Monday 27 February 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Camp Sequoia Dialogue on 24 Feb 2017

Singapore can do much more when it comes to adopting new technology: PM Lee
He says it's an area where Singapore has an edge, outlines vision of how it can improve life here
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2017

Singaporeans can expect a national digital identity, cashless payments in hawker centres and a transport system that is more responsive to changes in demand in the near future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sketched out this vision of how he sees technology playing a greater role in improving life here at a recent closed-door dialogue, of which his office released a transcript yesterday.

And there is a lot more that government, businesses and people can do to seize the opportunities new technology creates, he added.

The need to innovate and build strong digital capabilities is a key strategy of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), which released its report this month, and the Budget contained several measures to help on this front.

Ministers will elaborate on these plans when Parliament debates the Budget this week and the next.

Implementation will be key, Mr Lee said. Technology is a key focus because, while there are manpower and space constraints, "in terms of ideas, productivity, breakthroughs, the constraint is only what the human mind can come up with, what people can organise and deliver".

Mr Lee's dialogue last Friday with 150 start-up founders and guests from across the Asia-Pacific region was part of Camp Sequoia, an annual tech summit organised by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital India.

He said technology is an area Singapore has an advantage in, as a compact city with high-quality infrastructure and tech-savvy people.

Its Smart Nation Programme Office was set up to spearhead the use of technology and key projects that "will make a big difference to the way Singapore is able to operate". Mr Lee added: "I think personally that, for all our pushing, we really are not moving as fast as we ought to."

He outlined several other projects under way, including a national sensor network that pulls together pictures from cameras monitoring traffic, drains and housing estates into an integrated data source.

As for a national digital ID system, he cited how Estonia has a digital access card for all secure e-services, including national health insurance, bank accounts, making digital signatures and Internet voting.

"There are a lot of things that we can do individually, as a government, as a nation, and also for companies - to be participating, to come here, set up and use Singapore as a place to start up," he said.

Why Singapore needs more naysayers

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2017

Singapore needs more people to speak up and challenge authority, said a panel of academics and former senior civil servants yesterday.

They lamented the reluctance of civil servants to pose contrarian views when facing political office-holders, and the reticence of university students in asking questions at conferences.

But this ability to question views and policies is vital if Singapore is to do well in the next 50 years, said the speakers at a one-day forum with the theme of unintended consequences in Singapore.

Said Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy dean Kishore Mahbubani, 68: "We need more naysayers."

He argued that Singapore cannot take its formulas for success developed over the last 50 years and apply them to the next 50 years, as the world has changed drastically.

"We need to create new formulas, which you can't until you attack and challenge every sacred cow. Then you can succeed," he added.

Panellist and behavioural scientist David Chan jokingly addressed civil servants in the audience, saying: "You talk so much to me but when the minister is present, in front of him, you're absolutely silent."

This habit stems partly from a fear of looking bad in front of others and of failing, added Prof Chan, 50.

He heads the Singapore Management University (SMU) Behavioural Sciences Institute, which organised the conference that was attended by 350 people.

Mr Han Fook Kwang, 63, the editor-at-large of The Straits Times, said Singapore became so successful in such a short time that its people became too risk-averse.

For instance, policymakers are unwilling to take bigger risks with policies and fear that making major mistakes will cause Singapore to lose it all, he added.

But it is in policies and leadership teams that Singapore needs people willing to challenge authority, said Professor Chan Heng Chee, who is in her 70s and chairs the Singapore University of Technology and Design's Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities.

She called for more robust internal discussions on policies with a wider range of people from different backgrounds, adding: "We need naysayers in leadership teams who can think the unthinkable."

Panellists also noted that Singaporean audiences tended not to ask questions at conferences, unlike people overseas, whose hands would shoot up as soon as academics finished their lectures.

Chestnut Nature Park, Singapore's largest nature park, offers separate trails for bikers and hikers

By Abigail Ng WY, The Sunday Times, 26 Feb 2017

Mountain biker Melvin Ee, 44, used to be limited to a 1.6km trail at Chestnut Nature Park, next to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

With the official opening of the northern section of the park yesterday, the mountain bike trail is now 8.2km.

Chestnut Nature Park has expanded from 17ha to 81ha - equivalent to more than 110 football fields - making it the largest nature park in Singapore.

Besides the longer mountain biking trail, the hiking trail is now 5.6km, up from 2.1km.

National Parks Board (NParks) classifies most sections of the biking trail as moderately difficult to extremely difficult. "They're less technical than the ones at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve," said Dr Ee.

Chestnut is the only park with separate trails for bikers and hikers. It also has Singapore's first pump track for stunt bikers.

Sunday 26 February 2017

The fall of Singapore: Shades of grey

It may be 75 years, but the events and feelings around the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, including the rise of the Indian National Army and Sino-Japan hostilities, still resonate today.
By Walter Woon, Published The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2017

Amid the solemn commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore to the Japanese during World War II and the controversy over the naming of the Syonan Gallery last week, another anniversary passed unmarked.

On Feb 17, 1942, two days after the British surrendered, the Indian prisoners of war (POWs) were paraded in Farrer Park. The British commanding officer, Colonel Hunt, handed custody of them to Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, who made a short speech in English. Fujiwara was followed on the podium by Captain Mohan Singh, a former officer of the 1/14 Punjabis captured at the Battle of Jitra. After a stirring oration, Mohan Singh declared that they were forming an Indian National Army (INA) to fight for a free India. He asked the assembled POWs whether they would join up. Some 20,000 did so.

There is a tendency to view the fall of Singapore and subsequent events in black and white. In contrast to the war in Europe, which can justifiably be depicted as a struggle to defeat a vicious, evil regime, the war in Asia was much more nuanced. Nothing illustrates the shades of grey more vividly than the history of the INA.

The INA that was formed at Farrer Park was not the first. The Germans had previously established a Free India Legion (Legion Freies Indien) from Indian POWs taken in North Africa. This was done at the instigation of Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose, who in an epic escape had made his way from India through Afghanistan and onwards to Germany in 1941.

That Free India Legion was known as the Azad Hind Fauj (Free India Army), the name which the Indian National Army also bore. Bose saw the enemies of Britain as allies in his quest for Indian independence.

Meanwhile, in late 1942, the British had detained nationalist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarhalal Nehru in order to quash the Quit India Movement. Thirty British battalions were deployed in the sub-continent on internal security duties. Bose recognised a better opportunity to carry on the fight closer to home. Leaving Europe, he travelled by submarine to Sumatra and thence to Japan.

In July 1943, Bose arrived in Singapore to revitalise the independence struggle. The first INA under Mohan Singh had become moribund due to disagreements with the Japanese over its role. Mohan Singh himself was exiled to Pulau Ubin. A mass rally was held on the Padang. Bose had the gift of oratory. He exuded magnetism. He worked up the crowd to a fever pitch. "Our task will not end until our surviving heroes hold the victory parade on the graveyard of the British Empire - the Lal Qila, the Red Fort of Delhi! Chalo Delhi! On to Delhi!" he declared.

The crowd responded rapturously: "Azad Hind zindabad! Long live Free India!" The Indians called him Netaji, the beloved leader. Among that crowd was the late president S R Nathan, who told me once in conversation how electrifying Netaji was.

4,400 false SkillsFuture claims made for a course in January 2017

$2.2 million paid out in largest case of abuse to hit scheme; claimants have 30 days to return money
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2017

Suspicions were aroused at statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) when its data analytics system flagged the unusual nature of thousands of SkillsFuture claims made last month - all 4,400 were for one particular training course which the claimants did not attend.

It said yesterday that $2.2 million had been paid out for these false claims, in the largest case of abuse to hit the SkillsFuture Credit scheme.

The SSG, which comes under the Education Ministry, has sent letters to the claimants to demand they return the money in 30 days.

It added in its statement: "SSG takes this abuse of the SkillsFuture Credit very seriously and will take the necessary action against these individuals."

Under the law, those who give false information to the SSG can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for 12 months, or given both penalties.

The case came to light after the data analytics system flagged the claims that were mostly submitted towards the end of last month, and for the same course.

SSG declined to name the training provider or the course.

Saturday 25 February 2017

15,000 workers needed in rail sector by 2030: Khaw Boon Wan

This is to support expansion of rail network and improve reliability: Transport Minister
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2017

New academy to become 'gateway of rail industry'

The rail sector here will need to grow to 15,000 workers by 2030, as Singapore expands its MRT network and works to improve rail reliability, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

Speaking at the launch of the Singapore Rail Academy (SGRA) at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in Dover Drive, Mr Khaw said more than 15,000 workers may be needed.

About 10,000 are currently employed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), as well as rail operators SMRT and SBS Transit, in the engineering, operations and maintenance fields.

To support the expansion of the rail network to 360km by 2030, as well as improve rail reliability, Singapore has to grow the pool of engineering expertise, Mr Khaw said.

"This makes the rail industry a growth industry, whose employment prospects are almost guaranteed in the next decade," he added.

He said the role of rail engineers has become more complex over the years, and that SGRA will help train a new generation of rail engineers.

The academy will allow aspiring engineers and technicians to upgrade and reskill themselves to join the rail industry. It will also serve as a research and development centre for rail engineering.

SGRA chairman Cham Tao Soon said several initiatives are already under way. The academy is currently working with SkillsFuture Singapore and the two rail operators to develop a competency framework, he said.

The framework will allow SGRA to better identify training needs in the industry. It is also working on a rail research and technology road map that will allow it to develop solutions to enhance rail safety and reliability.

NurtureSG: Improving kids' health; More exercise, better diet

Pre-schoolers to get more physical activity and healthy meals; panel to also study youth suicide
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2017

The road to health in Singapore will start early. All pre-school children will have at least one hour of physical activity a day, including time spent in the sun.

They will also be served healthy meals that include fruit. Once a key law is passed, pre-schools will no longer be allowed to offer unhealthy eating options.

These recommendations from the NurtureSG committee to get children and youth to grow up healthy - both physically and mentally - have been accepted by the Health and Education Ministries. Some are already being rolled out.

With obesity rates among children going up and chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension on the rise, the committee was tasked with finding ways to improve children's health. It was co-chaired by Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min and Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education Janil Puthucheary.

Among the issues that the committee addressed were mental health problems, eating habits, and the lack of sleep and exercise.

Obesity rates among children have risen from 10 per cent in 2010 to 12 per cent in 2015.

"So very often you can see young children on their handheld devices," said Dr Lam. "That has also resulted in children not exercising enough and leading a more sedentary lifestyle."

The committee decided to get the fitness ball rolling with pre-schoolers, who will have at least one hour of physical activity every day.

Friday 24 February 2017

Singapore the No.1 tree city: Treepedia; NParks launches – interactive map of over 500,000 trees

Not a concrete jungle: Singapore beats 16 cities in green urban areas
Study by MIT and WEF puts the city ahead of Sydney and Vancouver which are joint-2nd
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2017

When it comes to urban tree density, Singapore stands at the crown.

The City in a Garden outshone 16 cities from all around the world, in a study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are covered by greenery.

This puts Singapore ahead of Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada, both of which are tied for second place with 25.9 per cent.

Sacramento, in California in the United States, follows closely behind with 23.6 per cent.

Of the 17 cities, Paris has the smallest percentage of green urban areas at 8.8 per cent.

More cities will gradually be added to the database, the researchers said last December, when the list of cities was first uploaded on a website known as Treepedia. It was again highlighted by news site Business Insider earlier this week.

Researchers use data from Google Street View to measure trees and vegetation in cities around the world to form the Green View Index (GVI), presented on a scale of 0 to 100. It shows the percentage of canopy cover for a particular location.

The researchers determine this by getting Google Street View images in each city, then extracting green areas using computer vision techniques. The data is processed to obtain the GVI.

As Google Street View shows panoramic photographs of streets and buildings, it allows the study to capture data such as vertical gardens. But as the images are taken by cameras atop cars, only areas with roads are covered in the study, said Mr So Wonyoung, a data visualisation specialist from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology who is involved in the project.

Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and head of the project, said the goal of Treepedia is to get people to take action to improve urban tree cover in their cities.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Forging a new consensus for the future economy

Some tough questions need to be grappled with and these concern foreign manpower, population size and pace of growth
By Tan Khee Giap and Gareth Tan Guang Ming, Published The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2017

The Singapore economy seems to have entered a new normal of low and slow growth. There are more out-of-work residents and, last year, those jobless for at least 25 weeks took longer to find work as compared with the previous year. Business sentiment has softened and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have quite understandably been more adversely affected than multinational corporations (MNCs).

The cause of such a subdued economy is more structural than cyclical in nature as the Government has painstakingly engineered a productivity-driven revamp of the labour market, but old habits die hard and it takes time to change human resource management and work behaviour.

Meanwhile, in the Budget statement on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made clear the Government's intent to lend financial support to seven broad strategies tabled by the Committee for the Future Economy(CFE) to improve the longer-term resilience of Singapore's highly open city-state economy. This is taking place amid a challenging external environment of rising protectionism against global trade, disruptive change due to rapid technological progress, and heightened geopolitical tension.


This year's Budget can be said to have three prongs: ease companies' and workers' shorter-term pains and hardships, build capacity for the longer term so the economy can adapt and stay competitive, and further commit to keeping society inclusive and caring.

With companies finding it hard to cope with higher business costs due to wages, rentals, government fees and charges, the Budget sought to ease hardship for companies suffering due to a cyclical downturn in their sector by, among other things, deferring foreign- worker levy hikes, enhancing and extending the corporate income tax (CIT) rebate for the years of assessment 2017 and 2018.

The Budget also includes help and incentives to cushion firms, especially SMEs, going through painful sectoral transformation. The schemes include Wage Credit amounting to $600 million, of which 70 per cent will be for SMEs; extension of Special Employment Credit amounting to $300 million that will benefit 370,000 workers, and the continuation of the SME Working Capital Loan scheme for the next two years.

In terms of capacity building and skills upgrading, the Government has committed up to $600 million in capital for a new International Partnership Fund with Global Innovation Alliance for Singaporeans to gain overseas experiences, build networks and collaborate with their counterparts.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Budget 2017: Moving Forward Together

A budget for today - and tomorrow
• Water prices to go up 30% • Carbon tax from 2019 • Income tax rebate • Fund to help firms go global
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2017

Against a backdrop of rapid technological change and global uncertainty, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a Budget yesterday that addresses Singaporeans' immediate concerns while laying the groundwork for future growth.

The speech kicked off with MPs thumping their seats in a show of support for Mr Heng, who had made a remarkable recovery to speak in Parliament for the first time since suffering a stroke last May.

The Budget offered several talking points of its own. These included an increase in water prices to fund the higher costs of desalination and Newater production, the first rise in 17 years; this was offset, for some, by a permanent increase in the GST Voucher - Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebate for eligible HDB households, ranging from $40 to $120, depending on flat type.

Young home buyers received cheer in the form of generous hikes of up to $20,000 in the CPF Housing Grant for resale flats from a Budget in which expenditure is expected to touch $75.1 billion.

But underpinning it all is a message Singaporeans should find familiar - the Republic has to adapt and thrive as the world undergoes deep shifts that will create new challenges, but also open up new opportunities. It continues the theme of the report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), co-chaired by Mr Heng, released earlier this month.

"It is critical that we take decisive action to re-position ourselves for the future," Mr Heng told MPs in a packed House, noting that the Budget would take a "learning and adaptive approach", trying new methods, keeping those that worked and learning from experience. "That is the Singapore way."

Mr Heng noted that while the economy grew 2 per cent last year - from 1.9 per cent in 2015 - there was an "uneven performance" across sectors. Similarly, overall unemployment remained low at 2.1 per cent, but redundancies rose.

The Budget measures, he said, aim to see Singapore through this period of transition. "We can aim for quality growth of 2 per cent to 3 per cent, if we press on in our drive for higher productivity and work hard to help everyone who wishes to work, find a place in the labour force," he said.

Workers will be offered programmes to help them retrain and find new jobs. Businesses struggling with tough times will receive immediate relief. The construction sector, for example, will benefit from $700 million worth of infrastructure projects brought forward.

Companies will get help to embrace digital technology and innovate. A new $600 million International Partnership Fund will see the Government co-investing with Singapore-based firms in opportunities to expand overseas.

In all, the Government is setting aside $2.4 billion over the next four years to implement the strategies set out in the CFE. This is on top of the $4.5 billion earmarked last year for programmes to transform industries here, he said.

There will also be a personal income tax rebate of 20 per cent of tax payable, capped at $500, for income earned in 2016.

The Government will spend an additional $160 million in the next five years on community mental health efforts. Medifund will get a $500 million top-up.

There were also measures to make Singapore more environmentally sustainable - a new carbon tax to be introduced in 2019 will levy between $10 and $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions by heavy emitters - and measures to encourage a move to greener vehicles.

It was, in short, an expansionary Budget, with ministries' expenditures expected to be $3.7 billion, or 5.2 per cent, higher than last year. However, it included a permanent 2 per cent downward adjustment to ministry budget caps from this year on.

Responding last night, the Singapore Business Federation said it was disappointed with the "inadequate short-term support" to lower business costs. But it welcomed steps to boost innovation and help firms go international.

Others were more upbeat. "It creates opportunities for Singaporeans to chase their dreams and excel internationally, while also providing protection in the current uncertain climate," said Mr Low Hwee Chua, regional managing partner for tax, Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia.

Parliament will debate the Budget and government spending plans over two weeks from next Tuesday.

PM Lee: 2-state solution only way to peace for Israel, Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu official visit to Singapore
Singapore hopes both sides can resume direct talks for a just and durable solution, PM Lee tells Netanyahu
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2017

Singapore hopes both Israel and Palestine can resume direct negotiations and make progress on a "just and durable solution" to their longstanding conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We have consistently believed that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples and to the Middle East," he said.

He was reiterating Singapore's longstanding position on the Middle East peace process at a joint press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they met at the Istana.

Mr Netanyahu arrived yesterday for a two-day visit and, after a ceremonial welcome, called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He also met PM Lee and they discussed bilateral cooperation as well as developments in the Middle East.

Mr Lee said he explained to his counterpart that while the Middle East is far from South-east Asia, what happens there has an impact on and concerns Singapore.

Many around the world are seized with the Israel-Palestine issue, an emotional one especially for Muslim communities, he noted.

"Singapore is good friends with Israel and also good friends with the Palestinian National Authority and many Arab countries," he added.

Mr Lee made clear Singapore's stand on a two-state solution when he met Mr Netanyahu in Israel last year. "It is still our view," he said.

During their meeting yesterday, Mr Lee also reiterated Singapore's support for Israel's right to live within secure borders and in peace, and also the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland.

Monday 20 February 2017

A little less Nimby

Resistance to eldercare facilities has given way to more acceptance, even a welcoming attitude
By Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

In 2012, residents in areas such as Bishan, Woodlands and Jalan Batu expressed resistance to the news that eldercare facilities would be built in their neighbourhoods.

But despite earlier petitions - which some called the "Nimby" or "not in my backyard" syndrome - many have accepted - and, in some cases, grown to embrace - the facilities that they once opposed.

In turn, service providers are making an effort to be considerate to their neighbours.

Five years ago, about 40 residents signed a petition against a nursing home that was set to be built on an empty plot of land facing blocks of flats in Bishan Street 13.

One man said at a dialogue session that "the old folk will be groaning right into my home".

Such sentiment has dissipated. Residents encourage tolerance over minor issues. Some now even volunteer at the home.

The Lions Home for the Elders is set to mark its official opening next month, having been operating for more than a year, and has become "accepted as an integral part of the town", MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong told The Sunday Times.

"Some residents have family members who are residing in the home and find the proximity a welcome convenience. There are also residents who have taken to volunteering at the home."

Singapore Veterans Futsal League: Playing into the second half of life

Friendly football league for those aged 40 and above reaches fever pitch with 160 players
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

He may be a 61-year-old grandfather of four, but Mr Saleh Ahmad feels young again when he dons his yellow soccer gear and dribbles a ball on the pitch.

Nearly every Tuesday evening for the past two months, the field service engineer has turned up at the Home United Youth Football Academy to play in a five-a-side football tournament. In fact, Mr Saleh is the oldest among some 160 players in the new SG Veteran5s League, which is said to be Singapore's first such tournament for those 40 years old and above.

The league also sports colourful team names such as Chapalang Football Club, Vintage Eagles, Zion Kings and Brickworks Old Boys.

"Age is nothing. I will still play as long as I am healthy and fit," said Mr Saleh, who started playing football as a teenager in his secondary school team.

His 15-man team, dubbed Hydratight Football Club, is led by former national player Ali Imran Lomri, 41, and comprises colleagues from Britain-based oil and gas company Hydratight.

Organised by local start-up PlayPal Group, the league is now into its second season, with the finals to run on Tuesday.

The first season kicked off last August with just five teams and one division, but it has since doubled to 11 teams and two divisions, said co-founder and chief executive Shaun Lin, 32.

The four founders started the free PlayPal football mobile app in March 2015, aimed at gathering social and amateur players to organise friendly games in the community. There are currently 3,400 registered users on the app, with plans to launch the app in other countries in the region.

Sunday 19 February 2017

New one-stop centre for sexual crime victims after review of investigation, court processes: MHA

New one-stop centre for alleged rape victims
Facility at Police Cantonment Complex among new initiatives to protect victims of sexual crimes
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Victims reporting an alleged rape to the police will no longer have to suffer more stress of being taken to a public hospital for the necessary examination.

If the alleged sexual assault is reported within 72 hours of the incident, a victim can be attended to instead at a new centre in the Police Cantonment Complex, by specialists from the Singapore General Hospital.

The One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre was one of the initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday, following a review of investigation and court procedures dealing with sexual crimes.

"One of the key issues is... to encourage victims to come forward and make the whole experience something that doesn't add to their trauma," Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a press conference yesterday.

This will make it easier for victims to lodge a report and undergo an examination.

The new centre began operations last month and, in its pilot phase, will see adult rape victims who do not require other medical attention.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Tan Chye Hee, who is also the director of the Criminal Investigation Department, said the police see an average of about 150 rape cases a year. Most are reported after 72 hours of the alleged offence.

Officers who come into contact with victims can always be better trained, said Mr Shanmugam, and the police are working with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) to develop a training video to do so.

Based on the experiences of AWARE's clients at its Sexual Assault Care Centre, the only specialised service here for victims, the video is intended to help sensitise officers to victims' experiences during the investigation process.

PAP town councils to increase service and conservancy charges from 1 June 2017

Higher service, conservancy fees soon for most HDB residents
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Most Housing Board residents will pay higher service and conservancy charges (S&CC) from June 1.

The fee hike by 15 People's Action Party (PAP) town councils will range between $1 and $17 a month.

But it will be implemented in two stages, with the second rise taking effect on June 1 next year.

The increase will also apply to HDB shops and offices, as well as markets and cooked food stalls, the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council said yesterday.

Its chairman, Dr Teo Ho Pin, is also the coordinating chairman for the PAP town councils.

This is the second time that PAP town councils are raising S&CC charges in the past three to five years. In 2012, seven of them raised their fees, citing higher electricity, maintenance and operation costs. The rest did so in 2014 for similar reasons. Before that, fees at most town councils had remained unchanged for almost 10 years.

The reason for the latest increase is the higher costs of cleaning services plus pest and vector control.

Town councils also have to set aside more funds for lift replacement and maintenance, following a spate of lift breakdowns in public housing estates last year.

In the first hike in June, home owners will pay from 50 cents to $9 more a month, depending on flat type.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Are We Well-Positioned for the Future? – Let’s Think About It

16 Feb 2017

Are you driven and hungry enough to find success in the Future Economy?

In this fifth and final episode of the new season of “Let’s Think About It”, Mariam Jaafar of The Boston Consulting Group, Min-Liang Tan of Razer and Anthony Tan of Grab share their views and experiences with Minister Heng Swee Keat on the ways in which individuals and businesses can leverage on opportunities and find success in the future economy.

What public transport surveys tell us about customer satisfaction

By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2017

If you have not already noticed, each time we are told how the public transport system has become better, two things tend to happen.

One, a series of breakdowns will ensue, almost immediately.

In the days following the release of the 2016 Public Transport Customer Satisfaction Survey results last Monday, there were no fewer than six rail disruptions.

Two, there will be widespread disbelief, going by the many comments on social media ridiculing the finding that 96.4 per cent of commuters were satisfied last year - a marked improvement from 91.8 per cent in 2015. Even industry players were surprised.

"What happens when it reaches 100 per cent?" one senior manager of a service provider asked.

Other than attributing it to pure coincidence, explaining the first phenomenon is probably next to impossible. There is, however, a good explanation for the second.

First, it is not uncommon to find differences between perception and reality.

A popular perception here is that the public transport system is completely broken. In reality, it is not, even if the rail system does not rank as high as those in places such as Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo.

The disconnect between statistics and sentiment is also less puzzling if we look at how satisfaction surveys are conducted. Typically, respondents are asked to rank a service on a scale of one to 10.

The rankings are then weighted against the importance respondents attach to qualities such as safety, reliability and comfort.

Anything from 6 is considered "satisfied". Herein lies the nub of the issue. Does a 6 qualify as "satisfied"? Sure it does. But it does not qualify as "fully satisfied". So, it might be more accurate to say that 96.4 per cent of commuters were "moderately or mildly satisfied" last year. That would certainly gel better with other realities, such as the number of rail breakdowns here, which has not changed much.

Then again, such a term would be unwieldy, and certainly less snappy than saying 96.4 per cent were "satisfied".

Income inequality in Singapore lowest in a decade, household incomes up in 2016, but at a slower pace

Gap between rich and poor also narrowest in a decade as top earners see drop in wage growth
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2017

Families earned more from work last year, but their rise in monthly income was smaller than in the previous year, figures released yesterday show.

Additionally, income inequality in Singapore last year was the lowest in a decade, as households with the highest incomes experienced the biggest slump in wage growth.

This, along with government transfers to the less well-off, narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor.

Last year saw the Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality from 0 to 1, with 0 being most equal - at its lowest in a decade.

Singapore's score dipped from 0.463 in 2015 to 0.458 last year. It stood at 0.470 in 2006.

After taking government transfers and taxes into account, this score fell from 0.409 in 2015 to 0.402 last year.

The latest numbers on household income from the Department of Statistics' annual Key Household Income Trends 2016 report come amid a sluggish economy, and economists said they are a reflection of the weaker wage growth that has been reported in recent months.

The median monthly income for Singapore and permanent resident households with at least one working member grew from $8,666 in 2015 to $8,846 last year, without taking inflation into account.

After accounting for inflation, it was an increase of 2.6 per cent in real terms, about half of the 4.9 per cent recorded in 2015.

Friday 17 February 2017

More getting palliative services

MOH aims to make them more affordable, encourage home care
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

Since the middle of last year, doctors and nurses have been visiting Mr George S. Pathy, 87, at his one-room rental flat in Punggol to monitor his vital signs and review his medication.

The visits, which take place once every two to three weeks, are free. Low-income individuals like Mr Pathy receive fully subsidised services to fulfil their wishes of being cared for, and hopefully, of dying at home.

Mr Pathy is receiving palliative care, which aims to minimise pain and improve the quality of life for patients who have terminal illnesses. He has end-stage heart failure and lung disease.

To meet the needs of the ageing population, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been ramping up palliative care services. As of last year, it had built enough capacity for palliative care at home for 5,500 people.

Meanwhile, there are 180 beds available for those who need to be cared for in hospices, nursing homes and community hospitals last year.

"As we face an ageing population, palliative care becomes increasingly important," said Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat during a visit to the new Assisi Hospice in Thomson Road yesterday.

"There is a need to increase capacity, to further raise standards, build capabilities and work together with providers. That is what we have been doing in the past three years and will continue to do so," he said.

MOH said it is on track to meet its target of having 6,000 home palliative care places, and 360 beds by 2020. This was a target set in 2014, when MOH released a palliative care plan to meet the demand for and ensure that such services are affordable. The plan includes a new graduate diploma course to train more doctors in palliative care.

In 2015, people were also allowed to use more of their Medisave for advanced care services, with no withdrawal cap for those who are terminally ill.

Government figures show that about one in four deaths in 2015 happened at home, while the bulk were in hospitals. MOH said it hopes to increase the percentage of people who can die at home by promoting greater awareness of palliative care services and advanced care planning.

That is why the bulk of palliative care services currently being offered are home care services.

New speed cameras tracking motorists over a distance to be introduced in 2018

Average Speed Camera (ASC) to be introduced to 'shape' motorists' road behaviour
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

A new speed camera system will be introduced early next year along the new Tanah Merah Coast Road with the hopes of "shaping" motorists' behaviour and making them more conscious of speeding.

The Average Speed Camera (ASC) calculates a vehicle's average speed by tracking it on radar when it enters a monitoring zone, the Traffic Police (TP) said yesterday.

The technology used in the ASC can distinguish between a lorry and a sedan car based on its radar signature, and tell if the vehicle has been travelling over its assigned speed limit or the road's speed limit.

But the TP commander, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) of Police Sam Tee, said: "I want to emphasise the point that TP deploys our enforcement cameras based on a risk assessment.

"Where there are speeding-related accidents and danger zones, this is where we will consider (using enforcement cameras)."

The ASC will be deployed at Tanah Merah Coast Road because the new road is heavily used by lorries, delivery trucks and even cyclists on the weekends, he said.

He added that deployment of the ASC on other roads would need to be studied first.

SAC Tee also said the use of enforcement cameras may vary from fixed-speed cameras to mobile ones, adding that it depends on "whichever will give us an effective way to shape motorists' behaviour".

The extensive public education on speed camera enforcement efforts may have contributed to a dip in the number of speeding-related accidents and violations as reported in the TP annual report, Traffic Situation 2016.

India launches world record 104 satellites in single mission

Successful launch boosts country's profile in global space industry worth billions
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched 104 satellites, including 88 from a US imaging company, at one go, setting a new world record and boosting its profile in the multibillion-dollar international space industry.

The 104 satellites, weighing 1,378kg in total, were launched yesterday aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), an indigenous rocket dubbed "ISRO's workhorse". That broke the previous record of 37 satellites launched at one go by Russia in 2014.

Scientists, wearing white jackets with the abbreviation PSLV on the back, cheered in the control room as the satellites - one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, and a total of 96 from the United States, as well as three from India - were sent into orbit, one after the other.

Satish Dhawan Space Centre director P. Kunhikrishnan said the launch was "inscribed in gold in the space history of India".

"The 104 satellites were very precisely injected into orbit, clearly reiterating ISRO's capability in handling complex missions," he said.

Congratulatory messages poured in from across the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it "another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation", saying in a tweet: "India salutes our scientists."

What the hell is wrong with Yishun?

Why do some people make fun of Yishun?
My Turf is a new fortnightly series that aims to tell the untold stories of our neighbourhoods. In this third instalment, we take a look at Yishun and why it has a reputation for the bad and the mad.
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

A trending topic on social media has recently been this question: What in the world is wrong with Yishun?

"Build a wall around Yishun," says a popular meme, while a Twitter account has been set up, dedicated to weird happenings in this northern town.

Somehow, Yishun has developed a reputation for bad news. Alongside the everyday events, Yishun is also home to cat abuse, murder, car chases, brothel raids, civilians trying to attack policemen with stun guns, loan sharks, falling concrete slabs, sinkholes, feuding taxi drivers, shopping mall stabbings and more.

Could it be something in the air? Or perhaps the water?

But it turns out that the problem with Yishun is simple, just like what most people won in the Toto draw last week: Nothing.

It is a made-up phenomenon, driven by media coverage and confirmation bias.

Assistant Professor Liew Khai Khiun, from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, said Yishun's reputation boils down to "public imagination".

By coincidence, one or two sensational things happen in the estate that draw widespread coverage, some enterprising wags seize upon it and soon the idea that the place is jinxed enters almost mainstream thought.