Thursday 30 June 2016

After Brexit, the People's Spring is inevitable: Marine Le Pen

By Marine Le Pen, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

If there's one thing that chafes French pride, it's seeing the British steal the limelight. But in the face of real courage, even the proudest French person can only tip his hat and bow. The decision that the people of Britain have just made was indeed an act of courage - the courage of a people who embrace their freedom.

Brexit won out, defeating all forecasts. Britain decided to cast off from the European Union (EU) and reclaim its independence among the world's nations. It had been said that the election would hinge solely on economic matters; the British, however, were more insightful in understanding the real issue than commentators like to admit.

British voters understood that behind prognostications about the pound's exchange rate and behind the debates of financial experts, only one question, at once simple and fundamental, was being asked: Do we want an undemocratic authority ruling our lives, or would we rather regain control over our destiny? Brexit is, above all, a political issue. It's about the free choice of a people deciding to govern itself. Even when it is touted by all the propaganda in the world, a cage remains a cage, and a cage is unbearable to a human being in love with freedom.

The EU has become a prison of peoples. Each of the 28 countries that constitute it has slowly lost its democratic prerogatives to commissions and councils with no popular mandate. Every nation in the Union has had to apply laws it did not want for itself. Member nations no longer determine their own Budgets. They are called upon to open their borders against their will.

Countries in the euro zone face an even less enviable situation. In the name of ideology, different economies are forced to adopt the same currency, even if doing so bleeds them dry. It's a modern version of the Procrustean bed, and the people no longer have a say.

'Death squad' Duterte becomes Philippine President and he has promised a 'bloody' term

Scared Philippine drug dealers, addicts surrender
By Raul Dancel, Philippines Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2016

Thousands of drug dealers and addicts across the Philippines are surrendering to police, as a mayor known for backing extrajudicial killings of criminals takes office today as the nation's 16th president.

In Bonuan Gueset, a coastal district in Dagupan city, 200km north of the capital Manila, over 500 confessed drug addicts turned themselves over to their village chief early this week and signed notes pledging to get themselves rehabilitated.

They fear for their lives, Mr Ricardo Mejia, the village chief, told The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

They have a good reason to be afraid: Mr Rodrigo Duterte.

Mr Duterte will be inaugurated today for a six-year term as Philippine President, ushering in a new government that has promised a brutal war on crime.

Since Mr Duterte swept to victory in the May 9 elections, police and unnamed vigilantes have killed at least 54 suspected drug lords and dealers.

That works out to one killed a day, an escalation from the first four months of the year when the rate was about two a week, according to a Reuters report last week.

Fearful that they may also end up in body bags, some 300 peddlers and users of narcotics in an eastern suburb of metropolitan Manila and over 4,000 more in the vast southern region of Mindanao were reported to have surrendered to police this week.

Mr Duterte had warned addicts: "If I can't convince you to stop, I'll have you killed…"

The 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao carved a menacing reputation as a tough-talking, gun-toting maverick who does not shy away from using means outside the law when dealing with criminals.

He has been accused of unleashing "death squads" in a bruising, two-decade war on crime in Davao, now regarded as one of the nation's safest cities. He has said his term would be "bloody".

Even before he was elected, he had already promised to send the bodies of tens of thousands of criminals to the bottom of Manila Bay.

In recent weeks, he has cheered on security forces with offers of a 3 million peso (S$86,000) bounty and a medal as the body count rose.

"I believe in retribution. Why? You should pay. When you kill someone, rape, you should die," he said on Monday.

Over 600 guests have been invited to Mr Duterte's inauguration at noon today at Malacanang Palace, the seat of political power here.

Skills gap between younger and older Singapore workers: OECD study

Young Singaporeans rank high in OECD study while older ones lag far behind
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

Singapore's younger adults rank highly in numeracy, literacy and problem-solving skills, a major international study has found, but the older generation lags considerably behind. While this reflects the progress in education and training over the decades here, this "skills gap" also highlights that more needs to be done to upgrade the skills of older workers, said experts.

The study of 34 economies by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which included Singapore for the first time, also linked higher skill levels to better wages here, another reason for older workers to keep improving themselves.

Still, employers place more premium on qualifications, and a better balance should be found, believes OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher.

The results of OECD's Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), which also involved countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, were released yesterday. Those aged between 16 and 34 in Singapore ranked second behind the Finns in problem-solving using digital tools, fifth in numeracy, which was also topped by Finland, and ninth in literacy, which was led by Japan.

But older adults here aged 45 to 65 performed lower than the OECD average. They were ranked 31st in literacy and numeracy skills and 18th for problem-solving.

The difference in scores between the younger and older generation here is also among the widest when compared with other countries. One reason for the gap, OECD said, could be the survey being conducted in English here. Almost eight in 10 respondents aged above 35 here said they were not native speakers.

Mr Ng Cher Pong, chief executive of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, believes the difference reflects the marked improvement in Singapore's education and training systems over the last 50 years - including the ramp-up in schools and programmes.

But it is "hugely important" that Singapore finds ways to upgrade the skills of older workers, such as through schemes like SkillsFuture, said Dr Schleicher.

SkillsFuture is a national initiative to equip workers with skills. Doing so could "dramatically raise" Singapore's productivity and keep them employable, he said.

Nine in 10 teen boys in Singapore exposed to porn: Survey

Corresponding ratio for teen girls is less than one in 10; figures up since 2014 survey
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2016

Nine in every 10 teenage boys in Singapore have watched or read sexually explicit materials within the past year, a survey has found, with some first exposed to it even before they start primary school.

In contrast, only 8 per cent of girls - less than one in 10 - admitted to viewing pornography last year, either intentionally or by accident.

Conducted by Touch Cyber Wellness, the main agency that gives online safety talks in schools here, the survey polled 921 students aged 13 to 15 to examine teenage exposure to pornography.

It did the first such survey on teenage exposure to pornography two years ago and followed up with a second one earlier this year.

Compared with the first survey, there is an increase of 6 to 14 per cent of the boys and girls who have been exposed to pornography.

The main mode of accessing pornographic materials is through personal mobile devices.

Of those who viewed such content, 88 per cent of boys and 73 per cent of girls saw it on their smartphones or tablets. This is an increase of 6 per cent to 8 per cent compared with the 2014 survey.

The earliest age of exposure is upper primary and below for 52 per cent of the boys who accessed such material, and 28 per cent for the girls.

Experts say the findings are worrying as such content can affect children's studies, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and their attitudes and behaviour towards love and sex. If addiction sets in, it may lead to various forms of dysfunction and sexual crimes.

Wednesday 29 June 2016

PSLE: Switch to holistic assessment may add pressure on students

Government's plan to change current methods of assessment to reduce emphasis on academic achievement may be undermined by the fact that Singaporeans will adapt to compete on whatever terms they are given
By Lye Kok Leong, Published The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The winds of change are blowing hard against the Singaporean obsession with examination results that deprives the young of their childhood and propagates despair in society's pressure-cooker environment.

In April, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that the aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) will be scrapped, and replaced with wider scoring bands from 2021. This will be similar to grading at O and A levels.

The current system involves working out a child's aggregate T-score based on component subject scores - English, Mother Tongue, mathematics and science - weighted against the range of scores within each cohort.

The MOE has also hinted that it will review the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme to realign it with its original intent, presumably to recognise achievements and talents in specific areas instead of general academic ability.

The DSA scheme has been criticised for evolving into a channel for students to secure places in sought-after Integrated Programme schools whose students bypass O levels. Some parents also try to boost their kids' chances by sending them for DSA preparation classes and enrichment programmes.

The PSLE review was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013. It is meant to reduce the overemphasis on academic results and allow students more time and space to develop holistically.

Hence, the envisioned brave new world is one where the child can be "holistically assessed" from primary school all the way through to tertiary institutions. Presumably, this relieves the competitive pressure our children face within the school system.

Will it work?

1-hour PSI: NEA creates bands to simplify PM2.5 readings

Descriptors for one-hour readings will help the public understand figures, plan activities
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has introduced bands and descriptors for one-hour concentration readings of fine particles called PM2.5 to help the public make sense of the readings and plan their immediate activities.

While the agency has been publishing such one-hour readings since 2014, it is now providing breakdowns of what constitutes normal to very high levels of one-hour PM2.5 concentrations.

For instance, the range of 0 to 55 micrograms per cubic metre (mcg/m3) is described as "normal", while anything above 250 mcg/m3 will be described as "very high".

The Straits Times understands that the bands and descriptors were introduced after members of the public suggested having a guide to PM2.5 readings after last year's haze episode. Still, the bands do not state what levels are healthy or not, unlike the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which is used by the authorities here as the reference for health advisories.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, who made the announcement yesterday, said there is "no strong medical study" to show the impact of short-term exposure to PM2.5 particles on one's health.

"In any case, if you are sensitive to such particles, or you have some form of ailment that makes you sensitive to such particles, consult your doctor," he added.

PM2.5 pollutants are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, or a 30th of the diameter of a human hair.

It is one of six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, the PSI measures. Long and regular exposure to PM2.5 is linked to higher risk of death from complications such as lung cancer or heart disease.

With the roll-out of bands and descriptors for one-hour PM2.5 readings, the three-hour PSI reading will be phased out by the year end.

PM Lee lauds Al-Islah Mosque's community programmes

By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2016

The Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol is only a year old, but it has built close ties with neighbouring institutions and residents.

It partners nearby schools to distribute food to poor families in the neighbourhood. On the third week of each month, it conducts free guided tours around its premises.

Yesterday, about 350 people gathered at the mosque to celebrate iftar, or the breaking of fast, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

At sunset, mosque volunteers, community and religious leaders, and foreign workers who work nearby, had a meal of fruits, dates, curry porridge and rice.

PM Lee, at his first official iftar this Ramadan, applauded Al-Islah's community programmes, such as inviting grassroots leaders and non-Muslim residents to the mosque to break fast with them and learn more about Islam.

Relating Mr Lee's remarks to reporters later, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said: "This is what Singapore is all about. We may be a mosque, a temple or a church, but we are in Singapore. We fulfil the needs of our congregants, but we must also try to integrate ourselves into the wider community."

Before the meal, PM Lee was given a tour of the mosque, which was constructed at a cost of $16.5 million from the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund.

Tuesday 28 June 2016

SAFTI plays key role in Singapore's security: PM Lee Hsien Loong

SAFTI MI 50th Anniversary
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2016

The SAFTI Military Institute started out in a primary school, but has gone on to become a key institution of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and plays an important role in Singapore's security, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

PM Lee, who was himself trained in the institute, lauded it for producing past and present military leaders who have built and transformed the SAF.

Speaking at the commissioning parade of a new batch of officers, he recalled how then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had said, at the first commissioning parade in 1967, that the SAF can make up for its lack of numbers by "the standards of discipline, training, dedication and leadership".

PM Lee said: "This has become part of the SAF's ethos and spirit, and enabled the SAF to perform its duties to keep Singapore safe and secure."

SAFTI, which now has a sprawling camp in Jurong, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Around 70 of its pioneer batch of 117 officers were at yesterday's parade.

PM Lee thanked them for volunteering as cadets at a time of great uncertainty, when Singapore had just separated from Malaysia. "The first batch knew what was at stake, and... persevered through blood, sweat and tears, out of a love for... this country."

This has inspired generations of officers, who have together built up the SAF from just two infantry battalions to today's tri-service fighting force with the latest equipment, technology and tactics, he said.

To the 547 new officers, he added: "It is your duty to ensure that Singapore will always be secure, so that your families, and all Singaporeans, can always be confident of our future together."

Sunday 26 June 2016

Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act: Sovereignty, jurisdiction and international law

Singapore's transboundary haze pollution law is consistent with international law principles, which do permit a country's laws to have extraterritorial jurisdiction in some instances.
By S. Jayakumar and Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

In 2014, Singapore enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which came into force on Sept 25, 2014. Essentially, the Act makes it an offence for any entity to engage in conduct, or to condone conduct, causing or contributing to haze pollution in Singapore. Apart from criminal liability, the Act also creates statutory duties and civil liabilities.

The Act is unusual but not unprecedented in targeting conduct that occurs outside Singapore, and which causes or contributes to haze pollution in Singapore.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, speaking in Parliament in August 2014, said the Act "is not intended to replace the laws and enforcement actions of other countries, but it is to complement the efforts of other countries to hold companies to account". He added that "we, in Singapore, cannot simply wait and wishfully hope that the problem will be resolved on its own. The Singapore Government would want to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm our environment and put at risk the health of our citizens".


There were mixed reactions to this law in Indonesia. Some parties expressed support for Singapore's law. Others, including some Indonesian ministers, criticised the law on the grounds that it was a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty. A typical comment was: "As it happened in Indonesia, it is part of Indonesia's jurisdiction. If Singapore could easily try Indonesian citizens, it could be a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty."

The Singapore Government responded that the law was consistent with international law. It was drafted with the advice of international law experts and did not violate the sovereignty of any country.

The issue is whether it is permissible for a country to enact legislation that would have extraterritorial reach. The answer to this question turns on a proper understanding of the established principles of international law.

Brexit: UK votes to leave EU in historic referendum

David Cameron Resigns As UK Prime Minister After Brexit Vote

Turmoil as Britain votes to leave EU
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor (Global Affairs) In London, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain is faced with negotiating a tricky exit from the European Union and picking a new leader after the hotly contested referendum on remaining within the EU produced a stunning Leave verdict.

Prime Minister David Cameron, whose decision to call the vote is now regarded as a blunder, announced yesterday that he would quit office by October. He leaves a party and nation badly divided over issues of immigration, identity and the economy.

Asian markets were roiled after the results showed a 51.9 per cent vote for Leave against 48.1 per cent for Remain, defying predictions of pollsters and bookies. The result threatens to unravel the European project and even the United Kingdom, with every voting district in pro-Europe Scotland voting Remain and Northern Ireland also voting decisively to stay. Wales voted to Leave.

"This is Independence Day," said Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who, along with former London mayor Boris Johnson, spearheaded the Leave campaign. "See EU later!", crowed the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun tabloid, which had vigorously campaigned for Brexit.

Saturday 25 June 2016

Brexit poll: a sobering lesson for Asia

Politics let loose can be a dangerous thing; this region needs to resist a tide of xenophobia and isolationism
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, Global Affairs, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

LONDON • A young British MP is brutally murdered in her constituency by a neo-Nazi type because she spoke up for immigrants and favoured her nation staying in the European Union. Days later, in Miri, Sarawak, a prominent opposition politician is gunned down in broad daylight as he waits in his car at a traffic intersection, a new edge added to Malaysia's troubled politics.

In the United States, the presumptive Republican Party frontrunner for the US presidential election is coarse of tongue, deeply divisive in his positions, stokes suspicions about Muslims and is on record saying he thought the United Kingdom should leave the EU because migration had been a "terrible thing" for the country.

In the UK, Mr Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party that campaigned for Britain to exit the EU, publishes a poster captioned "Breaking Point". It has a picture of a wave of anxious refugees, many with beards. The picture was apparently taken last year in Slovenia, whose border is some 1,600km from London. But the message was unmistakeable and shocked many Britons. J.K. Rowling called it "Nazi propaganda".

It is "nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren't flocking to the 'Leave' cause, or that they aren't, in some instances, directing it", the celebrated author of Harry Potter books wrote on her blog.

A referendum, like an election, is a celebration of the democratic process. Inevitably, some base instincts surface in these things as private ambitions of a Himalayan scale are pursued.

Even so, the fight witnessed over Brexit can only be said to have raised mirrors to the darkest sides of the human personality. The tribal instincts, nationalism, xenophobia, isolationism and yes, violence, that it unleashed will linger on and be examined closely around the world.

Singapore caught in the middle as China-ASEAN country coordinator

Still, it did creditably as 'the well wasn't poisoned and bridges weren't burnt' despite the Kunming meeting ending with disjointed public statements
By Teo Cheng Wee, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

BEIJING • An hour before a special ASEAN-China meeting was convened last week, officials from China and Singapore sat down for a discussion.

Against the backdrop of South China Sea tensions, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out that Singapore should play a role in addressing "historical issues" between China and some ASEAN countries.

"As the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogue relations, Singapore needs to act as a bridge between the two sides," he said.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan responded that Singapore hopes to help build up mutual trust between ASEAN and China. But he prefaced his remarks with: "Singapore is just a coordinator, not the leader."

That point was made to stress Singapore's impartiality, underscoring the tricky balance it has to strike even as most ASEAN countries press for a stronger stand against China.

Singapore faces several challenges as country coordinator, noted Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the governing board of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. These include the South China Sea disputes, disunity in the ASEAN family, intense competition for influence between the major powers, and the deficit of trust between China and some ASEAN member states, he told The Straits Times. Indeed, the idyllic scenery of the lakeside resort near Kunming could not hide the storm that brewed in its meeting rooms.

Singapore's middleman task has been made more onerous by an impending United Nations tribunal ruling over an arbitration case brought by the Philippines on China's claims in the South China Sea. The decision - widely expected to go against China - is likely to be announced in a few weeks' time.

Singapore 5th on global list for attracting female entrepreneurs

By Chia Yan Min In Palo Alto, California, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

Singapore has come in fifth on a list of cities ranked by ability to attract and support female entrepreneurs.

The Republic is ahead of cities such as Hong Kong, Paris, Washington and Shanghai, according to a new study by US technology giant Dell and market research firm IHS.

New York topped the ranking, followed by the Bay Area, which includes parts of San Francisco and San Jose. London was ranked third and Stockholm, fourth.

The findings were unveiled at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is being held over three days ending today on the Stanford University campus in California.

More than 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from around the world are taking part in the summit, including at least seven representatives from Singapore.

The Dell and IHS study assessed five key characteristics - capital, technology, talent, culture and markets - in 25 global cities.

Cities, instead of countries, were identified in order to show the impact of local policies and programmes as well as national laws and customs.

In addition to the overall ranking, Singapore came in third - after Stockholm and Beijing - on the technology front. The Republic also came in fifth for having a culture that is friendly towards entrepreneurship and women-owned firms.

MRT Free Pre-Peak Travel to be extended till 30 June 2017

Free MRT rides for early birds extended for one more year
Getting more people to hop onto scheme depends on companies making early start a culture, say experts
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

Free train rides into the city area before 7.45am will continue until June next year. But getting people to travel outside of the morning peak period still depends on companies encouraging them to do so, said transport and recruitment experts.

The free train ride scheme, which has been extended three times since it began in 2013, has cost the Land Transport Authority (LTA) more than $28 million up until March this year.

LTA said 7 per cent of commuters had made a consistent switch away from travelling during the peak time of 8am to 9am.

Announcing the extension yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said more than 65,000 commuters benefit from the free travel scheme every day.

Asked if it would be made permanent, she said: "We really have to see how people respond to the idea of travelling off-peak.

"A lot of it has to do with whether their job requirements and family commitments allow them to do so."

Feedback on what works and what needs to be improved has to be gathered, she added.

Friday 24 June 2016

Public parking rates to increase from December 2016 after first revision in 14 years

HDB and URA to raise carpark charges from Dec 1
Public parking gets costlier
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 1 Jul 2016

Public parking charges across the island will go up by as much as 27 per cent from December, when the results of a government review on carpark fees kick in.

Under the new charges, drivers will have to pay $1.20 per half hour - up from $1 now - to park in the Restricted Zone (RZ), or city area. Outside the RZ, it will cost $0.60 per half hour, up from $0.50.

Monthly season parking rates will also go up by between $15 and $20 for each household's first car. Residents who use carparks with both surface and sheltered lots will have to pay $95 a month, up from $75 - an increase of 27 per cent. Households will have to pay more for subsequent cars.

The Housing Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) made these changes public yesterday, after The Straits Times reported last month that a review was under way.

This will be the first time public parking rates are being hiked since 2002, when rates were increased about 10 per cent.

Since then, "the costs of building, operating and managing carparks have increased due to general inflation, as well as construction, manpower and other related maintenance costs", said the HDB and URA in their statement yesterday.

The HDB and URA manage 607,000 and 24,000 parking spaces respectively.

There will be no changes to the parking charges for motorcycles.

The latest increase will bring public parking charges in line with those of private operators in certain areas, particularly those outside the city.

The new parking coupons will be available at HDB branches and service centres, the URA Centre and coupon agents such as petrol stations and 7-11 outlets from October.

Old parking coupons can be exchanged for new ones by topping up the difference in value.

Letters will also be sent to inform season parking users of their revised rates by September.

Experts said the differential charges for season parking pointed towards curbing car ownership.

Negative inflation: Below the surface of falling prices in Singapore

The risk to sustainable growth is not deflation but a debt spiral
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

April marked Singapore's 18th straight month of negative inflation, and economists reckon that this streak would have entered its 19th month once the May data is released on Thursday.

Never before has Singapore's consumer price index (CPI) been in contraction for so long. The last time prices fell for so long was back in late 1975, when the CPI went into 16 straight months of contraction in the wake of a world recession.

On the surface, this current prolonged bout of falling prices seems alarming. Previous episodes coincided with recessions in 1998, 2001 and 2008, when weak demand dragged prices lower. Often, a prolonged fall in prices is also a sign of deflation - a problem with dire consequences that are hard to reverse. In what is called a "deflationary spiral", consumers, anticipating that things can only get cheaper, save rather than spend. Firms' profits fall, wages stagnate, and so does growth.

Japan, which has had deflation for 15 years, is still struggling to stoke spending. Having exhausted better options, the Bank of Japan decided in January to set a -0.1 per cent interest rate on some deposits that banks keep at the central bank, to spur bank lending. Meanwhile, the annual interest rate on a regular savings account is just 0.001 per cent.

Is Singapore at risk of a similar plight?

MOH suspends two dental clinics from CHAS scheme for fraud probe

2 dental clinics under police probe for fraud
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2016

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will suspend two dental clinics from offering subsidised care to middle- and lower-income Singaporeans and the Pioneer Generation because of possible dental fraud.

The two are Phoenix Dental Surgery clinics in Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade. The suspension begins on July 8 for an indefinite period.

A statement from the MOH yesterday said it had referred the matter to the police for investigation into possible criminal offences.

The Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) subsidises pioneers and citizens, whose per capita monthly household income is $1,800 or less, for treatments at private medical and dental clinics.

The doctor or dentist makes a claim for the subsidy on behalf of the patient, and the amount is deducted from the patient's bill.

For dental treatment, subsidies, which are paid by the Government, range from $11 to $266.50.

The MOH said the two clinics had continuously made claims that breached MOH rules and guidelines.

This included making claims for procedures that were not carried out. The ministry said it took a serious view of such errant practices.

Although the clinics will not be able to offer patients the subsidy, they may continue operating.

Thursday 23 June 2016

All national servicemen to get free basic insurance from 1 July 2016

MINDEF, MHA will pay for coverage during full-time national service, reservist duties
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

Both full-time and operationally ready national servicemen will have free life and personal insurance coverage provided by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

The scheme applies to servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and will take effect on July 1.

Premiums for the $150,000 group term life and $150,000 group personal accident insurance coverage from Aviva will be paid for by MINDEF and the MHA during the servicemen's full-time national service or reservist duties.

The insurance will also cover pre-existing medical conditions.

The scheme was one of the recommendations by the Committee to Strengthen National Service to better recognise the contributions of national servicemen.

"The provision of this group term life and group personal accident insurance, which is on top of our current welfare and compensation frameworks, is our way to thank (our national servicemen) for their contributions to national defence," said MINDEF's National Service Affairs director, Colonel (NS) Simon Lim.

Currently, SAF servicemen have the choice of opting into an insurance plan when they enlist, while those in the SPF and SCDF are automatically enrolled in schemes with premiums paid from their monthly allowance. Those in the SAF who are injured in the course of training can also seek compensation for medical expenses.

The new insurance coverage will be extended to regulars in MINDEF/SAF and the Home Team (Uniformed Officer) during their period of employment.

National Service volunteers, as well as volunteers from the SAF Volunteer Corps, SPF Voluntary Special Constabulary and Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit will also be covered during their official duties.

Dental clinic for the elderly and special needs opens in Outram

By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

A dental clinic set up for seniors and people with special needs was officially opened at the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) yesterday.

The Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic, located at the Singapore General Hospital's Outram campus, sees patients with complex oral health conditions and who typically also have behavioural issues.

For instance, patients with Parkinson's disease may have trouble brushing their teeth, while many of those with autism get easily agitated by dental care.

The new clinic, which started operations last September, is the first of its kind in Singapore. It has seen more than 4,000 patient visits to date. Patients are generally referred from polyclinics or hospitals.

The clinic is designed to make dentist visits as fuss-free as possible for its special clientele.

"For example, for the less mobile and frail patients who have difficulty being transferred to a dental chair, the wheelchair tilting system allows the dental team to treat the patients in their wheelchairs," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who spoke at the opening.

Every room is equipped with a dental X-ray machine so that patients do not need to travel to another part of the building.

In addition, general dental radiography and surgical procedures that require only local anaesthesia can be done within the clinic.

'Many options' for future development of Singapore: Lawrence Wong

Minister cites building underground facilities as one solution to overcome land constraints
By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

Underground power substations? Underground reservoirs?

Singapore still has many options for development despite its physical constraints, and one way is to build more infrastructure underground.

This subterranean potential is among the plans the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is studying to make Singapore a vibrant global city and competitive economy, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

"We're always looking at how we can expand our land and space options - and we have them. We have reclamation projects, indeed the Tuas mega port will be on reclaimed land. But we can also go underground," he said.

With projects like the Jurong Rock Caverns - a liquid hydrocarbon storage 150m below ground - Singapore is only "starting to scratch the surface of the potential for underground development".

"There is a lot more that we can do beyond Jurong Rock Caverns. For instance, the utility or power substations that you see around - a lot of them can go underground. It will cost more, but also free up surface land for development."

He cited national water agency PUB's interest in building an underground reservoir as an example.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs CFE's future city sub-committee, was speaking at the annual general meeting lunch of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC).

Building underground facilities has been in focus as the Government looks for long-term solutions to overcome land scarcity here. In March, an underground district cooling network - which produces chilled water for air-conditioning for nearby areas - was launched at Marina Bay.

Tiger Parenting: Kids of pushy parents 'face higher risk of depression'

NUS study finds these children are much more likely to develop anxiety symptoms
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

Children with pushy parents are at a much higher risk of developing depression or anxiety symptoms, according to a local university study. The findings, according to researchers, are especially relevant to a society like Singapore's, in which there is an emphasis on academic excellence.

Said the study's head, Assistant Professor Ryan Hong: "Parents may set unrealistically high expectations for their children.

"As a result, a sizeable segment of children may become fearful of making mistakes."

The five-year study by researchers from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) department of psychology examined how maladaptive perfectionism - commonly known as the "bad" form of perfectionism - develops in primary school children in Singapore.

From 2010, 263 seven-year-old children - of whom 60 per cent were boys - from 10 primary schools here were assessed. The parent most familiar with the child - this was the mother in nine in 10 cases - was also involved.

A puzzle game was used to assess how "pushy" each parent was at the beginning of the study.

Each child had to solve puzzles within a time limit, and the parent was told he or she could help when needed. This was to see whether the parent interfered with the child's problem-solving attempts.

A highly intrusive parent would take over and retract a move by the child or tell the child what to do.

Over the following years, the child was assessed at the ages of eight, nine and 11 to examine levels of maladaptive perfectionism.

The NUS study found that children with intrusive parents are at least two times more likely to develop high levels of self-criticalness compared with others.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Should we be wary of a heightened sense of entitlement?

By William Wan, Published The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2016

Recently, netizens were in an uproar over a Facebook video which showed a livid female customer berating a deaf cleaner and his manager at JEM food court. What appeared to be a simple case of miscommunication on the part of the cleaner (due to his inability to communicate verbally) escalated into the most talked-about topic in town. It even had our national leaders weighing in.

Such reactions did not come as a surprise. The woman's outburst happened amid a slew of other reports of ill-treatment towards service staff in the healthcare, food and beverage, and retail industries. The Straits Times recently reported that nurses are experiencing more physical and verbal abuse from patients and their family members. In another article by The New Paper, a customer almost turned violent after a restaurant owner told him about their no-split-bill policy.

Reports of such nature seem to be endemic of a society whose sense of entitlement is rapidly peaking.

Barely a year ago, Mr Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, observed that many people "felt that life, their employer and the Government owe them a living" which gives rise to an overly fussy attitude towards employment and job-hunting.

While Mr Mills specifically referenced workplace attitudes, mistreatment of service staff is an equal, if not greater, cause for concern. If incidents of disparaging remarks and abuse from customers become a day-to-day reality, staff morale can be severely undermined. This will drive Singaporeans further away from industries that are already short of workers. Recently, my friends from Golden Village, a cineplex chain, shared that rude customers are one of the main contributors to the high turnover rate within the industry.

While it is fair to expect a reasonable standard of service one has paid for, it becomes a problem when it slides into an unreasonable sense of entitlement. That said, we should still be compassionate and empathetic in how we respond when the quality of service falls short.

What is more alarming to me is that the way we treat our service staff reflects squarely on our core values, which define who we are as a society. Will those values revolve around self-centred righteousness and being overly sensitive about one's own precious ego - or can we embrace values of compassion, empathy and tenderness in the way we treat one another?

It is disconcerting to note that such instances of ignominious behaviour appear to be more commonplace today, and that some people assume they can demand anything from service staff and launch into long harangues when things don't go their way, just because they are paying patrons of the establishment.

If only we stopped to think about the stress that accompanies the long hours and manual labour that service staff endure. It is erroneous to assume that, as customers, there is no need to practise patience and empathy. The maxim "the customer is always right" ought to have been thrown out the door a long time ago.

First in Singapore to donate liver to stranger

Liver donor's gift saves 16-year-old's life
Singapore’s first altruistic non-directed liver donation
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2016

Nearly 30 years ago, before the Human Organ Transplant Act made organ donation the default in the event of a person's death, Mr Lim Kok Seng signed up to be an organ donor.

Twenty years later, he started volunteering for clinical drug trials to help advance medical science.

And in January last year, the 54-year-old security concierge decided to take things a step further, by coming forward to donate part of his liver to whoever on the national waiting list needed it most.

That turned out to be 16-year-old Lim Si Jia, whose own liver was unable to break down a compound called glycogen properly.

Following 10-hour surgery at the National University Hospital on March 24 this year, Mr Lim became the first non-directed liver donor in Singapore's 26 years of carrying out liver transplants.

Left untreated, Si Jia's condition could lead to cancerous tumours forming on her liver and prove fatal in the long run.

Professor Krishnakumar Madhavan, co-director of the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation, said the majority of living organ donations worldwide are directed - that is, the donor has a specific recipient in mind. Said Prof Madhavan: "This is the first time in our experience with somebody who steps up and says, 'I want to donate; it doesn't matter to whom.'"

Mr Lim, who simply wanted to be able to help someone, decided not to wait until after his death to donate his liver because he was not sure whether it would still be in good working order by then.

2016 GST Voucher and Budget benefits for 1.54 million Singaporeans

$890m worth of GST Vouchers and Medisave top-ups will be given out
1.54 million Singaporeans to get letters on Budget benefits
By Lee Min Kok, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2016

Some 1.54 million eligible Singaporeans will receive letters informing them of their 2016 GST Voucher, Medisave top-ups and other Budget benefits by July 1.

The GST or Goods and Services Tax Voucher handouts and Medisave top-ups are worth about $890 million, the Ministry of Finance announced yesterday.

Under the GST Voucher benefits, an estimated 1.3 million Singaporeans will each get up to $300 in cash.

On top of that, the Government also announced in Budget 2016 a one-off GST Voucher - called the "cash special payment" - of up to $200 to support households amid the current economic slowdown.

This means that eligible GST Voucher recipients could each get up to $500 in cash this year, which will be disbursed in two payments in August and November.

Meanwhile, about 425,000 Singaporeans aged 65 years and above will receive Medisave top-ups of up to $450 each in August.

Pioneers will also receive their Pioneer Generation Medisave top-ups of between $200 and $800 next month.

Singaporeans are eligible for Pioneer Generation benefits if they are aged 67 and above this year, and obtained citizenship before 1987.

In addition, Singaporeans aged 57 and above this year who are not eligible for Pioneer Generation benefits will receive a Medisave top-up of up to $200 each year until 2018.

The top-up this year will be made in August.

The Finance Ministry is encouraging Singaporeans to sign up to receive SMS notifications at www., instead of waiting for notification letters.

New book My School Uniform hopes to remind you of your carefree secondary school days

A new book aims to document the memories of school life while tracing the evolution of school uniforms here
By Sonia Yeo, TODAY, 20 Jun 2016

How would you like to remind yourself of the happy, carefree times when you were in school? This is what Yix Quek hopes you would feel after you have read her book My School Uniform.

“We decided to call the book My School Uniform so that it is more personal. To the reader, it’s my school uniform. It is almost like you have an ownership over it” Quek said.

The author is known for her children story books. Her first publication, The Book That Was Handed Down, was released in 2008, and won the inaugural Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award for Outstanding Book. She decided to step away from the genre to do her first photography project with My School Uniform. The work features over 365 pages of uniforms from 142 secondary schools in Singapore, and was inspired by street photography and books like Humans Of New York that are filled with profiles and interviews. “I thought that it would be interesting to cast school uniforms in that light. Photography, I feel, is the right medium to help bring out the content. It captures the human touch and documents school life at a particular point of time.”

She added that she chose the topic of school uniforms as they were a big part of our lives and could well be transient in nature. “Schools might not be around tomorrow. The uniforms might change. And these will still matter to you even though you have left the school,” Quek explained.