Monday 30 January 2017

Donald Trump signs 'extreme vetting' executive order for people entering the US

Trump defends travel curbs despite outcry
Courts offer relief to detained visitors from several Muslim countries amid protests
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2017

US President Donald Trump yesterday defended his latest immigration curbs despite protests at major airports and mounting criticism from world leaders and countries affected by his executive order.

Mr Trump's order blocked citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen - from entering the US for at least 90 days. It also banned the entry of refugees from anywhere for 120 days and those from Syria indefinitely.

Mr Trump said the goal was to screen out "radical Islamic terrorists" and give priority for admission to Christians. He rejected accusations that the move amounted to a ban on Muslims.

"Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world - a horrible mess!" he tweeted, referring to the arrival of waves of immigrants in countries such as Germany.

Soon after the ban, federal courts in New York, Virginia and Washington states intervened to order the release of dozens of people from the seven countries carrying valid visas for the US who had been detained at airports following Mr Trump's executive order.

The court orders came as confusion reigned at airports in the Middle East and Europe over exactly which citizens from the seven nations are still allowed to fly to the US.

Many airports imposed blanket bans on US travel for those citizens, including permanent US residents holding green cards, many of whom found themselves stranded outside the country as they were prevented from boarding flights back.

Angry crowds descended on US airports - such as those in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Denver - to protest.

Reports said the broadly worded executive order was signed with little input from the Department of Homeland Security. But yesterday, the department said it would comply with the judicial decisions, while continuing to enforce the President's executive order.

Population boost: Canada eyes foreign students

Citizenship offer part of plan to attract skilled, educated immigrants amid greying workforce
The Straits Times, 28 Jan 2017

ST JOHN'S (Newfoundland) • At the College of the North Atlantic here, a young Chinese woman stood discussing her future with two fellow students, a Bangladeshi man and a Korean woman, amid a flow of Newfoundlanders in down coats and hoodies heading for class.

"The environment here is really good, so I think for my health I will stay," said Miss Fei Jie, from China's eastern Shandong province.

The others said they, too, were planning to remain in the country after graduation, eventually becoming Canadian citizens.

Their path is no accident. They are three of hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada as part of a government strategy to reshape Canadian demographics by funnelling well-educated, skilled workers through the university system. It is an answer to Canada's ageing population and slowing birthrate, and an effort to shore up the nation's tax base.

In November last year, the federal government changed its electronic immigration selection system, called Express Entry, to make it easier for international students to become citizens. And a Bill pending in the Senate would restore a rule that counts half of students' time spent studying in Canada towards the period of residency required for citizenship.

The country needs talented immigrants to backfill a thinly spread, ageing population. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the country's immigration department, immigrants already make up 75 per cent of the annual net growth in the country's workforce and are expected to account for 100 per cent within 10 years.

The strategy, which builds on a decade-long trend and was formally laid out in 2014, seems to be working. In the 2015-2016 school year, its foreign student population grew 8 per cent to more than 350,000, equal to roughly 1 per cent of the country's population. The number of international students in the United States is less than one third of 1 per cent of the population.

But the strategy may also lead to tensions similar to those seen in the US and Europe as the make-up of Canadian society evolves and less educated segments of the mostly white workforce feel pushed aside.

Friday 27 January 2017

Anti-diabetes gongfu ad from Govt packs a punch

By Venessa Lee, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2017

The government-sponsored infomercial Kungfu Fighter, Hidden Sugar - which urges moderation in consuming rich Chinese New Year goodies - has impressed many, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and wuxia fans in Hong Kong.

The 90-second video, featuring a gongfu heroine confronting a villain and his posse who add sugar to a family's reunion dinner, was shared by Mr Lee on Tuesday on his Facebook page.

It is the latest in a series of creative public service announcements.

A 2015 video about health insurance scheme Medishield Life targeted the pioneer generation and featured local getai artistes playing characters such as the Monkey King and Spider Spirit from the Chinese classic, Journey To The West.

Director-actor Jack Neo reprised his famous auntie character Liang Ximei in a 10-episode Chinese dialect variety series called Happy Can Already! The series, which premiered last month on Channel 8, aims to educate seniors on government schemes on topics such as retirement and active ageing.

Local film-maker Royston Tan's telemovie, The Provision Shop, which aired in July last year, explored the issue of social integration in Singapore.

Give Labour Court more power to protect workers

With the Labour Court expanding to become the Employment Claims Tribunals covering more workers, it's time to equip it with more power to enforce its own orders
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jan 2017

Two separate labour cases against employers. Both involving Bangladeshi construction workers.

Both workers won, yet they cannot get the payment orders enforced.

In the first Catch-22, Mr Islam Rafiqul was owed $7,363 in unpaid salary and the Labour Court last month ordered his employer, Geosray Engineering and Services, to pay up. The employer ignored the order.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which runs the Labour Court, told Mr Islam to go to the State Courts to take action to seize the employer's assets to get the money back. This would involve him having to pay, out of his own pocket, legal fees as well as those for a bailiff and auctioneer, which he cannot afford.

In the other case, the Labour Court last September ordered local company Ridgeway Marine and Construction to compensate Mr Sujan Ahmed $11,625.

The company, which did not cover the worker with compulsory workplace insurance, made a small partial payment and stopped. To get the remainder, he has to take the employer to the State Courts.

These two cases highlight a gap in the law meant to protect foreign workers. And while these cases involve foreign low-wage construction workers, the limitations of the system affect all workers, since the Labour Court covers local ones as well.

The cases raise the question: Why can't the Labour Court enforce its own orders?

Thursday 26 January 2017

Little India Heritage Trail - Walk through 200 years of history

National Heritage Board launches first official heritage trail of Little India
Take a walk through Little India's rich history
New heritage trail aims to give visitors an insight into the 200-year-old enclave's past
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

The stories behind Little India's back alleys, traditional trades and temples have been woven together in the first official heritage trail of the 200-year-old enclave.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) hopes visitors will walk through the area's cluttered five- foot ways, which are filled with fresh produce, flower garlands and spices, and experience the lively neighbourhood for themselves.

The trail spans 4km, covers over 40 sites and includes 18 markers.

Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and community, said it aims to give visitors "knowledge of what the area was like in the past".

He said: "I think visitors who visit the precinct will be distracted by diverse sights and sounds, so the trail booklet, markers and map will come in useful. We want them to go away from their visit with a better appreciation of the precinct's rich and multicultural heritage - not just photos."

The area was originally named Serangoon, and Serangoon Road was laid out by Indian labourers and convicts.

It was also known as the Village of Lime, or Soonambu Kambam in Tamil. Lime was an important element in the manufacture of madras chunam, a type of cement or plaster brick that was introduced from India and used in construction work.

From the late 1820s to about 1860, the British-established lime pits and brick kilns along Serangoon Road served as a source of employment for many Indians.

Indian immigrants also gravitated there to work in the cattle trade.

When early Indian enclaves such as Chulia Street and High Street became overcrowded in the early 20th century, many then moved to Serangoon.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

President Trump signs executive order to withdraw US from TPP

The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump kicked off a hectic first full week as US President yesterday with the signing of executive orders to fulfil campaign promises.

One of the first orders he signed was for the United States to formally withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, a 12-nation agreement that Democratic former president Barack Obama strongly backed but was never ratified by the Republican-controlled Congress.

"We've been talking about this for a long time," Mr Trump said as he signed the executive order to withdraw from the TPP in the Oval Office. "Great thing for the American worker what we just did."

The action made good on a campaign vow to scrap the TPP, which he had denounced as a "job killer" and a "rape" of American interests.

The agreement, seen as a counter to China's rising economic influence, was promoted by the Obama administration and aimed to set trade rules for the 21st century. Although signed in 2015, it has not yet gone into effect.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a big supporter of the accord, has said that the TPP without the US would not make sense.

Mr Trump was also due yesterday to sign an executive order for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, which he has called the worst trade deal the United States has ever signed, NBC News reported, citing an unidentified White House official.

Mr Trump, who was sworn in as the 45th US President last Friday, targeted both the TPP and NAFTA trade pacts during his election campaign.

Singapore Perspectives 2017

Institute of Policy Studies' Singapore Perspectives 2017 "What If?"

One-party rule 'may be way for Singapore to succeed': Ong Ye Kung
The system gives a small country that needs to stay nimble its best shot at success
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2017

A one-party system may give Singapore its best shot at success, because it is a small country that needs to stay nimble, said Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung yesterday at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives conference.

But Banyan Tree executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping, who spoke on the same topic, warned that one-party systems face the danger of its political elites becoming slow to change, resulting in a culture of entitlement and corruption.

He added that the most desirable scenario for Singapore would be a system of robust internal competition within the People's Action Party (PAP).

Likewise, Mr Ong stressed that the PAP must stay open-minded and grounded in reality, and have integrity beyond reproach.

Both men were on a panel discussing whether rule by a single political party is best for Singapore.

The panel also addressed the possibility of Singapore having a two- or multi-party system.

In his speech, Mr Ong made the case that single-party rule is the best way for a small country like Singapore to succeed.

He said the party need not be the PAP, but whichever party is the most capable.

For a multi-party system to form, said Mr Ong, there must first be at least two sufficiently different paths for Singapore to take, and political views distinct enough for different parties to uphold.

But Singapore is not big enough to have geographically separate towns which evolve drastically different views on national issues, he said.

Another reason he cited is that Singapore needs to stay nimble and move fast in a changing global environment. Mr Ong questioned whether it could do so with a multi-party system.

Monday 23 January 2017

Workers’ Party first to jump on the 'alternative facts' bandwagon

Recent case about falsehoods, not harassment, says Government
Rebutting WP, Govt says it doesn't intend to amend law to protect itself from harassment
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2017

The Law Ministry said yesterday that the Workers' Party (WP) had misrepresented the Government's position on a law that provides protection against harassment and false statements, after the opposition party suggested that the Government would be changing the law to protect itself from harassment.

In a sharp response, the ministry said: "The Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA (Protection from Harassment Act) to protect itself from harassment."

The ministry added: "The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore's institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information. The Government will not shy away from this, whatever may be said wrongly about its intentions and objectives.

The exchange comes on the back of a recent split decision by the Court of Appeal, which ruled 2-1 that government agencies cannot invoke POHA.

The decision arose in a case in which the Attorney-General had sought a court order under POHA against a doctor and The Online Citizen (TOC) website for spreading allegations about the Ministry of Defence. The order asked that the allegations cannot be published without a note that they were false.

Responding to the court's decision, the Ministry of Law said last Monday: "The Government will study the judgment, and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods."

Dialogue with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the EDB Society's Pioneering the Future Series Forum

Singapore will do well if it grows by 2-3% a year over next decade: PM
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Singapore will have done well if it continues to grow the economy by 2 per cent to 3 per cent a year over the next 10 years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The economy, which grew by 1.8 per cent last year based on advance estimates, is on a "steady path" as a whole, he said at a dialogue organised by the EDB Society and The Straits Times.

Mr Lee sought to put the low rate of growth in perspective in reply to a question about the slowing domestic economy. He said Singapore is in a different phase now compared with when it saw annual growth of 5 per cent to 6 per cent, as the workforce was expanding rapidly then and the economy still transforming. Also, the years of double-digit growth after the 2008 global financial crisis were "exceptional", and growth has since come down to a stable level.

For this year, Mr Lee hopes the economy will pick up speed, saying there is a chance this will happen after the economy expanded in the fourth quarter of last year, aided by a rebound in manufacturing.

Investments are still coming in, and jobs are available, he added.

Mr Lee was also asked about Singapore's relations with China, new US President Donald Trump and political succession.

He noted the Republic had a broad and substantial relationship with China. While there will be differences in views from time to time, "we must be able to manage them without affecting the overall relationship", he said.

Turning towards local politics, he said the search for Singapore's next prime minister is progressing.

Separately, he told the BBC that Singapore would sign a free trade deal with Britain after it exits the European Union.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Tuas Viaduct: Singapore's first integrated road-rail viaduct to open on 18 Feb 2017

4.8km road in Tuas will support heavier traffic expected with developments there; Tuas West MRT extension to open in Q2 of 2017
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 20 Jan 2017

More than five years in the making, Singapore's first road-rail viaduct will open on Feb 18.

The Tuas Viaduct stretches 4.8km from Tuas Road to Tuas West Road, with a 2.4km stretch of the upcoming Tuas West MRT extension running 9m above it.

It has been built in anticipation of the heavier traffic that will come with developments in the west of the island - the highlight of which is the Tuas Port.

The viaduct runs 14m above Pioneer Road, which is already often congested with heavy vehicles.

It is currently configured as a dual two-lane road. But an expanded road shoulder can be converted to a third lane in each direction to support "longer-term developments within the Tuas area", said the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which announced the viaduct's opening date yesterday.

Tuas Port is expected to complete the first phase of its construction in 2020 and handle all of Singapore's port activities from 2027.

Construction on the viaduct began in 2012, with a combined budget of $3.5 billion for both the road viaduct and the rail extension, which includes the Tuas Crescent and Tuas West Road stations.

Friday 20 January 2017

Desire lines: Well-trodden paths unearth what pedestrians desire

My Turf is a new fortnightly series that aims to tell the untold stories in our neighbourhoods. In this first instalment, we take a look at desire lines - unofficial shortcuts - around Singapore.
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2017

Every day, as church cleaner Goh Lian Huay walks from her workplace to Plaza Singapura for lunch, she eschews the concrete paths that the authorities have meticulously laid out across Dhoby Ghaut Green.

Instead, she treads on a strip of dirt, worn thin by frequent footfall.

It is simply the fastest route, noted Madam Goh, 61, who works at Orchard Road Presbyterian Church. "As long as the ground isn't wet, it makes more sense to cut across the grass. Otherwise, we'd have to walk here, walk there," she said of the more circuitous, concrete paths.

Some call these informal routes shortcuts; others, man-made paths.

But another more romantic term exists: desire lines.

Indeed, a sense of yearning infuses the concept of desire lines, which a 1959 Chicago Area Transportation Plan described as "the shortest line between origin and destination, and expresses the way a person would like to go, if such a way were available".

In urban planning, desire lines are stark reminders of the gap between what planners believe is the ideal route, and what people think actually serves their needs.

Here in Singapore, desire lines are common, with ribbons of brown across patches of green.

4 new mega childcare centres to open by mid-2018; Another 5 large childcare centres to open in Sengkang and Punggol by 2020

Four more mega childcare centres on the way, bringing total to 9
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2017

There will be some relief for young parents worried about a shortage of spaces in childcare centres.

Four more mega childcare centres will open by the middle of next year, offering a total of 2,700 places.

This brings the total number of mega childcare centres here to nine, with 4,700 places in all.

The push for more such centres, which can admit more than 300 children each, comes as the Government said it wants to ramp up numbers to create a more supportive environment for young families. Currently, there is one childcare spot for every two children in Singapore.

Two of the new childcare centres will be in Punggol and have 1,000 places each - believed to be the largest ever for a childcare centre here.

The other two will be in Sengkang (400 places) and Bukit Panjang (300 places). A centre in a Housing Board void deck usually takes in about 100 children.

There could be more to come. Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday: "I am personally keen to see more of these (mega childcare centres)."

Pre-schools of such scale, he said, provide space to encourage children to be outdoors and have more physical activities. Other childcare centres may be allowed to let their own young charges "make full use" of such environments.

The Sengkang centre, which broke ground yesterday, is in Sengkang Riverside Park. It is said to be the first centre built in a park. The two-storey campus has a built-up area of 3,600 sq m, almost four times that of an average childcare centre.

Registration for the four new childcare centres will open in the second quarter of this year.

East Coast may offer 6,000 new HDB flats

They would be the first HDB homes built there since the 1970s
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2017

Home hunters could soon get a shot at new Housing Board flats with coveted sea views along Singapore's East Coast.

The Government is looking into creating a new Bayshore district, which includes 6,000 HDB flats - a huge change for the overwhelmingly private estate area located on reclaimed land. Another 6,500 units will be set aside as private homes.

If they materialise, these Bayshore flats would be the first HDB homes built along the East Coast since the old-generation Marine Parade flats constructed in the 1970s, some of which have fetched more than $900,000 on the resale market in recent months.

The potential development is detailed in tender documents put up by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and which were reported by Lianhe Zaobao yesterday, calling for consultancy firms to develop a master plan for the plot.

The Bayshore district spanning 60 ha is surrounded by Bayshore Road, the East Coast Parkway, Bedok Camp and Upper East Coast Road.

With parts of it currently occupied by a forest, it is about two-thirds the size of Bidadari.

The plot is located between two MRT stations on the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) - Bayshore and Bedok South - and is expected to have facilities and services such as schools, shops and an integrated transport hub.

The tender will be conducted in two phases and the appointed firm will submit its final proposal in December this year, URA said in the documents.

But a URA spokesman told The Straits Times that parts of the area will be used for the construction of the TEL for several years, and that "implementation will not be in the near future". The two stations are expected to open by 2024.

Rather, the invitation to private sector consultants is meant to generate "new ideas for (Bayshore) to be developed into a future public and private housing precinct that supports car-lite living, with a strong sense of community and environmental sustainability", the URA spokesman added.

"The number of public and private housing units has been projected as 6,000 public units and 6,500 private units, and is still under study."

Singapore launches fifth NEWater plant at Changi, boosting water supply

$170m fifth NEWater plant launched
It increases NEWater capacity from 30% to 40% of Singapore's daily water demand
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2017

The Republic's supply of water was given a significant boost with the launch of a fifth NEWater plant at Changi yesterday.

It is the first to be jointly developed by a foreign and a local company. Already in operation, the $170 million plant increases Singapore's NEWater capacity from 30 to 40 per cent of the Republic's water demand of 430 million gallons per day.

The BEWG-UESH NEWater Plant, which spans 49,000 sq m, or 7.5 football fields, is able to produce 50 million gallons of NEWater a day, enough water to fill 92 Olympic-size swimming pools, and will supply water to PUB for 25 years.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that even as the Republic celebrates the launch of another NEWater plant, challenges remain.

The water level at Linggiu Reservoir, which regulates the flow of water in Johor River from which Singapore draws water for import, has fallen from 80 per cent in early 2015 to 27 per cent today.

He stressed the need to use water prudently with dry weather conditions becoming more frequent and prolonged.

Mr Masagos said the Government will make adjustments in water charges when necessary, adding that there has been upward pressure because of the rising costs associated with asset maintenance and replacement, as well as of resources like energy and manpower.

Singapore's public healthcare sector to be reorganised into 3 integrated clusters by 2018, new polyclinic group to be formed

Healthcare services will be streamlined into 3 clusters
Each will have full range of services, from polyclinics to general and community hospitals
By Poon Chian Hui, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Jan 2017

Singapore's public healthcare will undergo a major shift in the coming year, bringing the entire suite of medical services closer to people's homes.

The six regional health systems of today will be streamlined into three "integrated" clusters.

This will be done by merging three of the current clusters with larger ones, based on geographical location. Between them, the three new, beefed-up clusters will cover the entire island.

Every cluster will then boast a fuller range of services, encompassing general hospitals, at least one community hospital and several polyclinics. Each cluster will also have a medical school.

The move is meant to address future healthcare challenges, such as a greying society and more people with chronic ailments, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

With each new cluster looking after more than a million Singapore residents - and offering the full range of medical services - people will find their healthcare needs being met closer to where they live.

This will mean mergers and consolidation within the existing six-cluster system that took shape between 2007 and 2009.

Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) will join forces with the Eastern Health Alliance, which oversees Changi General Hospital, to offer services in the east.

The National Healthcare Group (NHG) will merge with Alexandra Health System, which runs Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Yishun Community Hospital, to handle the central region.

In the west, the National University Health System (NUHS) will be paired with Jurong Health Services, which manages Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital.

The three merged clusters will thereafter be known as SingHealth, NHG and NUHS respectively.

In line with the changes, the polyclinics will be regrouped.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Singapore matches Malaysia's road charge of $6.40 for all foreign-registered cars from 15 Feb 2017

Foreign-cars to pay reciprocal road charge when entering Singapore: LTA
New entry charge for foreign cars from Feb 15
Amount mirrors Malaysia's fee and applies at Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints, says LTA
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2017

Foreign cars entering Singapore will be levied a new entry charge from Feb 15, in line with earlier government pronouncements that the Republic will match similar fees implemented by Malaysia.

In an announcement yesterday, the Land Transport Authority said a reciprocal road charge of $6.40 per entry will apply at both the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints. It said the fee mirrors Malaysia's road charge of RM20 (S$6.40) for non-Malaysia registered cars entering Johor that was implemented on Nov 1 last year.

On Jan 9, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament that Singapore intends to match Malaysia's road charge.

He pointed out that Malaysia collected about RM13.93 million in road charges from Singapore vehicles in the seven weeks from Nov 1.

Singapore's reciprocal charge will be collected with the vehicle entry permit (VEP) and toll charges for the two crossings, which can amount to as much as $41.50 for cars. During Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) hours, foreign cars without an in-vehicle unit are also levied a fixed ERP charge of $5 a day.

VEP does not apply on weekends, public holidays and after 5pm to before 2am on weekdays.

Tuesday 17 January 2017

True Trump nightmare scenario for the liberals - that his policies work

By Niall Ferguson, Published The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2017

Imagine if George Washington's farewell address had been followed a day later - rather than 172 years later - by Richard Nixon's first press conference as President-elect.

That is what The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and National Public Radio - along with a legion of liberal bloggers, tweeters and Hollywood luvvies - would like us to believe it happened last week.

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama delivered a valedictory speech that had progressive celebrities in ecstasy.

"I admire you so much," tweeted the right-on actress Ashley Judd. "And I will do my part to become increasingly aware of my #implicitbias and #whiteprivelege." (I'd recommend also becoming increasingly aware of how to spell.)

Mr Obama certainly did his best to give them the highfalutin rhetoric that has been the hallmark of his presidency. He could not resist quoting Washington's farewell address, implicitly putting himself in the founding president's league.

To me, he sounded at once pompous and oddly phoney.

As he reeled off the list of his triumphs - the economy growing, the wealthy paying more taxes, more people than ever with health insurance, Osama bin Laden dead, the planet saved from climate change - I wondered just how he reconciled his self-satisfaction with the dissatisfaction and desire for change that two-thirds of voters expressed to pollsters throughout last year.

Then, the next morning, Mr Donald Trump held his first press conference as President-elect. The contrast could scarcely have been more complete. From Mr Obama's frostily artful, clinically crafted brand of uplift, we cut straight to unrehearsed, unfiltered construction-site banter.

Singapore tumbles in WEF 2017 index that measures inclusive economic growth

The Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2017

For six years running, Singapore was ranked the second-most competitive economy in the world by the World Economic Forum (WEF), right behind Switzerland.

But the Republic took a tumble in the leaderboards in a new report released today that measures how inclusive and equal countries' economic performance is. Switzerland fell to third place behind Norway and Luxembourg among 30 advanced economies.

While the traditional rankings prized performance in categories Singapore gets top marks in - such as higher education and training, and goods market efficiency - the new index has indicators that measure how well economic performance translates into social inclusion, such as asset building and entrepreneurship, employment and labour compensation, and fiscal transfers.

The new yardsticks come a day before world leaders converge in Davos for an annual meeting in the Swiss town, and are part of the WEF's call to governments to shift their economic policy priorities to respond more effectively to the insecurity and inequality that accompany technological change and globalisation. This means countries that prioritise widespread enjoyment of the fruits of economic growth rank higher than under the old gross domestic product-prioritising competitiveness model.

Rounding out the top five are Iceland and Denmark, which were ranked 27th and 12th respectively under the old model.

Singapore did not receive an overall rank because of missing data, said the WEF, although average scores put it around eighth place.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Can Singaporeans read?

Forget self-help books. Read more about the real state of the world.
By Kishore Mahbubani, Published The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2017

A new year has begun. It often begins with new hope. This year, it would be fair to say that for many Singaporeans, it is beginning with more angst than hope.

The world seems to be in a troubled place. Global economic growth is slowing down. In October 2016, International Monetary Fund chief economist and economic counsellor Maurice Obstfeld said: "Taken as a whole, the world economy has moved sideways."

Global trade is not picking up. The developed world is mired in problems. Brexit and the election of Mr Donald Trump to the United States presidency were two big shocks we experienced last year. This year promises to be a rough year for global geopolitics, with Mr Trump having already provoked China even before his inauguration on Jan 20.

Singapore has already felt some effects of this rough patch in US-China relations.

The Global Times of Beijing on Sept 21, 2016, accused Singapore of having "insisted on adding contents which endorsed Philippines' South China Sea arbitration case and attempted to strengthen the contents on the South China Sea in the document" despite "unequivocal opposition from many countries".

Somewhat unusually, a retired Chinese general, Jin Yinan, now a director at the People's Liberation Army's National Defence University, strongly criticised Singapore.

He said that China should make Singapore "pay the price for seriously damaging China's interests", adding: "We understand it has to survive among big countries, but now Singapore is not seeking balance among big countries - it is playing big countries off against each other... this is playing with fire."


Many Singaporeans, especially some of our businessmen, were surprised and troubled by this obvious downturn in China-Singapore relations. Some were completely surprised by these events. They did not see them coming. Yet, some of these challenges in China-Singapore relations could have been predicted.

Indeed, they were predicted. I, too, have made such predictions.

Friday 13 January 2017

Growing Popularity of MOE Kindergartens: 3 new MOE pre-schools in 2018 to meet demand in Punggol

Higher demand, enrolment for kindergartens set up by MOE
Curriculum, facilities, affordable fees among reasons cited
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2017

Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens, which had a muted response at the start three years ago, are now seeing higher demand and enrolments.

Last year, there were 1,300 applications for places in the 15 kindergartens, which were set up by MOE to develop fresh approaches and best practices in early education. It was a 50 per cent increase from the 850 applications in 2015.

At four of the 15 kindergartens - at Punggol Green, Punggol View, Sengkang Green and Yishun - parents even had to ballot for places. The number of places varies from 60 to 120 at the centres.

The higher demand has also meant higher enrolment at the kindergartens. Currently, 2,300 children are enrolled in the kindergartens across the island.

This is a big change from the first year, when only about half of the 560 places offered were taken up.

Some parents had then cited the lack of childcare and school bus arrangements as reasons for the lukewarm response.

However, 12 of these centres now also offer before- and after-school care, up to 7pm. The programme, Kindergarten Care, is run by PCF Sparkletots Preschools.

MOE said four in five children enrolled live within 1km of their kindergarten, which indicates that proximity to home is one of the draws.

But several parents interviewed said they were also attracted by the fact that the kindergartens are MOE-run and are housed within primary schools, with good facilities.

A dozen of the centres are housed within primary schools.

Parents also liked the play-based curriculum and that all the three main mother tongue languages - Chinese, Malay and Tamil - were taught at the centres.

They also felt that the teachers were of high quality and the monthly fees of $150 for the four-hour programme were affordable.

Thursday 12 January 2017

New rules for cyclists and PMD users; Active Mobility Bill passed in Parliament on 10 Jan 2017

Registration, plates for e-bikes to boost safety
Move may extend to all motorised PMDs if effective in bid to curb illegal modifications
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 11 Jan 2017

Electric bicycles will soon need to be registered to an owner and have registration plates, as the Government seeks to clamp down on those who illegally modify the devices.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo announced this yesterday in Parliament, which approved a new law to regulate the use of personal mobility devices (PMDs).

The Transport Ministry will give details later and amend related legislation under the Road Traffic Act.

The new registration regime could be extended to all motorised devices if found effective, Mrs Teo said. The move comes after a series of fatal e-bike accidents late last year.

The Transport Ministry had signalled last year that it intended to register e-bikes, but this is the first time it has mentioned that they will need registration plates.

Mrs Teo said e-bikes were being targeted as they "were prone to illegal modification to achieve high speeds on roads".

Speaking during the debate on the Active Mobility Bill, Mrs Teo said cycling and the use of PMDs were an "essential part" of Singapore's drive to go car-lite.

The Bill was passed after a vigorous debate, which saw 13 MPs flag concerns over the safety of pedestrians as these devices gain popularity with Singaporeans young and old.

To boost safety, they gave various suggestions - from improving infrastructure to mandating protective gear such as helmets.

Mrs Teo said the popularity of these devices was a positive development "as active mobility is a key pillar of our vision for transport in Singapore". Such modes of transport were green, convenient and efficient for short distances, she said.

"They are essential to Singapore's transition to car-lite mobility, centred on public transport," she said.

The new law was drafted based on guidelines by an advisory panel last year. It governs how and where bicycles and PMDs such as e-scooters can be used, as well as criteria they must meet, such as weight.

It also legalises the use of bicycles and PMDs on footpaths, cycling paths and shared paths. E-bikes will be allowed only on roads, and cycling and shared paths.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Re-employment age to be raised from 65 to 67 with effect from 1 July 2017

Retirement and Re-employment (Amendment) Bill 2016 passed by Parliament

Older workers can work until age 67 from July
In another change, employers won't be allowed to cut salary of staff who turn 60
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Older workers will be able to work until age 67 from July this year.

If employers cannot find work for such workers in their companies, they can transfer them to their subsidiaries or another employer with the workers' consent, or give them a one-off payment as a last resort.

Employers will also not be allowed to cut the salary of workers who turn 60 from July.

These changes to the Retirement and Re-employment Act, passed in Parliament yesterday, will apply to Singaporeans and permanent residents who turn 65 from July.

Employers will be required to re-hire these workers if they have satisfactory work performance and are healthy and able to continue working.

The move will benefit the increasing ranks of older workers who want to continue to work, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

The proportion of residents aged 60 and above in the labour force increased from 5.5 per cent in 2006 to 12 per cent in 2015.

"As we live longer, we can expect this proportion to continue to grow," Mr Lim told the House.

Allowing employers to transfer older workers to another employer benefits both workers and employers, he added. "The employee will have more opportunities to be re-employed... The second employer will benefit from hiring an employee with experience," he said.

On removing the law that allows employers to cut the pay of workers at age 60, Mr Lim said that joint efforts by unions, employers and the Government have been successful in getting companies to move away from a wage system where they peg salaries to years of service.

The wage-cut provision was introduced in 1999 when the retirement age was raised from 60 to 62 to help employers manage their wage bills. But by 2011, this was already not practised by 98.5 per cent of companies with employees aged 60 and above, said Mr Lim.

Several MPs also called for safeguards to ensure that employers do not abuse the flexibility the new law gives them.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Return our Terrexes!; Hong Kong to return SAF armoured vehicles to Singapore after two fucking months!

Seized Terrexes protected by international law: Ng Eng Hen
Singapore looks forward to return of infantry carriers from Hong Kong, minister tells Parliament
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2017

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday explained why the seizure of the nine Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Terrex infantry carriers in Hong Kong does not comply with international or Hong Kong law.

He also told Parliament that Singapore looks forward to the carriers being returned.

The vehicles, Dr Ng said, are the property of the Singapore Government. "They are protected by sovereign immunity, even though they were being shipped by commercial carriers. This means that they are immune from any measures of constraint abroad.

"They cannot legally be detained or confiscated by other countries.

"This principle is well established under international law, and we are advised by lawyers that it is also the law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," Dr Ng said in his reply to MPs' questions.

"The Singapore Government has asserted our sovereign rights over the SAF's Terrexes," he added.

Singapore has informed Hong Kong several times in the past two months that the Terrex vehicles belong to the Singapore Government and are, therefore, immune from any measures of constraint, he said.

"Accordingly, we have requested the Hong Kong authorities to return our property immediately."

He added that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying to reiterate the same message. Hong Kong has replied that investigations are ongoing and will take some time to be completed, and that the Hong Kong Government will handle the matter in accordance with their laws.

Singapore welcomes this response, Dr Ng said. "Adherence to the rule of law has been the fundamental basis for peace and stability for the last half century in Asia.

"It has enabled countries both large and small to build trust and confidence in one another, cooperate and prosper together," he said.

The nine vehicles were seized by Hong Kong Customs on Nov 23 while in transit on their way back from a military exercise in Taiwan.

Responding to MPs' questions, he reiterated that the Terrex vehicles were used for training and did not contain sensitive equipment. SAF has since done a comprehensive review of its shipping procedures to "reduce the risk of SAF equipment being taken hostage en route".

When Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) asked if the Ministry of Defence had anticipated that such "hostage situations" could happen, Dr Ng replied: " Hong Kong is an international port of repute and there is no reason to believe that our SAF assets will be seized."

The SAF is also considering other options, like housing the equipment at its overseas training sites to avoid shipping it back.