Saturday 24 November 2018

Singapore's next Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

Heng Swee Keat picked as 4G leader, with Chan Chun Sing as deputy
People's Action Party (PAP) appoints Heng Swee Keat as First Assistant Secretary General, indicating he will be Singapore's fourth PM
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57, has been chosen to lead the fourth-generation (4G) team of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), paving the way for him to become Singapore's next prime minister.

Mr Heng is now the party's first assistant secretary-general, with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, playing a key role as second assistant secretary-general and his deputy.

The announcement of their roles yesterday in the new slate of office-holders for the PAP's highest committee marks a major point in Singapore's leadership transition and answers the pressing question of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking at a media conference at the PAP headquarters in Bedok yesterday evening, Mr Heng said the younger team chose him as their leader, and he accepted it.

He then asked Mr Chan to be his deputy, saying the former army chief and labour chief has many strengths and would complement him very well.

Mr Heng said: "Leading the party and governing Singapore are massive and complex tasks. No one person can do it alone." It was a point both he and Mr Chan reiterated several times at the press conference.

"I am heartened that I have the backing of a strong team," he added.

A group of 30 younger PAP MPs issued a statement yesterday saying they reached the consensus that Mr Heng will lead the team and endorsed Mr Chan as his deputy.

In a Facebook post last evening, PM Lee, the party's secretary-general, said he supports their decision and is happy with the outcome.

Mr Heng and Mr Chan have complementary strengths and make a strong pairing, PM Lee added.

"I am confident that they will continue to grow in experience and touch, and steadily win the confidence and trust of Singaporeans."

The Prime Minister also said he will announce changes to the Cabinet in due course, and observers expect Mr Heng to be appointed deputy prime minister.

Both Mr Heng and Mr Chan entered politics in 2011 and have held various key portfolios.

Mr Heng was made education minister, and chaired key initiatives like a national conversation series to engage citizens and a committee tasked with devising strategies to grow Singapore's economy in future.

But his political future came under serious doubt when he suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in May 2016. He, however, made a miraculous recovery and returned to work about three months later.

Yesterday, Mr Heng gave the assurance that his doctors have given him a clean bill of health, and said he is in even better shape than before. "I would not have taken up this appointment if I do not have the confidence that my health allows me to do it," he added.

On why he picked Mr Chan as his deputy, Mr Heng said they complement each other well in their styles and areas of expertise.

He cited how they have good experiences working together, including setting up the Early Childhood Development Agency.

Mr Chan has been doing a lot of groundwork with various organisations, including the labour movement, the People's Association and the party itself, he noted, adding: "It is important that we pool together our strengths to mobilise."

On his part, Mr Chan said he has great respect for Mr Heng's capabilities, particularly his considerable international experience and knowledge of financial markets.

"As a team, we will complement one another, leveraging our respective strengths to do our best for Singapore," he added.

The PAP's 4G team has strengths in different areas and a range of skills to deal with a complex set of internal and external challenges, Mr Heng said. "I am confident that we will work well together to take Singapore forward and to improve the lives of Singaporeans."

Thursday 22 November 2018

Employment Act: Laws to protect workers' rights expanded to cover all employees from April 2019

Employment Act changes give workers greater protection
Updates reflect changing profile of Singapore's labour force, workplace practices: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2018

The law that protects workers' rights has undergone a major transformation to include all private-sector employees, a move that will entitle them to rights such as paid sick leave, mandatory annual leave of seven to 14 days and protection against wrongful dismissal.

This means the Employment Act (EA) will no longer have a salary cap of $4,500 a month.

The move is among four categories of major changes Parliament approved yesterday and which will take effect in April next year.

The others are: Giving extra protection to more rank-and-file workers, improving the employment dispute resolution framework and giving employers greater flexibility to, say, compensate staff for working on public holidays.

With no salary cap, the Act will cover the growing pool of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). But it will not cover public servants, domestic workers and seafarers, who are covered separately under other laws.

A major change in the expanded law is protection given to more workers under the section known as Part IV. This section sets out extra protection for rank-and-file workers in areas such as working hours, and payment for overtime work and rest days.

For rank-and-file white-collar workers, or non-workmen, the monthly salary threshold has been raised from $2,500 to $2,600, a move that brings another 100,000 workers under Part IV protection.

But for workmen - manual or blue-collar workers - Part IV protection will continue to cover those earning up to $4,500 a month.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, in introducing the Employment (Amendment) Bill for debate yesterday, said the updates - work on which began in 2012 - were to reflect the changing profile of Singapore's labour force and employment practices.

Back in 1968, when the law came into existence, managers and executives were a very small part of the workforce, she noted.

"Today, with the proportion of PMETs... expected to make up two-thirds of our local workforce by 2030, it is timely to make a more fundamental change to the coverage of the EA," she said.

This is why the salary cap of $4,500 will be removed, and this will benefit an additional 430,000 managers and executives.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

China's Social Credit System: Beijing pioneering citizens' 'points' system critics brand 'Orwellian'

The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2018

BEIJING • Beijing's municipal government will assign citizens and firms "personal trustworthiness points" by 2021, state media reported yesterday, pioneering China's controversial plan for a "social credit" system to monitor citizens and businesses.

The system's roll-out has attracted international headlines, sparking comparisons to George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, with critics saying it could massively heighten the Chinese Communist Party's already strict control over society.

In a roadmap released in 2014, China had said it would by 2021 create a "social credit system" to reward or punish individuals and corporations using technology to record various measures of financial credit, personal behaviour and corporate misdeeds.

But it had not made any mention of using points, as proposed by Beijing's municipal government in a new plan released on Monday to improve the city's business environment.

Lists of data, actions and measures will be used to create a trial system of "personal trustworthiness points" for residents and companies in the Chinese capital. The term used can also be translated as "creditworthiness" or "integrity".

The plan did not include details of how the point system would work.

But, it said, information from the system could impact market access, public services, travel, employment and the ability to start businesses, with trustworthy individuals being provided a "green channel" and those who are blacklisted being "unable to move a step".

"This is an important novel approach by Beijing to assess individuals' credit and to tie it to their whole life," China's official Xinhua news agency cited an unnamed official from the municipal state planner as saying.

The plan should serve as an example to the rest of the nation on how to improve the behaviour of individuals and businesses, Xinhua said.

Saturday 17 November 2018

33rd ASEAN Summit 2018: Singapore hands over ASEAN chairmanship to Thailand

ASEAN must seize digital opportunity: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Deeper economic integration, greater unity will also help it overcome challenges
By Yasmine Yahya, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2018

ASEAN has invested in its next generation and worked on building a more secure region this year, but much more remains to be done, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday as Singapore handed the role of chairman to Thailand.

At a media conference wrapping up this week's summits, PM Lee outlined some of ASEAN's key achievements this year, and said Singapore will continue to help shepherd the flagship ASEAN Smart Cities Network and work closely with subsequent chairs to enhance it and increase the number of participating cities.

By the time Singapore next chairs the group in 2028, ASEAN will likely be the world's fourth-largest economy, he noted, adding that while prospects are bright overall, there are challenges to be overcome.

"The free, open and rules-based multilateral order which has underpinned ASEAN's growth and stability is fraying, and big power competition is pulling ASEAN member states in different directions," he said.

"At the same time we are also facing non-traditional transnational issues such as digital technologies and climate change, and these require closer cooperation."

In the face of such challenges, PM Lee outlined three targets he hoped ASEAN would achieve in the next decade: Deeper economic integration, enhanced unity so as to more effectively engage its major partners, and populations equipped with skills needed for new jobs in the digital economy.

To achieve these broad goals, ASEAN will need to comprehensively lower trade barriers and significantly increase trade with each other, he said.

"Also, we need, urgently, massive infrastructure investments in connectivity and productive capacity over the next 10 years in many of the ASEAN countries, and economic integration will help that happen," he added.

Strengthening its centrality and unity is key, PM Lee said, because as ASEAN becomes more cohesive, it can engage its partners in a coherent way and it would be worth their while to do business with ASEAN.

As for training its people, PM Lee said ASEAN should take advantage of the digital revolution to ensure the interoperability of digital systems within the region - that is, the digital systems developed in one country can be used in others too.

"Many countries are going to introduce these systems - it could be e-cash, government systems or data rules - and the more we can harmonise and bring them in line with one another, the more we can operate across borders and have a more integrated economy," he said.

Recapping the highlights of this week's summits, PM Lee noted the substantial progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal and the strong political commitment to conclude negotiations next year.

Leaders also expressed support for efforts towards the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and discussed the South China Sea as well as the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

Myanmar has invited the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management to facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees.

"ASEAN is ready to play an active and positive role... and will support efforts by all parties to work towards a comprehensive and durable solution," PM Lee said.

At the summit's closing ceremony, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Thailand would work on enhancing connectivity and sustainable development.

He called on members to "collaborate even more closely". But growing economic cooperation must also come with "due consideration to balance and benefits for the people", he added, pledging to help enhance ASEAN's role in tackling global issues like climate change.

Thursday 15 November 2018

Facebook: No policy against fake news; Facebook allows itself to spread lies by not removing States Times Review post

Facebook refuses to remove a post making allegations against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2018

Facebook has said it does not have a policy that prohibits alleged fake news, after calls to remove a post making allegations against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Despite a request to do so by the Infocomm Development Media Authority (IMDA), the social media giant refused to take down a post by sociopolitical site States Times Review, which linked to an article on its site.

The Nov 5 article - titled "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB's key investigation target" - suggested Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore in exchange for Singapore banks' assistance in laundering 1MDB funds.

The IMDA also issued a notice to States Times Review to take down the article by 5pm last Friday, which the website failed to do. The authority said the article is considered prohibited content under the Internet Code of Practice, as it had undermined public confidence in the Government's integrity.

In response to queries from The Straits Times on why it had not acceded to IMDA's request, a Facebook spokesman said it had a responsibility to handle any government request to restrict alleged misinformation "carefully and thoughtfully", and that this is consistent with its approach to government requests elsewhere.

However, she added that Facebook does not have a policy that prohibits alleged falsehoods, "apart from in situations where this content has the potential to contribute to imminent violence or physical harm". Facebook did not explain how it determines whether or not a post spreads falsehoods or misinformation.

The Law Ministry, which had described the States Times Review post as false and defamatory, had previously said Facebook's refusal to take down the post was proof of the need for legislation against deliberate online falsehoods.

It added last night that given previous "public assurances that Facebook is committed to combating online falsehoods, we are disappointed that Facebook has not backed up its promises to combat online falsehoods with action".

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has also filed a police report against the author of the States Times Review article, which it described as "baseless and defamatory".

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.

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."