Sunday 31 March 2019

Institute of Policy Studies report on Religion in Singapore 2019

Keep religion out of politics, Singaporeans say
One in four open to extremists sharing views online or at events, finds IPS report
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2019

Most Singaporeans are religious, but still frown on religious behaviour that could influence politics or disrupt social harmony, a new report by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has found.

They also feel that having different religious views is no barrier to getting along when living in close proximity.

But the researchers noted that a sizeable proportion of people have no qualms about letting religious extremists publish their views online, or hold public meetings to talk about them.

When surveyed, one in four people said putting such views online is acceptable as long as they do not instigate harm against others, and younger respondents were even more likely to think so - possibly because of more liberal attitudes towards free speech among the young, the researchers said.

But the overwhelming consensus across all age groups is that it is unacceptable for religious leaders to incite hatred or violence against other religions.

The working paper's authors, however, noted there is a fine line between espousing extremist views that consider other faiths as enemies and making hate speech.

"How the Government navigates the desire by this significant segment of the population for freedom of speech pertaining to extremist views in future will be of interest,'' they added.

The findings on people's attitudes towards religion were part of an international study involving multiple countries. It was written by IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, research associate Leonard Lim and research assistant Shanthini Selvarajan.

"Religion is an influential and powerful force, and seeps into multiple domains of public and private life," the authors said.

"Tracking the expansive reach and influence of religion is thus crucial in maintaining inter-religious harmony and surveying public sentiment in public policy."

A total of 1,800 Singapore residents aged 18 and older were surveyed for the local component of the international study.

Face-to-face interviews were carried out between August and December last year by market research company ML Research Consultants.

Participants were asked about their religious beliefs and how these influence their views on issues such as public policy, religious harmony and infidelity.

Although 80 per cent have religious beliefs, only 40 per cent said they would consider themselves to be a "spiritual person". Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus were more likely to have religious beliefs but not identify as spiritual.

Most also had at least some level of belief in life after death, heaven, hell and religious miracles.

On religious harmony, seven in 10 people said they feel people from different religious backgrounds can get along when living close together.

Even so, around 15 per cent of them said they found Muslims at least somewhat threatening. This was higher than for any other religious group.

When asked about religion and politics, most agreed religious leaders should not try to influence voting at elections or make remarks about politicians' characters.

Three-quarters also agreed the country's laws should not be based on a particular religion.

Religion was also found to influence people's views on moral issues such as infidelity, abortion and homosexual sex.

The younger and better educated respondents, as well as those with no religion, tend to have more liberal attitudes.

Egg on your face: Calculated act rightly treated as a crime in many societies

By Margaret Chan, Published The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2019

Social media moves faster than anything else out there, writes online marketing guru Neil Patel, on the destructiveness of the Internet. A moment of dumbness can go viral and turn into a nightmare of mob justice out of control.

This explains why comments on social media have to be taken seriously. Take the recent case of a young man, Mr Edmund Zhong, who posted on the Channel NewsAsia Facebook page that he wanted to throw an egg at Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. This was after an egg-throwing incident in Australia when a teenager egged a senator for insensitive remarks in response to the Christchurch massacre.

Very quickly, another person responded to Mr Zhong with information on the minister's upcoming Meet-the-People Session. Now the two men are being investigated for the offence of inciting violence under Section 267C of the Penal Code. In a subsequent interview with the media, Mr Zhong came across as bemused, if not irritated, that the police had come to his home.

Did the police overreact? On that comment, Mr Shanmugam himself said he laughed it off.

The way I see it, the police did Mr Zhong a favour by visiting him, and nipping a potential problem in the bud.

Fact: Egging someone is not funny but criminal. Several jurisdictions have ruled it criminal to attack anyone with either an egg, pie, tomato, flour or a glitter bomb.

On March 3, a Brexiter threw an egg at British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and was jailed for 28 days. The chief magistrate, on passing sentence, noted: "An attack like this is an attack on our democratic process. This is a public servant and attacks on MPs must stop. The message must go out - this must stop."

In May 2016, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson beat up the protester who had pied him. The culprit was charged with felony assault and misdemeanour battery.

In 2010, an American woman smashed a pie into the face of Canada's then Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, and was banned from entering Canada for two years. The act was discussed in the Canadian press as an act of terrorism; a physical attack on a minister in order to get a government to change its policy.

So, if someone had indeed smashed an egg on Mr Shanmugam's head, would we laugh? I think not.

Journalist T.A. Frank, reporting in The New Republic on the 2011 pie attack on media mogul Rupert Murdoch, studied several films of such attacks, including the 2004 strike on Conservative columnist Ann Coulter at the University of Arizona, and the 1998 offence against Mr Bill Gates in Brussels.

Mr Frank concluded: "One thing they have in common is that they're not funny. And I don't just mean that I don't find them funny. Watch a few of them… Does any of them make you laugh? Does anybody in any of the videos laugh? Invariably, the response of the gathered crowd is alarm followed by disgust. A whiff of chaos, of a broken social compact, is in the air. Everyone is shaken."

Serbian activist Srdja Popovic, who co-founded the non-profit Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies that teaches protesters how to make their point without getting into trouble, said the use of humour, or "laughtivism", is particularly useful.

For example, in Finland, militaristic white nationalists conducted anti-immigrant neighbourhood patrols. Activists dressed like clowns followed the patrols around, making the intimidation look ridiculous.

But Mr Popovic makes clear that "laughtivism" is not a joke. It is an intentional act of aggression against an opponent. "If they react, they will look stupid. If they don't react, they will look weak." And Mr Popovic warns against throwing eggs or pies at anyone. The act may seem like slapstick, but it can be offensive and insulting, and backfire.

University of Colorado professor Peter McGraw explains his benign violation theory - that there can never be humour when the audience feels that the situation is unsafe.

The defence that a pie or an egg does not cause physical hurt will fall when people witness the annoyance and humiliation that is visited upon the victim. Singer Anita Bryant broke down and cried when she was pied in 1977. In 1976, Pat Moynihan was campaigning for a seat in the US Senate when he was ambushed. Moynihan, a child of Hell's Kitchen and no softie, told The New York Times that it was "a violent act" that "scared the hell out of me". After all, in the moment of the attack, who was to tell it was not an assassination attempt?

Saturday 30 March 2019

Heng Swee Keat at NTU Students' Union Ministerial Forum 2019

Singaporeans must remain open to foreigners, says Heng Swee Keat
We don't want a world where people build walls; This will give them confidence to interact with people of all cultures from around the world
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2019

Singaporeans need to be open and understanding of foreigners - whether immigrants or workers and students from other countries - so that they have the confidence to interact with people of all races, languages and cultures from around the world, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

It will be very negative for Singaporeans to draw an exclusive circle for themselves as Singapore would then have no place in the world, Mr Heng told about 700 students attending a ministerial dialogue at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) yesterday.

"We don't want a world where people build walls around themselves," he said to laughter.

"Our pledge - regardless of race, language or religion - is not to be taken lightly… but really as a way of life for Singapore.

"Beyond that, we ought to deepen our understanding of other people... whether they are new immigrants, our immediate neighbours, students from NTU, National University of Singapore or other universities," he said.

Mr Heng also encouraged students on exchange programmes to interact and learn from others.

The need for Singaporeans to have an open mindset and a multicultural outlook was one of his key messages at the two-hour forum, during which he was questioned on a raft of issues, including population growth, technological disruption and meritocracy.

On the projected population of 6.9 million by 2030, set out in the Government's 2013 Population White Paper, Mr Heng said the number goes beyond how densely populated Singapore would be. The social space is as important.

Singapore's population density is not excessive, he said, noting that other cities are a lot more crowded in terms of liveable space.

He cited former chief planner Liu Thai Ker, who said in 2014 that Singapore should plan for 10 million people for it to remain sustainable in the long term.

Giving an account of a constituent who was not comfortable with having foreigners working in his company, Mr Heng said there lies a "difficult trade-off" of integration Singaporeans have to make.

"On the one level, many Singaporeans understand, rationally, we should have more people join us because our workforce is declining.

"But at the same time, emotionally, we don't feel comfortable that there are people who appear a little different from us and I would like to keep this to my circle. This almost tribal feeling is a very deep one," Mr Heng added.

Quoting the saying "Teochew nang kaki nang" - which translates to "Teochew people, we are the same people" - Mr Heng said it makes sense to retain some form of identity and culture in multicultural Singapore, but Singapore must not propagate the notion that only people exactly like us are our people.

On the economic front, Singapore needs to be open as well. Noting that Singapore should not be too narrow in its development of deeper skills and innovation, he said: "Asia and the world are our hinterland, and how we can add value and create value - not just for Singapore - but for the entire hinterland, will define our market.

Singapore submits UNESCO bid to recognise hawker culture

Hawker Culture In Singapore Submitted For Inscription On UNESCO’s Representative List Of The Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2019

The Republic's nomination to inscribe hawker culture in Singapore on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was submitted on Wednesday.

The nomination includes letters, photographs and videos demonstrating community support for the bid, the organisations behind the attempt said in a joint statement yesterday.

The photographs feature an Indian Muslim hawker preparing briyani, a Chinese hawker demonstrating a chicken rice recipe, and a father and his children enjoying the chendol dessert, among other snapshots.

A 10-minute video was also produced to give a 12-member UNESCO evaluation body - including six experts qualified in various fields of intangible cultural heritage - a better understanding of hawker culture in Singapore.

The nomination documents, to be available for public viewing from July, were submitted jointly by the three organisations driving the bid. They are the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency and The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS).

Using the evaluation body's assessment and recommendation as a guide, a 24-member intergovernmental committee will then decide on the suitability of inscribing Singapore's hawker culture.

The results will be announced at the end of next year.

Mr Low Hock Kee, 50, a second-generation hawker and co-chairman of the hawker sub-committee of FMAS, believes that if the inscription is successful, the profile of the country's rich cultural heritage will be boosted. "The nomination also helps elevate the status of hawkers and affirms our role in Singapore."

If successful, hawker culture will join 429 cultures of other countries which have been inscribed since the list was established in 2008. These include Belgium's beer culture, Indonesia's bamboo musical instrument angklung, China's shadow puppetry, and kimjang, or the making and sharing of kimchi in South Korea.

Unlike the evaluation of world heritage sites, assessments of intangible cultural heritage do not require evaluators to make site visits.

Countries whose bids are not successful can reapply in subsequent UNESCO evaluation cycles.

Singapore's first such submission in the category of intangible cultural heritage comes after the Botanic Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.

Singapore's hawker culture bid has drawn some criticism from across the border. Some Malaysians have claimed their country is a street-food paradise, and that Singapore's hawker version is not that special.

However, the list is not intended to define the origins and ownership of cultural practices. For instance, both Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee were inscribed in the UNESCO list.

Instead, Singapore's attempt will be assessed based on the criteria of meeting UNESCO's definition of intangible cultural heritage; how the potential inscription will increase awareness of Singapore's intangible cultural heritage; how the existing and future safeguarding measures promote the continued practice of the culture; whether the nomination involved the community; and whether it is part of the country's intangible cultural heritage inventory.

The country's inventory, comprising 70 elements so far, includes pilgrimages to Kusu Island and Malay weddings, and was established last April.

Friday 29 March 2019

Singapore to invest $700 million in food, medicine and digital tech research for long-term competitiveness

By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2019

The future of food, medicine and digital technology will form the backbone of long-term research plans to keep Singapore competitive, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

But these goals will not be at the expense of basic research, which takes longer to bear fruit, he said as he gave an update on Singapore's research progress and future plans.

Mr Heng, who chairs the National Research Foundation, announced that over $700 million will go into the three areas.

He was speaking to reporters after the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) Council meeting, together with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who chairs the council, and fellow council members Chan Chun Sing and Lawrence Wong.

Digital capabilities will get a large chunk: Over $500 million will be set aside to build up artificial intelligence systems and meet national cyber-security needs. The sum will also boost Singapore's supercomputing capabilities and fund the deployment of robots and automation.

Another $80 million will go towards ramping up cell manufacturing capabilities for cell therapy - hailed as the future of medicine.

And $144 million will be invested in food research, including urban farming and lab-grown meat.

The funds are part of $19 billion that was budgeted in 2016, under the RIE2020 plan for Singapore's science and technology research over the next five years. Food, healthcare and the digital economy were earmarked as research targets following a mid-term review of the plan.

PM Lee said success will depend on three factors: Singapore must continue to emphasise science and technology in society, develop a strong core of talent, and build partnerships with foreign countries and institutions to pool expertise and take on more ambitious projects.

"We cannot afford to have people fearful and distrustful of science and held captive by totally groundless anti-scientific beliefs," he said.

Speaking on manufacturing's changed nature, Mr Chan, the Trade and Industry Minister, said: "Our ability to position ourselves carefully in various niche areas across the entire global value chain will be critical to our competitiveness."

Mr Wong, Minister for National Development, said Singapore can develop urban solutions and be, for companies, "a living laboratory to pilot, test-bed and eventually scale up their solutions".

URA Draft Master Plan 2019: More homes planned in city centre to inject vibrancy

Over 20,000 new homes likely in Central Area; CBD Incentive Scheme to convert ageing offices
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2019

More than 20,000 homes could be built in the city centre, which the Central Business District (CBD) is part of, so that it does not become a ghost town at night.

This is more than a third of the current 50,000 flats in the Central Area.

On top of this, the Government will give developers a higher gross plot ratio - a measure of how intensely a land parcel can be developed - to nudge developers to convert ageing offices into hotels and homes.

Announcing the CBD Incentive Scheme at the launch of the Draft Master Plan yesterday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong noted that the district is largely mono-use today.

"We want to introduce a broader mix of uses so that the CBD is not only a place to work, but also a vibrant place to live and play," he said.

Other highlights include a new 50km Greater Rustic Coast along the northern coast and three-dimensional district-level underground plans to help building owners and developers plan for the future.

The CBD Incentive Scheme, which will kick in when the Master Plan is gazetted later this year, will apply to the Anson Road, Cecil Street, Shenton Way, Robinson Road and Tanjong Pagar areas. There are currently over 3,000 dwelling units there.

Predominantly office buildings, which have been built or significantly refurbished at least 20 years ago, are eligible.

They will get a plot ratio increase of between 25 per cent and 30 per cent, depending on their location and land use, which could range from a hotel to a condominium with some shops on the ground floor.

This may help inject new life into this major business node, and see streets filled with hip restaurants, bars and boutique gyms, which have emerged in fringe CBD areas like Boat Quay, Circular Road and Telok Ayer.

The CBD Incentive Scheme, as well as another to rejuvenate ageing commercial buildings islandwide, will replace the Bonus Plot Ratio Scheme introduced in 1989.

The Draft Master Plan guides Singapore's development over the next 10 to 15 years and is reviewed every five years.

The authorities also plan to introduce new homes in Marina Bay and Marina South, for example, through the Government Land Sales programme. But the breakdown on the number of housing units and development timeframe for the various areas will be subject to market conditions, said an Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spokesman.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

NEA's pay-as-you-throw rubbish idea triggers memes and serious debate

Residents worry about hike in waste disposal fee and indiscriminate throwing of rubbish
By Cheryl Teh, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2019

One photo showed the white-and-blue Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry photoshopped onto a rubbish chute with the caption "Electronic Rubbish Pricing".

Another showed a rubbish chute with a coin-slot, labelled "insert coin to dump rubbish", next to it.

These memes have surfaced on social media following a Straits Times report on March 15 over a "pay-as-you-throw" pilot by the National Environment Agency (NEA) later this year, to make households pay according to the garbage they throw.

Besides the lighthearted memes, the report has triggered a serious debate over the feasibility of implementing such a scheme here and the necessity of exploring this idea or even others to monitor and limit rubbish dumped by households.

Speaking at a major sustainability conference in Kenya's Nairobi city on March 12, Mr Cheang Kok Chung, director of NEA's department for environmental protection policy and international relations, had revealed plans for a trial of the initiative.

He said the pilot could involve bin chutes that use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track how much waste a household produces.

Though the NEA has said it will not be implementing the initiative immediately, it has already drawn more criticism than praise from Singaporeans.

A poll of 100 ST readers found that 69 of them opposed the idea.

Several HDB residents told The Straits Times that they fear the plan might result in them having to pay much more for waste disposal, or in people throwing rubbish indiscriminately to avoid paying the fee.

But others think pay-as-you-throw could be a good idea, if more thought is put into how the plan might be carried out.

Madam Janice Seah, 54, an administrative assistant, is one of those who expects more harm than good to come out of the pay-as-you-throw plan.

"I think having RFID tags to track waste is okay if it's just for monitoring. But I'm afraid people will try to avoid paying and leave their rubbish next to the communal chute," said Madam Seah, who lives in an HDB flat in Sengkang.

"Our corridors will end up being smelly and attract cockroaches, rats and other pests. The waste disposal people will then have to come and pick up trash two or three times a day."

Stay-at-home mother Koh Liting, 32, is worried that having to pay to use the garbage chute would result in extra charges for garbage disposal. Each HDB household now pays a fixed price of $8.25 for garbage disposal.

Ms Koh is concerned that garbage chutes might become "ERPs for trash bags". She hopes that the fee of $8.25 will remain as the upper limit for garbage disposal under the scheme.

"I don't want my garbage bill to become like a cellphone bill. Garbage disposal, like water and electricity, is part of our basic utilities, not like extra mobile data, and we shouldn't be charged just for throwing rubbish," Ms Koh added.

But others said there are some upsides to the pay-as-you-throw idea.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Old Guard leader Ong Pang Boon honoured for his contributions to Singapore on his 90th birthday

PM Lee Hsien Loong honours pioneer leader who helped to lay basis for nation's survival, sovereignty
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2019

In order to signal that national defence was a priority back in 1965, Mr Ong Pang Boon, together with fellow ministers Jek Yeun Thong and Othman Wok, led by example and volunteered to serve in the People's Defence Force.

The following year, the trio marched proudly in Singapore's first National Day Parade.

This anecdote was among many shared by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at Mr Ong's 90th birthday celebrations on Saturday. He was born on March 28, 1929, in Kuala Lumpur.

A hundred guests, including People's Action Party (PAP) activists, former MPs as well as friends of Mr Ong, were present at Parliament House for the occasion.

They included Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan. She is the niece of Mr Ong's late wife, former MP Chan Choy Siong, who died in 1981.

PM Lee, who has known Mr Ong for more than 60 years, recounted that Mr Ong volunteered to be the election agent for founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in the 1955 Legislative Assembly elections.

The year after, Mr Lee asked Mr Ong to become organising secretary of the PAP. At the time, Mr Ong had gone back to his home town in Kuala Lumpur and had a good job that paid "a princely sum" of $700, with a possible training opportunity in England.

Accepting Mr Lee's offer would have meant taking a pay cut for Mr Ong, as Mr Lee could afford to pay him only $450.

However, PM Lee said, like the other pioneer leaders, Mr Ong had witnessed the brutality of the Japanese Occupation and the chaos of the post-war years.

He firmly believed in the PAP's vision of an independent, multiracial Malaya, and a fair and just society where Malayans of all races would be masters of their own destiny. So, he accepted Mr Lee's offer.

As the PAP's first organising secretary, Mr Ong was "much more than an administrator", said PM Lee. He also played a crucial role bridging the non-communist PAP leaders, who were mostly English educated, with the Chinese-speaking masses, who had become the voting majority from the 1955 elections.

As one of the few senior PAP leaders who were effectively multilingual, Mr Ong used his fluent Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese to rally and win the hearts and minds of voters and cultivate strong ties with the branches, the grassroots and community leaders.

This contributed much to the PAP's victory in the 1959 Legislative Assembly elections, which enabled the PAP to form the government for the first time.

PM Lee noted that the elder Mr Lee had written in his memoirs that without Mr Ong, he (Mr Lee) would have been a "deaf and dumb secretary-general".

Hard choices need to be made for sustainable healthcare: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of Sengkang Hospital Campus

Healthcare spending rising fast and will go up further, so new ways to fund it must be found
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 24 Mar 2019

Singapore's healthcare receipts already exceed $9 billion and are rising faster than GDP growth, with a certainty they will go up even further. Eventually, this will become unsustainable, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

In the medium term, Singapore will have to find new ways to fund healthcare spending.

"But at the same time, we have to think hard about what we must spend on, and which drugs and procedures are cost-effective," PM Lee said at the official opening of Singapore's newest hospital, Sengkang General Hospital (SKH), and the companion Sengkang Community Hospital (SKCH), which provides rehabilitation services.

"We have to make hard choices, and I hope we will have the support of Singaporeans in making them," he added.

PM Lee's comments come after the Health Ministry said last August, when SKH opened its doors to the public, that it will take a pause to plan future healthcare needs after the next public general hospital opens in Woodlands in 2022.

Since 2010, the Government has been steadily building more facilities to meet growing demand as the population ages.

The Sengkang integrated campus in the north-eastern part of Singapore will add 1,000 acute hospital beds and 400 community beds when it opens fully. It currently operates about 500 acute and 150 community hospital beds. More beds will be opened progressively to meet rising patient demand.

Yesterday, PM Lee noted that Singapore spends less on healthcare than most other developed countries, yet has better outcomes.

One reason for the lower expenditure is the relatively younger population, "which has only recently begun ageing".

"But the main reason is because we have structured our system properly, and built in the right incentives to guard against over-consumption of healthcare," he said.

This is not easy to do because it is difficult to tell people that some treatments they want are not necessary or cost-effective, he added.

"Yet we have to watch how heavily the Government subsidises healthcare," he said, noting that in countries with high health subsidies, doctors tend to prescribe more unnecessary and expensive treatments.

PM Lee also spoke about how the healthcare system must adapt to Singaporeans who are living longer and have to grapple with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. They also live in smaller families, with a larger proportion of family members being seniors.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Every school must promote tolerance, openness: PM Lee Hsien Loong at Hwa Chong Institution’s 100th Anniversary Dinner

Maintaining multicultural exchanges essential for promoting societal cohesion, integration: PM Lee
He highlights Hwa Chong Institution's efforts to expose its students to different cultures
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2019

Hwa Chong Institution may be steeped in Chinese history and language, but the school has taken steps to ensure its students are exposed to different cultures, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He underlined the importance of having multicultural exchanges in a speech last evening to some 12,000 alumni, staff and students at the school's 100th anniversary gala dinner, held at its campus in Bukit Timah.

"Maintaining such multicultural exchanges is critical to promoting cohesion and integration in our society," PM Lee said in Mandarin.

Hwa Chong, a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school, has few non-Chinese students. The school has, however, striven to give students the opportunity to mix with peers of different races and backgrounds through various activities, he noted.

For instance, the school partners ITE College West to organise a joint overseas community involvement programme trip, during which students from both schools work and live together.

Besides Hwa Chong, every school should promote the spirit of openness and tolerance because it helps preserve the foundation of Singapore's multiracial and multicultural society, PM Lee added.

"At the same time, we should also strengthen the teaching of mother tongues, enrich the heritage of our society, and further consolidate our country's multiracial, multicultural national identity."

Speaking in both Mandarin and English, he traced Hwa Chong's history, and said it is very much intertwined with Singapore's.

The school, which started with around 70 students in a small building in Niven Road in the Selegie area, has witnessed and participated in many pivotal events, he said, from World War II to the fight for independence from the British in the 1950s and separation from Malaysia in 1965.

For instance, many Chinese students - including those from Hwa Chong - joined anti-colonial protests after World War II.

On the one hand, they were inspired by a movement happening in the world, he noted. On the other, some felt they had been treated unfairly under the colonial system, and wished to rise up against it.

"In the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, Hwa Chong provided the back-drop for anti-colonial and anti-government struggles, and many students were affected by left-leaning thinking," PM Lee said. "It was a time of turbulence."

Enrolment in Chinese-language schools dwindled in the 1970s, as English schools grew in popularity. Nine SAP schools were thus introduced in 1979 to preserve the traditional Chinese school cultural environment.

Hwa Chong was one of the nine. Today, the school is recognised for its high academic performance and bilingual alumni, PM Lee said.

He added that the school has to make a concerted effort on three fronts to continue thriving as an educational institution.

First, it must uphold high academic achievements, even as it continues to emphasise all-rounded education and the cultivation of character and values.

Second, it has a "special responsibility" as a SAP school to promote Chinese traditional culture, values and heritage, and to help students to master their mother tongue.

"This was the reason Mr Lee Kuan Yew introduced SAP schools in 1979. He wanted to revive the spirit of the old Chinese middle schools," he said, adding these schools had "emphasised character development, seriousness of purpose and the spirit of community".

Third, Hwa Chong students must "understand the context of our society, and their own responsibilities within it", PM Lee said. "You must know how Singapore society works, identify with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions and feel a responsibility for your fellow citizens.

"You need to feel a calling to participate in community and national affairs, to contribute to the society and system that has nurtured you, and to take on leadership roles to help take Singapore forward."

Concluding in Mandarin, PM Lee noted that Hwa Chong is celebrating its 100th anniversary and Singapore, its bicentennial.

The road ahead is full of trials and tribulations, he said.

But citing the school's motto for continuous improvement, he said the country will continue to flourish if it adopts that same approach.

Sunday 17 March 2019

New Zealand terror attack: Societies must acknowledge rising Islamophobia, tackle right-wing hate ideology, says Shanmugam

Dealing with specific incidents not enough - you got to deal with the ideology, he says
By Charmaine Ng, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

Societies need to acknowledge that Islamophobia is increasing around the world and come down hard on these people, Singapore's Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Speaking to local media a day after the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques that left 49 people dead, Mr Shanmugam said: "When you see the face of the person who was alleged to have committed the crime, I think you see the face of evil."

He added that while people with right-wing hate ideology have carried out terror attacks for many years, the issue has not received "as much attention" as those said to be carried out on behalf of Islam.

Beyond having leaders speaking publicly to condemn the attacks and stepping up security, societies have to "face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising", said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

"Just as we come down hard on terrorists who say that they attack on behalf of Islam, you got to come down equally hard on Islamophobic people and also you got to deal with the ideology - it's not just dealing with specific incidents," he added.

"For that you got to start by acknowledging that it is there. When you do not acknowledge it, the problem just grows."

Societies need to figure out the boundaries between free speech and hate speech - a line which, in many places, is often blurred.

"We try and draw a line and a fairly strict line, whether it is in the form of entertainment or it is preaching... anything that interferes or attacks other peoples' religions, race," he noted.

Highlighting Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, Mr Shanmugam said of the controversial comments made by the far-right independent politician: "Attacking Islam, attacking the Prophet, saying that it is a savage religion. If he had been in Singapore, this would never have been allowed."

It was important for Singaporeans to understand that if people are allowed to attack other religions or races, over time this would spread as hate speech which results in a "culture of permissiveness", Mr Shanmugam added.

And that creates "a greater divide" and "a more permissive environment for violence... so we have to face up to these questions," he said.

When asked if security at religious sites will be stepped up in the light of the Christchurch attacks, Mr Shanmugam said that while Singapore remains on high alert, it has strict laws on gun control as well as on hate speech.

He also urged Singaporeans who have come across the video of the New Zealand shooting to not circulate it and delete the footage.

"Please delete it. And don't spread it. Because we are giving the gunman and the right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it," he said.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Universal Basic Income: Why should Government give handouts to everyone?

Policies involving the application of universal basic income are instituted with a broad brush (It's time to talk about a universal basic income, March 6).

Yes, they are simple to administer, will help those displaced by disruptive technology and may even enable creative endeavours not otherwise possible.

But why give an unqualified windfall to all and sundry, regardless of need, circumstances or motivation to strive for a better life?

Indubitably, the less fortunate, deprived, sick, handicapped and lower-salaried workers must be given a helping hand by the state.

But such financial aid must be targeted to be meaningful and work effectively.

With a good social welfare infrastructure under the umbrella of the National Council of Social Service, its complex administration in our small and smart nation is manageable, unlike with sprawled out populations in large countries, where those who need the most help may find it inaccessible.

We can't possibly continually give handouts to the able-bodied displaced by disruptive technology as this indicates the unremitting theme of things to come.

But retraining those eager to start afresh, of which schemes are aplenty here, and teaching them to fish again, will give them an occupation to provide food for a lifetime.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)
ST Forum, 8 Mar 2019

Older HDB rental blocks to get better ventilation, natural lighting

By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 2019

In the 1980s and 1990s, housewife Leong Lye Chan, 57, would squint hard while walking along the dark and gloomy corridors of the HDB block where she rents a flat.

She would perspire as she waited in the muggy corridors for her son after school.

In 2004, both ventilation and lighting at Madam Leong's Block 217 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 improved significantly following changes made by the HDB.

Another rental block that was improved under the pilot programme was Block 1 in Holland Close.

Following the pilot, HDB will do the same at other older rental blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s in areas such as Bukit Merah, Kallang and Bedok.

These places house most of the older rental blocks, and the refurbishment will start in 2020.

Despite the tenants' positive feedback about the 2004 pilot, the works were not extended to other blocks in view of the rental demand and supply situation at the time, said an HDB spokesman.

A rental block typically has one-or two-room flats along both sides of the central corridor. Save for sunlight and wind sneaking into the corridor through open spaces at the lift and staircase landings, the rest of the corridor is mostly unlit.

To improve ventilation, HDB will create more openings along the corridors by removing some flats on each floor of the rental blocks, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said yesterday.

The tenants living in the affected units will be moved to similar units in the same building or nearby rental blocks. "HDB will work closely with local organisations and the relevant agencies to ensure a smooth transition," she added.

Nationwide, HDB manages about 230 rental blocks, but lighting and ventilation improvements will be for blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s that have long corridors with flats on both sides, she said.

"We are looking to start preparation for the improvement works later this year," she added.

For Madam Leong's block, two columns of one-room flats were removed near both ends of the wide 10-storey block. Before the pilot, only the centre of the building had openings for air and light to enter.

Now, each floor is lined with 24 units, with two 5m-wide open spaces near the ends to facilitate cross-ventilation.