply for the fund and foster greater neighbourliness. They can do so on HDB's website at any time of the year. To qualify, activities must involve diverse groups and individuals, and be free and open to the public.

Mr Wong said: "Now that there is more funding and a longer window to apply, please spread the word around. I encourage everyone to make full use of this opportunity and come up with something meaningful for the community."

​SMRT and NTU launch joint research laboratory to boost rail reliability

SMRT-NTU lab to help tackle rail woes
$60m Corp Lab to focus on real-time monitoring systems for trains, tracks and power supply
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

Transport operator SMRT and Nanyang Technological University have set up a research laboratory to develop ways to fix rail engineering problems even before they arise.

The $60 million SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory (Corp Lab) was launched yesterday, with equal funding from the two parties, along with $20 million from the National Research Foundation.

Although the lab is its first rail-related research venture, NTU is confident that its track record stands it in good stead.

NTU vice-president for research Lam Khin Yong cited the university's collaboration with companies such as ST Engineering, Rolls-Royce and BMW Group.

For Singapore's rail system, Corp Lab will work on a suite of real-time monitoring systems for trains, tracks and power supply.

For trains, these systems will continuously monitor vibration, wheel axles and gearboxes, as well as door mechanisms. Door faults often lead to trains stalling as a result of a safety design.

Sensors will also be embedded into the running rail and the power-supplying third rail.

Elbowgate: Trudeau says sorry for manhandling opposition

Canadian PM will accept any punishment for 'elbowgate' and grabbing a lawmaker's arm
The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

OTTAWA • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under fire over an unprecedented physical fracas in Parliament, said he was only human and apologised for a third time for manhandling an opposition legislator and accidentally elbowing another in Parliament.

Mr Trudeau, who led his Liberals to power last October with a promise of "sunny ways", said he was in a high-pressure job, but promised there would be no repeat of his actions. He said he would accept any punishment meted out by a committee examining the incident which took place on Wednesday.

"I think people understand that there is a tremendous amount of pressures that come with this job and I am human," Mr Trudeau, 44, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. "But I think, at the same time, a big part of recognising strengths and weaknesses is when you make a mistake, you admit it, you make amends, you ask for forgiveness and you make sure it never happens again."

The affair was a rare public loss of control for Mr Trudeau. Telegenic and tattooed, he has gained a rock star level of celebrity, thanks partly to an avowed feminist stance, and he is often swarmed by fans seeking selfies.

Mr Trudeau is in no immediate political danger since the next election is not due until October 2019 and opinion polls put him far ahead of his rivals.

Saturday 21 May 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong Official Visit to Russia, May 2016

PM Lee: Room for greater cooperation between Singapore and Russia in many areas
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

SOCHI - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is cautiously optimistic that a free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) can be completed in the next two years.

He is also positive about Russia's business potential, saying many opportunities exist for Singapore companies.

These can be found in Moscow as it redevelops and upgrades the city, transforming outdated industrial estates into modern business parks, cultural centres or education centres.

The changes, in turn, create opportunities in urban masterplanning and transport.

But to pursue them, businesses need to invest time and energy to understand the country, how its systems operate and how best to fit in, Mr Lee told Singapore reporters in an interview on Friday, at the end of his four-day working visit to Russia.

In the short term, Russia faces challenges such as shrinking growth, low energy prices and the impact of Western sanctions, Mr Lee noted. But for the long term, it is "the place we ought to be", he said.

"Russia is a country with a long history, with deep roots and powerful science and technology capabilities, determined to be an influence in the world - somebody we can cooperate with in many areas," he said.

"Our trade with them has been growing, still modest but growing quite rapidly over the last decade. We co-operate with them in science and technology, education and culture. Even our investments back and forth have increased noticeably over the years."

"It is an account which we would like to develop and grow," said Mr Lee.

On its part, Russia has shown a new keenness in building economic ties with ASEAN countries like Singapore.

At the ASEAN-Russia summit on Friday to commemorate their 20 years of dialogue, President Vladimir Putin stressed to ASEAN leaders that his country wants stronger business links with the regional grouping.

Singapore has right conditions for start-ups: Forbes CEO

By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Singapore is now the "Mecca for entrepreneurship", thanks to favourable government policies that have created an environment conducive to business start-ups.

Forbes chief executive Michael Perlis offered this description of the Republic's great strides in the field of start-ups yesterday at the inaugural Forbes Under 30 Summit Asia.

"This is a community that can have a great deal of Silicon Valley-like aspects. There are inhibitors - business costs can be high - but there are also extraordinary motivators," he told The Straits Times.

"There is a youthfulness and can-do attitude at the government level that is very motivational for starting businesses."

The Under 30 Summit Asia named and invited 300 Asia-Pacific entrepreneurs and innovators - including 24 from Singapore - aged under 30 to a forum held at The South Beach. It is part of Singapore's Smart Nation Innovations Week.

Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, a speaker at the forum's opening, noted that the start-up scene is "booming" in Singapore.

"Forty per cent of start-up acquisitions in Asia are here, which is incredible, given our size. There were 230 start-ups last year at Bash by Infocomm Investments, and 60 per cent of them are getting follow-up funding," Dr Puthucheary said, referring to Build Amazing Start-ups Here, a facility in one-north that provides business venues for start-ups at low rental rates.

Education also plays a key role, Dr Puthucheary added, as the Government works on exposing students to industry mentorship at an early stage.

All this is being done as Singapore seeks to reinvent itself into a smart economy with jobs and growth driven by innovations.

Traffic police to deploy new speed laser cameras at 44 hot spots

Warning: Better slow down at these hot spots
New speed cameras can take better images and capture video
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Speed demons beware, the Traffic Police have a new gadget to nab those who break the speed limit.

Yesterday, the TP unveiled a new portable speed laser camera that will be deployed at 44 speeding hot spots, including West Coast Highway, Braddell Road and Changi Coast Road.

It is the first time the older cameras are being replaced since speeding enforcement operations began in 2004.

Manned by a single officer, the new camera can capture higher-resolution images, works better in low-light conditions and has a battery life of eight hours - double that of the older model.

It can also capture video, unlike the older model.

Officers will be stationed on overhead bridges or by the roadside.

Signs will be placed about 200m before the speed laser cameras.

"The intent is to let motorists be aware that they are entering an accident-prone area, so slow down and drive carefully," said TP deputy commander Devrajan Bala.

The new speed laser cameras will complement existing efforts to curb speeding with the TP's other cameras on the roads, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Devrajan said.

When asked why it took 12 years for the TP to replace the speed laser cameras, he said: "The technology has improved tremendously. We were looking for something that would be a game changer, in terms of camera capabilities.

"In the past, (cameras performance was) dependent on light conditions... The current ones are very reliable."

Food waste raises a stink for recycling

Contamination of recyclables complicates the process and hikes cost of maintaining facilities
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Singapore households have a dismal recycling rate of just 19 per cent and up to half of all items put into the blue recycling bins at the foot of every housing block go to waste because people dump trash like used diapers or soft toys into them, the National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Straits Times.

Such poor recycling practices not only complicate the process at materials recovery facilities - where workers manually separate plastic from paper, and paper from glass - but also increase the cost of maintaining the facilities, say public waste collectors.

Food waste, in particular, is corrosive and attracts pests like rats, said a spokesman for Veolia, one of Singapore's four collectors. On average, 35 per cent of the 12,000 tonnes of waste the company collects each year must be discarded.

At SembWaste, the average contamination rate is higher, at around 40 per cent of the 16,000 tonnes of waste collected each year, peaking at 50 per cent on bad days.

Such items end up wasting even more resources than regular trash.

Said Mr Lim Chin Khuang, senior vice-president of asset management at Sembcorp Environment: "First, you are bringing in waste into a recycling plant, which should not be the case, and this waste will have to be reloaded onto a truck and sent to the incineration plant.

"This is counterproductive."

As it stands, Singapore's only landfill on Pulau Semakau is expected to run out of space by 2035, and is under tremendous strain, said the NEA. Last year, the Republic disposed of 8,284 tonnes of waste a day - enough to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Woman sues grandkids for trying to sell HDB flat

She says she paid for it single-handedly while they argue the flat was their inheritance
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Madam Tan Teck Soon says, for 26 years, she has paid the Housing Board $277 each month - mortgage instalments for the three-room flat that she lives in.

She paid over $117,000, including upgrading costs and conservancy charges, said the 76-year-old canteen vendor, but she might soon have to leave her home. In March, she said, she learnt her granddaughters were trying to sell the flat.

To stop this, she has sued both Ms Michelle Ng Li Xuan, 26, and Ms Isabella Ng Su Xi, 25.

The case is pending in the High Court, and the two sides met for a pre-trial conference on Tuesday, said lawyer Chia Boon Teck, who is representing Madam Tan pro bono.

Both sisters are registered owners of the flat, which they inherited when their father died in 2009.

But Madam Tan said she had single-handedly paid for the flat since its purchase in 1990. Her granddaughters were only holding it in trust for her, she said. In her affidavit, she said they were trying to sell it and "swallow" the proceeds.

Friday 20 May 2016

More help for companies to support older workers from 1 July 2016

Guidelines for re-employing older workers also revised ahead of age cap going up to 67 on 1 July 2017
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 19 May 2016

From July, companies can get bigger grants from the Government to redesign jobs for older workers, in a move to encourage re-employment as the population ages.

They can apply for up to $300,000 for projects that will make jobs easier, safer and smarter for workers aged 50 and older, an amount double the previous cap under the Job Redesign Grant.

A total of $66 million will be available to companies over three years under the enhanced WorkPro scheme, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) announced yesterday. The move comes ahead of legislation to raise the re-employment age ceiling from 65 to 67 in July next year.

The agencies also said the Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers (Tricom) had announced revised guidelines to keep up with the raised ceiling. It wants employers to give re-employed workers five-year contracts from age 62, up from three-year ones, where possible. Also, it is suggesting a bigger one-off payout of up to $13,000 to workers who are not re-employed.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said of the changes: "As our workforce continues to age, we are going to see more and more workers over 60 years old."

They currently form 12 per cent of the resident labour force, or about 267,600, a sharp rise from 5.5 per cent 10 years ago.

The enhanced grants come under WorkPro, which was started in 2013 to foster progressive workplaces and boost local manpower.

The Enhanced WorkPro scheme aims to further encourage employers to create age-friendly workplaces, and is jointly developed by MOM, WDA, Singapore National Employers Federation and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).