Saturday 29 December 2018

CareShield Life Premium Calculator: Ministry of Health launches online tool to calculate premiums for disability insurance scheme to be launched in 2020; Government to run ElderShield scheme from 2021

Online calculator to work out premiums for CareShield Life
It tells Singapore residents how much they have to pay before and after subsidies, incentives
By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2018

A new online calculator was launched yesterday to help people work out how much they will have to pay when disability insurance scheme CareShield Life is launched in 2020.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the gadget will provide Singapore residents with information about their estimated premiums before and after applicable subsidies and incentives.

Users will need to answer questions about their date of birth, gender, current ElderShield coverage as well as their income, housing type and citizenship status.

CareShield Life will replace ElderShield for younger residents, and it will be compulsory for people aged 30 to 40 to pay premiums from 2020.

Future cohorts will join CareShield Life at the age of 30, while those born in 1979 or earlier can choose to join CareShield Life in 2021 if they are not severely disabled.

Singaporeans who are currently insured on ElderShield - which is optional and provides payouts for a limited amount of time - can choose to upgrade to CareShield Life.

The premiums they have paid for ElderShield will be taken into account when calculating their CareShield Life premiums.

The calculator can be used by Singaporeans and permanent residents born between 1946 and 1990.

Singapore residents born in 1991 or later will be provided with their premium figures when they are enrolled in the CareShield Life scheme at age 30.

Those born before 1946 can call the Healthcare Hotline on 1800-222-3399 for more details about their estimated premiums, subsidies and incentives.

This group will have to pay higher annual CareShield Life premiums as they have fewer years over which to spread the payments, MOH said.

Meanwhile, those on other ElderShield policy arrangements will be able to find out more about their estimated premiums closer to 2021, when they are able to join the scheme.

This group includes people who opted out of ElderShield at age 40 but subsequently rejoined the scheme, those born between 1956 and 1967 who opted for a single-premium payment term for ElderShield, and those who have a paid-up policy.

CareShield Life premiums can be paid using Medisave, and subsidies and incentives will be provided.

Lower-to middle-income Singapore residents will receive means-tested subsidies. Up to two-thirds of Singapore resident households will be eligible for CareShield Life subsidies of up to 30 per cent.

Singaporeans in future cohorts (born in 1980 or later) will receive transitional subsidies of up to $250, spread over the first five years from 2020 to 2024.

Singaporeans in existing cohorts (born in 1979 or earlier) will receive participation incentives of up to $2,500, spread over the first 10 years of their policy, if they join CareShield Life in the first two years from 2021.

Singaporeans who are unable to pay for their premiums after subsidies can apply for additional premium support from the Government.

MOH said: "No Singaporean who joins CareShield Life will lose coverage due to an inability to pay their premiums."

Lower fees for students from lower- and middle-income families in independent schools from April 2019

Independent schools to be made more affordable for less well-off
Fees will be more than halved in some cases in bid to enhance the diversity at top schools
By Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 28 Dec 2018

Independent school fees will be cut by more than half, in some cases, for children from low-and middle-income families to increase diversity at Singapore's top schools.

"These are significant steps we are taking to enhance the diversity of independent schools, while preserving their meritorious culture," Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday, while stressing that education was a vital driver of social mobility and that the cost of attending independent schools for students from disadvantaged backgrounds was being addressed.

At Raffles Institution, for instance, which charges $335 a month, children from households with a monthly per capita income of $691 to $1,000 - or a gross household income of $2,751 to $4,000 - will, from next April, pay the same $25 fee as at government schools. Those from families with a monthly per capita income of $1,001 to $1,725 - or a gross household income of $4,001 to $6,900 - will pay $37.50.

Children from the first group of households are now paying $33.50 a month at RI, and those from the next income bracket, $100.50.

Children from the poorest families, with a monthly per capita income of $690 and below - or a gross household income of $2,750 and less - already have fees at independent schools fully subsidised, but can get a new $800 annual scholarship for out-of-pocket expenses.

This UPLIFT scholarship will be open to students from lower-income families at independent schools who performed well in their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and are recipients of the Edusave Scholarship for Independent Schools, or who have qualified through the Direct School Admission scheme. It is also open to students at the School of the Arts and the Singapore Sports School.

Already, 7.5 per cent of pupils living in one-to three-room HDB flats are placed in the top 20 per cent in the PSLE, Mr Ong said at a ceremony to appoint new principals. "We should ensure that they can enter these schools if they want to."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke "very frankly" on this issue during the debate on the President's Address to Parliament, said Mr Ong. "Popular schools, such as certain independent schools, are attracting a greater proportion of students from families with higher socio-economic status. So, diversity in these schools has gone down over the years," he added.

As successful parents invested more to send their children to popular schools, such schools became less diverse over time, Mr Ong said.

Under the new fee scheme, current and new students from low-or middle-income families will pay no fees in some cases, or at the most 1.5 times the fees at government and government-aided schools, the minister said. Previously, the subsidy for students from these families was pegged at different levels.

Mr Ong said tackling inequality "remains an unfinished business of this Government", and education plays a special role. "What better way to ensure social mobility than by preparing our children well for the future?"

Some steps were already under way. For instance, from next year, secondary schools have to ensure that a fifth of their places go to unaffiliated students. "We will review this floor over time," he said.

"Through these (forms of) additional financial assistance, all students, regardless of family income or background, can and should aspire to an education in a school of their choice and need not worry about the cost of education."

The popular schools that would now be more affordable for lower-income students consist of eight independent schools - Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Hwa Chong Institution, Methodist Girls' School, Nanyang Girls' High School, Raffles Girls' School, Raffles Institution, Singapore Chinese Girls' School and St Joseph's Institution - and two specialised independent schools - NUS High School and the School of Science and Technology, Singapore.

Thursday 27 December 2018

Social isolation: Senior citizens living with family, but still feeling lonely

Research finds that having a companion their own age boosts seniors' health, well-being
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Dec 2018

Most of Madam Teek Mohmod's life has revolved around her family, especially caring for her parents towards the end of their lives.

The demands of keeping her household going meant she saw less and less of her friends. After her husband died last year, she found herself very much alone.

"I felt very lonely," said the housewife, 64, who has an adult son but lives alone in Yishun. "When I looked after my mother and father and all their expenses, it was very hard to go out and meet friends."

It was only after she was introduced to a "wellness kampung" for seniors in her neighbourhood that she made new friends, and began to feel less troubled. "When I'm here, my mood changes," she said.

Local research is finding that for seniors like Madam Teek, having a companion their own age makes a big difference to their health and mental well-being.

In a study of nearly 5,000 seniors, ageing expert Angelique Chan found that those living with their children, but without their spouses, were as lonely as those living on their own. A separate National Healthcare Group (NHG) study, published last year and involving 1,919 people, found older adults who felt isolated from their friends were more likely to develop depressive symptoms, compared with those who felt disconnected from family.

"It's about having a peer; having someone you can connect with," said Associate Professor Chan, who is executive director of the Centre for Ageing Research and Education in Duke-NUS Medical School.

She was involved in the Social Isolation, Health And Lifestyles Survey, which studied a group of elderly people for close to a decade from 2009.

It found that half of Singaporeans over 60 felt lonely some or most of the time. But those who lived with spouses, or with spouses and children, did not. "What children don't realise is the need for communication and connection," Prof Chan said, adding that employing a domestic helper does not typically provide the companionship seniors need.

"It may look like there's someone with them all day. But it might not be someone they can actually communicate with. Children may take care of their parents' physical needs but they are not providing for the psychosocial ones."

Geriatrician Wong Sweet Fun, chief transformation officer at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Yishun Health, said: "Friendships are the relationships we choose, resulting in feelings of autonomy, affirmation of self-worth and better integration into social networks and the wider community.

"On the other hand, family relationships are obligatory and can have a negative impact on health."

This can happen even if a senior has good family support, said Dr Wong, who is also deputy chairman of the medical board for population health at both organisations, which are part of NHG. In fact, too much support from their adult children may cause seniors to feel less competent, Dr Wong said.

Ageing experts said people should keep an eye out for symptoms of loneliness in elderly relatives. These could include withdrawing from conversations or not wanting to leave the house, said Ms Janice Chia, founder and managing director of the Ageing Asia Alliance.

She added that adult family members could also accompany seniors to new activities and introduce them to new friends. "Making new friends as we get older is very much like the first day of school all over again," she said. "The first step of facilitation is important."

Sunday 23 December 2018

Digital TV Starter Kit application extended to 31 March 2019

More time for HDB households to get digital TV starter kits
Deadline to apply for kits extended by 3 months to 31 March 2019; no analogue TV signals from 2 Jan 2019
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 22 Dec 2018

Even after the plug is pulled on analogue TV transmission next year, Housing Board households will still have three months to apply for a government-sponsored starter kit to get their TV digital-ready.

The deadline to apply for the digital TV (DTV) starter kit will be extended from Dec 31 to March 31 next year, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said yesterday.

All HDB households that do not have a pay-TV subscription are eligible for the kit. Eligible households can redeem a free set-top box and antenna package, and opt for free delivery and installation as well.

Or they can redeem $100 for selected digital television equipment purchases such as an antenna, a set-top box or an integrated digital TV from participating electronics retailers including Best Denki, Courts, Gain City and Harvey Norman.

The price of a digital antenna and set-top box bundle at these stores is around $100.

From Jan 2, analogue TV signals will be disabled - meaning households that have not switched to DTV will not be able to watch Mediacorp free-to-air programmes.

IMDA said 90 per cent of Singapore households are already receiving DTV either over the air or through their pay-TV subscription.

IMDA said that 450,000 households have made the switch using DTV starter kits or through the Digital TV Assistance Scheme, which was rolled out in 2014 to provide low-income households with a free digital set-up box, indoor antenna as well as free installation.

It will ramp up efforts to ensure that households can better receive help when analogue TV transmission is cut in less than two weeks.

It will set up DTV support counters in all 106 community clubs and centres across the island from Dec 26 to Dec 31, and Jan 2 to Jan 6, from 2pm to 9pm.

At these counters, households can redeem their DTV starter kits and have them installed on the same day, or obtain help on DTV-related matters.

They can also collect their DTV starter kits at 16 of these DTV support counters or at 11 M1 Shop outlets across the island.

Hands and legs needed for policy measures to be rolled out successfully

Go beyond asking why inequality takes place, to stepping up to help low-income families
By Lim Boon Heng, Published The Straits Times, 22 Dec 2018

During the year, there had been discussions in different forums on inequality in Singapore society. These discussions suggest that the Government has not done enough to uplift the poorer among us.

What has been done to uplift the poor?

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has published an occasional paper that sets out what the Government does to uplift the poor - wage top-ups for all workers earning less than $2,000 a month, the Silver Support Scheme for seniors, a wage ladder through the Progressive Wage Model, and government transfers (rebates for service and conservancy charges, rebates for rent, utility vouchers, goods and services tax vouchers, and CHAS, the Community Health Assist Scheme).

A fair amount has been devoted to the children of poor families, to bring them as close to the starting line as other children. There are assistance programmes such as the Centre-based Financial Assistance Scheme for Child Care and the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme, as well as KidStart.

Thousands of children benefit every year. No doubt, there will be families that for various reasons are unable to fully benefit. We can do more, with community support. It will mean people stepping forward to lend a hand to families facing multiple challenges. It is not just money - it also means time, and adjusting our own schedules when help is needed.

One strand of discussion on inequality suggests that mixing the poor with those who are better off leads to the poor losing self-esteem. This set me thinking. How do we bridge the divide?

Segregate, or continue to integrate? Is segregation the answer? If we want those who are better off to be able to help the poor, proximity makes it easier to do so.

For children of pre-school age, NTUC First Campus has made a modest contribution. It has a policy of giving priority registration to children from low-income families.

Today, 15 per cent of its children are from low-income families. It provides further support through the Bright Horizons Fund. It found that it is not enough to get the children to pre-school - there is a need to help families solve other problems, working with government agencies. As for the children, they get the same quality of teaching and care as all other children.

In addition, the Bright Horizons Fund provides well-being and learning programmes to give these children equal opportunities in their pre-school years. And I am sure the better-off children get to learn that in society there are people less well off than they are, and this may help them to appreciate what they have.

So we did not segregate. We think children of diverse backgrounds should study and play together. I believe that the low-income should live side by side with those who are better off. Their environment should not be poorer than the rest of society. Our focus should be on how to give the lower-income a hand.

What about those who falter in school? Does the Government help them when they stumble?

Let me relate two experiences.

A young girl, accompanied by her grandmother, came to see me at a Meet-the-People Session some years ago. Her O-level results were not good enough for her to enrol in a polytechnic. Instead, she was told that she qualified for the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). She wanted to appeal to be allowed to register for a polytechnic.

I could tell that her mood was down. I told her that she could complete her ITE course, and then go on to a polytechnic. "Mr Lim," she said, "ITE - It's The End!" Her whole future seemed to have collapsed in front of her. I told her I would try, but she should keep the ITE option open.

As expected, the appeal to the Ministry of Education (MOE) was unsuccessful. I encouraged her to give the ITE a try. She was dejected, but felt there was no other choice. I think she felt she had a bleak future.

The ITE term opened. She went to ITE College West. On the same night, she came to see me at my Meet-the-People Session, with a smile on her face. She said: "Mr Lim, it's all right, I can do ITE! The campus is fantastic, it's like a university!"

In the months that followed, her grandmother told me that the girl was very happy at ITE. The grandmother had to keep pushing her to study when she was in secondary school, but now there was no such need. The girl was so motivated by the environment and the staff at ITE.

She went on to complete her polytechnic diploma.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Singapore passport and NRIC applications to be done online from 2020

No more paper forms for passports and NRICs from 2020 as ICA moves services online
ICA moves to support Smart Nation push, but help is on hand for less Internet-savvy users
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 21 Dec 2018

From 2020, all passport and NRIC applications will have to be done online, as the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will progressively stop using paper forms for 15 services.

These services, which include requests for birth/death extracts and applications for change of address, will be migrated online to support Singapore's Smart Nation goals.

The ICA said these 15 services constitute 99 per cent of its public transactions. The remaining 1 per cent are rarely used services that apply to a "very small number of people" or those that require a physical interview, like the renunciation of Singapore citizenship.

In a statement yesterday, the ICA said all 15 services are now on its MyICA portal, which was created by the authority. Members of the public can access it using SingPass.

The portal was launched in June, and started out with eight services. MyICA also allows users to make one consolidated payment for multiple transactions.

The portal is currently supported across different Web browsers and mobile devices. Since the portal was launched, the ICA said, it has been gathering feedback and fine-tuning it. For instance, the portal now makes clearer the instructions and specifications for the uploading of photos in its applications.

Responding to user feedback about the speed of the portal, ICA has also made it load faster.

The ICA said that last year, 88 per cent of the more than 5.5 million applications it received were made online. The remaining hard-copy applications were mostly for passports and NRICs, and were submitted at the ICA Building in person or mailed to the authority.

To help ensure no one gets left behind in its digital migration, the ICA will be putting in place various measures to help those who might be unfamiliar with online transactions.

For instance, first-time users of MyICA can learn about its features through an online tutorial.

The authority also plans to introduce a multi-language step-by-step video guide on applying for passports and NRICs on its website and Facebook page.

Those who have trouble accessing the Internet or who need help to make their applications can use the self-service kiosks at the lobby of the ICA Building, where staff will be able to assist them, the ICA said.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Lee Kuan Yew awarded the China Reform Friendship Medal for critical role in China's reform and opening-up

By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2018

Beijing has conferred a China Reform Friendship Medal on Singapore's late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew for his role in pushing the city-state's deep involvement in China's reform and opening-up journey.

Mr Lee was one of 10 foreigners who were given the award at a ceremony yesterday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to mark 40 years of China's reform and modernisation.

Chinese leaders lauded Mr Lee's critical role in promoting Singapore's participation in China's reform journey since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping declared in December 1978 that China would modernise.

Mr Deng's watershed speech came just one month after his first and only official visit to Singapore, where he met Mr Lee for three hours.

He also visited the Housing and Development Board and the Jurong Town Corporation to learn about Singapore's public housing and industrialisation programme.

When Mr Deng embarked on his famous nanxun, or tour of southern China, in 1992, he also exhorted Chinese cadres to learn from Singapore's social governance model.

"They managed things quite strictly," he said. "We ought to use their experience as a model, and we ought to manage things even better than they do."

Chinese leaders have long regarded Mr Lee as the principal architect of Sino-Singapore relations.

He was also one of a handful of world leaders who met all five of China's top leaders - from the late chairman Mao Zedong and Mr Deng, to former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and President Xi Jinping. Mr Lee had met Mr Xi in 2008 when the latter was vice-president.

A keen China watcher, Mr Lee visited China 33 times over 37 years.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Gay Singaporean man allowed to adopt surrogate son on appeal; MSF to consider if policies, laws need to be reviewed

High Court says paramount consideration for reversal of decision was child's welfare
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2018

In a decision that it reached "with not insignificant difficulty", the High Court has allowed a gay Singaporean man to adopt his biological son, whom he fathered in the United States through a surrogate mum.

The pathologist father had brought the Pennsylvania-born boy, now five, to Singapore, but his bid to adopt him was rejected by a district judge last year.

In judgment grounds issued yesterday, the three-judge court stressed that its move to reverse the decision was based "on the particular facts of the case and should not be taken as an endorsement of what the appellant and his partner set out to do".

"Our decision was reached through an application of the law as we understood it to be, and not on the basis of our sympathies for the position of either party," Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon wrote on behalf of the court, which also included Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justice Debbie Ong.

"On balance, it seems appropriate that we attribute significant weight to the concern not to violate public policy against the formation of same-sex family units on account of its rational connection to the present dispute and the degree to which this policy would be violated should an adoption order be made."

But the court found that, based on all the case's circumstances, neither of these reasons is "sufficiently powerful to enable us to ignore the statutory imperative to promote the welfare of the child, and, indeed, to regard his welfare as first and paramount".

The biological father and his partner, both Singaporeans aged 46, had cohabited for 13 years. They first approached the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to inquire about adopting a child, but were told it was unlikely to recommend adoption by a homosexual couple.

The man then flew to the US where, through in-vitro fertilisation procedures, the embryo bearing his sperm was transplanted into the womb of a woman who carried it to term for US$200,000 (S$275,000).

He returned here with the child, but a district court refused to let him adopt the boy.

This led to the appeal in the High Court (Family Division), where Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal and lawyer Jordan Tan, as briefed by lawyers Koh Tien Hua, Ivan Cheong and Shaun Ho from Eversheds Harry Elias, argued his appeal in July and the judgment was reserved.

Lawyers from the Attorney-General's Chambers led by Ms Kristy Tan, in representing the Guardian-in-Adoption from MSF, disputed that adoption would advance the child's welfare.

Adding that public policy is a relevant concern in adoption applications, they pointed out that the present situation is entirely of the couple's own making "because they went to great lengths to circumvent the laws of Singapore to start a family unit".

However, the court found that while there is a public policy in favour of parenthood within marriage and a policy against the formation of same-sex units, the welfare of the child would be significantly improved if an adoption order was made.

It held that an adoption order would increase the child's prospect of becoming a resident Singaporean, which will significantly enhance his sense of security and emotional well-being, and care arrangements. The court added that the Guardian-in-Adoption who assessed the case "did not rely on any public policy against surrogacy, nor did she consider herself able to state clearly what the Government's position on that issue is".

Chief Justice Menon said given the circumstances, the "court certainly should not articulate a public policy against surrogacy and give it weight in the present case".

"To do so would be to fill a space in deliberative social policymaking that the other branches of government, in which the legislative imprimatur lies, have not stepped into or not yet prepared to step into."

Tuesday 18 December 2018

New polytechnic entry scheme for working adults, application starts 17 December 2018

Work experience to count for entry to full-time poly courses
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2018

Adults can now apply to polytechnics for full-time studies under a new scheme that gives more weight to their work experience, with the application period for admissions next year starting today  (Dec 17) and ending on Friday.

Previously, mature students were admitted for full-time studies based largely on academic results, unlike admissions for part-time courses that give credit for work experience.

With the change, the polytechnics will take into account the job experience of working adults, even if they do not meet the cut-off in terms of academic points.

The five polytechnics now admit about 400 working adults into their full-time diploma programmes each year. They make up a small percentage of overall numbers - this year, for instance, about 24,000 students enrolled in full-time diploma courses at the five polytechnics.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said the intake size for mature students is not fixed and would depend on the size and quality of the applicant pool each year. Places are set aside for working adults so that the admission chances of students from secondary schools and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) will not be hurt.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who announced the change earlier this year, said academic grades attained years earlier "do not fully reflect the current eligibility of applicants".

Even if their previous academic grades fail to get them in, working adults can show that they have the specified skill sets for their chosen courses through supplementary assessments designed and administered by the polytechnics.

For example, working adults applying to Ngee Ann Polytechnic's infocomm and digital technologies courses may be assessed on logic and computational thinking, as well as general coding competencies.

When he announced the scheme, Mr Ong had said: "What this means is there is no rush for those who are interested in further studies." He encouraged working adults to gain relevant experience, adding that they can go back to the polytechnics later to deepen their skills on a part-time or full-time basis.

Working adults generally need at least two years of work experience before applying, and should submit employment records and employer recommendations.

The admission changes apply only to Singapore citizens and permanent residents.

MOE had also announced another change for working adults - from academic year 2020, working adults can apply to polytechnics via the Early Admissions Exercise as well, which so far is only for students enrolled in schools.

Saturday 15 December 2018

Inconvenient truth: Climate change low on voters' priorities

By Charles Lane, Published The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2018

This year, California recorded its deadliest wildfire in state history. The combined intensity and duration of the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans' tropical storms and hurricanes reached a new recorded high. Worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are projected to break another record this year.

It's time to take a clear-eyed look at the science behind these developments - the political science. The data shows that, for all the evidence that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous, and despite wide public acceptance of those propositions, people in the United States do not necessarily want to stop climate change, in the sense of being willing to pay the cost - which is the only sense that really matters.

"The public's level of concern about climate change has not risen meaningfully over the past two decades and addressing the problem with government action ranks among one of the lowest priorities for Americans," according to a comprehensive review of public opinion literature published last year by associate professors Patrick Egan of New York University and Megan Mullin of Duke University.

In a series of open-ended Gallup surveys this year asking Americans to name the "most important problem facing the country", environmental issues never scored above 3 per cent.

Even before the recent riots against French President Emmanuel Macron's climate change-related fuel tax hike in France, there was a quieter backlash of sorts in the US: Anti-fossil fuel referendums lost in Colorado, Washington and Arizona during last month's election.

Undoubtedly, there have been well-funded efforts to sow climate change scepticism in recent decades, as Prof Egan and Prof Mullin note.

US President Donald Trump is now amplifying that message. This could not have helped the climate change movement, even if scholars have yet to identify a "causal link" between such campaigns and individual attitudes, according to Prof Egan and Prof Mullin.

Of course, the climate change movement was not exactly silent during recent history.

What's crucial, after accounting for the battle between the movement and its opponents, is the inherent nature of climate change as a political issue: It requires voters to accept "upfront costs that, if successful, will stave off never-to-be experienced long-term damage - policy for which election-oriented politicians can easily foresee receiving blame instead of credit", Prof Egan and Prof Mullin note.

Slashing carbon emissions is a cause that "has no core constituency with a concentrated interest in policy change", while "a majority of people benefit from arrangements that cause" climate change.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Singapore-Malaysia maritime and airspace disputes: Officials of both countries to meet in the second week of January 2019


Singapore acts to prevent unilateral third-party arbitration amid maritime boundary dispute with Malaysia
Negotiations best option; both sides to agree on terms if it comes to third-party settlement
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Dec 2018

Singapore is taking steps to ensure that no country can unilaterally initiate third-party arbitration or adjudication on maritime boundary disputes against the Republic.

Likewise, Singapore has committed itself to not starting such proceedings against any other party on its own.

Singapore has informed Malaysia that it has filed a declaration under Article 298(1)(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as it hopes to resolve such issues through talks.

"Singapore believes that maritime boundary delimitation disputes are best resolved through negotiations, in order to reach an amicable settlement acceptable to all of the parties," said a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"However, if this cannot be achieved, Singapore is prepared to settle such a dispute by recourse to an appropriate international third-party dispute settlement procedure, on terms mutually agreed to by the parties."

This would include the specific issues to be decided.

Asked why Singapore prefers to take the negotiation route first, the MFA spokesman said: "Settling maritime boundaries through negotiations allows the parties to reach an outcome which is acceptable to them in the long term."

The declaration was lodged with the United Nations in New York, and it comes after both Singapore and Malaysia have agreed to meet next month to resolve a dispute regarding Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas. The neighbours signed UNCLOS in 1982.

The MFA spokesman also said: "Should a dispute arise that cannot be resolved through negotiations, Singapore will work with the other States Parties to agree on the choice of forum and the specific issues to be decided, in order that the matter can be submitted to arbitration or adjudication. This is preferable to one party taking another unilaterally to arbitration or adjudication without prior mutual agreement on these key issues."

The spokesman noted that many countries that have signed UNCLOS, such as France, Canada, Italy, Spain, Australia and Thailand, have made similar declarations.

International law experts told The Straits Times that making such a declaration helps Singapore avoid being taken by surprise should a unilateral claim be lodged against it.

The latest dispute began on Oct 25, when Kuala Lumpur unilaterally gazetted extended port limits for Johor Baru port, which encroached on the Republic's territorial waters. While a section of those waters has yet to be delimited, Singapore agencies have been patrolling them for decades.

Singapore has responded by extending its own port limits, and insisting that Malaysia withdraw its government vessels and return to the pre-Oct 25 status quo, without prejudice to its claims.

Kuala Lumpur has said it cannot do so, but is committed to de-escalate the situation.

Singapore has said it welcomed Malaysia's moves to defuse tensions, and officials from both sides are expected to meet in the second week of next month to discuss the port limits issue.

The MFA spokesman said: "Singapore hopes that by engaging each other, the two governments will reach a swift and amicable resolution, in accordance with international law."

The spokesman added: "Singapore will continue to uphold international law and remains committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law."

Hip cafe run by seniors has the recipe for active ageing: SASCO @Khatib

They pick up new skills, build new ties at cafe that forms part of VWO's senior activity centre
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2018

In a brightly lit space right next to Khatib MRT station, baristas togged out in striped aprons pull espresso shots and steam milk to create latte art.

Meanwhile, customers sip their brew as a large poster near the entrance greets patrons with cheeky puns: "How do I feel when there is no coffee? Depresso, Kopiless, Lattegic."

The trendy cafe is located in a 356 sq m space at the void deck of a multi-storey carpark at Block 813 Khatib Court. The cafe is part of a senior activity centre which SASCO Senior Citizens' Home opened in October last year.

The voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) aims to help senior citizens remain relevant in the community by helping them learn new skills, and having a cafe means that new relationships and community networks can be developed across generations as well, said Ms Germaine Ong, head of the home's social enterprise department.

She added that the cafe was designed by employees of the VWO.

SASCO, or the Singapore Amalgamated Services Co-operative Organisation, was established on Nov 16, 1933, as a coordinating body for 12 thrift and loan cooperatives.

The VWO under the cooperative runs a shelter for the elderly destitute, four daycare centres for the aged and two senior activity centres.

Of the cafe, Ms Ong, 39, said: "We wanted to make this a hip space where seniors can be seen differently, and help seniors elevate their sense of self-worth by staying on top of trends, such as the popularity of gourmet coffee these days."

A total of 15 retirees aged between 54 and 77 now serve as senior volunteers at the cafe. They are paid a token sum for performing tasks such as brewing coffee, serving buns from a popular Japanese bakery and manning the cash register.

Daily operations at the cafe, which is open from 9am to 9pm from Monday to Saturday, are customised to meet the seniors' needs, said Ms Ong.

For instance, a bun and a coffee set costs $3.50, so that the seniors do not have to figure out the different prices.

They go through basic training in food hygiene and customer service before they embark on their shifts, which are structured around their schedule and needs. Most live near the senior activity centre, which offers free or subsidised classes for senior citizens, such as English and baking classes.

Monday 10 December 2018

Singapore Bicentennial: Journeying back 700 years

Creative NDP veterans promise 'cinematic and engaging' Bicentennial showcase
Story of Singapore will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 9 Dec 2018

They have staged four National Day Parades between them.

Now, theatre director Beatrice Chia-Richmond and media consultant and playwright Michael Chiang are hard at work putting together one of the biggest events of next year - the Bicentennial showcase at Fort Canning Centre.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, they promised a "cinematic and engaging" experience for Singaporeans as they take them on a journey beginning in 1299.

Mrs Chia-Richmond, 44, who was creative director of the 2011 and 2016 National Day Parades, said it will be unlike traditional classroom history lessons which tend to involve giant, dusty tomes and the memorisation of key dates, facts and who did what.

Instead, the story of Singapore over 700 years will be told through sets, live performances and multimedia.

All that Singaporeans have to do is turn up and enjoy the show.

"From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience @ Fort Canning" has been split into two main sections: The Time Traveller and Pathfinder.

The Time Traveller segment is divided into five acts.

The first will depict the "epicness" of the first 500 years of Singapore's history starting from 1299.

Mr Chiang, 64, who was the scriptwriter for the 2010 and 2014 National Day Parades, said one highlight is the depiction of the fierce naval battles which took place off the coast of Changi between the Portuguese and Dutch over trade in Asia in 1603.

They noted that the naval battles show that Singapore was already in the forefront of global and regional events.

Mrs Chia-Richmond said that while Singaporeans are used to the retelling of history from the Singaporean perspective, the showcase as a whole will look at the island's history from the point of view of the rest of the world.

The next act delves into the events surrounding the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Act 3, which covers 1900 to 1930, aims to portray the dynamic city that was being built, and its underlying tensions. Visitors will get to sit in a rotating rotunda with props such as a recreated pilgrim ship. They will get to watch and experience its bustling port, cars running on the island's freshly built roads, and the arrival of the first trains running between Singapore and Malaya which transported local products.

Act 4 depicts Singapore under siege during World War II while Act 5 tackles the story of modern Singapore.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Singapore and Malaysia dispute over airspace and territorial waters

* Singapore-Malaysia officials to meet in the second week of January 2019 to discuss maritime dispute

Khaw Boon Wan tells Malaysian ships to back off as Singapore expands its own port limits and says it will act firmly if Malaysian vessels continue to intrude
Transport Minister urges dialogue on maritime row, but vows firm action to protect sovereignty
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2018

Malaysia should "back off" and leave Singapore's waters.

That was the firm message from Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday, as he urged Singapore's closest neighbour to pursue dialogue instead of "blatant provocation" to resolve the row over port limits and territorial waters.

Mr Khaw revealed that in the past two weeks, there have been 14 incursions by Malaysian government vessels into Singapore's waters.

Three of these vessels were still in Singapore territory yesterday, he told the media. Singapore decided to expand its own port limits in response to Malaysia's action, he said.

And while the Republic has so far responded with restraint against the "aggressive actions" by the Malaysian vessels in its waters, it will not hesitate to act firmly to protect its territory and sovereignty, if necessary, Mr Khaw said.

"My main message today is... Back off. Leave our waters while we pursue sit-down dialogues and try to resolve it."

Mr Khaw outlined how the incursions stemmed from Malaysia's unilateral decision in October to extend the Johor Baru port limits into Singapore's territorial waters, a move which the Republic protested.

"Malaysian government vessels have since been continually intruding into Singapore territorial waters off Tuas," Mr Khaw said.

Singapore's expansion of its port limits, with immediate effect, is well within its own territorial waters, he added. "It is... a reaction to this provocative action on the part of Malaysia, but we do it properly, in accordance with international law, and certainly do not infringe on our neighbour's rights."

In the meantime, he added, Singapore's security agencies will continue to patrol the area and respond to unauthorised activities.

They have so far responded with restraint. "But Singapore cannot allow our sovereignty to be violated, or new facts on the ground to be created," Mr Khaw said. "Therefore, if it becomes necessary, we will not hesitate to take firm actions against intrusions and unauthorised activities in our waters to protect our territory and sovereignty."

Mr Khaw noted that since at least 1999, Singapore has been exercising its jurisdiction in the waters now covered by the recent extension of the Johor Baru port limits.

"Malaysia has never laid claim to these waters, or protested our actions there. Now, out of the blue, Malaysia is claiming these territorial waters that belong to Singapore," he said.

"This is a blatant provocation and a serious violation of our sovereignty and international law."

On Wednesday, Malaysia argued that Singapore cannot claim the area as its territorial waters on the basis of its reclamation works in Tuas in recent years.

But Mr Khaw responded that Malaysia had published a map in 1979, when no reclamation in Tuas had taken place. The new, purported, Johor Baru port limits now extend even beyond Malaysia's own territorial claim line, into Singapore's waters.

Malaysia had replied to say its vessels were patrolling its own territorial waters - a claim Singapore rejected. Malaysia had also proposed that the two sides meet to resolve the issue. "Singapore naturally agrees to this and will follow up," Mr Khaw said.

But he added: "This violation of Singapore's sovereignty is a serious new issue in our bilateral relations with Malaysia," he said, adding that Singaporeans have to be fully aware of these developments.

"While we seek cooperation and friendship with other countries, we must never let other countries take advantage of us. When our national interests are challenged, we have to quietly but firmly stand our ground and stay united as one people."