Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Malaysia and Singapore are like twins, says PM Mahathir Mohamad in Official Visit to Singapore from 12 to 13 November 2018

The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2018

Malaysia and Singapore are like twins, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday, on his first official visit here since becoming his country's prime minister again.

"Except perhaps the elder twin is a little bit bigger than the younger twin, and a bit older," he said at an official lunch hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.

"It is not often that we see countries which come together and are separated, and still work together and help each other," he added.

Both also have a role to play in the region and, together, can be effective in helping it grow, he said.

PM Lee said both sides are each other's closest neighbour, whose "relationship is further strengthened by bonds of kinship, friendship and memories". "Singapore and Malaysia will always have a unique place for each other in our hearts," he said, adding that he looked forward to working with Dr Mahathir and his government to strengthen this bond.

Dr Mahathir will receive an honorary doctorate from the National University of Singapore today. He will also attend the ASEAN Summit.


PM Lee, Dr Mahathir reaffirm strong ties between Singapore and Malaysia
Leaders pledge to strengthen special ties that bind
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad yesterday, looking deep into the past, spoke of the strong ties between their two countries at a lunch to welcome the Malaysian leader on his first official visit to Singapore in his current stint as PM.

In his speech at the Istana event, PM Lee noted that while the two-day official visit is Tun Dr Mahathir's first as Malaysia's seventh prime minister, Dr Mahathir is very familiar with Singapore.

He has visited the Republic many times and also collaborated with it on projects with lasting benefits for both nations, PM Lee added, citing the Linggiu Dam in Johor and the Second Link in Tuas.

Dr Mahathir, 93, led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003 and was re-elected in May this year.

PM Lee, speaking at the lunch, said they had a good meeting and discussed ways to deepen cooperation.

"Malaysia is Singapore's closest neighbour, and vice versa. We are bound by geography and history. Our economies are extensively intertwined," PM Lee said.

Also, Singapore and Malaysia are each other's second-largest trading partners, and Singapore is Malaysia's second-largest foreign investor.

"Our relationship is further strengthened by bonds of kinship, friendship and memories. We all have friends and relatives who live, study or work across the Causeway, and we feel at home when we visit each other," he added.

Some of Singapore's Cabinet members were born and raised in Malaysia, PM Lee noted, while several Malaysian ministers were born here, or grew up or studied here.

"And when we are overseas, we can pick each other out by how similarly we speak, dress and behave. The connection is instant," he said.

PM Lee said that for Singaporeans and Malaysians, himself included, many of their best memories were made in each other's countries.

"My first family trips with my parents were to Cameron Highlands," he recalled. "We would drive up to Kuala Lumpur, taking most of a day, and break journey overnight, staying at the Railway Station Hotel because I was interested in trains."

He recounted how the following morning, the family would drive from KL to Cameron Highlands, stopping along the way at the town of Bidor in Perak for wonton noodles made with freshwater prawns caught in mining ponds.

PM Lee noted that Dr Mahathir and his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, met in Singapore, studying at the King Edward VII College of Medicine, now part of the National University of Singapore.

That was where they started their courtship, which led to a happy marriage of more than 60 years, he added.

"When we met in May 2018, Dr Mahathir spoke fondly about his time in the college and his old classmates whom he kept in touch with for many years, but had not seen for a while," he added.

"So I am happy that NUS will confer an Honorary Doctorate of Laws on Dr Mahathir tomorrow, and many of his old friends will be at the ceremony," he said yesterday.

Monday, 12 November 2018

PAP Conference 2018: PM Lee Hsien Loong sets out plan for People's Action Party ahead of next General Election

It must know people's concerns, give them hope, bring them together and lead well
DPMs Teo Chee Hean, Tharman and 3 senior PAP members step down from Central Executive Committee
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday charted the path forward for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), saying it must win the next general election convincingly by taking a centrist approach and uniting Singaporeans.

The party has only two years left to prepare for the next election, said Mr Lee, who is PAP secretary-general, as he outlined four things it must do to maintain good politics and keep improving people's lives.

He called on party members to understand and address Singaporeans' concerns, give people hope for the future, encourage inclusive politics and provide good leadership.

"We are setting a clear direction, supported by the broad mass of Singaporeans who want to see stability and progress continue for many years."

He was at the party's biennial conference at Singapore Expo, where cadres elected a new central executive committee (CEC) - the PAP's top decision-making body.

"The new CEC will be leading the party into the final stretch, gearing up to put our record before voters," Mr Lee said.

The new CEC also reflects a major transition for the party.

It comprises largely fourth-generation leaders, with heavyweights such as Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam stepping down.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, labour chief Ng Chee Meng and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah were elected to the top 12 positions.

Mr Lee said the CEC will meet "within a couple of weeks" to elect a new slate of office-holders, and observers expect the line-up to provide more clarity on who the country's next prime minister will be.

This will be followed by a Cabinet reshuffle in due course, he added.

Addressing about 3,000 party members, Mr Lee noted that many countries are under serious stress, from citizens who feel their lives are not improving and hot-button issues like immigration. Politics becomes polarised, and the country goes into a downward spiral.

Singapore has coped better than most countries, but "we should not take what we have for granted", he said, stressing the need to get both policies and politics right.

Noting that cohesion does not come naturally or easily to any society, Mr Lee said the PAP must keep Singaporeans together.

The party aims to be a broad tent, he said, highlighting the importance of finding common ground and maintaining a shared space where differences can be aired without eroding social cohesion.

"The PAP must strive to reconcile different views and interests, and work hard to strengthen confidence and trust between different groups," he said. "So that we can keep this a society with a broad middle ground, multiracial, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive."

The party must also understand the concerns of Singaporeans well, and help address their specific worries, he added.

He called on every party activist to play his part by complementing the Government's policies with a human touch.

"By showing voters that you personally care, it convinces them that the PAP cares, and the PAP government cares," he said.

Beyond that, the PAP must give Singaporeans hope about the future, Mr Lee added. One important aspect of this, he said, is social mobility - people believing they have every chance to improve their own lives and that of their children.

Singapore's meritocracy has to be about helping one another reach their best, without holding back others who are doing better, he added.

Mr Lee also stressed how providing good leadership is key. The party has had two smooth political transitions so far, he said, providing both continuity and renewal.

He noted that the 4G leadership team has been in the Cabinet for several years now.

They have been - and been tested - in several portfolios, and are learning to complement one another's strengths and weaknesses, he said, describing them as "a team of able men and women with a good combination of skills among them".

"I can see them gelling as a team, and am confident that they have what it takes to lead Singapore."

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story

ESM Goh Chok Tong on why he decided to have his memoir written
Note from founding prime minister and urging of five friends led him to agree to authorised biography
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

Even before he became prime minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong had decided not to write his memoir.

But a note from founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the urging of five friends eventually persuaded him to agree to an authorised biography.

The result is Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, which was launched yesterday.

"I did not keep a diary of conversations and interactions with people," Emeritus Senior Minister Goh said in his speech at the book's launch.

"A memoir would be seeing events through my own eyes. Bias is inevitable.

"Moreover, unlike Mr Lee's fight for independence and struggle to build Singapore, meticulous notes were taken of my official meetings. Historians will not be bereft of materials," he added.

But when Mr Lee gave him a copy of his memoir, From Third World To First: The Singapore Story, he added a note: "To PM Goh Chok Tong, You have to write the sequel to the Singapore Story."

Mr Lee had also added the inscription: "With my hope that the lessons need not be paid again by the present generation of Singaporeans."

It was signed on Sept 15, 1998, a day before Mr Lee's 75th birthday.

"When I reached 75, I became more acutely aware of my mortality and the weight of his message," Mr Goh, now 77, said. "Several friends had also asked me to write my memoir. Still, I said no. Then, five of my senior grassroots leaders suggested an authorised biography."

These long-time grassroots leaders and personal friends - Patrick Ng, Ng Hock Lye, Chua Ee Chek, Kok Pak Chow and Tan Jack Thian - would commission someone to write, Mr Goh said.

"The author would do the heavy lifting - the research, interviews and the writing. The idea of someone looking in from the outside, and unlocking my inner memory, appealed to me."

That writer, chosen by Mr Goh, was Mr Peh Shing Huei, a former news editor at The Straits Times and the co-founder of content agency The Nutgraf.

"Today's occasion belongs to Peh Shing Huei, the writer. I am merely the subject," Mr Goh said.

"Several names were suggested as my possible biographers. I chose Peh Shing Huei. I like his easy-to-read, unpretentious, questions-and-answers style."

Mr Peh and his Nutgraf team did the research, while Mr Goh answered his questions candidly. "We checked and verified my recall of events as necessary," he added.

Mr Goh also asked The Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang to be a member of Mr Peh's team. "I valued his shrewdness and insights (into) Singapore politics. He proved invaluable," he added.

"Peh has done a good job in writing up my life till November 1990, when I became prime minister. I am happy with the product. Readers' feedback is positive. There will be a volume 2."

In his speech, Mr Peh said he started work on the book a year ago "with more than a bit of trepidation". "For too long, since ESM Goh stepped down as PM in 2004, many Singaporeans had been wondering when he would write his memoir. We all waited. One year became five and eventually, today, 14 years.

"So I knew there were high expectations for this book. We all wanted to know what were his thoughts about global leaders, international affairs and, of course, local politics," he said.

Mr Peh recounted his mounting anxiety before his first interview with Mr Goh, as he had prepared a list of "silly personal questions", such as why Mr Goh did not play basketball despite his impressive height, what he ate at home when he was young and whether his wife was his first girlfriend - all of which are answered in the book.

Mr Peh said Mr Goh answered the questions patiently and even praised Mr Peh for them because the questions forced him to look back and recall things like what he ate as a child. "The answer, by the way, is tau geh, tau kwa, tau pok, kangkung. Not the most exciting dishes," Mr Peh quipped.

He added: "So, thank you, ESM for your patience and for sharing your life with me and my team at The Nutgraf. We are most honoured to be able to tell your story and play our role in telling the Singapore Story."

Both Mr Peh and Mr Goh also gave special thanks to Mr Bernard Toh, Mr Goh's special assistant, and Mr Heng Aik Yeow, his press secretary.

Mr Goh said the duo not only sat in on all the interviews and gave useful comments, but also chased up additional materials and pored over photographs to select the most appropriate ones for the book.

"Sometimes, what I found interesting, they did not. This reinforces my point that an authorised biography is better than an autobiography," he said.

There will be another book launch for charity on Nov 21, to raise funds for two groups of disadvantaged children: people with disabilities and disadvantaged students with poor grades.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Changes to Direct School Admission scheme from 2019; NUS, NTU to drop O-level grades when taking in poly grads from 2020

New moves to spur students to develop their abilities
Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme made easier; NUS, NTU tweak entry criteria for poly grads
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2018

More changes are under way to the Direct School Admission (DSA) scheme and the university admission scoring system to encourage students to develop their talents in a range of fields, regardless of their family backgrounds.

From next year, all schools offering Secondary 1 places through DSA will use a centralised online portal, which means that pupils need to fill in only one online form to apply to multiple schools. Applications through the portal will be free, removing the barrier of a $20-$50 fee that some schools currently charge.

Also, from 2020, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will drop the 20 per cent weighting given to O-level results for polytechnic graduate applicants. Instead, they will be assessed primarily on their polytechnic grade point average - a more current reflection of the skills they have picked up. But students can continue to submit O-level results relevant to the course of study as additional information.

The other four publicly funded universities have already moved beyond O-level results - except when they are directly relevant - in admitting students.

Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah, who announced the changes yesterday, said they would enable students with different learning styles to be evaluated more holistically. "It also better recognises late bloomers, and creates more opportunities for those who flourish after discovering their interest when they are older," she said.

NUS, NTU and the Singapore Management University can offer up to 15 per cent of their yearly undergraduate places through the Discretionary Admission Scheme, which considers the abilities of students beyond their academic results.

On the change to the DSA, Ms Indranee revealed that this year, 3,000 Primary 6 pupils who applied for places through the scheme - which was widened this year - have received confirmed offers. This is 500 more than last year.

The selection process for the scheme has also been refined to spot talent, even in those who have not had the chance to showcase it yet. There will be less emphasis on the awards a pupil has won - say, in the arts - and more on innate ability.

Ms Indranee said schools no longer administer academic ability tests during DSA selection. "Doing so brings our schools' DSA process and objectives back to the original intention of recognising specific talents, not general academic talent."

By using a single portal for applications and bringing the focus back to talent, the ministry hopes to offset the head start that "better resourced" pupils currently get.

"Those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds... may not be as well informed about some of the choices and opportunities available," said Ms Indranee. "So what we're really trying to do is close the gap, and make sure those less well resourced and less advantaged still have the opportunity to apply."

Thursday, 8 November 2018

PM Lee Hsien Loong's Dialogue at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on 6 November 2018

China, US must ensure trade tensions don't hurt broader ties: PM Lee
There are so many areas where US and China have to work together, he says
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2018

The leaders of the United States and China have to work out how to resolve their trade disputes, and ensure ongoing tensions do not harm the broader relationship between them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"The leaders of the two countries have to decide what they want to do and if it cannot be worked out, you really want to keep it from boiling over, respond in a restrained way and try to keep things going and prevent this from poisoning the overall relationship," he said.

"Between America and China, there are so many things where you have to work together, otherwise you are not going to get anywhere, starting with North Korea."

PM Lee was responding to a question at a dinner for around 400 top business and thought leaders attending the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. The trade war and its impact on Sino-US ties were a top concern at earlier sessions on the forum's first day.

Tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods by the world's two biggest economies, ostensibly sparked by the US' trade deficit with China, have hit business sentiment.

China's Vice-President Wang Qishan suggested the US-China trade war should end and denounced trade unilateralism in his keynote speech, while American strategist Henry Kissinger was "fairly optimistic" that the US and China could avoid a wider conflict.

At the dinner dialogue hosted by Bloomberg News' editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, a delegate asked PM Lee what he would advise Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump to do about the trade war if they were at the same table with him.

"I would be hesitant to be at such a table," PM Lee replied to laughter from the audience. But he added: "The trade issues are genuine ones. The trade deficit is on Mr Trump's mind but the economists will tell you (it) is a manifestation of macroeconomic problems and not a matter of trade restraints or lack of trade openness... That has to be dealt with separately."

PM Lee noted that both sides had come close to a deal several times, but these faltered in the end.

Asked what the new world order would look like, with the US taking a back seat in recent years, PM Lee said he did not see this as a retreat but as the US "rethinking its role".

"Up till now, America was such a dominant player in the world economy that it felt it was in its interest to provide global public goods," he said. "The world has prospered greatly, and America with it."

But with its economic fortunes shifting, the US is asking whether it should put itself first instead.

"America is entitled to take such a position, but if you work like that it will be a very different global position. There is nobody to take on the role that the US hitherto played," he said. If this persists, it would be "a different kind of world in which not only small countries feel uncomfortable".

"I hope it doesn't go that way... And that depends on a multilateral global order, where there is some weight and authority and respect given to supranational institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund," he added.

PM Lee was also asked questions about global rivalries spilling over and affecting ties between countries in Singapore's neighbourhood. "Neighbours are never without complexities," he said, noting that even the US and Canada have issues.

"We don't choose our neighbours. We are blessed with two bigger than us, and we get on well with them, generally," he said. "There will always be issues that will come up, and we will have to deal with them in a way that is constructive, win-win and respects the core interests of both countries."

Istana Open House to be held at night for the first time in 2019 as part of 150th anniversary

It will be part of 150th anniversary celebrations; Deepavali Open House draws 17,000 visitors
By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2018

The public will next year be able to enter the Istana grounds at night for the first time during an Open House, as part of the 150th anniversary of the presidential residence.

The Istana Open House will be held on Oct 6 next year - a Sunday - almost to the day when the heritage site was first opened on Oct 8, 1869.

President Halimah Yacob announced this, along with other commemorative events, on the sidelines of the largest turnout for a Deepavali Istana Open House, since such data was first collated in 2011. The event drew 17,000 visitors yesterday.

"I really hope that Singaporeans will come so that they can get to experience the Istana at night," said Madam Halimah.

She added: "Istana 150 will be a useful opportunity for us to reflect on our history as a nation and the values that have guided us so far.

"The Istana has journeyed with Singaporeans over the past 150 years, becoming a key part of our collective memories and identity.

"It is important that we see this commemoration as an occasion to dig deep into our heritage as one people, because how we have arrived at where we are today will shape who we will be tomorrow."

The 150th anniversary celebrations will include an exhibition featuring the Istana's history and heritage. The exhibition will travel across Singapore to the heartland and libraries.

Multimedia tours of the Istana premises will also be produced for the first time to provide Singaporeans with a first-hand experience of exploring the Istana grounds.

A series of new books that cover the history, architecture and wildlife of the Istana grounds will be launched, as well as a series of souvenirs for the commemoration.

The Istana 150 logo was unveiled at a ceremony held during the Deepavali Istana Open House.

It was designed by School of the Arts Singapore student Charlie Chua, 18, whose idea beat more than 100 others that were submitted through the Istana 150 Logo Competition. The design, which will feature on Istana 150 memorabilia, shows a white outline of the building against a strong red background.

Mr Chua said the logo was inspired by his visit to the Istana grounds when he was three years old. He recalled playing in the garden and seeing the building's facade in the morning sun.

"With the 150th anniversary celebrations, what better way to contribute to the occasion than by designing a logo? Especially since I have fond memories of the Istana as a child," he added.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Singapore system has done better than other countries in improving social mobility: Ministry of Social and Family Development report

Efforts to lift lower-income group have borne fruit, says MSF report
But policies will have to adapt to changing needs to ensure continued social mobility
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent and Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2018

The Singapore system is not perfect, but it has performed better than most in improving the lives of poor and vulnerable families here, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said in a first-of-its-kind report released yesterday.

But the country is now at a crossroads, with the pace of economic development moderating and demands for social spending increasing, as the society is ageing, the report said.

"We have to adapt our policies in response to changing circumstances and needs," it added.

The report outlined how sustained efforts over the years had improved lives for the low-income - with more having their own homes and more students from poor families making it to tertiary education.

"But the same measures now bring new challenges that we need to address, to ensure that stratification is not enshrined and social mobility continues to be spurred," the report said.

"We will keep studying fresh ideas and approaches, including those from other societies, and try them out where they have promise, to help improve Singapore and the lives of Singaporeans," it said.

"But we must not forget that trade-offs are unavoidable in social policy, and all too often, good intentions have led to counterproductive results."

Social inequality and mobility have dominated the national discourse in recent weeks.

For example, at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) event on Oct 25, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said safeguarding social mobility would get more difficult as Singapore progresses because that is the nature of a meritocratic system.

"Those who succeed try to help their children and those who haven't succeeded find that the odds increase against them doing well in life," he said.

A key step in tackling income inequality is to ensure that everyone - including those in the middle class - continues to progress, he said, giving the analogy of being on an escalator that has to keep moving so that everyone is better off.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made a similar point about meritocracy at a separate event on Oct 24.

Still, when it comes to educational progress, the results are encouraging, according to the 31-page paper.

For instance, nine in 10 students from the bottom 20 per cent of families in terms of socio-economic backgrounds made it to post-secondary education today, up from five in 10 students 15 years ago.

Besides education, the report listed government policies in areas such as employment, home ownership and healthcare to improve the lot of the needy.

It said employment rates for Singaporeans and permanent residents, including older workers, have risen in the past decade. For workers aged 65 and older, the employment rate rose from 14.4 per cent in 2007 to 25.8 per cent last year.

The Workfare Income Supplement has been one of the most effective schemes in getting people, especially older workers, to work, it noted. It encourages low-wage workers to work, by providing Central Provident Fund top-ups and cash supplements.

More poor families are also moving out of heavily subsidised public rental flats and buying their own homes, and this is made possible by significant housing grants and affordable prices of flats.

There were about 500 such families in 2013, and this doubled to almost 1,000 households last year.

The number applying for a rental flat has also fallen by 44 per cent in the same time period.

Using the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development method, Singapore's Gini coefficient, after taxes and transfers, fell from 0.388 in 2007 to 0.356 last year. The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality; the lower the score, the more equal a society.

The report said the Government will continue to invest in education, help those who have lost their jobs to find new ones and assist seniors to cope with their medical expenses, among other plans to support low-income Singaporeans.

An MSF spokesman said the report is the Government's contribution to the ongoing social discourse on helping the poor and vulnerable.

She added: "We hope the paper will set a helpful context for deeper conversations and actions on the way forward. We also hope this will galvanise more partners to step forward and join us all in action."

Mr Leonard Lim, an IPS research associate, said Singapore's Gini coefficient, after taxes and transfers, is lower or comparable to developed countries such as the United States - a testament to the Government's efforts to redistribute income.

He added: "Education is the engine that powers social mobility. The moves to intervene early in education are most significant to me as they are an indication that this Government is intent on breaking any significant cycle of inter-generational transmission of poverty."

Friday, 2 November 2018

CPTPP: Trans-Pacific trade pact will enter into force on 30 December 2018

Australia becomes sixth of 11 signatories to ratify Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, paving way for it to take effect
By Jeffrey Hutton, Regional Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Nov 2018

An ambitious agreement set to strengthen trade and investment flows across the Pacific amid a climate of rising protectionism will go into effect at the end of next month.

Yesterday, Australia became the sixth country to ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), joining Singapore, Canada, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand. Canberra's ratification means the treaty, which will enter into force on Dec 30, has been ratified by a majority of members.

"Our ratification means we are guaranteeing maximum benefits for our farmers and businesses," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement, adding that the deal would see annual benefits of up to A$15.6 billion (S$15.3 billion) to the national economy by 2030.

Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing noted the development will "strengthen trade flows among countries in the Asia-Pacific, facilitating a more seamless flow of goods, services, investment as well as e-commerce".

"We look forward to the entry into force of the CPTPP, which will send a strong signal of our collective commitment to trade liberalisation and a rules-based trading system," he said in a Facebook post.

The significance of the pact was echoed by Japan's Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who said: "As protectionist moves strengthen across the world, the importance of free and fair rules is growing more and more."

Vietnam is expected to ratify the deal this month. Brunei, Chile and Peru are expected to follow suit.

However, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his government has not set a date to ratify the pact. "We are studying it very deeply to make sure it does not have a bad effect on our economy," he told reporters yesterday.

Countries will enjoy the benefits of the deal only when they ratify it.

The deal's imminent launch brings to an end its troubled gestation, after United States President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on his first day in office.

Led by Japan, the remaining 11 members spent a year reworking the deal and ended up suspending 22 out of the over 1,000 provisions.

The rebranded pact, also referred to as TPP-11, will do away with virtually all tariffs and other barriers to trading goods, and help shipments clear Customs more easily.

CPTPP countries accounted for $214 billion - a fifth - of Singapore's total goods trade last year. They make up a free trade area worth a combined $13.9 trillion.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Fare Review Exercise 2018: Bus and train fares to increase by 6 cents from 29 December 2018

Card fare hike for students, seniors capped at 1 cent; increase will bring in extra $78.2 million
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2018

Bus and train fares will rise by six cents per trip from Dec 29, when the latest annual revision approved by the Public Transport Council (PTC) kicks in.

Announcing the changes yesterday, the PTC said student and senior citizen card fare increases will be capped at one cent, while their cash fares will remain unchanged.

The rise for lower-wage workers and people with disabilities will also be capped at one cent.

Single-trip train fares and adult cash bus fares - which are paid by around 2 per cent of commuters - will rise by 10 cents.

The adjustments will translate to an increase of $78.2 million in fare revenue for public transport operators next year. Out of that, train revenue will rise by $35 million - with SBS Transit seeing a $10.9 million increase and SMRT seeing a $24.1 million hike.

The Land Transport Authority, which administers bus contracts, gets the remaining $43.2 million.

PTC chairman Richard Magnus pointed out that this additional revenue would not be enough to offset the $1 billion annual bus subsidy that the Government expects to pay for the next five years.

Even so, he said the council had sought to "narrow the gap between cost and revenue", while keeping in mind the interest of commuters.

He said fares had fallen by a total of 8.3 per cent between 2015 and last year. And based on feedback it gathered from 10,400 people, the PTC said 70 per cent of commuters found public transport fares to be affordable, and 60 per cent said they were willing to bear a higher fare increase to mitigate the impact on more vulnerable groups.

This year's fare adjustment took into account a new component: Network Capacity Factor (NCF), which calculates the difference between transport supply and commuter demand. This will tend to push fares higher if more transport capacity is created and demand does not catch up. Regular components include changes in core inflation, wages and energy cost.

This round, the NCF - which factored in additional buses pumped into the network last year and the first two stages of the Downtown MRT Line - contributed 3 percentage points to a 7.5 per cent increase the formula allowed. However, a carry-over reduction of 3.2 per cent from last year's adjustment means the latest increase comes up to 4.3 per cent, or six cents per trip for ez-link card users.

With Singapore's rail network doubling by 2030, Mr Magnus was asked if that meant commuters will have to brace themselves for larger fare increases in future. He said much depends on whether growth in demand matches growth in supply, but added: "I don't think there will be a fare reduction next year."

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in a Facebook post yesterday, said the PTC had a difficult job.

"PTC's decision on fares seldom pleases all," he said. "Commuters do not welcome fare increases; operators need fare adjustments to keep pace with their operating costs. Against such challenges, PTC has chosen the right strategy to be open, transparent and fair."

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng described the latest increase as "manageable".

"The important thing is we have a workable mechanism for fare adjustments," he said, explaining that PTC's formula "is effective and able to reflect the interests of relevant stakeholders".

Minimum wage vs Progressive Wage Model: Debate over best way to lift pay of low-wage workers

Some have called for a minimum wage, but the Government has said its Progressive Wage Model works better
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2018

At the weekend, a debate on the minimum wage erupted in the comments section of Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh's Facebook page as netizens - including former labour chief Lim Boon Heng - weighed in on how Singapore should lift the incomes of its low-wage workers.

This happened after a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies last Friday, at which Manpower Minister Josephine Teo defended the Government's position for not setting a minimum wage in Singapore.

Both sides stand firmly by their arguments on the benefits and shortcomings of adopting a minimum wage. The emotive topic has also divided opinion.

The Straits Times takes a deeper look at what proponents on both sides say.


The calls for Singapore to implement a minimum wage have resounded for many years, with those in favour of this approach arguing that it would ensure every worker earns enough to live in dignity and material sufficiency.

To bolster their argument, they point out that many advanced economies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong have implemented a universal minimum wage.

And these economies have done so without compromising their employment rates, foreign investment levels or competitiveness, they say.

In a commentary he wrote for The Straits Times in 2010, Professor Tommy Koh said: "(Singaporeans) also believe that hard-working Singaporeans, no matter how humble his or her job, should earn incomes that would enable them and their families to live in dignity and material sufficiency. This is, unfortunately, not universally the case in Singapore."

The market does not work for low-skilled and semi-skilled workers because they do not have equal bargaining power and are competing against an endless supply of cheap labour in the region, he said.

Prof Koh commented on having a minimum wage at the IPS forum last Friday, and again on Facebook on Sunday, when he outlined five arguments in support of the policy:

First, every working Singaporean should earn a living wage.

Second, many low-wage workers here are not paid a living wage.

Third, when the market fails, the state must intervene in order to ensure a just outcome.

Fourth, the low salaries paid to Singapore's low-wage workers are not due to their low productivity, but because Singapore has brought in about a million lowly paid foreign workers to compete with local workers.

Fifth, the Progressive Wage Model - a system introduced by the Government to lift wages for workers in certain sectors - has not raised the wages to a level which enable Singapore's low-wage workers to live in dignity.