Friday, 19 October 2018

Singaporeans' average life expectancy to reach 85.4 years in 2040: Study

Singapore 3rd in global life expectancy rankings
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2018

Singaporeans are expected to remain among the longest-lived people in the world in 2040, according to a new study published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Researchers estimate the average lifespan in Singapore will go up from 83.3 years in 2016 to 85.4 years by 2040, placing it third out of 195 countries.

Spain is expected to place first with an average lifespan of 85.8 years, while Japan will come in second at 85.7 years.

Other countries predicted to be in the top 10 include Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Israel, France, Luxembourg and Australia.

As a general rule, said researchers in the paper, their forecasts "point to a world where most populations are living longer and many health improvements are likely to occur if current trajectories hold".

The study was carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent health research organisation at the University of Washington. Its findings were released yesterday.

The researchers' conclusions were based on data from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study, which highlighted the main factors behind sickness, disability and death in individual countries.

The current study is "unprecedented in scope" and provides more robust statistical modelling than previous forecasts, said Dr Kyle Foreman, the lead author.

The study also predicted that several high-income countries, such as the United States, Canada and Norway, are expected to slip significantly in the rankings, as other countries make larger gains.

The average life expectancy in the US was forecast to go from 78.7 in 2016 to 79.8 by 2040. However, this relatively small increase means the US will fall from 43rd to 64th place.

Dr Foreman cautioned that nothing is set in stone. "The future of the world's health is not pre-ordained and there is a wide range of plausible trajectories," he said.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Does GPA matter when applying for a job?

NTU should not be faulted for exclusive job fair

Mr Ethan Chong's letter has brought some pragmatism into the emotive elitism debate (GPA represents undergrads' hard work over long period of time; Oct 13).

Why must Nanyang Technological University (NTU) succumb to populist pressure and apologise for holding a job fair exclusively for students with top grades?

Was it the one and only job fair organised by NTU and were there no other fairs that were open to all? Why can't NTU organise both general and targeted job fairs?

Who is to tell employers whom they should and should not target and what weight they should give to grades?

Employers live with the consequences of their decisions and know their needs best.

If they tell NTU that there are certain vacancies for which they would like to consider only students with top grades, should NTU be barred from providing such a service to employers?

If all job openings must be open to all students, then shouldn't headhunters be banned and all openings mandated to be openly advertised?

Employers all over the world regularly target certain students for certain jobs.

Some have even established relationships with professors so that they can be tipped off on graduating bright students, whom they then approach well before these students graduate.

Should professors be banned from recommending students based on criteria spelt out by employers?

We had better grow up, or we will be left behind in the global quest for talent.

Yes, NTU could be faulted for organising a job fair for top students in a manner not sufficiently sensitive to the feelings of the general student body.

But it does not follow that universities should either organise fairs open to all, or not at all.

In recent years, the legitimate call for inclusiveness has many a time slipped dangerously into anti-talent political correctness.

This spells disastrous consequences for a country like Singapore, which has nothing to rely on except people and talent.

Cheng Shoong Tat
ST Forum, 17 Oct 2018

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Crooked bridge to Singapore may be revived; Malaysia does not need Singapore's consent to build crooked bridge, says Mahathir

Crooked bridge project to replace the Causeway may be revived, says Johor Chief Minister
The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2018

KUALA LUMPUR • The Johor government will hold a meeting with Singapore officials soon, during which the possibility of reviving the "crooked bridge" project linking the Malaysian state and Singapore will be raised, said Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian.

He said the meeting, to be held either on Oct 27 or 28 in Singapore, will also be attended by Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali.

"We will discuss issues including water price, bilateral development and investments. We will try to attract investors from Singapore to Malaysia," Datuk Osman told reporters yesterday.

"We might also discuss the crooked bridge project with them to see if they want to join us or otherwise, and also the third (Singapore-Johor) bridge project. We will get feedback from them." He did not say what the meeting in Singapore would be about.

The Johor chief minister said he had proposed the idea of reviving the crooked bridge project linking Johor to Singapore with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during a meeting last month.

The bridge plan, to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway in Woodlands, was mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir in 2003. It was dubbed the crooked bridge as the infrastructure would involve an S-shaped, six-lane highway that would allow vessels to pass underneath.

The project was dropped by Tun Abdullah Badawi after he took over as prime minister in late 2003.

Mr Osman said Dr Mahathir had asked him in a recent meeting if Johor needed the bridge, and he had said that it was up to the Prime Minister to decide.

"Perhaps past prime ministers didn't feel comfortable continuing a project started by Dr Mahathir," Mr Osman said. "So he said if we want to do it, no problem, because it would not involve demolishing the Singapore parts of the bridge, only on our side," he added.

Mr Osman also mentioned the possibility of a "third bridge" linking Singapore and Johor. In August, Malaysia media reported that the Johor government was researching the possibility of a bridge from southern Johor's Pengerang district to Singapore's Pulau Ubin.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Singapore Blue Plan 2018: Conservationists set out new plan to preserve marine landscape

Government will work with the marine community to realise common goals in ground-up initiative
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 14 Oct 2018

Conservationists have drawn up an extensive new plan to preserve more of Singapore's marine landscape - from mangroves and seagrass meadows to coastal forests and coral reefs.

Responding to the ground-up initiative, the Government has said it will see how it can work with the marine community to realise common goals.

The third iteration of the Blue Plan makes six recommendations, including improved laws to protect marine environments, formalised management systems for these areas and sustained funding for long-term research and monitoring programmes.

It also advocates better coordination between agencies and researchers, further measures to protect Singapore's remaining marine habitats and the inclusion of information about such habitats in the school curriculum.

More than 100 people contributed to the latest edition of the Blue Plan, including biologists, geographers, environmental lawyers and representatives from non-governmental organisations.

The 220-page plan was presented to Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Mr Lee is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

"The amazing marine biodiversity that thrives along our shores and in our waters is something we should treasure and be proud of," Mr Lee said, noting that progress has been made since the second Blue Plan was launched in 2009.

"We will approach the proposals in this Blue Plan with the same spirit of collaboration and openness," he added. "The agencies will study the recommendations in detail and see how we can work with the marine community to realise some of the common goals."

Mr Lee said that apart from funding marine research, the Government will expand outreach and education efforts to help Singaporeans better appreciate the country's biodiversity. "You cannot protect what you don't love, and you can't love what you don't know," he said.

Social Enterprise Hawker Centres: Teething problems with new not-for-profit model

Challenges like high costs faced by hawkers prompt debate on not-for-profit system
By Benson Ang, The Sunday Times, 14 Oct 2018

They were meant to help hawkers negotiate lower rates for services like cleaning, lower ingredient costs by bulk-buying, and even introduce innovation such as wireless Internet services - along with offering healthy, affordable food.

Operating surplus is supposed to be shared to improve the centres, and to help keep traditions alive by making sure hawker entrepreneurs get a leg up. But six years since not-for-profit hawker centres were proposed, the operating model is caught in the crosshairs.

Hawkers are complaining of high rents, being saddled with additional fees for services such as tray returns, having to work long hours despite low footfall, and being locked into contracts.

Makansutra founder and well-known food critic K. F. Seetoh is leading the charge against not-for-profit hawker centres, urging the National Environment Agency (NEA) to end the experiment, in an open letter to Dr Amy Khor, who is Senior Minister of State for Health and Environment and Water Resources.

What went wrong?


The idea of operating new hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis by social enterprises or cooperatives was recommended by the 18-member Hawker Centres Public Consultation Panel, which was formed in 2011 and chaired by entrepreneur Elim Chew.

It was driven by three key considerations, top of which was to let the community "derive maximum benefit from the centre". The other aims were to provide employment to lower-income groups and provide a platform for hawker aspirants.

It was suggested that social enterprise "management" teams look at ways, from loyalty programmes to community events, to increase crowds, and to draw income from ads and to use the funds to benefit the centres and stallholders.

Wi-Fi access was talked about, as was recycling, cutting down energy use and promoting a tray-return system. Instilling social graciousness through posters was also part of the menu. Even then, there was some scepticism. Some hawkers said they would bid for stalls elsewhere if the new rents were too high. Others were worried about having to seek the manager's approval if they wanted to raise food prices.

In 2015, NEA began appointing socially conscious operators to manage new hawker centres.

Currently, seven out of 114 hawker centres are new centres managed by private social enterprises and cooperatives, such as Fei Siong Social Enterprise, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre+Hawkers, Hawker Management by Koufu and OTMH by Kopitiam.

The new centres are Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub, Yishun Park Hawker Centre, Jurong West Hawker Centre, Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre and Market, Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre and Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre.

In August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the country's hawker culture will be nominated for inscription into UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - raising a debate on whether enough was being done to preserve the culture.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Public Transport Workers Appreciation: Thanking the People Who Take Us Everywhere

New initiatives aim to encourage commuters to show appreciation for these unsung heroes
Saying thank you to public transport workers
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2018

From bus drivers to train station managers, public transport workers here help ensure commuters safely get to school and work - and back home again - every day of the week, all year round.

Now, a series of initiatives is being introduced to recognise the efforts of the unsung heroes who make these daily journeys possible.

Among the initiatives is a campaign by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) that will use outdoor posters, walkway banners and bus advertisements to encourage people to thank public transport workers.

Commuters can also show their appreciation online by using the hashtag #ThankYouPTWorkers on social media posts.

The campaign will be launched by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng on Oct 21 with an event at Tampines MRT station and bus interchange.

LTA will partner various community organisations and businesses in these efforts, while the four public transport operators - Go-Ahead, SBS Transit, SMRT and Tower Transit - will organise their own initiatives for employees.

This year, the Singapore Kindness Movement has also been conducting activities at schools and student care centres as part of its Friend of Singa and Seed Kindness Fund Junior programmes.

The annual Transport Gold Awards event, which recognises transport workers who have shown "exemplary acts of service", will also be held at the Istana for the first time this year on Nov 1, with President Halimah Yacob in attendance. Awards will be given to 445 transport workers at the ceremony.

In a Facebook post, National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) executive secretary Melvin Yong noted that NTWU was the first to suggest an appreciation campaign for public transport workers. It launched the inaugural Public Transport Workers' Appreciation Day in November last year. That effort was "very well received" by transport workers, he said.

"Thus, we are really happy that LTA, working with various partners, is launching a series of initiatives at the national level this year to show appreciation to our workers," added Mr Yong, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

LTA chief executive Ngien Hoon Ping said: "Our public transport workers are the heart of a people-centric public transport system.

"They work behind the scenes, round the clock, to ensure our public transport system is safe, reliable and comfortable for commuters."

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Singapore and Indonesia reaffirm strong ties, commit to deepen trade and investment links

Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat 2018: Deals inked to protect investors, defend currencies and cooperate in areas like fintech
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent In Nusa Dua (Bali), The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2018

Singapore and Indonesia announced several initiatives yesterday to deepen their relationship, including agreements to protect each other's investors and to shore up financial and monetary stability in the region.

At their annual retreat yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Joko Widodo noted the mutual trust between the two countries, and said they could do more to benefit their peoples.

Amid volatile financial markets, Mr Joko announced a US$10 billion (S$13.8 billion) local currency swap and US dollar repurchase agreement between the two countries.

This will give both countries access to each other's currency and to US dollars. They can use this to settle trades or defend their currency in times of financial stress.

This reduces the uncertainty and risk that can stem from exchange rate fluctuations, in times of financial market turbulence.

"In the midst of this global economic uncertainty, economic cooperation was our focus," Mr Joko said, welcoming the deal between Bank Indonesia and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The leaders also witnessed the signing of a treaty which establishes rules on how each country should treat investments and investors from the other.

Singapore companies in Indonesia will enjoy protection and have access to international arbitration in the event of investment disputes, and vice versa.

Singapore is Indonesia's largest investor, with US$8.4 billion in realised investments last year. Both are among each other's top trading partners and sources of visitors, with two-way trade totalling $59.4 billion last year.

Several other agreements were signed between Singapore and Indonesia yesterday, including on financial technology cooperation and cultural cooperation.

PM Lee also announced a project to develop a new RISING fellowship programme. The term, conceived when both sides marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties last year, is an amalgamation of "RI" for the Republic of Indonesia and "SING" for Singapore.

PM Lee said: "We hope every year to welcome more than a dozen leaders and officials, promising young people from Indonesia - not just Jakarta, but also the provinces and other cities - to come and visit us, to make friends, appreciate how we can work further together, what are the things which we can learn from each other."

Both leaders noted tourism cooperation has grown, with three new cruise itineraries expected to bring over 50,000 visitors to Bintan, Surabaya and North Bali by the end of this year. An agreement between Indonesian terminal operator Pelindo III and Genting's Star Cruises will encourage more cruises and facilitate the upgrading of Bali's Celukan Bawang port, and explore the upgrading of other ports like Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, PM Lee said.

He noted that both countries' defence establishments are also working together on an intelligence-sharing facility.

"Our cooperation will continue during the next few months, and I am sure after the elections they will pick up strength again and will strengthen and grow further every year," PM Lee said, as he wished Mr Joko a smooth election next year.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Singapore tops World Bank Human Capital Index 2018

Singapore No. 1 out of 157 countries in new index on investing in education, health
World Bank rating looks at how economies maximise people's potential
By Linda Yulisman, Indonesia Correspondent In Nusa Dua (Bali), The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2018

A new index, which measures how effectively societies devote resources to develop their people, shows Singapore topping the list.

The Human Capital Index (HCI), launched by the World Bank at its annual meetings in Bali yesterday, also saw three East Asian economies faring well, with South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong ranked second, third and fourth out of 157 economies, respectively.

The results, the global lender said, show that Singapore's efforts to invest in the education and health of its people will lead to children born in the Republic today being able to fulfil 88 per cent of their potential to be productive when they turn 18, should they get a full education and enjoy good health.

"All of Singapore's secondary school students are prepared for a post-secondary education and the world of work," it said in a report.

The HCI is part of the Washington-based lender's Human Capital Project to get countries to improve their investment in people, and was launched at the start of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank annual meetings.

"Investing in health and education has not gotten the attention it deserves. This index creates a direct line between improving outcomes in health and education, productivity and economic growth," said World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim. "I hope it drives countries to take urgent action and invest more - and more effectively - in their people."

The HCI measures how countries are developing their human capital based on five indicators - the probability of survival to age five, a child's expected years of schooling, test scores, the adult survival rate and the proportion of children under five who suffer from stunted growth.

The index found that about 56 per cent of all children born around the world today will lose more than half of their potential lifetime earnings if governments do not take appropriate steps to prepare for healthy and educated populations.

Human capital refers to the knowledge, skills and health, among other things, that people accumulate over their lives.

The World Bank said investments in it have been a key factor behind the sustained economic growth and poverty reduction rates of many countries in the 20th century, especially in East Asia.

"Policies to build human capital are some of the smartest investments that countries can make to boost long-term, inclusive economic growth," Dr Kim said, pointing out that a quarter of children are likely to fail to meet their full potential because of malnutrition and diseases that cause stunting.

"If a country's children grow up unable to meet the needs of the future workplace, that country will find itself incapable of employing its people, unable to increase its output and utterly unprepared to compete economically," he added.

He cited the success of Vietnam, among the best performers in South-east Asia, as a country that managed to improve educational outcomes through increased spending - following the paths taken by other Asian peers such as China.

Vietnam ranked 48th on the index, with members of its population set to achieve 67 per cent of their future economic potential. Indonesia, however, ranked only 87th, and will see its population realise 53 per cent of their potential.

Dr Kim said Indonesia was one of the "early adopters" of the World Bank's advice to move up the index, pointing out that 20 per cent of spending in the national budget was set aside for education. However, it still needed to work on some issues, such as reducing stunting, he said.

The evidence shows progress is possible, the bank said, citing education reforms in Poland and a reduction in stunting in Malawi.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Singapore refutes Oxfam report on performance in tackling inequality

By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2018

Singapore may not spend as much as other countries on healthcare and education, but the outcomes it achieves in these areas are significant, and better than most.

Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee made this point yesterday when he refuted a report which criticised Singapore for being "one of the worst-performing countries in the world at tackling inequality".

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018, compiled by non-profit organisations Oxfam and Development Finance International, ranked Singapore 149th out of 157 countries - below Ethiopia and Afghanistan, and above Bhutan and Haiti.

The index measured each country's commitment to reducing inequality by looking at its social spending, tax policies and labour rights.

The report said Singapore's tax system was the worst in the world at tackling inequality because it "undertaxes wealthy individuals and corporations". The personal income tax rate for top earners here is 22 per cent, while corporate tax is 17 per cent, both of which are too low, the report argued.

Mr Lee responded: "Yes, the income tax burden on Singaporeans is low. And almost half the population do not pay any income tax.

"Yet, they benefit more than proportionately from the high quality of infrastructure and social support that the state provides."

He argued that while the report assumes high taxation and high public expenditure reflect commitment to combating inequality, it is more important to look at the outcomes achieved.

"We set out to achieve real outcomes for our people - good health, education, jobs and housing - rather than satisfy a collection of ideologically driven indicators."

For example, 90 per cent of Singaporeans own their homes, and even among the poorest 10 per cent of households, 84 per cent own their homes, he said. "No other country comes close," he added.

The Oxfam report criticised Singapore for spending "well below countries such as South Korea and Thailand" on healthcare, education and social protection.

Similarly, in education, Mr Lee noted that Singapore's students consistently outperform others in international rankings.

While Singapore does not have a minimum wage - another point of criticism - Mr Lee said it does have income support for low-income workers, generous schemes for worker training and a progressive wage model for certain low-wage jobs.

Both lower-income and median households here have experienced faster income growth over the last decade than those in most countries, he added.

"That we achieved all of this with lower taxes and lower spending than most countries is to Singapore's credit rather than discredit."

The report also criticised what it called Singapore's "harmful tax practices", such as tax incentives for companies that develop intellectual property, or firms that make investments in the maritime or finance sectors. It said such incentives help corporations evade taxes.

CIMB Private Bank economist Song Seng Wun, however, pointed out that these incentives help draw substantial economic activity and investments into Singapore.

"These tax policies are meant to promote economic development and promote Singapore as a hub in areas such as finance and logistics, which in turn creates jobs," he said.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Punggol Town Hub to open in 2021 with hawker centre, library, childcare centre and healthcare facilities

Punggol residents to get integrated town hub in 2021
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2018

Punggol residents can look forward to new amenities, such as a hawker centre and regional library, coming under one roof when the Punggol Town Hub opens in 2021.

Other amenities include a childcare centre and healthcare facilities. In addition, there will be a revamped Punggol Vista Community Centre, which will be about seven times the size of the current void deck community centre.

The hub will be located opposite Waterway Point shopping mall and next to the upcoming Punggol Regional Sports Centre.

At a ground-breaking ceremony for the hub yesterday morning, Dr Janil Puthucheary, an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said the town hub was designed after meeting residents and listening to their needs. He added that over the years, residents have come together to suggest ways to make Punggol a better place for all.

Dr Janil, who is also Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Transport, noted that Punggol is a rapidly growing town, "so there is a need for lots of facilities".

"The residents have been looking forward to this, and I think they are going to enjoy what they have when it finally comes up," he said.

The new community and lifestyle hub, managed by the People's Association (PA), will bring together programmes and services from multiple agencies, catering to the needs of more than 146,000 residents in Punggol.

When completed, it will be connected to Punggol MRT station via a linear green park, and to the Punggol Regional Sports Centre via a pedestrian overhead bridge.

The cycling path around the hub will also integrate with the larger cycling network in Punggol.

Residents said the new hub, with various amenities under one roof, will bring greater convenience.

Mr Daryl Tan, 41, who works in the food and beverage line, said the amenities are a short walk from landmarks like Waterway Point and the sports centre. "It is something we have been eagerly looking forward to for many years," he added.

At yesterday's ground-breaking ceremony at Punggol Town Square, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who is also PA deputy chairman, said he hopes the new town hub will foster a sense of community identity among residents.

"We can build a house, but we need your help to build a home."

Monday, 8 October 2018

HDB ethnic quota: Tough sell for owners of minority race

Smaller buyer pool leaves some with below-average resale prices
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 7 Oct 2018

When account director Vijeshwariee Yoganathan put her five-room flat in Redhill Road up for sale in October last year, she thought she would have no problem selling it within a few months, given that it was opposite an MRT station and on the 26th storey.

However, after 10 fruitless months, only one offer came in.

Ms Vijeshwariee, 37, eventually sold her flat at $813,000 last month - more than $60,000 below the average price of about $880,000 that other five-room flats on high floors in the vicinity had fetched over the past five months.

She believes the reason is that her block had reached the ethnic quota for Chinese residents. That meant she was able to sell the flat to only people from minority races, a factor that significantly reduced the pool of potential buyers.

Ms Vijeshwariee, who received inquiries from Chinese people who were interested in the flat, feels she has been penalised by the rule. The flat had been advertised for sale at $860,000.

More attention is being focused now on home owners like her who have been affected by the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP), which specifies the proportion of units in an HDB block and precinct that can be owned by a particular racial group to ensure a balanced mix.

Four MPs raised concerns in Parliament last week about the EIP, saying that while it is useful in promoting racial harmony, the policy has affected residents' ability to sell their flats quickly or at market value.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong reminded them that the EIP is not the sole factor in the sale of a flat as issues such as location, the storey it is on, its condition, remaining lease and market sentiments would also be considered.

He turned down Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan's suggestion for the Government to buy back HDB flats from owners who cannot sell due to the EIP, but said the ministry would consider a suggestion from Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat to put out monthly guidelines on how much flats affected by the EIP could sell for.

Mr Saktiandi told The Sunday Times that he hopes this can help to cap any potential economic shortfall from the sale of such flats, compared with those in unaffected blocks.

Dr Leong Chan-Hoong, head of the Institute of Policy Studies Social Lab, said owners from other races looking to sell flats in blocks where the Chinese quota has been maxed out usually offloaded their homes at about 10 per cent below the average transacted prices of a similar flat type in the same neighbourhood.

His estimates were based on focus group discussions with 26 estate agents in June and July.

ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim said the price differential is because of the smaller pool of home-seekers eligible to buy a flat that has met the ethnic quota for the majority race.

As the quota for Chinese residents tends to be filled up in central regions such as Ang Mo Kio or Bishan, where prices tend to be higher, it could put a further squeeze on minority sellers as the supply of their flats could outstrip demand from viable buyers, he added.

On the other hand, blocks that are constrained by the Indian/Others and Malay ethnic quotas usually do not see a similar situation as they can still be sold to the relatively large pool of buyers, said Mr Lim.

More minority flat owners could be facing such issues now.

Dr Leong noted that 30 per cent of HDB blocks had reached at least one ethnic quota as of July this year, up from 27.9 per cent in 2016 and 24.4 per cent in 1989, when the EIP was implemented.

It was also noted in Parliament last week that the HDB received 1,600 requests to waive the quota rule between 2015 and last year. The HDB told The Sunday Times that about one in five appeals was successful.

Some sellers, such as retiree R. Sivanandam, 72, say they are unable to find buyers despite leaving their flats on the market for a long time.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

NSmen to get IPPT cash awards instantly via PayNow from 2019

By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2018

From early next year, operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) who do well in their annual fitness test at Maju Camp will not face the usual wait of around two weeks to receive their cash incentive awards.

Instead, upon completion of their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), the money will be credited to their bank account immediately via PayNow, an instant fund transfer service linked to people's mobile phone or NRIC numbers.

The scheme will be piloted at Maju Fitness Conditioning Centre (FCC) at Maju Camp in Clementi early next year before launching in Bedok, Khatib and Kranji FCCs by the middle of the year. Maju FCC has the highest number of NSmen IPPT participants among the four FCCs.

The launch dates will be released on the NS Portal website.

NSmen who achieve a gold award for their IPPT receive $500, with $300 for a silver award, and $200 for a pass with incentive.

The initiative was announced by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday during the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) Productivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts (Pride) Symposium 2018 at Nanyang Polytechnic in Ang Mo Kio.

Dr Ng said the initiative was an example of ideas that can make "a huge difference" to the daily functioning of the SAF.

"So as you run your 2.4km run (one of the components of IPPT) and cross the finishing line, you can hear the 'chink' (sound of money)," he said, to applause from the audience.

"I exaggerate somewhat, but basically you get it on the same day as your IPPT. And I think NSmen will appreciate this small idea (that) will have (a) big impact."

Currently, NSmen have to wait around two weeks to receive the awards in their bank accounts through Giro.

To receive money via PayNow, an NSman has to register for PayNow with his preferred bank and link his PayNow account to his NRIC number before taking his test. Those who do not register will continue to receive their awards through Giro. PayNow is available at nine banks, including DBS Bank, OCBC, UOB, Maybank and Standard Chartered.

Gym owner and NSman Ng Wei Li, 27, said he is glad that the SAF is taking steps to improve its efficiency. "It's unlikely that more NSmen will be motivated to do well to get the incentives, but it's definitely a value-add for those who bother to train for their IPPT."

More families depending on public assistance from Government; $131 million in ComCare cash assistance to about 79,500 beneficiaries in FY2017

Number on government Long-Term Assistance scheme last year up 24% from 2013, with more seniors unable to work and lacking family support
The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2018

Increasing numbers of seniors who cannot work due to old age or illness and who lack family support are behind the steady rise in the number of families receiving long-term financial aid.

There were 4,409 households on the government scheme run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in the 2017 financial year, up from 4,387 families in the preceding 12 months.

The 2017 figure was 24 per cent more than the 3,568 families on the Long-Term Assistance scheme in 2013.

Social workers and sociologists told The Straits Times that the increase in those needing long-term support was due to a range of factors, from Singapore's ageing society to more people remaining single to shrinking family sizes.

Elderly folk on the scheme used to hold low-paying jobs and may now be in dire straits as they fall ill or cannot work due to old age.

Their children themselves could also be struggling to cope financially, and it is harder for these elderly people to get much support, said Mrs Tan-Wu Meiling, executive director of Shine Children and Youth Services.

Besides, the elderly tend to have fewer children to depend on as well. That forces many of these seniors to turn to the Government for aid.

The latest data was contained in the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare Fund) annual report for the 2017 financial year, released yesterday by MSF.

The ComCare Fund gave out $131 million to 79,470 individuals in the 12 months to March 31 this year, a slight increase over the $130 million disbursed to 83,353 beneficiaries in 2016.

ComCare is a key social safety net. Its assistance programmes provide a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

The Long-Term Assistance scheme, also known as public assistance, is meant for destitute individuals who permanently cannot work due to old age or illness, and who have little or no family support.

A person on the scheme gets a monthly sum of $500, while two-person households get $870. They also enjoy other aid such as free medical treatment at polyclinics.

Most people on this scheme are poorly educated, elderly singles who live alone.

Social workers and sociologists had mixed views on whether the numbers on the scheme will rise.

While some told The Straits Times that more seniors will need long-term help as the population continues to age, others said the future generation of elderly folk is more likely to stay healthy and employed, given the Government's push to get people to mind their health and remain employable, among other factors.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said: "All things being equal, future seniors are likely to be better educated, more employable and employed. They perhaps have a longer healthy life expectancy."

Meanwhile, the number of households on the ComCare student care fee assistance scheme has also risen. The scheme helps low-income families meet the cost of student care centre fees for children aged between seven and 14. Families get subsidies of up to 98 per cent of fees.

There were 8,413 families on this scheme in the 2017 financial year, up from 7,942 in 2016 and 6,000 in 2013.

The rise is due to the growing number of places in school-based student care centres. The income criterion was also revised so that more families can qualify.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in a statement yesterday that ComCare continues to be a key social safety net, with ComCare assistance increasing over the years.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Singapore to re-engineer government IT systems: PM Lee Hsien Loong at GovTech STACK 2018 Developer Conference

Fundamental 're-engineering' of Government to provide better and faster public services: PM Lee
IT systems to be overhauled and processes revamped for more centralised approach
By Irene Tham, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2018

There will be a fundamental re-engineering of the Government so that it can tap technology to provide better and faster public services at a fraction of the cost.

It will move away from a system where individual agencies build their own e-citizen services and applications, to a more centralised approach that will enable such e-services to be created more efficiently.

The Government also plans a significant migration to cloud technology, without compromising on security.

Sharing his vision on how the Government's use of technology will improve the lives of Singaporeans in the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday: "We will fundamentally transform how we develop government software and applications."

The key is to get government agencies working together and learning from one another, instead of each trying to reinvent the wheel.

"Instead of every agency building its own bespoke website, at great expense, and often repeating the same coding errors and bugs, we can do it more efficiently, and get better results, by reusing technologies," said PM Lee.

Touching on this, Mr Chan Cheow Hoe, the Government's chief information officer and deputy chief executive of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), said: "Every agency is egocentric and wants to build its own thing and have its own vendor. This needs to change."

Both PM Lee and Mr Chan were speaking at the inaugural STACK 2018 Developer Conference organised by GovTech.

Under the new approach, a central system can be created instead of each agency having its own online licensing processes or Web forms. Forms can also be pre-filled with information so that users will not have to repeatedly give it to different agencies.

"With technology, we can go beyond tweaking existing ways of doing things to reduce bureaucracy and simplify our processes significantly," PM Lee said at the Suntec convention centre.

He mentioned a resale portal launched by the Housing Board that has halved the time it takes to buy and sell public housing flats as an example.

He said agencies would also be able to tap the Singapore Government Technology Stack - a suite of common software components used in application development - to create e-services faster and cheaper.

At the same time, the Government is getting ready to put many of its systems and services on the cloud - instead of onsite - where they can operate round the clock, without the need for expensive dedicated backups.

"We have done a preliminary study and concluded that many government systems can, in principle, exist in the commercial cloud," he said.