Tuesday 31 July 2018

Number of elderly suicides hits record high in 2017 as Singapore population ages; Consider legalising euthanasia

129 seniors took their own lives last year, even as figures dropped for other age groups
By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 30 July 2018

The number of seniors taking their own lives hit a record high last year even as the total number of suicides dipped - raising concerns among counsellors that seniors may not be getting access to the support they need.

According to a breakdown of government statistics provided by suicide prevention agency Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), 129 people aged 60 and above committed suicide last year - the highest number recorded for this age group since suicide numbers began to be tracked in 1991.

The suicide figures for every other age group fell and the total of 361 suicides reported last year was 15.8 per cent lower than the 429 in 2016.

That meant that the proportion of suicides committed by those aged 60 and above - typically somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent each year - hit 35.7 per cent last year.

"It is very worrying that many of the elderly are turning to suicide as the only choice to end their pain and struggles, when they should be enjoying the lustre of their golden years," said Ms Christine Wong, executive director of SOS.

"With the elderly population in Singapore increasing steadily, suicides in this population may be expected to continue rising."

Another cause for concern: usage patterns of SOS' 24-hour hotline showed that calls made by seniors dropped by 18 per cent - from 6,904 calls in 2016 to 5,652 calls last year.

Said Ms Wong: "We need to find out the barriers that prevent them from getting through to SOS, and if they know where and what are the other available help resources."

Saturday 28 July 2018

Singapore long-term care workers earn less than overseas peers: Lien Foundation report

Many eldercare workers underpaid, contributing to high turnover
Low pay and high turnover could make it hard to meet workforce growth target: Lien Foundation
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Jul 2018

Workers who care for the elderly in nursing homes, daycare centres and at home are paid a lot less than their peers in other countries with similarly ageing populations.

Their pay is also lower than those in other jobs in Singapore that require similar educational qualifications, such as receptionists and sales assistants.

The low pay, coupled with a high turnover rate, could make it difficult for Singapore to meet its target of growing the long-term care workforce by 45 per cent between 2017 and 2020, said a report released yesterday by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

"Despite concerted efforts to raise pay, redesign jobs and improve skills and productivity, the sector seems afflicted by constant churn," the report added.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and older, up from one in eight in 2016.

The six-month study commissioned by the Lien Foundation involves interviews with 35 local and overseas industry practitioners, about 250 long-term care workers and 50 hospital workers. It also compared Singapore with Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea - four advanced economies in Asia-Pacific with fast-ageing populations.

Singapore ranks lowest among them on wages for long-term care workers - despite its median wage across all occupations in the economy being second only to Australia.

A Singaporean nursing aide earns $1,350 a month on average after taxes, compared with $3,750 in Hong Kong and $3,290 in Australia.

While wages in the sector have risen by one-third since 2012, salaries for local and foreign workers lag behind other jobs requiring similar qualifications. Receptionists earn $1,000 more than nursing aides, who help the elderly with activities such as eating and bathing.

Low wages could account for higher turnover rates, which are double those in hospitals, the report said, with workers in the sector staying with employers for 3.4 years on average. Higher wages in other countries could be drawing talent away from Singapore, it said.

Of the five economies, Singapore relies most on foreigners, who make up 70 per cent of such workers here, compared with 32 per cent in Australia and below 10 per cent in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Last year, there were 11,000 workers in the sector, of whom 8,300 were direct care workers. The Ministry of Health (MOH) aims to increase direct care workers by 3,700 between 2017 and 2020. Last year, 1,000 locals joined the sector through recruitment initiatives.

Friday 27 July 2018

Gardens by the Bay to raise workers’ retirement age to 65 from 2019

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng wants more companies to voluntarily raise retirement age
Labour chief lauds company for allowing staff to work to age of 65, from 62 previously
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2018

Gardens by the Bay is voluntarily raising the retirement age of its workers to 65, from the statutory requirement of 62 - a move commended by labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who called on more employers to take the same step.

A raised retirement age allows older workers to continue to earn an income and contribute, he said.

"(Older workers) have experience and are valuable assets. Employers should value and re-employ our older workers," said Mr Ng, who is secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

"NTUC fully supports this initiative by the Gardens. It is something that we hope other employers will follow," he added.

A unionised company under the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union (AREU), Gardens by the Bay currently has 20 workers who are above the age of 60. It is a not-for-profit company.

Its pledge to raise the retirement age to 65 was formalised yesterday - in a memorandum of understanding signed between Gardens by the Bay and AREU, and witnessed by Mr Ng. It will take effect next year.

According to NTUC, about 20 unionised companies have either voluntarily raised their retirement ages or do not stipulate any retirement age in workers' employment contracts, which means that they can work for as long as they wish to.

For example, the Singapore American School, ComfortDelGro Group and Bukit Timah Saddle Club have raised their retirement ages to 67.

Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay does not stipulate a retirement age in its employment contracts.

The statutory retirement age has been 62 for nearly two decades. It was last raised in 1999 from 60 to 62. But companies must offer re-employment to eligible workers up to age 67. This threshold was raised from 65 last year.

Some employers re-employ older workers on the same terms, while others offer re-employment with reduced salary and benefits.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

'I am German when we win, an immigrant when we lose,' says Mesut Özil as he quits international football citing racism and disrespect

Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness said that Ozil has been 'playing like shit for years'
German FA refutes Ozil's racism claims
DFB regrets his decision to quit national team but dismisses allegations of unfair treatment
The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2018

BERLIN • The German Football Association (DFB) yesterday rejected claims of racism against its president Reinhard Grindel made by Mesut Ozil, who announced he has retired from international football.

"We reject the notion that the DFB is associated with racism," read a statement.

"The DFB stands for diversity, from the representatives at the top to the boundless, day-to-day dedication of people at the base. The DFB has been very involved in integration work for many years."

On Sunday, Ozil announced his retirement from international duty in a statement, which accused Grindel of racism, when he broke his silence over his controversial meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May.

"In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose," wrote Ozil, who has Turkish ancestry but grew up in Germany.

He blamed Grindel and the DFB for failing to defend him against his critics, lashing out at "mistreatment" in particular from Grindel.

The DFB added that it regretted Ozil's decision to quit international football, but firmly rejected his accusations against Grindel.

"The DFB is very grateful to Mesut Ozil for his outstanding performance in the jersey of the German national teams," continued the statement. "It is regrettable that Mesut Ozil felt that he had not been sufficiently protected as a target of racist slogans. But it was important that Mesut Ozil, like Ilkay Gundogan before him, gives answers to the photo (with Erdogan).

"In the DFB, we win and lose together, as a team. The DFB would have been happy if Mesut Ozil had wanted to remain part of the team on this shared basis. He decided otherwise."

Ozil, who is with Arsenal in Singapore for the International Champions Cup, faced heavy criticism for his performances at the World Cup and his meeting with Erdogan.

The midfielder defended his right to meet Erdogan in his lengthy statement on social media.

"My job is a football player and not a politician, and our meeting was not an endorsement of any policies. The treatment I have received from the DFB and many others makes me no longer want to wear the German national team shirt," Ozil wrote on Twitter.

"It is with a heavy heart and, after much consideration, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect."

His decision to quit was criticised by Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness, who told Bild: "Ozil has been playing shit for years. He won his last tackle before the 2014 World Cup. All he is doing on the field is playing cross passes. Now he hides himself and his crap performance behind this photo."

Singapore Convention on Mediation: First United Nations treaty named after the Republic

New UN mediation treaty to be named after Singapore, signing ceremony in August 2019
Move a boost for Republic's status as global hub for resolution of business disputes
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2018

A new United Nations (UN) treaty on mediation is to be named after Singapore, a move that legal experts say will boost the country's status as an international hub for resolving business disputes.

Called the Singapore Convention on Mediation, the prospective treaty will improve cross-border trade by making it easier to enforce mediated settlements.

This is the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore, which had secured a bid to host its signing ceremony here next year.

Explaining the significance of the naming yesterday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said: "We played a key role in the negotiations, the drafting of the treaty. The countries all agreed for it to be called the Singapore Convention, and they all agreed to Singapore hosting the signing ceremony."

Also, the decision "puts Singapore on the map for thought leadership in international trade laws", he told reporters during a media interview at the Law Ministry (MinLaw).

The recommendation for Singapore to host the signing was made by the UN Commission on International Trade Law when it met in New York from June 25 to July 13.

Singapore has another international treaty named after it - the 2006 Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks. However, it was not concluded under the auspices of the UN organisation, but under the framework of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which is a UN specialised agency.

The UN treaty naming is not without benefit to Singapore.

"Of course, the treaty applies to all countries, but we will be among the places where people will come to for mediation," Mr Shanmugam noted. "We are top quality in arbitration, and now we have a mediation product as well," he added.

Mr George Lim, chairman of the Singapore International Mediation Centre, said: "Having Singapore's name associated with such a ground-breaking agreement will boost our status as an international dispute resolution hub."

He added the treaty is a game-changer that will encourage more businesses worldwide to resolve their disputes peacefully.

Disputes can be settled via other methods, like arbitration. But mediation is less antagonistic as it encourages parties to reach an agreement by finding common ground.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Cyber attack on Singapore health database from 27 June to 4 July 2018: Personal info of 1.5 million SingHealth patients stolen; Committee of Inquiry convened

Hackers specifically and repeatedly targeted data on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore's worst cyber attack
By Jeremy Au Yong, Deputy News Editor and Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2018

In the worst cyber attack in Singapore's history, hackers broke into the computers of SingHealth, the Republic's largest public healthcare group, and scooped up personal information on 1.5 million patients last month.

Of these, 160,000 people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and a few ministers, had their outpatient prescription information stolen as well.

At a press conference yesterday, the authorities said that the attackers "specifically and repeatedly" targeted data on PM Lee.

Mr David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore, said: "The attack was a deliberate, targeted and well-planned cyber attack." He ruled out casual hackers and criminal gangs, but refused to be drawn on who might be behind the attacks.

Cyber-security experts contacted by The Straits Times said that given the nature of the attacks, these were likely to be state-organised or sponsored, with just a few key countries such as China, Russia and the United States having the capacity to mount such a sophisticated attack.

A Committee of Inquiry (COI) will be convened to establish the events that led to the breach and recommend measures to better secure public sector IT systems.

Database administrators of the Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS) first detected unusual activity on July 4, and acted immediately to halt the activity. However, subsequent investigations established that hackers had breached the system a week earlier, on June 27.

In that time, the attackers took records of patients who visited nine SingHealth institutions from May 1, 2015, to July 4 this year. The institutions include Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital and SingHealth's network of polyclinics.

What specific information the hackers were after was unclear, although experts said the damage could well have been worse.

For the bulk of the 1.5 million patients, the data taken includes personal details like names, identity card numbers and addresses, and demographic information like a patient's gender, race and date of birth. Credit card numbers and mobile phone numbers were unaffected.

And while the hackers copied information on medicine dispensed to 160,000 outpatients, they did not tamper with these records nor gain access to more detailed medical records like diagnosis, test results or doctors' notes.

"I don't know what the attackers were hoping to find. Perhaps they were hunting for some dark state secret, or at least something to embarrass me," PM Lee said in a Facebook post. "If so, they would have been disappointed. My medication data is not something I would ordinarily tell people about, but there is nothing alarming in it."

Still, the aftermath of the breach will be far-reaching. For a start, all new Smart Nation projects will be paused as the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) reviews the cyber-security measures of government systems and implements any necessary safeguards.

The introduction of a new law slated later this year - to make all healthcare institutions contribute data to the National Electronic Health Record - will be postponed.

Computers at all health clusters will also be cut off temporarily from the Internet, in much the same way Net access was cut off from computers of public servants last year. SingHealth cut access yesterday, and the other two clusters are expected to follow suit in the coming days.

At the press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong apologised to the patients for the breach. "I am deeply sorry this has happened. The public healthcare family sees our role as not just providing good patient care, but also safeguarding the confidentiality of our patients' data," he said.

All affected patients will be notified over the next five days either through SMS or mail, if their phone numbers are not on record. Patients can also go to SingHealth's website or app to check if their data has been affected.

Despite the attack, the Government stressed that the incident did not mean it was abandoning its technological push. Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, who noted there have been numerous similar breaches in countries like the US and Britain, said: "This is an ongoing battle. But we must not allow this incident, or any others like it, to derail our plans for a smart nation. We must adapt ourselves to operate effectively and securely in the digital age."

Friday 20 July 2018

Johor Crown Prince talks about High-Speed Rail, Water and Wonderful Relationship with Singapore

Malaysia should not scrap High-Speed Rail project with Singapore; Johor crown prince claims 'sovereignty' over water in the state, prefers ‘no federal interference’ on the issue
By Amir Yusof, Channel NewsAsia, 19 Jul 2018

JOHOR BAHRU: Malaysia should not withdraw from the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim told Channel NewsAsia in an exclusive interview on Thursday (Jul 19).

"I think it's a very, very positive project that we should continue because it will not only help Johor but also Singapore," he said.

"It will boost the economy in Johor, maybe to have more foreign investment coming in. The HSR is a very positive project that we should proceed and continue (with), that's my personal opinion."

However, he said whether to proceed with the project was "up to the government" of Malaysia.

"There's nothing I can do because at the end of the day it's between the governments," he said.

Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad first said in media reports in May that Malaysia intends to scrap the project which was agreed upon with Singapore by the former federal government.

However, Singapore has said that it has not received any formal notice of this from its neighbour. On Wednesday, Malaysia's Economic Affairs Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali said he will be discussing the issue with Singapore's Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan to find the best solution in the best interest of both countries.

Dr Mahathir on Thursday took a different stance, telling reporters the country may defer the project instead of scrapping it after studying the costs and implications of cancelling the project.

Singapore ratifies TPP-11 trade deal to become 3rd nation to do so after Mexico and Japan

Singapore ratifies the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) for market of 500 million people
It is third country to approve CPTPP; deal shows Singapore's commitment to free trade: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2018

Singapore has ratified a key regional trade deal that looked dead and buried 18 months ago after President Donald Trump said the United States would not sign on.

Regional leaders revived the wide-ranging pact, and inked a revised deal in March. Singapore's formal adoption of the deal makes it the third country to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after Mexico and Japan.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted in a Facebook post that "amid growing trade tensions and anti-globalisation sentiments, the CPTPP signals Singapore's commitment to free trade and a rules-based trading system".

He also thanked the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) team for its hard work on this project over many years.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing called the CPTPP an important agreement that will complement Singapore's existing network of bilateral trade deals. "It will strengthen trade among countries in the Asia-Pacific, resulting in a more seamless flow of goods, services and investment," he said.

The CPTPP, which is a revision of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership after the US withdrew from it in January last year, will foster trade in a combined market of 500 million people with a gross domestic product of US$10 trillion (S$13.7 trillion).

The historic pact establishes rules in new areas, such as e-commerce, and will enter into force 60 days after six of the 11 signatories ratify the agreement.

Mexico was the first to ratify the agreement in April, with Japan following suit on July 6. The other countries in the bloc are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.

All businesses are expected to benefit. Mr Chan noted on Facebook that the pact "also promotes innovation, productivity, competitiveness and inclusive trade, bringing benefits to even small and medium-sized businesses".

Monday 16 July 2018

Singapore takes part for first time in France's Bastille Day Parade 2018 with PM Lee Hsien Loong as guest of honour

RSAF personnel involved in flypast and Flag Party
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Jul 2018

PARIS • The jaunty tunes by the French military band were unmistakably European, and the crowds standing at attention were French citizens.

But two of the flags being marched down the Champs-Elysees and past the grandstand were of Asian nations - Singapore and Japan.

For the first time, Singapore took part in France's National Day Parade this year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in attendance, invited by French President Emmanuel Macron as guest of honour - the first Singapore leader to be invited to the parade.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono was also there, in place of Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who cancelled his trip to deal with floods in Japan.

The National Day Parade, also known as the Bastille Day parade, marks the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789.

The parade featured about 4,000 soldiers, 220 vehicles, 250 horses, 64 aircraft and 30 helicopters. Among these were the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) 150 Squadron based in Cazaux Air Base, in south-western France.

Of the six RSAF personnel involved, two were in the combined flypast and four took part in the parade as Singapore's Flag Party.

The flypast began with nine jets zooming across the sky, leaving behind jet trails in the French national colours of red, white and blue. Later, a combined flypast involving one RSAF M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer and five French Air Force Alpha Jets flew across the sky as well.

The officers flying the trainer were Captain Yeap Wei Jiun and Captain Jerevin Chia Min Feng.

Singapore's Flag Party, led by Contingent Commander Major Nicholas Tong Jun, carried the Singapore flag at the parade. Other officers in the party were Captain Jerome Tan Shang-Yang, Lieutenant Tan Yi and Lieutenant Jacob Lee Yong Jin.

Major Tong told The Sunday Times that he was proud to be Commander of the Flag Party, especially as it was Singapore's first appearance at the parade.

Asked about challenges RSAF officers in France face, he said: "Due to the language barrier, simple tasks like setting up Internet access for your home or getting your car insured become much more difficult."

Singapore's participation in the parade comes as the RSAF celebrates the 150 Squadron's 20th anniversary this year. More than 180 RSAF fighter air crew trainees from the squadron have undergone training at Cazaux over the past two decades.

Helicopters began circling in the sky above the Champs-Elysees and Place de la Concorde around 8am, before the parade.

The parade began at around 9.30am with an inspection of the French troops by general officers commanding the foot and motorised troop columns.

Mr Macron arrived at 10am, making his way from the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees in an armoured vehicle to the Place de la Concorde, where he inspected the troops. He then took his seat between his wife Brigitte and Mr Lee.

The French citizens watching the parade were a reserved crowd, applauding at key moments. They also clapped in encouragement when two motorcycles in the parade collided - nobody was injured - but they otherwise remained quiet and respectful.

After the flypast, special tribute troops started from the Arc de Triomphe and marched down the Champs-Elysees, ending at the Place de la Concorde.

There was then a march-past of foot soldiers, followed by a helicopter flypast, and a mobile column of armoured vehicles. There was also a display of a mounted column on horses.

The parade closed with a military choir singing traditional military songs and France's national anthem - the rousing La Marseillaise.

Saturday 14 July 2018

South Korea, Singapore to boost economic cooperation; President Moon Jae-in State Visit, 11 to 13 July 2018

South Korea, Singapore exchange MOUs, vow to keep regional peace
Six agreements exchanged; both to review implementation of FTA, look at further liberalising tariffs
By Charissa Yong, Regional Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2018

Singapore and South Korea yesterday vowed to step up economic cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in witnessed the exchange of six agreements on trade, investment, industry, energy, environmental cooperation, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.

Both countries will launch a review of the implementation of the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement within six months and look to further liberalise tariffs for certain products, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement.

Singapore and South Korea also reaffirmed their commitment towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an ASEAN-led trade pact which also involves six of the grouping's trading partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

PM Lee said at a joint press conference: "We look forward to substantially concluding the negotiations by the end of this year."

PM Lee and Mr Moon, who is on a three-day state visit, met for more than an hour and discussed specific ways that South Korea could work more closely with Singapore, which is ASEAN chairman this year, and the other ASEAN nations.

Under Mr Moon's New Southern Policy, South Korea is seeking to expand ties with South Asia and South-east Asia.

Mr Moon said he and PM Lee agreed to expand bilateral trade significantly and to finalise swiftly negotiations to amend their double tax avoidance agreement.

Trade between Singapore and South Korea was $45.4 billion last year, making South Korea Singapore's ninth largest trading partner. Singapore is South Korea's 10th largest trading partner.

PM Lee noted that Singapore companies are showing growing interest in Korean sectors such as real estate, manufacturing, electronics, precision engineering, transport, food, and information and communications technology.

The leaders also discussed strengthening air connectivity. PM Lee hoped both sides could expand their air services agreement and increase flight routes to cover other South Korean cities such as Busan.

Referring to the six agreements, PM Lee said both sides are exploring new areas of cooperation where they complement each other.

For instance, they will work together on technologies such as medical technology, artificial intelligence and the industrial Internet of Things.

PM Lee said: "The Republic of Korea is strong in technology and innovation, while Singapore is well-connected to the region."

The two countries also agreed to joint ventures in smart-city projects overseas.

Mr Moon said: "Singaporean companies are strong in smart-city development and management software, while Korean businesses excel in hardware such as information technology. "

Working together would help both take the lead in the smart-city industry in Asia and beyond, the South Korean leader added.

Another area of cooperation is in energy security and smart grids, which are electrical grids that use technology to detect energy usage remotely.

The leaders also discussed ways to grow relations between ASEAN and South Korea, such as upgrading the ASEAN-South Korea free trade area or having an ASEAN-Korea air services agreement, said PM Lee.

Mr Moon said: "I would like to see Korea-ASEAN cooperation expand in dimensions completely different from the past."

Mr Moon, whose visit ends today, also discussed regional issues with PM Lee. They agreed to work closely towards peace and stability in the region, including in cyber security and maritime security.

Mr Moon said Singapore contributed immensely towards ushering in a new era of peace on the Korean peninsula by hosting the historic summit between the United States and North Korea last month.

"On behalf of all Korean people, I would like to once again express my profound gratitude to the people of Singapore," he said.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Cost of Living in Singapore: Chan Chun Sing highlights multi-pronged strategy to help different groups of Singaporeans

Eight steps to help tackle worries over cost of living
People's aspirations and ability to fulfil them can affect perception of the issue: Chan Chun Sing
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2018

Prices of goods and services in Singapore may be rising at a slower pace, but Singaporeans still feel the squeeze, convinced that the cost of living is rising faster.

In tackling the issue yesterday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament that cost of living is not a one-dimensional subject about price changes.

People's aspirations, and their ability to fulfil them, can also affect their perception of the issue, Mr Chan explained.

Still, he acknowledged their concerns, saying "we recognise Singaporeans' evolving aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families, and the associated stress of achieving real income growth in a volatile economic environment".

He assured Singaporeans that the Government is committed to helping mitigate the situation.

"Beyond creating opportunities for Singaporeans to enjoy real wage growth to meet their aspirations, the Government is also committed to helping Singaporeans stretch their hard-earned dollar," he said in reply to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked whether the cost of living has increased significantly.

The issue has gained traction in recent months as electricity tariffs rose and an earlier announced increase in water prices kicked in.

But looking at absolute measures, overall inflation in Singapore has, in fact, declined between 2012 and last year compared with the five-year period before it, said Mr Chan.

The Consumer Price Index - which captures price changes - for all items rose 0.6 per cent a year on average for the past five years. This was lower than the average increase of 4 per cent between 2007 and 2012. The figure is likely to remain low this year, with overall inflation expected to be between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent, said Mr Chan.

But he gave a word of caution, saying that rising global oil prices is expected to increase fuel costs and electricity prices. However, he foresees any potential consumer price rise to be moderate alongside a faster pace of wage growth and improvements in the labour market.

Yet, "no single measure will express an individual's 'cost of living' pressures fully, given the different needs and wants, the evolving aspirations and the potential gap between aspirations and anticipated means", he said.

Sidek Saniff's memoir tells of his path from protester to politician

By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2018

Carrying banners and placards screaming "Why the MOE is inefficient", Mr Sidek Saniff led busloads of union members to stage a demonstration outside the premises of the Education Ministry.

Singapore had yet to achieve independence and Mr Sidek, a popular and respected teacher, was a firebrand who would take on the government without hesitation.

So he never expected to find himself on the other side, which he did when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invited him to join the People's Action Party (PAP) and contest the 1976 elections.

His journey from protester to politician is documented in his memoir, Sidek Saniff: Life Reflections At Eighty, which was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

In his speech, PM Lee said the late Mr Lee "believed that Sidek's opinions were genuine and constructive". He noted that Mr Sidek's eventual decision to join the party cost him his popularity at first, with some former colleagues accusing him of having been "bought" by the PAP.

PM Lee said Mr Sidek pressed on and, with fellow Malay PAP MPs, launched many initiatives to uplift the Malay community, among them, the formation of the self-help group, Mendaki, in 1982.

Mr Sidek, 80, retired in 2001 as Senior Minister of State for the Environment after 25 years in politics. He said he accepted the invitation to join the PAP because of the late Mr Lee's integrity and honesty. "As he (Mr Lee) put it, it is easier to make a difference within Parliament than outside Parliament," he said at the launch yesterday.

Mr Sidek was often tasked with helping to make difficult decisions and explaining them to the ground, such as one, in the 1980s, to break down the PSLE and O-level results by ethnicity. Mr Sidek declined to have the announcement made by a civil servant, and chose to do it himself, said PM Lee.

PM Lee said: "He believed it was the right thing to do, and that it would eventually improve Malay students' academic performance. At first, the Malay community felt awkward about the issue. But bringing the data out into the open enabled the community to acknowledge and tackle the problem, and helped to deliver the steady progress we have seen over the last decades."

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Parliament: Singapore responds to Mahathir's articulation on the High Speed Rail and Water Agreements

Singapore spent $250 million on HSR project, expects to spend another $40 million by December 2018, 'completely wasted expenditure' if project cancelled says Khaw Boon Wan

Singapore to seek RM743 million (and counting) compensation if HSR project cancelled

Singapore will honour 1962 Water Agreement and expects Malaysia to do the same, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Malaysia took a conscious decision not to revisit the price of raw water that it was selling to Singapore when it had the opportunity to do so in 1987, when the 1962 water agreement was up for review

Mahathir says Singapore knows what Malaysia wants to do with High-Speed Rail in latest public statement (but is refusing to confirm officially) on the termination of the project

Singapore stands by its High-Speed Rail (HSR) and water pact obligations, says Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
Respecting sanctity of international deals a tenet basic to Republic's foreign policy
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 July 2018

Singapore yesterday reiterated that upholding international law and respecting the sanctity of international agreements is a tenet basic to its foreign policy.

That is why, in keeping its end of the bargain, Singapore has already spent more than $250 million on the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project, and is likely to expend another $40 million or so by year-end, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said.

It is also why Singapore will honour the terms of its Water Agreement with Malaysia and expects its neighbour to do the same, added Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament.

Responding to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on bilateral ties with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore is still meeting its obligations on the HSR while waiting for Malaysia to clarify its position.

He added that the sanctity of international agreements is critical for a small state like Singapore.

If countries were to unilaterally revise or abandon terms of agreements, this would be "manifestly a recipe for disaster'', he said.

This principle lies at the crux of the HSR issue, he added.

Singapore signed the HSR Bilateral Agreement (BA) in 2016 in good faith, after both sides had negotiated and agreed to all the provisions, including those dealing with the eventuality that the HSR is terminated, Dr Balakrishnan said.

In recent weeks, he said, some Malaysian leaders have talked of terminating the project.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore had sent a third-person note to the Malaysian government seeking clarification of Malaysia's position on the HSR, but it has not replied.

Saying that the Government has a duty to safeguard public funds by recovering the costs, he added: "Should Malaysia cause the HSR project to be terminated, we will deal with the question of compensation from Malaysia for costs incurred in accordance with the BA and international law."

The same principle underlies the 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia, he said.

Recounting past statements made by then Foreign Ministers S. Jayakumar in 2003 and K. Shanmugam in 2014 on water, Dr Balakrishnan said: "As was stated then, the core issue is "not how much we pay, but how any price revision is decided upon".

Malaysia lost its right to review the price of water under the agreement when it did not do so in 1987, he said, adding that neither Singapore nor Malaysia can unilaterally change the terms of the deal.

Singapore will fully honour the terms of the deal and expects Malaysia to do the same, he said.

While asserting the Republic's position on these issues, Dr Balakrishnan also made it clear that Singapore is committed to working with Malaysia's new government.

"A stable and prosperous Malaysia is good for Singapore and for our region," he said. "We have generally enjoyed a positive and constructive relationship with successive Malaysian governments and leaders, and we believe there is still much for us to achieve together."

In this and other foreign policy matters, Singapore stands by its fundamental principles, he added.