Wednesday 30 May 2018

Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail scrapped, says Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad

#%*@ Roti Prata Alert: HSR postponed, not scrapped, says Mahathir two weeks after axing project
By Trinna Leong, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2018

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the High-Speed Rail (HSR) link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is "postponed", and not scrapped.

Tun Dr Mahathir, in Japan on his first trip abroad since his Pakatan Harapan pact won the general election last month, told Nikkei Asian Review on Monday that the HSR was temporarily shelved due to its high costs.

He reiterated at a press briefing in Tokyo for Malaysian media yesterday that his new administration needs to study the multibillion-dollar rail project.

"In a way, it's postponed. At this moment, we need to re-study and, if we are short of funds, we can delay the implementation of the project or reduce the scope of project," he said.

His comments come less than two weeks after Malaysia announced that it was axing the RM72 billion (S$24.3 billion) HSR project as it moved into austerity mode and sought to slash its RM1 trillion federal debt.

Dr Mahathir had said then that the HSR and other mega projects signed off by the previous administration would be revisited once Malaysia's finances improved.

In his interview with Nikkei, Dr Mahathir acknowledged the need for high-speed rail in the future but said Malaysia "cannot afford it at this moment". "We cannot say we will never have high-speed rail in Malaysia," he told the Japanese publication. The HSR deal was signed by Malaysia and Singapore in December 2016, with the 350km link scheduled to begin services in December 2026. It would cut travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to 90 minutes, from four hours by car currently.

The line was to have eight stations, with one in Singapore's Jurong East.

Singapore's Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in a statement on June 1, said the Republic has "requested the Malaysian government through diplomatic channels to clarify Malaysia's position on the project".

Mr Khaw said should Malaysia cancel the project, Singapore will study the implications and exercise its rights - including any right to compensation for expenses - in accordance with the terms of the bilateral agreement signed in 2016.

Malaysia had earlier indicated that there was a RM500 million compensation payment to be made if the deal was cancelled.

Monday 28 May 2018

ElderShield to be replaced by CareShield Life with higher, lifetime payouts from 2020; Parliamentary Debate on ElderShield Review Committee Report, 10 July 2018

New compulsory CareShield Life replaces optional ElderShield in 2020, will offer wider coverage for severely disabled
Scheme to be run by Government instead of private insurers will include everyone from age 30
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 May 2018

Another piece of the jigsaw to prepare Singapore for its ageing population, a national long-term care insurance to provide financial aid to those afflicted with severe disability, will be launched in 2020.

Called CareShield Life, the government-run scheme will be compulsory, automatically getting everyone who will be between the ages of 30 and 40 in 2020 to start paying premiums. Future cohorts will join at the age of 30.

For them, the scheme replaces the optional ElderShield, offered by private insurers. CareShield's scope of coverage is also wider.

Premiums start at $206 a year for men and $253 a year for women at the age of 30. They will make 38 payments until the age of 67.

Should disability strike and a policyholder require care, he will receive a payout of at least $600 a month, for as long as care is needed.

In contrast, the ElderShield scheme pays $400 a month for up to six years, but with lower premiums paid over a shorter period.

People above 40 in 2020 have the option of sticking with ElderShield or switching to the new scheme in 2021 by topping up their premiums.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that over the past three years, the Government "has been preparing Singaporeans for an ageing population", including providing more nursing home and day-care facilities, the Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life.

This review "is another important step in this journey", he said.

"It is an important strategy for us, an important part of our social safety network for Singaporeans in terms of long-term care. It also reflects the inclusive society that we aspire to build."

To ensure premiums are affordable no matter the family's income, Medisave can be used to fully pay for it. There will be permanent premium subsidies of 20 per cent to 30 per cent for people who qualify, and additional support for those who still cannot afford the premiums.

People who are disabled at the age of 30 years will make one premium payment to join, and can start collecting payouts immediately.

Ramadan ad puts spotlight on harmony in Singapore

The Sunday Times, 27 May 2018

The warm public response to an advertisement, put up by McDonald's Singapore for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, is a heartwarming reminder of how much Singaporeans share in spite of the religious and racial diversity here. The advertisement features a McDonald's delivery rider on a typical day in his life during the fasting month. He makes deliveries as usual although he is fasting and goes out of his way to help others, as he is expected to do, especially during Ramadan.

The advertisement ends with his making a delivery to a non-Muslim, who notices that it is time for the rider to break his fast. The customer invites him to do so with a McDonald's happy sharing box. The advertisement ends with the tagline: "Share the spirit of Ramadan."

The advertisement's impact, including internationally, reflects its simple yet deft capture of a slice of the real Singapore. This is a country where freedom of religion is an intrinsic part of the national pursuit of peace and harmony among all the communities. Each faith group takes the others as a living reality without which Singapore cannot be imagined. True to its name, the secular state does not possess a religion of its own and does not privilege one faith over another, but it is not anti-religious. It merely strives to keep the social playing field level for members of all faiths.

In that inclusive national environment, people can reach out to others without fear of the dilution of their own religious identities. That reaching out is a work in progress and should be second nature to Singaporeans. This habitual co-existence forms the bedrock of the religious harmony that sets Singaporeans apart from so many others elsewhere who suffer the punishment of religious exclusivity, extremism and violence every day.

If there is one quality to be cherished particularly among the many blessings of this land, it is that it belongs equally to all, regardless of race, language or religion.

Sunday 27 May 2018

Tan Gee Paw: Singapore's bid to be a top global city and the loss of engineering expertise in the public sector

Why a three-day week in the office is enough
By Elgin Toh, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 26 May 2018

At 74, veteran public servant Tan Gee Paw still thinks about how Singapore should develop as a city.

After retiring last year as chairman of water agency PUB, he was near the city centre one day when the sight of skyscrapers led him to the idea that a three-day week in the office is enough to get work done, as it is possible to work the other days from home. That might revolutionise "the shape and structure of our urbanisation" as office buildings will consume less utilities and workers commute less.

The engineer behind the cleanup of the Singapore River in the 1970s spent most of his 50-year public service career in water resources development. Since retiring, he has advised Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on rail transformation. He was recently appointed distinguished adviser to the government think-tank, Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC).

After the appointment, Mr Tan spoke with The Straits Times in an interview, moderated by CLC executive director Khoo Teng Chye, about Singapore's bid to be a top global city and the loss of engineering expertise in the public sector.

Q: What is the next task for Singapore as a city?

A: When we started urbanisation in the late 1960s, I was a young engineer in the public service. We were guided by a consuming national psyche of survival. As our founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew often said: "No one owes us a living." There was urgency in all that we did. We had to make up for lost time.

As squatter colonies were cleared, we built HDB flats frantically. Low-rise six-to eight-storey blocks, one flat every 45 minutes, no frills. Our street hawkers were hastily re-sited to hawker centres with basic amenities of water, sewerage system and waste removal. Our schools were classrooms, a canteen and a field.

As I drive along expressways today, I see a dense forest of new HDB flats, rising 20 to 30 storeys, gleaming white in the sun. It fills me with pride. It underscores a new psyche: "The race has begun." This race is not just about survival, but also about becoming a top global city.

A focal event of the race is disruptive digital technologies that will impact almost every aspect of our lives and the economy. One example is artificial intelligence (AI), which has been around for many decades but is only recently maturing.

Q: Are we embracing such technologies with enough boldness?

A: Singapore's stance of being open to and yet cautious about the large-scale adoption of such technology is the correct one. It is best to try it offline on a pilot scale before plunging in. We have only one city - we can't mess it up. But we must be aware of advances and keep our infrastructure flexible so we can incorporate the technology when it becomes proven.

Q: Some won't like the idea of a top global city. Why not be a comfortable home for locals, where prices are not so high and life is not so hectic?

A: I used to feel the same way.

Q: What changed your mind?

A: The catalyst was my visit to Shanghai 20 years ago. I was truly awakened. It was like 10 Singapores on the move with everyone hungry for success. It must be more so now, and for many other Chinese cities.

As a small country with no natural resources, we either remain a top city or we will spiral to the bottom. There is no halfway rest stop. Cities with a large hinterland can find comfort in a rest stop. We don't have the luxury. If we spiral downwards, we may return to the poverty of the 1940s: A family of six living in a windowless rental room filled with the acrid smoke of burning incense. The preferred toilet is a sheet of paper on the floor, in a corner.

JTC celebrates its 50th anniversary

JTC hailed for pioneering role in Singapore's progress
It has spearheaded projects that bring jobs, investments and renew urban landscape: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 May 2018

When JTC Corporation set out to build the CleanTech Park in Nanyang Avenue six years ago, it discovered the area was home to a rich ecosystem, including some endangered butterfly species.

It could have bulldozed everything, but it chose to preserve the area's biodiversity for future generations, JTC's cluster group director Leow Thiam Seng said.

So, the agency carried out surveys, adjusted its plans to minimise disturbance to the environment, and even specially selected plants for the project that would help the butterflies thrive.

The approach reflects the evolution of JTC over the years, from an agency formed in 1968 to industrialise Singapore into one that spearheads projects that not only bring investments and jobs, but also renews the urban landscape.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary dinner of JTC at Shangri-La Hotel last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong underscored a similar message, highlighting the key role the agency has played in Singapore's progress.

"You have often been the front runner and pathfinder, constantly pushing boundaries, breaking new ground, building new partnerships, he said. "I hope you will continue to build on your legacy of high standards and bold ambitions."

Formed "amid great urgency" in 1968 as Singapore was finding its feet soon after independence, JTC's first project, the Jurong Industrial Estate, was meant to show the world that a young Singapore was an attractive and safe place to do business.

PM Lee said 1,800 acres of land and millions of dollars were set aside for it, but only two companies, NatSteel and Pelican Textiles, had production plants there.

Then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee had famously warned that the project would go down in posterity as "Goh's Folly" should it fail.

Recounting this, PM Lee said: "Behind Dr Goh's statement was the absolute determination to make sure that Singapore succeeded in industrialising our economy and creating jobs for our people."

In the end, 300 factories were built by 1968, providing jobs for 21,000 people.

Over the years, PM Lee said, JTC's mission changed as Singapore's economy diversified beyond manufacturing.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

NDP 2018 Theme Song: We Are Singapore

New National Day Parade song is updated version of 1987's We Are Singapore
Song rewritten with new lyrics in line with this year's theme bearing the same name
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 23 May 2018

The theme song for this year's National Day Parade will be a modern take on the 1987 classic We Are Singapore, and is updated by local singer Charlie Lim.

Lim, 29, who has rewritten the verses of Hugh Harrison's song to include lyrics like "the future is uncertain and everything must change", unveiled the song to the media at The Float @ Marina Bay yesterday. The theme and logo of this year's parade were also revealed.

Lim, who performed a live acoustic rendition of the song, said: "They wanted to refresh the song which was written in 1987 and was very relevant in its time, but I think now we want to look at things from a younger generation's perspective."

To come up with the song, Lim spent a week watching YouTube videos of old NDP songs to figure out what worked. "It was kind of scary to take on something that everyone knows and sings," he said.

"I recorded a demo in my bedroom and we actually used that."

NDP 2018 executive committee chairman Alfred Fox said the theme for this year, We Are Singapore, captures the unity of Singaporeans. The logo encompasses the crescent and five stars within the word "Singapore" sitting in a speech bubble.

"The theme is enduring, clear and direct," said Brigadier-General Fox. "It means many different things to many different people and if you ask Singaporeans, it is about geography, it is about culture, identity, vision, even food to some. It's really who we are and encapsulates many different meanings."

Monday 21 May 2018

Government has to make good case for GST hike and ensure lower-income given support: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Government will ensure those affected by GST hike get help they need: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 20 May 2018

PUTRAJAYA • In implementing a future GST hike, Singapore's Government will have to work very hard to not just win over voters, but also ensure that those who will be affected significantly get the help they need, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We have given a lot of notice. There is time to explain, and there is time to work out how exactly we will make sure that Singaporeans are given the right support in order to be able to live with a new tax," he said. "It is something which we are taking very seriously indeed."

PM Lee was speaking to Singapore reporters in Malaysia's administrative capital after separate meetings with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as well as Pakatan Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

In one of its first decisions, Malaysia's new government will slash its goods and services tax (GST) - which was introduced in 2015 - from 6 per cent to zero per cent from June 1, in keeping with a campaign promise by the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

It has, however, said it will reintroduce the sales and service tax and is taking other major steps, such as stamping out wasteful projects, to plug the shortfall.

PM Lee was asked by Singapore reporters whether this development would make it harder for the Singapore Government to sell the GST hike to Singaporeans.

Singapore had in February announced plans to raise the GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025.

PM Lee had in Parliament last Wednesday cited how Malaysia's experience with the GST highlighted trust as a crucial factor in determining whether citizens will accept or reject an unpopular policy.

Yesterday, he said: "Raising a tax is never an easy thing to do... Each case is different, the circumstances in every country is different, but every time you want to raise a tax, it is never a light matter. It is never an easy decision to make.

"You have to work very hard to make sure you have a very good case to be able to explain to voters why you are doing this, what you are using the money for, and to persuade them that you know what you are doing and they can trust you.

Sunday 20 May 2018

Vulnerable Adults Act passed in Parliament on 18 May 2018

New law ensures protection of the vulnerable
It lets MSF officials step in to keep seniors and people with disabilities safe from abuse
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

A long-awaited law that allows the Government to step in and protect seniors and people with disabilities from abuse and neglect was passed in Parliament yesterday.

The Vulnerable Adults Act will allow officials from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to enter private premises to assess a person's well-being.

It will also grant officials powers to temporarily relocate vulnerable adults to safe places such as shelters and disability homes.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee stressed that the law will be invoked only as a last resort in high-risk cases, where family and community interventions may not be effective.

"In cases like this, the Government must take a proactive approach and intervene early, as any delays may lead to further harm, or worse," he said, adding that the law must not replace the social work supporting vulnerable adults and their caregivers.

First mooted in October 2014, the Bill was more than three years in the making.

Yesterday, Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Workers' Party (WP) Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked why it took so long.

Mr Lee said extensive consultations and studies were needed. "This Bill involves intrusive statutory intervention in the realm of family and personal matters, so we did not want to rush this."

The new law will accord protection to whistle-blowers and professionals, in a move to encourage people to help vulnerable adults.

Among other things, it also raises the penalties for offences committed against vulnerable adults, to deter abuse and neglect.

Saturday 19 May 2018

Debate on President's Address 2018

4G leaders will listen to people's views, launch discussion series: Heng Swee Keat
Heng Swee Keat pledges they will consider all views from various groups with open mind
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2018

The debate on the President's Address wrapped up yesterday with Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing that 4G ministers will launch a series of discussions with various groups in society to share their ideas and listen to Singaporeans' views on them.

Disclosing this in his speech wrapping up the week-long debate, he pledged that the younger ministers would consider all views with an open mind.

"We will partner Singaporeans each step of the way in our journey of building our future Singapore. The fourth-generation leadership will listen with humility and respect.

"We will consider all views with an open mind, and adjust our course accordingly. We will communicate the thinking behind our decisions clearly. We will bring Singaporeans together and give everyone a role to turn good ideas into concrete action."

Details on the discussion series will be given after the Government takes stock of the parliamentary debate, he added.

The need to keep their ears to the ground and foster trust between the 4G and the electorate was a theme that emerged in the debate the past five days.

About 70 MPs and ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, spoke.

The House discussed issues highlighted in President Halimah Yacob's speech last week on behalf of the Government, setting out its plans for the rest of its term.

These include growing the economy, reducing inequality and leadership transition. The 4G leaders also set out their plans to deal with geopolitical shifts, technological disruptions and social schisms.

Mr Heng, the last among them to speak, sought to elaborate on how they will achieve their vision for Singapore.

Each generation of Singapore's leaders has, at critical junctures, worked to strengthen this trust, he noted as he vowed the 4G leaders are as committed to doing so.

Equally important for the Government is to bring out the best in every Singaporean, he said.

It is "the central question that should occupy each generation of leaders... 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G or 10G", he added. "Because Singaporeans are at the heart of everything this Government does."

Harnessing the strengths of people will become even more crucial as Singapore faces ever more complex challenges, Mr Heng said.

Friday 18 May 2018

Ministerial Statement on National Service Training Deaths by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen in Parliament on 17 May and 6 August 2018

Tighter discipline and safety rules following NSF deaths
Trust placed in Govt to keep enlistees safe during NS won't be taken lightly: Ministers
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 18 May 2018

The trust that Singaporeans place in the Government to keep their children safe during national service will not be taken lightly, and commanders at all levels are responsible for ensuring safety.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made this pledge in Parliament yesterday as they revealed moves to tighten safety rules and discipline after deaths of two full-time national servicemen (NSFs).

One was a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldier who died during training, and another a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who drowned after taking part in a prohibited ragging ritual.

Referring to the SAF case, Dr Ng said: "We must constantly improve the rigour of our safety systems. If we don't, it will mean another precious soldier lost to a family."

He said the External Review Panel on SAF Safety - an existing group comprising senior medical consultants and academics that scrutinises the military's safety management - will have a member appointed to Committees of Inquiry (COIs) to address potential lapses.

COIs are to submit reports to the panel, which will make the findings public after it reviews them.

Separately, Mr Shanmugam said new measures will be taken against unauthorised activities such as ragging, adding that more information will be released next week.

He stressed that it is the command's responsibility to ensure that unauthorised activities are not repeated. "Parents send their children to NS, they trust us. We have to maintain their trust."

The pledges come after the deaths of two NSFs within a fortnight.

On Sunday, SCDF Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, died after a ragging ritual went awry at Tuas View Fire Station. Criminal charges are "almost certain", Mr Shanmugam said. Two SCDF regulars have been arrested, with more being probed.

On April 30, Corporal First Class (CFC) Dave Lee Han Xuan, a 19-year-old Guardsman, died in hospital, close to two weeks after he displayed heat injuries during training.

A COI has been convened to investigate his death. A coroner's inquiry may be held, pending the outcome of police investigations.

An external medical panel would also be set up to recommend how measures and policies in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on heat injuries can be improved.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Harbhajan Singh: Veteran nurse has no plans to retire

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series The Lives They Live.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 May 2018

Mr Harbhajan Singh works in a hospital and some patients have mistaken him for a security guard.

"My father was a watchman, but I am a nurse," he said with a laugh.

The 77-year-old started working as a nurse in the Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) accident and emergency department in 1962 after three years in its nursing school.

In 1965, Mr Singh was posted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) as a tuberculosis nurse. More than 50 years later, he still works in the hospital. He has worked for 42 years in its wards and is one of the longest-serving nurses at TTSH.

In 2015, TTSH gave him the title of "Emeritus Fellow", an award normally given to doctors. He is the only nurse to have received the award from the hospital so far.

But Mr Singh almost did not become a nurse.

After passing his Senior Cambridge exams, the Gan Eng Seng School alumnus decided to apply to join the civil service, which held a recruitment drive in 1959. "We had to write down our choices. My first choice was teaching, second choice was nursing, and third choice, laboratory assistant," he recalled.

The interviewer told him he was more suited to be a nurse, he said.

"Maybe the interviewer felt that I should be a nurse because I was already living near SGH," he said in jest. At that time, he was living with his father and mother, a housewife, as well as two brothers and a sister in a village near SGH.

Mr Singh accepted the offer of a place in the nursing school. His parents were supportive of his move.

"Nurses care for people. Nursing has a good image," he said.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

Why school sports matter

By Lim Say Heng, The Straits Times, 14 May 2018

Many simple yet profound lessons occur at the National School Games (NSG).

For M. Anumanthan, now a 23-year-old professional footballer with Home United and an established Singapore international, the importance of discipline was a much-needed education.

He had the talent but lacked the right character, until his St Gabriel's Secondary School coach Clement Teo intervened and changed Anumanthan's attitude and his life.

Anumanthan stopped skipping classes, dedicated himself to fulfilling his football dreams and helped his school to the South Zone B Division title in 2010.

"That was when I truly believed in what coach had been constantly telling me to do," Anumanthan said in a previous Straits Times interview. "His advice made me see the right way to go if I was to become a national footballer.

"I'm grateful to have had someone to show me the way."

Three years later, the midfielder claimed a bronze medal at the 2013 SEA Games and was voted the 2016 S-League Young Player of the Year.

Stories like Anumanthan's highlight the role school sports play in the national ecosystem.

Monday 14 May 2018

Heng Swee Keat on career, health and that Prime Minister question

Lunch With Sumiko: Heng Swee Keat's steely resolve behind genial manner
Soft-spoken and polite, Heng Swee Keat comes with a solid CV and a wealth of experience
By Sumiko Tan, Executive Editor, The Sunday Times, 13 May 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat remembers how, as a young police officer, he encountered a traffic light that was not working and had to get out of his patrol car to marshal traffic.

There he was, smack in the middle of Lower Delta Road with honking cars whizzing by. He had to impose some order quickly.

"You have to do some gut feel and say, 'OK, enough cars have passed, let me now not cause a hold-up'," he recalls.

That gut feeling also guided him when, as commander of Jurong Police Division later, he and his men had to raid construction sites to sniff out illegal immigrants.

Police operations involve split-second decision-making.

"You decide what you do there and then. Arrest, not arrest. Shoot, don't shoot."

He says all this in his trademark mild-mannered way, but his eyes are serious. It occurs to me suddenly that he's someone who would not hesitate to do what's necessary.

The man considered to be one of the front runners to be Singapore's next prime minister has a reputation for being decent and likeable.

Up close, Mr Heng, 57, is indeed amiable and polite. He is soft-spoken, speaks in clear, complete paragraphs and has an engaging way of relating anecdotes. He uses the word "nice" a lot and has a calming presence.

Behind this modest, genial front, though, is an impressive curriculum vitae.

In his career that spans 30-plus years, he has been a police officer, principal private secretary to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, senior civil servant, head of Singapore's central bank and education minister, and is now Finance Minister.

His wealth of experience - both in policymaking and hands-on operations - means he is comfortable with both police constables and G-20 ministers, students and central bankers.

And that mild manner, I discover during our 2½-hour lunch, also belies a steely resolve and a strong sense of fair play.

HE HAS chosen to meet at Our Tampines Hub in his Tampines GRC ward.

It is my first visit to the Hub, which opened last year and is billed as Singapore's first integrated community and lifestyle destination. He has arranged for me to get a tour prior to our lunch. It has left me envious and open-mouthed with awe.

A Mother's Day tribute to Mrs C.V. Devan Nair, wife of Singapore's third President from brothers Janadas and Janamitra

Mother was our world
By K. Kanagalatha, Associate Editor, Tamil Murasu, The Sunday Times, 13 May 2018

She married her childhood sweetheart and stood by him as he went from anti-colonial fighter to political prisoner to founder of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to President of Singapore.

Ms Avadai Dhanalakshimi, wife of Singapore's third President C.V. Devan Nair, was a mother of four - three boys and a girl - who held the family together through tumultuous times.

She also had a brief political career of her own. Indeed, when Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, she and her husband held elected seats in different countries.

She supported and encouraged him in his struggles and fearlessly faced the challenges that life threw at her.

At the same time, she was a typical Tamil woman of her time, a loving but strict mother.

It was she who drove the children to school and to their extra-curricular activities, took them swimming, and made sure they were fed and clothed properly.

That is how her children remember her.

Said eldest son Janadas Devan, 64, Chief of Government Communications: "Our home and life revolved around our mother. Our father couldn't have achieved what he did without my mother by his side.

"Indeed, he might not have thrown himself into politics, when it was terribly risky to do so - he could have lost his life - if he didn't feel my mother could take care of the children if something happened to him."

Saturday 12 May 2018

Singapore to host Trump-Kim summit on 12 June 2018 at Sentosa's Capella Hotel

** June 12 Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un is back on: Donald Trump
Singapore will play role to be good host, working to ensure smooth meeting, says Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen
By Tan Dawn Wei, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 3 Jun 2018

It is all systems go: United States President Donald Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, under the full glare of the world and the roughly 3,000 journalists who are expected to converge on the island state.

Mr Trump made the surprise announcement shortly after receiving Mr Kim's right-hand man and former spy chief Kim Yong Chol at the White House, where the North Korean general handed the US President an unusually large letter from his leader in Pyongyang.

"We are going to deal, and we are really going to start a process," said Mr Trump to reporters on Friday, adding that the summit on June 12 may not immediately yield an agreement. "Remember what I say: We will see what we will see."

Mr Trump also dialled back on the rhetoric, eight days after abruptly cancelling the high-stakes summit because of Pyongyang's "open hostility", softening his signature tough stance against the reclusive regime.

"We're getting along, so it's not a question of maximum pressure," he said.

The upcoming summit figured prominently at the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue yesterday after Mr Trump's confirmation of the date. Defence chiefs, top officials and experts gathered here for the regional security forum wondered if the summit would be held in the same hotel.

When asked by The Sunday Times how far along preparations were for the summit, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore would play its role to be a good host, and that various agencies are working hard to ensure the historic meeting would go smoothly.

"Many have commented that without Singapore, we would not have progressed so far. I don't respond to these comments, I just take it as an affirmation of the work that our officials have done to get us this far," said Dr Ng after he hosted a lunch for defence ministers, whom he asked for a show of hands about the upcoming talks.

"I asked them, despite all the caveats and some doubts, whether on balance this meeting between the US and DPRK (North Korea) was positive, and an overwhelming majority thought so," he said.

"It's a constructive and even a concrete step forward. Let's just hope and plan, and if it takes place, let's hope for the best."

Dr Ng also confirmed that Singapore will bear the security cost of hosting the summit, adding: "It's a cost we're willing to bear to play a small part."

North Korea's immediate neighbours took the news of the confirmed summit differently.

Friday 11 May 2018

Malaysia General Election 2018: Mahathir Mohamad sworn in as country's 7th Prime Minister

New government will be business-friendly, says Mahathir after delayed ceremony
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief and Trinna Leong, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as Malaysia's seventh Prime Minister last night, hours after former premier Najib Razak said that he accepted the will of the people that handed Barisan Nasional (BN) a shock defeat which ended the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.

Following a series of press conferences in which he asserted that his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition clearly won Wednesday's vote and agreed to back him as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir was granted an audience with the King, Sultan Muhammad V, at 5pm.

But it would be five hours before he was officially declared Prime Minister, as he had to wait while leaders of the four parties in his coalition were interviewed by the King. The latter then invited the 92-year-old to form the next government and add to his 22 years of experience leading the country.

PH and its ally Parti Warisan Sabah won 121 seats in the 222-seat federal Parliament in the keenly contested May 9 general election, while BN secured 79 seats, in results that were ready by the wee hours of yesterday morning.

The palace received the official results from the Election Commission at 2.45pm yesterday.

However, the lag raised questions among the public, and on social media, prompting the Comptroller of the Royal Household Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz to say in a statement last night: "Istana Negara strongly refutes any allegation that His Majesty... delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister."

"His Majesty looks forward to working with Tun Dr Mahathir and his administration for the betterment of our nation and all its people," the statement added.

Confusion had erupted after messages went viral about a 9.30am swearing-in, which the palace had to deny. Later, it was expected that Dr Mahathir, now the world's oldest head of government, would be sworn in during his 5pm audience, which instead ended up being a test of his control of Parliament.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference after the ceremony, Dr Mahathir said the delay was "unavoidable because of certain official processes which we have to go through". "I would like to thank the people who supported us," he said.

He also gave the assurance that his administration would be business-friendly. "Malaysia has been a trading nation. You don't quarrel with your market," he said.

Having defeated the long-ruling BN, which he headed until 2003, and then left in 2016 after calling for Datuk Seri Najib's ouster over the scandal at state-owned fund 1MDB, Dr Mahathir had earlier asked to be sworn in "as soon as possible" after his PH crossed the threshold of a simple majority of 112 seats by early yesterday morning.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a congratulatory message on Facebook shortly after Dr Mahathir took his oath of office, saying he wished him and his team every success, and hoped "to catch up with him in person soon".

"Malaysia is a vital partner of Singapore, and our peoples share strong and deep bonds. I look forward to working with Tun Mahathir and the new government to enhance our cooperation. We can do much more together," he said.

Jurong Region Line, Singapore's 7th MRT line, to open from 2026

24-station line to boost accessibility as Jurong becomes home to new towns, second CBD
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 May 2018

The 24-station Jurong Region Line (JRL) will open from 2026, ramping up transport connectivity in Jurong, as it is transformed into a home for new towns, a second Central Business District (CBD) and an innovation district.

The 24km above-ground line will also serve residents in the Choa Chu Kang, Boon Lay and future Tengah estates, boosting accessibility to schools, industrial areas and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The medium-capacity JRL will use smaller train cars, which can carry between 150 and 200 commuters, compared with cars on other MRT lines, which have a capacity of more than 200. While JRL trains will have three cars each, a fourth car can be coupled to increase capacity.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who unveiled the JRL's alignment yesterday, said the line "marks a quantum leap" in the development of Jurong's transport infrastructure.

During a visit to the site of the North-South Line's future Canberra station, Mr Khaw said in a speech that the JRL will improve the resilience of the entire MRT network.

He said the JRL's two interchange stations at Choa Chu Kang (North-South Line) and Boon Lay (East-West Line) will offer commuters alternative travel routes, redistributing and relieving train loading between Choa Chu Kang and Jurong East stations. The JRL has a third interchange station at Jurong East, which links to the East-West and North-South lines.

A commuter going from Choa Chu Kang to NTU will have a shorter journey of 35 minutes with the JRL, saving 25 minutes.

The JRL system is designed with a headway, or train interval, of 90 seconds. The authorities plan to run the trains at intervals of between two and three minutes at the start. There will be two services - an eastern and a western route.

The JRL, Mr Khaw said, will go towards achieving the Government's vision for Jurong. It will help develop Jurong Lake District into the largest commercial hub outside the CBD and support the development of the future Jurong Innovation District. When these are fully developed, the JRL is expected to carry more than 500,000 commuters daily.

The JRL's opening also dovetails with the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail in Jurong, which is targeted to be ready by 2026.

Construction for the JRL is expected to start early next year.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Chan Chun Sing on traits next Prime Minister should have

Next PM must bring together the team, says Chan Chun Sing

Singapore recently saw a major Cabinet reshuffle, during which fourth-generation ministers stepped up to key positions. These younger leaders will also feature prominently in the new Parliament session, which opened on Monday. In the fourth of a series of interviews, The Straits Times speaks to Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing about his new portfolio, the 4G leadership and succession. The person should be able to understand their strengths and weaknesses and bring out the best in them, he says
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 9 May 2018

In Singapore, the People's Action Party politician is a curiously coy creature. Few publicly volunteer to step out to be an election candidate. Even fewer are willing to say that they want to be the country's next prime minister.

Asked why - and whether this is a necessarily healthy phenomenon, Mr Chan Chun Sing turns the question on this journalist instead: "What kind of people would you like to see leading the country? Would you like a bunch of politicians to be leading the country?"

Aren't politicians leading the country?

Hardly, says the new Minister for Trade and Industry. He goes on to make the distinction between a "political leader" and "a politician".

A political leader, he explains, is prepared to set aside his own agenda to put the country's interests first, take the necessary difficult decisions, and mobilise Singaporeans to overcome challenges together.

Whereas a politician, by conventional definition, is "probably just someone who is looking for the expedient option, perhaps for himself".

He adds firmly: "I always hope that our country will be led by political leaders and not just politicians. There is a difference."

During a recent interview with The Straits Times, Mr Chan neatly turns questions about his status as one of three front runners in the search for Singapore's next prime minister into opportunities to hold forth on the importance of teamwork.

Asked what traits he thinks the next prime minister should have, Mr Chan emphasises the collective over the individual.

This person should have the ability to bring the team together, understand their respective strengths and weaknesses, and bring out the best in them as a team, he says.

"For us, it is not just about having brilliant individuals working in isolation. For us, a core competitive advantage must always be that we can perform well as a team, that we can overlap each other's strengths and weaknesses," he says.

Asked if he has these attributes, Mr Chan demurs.

"I don't judge myself, and I think it is too early," says the 48-year-old.

Some observers reckon the recent Cabinet reshuffle has given Mr Chan an edge, as he will now gain experience handling the country's economic affairs to round out his track record in defence, the social sector and the labour movement. He oversees the Public Service Division as well, and remains deputy chairman of the People's Association.

On the chatter, Mr Chan says: "I never think about it in the ways that you described. It is not something that bothers me, it is not something that bothers many of us. I think we are much more focused on where the country is going; the challenges that we are facing now."

Does he have someone in mind to lead the fourth-generation of ministers? His response: "Times are fluid. What we need is a team with quite diverse skill sets so that you can have that certain resilience to the leadership team and also for the sake of the country."

So what are the qualities that each 4G team member brings to the table? "All of us have our strengths and weaknesses, so depending on the circumstances, depending on situations, we all play different roles," he says.

"I don't publicly comment on my peers nor my own strengths or weaknesses. I am not from that generation," he adds, laughing.