Monday 31 July 2017

Biotech sector poised to deliver more health and wealth

Questions about whether Singapore is getting bang for its buck in biotech arise from time to time. The chairman of the agency in charge issues a report card.
By Lim Chuan Poh, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2017

On May 24, a local biotechnology company successfully raised US$33 million (S$44.8 million) through an initial public offering on the Taipei Exchange (TPEx), valuing the company at US$300 million.

This went largely unnoticed by most of Singapore, but caused ripples of excitement throughout the local biotech and research circles.

The company that listed on the TPEx was none other than a Singapore drug-development biotech, Aslan Pharmaceuticals, which develops therapies for cancer tumour types prevalent in Asia.

Drug development is a high-risk endeavour. The fact that a local biotech has achieved this level of market validation is certainly something for us to be proud of.

Perhaps this is what the Nobel laureate and A*Star (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) senior fellow, Dr Sydney Brenner, envisioned when he first visited Singapore in 1983, to advise the Government on what it would take for this young country to create a biotechnology industry.

Back then, Singapore's biomedical research was practically non-existent. The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew asked Dr Brenner why Singapore should invest in biomedical sciences (BMS) and biotechnology infrastructure, noting that Singapore was a nation of technicians. Dr Brenner replied candidly: "Prime Minister, if you don't do something like this, you will remain a nation of technicians."

Following this conversation, the Government set up the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), Singapore's first biomedical research institute, in 1985.

In three decades, Singapore has progressed from a humble "nation of technicians" to a leading biomedical hub, with BMS becoming the fourth pillar of the manufacturing sector.

Today, Singapore is home to more than 50 BMS manufacturing plants employing over 19,000 people, with a value add of $15 billion, just a shade behind the top sector, electronics.

In 2015, business expenditure on research and development (Berd) in BMS-related fields had grown by a compound annual growth rate of over 10 per cent in the last decade to reach a high of nearly $1 billion, and employs more than 2,100 researchers.

Adding to this rapid growth, albeit from a low base, is a crop of local biotech companies that has sprung up in recent years.

From 2010 to last year, at least 48 local drug-development and related biotechs have been incorporated, doubling that of the preceding decade (2000-2009). Singapore's biotech ecosystem is certainly headed in the right direction and appears to have reached an inflexion point.

Saturday 29 July 2017

Car park label scheme for disabled revised, taxi subsidy scheme enhanced from 1 August 2017

MSF tweaks taxi subsidies, carpark labels for disabled
Income cap raised for those eligible for taxi scheme, which will include private-hire cars
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 28 Jul 2017

More people with disabilities will benefit from taxi subsidies, while those travelling by car will be helped by updates on the use of accessible spaces.

These changes are a result of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) beefing up the taxi subsidy scheme and carpark label scheme, which cater to people with disabilities. These upgrades were announced yesterday.

Starting next Tuesday, households with a monthly per capita income of up to $2,600 can tap taxi subsidies of up to 80 per cent, depending on their income tier.

This is up from the current parameter of $1,800. With the higher income cap, the number of beneficiaries is expected to rise from 80 to more than 200 by 2021.

The subsidies are available to Singaporeans and permanent residents who are medically certified as unable to take public transport or completely dependent on cabs for travelling to school or work.

The taxi subsidy scheme was introduced in 2014 to provide subsidies of up to 50 per cent to people with disabilities.

Ms Ivy Seah, 53, an assistant transport executive at Handicaps Welfare Association, said: "It (the subsidies) helps to offset the cost, especially since many of our clients have incomes on the lower end of the scale."

With the change, Mr Lim Eng Whatt, 67, a leading customer service agent in the food and beverage sector, will save about $500 on taxi fares per quarter based on his income tier. Previously, he paid about $1,440 for cab fares per quarter after the subsidies. The new scheme will reduce this amount to $900.

"I'm very happy with this change. Almost half of my take-home salary went to taxi fares before subsidies, and even with the subsidies I have now, I still have little money after paying for basic necessities. This increased subsidy will help with my transport," Mr Lim said.

The taxi scheme will be extended to those attending employment-related training supported by disability services and support organisation SG Enable. It will also cover Land Transport Authority-registered private-hire cars under third-party private-hire car service providers such as Grab and Uber.

Thursday 27 July 2017

Workers' Party MPs sued by own Town Council AHTC over $33 million in improper payments; High Court trial in October 2018

* Workers' Party MPs Court Case against Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) -October 2018

Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) taking WP leaders to court to account for $33 million it paid
The MPs deny town council's allegations and say they acted in best interests of residents
By Danson Cheong and Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2017

Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) is taking some of its most senior councillors - including Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang and party chairman Sylvia Lim - to court to account for more than $33 million in payments made to its former managing agent and service provider.

AHTC alleges that the payments it made to managing agent FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) and service provider FM Solutions and Integrated Services, from July 15, 2011, to July 14, 2015, are null and void as the town councillors had acted in breach of their fiduciary duties - a charge they strongly deny.

AHTC initiated the legal action under the direction of an independent panel it appointed in February to help recover improper payments, as first reported by The Straits Times yesterday.

It is demanding that Mr Low, Ms Lim, FMSS owner How Weng Fan and FMSS give an account of the $33,717,535 in payments.

AHTC wants "equitable compensation" for any sum that has been wrongfully paid out.

At the very least, it wants Mr Low and Ms Lim to be liable for a sum of $1,261,773 - which it claims was the difference in fees between the "inflated rates" charged by FMSS and the rates it would have paid under CPG Facilities Management, the previous managing agent.

AHTC claimed that Mr Low and Ms Lim had acted in bad faith and misled other town councillors in order to justify installing FMSS as the managing agent without a tender. They then "set up and/or allowed a system" that made it possible for FMSS and its officers to "benefit themselves".

"No town councillor could have reasonably approved the system, without being in breach of his or her duties," said AHTC.

The town council, represented by lawyer David Chan from Shook Lin & Bok, set out its demands in a statement of claim filed in the High Court.

The independent panel that directed the action is chaired by Senior Counsel Philip Jeyaretnam and includes Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan and KPMG managing partner Ong Pang Thye.

The WP MPs have denied the allegations.

Speaking to the media last night, Mr Low thrice said that his conscience is clear.

"We acted in good faith and in the best interests of residents - the residents can see for themselves," said Mr Low, who was flanked by Ms Lim and town council chairman Pritam Singh, also a defendant in the suit.

Ms Lim and Mr Singh said they welcomed the opportunity to tell their side of the story in court.

ITE Work-Learn Technical Diploma programme to start in April 2018

Work-study scheme will offer up to 120 places across four courses
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2017

Graduates from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) can, for the first time, take up a new diploma awarded by the institution, starting from April next year.

The Work-Learn Technical Diploma programme, first announced in Parliament in March, will allow them to work and study at the same time. Up to 120 places across four courses - marine and offshore engineering, mechanical and electrical services supervision, rehabilitation care, and security systems engineering - will be offered for the first intake.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung announced details of the new technical diploma yesterday at the ITE graduation ceremony, likening it to an apprenticeship stint.

"Trainees will develop skills mastery through hands-on training and practice, grounded in deep knowledge of their employer's operations," he said. "With this knowledge, they will be better placed to become masters in their trade, and rise through the ranks."

The programmes will last 21/2 to three years, with 70 per cent of the curriculum time set aside for on-the-job training.

In his speech, Mr Ong also said more ITE graduates have been able to find jobs, and their salaries have gone up over the years.

Citing the latest ITE graduate employment survey last year, he told the 711 graduates at the ceremony that almost 87 per cent of their seniors had secured jobs within six months of graduating last year, up by 3.5 percentage points from 2015.

From 2012 to last year, the median salaries of ITE graduates also increased by 20 per cent from about $1,500 to $1,800, and for the first time, the median starting salaries of graduates who finished national service reached $2,000.

"The overall signal is that your skills continue to be valued by employers, and the upward trend will likely continue, so long as we keep the training focused and relevant, and our students continue to be eager to learn," said Mr Ong.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Video-recorded statements, protection of vulnerable victims among proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act

More protection for victims under criminal code revamp
Earlier gag orders on identity of abuse victims and closed-door hearings among proposals
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

The courts will wrap an extra layer of protection around victims of sex crimes or child abuse to spare them any further trauma, if the sweeping changes to improve the criminal justice process are pushed through.

To prevent such vulnerable victims from being identified, a gag order will kick in the moment a case of sexual or child abuse is reported to the police, it has been proposed.

Vulnerable persons will also be able to testify in closed-door hearings, and physical screens can be used to shield them from the accused person.

These are among the 50 changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act proposed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) which were announced yesterday.

In a first for Singapore, investigators will also be given the power to take statements from suspects and witnesses in a video recording, instead of relying only on written statements.

Victims of sexual crimes may be able to video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person in court, while video recording will be made compulsory for suspects in such crimes.

This will give the court a sense of the suspect's demeanour and help it to gauge how voluntarily the statements were made.

The amendments are aimed at enhancing the fairness, accuracy and equity of the criminal justice system, said MinLaw.

Currently a gag order on the identities of vulnerable victims is issued only when the case goes before a court, but MinLaw wants it to kick in as soon as a police report is made.

Closed-door hearings will also be automatic, unless the victims wish to give their evidence in open court.

To prevent misuse of video-recorded statements, these may be viewed only at police stations or approved places.

Lawyers will also be barred from probing a victim's sexual history unless they obtain permission from the court. This would lessen the ordeal faced by such victims, said lawyers and academics.

Terrorists have Singapore in their sights, warns PM Lee Hsien Loong

Community leaders must ensure social cohesion is not affected
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

Singapore remains a target of terrorists, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he highlighted how South-east Asia is on the front line of the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

"They have us in their sights, and we have to know that," said PM Lee, in a speech at ITE College Central where he called on about 300 community leaders to ensure social cohesion is not disrupted by the terror threat.

Singapore might be an "oasis of peace", but it is not disconnected from the rest of the world, he said.

His speech comes a week after he held a dialogue with Malay/Muslim leaders on the issue, to hear their concerns and let them know the Government is on their side as they counter extremism and protect the social fabric.

The fight against terrorism is not theirs alone, he added yesterday, saying: "We are all in this together."

PM Lee pointed out that while ISIS is on the defensive in the Middle East, its followers could disperse and return to South-east Asia. Prominent ISIS fighters have been recruiting more from Malaysia and Indonesia and directing attacks on countries, including Singapore.

In a report last week, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the terror network responsible for the ongoing siege of Marawi in the Philippines had urged militants to attack targets in Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, among other places.

PM Lee said ISIS has been using the fighting in Marawi as propaganda to recruit more fighters, and directing them to the Philippines, where it hopes to set up a wilayat, or province. And it is "unrealistic" for Singapore to think it will be unaffected by this, he said.

He cited a foiled plot by an ISIS-linked group last year to launch a rocket at Marina Bay Sands from Batam. "We know that there are others out there, and we also know of other attacks that had been planned but have not been carried out," said PM Lee. "Singapore is a target, we know it, they've said it, and they've acted on it."

The developments in Singapore are just as worrying, said PM Lee, highlighting three trends.

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Why is state funding needed for our arts scene to thrive?

By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2017

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a country in possession of a First World reputation must also have a thriving arts scene.

But when it comes to paying for the arts, people are less quick to reach for the bill. And lately, the dreary economic climate means an increasing reluctance to open wallets.

The arts - which comprise theatre, dance, traditional arts, visual arts, music and literature - in Singapore are mainly funded by the state, unlike in other countries such as the United States, where they are largely supported through private donors and foundations.

In 2015, according to the Singapore Cultural Statistics report, 80 per cent of arts and heritage funding in Singapore, or $595.7 million, was provided by the Government through state agencies such as the National Arts Council (NAC).

This includes $79.4 million under the Cultural Matching Fund, which was set up by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to match private cash donations to arts and heritage charities and Institutions of Public Character dollar for dollar.

The Government's support for the arts takes various forms, from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing.

In the 2015/2016 financial year, for instance, $70.9 million was disbursed through the Grants Framework and $7.4 million through the Arts Housing Scheme, which was implemented in 1985 to provide affordable spaces to arts groups and artists.

An NAC spokesman said investing in the creation and appreciation of the arts "does not only add to the national canon of artwork we can be proud of, it also allows the arts on an individual level to entertain and inspire, and provide an avenue for self-expression, learning and reflection". "On a community and international level, the arts can connect our communities and position Singapore globally," the spokesman added.

The remaining support for arts and culture comes from corporate sponsors and individuals.

Monday 24 July 2017

Racial Harmony Day in Singapore: 20 years on

July 21 is Racial Harmony Day, which schools started observing in 1997. On the 20th anniversary of Racial Harmony Day, Senior Correspondent Toh Yong Chuan reports on efforts to build and boost trust among people of different races and religions in Singapore. Here are 20 items on issues and policies to do with racial and religious harmony.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017


A couple of riots broke out in Singapore in 1964 - the first of which took place on July 21, which is today marked as Racial Harmony Day.

Amid rising communal tensions following the Malaysian general election in May that year, a procession celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday was disrupted by clashes between Chinese and Malays.

The first day of rioting saw four killed and 178 injured.

The authorities imposed night curfews island-wide and set up goodwill committees of community leaders to calm the situation.

But clashes continued through July, and by the time the situation calmed down in early August, 23 had died and 454 were injured.

The calm did not last long.

On Sept 2, 1964, fighting broke out after a Malay trishaw rider was found dead in Geylang Serai.

The fighting that lasted over a week left 13 dead and 106 injured.

In 1997, the Ministry of Education began marking July 21 as Racial Harmony Day. On this day, schools hold activities to teach students the importance of maintaining racial and religious harmony.

Restrictions on Indian IT professionals moving to Singapore; Wrong to have total free flow of people: DPM Tharman

It's not just wrong politics but also wrong economics, DPM says at a forum in New Delhi
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017

Singapore has been one of the strongest advocates when it comes to the free flow of goods and services, but there must be limits to the movement of people.

Otherwise there will be less push for businesses to be more productive, and "more fundamentally, you become a society where people don't feel it's their own society", said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday at an economics forum in India.

"This is a reality not just because of (President Donald) Trump in the US or Brexit in UK. It is a reality all over the world,'' he said when asked a question about tighter restrictions on Indian professionals moving to Singapore.

Noting that a third of Singapore's workforce is already made up of foreigners, he added: "It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and constrain the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics."

Mr Tharman, who is in India on a three-day visit ending today, was speaking at the Delhi Economics Conclave held by the Indian Finance Ministry.

Earlier this year, India had expressed concern that curbs on the movement of Indian professionals to Singapore violate the terms of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed by the two countries in 2005. A review of the agreement to update the terms has been under negotiation for more than six years as India seeks more access for its professionals and banks.

India's National Association of Software and Services Companies said earlier this year that the movement of Indian software professionals to Singapore has been "reduced to an insignificant trickle" and that it was becoming tough for Indian software firms to operate in the Republic. Its president, Mr R. Chandrashekhar, estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 Indian software workers in Singapore.

The topic of the CECA review came up yesterday when Mr Tharman called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who "expressed support for the expeditious conclusion of the Second CECA Review", said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore last night.

The two leaders discussed the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, agreeing that cooperation between the two countries should be deepened in future. A small team of officials from Singapore and India will be formed to explore new areas of cooperation in digital finance, while there is also scope to strengthen air connectivity between the two countries.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Stricter rules for jackpot machines in clubs to guard against problem gambling

Tougher rules soon to curb jackpot machines in clubs
Measures to protect vulnerable from ills of gambling will be rolled out over next 2 years
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

The number of jackpot machines in Singapore could go down sharply as the football and social clubs operating them will soon have tougher rules to contend with.

The new regime, to be rolled out over the next two years, will raise the bar for securing jackpot machine permits, and there will be tighter quotas for the number of machines a club can operate.

The minimum age for entering jackpot rooms will be raised from 18 to 21, and their operating hours will be restricted as the measures aim to protect the vulnerable from the ills of gambling.

The new rules were announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday and target machines outside the two casinos.

They could have a major impact on the fortunes of some of the clubs running jackpot machines - including football clubs that have earned millions from this while not even fielding professional teams.

The aim is to ensure that jackpot rooms provide no more than an ancillary part of wider activities at clubs with a real social purpose and genuine membership, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a briefing yesterday.

"Our sense is that some (operators) sort of pay lip service to the need to provide other services and focus on the jackpot machines as their primary objective. That, we cannot allow," he added.

Mr Shanmugam also said that the quota for jackpot machines will also be cut over the next two years, without giving details of the reduction.

There are now about 82 jackpot venues and almost 1,900 jackpot machines. The number of machines could drop by around a third with the new rules, said MHA.

Currently, a club may operate jackpot machines if it has at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors.

In future, to renew such permits or apply for fresh ones, a club will have to show that it provides a "suitably wide range" of social and recreational services to members. The amount of income that a club derives from jackpot machines, compared to its total income, will also be examined. Those that do not meet the tighter criteria will have to stop operating such machines by April 30 next year.

All private clubs with such machines will also need to adopt a self-exclusion scheme from next May that allows individuals with a serious gambling habit to bar themselves from entering jackpot rooms.

Friday 21 July 2017

Singapore a rare, precious example of harmonious multiracial, multi-religious society: PM Lee

Telok Ayer Street a nod to Singapore's religious diversity
Singapore's racial harmony a rare and precious thing, PM says on tour of area
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Telok Ayer Street was once part of Singapore's shoreline, and migrants who arrived by sea built their places of worship nearby.

The area displays remarkable religious diversity even now, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He went on a walking tour of five places of worship along the street on Wednesday, and met leaders of the church, temples, mosque and shrine that have been there for more than a century.

Race, language and religion are faultlines that have torn many societies apart, Mr Lee noted in his post, which came on the eve of Racial Harmony Day.

"Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together," he wrote.

"This is not by chance. The government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen."

The Harmony in Diversity Gallery, which houses exhibits and interactive features that highlight the common thread among the different religions, is one such collaboration, said Mr Lee.

He stopped at the gallery in Maxwell Road, where he met members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and wrote: "Long may we live peacefully and harmoniously in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."

HDB helping young couples get their flats sooner with two new options; BTO projects with shorter waiting time & additional sales mode, Re-Offer of Balance Flats

Get flat faster under two new schemes
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

A total of 1,000 Build-To-Order flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun will be made available to home buyers quicker, with a wait time of 2½ years compared with the typical three to four years.

They will be put up for sale in the second half of next year, and buyers can begin collecting their keys between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Board said this is aimed at helping young couples get their flats faster.

This is achieved not by speeding up the construction. Instead, HDB will begin building the selected projects before the flats are sold. This is unlike the usual process where they are built to order, that is, after they have been bought.

A tender for this batch of 1,000 flats will be called this month. Construction is expected to start at the end of the year.

Another measure to reduce the wait for home buyers is the doubling of the number of times a year when they get a shot at buying unsold units from previous sales launches.

A new sales mode, known as the Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF), will pool unsold units from past Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises. ROFs will take place every February and August. This is on top of SBFs, which are alongside BTO exercises in May and November.

The first ROF will take place next month, with 1,394 units. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to select and book a flat if there are available units. At least 95 per cent of the units will be set aside for first- timer families.

"This will help those with more urgent housing needs and/or are less particular about location and attributes to have quicker access to a flat," said HDB.

The two measures were first announced during the debate over the Ministry of National Development's annual budget in March.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday: "I hope the wider range of options and more regular offer of flats will help home buyers find a home that best suits their needs."

Five growth industries picked for more focused job help

Drive to match PMETs to jobs in growth sectors facing disruption
Five political office holders to helm efforts in sectors that employ almost a million workers
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Five political office holders, including a Cabinet minister, will coordinate efforts to match Singaporeans to jobs in industries that hold the promise of growth, but where higher-skilled workers may need help to adapt to the sweeping changes coming their way.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the five industries were chosen as they were likely to be the most affected by disruptive technology.

At the same time, they have tremendous potential for job growth, he added. Between them, these industries currently employ almost a million workers.

Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo will lead the effort. The growth sectors, which will be overseen by four senior ministers of state, are: healthcare (headed by Dr Amy Khor); infocomm and media (Dr Janil Puthucheary); wholesale trade (Dr Koh Poh Koon); professional services; and financial services. The latter two will be overseen by Ms Indranee Rajah.

New sectors may be added to the list later on, Mr Lim told reporters at the opening of the Careers Connect centre at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

This latest move will also help tackle the growing risk of job loss faced by professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). This group makes up about seven out of 10 residents made redundant.

Mrs Teo noted in a Facebook post yesterday that in the next few years, about half of the 25,000 to 40,000 PMET jobs created each year are expected to be in the five growth sectors.

Already, they employ more than half a million local PMETs.

"Even against global headwinds, these five sectors in Singapore are growing and creating new jobs for PMETs. Our goal is to help Singaporeans access these opportunities," she said.

Collect your medicine at a 7-Eleven store

Your medicine is ready for collection - at a 7-Eleven store
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Skip the polyclinic visit and collect your medicine at a nearby convenience store instead.

That is what some chronic disease patients under the National Healthcare Group's (NHG) chain of nine polyclinics have been able to do in recent months.

The system, which started in March, allows such patients to pick up medication from 34 7-Eleven stores across Singapore.

The drugs are packed in the polyclinic pharmacy before being delivered to lockers in the stores.

Patients receive a text message when their medicine has arrived, and access the lockers with a one-time code delivered to their mobile phones.

The idea is to offer patients the convenience of being able to collect their medication round the clock, rather than being constrained by the polyclinics' operating hours.

Polyclinics under NHG typically close at 4.30pm on weekdays and 12.30pm on Saturdays. They are not open on Sundays and public holidays.

The service is available only for patients with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol who have an NHG doctor's prescription.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Tengah Air Base to be expanded; more than 80,000 graves exhumed, 4 farms to be acquired

Graves, farms to make way for larger Tengah base
Area quarter the size of Clementi town will be added to take in Paya Lebar Air Base assets
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

An air base in the north-western part of Singapore will get new facilities and a substantial injection of land to spread its wings.

To make way, some 80,000 graves will be exhumed, while six farms will be acquired or not have their leases renewed.

The exercise will yield more than 106ha of land - a quarter the size of Clementi town - to enable the 78-year-old Tengah Air Base to expand. It, together with Changi Air Base, will take in the assets of the Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB), which will move out from 2030.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night that the expansion will allow Tengah Air Base to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities from PLAB.

There will also be a new runway at Tengah Air Base, he said, adding that there will be "net land savings" from the relocation.

The plan to move PLAB was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013 when he said it would free up 800ha in Paya Lebar for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions around the base.

To accommodate a bigger Tengah Air Base, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, the only active burial ground and the biggest cemetery here, will lose 100ha, a third of its 318ha area.

Some 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will be exhumed in several phases.

Graves older than 17 years will be exhumed first - from the last quarter of 2018 onwards - while newer graves will be exhumed from a date to be announced later.

The Government will bear the costs of exhumation, as well as cremation for Chinese remains and reinternment for Muslim ones.

Meanwhile, the owners of four plots of private land - affecting three fish farms and a nursery - were notified yesterday that they have been acquired, and will have to be handed over by January 2019. They will be compensated based on market value on the date of acquisition.

Auditor-General's Report FY 2016/17: Financial and IT lapses found in government agencies

Auditor-General raps government agencies for lapses
Government agencies taking action to fix lapses flagged by AGO
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

Several government ministries and agencies have been rapped by the Auditor-General for weaknesses in controls over information technology (IT) systems, lack of financial controls and inadequate oversight over large-scale development projects.

These lapses were discovered by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in the latest annual audit of government accounts for Financial Year 2016/17.

In response, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said the public sector's overall system of managing public funds remains sound, but acknowledged there are areas where agencies can do better by strengthening their financial governance.

"The Public Service is taking a concerted effort to address the issues identified," it said.

"Heads of the agencies responsible have reviewed each case and where warranted, appropriate actions have been or will be taken against those responsible."

Singapore’s first First Lady: Puan Noor Aishah

New book launched on Puan Noor Aishah, wife of Singapore's first President Yusof Ishak
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

When Japanese troops invaded Penang in 1941, Puan Noor Aishah left primary school and learnt instead to cook and sew to supplement her family's income.

She peddled nasi lemak with her mother, took orders for embroidery and tried to pick up new skills, hungry to make up for the abrupt end to her formal education. This eagerness to learn put her in good stead when her husband Yusof Ishak was made Yang di-Pertuan Negara in 1959. Puan Noor Aishah was just 26.

Her role as spouse of Singapore's head of state put her in completely uncharted waters, she recalls in a new 200-page biography Puan Noor Aishah: Singapore's First Lady, published by Straits Times Press and launched at The Arts House by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Written by legal scholar and historian Kevin Y.L. Tan, the book also contains photos of Puan Noor Aishah and her family, including those from her private albums.

She said of her rapid adjustment: "I was not given any instructions or briefing at all; no guidelines. I had no task lists and no one briefed me on things like etiquette, dress codes and protocol. We had to learn and manage on our own."

She made her mark. She figured out the Istana's workings, and soon breathed new life into it by teaching its cooks - who were still preparing English classics like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - her own recipes for local favourites like beef rendang.

She went for English lessons, organised events for dignitaries and became involved with voluntary organisations. And when her husband's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1968, she shouldered some of his social responsibilities.

PM Lee, who grew up playing with her three children, said of the book: "It will record for generations of Singaporeans her life story, the role she played and her contributions to our early nation-building days."

Since her husband died in 1970 of heart failure, Puan Noor Aishah, now 84, has largely kept out of the limelight, and the book offers a precious glimpse into her eventful life.

Wednesday 19 July 2017

As a small state, Singapore must not be bullied: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan outlines core principles guiding Singapore's foreign policy
Republic will be friends with all, and also advance own interests
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

The ultimate goals of Singapore's foreign policy are to protect its independence and sovereignty, and to expand opportunities for its citizens, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

To achieve this as a small country, Singapore will be friends with everyone and, at the same time, must also advance its own interests, he added.

He was speaking at a townhall with about 200 foreign service officers and other civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

"There is no contradiction between a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and doing whatever it takes to protect our sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and to create political and economic space for ourselves," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan outlined five core principles that guide Singapore's foreign policy, underlining points Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made recently.

He said the principles have served Singapore well since independence.

First, it is important to keep the economy vibrant and successful, and society stable and united.

Without this, Singapore will be completely irrelevant. "All of us in this room have all witnessed how delegations of less successful small states are ignored at international meetings," he said.

Second, Singapore must not be a vassal state and needs to show it cannot be bought or bullied.

For this reason, Singapore has built up a credible armed forces that is taken seriously, he said.

Third, Singapore must aim to be a friend to all, and an enemy to none.

This means working to ensure peace and stability in the immediate neighbourhood and also building political and economic relationships with superpowers and other regional powers so that "they will find our success in their own interest", said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added that this "delicate balancing act" becomes more difficult when the superpowers and regional powers "contend with one another", which is why it is important to avoid taking sides.

While Singapore spares no effort to develop a wide network of relations, he said, these must be based on mutual respect "for each other's sovereignty and the equality of nation states, regardless of size".

He added: "We don't compromise our national interests in order to have good relations... so when others make unreasonable demands that hurt or compromise our national interests, we need to state our position and stand our ground in a firm and principled manner."

Fourth, Singapore must promote a global order governed by the rule of law, international norms and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Without such a system, small states like Singapore have "very little chance of survival", he said, stressing the importance of Singapore speaking with conviction on these issues.

That is why Singapore has always participated actively at the United Nations and in the formulation of international regimes and norms, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan also warned against appeasement, saying that Singapore must be clear about its long-term interests, and "have the gumption to make our foreign policy decisions accordingly".

Tuesday 18 July 2017

Parents' Perceptions of the Singapore Primary School System: Institute of Policy Studies Survey

Parents happy with their children's schooling: IPS poll
Survey of 1,500 shows over 90% are satisfied with quality of schools, education system
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

Some people may doubt the slogan "Every school, a good school", but most parents in a recent poll do believe it.

More than 90 per cent of them felt that Singapore's education system is among the best worldwide and were satisfied with their children's primary schools, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey. But the results also show that about a quarter of parents had trouble enrolling their children into a school of their choice.

They also felt fairly stressed about helping their children with school examinations and syllabuses, and large amounts of homework.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who led the survey - the first of its kind here - said the findings dispelled the myth that many parents are very unhappy with the education system.

In his research on marriage, parenthood and singles, he had observed that people sometimes said they hesitate to have children partly because of the stress of the education system. He wanted to hear from parents if the school system is really as "daunting" as it is made out to be. The survey of 1,500 Singaporean and permanent resident parents conducted last year, however, found that most were contented with their children's primary schools, he said.

The sample of parents, whose median age was 42, had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.

Dr Mathews said: "Most people do feel that the school their kid goes to is a good school. Even if they didn't think so, they are satisfied with the (school) quality.

"(The results) also busted the myth that most parents are in a mad rush to get (their children) into a good school by volunteering and moving house to get a place in that school," he said. "Sometimes, we play up the notion that most of our parents are 'kiasu' (Hokkien for competitive). That may not be the case for many, at least now."

Close to three-quarters (73.6 per cent) of parents said they could enrol their child in a school of their choice. More than three in four respondents did not undertake activities such as volunteering to secure a school for their child.

However, about 28 per cent of parents said they had experienced challenges in enrolling their child in a school of their choice. Of this group, more than half said there were too many applications to the school. More than 30 per cent also felt places for children with no alumni links were limited and there were few "good" schools nearby.

Dr Mathews said the overall findings are a reflection of the gradual shift in parents' mindsets. "Many of us as parents grew up in a system that placed a lot of emphasis on examinations and grades, so that pattern is still prominent in our mind."

Early action to break cycle of poverty in Singapore: Tan Chuan-Jin

Disadvantaged children will get a leg up as pilot scheme KidStart is made permanent
By Priscilla Goy and Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

A pilot scheme KidStart, which aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged children, will be made permanent in a bid by the Government to break the cycle of poverty in Singapore.

It is among a series of moves that the authorities want to make to intervene earlier to prevent social problems, such as inequality and family dysfunction, from becoming entrenched, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

Another is to develop early intervention programmes for at-risk youth and adults.

The shift upstream to tackle social challenges comes as Mr Tan expressed concern about intergenerational poverty in Singapore.

While the Gini coefficient shrank slightly from 0.463 in 2015 to 0.458 last year - suggesting that the rich-poor gap is narrowing - it remains stubbornly among the highest in developed countries. Some children from poor families find it tough to move out of the poverty trap, said the minister.

"Certainly, anecdotally we see that (intergenerational poverty) happening," he said. "For certain family circumstances, we know it is challenging and the probability of perhaps poorer outcomes for the children as they grow up will be higher. So we want to make sure that we intervene."

Last year, his ministry piloted KidStart, a three-year scheme to help 1,000 disadvantaged children aged up to six. Mr Tan said he wants to expand it beyond the five locations where it is now in place even before the pilot ends, depending on resources available.

The Government is also stepping in earlier to help workers and families who are showing signs of financial struggle yet would not usually qualify for ComCare aid.

Last year, nearly half of approved applications for short- to medium-term aid were granted to such beneficiaries, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Some were offered a higher cash quantum or had their period of aid extended if they still could not find jobs.

Mr Tan said such flexibility is especially important today when many Singaporeans are finding their livelihoods affected by disruption due to technology. "I think we will continue to see this affecting us for years to come. Some jobs will disappear from the market."