Tuesday 31 October 2017

Changi Airport's Terminal 4 opens 31 October 2017

Changi Airport's Terminal 4 opens for business; smooth operations for first arriving and departing flights
By Tan Tam Mei and Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2017

Changi Airport's newest terminal - T4 - started its first day of operations early Tuesday (Oct 31) morning, marking a critical milestone in Singapore's aviation history.

Airport operations went off without a hitch, with passengers for the first flight out to Hong Kong streaming in as early as 4am to the departure hall to use the self-check-in facilities. Airport staff were on hand to guide them through the process.

The first arriving and departing flights at T4 were operated by Cathay Pacific - CX659 from Hong Kong arrived at 5.40am and CX650 departed Singapore for Hong Kong at 6.50am.

Nurse Minee Moh, 29, was at the airport around 5am to check in for her flight to Hong Kong for a five-day holiday.

"The check-in and baggage-drop experience was very good and very smooth. Other airports and T1 have the self-check-in system. It saves time, and I'm very honoured to be on the first flight out," she said.

Mr C.S. Tan, an IT professional in his 40s, and his family, who were heading to Hong Kong for a week-long holiday, were impressed by the airport facilities and self-check-in services.

"Everything is automated and very intuitive. We didn't know we were the first passengers, but it's nice," said Mr Tan.

His wife, Madam Angela Tan, also an IT professional in her 40s, said of the immigration clearance and security systems: "It's definitely higher security, but it wasn't a hassle. The full-body scanning machines are quite cool, like you're in a Mission Impossible movie."

Meanwhile, passengers arriving from Hong Kong on CX659 were greeted at the arrival gate by airport staff with orchids and goodie bags. At the baggage collection area, they were entertained by an instrumental quartet, and also treated to coffee and breakfast.

Passengers said the arrival hall was spacious, adding that the walk from the arrival gate to immigration was fuss-free, with clear signage.

Retiree Zhao Chuan Xin, 65, who is from Henan, China, said: “At other airport terminals, we have to walk around to find our way. But at T4, it’s a simple and direct walk from the airplane to arrivals. I’m very pleased.”

Cabin crew member Tan Yu Ling, 27, a Singaporean who was returning from a vacation in Hong Kong, said: “The new terminal feels very spacious. The automated immigration clearance system also looks very high-tech and futuristic.”

Mr Mohamad Hossenbux, 51, a managing director of an aerospace company, also said: “The ergonomics, in terms of the lighting and decor, is very subtle and pleasing.” Added Mr Hossenbux, who is from Canada: “After a long trip, it feels relaxing and peaceful."

Speaking to reporters soon after the first flight took off, managing director of airport operations management Jayson Goh said he was happy with the overall smooth operations and passengers' satisfaction with the new systems and amenities.

"(Besides the new automated system), engaging the passengers, creating new experiences and new options for them to have a memorable experience at Changi will remain a key area we focus on to strengthen the competitiveness of Changi Airport."

When asked about some feedback from passengers who faced difficulties with the automated bag-drop system, Mr Goh said in Mandarin: "For the new facilities, we will have staff to help teach the passengers how to use them. In the meantime, we will be sending more staff to each check-in counter; there are currently about six to eight staff at each counter."

T4 is the newest terminal for Changi in nearly 10 years after Terminal 3 was opened in 2008.

The new terminal features new technologies, systems and procedures, such as a facial recognition system that will capture a passenger's photo at different stations, centralised security screening, as well as start-to-end self-service options for check-in.

To ensure that the high-tech systems were up to speed to handle passengers, a total of 150 trials involving 10,000 volunteers and airport staff to test different systems and processes were carried out before the terminal's opening.

Cathay Pacific and Korean Air are the first airlines to operate out of T4. The remaining airlines, including Cebu Pacific, Spring Airlines, the AirAsia group and Vietnam Airlines, will progressively move from other terminals over a week.

With T4, Changi Airport will be able to handle up to 16 million passengers a year, increasing its overall annual capacity to 82 million passengers.

This will provide the necessary capacity until the next major injection comes in about 10 to 12 years through the opening of Terminal 5.

In the first half of this year, Changi handled 5.7 per cent more passengers at 30.4 million, boosted by growth to and from South-east Asia, North-east Asia and South Asia.

The airport will add a third runway around 2020, while T5 - due to open some time in the late 2020s - will enable the airport to handle another 50 million passengers.

MySkillsFuture: New career and training website launched for students and working adults

Skills portal to guide Singaporeans from age 11
Students and adults can use MySkillsFuture website to plan training and career paths
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2017

Primary 5 is the year that most pupils start to learn about fractions and decimals, and now it will also be the year that they can start to chart their future career.

A new website has been launched to help Singaporeans plan for their training and career needs from as young as 11 into adulthood, as people are encouraged to think about the learning process as a lifelong one.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched the MySkillsFuture website yesterday, as well as SkillsFuture Advice, a new public outreach programme.

Together, the two initiatives are supposed to "provide Singaporeans with both online and offline access to information about skills and training, as well as job opportunities, so that they can actively acquire and deepen their skills, and plan their careers", said the Ministry of Education (MOE), Workforce Singapore (WSG) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) in a joint statement.

The website replaces two separate sites - a career guidance website run by MOE for students, and a jobs and training website run by WSG for working adults.

The three government agencies behind MySkillsFuture said that each person will have a personalised account, which he can use throughout his lifetime.

For primary school pupils, the website provides features such as games that help them find out what industry sectors they may like, while older users can use the self-assessment features to figure out their work values and career interests.

Working adults can use the website to find jobs and sign up for courses which they can pay for using their SkillsFuture credits, said the agencies.

MOE will issue accounts to all students from Primary 5 onwards, while adults can log in using their SingPass accounts, the national common password scheme to access government services.

Monday 30 October 2017

SkillsFuture Series: Universities, polytechnics and ITE to train 50,000 annually in eight priority and emerging skills areas

Higher learning institutes to train more adults
Universities, polys and ITE to take in 50,000 trainees a year by 2020
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017

A major revamp of how working adults are trained for the new economy is under way, with more courses, more funding and a more significant role for Singapore's institutes of higher learning (IHLs).

From an initial 10,000, universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education will take in 50,000 trainees annually for a new series of subsidised bite-sized modules by 2020.

Total training capacity for the scheme, known as SkillsFuture Series, will also grow from 440,000 hours now to 2.2 million hours over the same period.

The Ministry of Education is pumping in $70 million towards this effort over the next three years, with IHLs expected to spend $40 million a year on the SkillsFuture Series by 2020, compared to less than $5 million now.

For a start, each institute will focus on one of eight emerging areas of growth. They include data analytics, which will come under the National University of Singapore, finance (Singapore Management University) and entrepreneurship (Ngee Ann Polytechnic).

More than 400 courses, averaging 25 hours each, have been lined up to kick off the SkillsFuture Series.

The programmes will be delivered as short modules, making them easier for working adults to take. They will be subsidised up to 70 per cent for Singaporeans and permanent residents. The rest of the fee can be paid using the $500 SkillsFuture credit given to every Singaporean above the age of 25 from last year onwards.

Announcing this yesterday, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said the institutions will take the lead in their sector of focus. They will ensure that there are enough training places and programmes to meet the needs of industries.

While the move is a major transformation for the IHLs, it is a necessary one, he said.

Training provided by employers and private operators have become two key pillars of the Continuing Education and Training (CET) landscape, but the institutes of higher learning have lagged behind, he said at the launch of the Lifelong Learning Festival at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability.

IHLs account for just 8 per cent of CET currently, excluding programmes which may be more academic in nature such as part-time diplomas, master's and PhDs.

"It is a pity, given the tremendous delivery capability of the IHLs," he said. But it was also understandable because continuing education and training has never been the remit of IHLs, whose primary mission is to educate students.

That has now changed, he added, with CET now part of the expanded mission of the institutions of higher learning.

Saturday 28 October 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong's Dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations, 25 October 2017

US must stay engaged in Asia, seek understanding with China
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared his views on China, North Korea and United States engagement in Asia during a dialogue at the US Council on Foreign Relations earlier this week. The session was moderated by New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos. This is an edited transcript.
The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2017

OSNOS: You have met over the course of the past few days with President Donald Trump and members of the National Security team. You have been on Capitol Hill (where Congress is). What have you gained from your interactions so far when it comes to the key message about the importance of the US in the region?

PM LEE: I take comfort from the fact that nobody is talking about disengaging. They are talking about engaging in a different way; there is a feeling in the administration somehow that America has not quite got as long an end of the stick as it ought to, and they would like to rebalance.

But I am reassured that they know that America's fate depends on what happens in the rest of the world. You have been the most open market in the world, and now the Americans are saying why should that be so - the others should be as open as us. I can tolerate the Japanese, I could accept the Europeans, but now the Chinese are a different order of magnitude - they ought to be like us. And I think it is reasonable to push for that but if you want that to happen overnight it may well come to grief.

OSNOS: You were last here in August last year. Quite a bit of it has changed since then. Do you sense that there is a fundamental change in America's approach to Asia?

PM LEE: Well, it is a result of an election process, those were your rules, this is your outcome - and the fact that you now have this outcome has created a new fact. In politics, no party stays in power forever; at some point another party will come in and another mood will take over in the country and you will have a president who will pursue a different approach. But this would have become part of the discourse, part of the expectations, and I think it will be very, very difficult to go back to where you were on Nov 1 last year.

OSNOS: Your late father, Lee Kuan Yew, used to talk about the balance of power. China is your greatest trading partner, but the United States is your greatest security partner. Is that balance of power becoming more difficult now?

PM LEE: It depends on how you work out your relationship with the Chinese. You need them to deal with a lot of issues. They have become stronger. They have become bigger. It means that you need their cooperation more, not just on bilateral issues, but on strategic things. To do climate change you must have them, otherwise no deal is reachable. To do nuclear non-proliferation, you must have them on board. To deal with North Korea, you must have them on board. So if you are able to work with them on a stable, gradually evolving relationship which gives them the space to grow their influence, but in a benign way, then we are fine. We remain friends with both. If you have a tense relationship, and one or both of the parties say, "You're either with me, or you're against me", then we're in a difficult spot. It could happen.

Friday 27 October 2017

Singapore Passport is World's Most Powerful: 2017 Global Passport Power Rank Index; Passport to get new design and additional security features

Singapore has the 'most powerful' passport in the world
Republic's inclusive diplomacy cited as it pips Germany to be first Asian nation to top index
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2017

With Paraguay removing visa requirements for Singaporeans, the Singapore passport is now the "most powerful" in the world, with a visa-free score of 159.

This marks the first time an Asian country has the most powerful passport, according to the index, which was developed by global advisory firm Arton Capital.

"It is a testament of Singapore's inclusive diplomatic relations and effective foreign policy," managing director of Arton Capital's Singapore office Philippe May said of the development.

The index ranks national passports by the cross-border access they bring, assigning a "visa-free score" based on the number of countries a passport holder can visit visa-free, or with a visa on arrival.

Passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories were considered.

Historically, the top 10 most powerful passports in the world tend to be European, with Germany in the lead for the past two years, according to a press statement issued yesterday.

Since early this year, Germany's No. 1 position had been shared with Singapore, which was steadily moving up the ranks.

Other Asian passports in the top 20 include those of South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.

The United States passport has fallen in ranking since US President Donald Trump took office, according to the index. Most recently, Turkey and the Central African Republic revoked their visa-free status for US passport holders.

"Visa-free global mobility has become an important factor in today's world," founder and president of Arton Capital Armand Arton said at the recently held Global Citizen Forum in Montenegro.

"More and more people every year invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a second passport to offer better opportunity and security for their families," he added.

Singapore was also fourth this year in the Visa Restrictions Index, another ranking of travel freedom, which uses a different method of calculating how "powerful" a passport is. The index says that Singapore passport holders enjoy visa-free access to 173 countries.

Germany is No. 1 on this year's Visa Restrictions Index, which is published by Henley & Partners. It has visa-free access to 176 countries out of a possible 218, according to the index.

Local singers, regional wonders

Before Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono, many other Singapore artists shone overseas
By Eddino Abdul Hadi, Music Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2017

The past year has seen several relatively new names from the home-grown music scene find success in regional talent shows.

Jazz singers Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono became famous among Chinese pop audiences when they reached the finals of reality singing series Sing! China.

By appearing on the show, both Dong and Hartono have now been exposed to a music market far larger than the one back home as Sing! China is massively popular in China and the region.

The first season of the singing competition last year that featured Hartono topped the ratings and broke viewing records, registering billions of online views, according to broadcaster Star China.

This year's recently concluded season also consistently ranked at the top of China's ratings charts.

On a smaller scale, but no less impressive, was 21-year-old national serviceman Akif Halqi, who won Best Vocal Award at a competition that is part of the major South Korean music event KBS K-pop World Festival.

Singing a Korean song - Eyes, Nose, Lips by popular South Korean singer Taeyang - Akif's performance was streamed live on social media, with the concert's official hashtag registering over eight million tweets.

The last decade has seen many similar stories.

In 2007, former Singapore Idol Hady Mirza won Asian Idol.

Singer Ling Kai became the only female finalist on China's reality contest Sing My Song in 2014, while local singer Sufie Rashid, also known as Sufi, became the first Singaporean to win the popular and long-running Malaysian singing show Akademi Fantasia in 2015.


While their regional achievements might have boosted their profiles among the public, many of these singers were already known names in the local music community.

Dong and Hartono, for example, have years of singing experience and have performed in major venues like the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Away from the mainstream, many home-grown acts playing niche genres have also made their mark beyond Singapore.

Decking HDB halls with the kampung spirit

By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2017

In various parts of the island, a new type of community space is popping up in Housing Board estates.

Some districts call them "community halls", others, "covered basketball courts". Most of the happy residents eager to get to their next bonding activity simply refer to them as "the place downstairs".

Whatever the name, these halls have emerged to provide residents a space for large-scale events.

Unlike void decks or stand-alone pavilions, these halls are often built some time after HDB blocks have been completed. They are also larger, often come in the form of permanent shelters erected over open land or basketball courts, and are not air-conditioned - unlike those found in community clubs.

As a result, they are most likely found in older estates, built in response to the neighbourhood's luxury of space but without modern amenities that residents in newer estates enjoy.

Amid the Government's push to re-foster that elusive "kampung spirit" - the HDB signed a $6 million agreement with the Singapore University of Technology and Design last month to encourage better social interaction among residents - the community hall has emerged as a grassroots solution.

MP Teo Ho Pin, whose Bukit Panjang single-member constituency boasts four community halls, said the multi-purpose spaces give residents another area to bond over different types of activities - from weddings or temple-hosted dinners during the Hungry Ghost Festival on weekends, to taiji or line-dancing sessions in the day.

The halls in his ward, formerly empty spaces or hard courts, were erected from as early as March 2014 to as recently as June this year. They range from 500 sq m to 800 sq m - which can fit 40 to 60 round tables. The halls are sometimes booked for up to 80 per cent of the 52 weekends in a year.

Mr Teo, who is a mayor as well as the People's Action Party's coordinating chairman for town councils, said he has seen human traffic and participation in community activities double or triple since the shelters were installed.

"In the past, interest groups using the open space had to stand aside and wait if it was raining or too hot. Some people also didn't bother coming down," he said.

"But now that the hall is built, and everything in our estate is connected by sheltered walkways, the community is almost always there. Being able to beat the weather matters to kampung spirit," Mr Teo said.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Construction sector to train 80,000 Singaporeans in new tech under Industry Transformation Map

Jobs in construction sector to go high-tech
BCA plans for 80,000 trained in cutting-edge technology as part of industry transformation
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2017

Instead of sweat, mud and grime, Singaporeans joining the construction industry in the near future may be greeted with digital design and cutting-edge technologies, as the Government embarks on an overhaul of a sector that has long struggled to attract local workers.

"Essentially, we are speaking about transformation of the whole construction sector - the entire process and value chain, from end to end," Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Construction Productivity Week yesterday.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is aiming to have 80,000 personnel trained in construction technology - which prioritises productivity and innovation over manual work - enter the industry by 2025. There are currently 32,600 trained in these areas.

The move is part of the newly launched Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM), which is designed to pave the way for more attractive and highly skilled construction jobs in the sector. The move will also mean holding steady the figure of nearly 300,000 foreign workers the sector now relies on.

BCA chief executive officer Hugh Lim said: "We want to try to maintain the number of foreign workers at the current level, yet be able to cope with an increase in output as more big projects start kicking in."

BCA started to explore the feasibility of using new construction paradigms, such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), a decade ago in order to boost productivity rates and change the industry into one that resembles a highly productive manufacturing line.

This is achieved through technology such as prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC), where large building modules manufactured in factories are assembled in a Lego-like manner.

Built this way, construction sites can see up to 40 per cent in manpower savings, which could mean faster completion times, fewer work incidents and a cleaner site.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

President Donald Trump welcomes PM Lee Hsien Loong to the White House on 23 October 2017

Singapore-US friendship has never been stronger, says Trump
US President lauds ties, calling Republic one of America's closest strategic partners in Asia
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor In Washington, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2017

The friendship between Singapore and the United States "has never been stronger than it is right now", President Donald Trump said after hosting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the White House.

"Singapore is one of our closest strategic partners in Asia," he said after a four-eye meeting with PM Lee and a working lunch which included Vice-President Mike Pence and ministers from both sides.

"The US-Singapore relationship has made both of our peoples far more prosperous and secure, and our values have made us longstanding friends. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful and loyal partner."

Both Mr Trump and PM Lee also spoke of the robust and enduring relationship between the two countries and of their commitment to build on these ties in statements made on Monday at the Rose Garden of the White House.

PM Lee said: "It is a deep and wide relationship with substantial cooperation in economic, defence and security spheres. We also discussed what more we could do to take it forward."

They also witnessed the signing of a US$13.8 billion (S$19 billion) agreement between Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Boeing for 39 new planes.

Mr Trump, who said the deal would create some 70,000 jobs, also noted that Singapore's commitment to the rule of law, intellectual property protection and to being fair and reciprocal had attracted more than 4,000 US companies to Singapore.

PM Lee said the aircraft deal would enable SIA to further modernise its fleet.

He also thanked the US for hosting more than 1,000 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel each year in detachments in Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas.

Mr Trump, in turn, thanked Singapore for deploying its Texas-based Chinook helicopters for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey, and for Singapore's help after the USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore in late August.

PM Lee replied: "We are glad to have been of some help to our very gracious hosts."

PM Lee also announced that Singapore will extend its deployment of SAF assets and personnel to the global coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terror group into next year.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Manila, after meeting his US counterpart James Mattis, that Singapore will continue to contribute a KC-135R tanker aircraft, an Imagery Analysis Team and a medical team for an additional year.

In Washington, Mr Trump and PM Lee also discussed regional security.

"Our two nations also share an unwavering commitment to countering the North Korean threat and promoting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea," said Mr Trump.

PM Lee said Singapore strongly opposes the nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, as it affects the region's peace and stability.

He shared what Singapore had done to pressure and isolate North Korea, but said there is no quick and easy solution.

"Pressure is necessary, but so is dialogue. The US will need to work with others, including China, South Korea and Japan, and Russia, to resolve the issue," he said.

PM Lee's visit comes ahead of Mr Trump's first trip to Asia.

The Prime Minister said that he hopes the US will maintain good relations with China as this will enable countries in the region to enjoy peace and prosperity.

He also looked forward to seeing Mr Trump at next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, and at the ASEAN and East Asia summits in the Philippines, saying: "His presence in Asia will mean a lot to America's many friends and allies in the region, and it will open doors and develop markets for US exporters and investors."

Mr Trump accepted PM Lee's invitation to visit next year, when Singapore chairs ASEAN and hosts its annual meetings.

PM Lee later met Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and they reaffirmed the strong and mutually beneficial Singapore-US trade and investment links, as well as the importance of continued US economic engagement of the Asia-Pacific.

Today, PM Lee speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations and meets key congressional leaders.

Why Singapore needs to make nuclear power work

Other sources of energy such as natural gas, petrol and solar all have drawbacks here
By Lim Soon Heng, Published The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

As a pioneer generation Singaporean, two subjects keep my neurons firing in overdrive: floating structures for space creation, and nuclear power to boost the country's energy resilience.

Following on my article in The Straits Times ("Time for Singapore to say 'Yes' to nuclear"; March 15), here is a breakdown on why nuclear power - in the form of floating power plants - is a viable option for Singapore.

In March this year, Singapore debated passionately in Parliament and on social media about the need to be self-sufficient in water. But what seemed to be forgotten is that energy is even more crucial for our survival.

If we have access to energy, we will have access to potable water; the reverse is not true. We can desalinate water with energy but we cannot make energy out of imported water. Every joule of energy has to be imported - but what if water agreements fall through? However, a resilient energy supply chain will enable us to manufacture potable water.

Unlike other countries, Singapore is woefully short of renewable energy resources. We have no hydro, wave, tidal or geothermal potential. Strong wind occurs only in the monsoon months. Wind turbines require large land areas. Even solar energy cannot be counted on.


Few countries depend on imported energy products as exclusively as Singapore does on natural gas.

Up until 2014, Singapore's economy was kept alive by two pipelines - in effect umbilical cords - supplying energy to gas-fired power plants.

Realising this, the Government has added another supply chain: the import of liquefied gas by ships. However, with the world economy expanding at an exponential pace and fossil fuels a finite resource, importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a short-term solution.

The scramble for the remaining reserves of fossil energy such as natural gas and petroleum has already begun. The United States and Russia are fighting proxy wars in the Middle East. China has claimed the lion's share of the South China Sea.

Natural gas, unlike coal and oil, is a hazardous energy to store on a mega scale, especially for a small city-state. It is also risky to transmit in pipelines. Apart from these being an attractive terrorist target, human error can result in massive loss of life and property. Reminders of this include a 97,000-tonne methane leak in California; a gas explosion at a utility resulting in a US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion) fine; an explosion in an unfinished plant in Connecticut; and the Taiwan gas explosion in 2014.

To serve east Singapore, as well as to strategically diversify gas terminals, plans are being considered to build more gas terminals there. This is close to flight paths of one of the world's busiest airports, as well as to an air defence base, not to mention the high population density.

All told, it would become a high-value terrorist target. To minimise risks, subsea storage and floating regasification units should be considered.

LTA to cut vehicle growth rate to zero from February 2018

Govt to remove vehicle growth rate factor, citing land constraints and commitment to improve public transport
Fewer COEs for cars, motorbikes from Feb 2018
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

Car and motorcycle buyers will have to contend with fewer certificates of entitlement (COEs) from next February as the Government removes a growth rate factor that has been part of the supply formula since 1990.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it will lower the vehicle growth rate from the current 0.25 per cent per annum to zero per cent with effect from February next year for COE Categories A (cars up to 1,600cc and 130bhp), B (cars above 1,600cc or 130bhp) and D (motorcycles).

It cited Singapore's land constraints and a commitment to continually improve the public transport system as reasons.

The LTA, however, is making an exception for commercial vehicle COE supply. Its growth rate will remain unchanged at 0.25 per cent until the first quarter of 2021.

This is to provide businesses with more time to improve the efficiency of their logistics operations and reduce the number of commercial vehicles that they require, it said.

The Government had previously said it would not remove the growth rate component in the COE supply formula. But in 2015, it reversed this by announcing that the growth cap was likely to go down to zero.

Motor industry players said such a move would push up COE premiums, especially during cyclically low-supply years.

Dr Park Byung Joon, a transport researcher at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, said the current 0.25 per cent growth rate represents fewer than 100 COEs per month.

"It should not have a significant impact on COE premiums in the long run," he said.

"In the short term, it may be a possibility that people show some irrational reaction of panic buying. But when the cap was cut from 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent in 2014, I did not observe such behaviour."

Education and career guidance counsellors assigned to all schools now

They will provide support to students in secondary schools, junior colleges and post-secondary institutions
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2017

All schools now have education and career guidance (ECG) counsellors assigned to them, giving students better support in making choices about their future.

As of the second half of the year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has completed the deployment of 97 such counsellors to secondary schools, junior colleges and post-secondary education institutions.

Trained in career facilitation and counselling skills, these counsellors seek to help students explore their strengths and interests.

Mr Wong Siew Hoong, MOE's director-general of education, gave this update at an ECG seminar last Friday, urging counsellors to support teachers in shaping students' understanding of the changing world of work, and enlightening parents in the process.

A 2009 study by MOE found that close to half of young people here chose their courses or careers without sufficient exploration.

All three Institute of Technical Education colleges and the five polytechnics now have six ECG counsellors each, while the counsellors for MOE schools are each attached to four secondary schools or pre-university schools on a roving arrangement.

The counsellors undergo 120 hours of training in career development facilitation and another six months in counselling skills.

They also work closely with teachers and industry partners to plan programmes for students, such as career fairs, talks and workshops.

Ms Chew Leng Leng, an ECG counsellor at Singapore Polytechnic, worked in the real estate industry for some 20 years before making a switch. Now she is part of a team that organises sessions on interview skills, preparing resumes and admission criteria of the universities.

Said the 49-year-old: "Some students at this stage are looking for work experience or internships, while some are seeking higher education.

"We have conversations with them, help them gather information about themselves, what kind of jobs are a good fit… We also help them see that their skills are not limited to a certain course and can be expanded to other jobs."

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Pre-school Education in Singapore: Let’s Think About It

23 Oct 2017

In this first episode of the new season of “Let’s Think About It”, Minister Ng Chee Meng discusses governments move to transform the preschool sector to provide our young children with a good start.

Joining him in the first episode are Wong Li-Lin, TV personality Andie Chen, Sassy Mama Co-founder Lynn Yeow De-Vito, and Lecturer, Child Psychology & Early Educator, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Maygalai Pannirselvam.

Monday 23 October 2017

MOH introduces immunisation schedule for adults; Medisave can be used to pay for recommended vaccinations from 1 November 2017

They can use Medisave to pay for seven vaccines that protect against 11 diseases
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Sunday Times, 22 Oct 2017

From next month, adult Singaporeans can use their Medisave to pay for vaccinations which the Ministry of Health is recommending depending on their age and health.

The new National Adult Immunisation Schedule (NAIS), which lists who should be vaccinated and when, includes immunisation for diseases such as the flu and hepatitis B. It is the latest step in the country's push to encourage preventive care, and mirrors a similar schedule for children.

The National Childhood Immunisation Programme dates back more than a century.

Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min said yesterday that while the scheme has been effective for children, there is low awareness of the benefits of adult vaccination.

He highlighted how out of every 100,000 hospital cases of those aged 65 and above, 56 involve pneumococcal disease, which can cause pneumonia. This risk can be reduced by vaccination, which costs between $70 and $170, said Dr Lam at the Singapore Prevention and Cardiac Rehabilitation Symposium yesterday.

The adult schedule was formed based on recommendations by the Expert Committee on Immunisation, which comprises officials from MOH, government agencies, and doctors.

It lists seven vaccines that protect against 11 diseases, including human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer, tetanus, diphtheria (a contagious disease that causes inflammation of the mucous membranes), whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox.

Those 65 years old and above, for example, are encouraged to be vaccinated against influenza.

Singaporeans can use up to $400 of their Medisave account under the Medisave400 scheme for the vaccinations.

Medisave400 allows people to use up to $400 per Medisave account a year for selected outpatient medical services, including health screenings.

Sunday 22 October 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong's interview with CNBC Conversation, 19 October 2017

Next prime minister likely from current Cabinet: PM Lee
Strong team has been assembled, but it will take a while to work out successor, he says
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Singapore's next prime minister is "very likely" to be one of the current Cabinet ministers, but it will take a while to work out who, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The country's next generation of leaders will, in time, have to reach a consensus on who should lead the team, beyond him, PM Lee told US news channel CNBC in an interview released yesterday ahead of his visit to the United States.

He spoke about Singapore's relations with the US and China, the North Korean nuclear threat, political succession and domestic issues during the wide-ranging interview.

PM Lee said he has assembled a strong team of younger ministers, who have to establish themselves among their peers, work out their relationships and assess one another. They will also have to gain the public's confidence and show their calibre, he added.

Asked if he is close to finding the next prime minister, he said: "I think it is very likely that he is in the Cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out."

Political watchers have identified Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, labour chief Chan Chun Sing and Education (Higher Education and Skills) Minister Ong Ye Kung as among front runners for the post.

PM Lee reiterated that he is ready to step down some time after the next general election, but said he has to make sure a successor is ready to take over from him.

This entails building up the next generation of leaders to ensure they can work and carry things forward after he leaves. "They are doing that by being hands-on, by having responsibility for major policies, by taking charge of important, spiky ministries," PM Lee said.

Asked if the next general election - due by early 2021 - could be called in the next two years, he replied: "Yes, of course. Any time."

On whether he will remain behind the scenes after stepping down, he said it is up to the next prime minister.

Singapore PM: Would like to grow 2% to 3% annually to ensure 'quality of life' from CNBC.

Asked what he hopes to achieve on his visit to the US from today to Thursday, PM Lee said Singapore hopes to further develop its deep and multi-faceted relationship with the US, which is based on a strategic congruence of views and close cooperation in areas such as defence.

On relations with China, PM Lee said both countries hope to do more together. While there will always be issues where they do not see eye to eye, there are no basic conflicts in perspectives, he added.

As for North Korea's ongoing nuclear provocations, PM Lee said its actions pose an immediate danger to the region, and could shift the strategic balance in North-east Asia in the longer term as South Korea and Japan mull over nuclear capabilities.

Mr Lee also addressed whether Singapore, as a developed economy, still needs the Government to act as a "nanny". Noting that Singaporeans have very high expectations of the Government and its performance, he said: "If you ask a Singaporean - on one hand, they will say let us do our own thing. On the other hand, whenever an issue comes up, they will ask, 'What is the Government doing about it?'... So, we have to keep that balance."

Asked about life without Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015, PM Lee said: "We miss him, we think of him often, we read his old speeches and we say, 'Well, that is still relevant to us today'... At the same time, we have to build on that and move forward."

And if he were still alive, his advice would be to press on and not look at the rear-view mirror, PM Lee said. "Remember what has happened, understand how you got here, but look forward and press forward."

Saturday 21 October 2017

New HDB Resale Portal from 1 Jan 2018 to cut resale flat transaction time by half to 8 weeks

HDB to halve time taken for resale transactions
Upgraded portal from next year will make it easier to file applications, check eligibility
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2017

The time it takes to buy or sell a resale flat will be cut from 16 weeks to about eight from next year, with a revamped HDB resale portal.

Part of the country's Smart Nation push, the upgraded portal will also reduce the number of appointments needed to complete a deal from two to one, and will tap the Housing Board's (HDB) trove of resale transactions to do away with most professional valuations.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday that the new platform is "an example of how digital technology can be applied in practical ways to streamline existing processes and make citizens' lives more convenient".

Yesterday, HDB announced the changes to its resale portal, promised during March's debate on the National Development Ministry's budget.

It will go online on Jan 1, and make it easier to file applications and conduct eligibility checks.

The one-stop service will mean that buyers and sellers' financial documents can be uploaded and verified online, thus requiring only one appointment to sign the final legal documents.

Currently, the first appointment is for working out how much sellers will receive from the sale and assessing buyers' financial plans.

Buyers and sellers will also save time by having all the eligibility checks - such as for housing grants or whether they are within a neighbourhood's ethnic quotas - available on one page, instead of having to look up multiple e-services spread across the HDB website.

The updated portal will minimise the need for buyers and sellers to manually key in their data, as it will pull in common information used by government services, such as names, identity card numbers and addresses, for the relevant forms.

The HDB will also do away with valuations for most flats, eliminating the need for professional valuers to inspect a flat, thus speeding up the process. Instead, buyers will get the HDB to approve the proposed price of the flat directly.