Wednesday 30 November 2016

Vigilant and responsive to air threats: Air Defence Task Force

Multi-agency exercise tests readiness in event of strikes
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2016

When most of Singapore was asleep at 2am yesterday, a pair of F-15SG fighter planes were scrambled from Paya Lebar Airbase, racing to intercept a "threat" flying over the South China Sea.

Back on land, surface-to-air missile systems, manned by Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) units, were placed on high alert.

The threat - a commercial airliner suspected of being hijacked - may have been a simulated one, but the exercise was a real demonstration of how Singapore would respond to potential air threats, such as a Sept 11-type terror attack.

Called Vigilant Shield, it involved about 400 participants from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the Changi Airport Group and the Singapore Police Force.

Collectively, they work together under a round-the-clock Air Defence Task Force (ADTF).

ADTF's commander, Brigadier-General Tan Chee Wee, said: "On a daily basis, we do investigate aircraft that may not have a very clear identity or intent, and where the situation requires, we will respond to it." He said some of the incidents investigated could be categorised as potential terror threats, and are taken "very seriously". "And where needed, we will activate our air defence responses to deal with them."

Besides F-15SG fighters, the RSAF also deployed its AH-64D Apache helicopters, along with GBAD missile systems - such as the I-Hawk, Spyder and RBS-70 - for yesterday's exercise.

The RSAF works with the CAAS to clear the affected airspace of civilian air traffic. "This allows the fighters to scramble out in the most expedited departure route to intercept the suspicious aircraft," said an F-15SG pilot, Lieutenant Julian Low, from the 149 Squadron.

Besides using radio communications, the fighters also fly as close as 660ft, or 201m, to the suspicious aircraft, to signal them visually.

Major Zanna Lee, chief planner for Exercise Vigilant Shield, said: "Our primary response is always to make sure they remain compliant and land in Singapore. If not... (it) is to turn them away."

Yishun Community Hospital gives glimpse of future care

Such facilities are cheaper to run and build and can ease the crunch at acute hospitals
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2016

The template for the future of Singapore's healthcare system was on display yesterday as the Yishun Community Hospital was officially opened to take the load off the neighbouring Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

Community hospitals will play a bigger role in caring for patients in the future and are part of the transformation under the Healthcare 2020 Masterplan to "shift the centre of gravity from acute hospitals to the community", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

As he officially opened YCH, Mr Gan said: "Over time, we see community hospitals expanding their roles to provide more short-term inpatient care for geriatric, dementia and palliative patients."

YCH, which is linked to KTPH, has cared for more than 1,400 patients since it became operational in December last year.

YCH, which has opened 238 of its 428 beds so far, is currently 60 per cent full, while the adjacent KTPH faces a bed crunch, with occupancy hovering at around 90 per cent.

It is much cheaper to run a community hospital, where the nurse-to-patient ratio is one to 16, which means one nurse can look after four times the number of patients compared with a general hospital. This is largely because, while its patients still need care, their conditions are stable.

Community hospitals are also cheaper to build, at roughly half the cost of an acute hospital.

That is why all future acute hospitals in the public sector will have a community hospital next door to allow patients to "transit smoothly from the acute hospital to the community hospital and eventually back home".

Aside from KTPH, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Changi General Hospital, and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital all have community hospitals next door. Outram Community Hospital, expected to open in 2020, is being built on the Singapore General Hospital campus.

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Our Tampines Hub: Six government agencies under one roof

First-of-its-kind Public Services Centre a key feature of new lifestyle and community hub
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2016

A new community and lifestyle hub in Tampines with some services operating round the clock was officially opened yesterday.

A key feature of the sprawling Our Tampines Hub, which sits on 5.3ha of land - the size of about seven football fields - is a first-of-its-kind Public Services Centre housing six government agencies under one roof.

This means residents can register for People's Association (PA) activities or pay Housing Board-related fees like mortgage payments or parking fines at a 24-hour e-lobby.

For more complicated tasks like job matching or getting financial assistance, several officers from PA, HDB and the other agencies - North East Community Development Council, Workforce Singapore, Ministry of Social and Family Development and ActiveSG - will be on duty, some up to 10pm.

These agencies were picked based on how often Tampines residents used their services, and more may come on board if needed.

Other 24/7 offerings at the hub include an 800-seat hawker centre, which has 42 stalls and an automated tray return station.

The hub, which was five years in the making, also houses a shopping mall, community health centre, the first HomeTeamNS clubhouse in the east and a community auditorium with 20 badminton courts - and is an example of how future community hubs could look like.

Monday 28 November 2016

Plans to develop Jurong Lake Gardens Central and East unveiled on 26 November 2016

Chinese, Japanese Gardens to get major upgrade
Features include waterfront promenade, water gallery trail but iconic landmarks to be retained
By Adrian Lim, The Sunday Times, 27 Nov 2016

Masterplans for the central and eastern segments of the Jurong Lake Gardens development were unveiled yesterday - the final pieces to complete a 90ha national garden in the heartland.

The proposed plans will see the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, built in the mid-1970s, receive an upgrade with new community spaces, tropical and aquatic gardens, as well as food and beverage outlets.

Along the eastern shore of Jurong Lake, residents will be able to enjoy a new waterfront promenade and a "water gallery trail" for leisure boaters to explore nature and art.

Yesterday, a public exhibition to gather feedback on these proposed concepts was launched at Canopy @ J Link, Jurong East by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

The plans were developed by a team comprising Liu & Wo Architects and landscape architecture firms SALD and Landscape Design Inc, which were chosen last month via a tender.

Mr Wong assured residents that while the Chinese and Japanese Gardens will be refurbished, iconic landmarks such as the pagoda, connecting bridge, tea house and bonsai garden will be retained.

"Many of our Jurong residents would have fond memories of climbing up the seven-storey pagoda to see the skyline of Jurong. Some of you have taken your wedding photos at the Double Beauty Bridge that connects the Chinese and Japanese Gardens," he added.

Mr Wong said that Jurong Lake Gardens will be Singapore's third national garden, joining the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay.

Connecting mums in jail with their kids

Charity provides updates, tapes them reading children's stories so kids can hear their voices
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Nov 2016

Salma (not her real name) was racked with guilt, self-loathing and anxiety about her four children's well-being while she was in jail.

She was incarcerated for close to five years for drug trafficking in 2010.

After she and her husband were arrested for drug offences, her children were split up and cared for by two different relatives.

The children were then between 20 months and 10 years old.

Salma, who was released last year, said: "I was a horrible mother as I caused my children to suffer. I had no news of them and I thought of them every day (when I was in jail)."

The 51-year-old housewife saw them only thrice in the first four years of her sentence - her second for drug offences.

Her children were too young to visit her on their own and volunteers took them to the Changi Women's Prison on Mother's Day.

It meant the world to her when volunteers from New Life Stories - a charity that helps incarcerated mothers and their children - visited her in jail regularly, encouraged her and updated her with news about her children.

They also taught her to read children's stories, taped her reading and passed the voice recordings to her children so they could hear her voice and know that she loves them.

Ms Saleemah Ismail, who co-founded the charity in 2014, said the biggest source of anguish for incarcerated mothers was being separated from their children.

"Some had no news of their children at all, while others said their children rejected them as they felt abandoned by their mums," she said.

"We thought if we could help to heal strained ties between mother and child, this would help the women to change for the better and stay out of trouble."

Sunday 27 November 2016

Employers must report retrenchments to Manpower Ministry from January 2017

Retrenched workers to get faster help with new MOM rule
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2016

Help for retrenched workers will come sooner under a new rule that takes effect on 1 Jan 2017.

They will get guidance earlier on jobs that could suit them and be asked to attend workshops on handling interviews, among other things.

The quicker help follows the new rule which requires employers to inform the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) within five days of laying off workers and give details of the employees told to go.

It applies to all companies with at least 10 workers, and which are retrenching five or more employees in any six-month period.

They must report the move once the fifth worker is notified, and must report every subsequent retrenchment as well.

Currently, companies with at least 25 employees report only the number retrenched in the MOM's mandatory quarterly surveys.

Employers who flout the new rule will get warnings and, on conviction, could face penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000.

With the long-term unemployment rate creeping up and the rate of re-entry into employment slowing, helping people get back to work is a top concern, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday when announcing the rule.

"The sooner employers report to us, the sooner we can reach out to retrenched workers, and the sooner we can put them under employment support," he said when visiting the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

He foresees professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) being in the majority of those laid off amid the global economic slowdown and economic restructuring in Singapore.

Saturday 26 November 2016

SAF armoured vehicles seized at Hong Kong port on 23 November 2016; China voices unhappiness to Singapore over military ties with Taiwan

Nine Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles bound for Singapore, after being deployed for training in Taiwan, held up at Hong Kong Customs for inspections
By Jermyn Chow, In Taipei and Joyce Lim, In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2016

Armoured vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which were bound for Singapore after being used for overseas training, have been seized by Hong Kong Customs at a port in the city.

Nine vehicles were seized, Hong Kong media reported.

The military vehicles were reportedly being shipped from Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan to Singapore in 12 containers, but it is not known why the ship carrying the containers had stopped by Hong Kong.

Responding to media queries yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles (ICVs) and associated equipment used by the SAF overseas were "delayed at Hong Kong's Kwai Chung Container Terminal, due to a request for routine inspections by the Hong Kong Customs authorities".

MINDEF did not say how many armoured vehicles were seized, but added that there was no ammunition on board.

"The Terrex ICVs were used by the Singapore Armed Forces in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means as with previous exercises," it said.

It added: "Singapore authorities are providing relevant assistance to the Hong Kong Customs and expect the shipment to return to Singapore expeditiously."

A spokesman for Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department told The Straits Times that "suspected controlled items" were found on board the vessel during a search.

Under Hong Kong regulations, controlled items can include firearms and ammunition, medicine or radioactive substances.

Hong Kong TV footage and photographs in Hong Kong media showed nine vehicles covered with tarpaulin and parked at Kwai Chung terminal.

The Customs and Excise Department spokesman said the items had to be unloaded from the vessel as part of ongoing investigations.

"Customs officers will take appropriate follow-up actions on the items," she added.

She declined to say if the receiver of the items has been contacted or whether the sender or owner had applied for a valid licence for the controlled items.

Under Hong Kong regulations, a licence is not required for prohibited items which are transiting through Hong Kong and remain "at all times" on the transportation vessels.

Folding bikes, e-scooters allowed all-day on public transport from 1 June 2017

* Foldable bikes, PMDs on buses, trains all day
After successful six-month trial, move will be made permanent
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 29 May 2017

Commuters will be able to continue taking their foldable bicycles and personal mobility devices (PMDs) with them on buses and trains all day, after a trial ends this month.

The six-month trial by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and public transport operators showed most commuters were accepting of such practices, LTA's deputy chief executive for public transport Jeremy Yap said yesterday.

"While we saw more commuters carrying these devices into train stations during the trial, the majority were responsible and observed the stipulated rules and guidelines," he said. "Many also expressed support for the initiative as it provided passengers another option for their first- and last-mile commute."

This development ties in with the Government's vision of a car-lite Singapore. The LTA and Urban Redevelopment Authority announced yesterday plans for cycling routes in the central area that will be linked to the heartland.

Mr Francis Chu, co-founder of cycling group Love Cycling SG, said allowing such devices on board public transport is a practical move.

He said: "Singapore has a good rail network, but it cannot always reach people's doorsteps. People who live a longer distance away from train stations can use bicycles for the first and last mile of their journey. It will encourage more people to use bicycles as a mode of transport."

The LTA had said in March that based on checks at some MRT stations during weekday peak-hour travel, an average of about 15 to 20 commuters boarded trains with their PMDs at each station.

Most of the devices taken on board were PMDs such as e-scooters, the LTA had said.

They were more often seen at interchange stations such as Jurong East, Bishan and Serangoon.

With more than 100 stations islandwide, there could be as many as 2,000 commuters benefiting from the pilot. Over two million commuters ride the MRT and LRT daily.

Posters highlighting the rules involved will be put up at train stations and bus interchanges islandwide. For example, bicycles and PMDs must be folded at all times and motorised PMDs switched off when taken on board trains and buses.

The foldable bicycles and PMDS have to meet the following dimensions as well - a length of up to 120cm, a height of 70cm and a width of 40cm.

Those who do not comply with the rules will be denied entry into the train station or bus, and can be fined up to $500 for each offence.

Thursday 24 November 2016

SGInnovate launched to incubate science and deep-tech startups

Singapore digs deep for tech edge
SGInnovate launched to link up start-ups, researchers, investors
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

The push to build more start-ups based on science and "deep" technology - technology that is hard to reproduce - picked up pace with the launch of a new organisation yesterday.

Called SGInnovate, it brings together entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, academics and companies to develop technology-based products at a six-storey facility in Carpenter Street.

Chief executive Steve Leonard said the new entity cannot be pigeon-holed as just a start-up accelerator or ecosystem "curator".

"We are going to work hard to resist specific tags - we want to be flexible and nimble. Our goal is to take the great research that's already occurring and the big base of investors that's already here and go create some exciting companies," said Mr Leonard, who was previously executive deputy chairman of the former Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

Infocomm Investments, IDA's venture investment arm, has been subsumed under SGInnovate, which is a private organisation wholly owned by the Government.

SGInnovate's areas of focus include digital health, financial services, smart energy, digital manufacturing and robotics.

It was unveiled as part of Budget 2016, along with a $4.5 billion plan to develop innovation and robotics.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said at the launch that Singapore has laid strong foundations over the years to "make the ground fertile" for innovation, such as investing in a strong education system, developing talent in science and technology, and funding research.

However, more can be done to translate these research efforts into commercial output. "Many start- ups in Singapore replicate proven technologies and business models to take advantage of regional growth, rather than deploy new technologies," he noted. "There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is part of the journey. But to sustain the journey, and create sustainable advantage, we need to create value through innovation."

Singapore top in Asia at adapting to digital disruption: Asian Digital Transformation Index

By Irene Tham, Tech Editor, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

Singapore has come out tops among Asian countries for its ability to transform itself amid digital disruptions brought about by the likes of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and ride-hailing firm Uber.

The inaugural Asian Digital Transformation Index, launched yesterday, ranks Singapore ahead of economies such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The study by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is based on 20 wide-ranging indicators, including 4G network coverage, broadband affordability, the quality of maths and science education and the ease of accessing government data online.

The study was commissioned by Australian telco Telstra.

Mr Charles Ross, senior technology editor at EIU in Asia, said Singapore aced the infrastructure-related indicators - which carry a total weighting of 55 per cent in the index - due to its smart-nation push.

"Digital infrastructure is seen as the first hurdle... because if companies can't get connected, then the other elements of the digital transformation process will be beyond them," said Mr Ross.

Singapore on 4 of world's 10 busiest air routes in 2015

But experts say Changi faces stiff competition from other airports in Asia-Pacific region, especially Hong Kong
By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

Singapore sits at one end of four of the world's 10 busiest international air routes, it has been revealed. This boosts the country's aspiration to be Asia's key aviation hub despite the economic downturn.

But experts said Changi faces tough competition from other airports in the region, especially Hong Kong airport, which features in five of the top 10 routes.

The busiest route, based on last year's passenger numbers, is Hong Kong-Taipei. This is followed by Jakarta-Singapore. Kuala Lumpur-Singapore, Hong Kong-Singapore and Bangkok-Singapore are also in the top 10 list.

The data, compiled by the International Air Transport Association and presented at an industry conference last week, confirms Asia's dominance in air travel. All the top routes are flights in the Asia-Pacific.

Changi Airport Group spokesman Ivan Tan said the four cities - Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Bangkok - have been on the airport's busiest routes for some time now. Together, they account for more than a quarter of Changi's total traffic. He and other experts expect numbers to go up.

This is unfolding as Asia develops and more people are able to afford air travel, especially with the proliferation of budget carriers and cheaper fares.

Donald Trump vows to quit TPP on first day in office

China in driver's seat as Donald Trump wants out of TPP
He orders team to draft series of executive orders to deliver quickly on his promises
By Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

US President-elect Donald Trump appeared to hand China an early win when he revealed plans to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Day One of his presidency.

His statement, made via a video released on Monday, has led to Asia watchers predicting that the move would result in more countries feeling pushed into signing up for the China-backed alternative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Mr Trump said he was going to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the TPP trade deal, which he called "a potential disaster for our country". Instead he said he would "negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back".

In a short YouTube video spelling out his priorities, Mr Trump said he had ordered his transition team to draft a series of executive actions he could take on his first day at work to deliver quickly on his promises.

Apart from investigating visa fraud, he also promised to "cancel job-killing restrictions" on American shale energy and coal and create "many millions of high-paying jobs" for Americans. He also said he would rip up the TPP deal.

The stark declaration came just hours after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the TPP would be "meaningless" without the US.

Mr Abe told a parliamentary committee last week that if the TPP did not go through, it would be a pivot towards the China-led RCEP.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Singapore working to avoid deep social divides: PM Lee

It is developing a sense of identity among people and helping the less well-off
By Chong Zi Liang, In Lima (Peru), The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore must avoid the deep social divides laid bare by the recent US presidential election and Britain's Brexit referendum. He said the Government has taken a two-pronged approach to stop such divisions here.

One is to develop a sense of identity and togetherness among the people and the other, to have policies that "make everybody know that if you're in Singapore, not everybody is equally well off, but even if you're not well off, you're not badly off".

People also need to be fairly treated, Mr Lee added, and Singapore has given a leg up to the less well-off through steps such as Workfare for low-income workers and the Pioneer Generation Package to help the elderly with their medical bills.

For workers, there is SkillsFuture to train them for the new economy.

"There is no magic formula," he said, adding that people have to work hard and governments need to have workable policies.

He was speaking to Singapore reporters on Sunday when wrapping up a five-day trip to Peru for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit.

Mr Lee noted that in the United States, the Democrats dominate the cities and both coasts, while Republicans populate the Mid-west and the heartlands. With Brexit, the split was between London and the rest of the country, and also along education and income levels.

Such social divides cannot be allowed to widen in Singapore as rebuilding bridges will be very difficult, he said.

Mr Lee also urged caution in drawing comparison between the polls in Singapore and what happened in the US and Britain.

Earlier this month, US President-elect Donald Trump won by appealing to voters in the Rust Belt states such as Ohio and Michigan, who felt they had lost their jobs in the once-powerful industrial sector because of globalisation.

In June, Britons voted to leave the European Union, in part due to anxiety over immigration.

Last week, academic Gillian Koh described Singapore's 2011 General Election as a "mini-Brexit vote", as immigration was a hot-button issue during the campaign.

Asked about the comparison, Mr Lee said "there's massive difference in scale" between those two polls and the Singapore outcome. "The changes induced by globalisation, the Rust Belt problems, the uncertainty of jobs, these are real problems which people feel," he said.

They need to be addressed, but people must also "feel their concerns have been heard and have been attended to", he added.

Leaders, too, have to get people to understand that certain issues, such as technological and economic changes, are not something the Government can wish away or which are a result of a wrong set of policies, he said.

Government to build and lease facilities for animal shelters, farms; Stricter dog licensing rules from March 2017

Government to build new homes for strays and pet farm animals
Facilities will be leased to about 40 groups and farms whose current leases end next year
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2016

In an unprecedented move, the Government will build new facilities at Sungei Tengah for around 40 animal welfare groups and pet farms in Loyang and Seletar, which will need to move out of their premises when their leases expire by the end of next year.

The facilities will be leased to the organisations for monthly rentals, obviating the need to raise a lump sum of money to buy land and construct their own facilities, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in a statement yesterday.

Each farm and group will be allotted a space inside a 3ha compound, the size of which will depend on the number of animals. Construction will start next year.

Each unit will be able to house around 20 dogs and will include facilities like food storage and bathing areas, said animal welfare groups.

The rental rate for groups and shelters will be around $13 per sq m per month. Pet farm rentals will be based on tender bids for the units.

The 29 farms, nine groups and several independent shelters are moving from their current homes, bringing with them 6,000 to 7,000 animals, to make way for redevelopment, said the AVA.

The news was welcomed by animal welfare groups, which had been worried that some 2,000 stray and abandoned dogs and cats they care for would be left without a home.

"I am very surprised that they did this. We thought the best outcome would be to open land for bidding for animal welfare purposes," said Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of animal welfare group SOSD, which cares for about 100 dogs.


"We were already coming up with desperate plans... we were even prepared to sell our houses."

The new facilities will be ready by the end of next year, allowing the animals a seamless move from their current homes. They will be in the form of two-storey buildings, instead of one-storey ones at the current Loyang and Seletar premises, which the AVA said will make more efficient use of the land.

The AVA has also assured the farms and groups that there will be "sufficient space for the existing number of animals from the animal welfare groups and pet farms".

Tuesday 22 November 2016

New anti-scam helpline to tackle rise in scams

Crime prevention council's phone line starts today; commercial crimes rise 9% to over 4,000 in first half of 2016
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2016

From today, the public can call a new helpline that will help them identify scams, in an initiative that was started by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday launched the helpline at the annual Festive Season Crime Prevention Campaign held at Rivervale Plaza in Sengkang.

Mr Tan Kian Hoon, chairman of NCPC, said scams evolve rapidly.

"For those who do not have access to the Internet, it might take some time before they hear of it from their friends or loved ones," he said.

In a speech, Mr Tan said that in the first nine months of this year, people here were swindled into paying $21 million in a scam that involved people impersonating officials from China.

Quoting figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mr Tan said the number of commercial crimes for the first six months of this year rose 9 per cent to over 4,000 cases, compared to the same period last year.

To further create awareness, a television commercial starring local actor Li Nanxing will highlight three common scams in Singapore: Impersonation scams, Internet love scams and credit-for-sex scams.

Produced by NCPC and the police, the commercial drives home the anti-scam message with the tagline: "Don't panic. Don't believe. Don't give."

Mr Tan said other efforts include a scam alert website set up by NCPC which has been visited more than 400,000 times since 2014. He said there are also lift decals at 1,200 HDB blocks.

He added that NCPC has also worked closely with stakeholders, such as banks and remittance agencies, and conducted roadshows to educate the public on scams.

Monday 21 November 2016

Slow growth is here to stay

The main challenge now is for Singapore to maintain its global competitiveness and ensure high quality of life
By Fiona Chan, Managing Editor, The Sunday Times, 20 Nov 2016

The festive season is approaching, but Singapore's economy seems to have missed the memo. Numbers released last Thursday showed a bigger-than-expected fall in exports in October, fanning fears that worse is to come.

As it is, Singapore will barely escape recession this year. The economy is expected to grow at the lower end of a measly 1 to 2 per cent range, and at the same snail's pace next year.

While the Government has ruled out an outright recession for now, that is hardly reason to cheer.

Growth below 2 per cent this year would be the slowest since the economy sank into negative territory seven years ago, at the height of the global financial crisis. It would also be the lowest in a year not immediately before or after a recession.

In fact, the services sector - which makes up two-thirds of the economy - is already in a technical recession, having shrunk for three consecutive quarters between January and September this year. If exports continue to decline, economists believe the whole economy may be in danger of a technical recession too.

To be sure, this is not Singapore's first slowdown, or even its worst. But it has already earned the dubious record of being its longest, with the end of the tunnel still far away. Never before has modern Singapore's economy grown below 5 per cent for five years in a row, as it has now since 2012.

And in a departure from the recent downturns, the economy is unlikely to bounce back quickly from this period of sluggishness to grow at the same rate it used to. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a dialogue with labour movement leaders earlier this month, while Singapore is not in a crisis, slower growth will be the "new normal" here.

Friday 18 November 2016

Polder Development: New land reclamation method for Pulau Tekong

Pulau Tekong to get extra land the size of two Toa Payoh towns using new reclamation method
Extra land to be used for military training will free up space on main island for other uses
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2016

A plot of land the size of two Toa Payoh towns will be added to the north-western tip of Pulau Tekong using a land reclamation method that is new to Singapore.

The 810ha space, to be used for military training, will be created by empoldering - a method which involves building a dyke around the area to be reclaimed and draining water from it.

Compared with the traditional technique of filling a water body with sand, this method is expected to cut construction costs and the amount of sand required, and could be used for other projects in future.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told reporters during a site visit yesterday that Singapore is "always in need of more land".

"This particular expansion, it's going to be used for Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) training. But the needs for land continue to grow, whether it's for military, for housing, for commercial uses," he added. "We are always looking at options to expand. And by expanding Tekong, providing SAF with more space for their training needs, which are growing, we can free up land on the main Singapore island for other developmental purposes."

Singapore has been studying the empoldering method for some time, he said. It has visited the Netherlands, where the practice is prevalent, and consulted experts from the country. The technique will create a low-lying tract of land, known as a polder, about 1.2m below sea level.

Water levels in the polder will be controlled by drains and pumps, and a 10km-long dyke standing about 6m above sea level will buffer the reclaimed area from the sea.

"This is really a project not just about expanding our physical space but also about building up capabilities and making ourselves a more resilient nation in the longer term," Mr Wong said, referring to challenges such as disruptions in Singapore's sand supply and rising sea levels due to climate change.

Campaign to break silence on family violence

Breaking the silence on family violence
3-year campaign urging people to report such abuse comes as service centres see rise in cases
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2016

Family violence is not a private matter, say the authorities, who are embarking on a three-year public education campaign to urge people to break the silence if they know someone is being hurt.

The campaign comes as family service centres tackle an increase in family violence, with an average of 1,400 cases reported annually. These include cases of child abuse, which surged to 551 last year, up from 263 in 2008.

In July, a woman and her boyfriend were sentenced to jail for abusing her son, two-year-old Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser. He died after being slapped and kicked almost daily. The authorities did not know about Daniel, who died last year, until it was too late.

"Could we, or anyone, have sounded the alarm earlier? After all, we too could be a housemate, neighbour, relative, friend or passer-by to a victim of family violence who is crying out in distress," said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin at the National Family Violence Networking System conference held at the Singapore Expo yesterday.

"As long as violence in the home is shrouded in silence, the violence will not cease... We can prevent other horror stories."

At the conference, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) released a study that found that people did not come forward to report such cases because they feared it would cause families to break up. Others saw it as a private matter, or were not sure what family violence entailed. The study included a poll of 2,000 people and focus group discussions with 102 participants.

"Not every report (on family violence) will lead to the break-up of families. Some social workers tell me early reporting can actually help save marriages and keep families intact," said Mr Tan as he appealed to the audience of 800 professionals, from the judicial, law enforcement, healthcare, social services and academic sectors, to spread the word to get people in the community to flag such cases.

Thursday 17 November 2016

Google and Facebook crack down on fake news sites

Channel NewsAsia, 16 Nov 2016

WASHINGTON: Google and Facebook moved on Tuesday (Nov 15) to cut off advertising revenue to fake news sites, after a wave of criticism over the role misinformation played in the US presidential election.

The move by the two tech giants aims to choke off funds to an industry fuelled by bogus, often sensational "news" circulating online and seen as a potential influence on public opinion.

A Google statement to AFP said new policies "will start prohibiting Google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content, just as we disallow misrepresentation in our ads policies."

The shift will mean Google restricts ads "on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content, or the primary purpose of the web property," the statement said.

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the company receives billions of queries daily and admitted errors had been made.

"There have been a couple of incidences where it has been pointed out and we didn't get it right. And so it is a learning moment for us and we will definitely work to fix it," he said in a BBC interview.

Pichai said there should be "no situation where fake news gets distributed" and committed to making improvements.

"I don't think we should debate it as much as work hard to make sure we drive news to its more trusted sources, have more fact checking and make our algorithms work better, absolutely," he said.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

NRIC re-registration at 55 from 1 January 2017

NRIC re-registration for Singaporeans, PRs turning 55
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2016

From next year, Singapore citizens and permanent residents will have to apply for a new National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) when they turn 55.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said yesterday that the measure will improve identification of older NRIC holders.

They will have to update their personal particulars and submit a recent photo of themselves.

"As NRIC holders get older, the photographs on the NRIC will become outdated. This may cause difficulties in identification, particularly for the elderly," the ICA said.

"Besides possible inconvenience to the NRIC holders, this may also lead to security risks because the authorities may not be able to correctly identify an individual based on his outdated photograph."

Currently, Singapore citizens and PRs register for an NRIC at 15 years old, and re-register at 30.

The first batch of people affected will be those born in 1962.

Citizens or PRs who turn 55 but have replaced their NRIC in the last 10 years will be exempt.

The ICA will send letters to notify people who have to re-register for an NRIC a month before they turn 55.

Those living in Singapore will have a year to get a new card, while those living overseas will have to do so within a year of returning here.

People can register on the ICA website, by submitting the application form enclosed in the ICA notification letter, or at the ICA building beside Lavender MRT station.

The re-registration is compulsory and will cost $10 for citizens and $50 for PRs.

PM Lee, President Jokowi open township project in boost to ties

Leaders open joint venture development, witness signing of tourism cooperation pact
By Francis Chan, Indonesia Bureau Chief In Semarang (Central Java), The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2016

Strong economic ties between Singapore and Indonesia got another boost yesterday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo officially opened a joint venture township project and witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on tourism cooperation.

The leaders held up the 2,700ha Park by the Bay township project between SembCorp Development and Indonesian developer Jababeka in Kendal, Central Java, as an excellent example of mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The township is located 25km from Semarang.

They also welcomed the signing of three other MOUs and the setting up of an Indonesia-Singapore Business Council comprising business leaders from both sides.

"This (business council) will enable our businesses to network more deeply and understand opportunities on both sides," PM Lee said and suggested that it be co-chaired by the Economic Development Board and Indonesia's Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).

The occasion was PM Lee's first Leaders' Retreat with President Joko, which is held in Indonesia this year. Yesterday morning, PM Lee and Mrs Lee were met by President Joko and First Lady Iriana at Wisma Perdamaian in Semarang, where the Singapore delegation was also treated to performances by a Chinese lion dance troupe and traditional Javanese dancers.

The retreat - held at Wisma Perdamaian, formerly the Central Java governor's residence - is a long- held tradition for the leaders of the two close neighbours to meet informally each year to boost ties.

At their meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening ties and to further economic cooperation between their countries.

Indonesia, PM Lee told a joint press conference with Mr Joko after the retreat, is a close partner and neighbour of Singapore.

"Our bilateral relations are in good shape, we have close interactions at all levels," he said.

"I told the President we are keen to strengthen our economic cooperation with Indonesia and we would like Indonesia to succeed."

Turning to the perennial issue of the transboundary haze, he noted that combating it was high on Mr Joko's agenda and said Singapore was "very grateful".

Indonesia's efforts in tackling the haze "made a difference this year", he added. He offered Singapore's help to deal with the problem, which he said affects all the countries in South-east Asia.

Tuesday 15 November 2016

RSAF fighter jets take off from Lim Chu Kang Road: Exercise Torrent 2016

Road turned into runway for Singapore fighter jets
Exercise Torrent demonstrates RSAF's capability to swiftly assemble air power to counter any threat
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2016

Fighter jets roared down Lim Chu Kang Road and into the skies yesterday morning as part of the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) Exercise Torrent.

The road had been converted into a runway in 48 hours, for the exercise, which demonstrated the RSAF's capability to swiftly assemble air power to counter any threat.

"Because Singapore is a small country, we must always protect our airspace," said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who spoke to reporters after the event. "It shows that we can convert a highway to an airstrip and it gives us a lot of confidence that we'll be able to protect our skies under all conditions."

The exercise saw 12 fighter jets taking off and landing across four runways - Lim Chu Kang Road and three others in Tengah Airbase - in quick succession.

In the days leading up to the exercise, the road's bus stops and lamp posts were temporarily removed to make way for portable airfield lights and a mobile air control tower.

Specialised road sweepers combed the 2.5km stretch to pick up debris left by the heavy vehicles that normally ply the road, and loud flares were fired to scare away birds that could pose a hazard to the aircraft.

Yesterday was the seventh time that Exercise Torrent has been held since 1986, but it was the first time that the new F-15SG fighters have taken part. These aircraft go up to 2.5 times the speed of sound, and are among the world's most advanced. In total, the effort involved around 1,000 regulars, operationally ready national servicemen and full-time national servicemen.