Wednesday 29 May 2019

Nine historical gardens open at Fort Canning Park

Journey back in time at new gardens in Fort Canning Park
Nine gardens recreate features of early Singapore while augmented reality trail offers peek at scenes from the past
By Shabana Begum, The Straits Times, 28 May 2019

A stroll along Fort Canning Park will now take visitors on a journey back in time.

Nine historical gardens, launched yesterday, recreate the days when 14th-century kings such as Sang Nila Utama had their palaces high on the hill, while royal women bathed in a freshwater spring that used to flow down it. They also recreate the 1800s, when cash crops such as nutmeg, cloves and rambutan were grown on a 20ha plantation next to the park.

In February last year, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced enhancements to be made to Fort Canning Park to highlight its history and make the hill more accessible to visitors.

The gardens, spanning 8ha of the 18ha park, consist of Pancur Larangan (Forbidden Spring), Artisan's Garden, Sang Nila Utama Garden, Raffles Garden, Farquhar Garden, Jubilee Park, First Botanic Garden, Spice Garden and Armenian Street Park.

Making them more exciting, an augmented reality (AR) trail, developed by the National Parks Board (NParks) and National Heritage Board, winds through the gardens, allowing visitors to view scenes from as early as 1300 on their smartphones by scanning the AR codes at eight points along the route.

The Sang Nila Utama Garden, named after the Palembang prince, is a re-creation of South-east Asian gardens of the 14th century. Visitors are welcomed by Javanese split gates and statues of frogs, fish and ducks - fauna that was believed to be seen in the palace gardens.

The garden also has traditional features such as a symmetrical layout and reflective pools filled with lily pads that used to be a meditative refuge for royalty.

"The intent was to restore landscapes that were known to have existed or could have existed in Fort Canning Park," Mr Wong said at the opening of the gardens yesterday.

"To do so, we consulted archaeologists and historians, and scoured historical records, old photos, maps and letters," he said.

Mr Wong also announced that the second phase of the enhancement plan will be completed in 2021. A nature play garden and a space to showcase the performing arts will be added to Jubilee Park. Fort Canning Centre will be repurposed as a heritage gallery, while the foothills will have art galleries and more dining options.

Monday 27 May 2019

Facing dementia alone

A growing number of seniors live alone and also suffer from dementia. How do they battle the illness, with no one to watch over them?
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 26 May 2019

The mild-to-moderate dementia suffered by Mr Saravanamuthu Marimuthu, 71, means he cannot remember to brush his teeth or have a bath in the morning, much less take the eight tablets he needs every day for his chronic illnesses.

If there was no one to give him a change of clothes after his shower, he would keep wearing the same things.

Yet Mr Saravanamuthu has managed to live alone in his one-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio for more than a decade, with dementia his closest "companion" since he was diagnosed with it in 2016.

"I know I have a little bit (of dementia). I can't remember my own name sometimes," said Mr Saravanamuthu, fondly known as "Roy" to his neighbours and staff from the AWWA dementia day care centre situated at the bottom of his block.

As Singapore's population ages, he is one of a growing group of seniors who not only live alone or have dementia, but are also faced with the potentially terrifying prospect of both, battling the scourge alone.

Still, as his case demonstrates, it may be possible for seniors to continue living alone, at least for a while, with the help of social service organisations such as AWWA.

Every morning, a home care associate knocks on Mr Saravanamuthu's door to wake him up. When he opens the door, she reminds him to brush his teeth, shave and take a bath. She also hands him a fresh set of clothes and stands by to watch as he takes his medication.

Then she takes him downstairs to the AWWA dementia day care centre. Once a week, she helps him do his laundry or clean his house.

For the weekends, she will put out his tablets in two small cups - one for Saturday and one for Sunday.

"Sometimes, he will take them but he may forget. Sometimes, I come on Monday and he is wearing the same clothes and I don't know if he had taken any showers over the weekend," said Ms Devi Nair, 39, a home care associate with AWWA.

"But his dementia seems not to have gotten worse. I think it's because we let him do things for himself that he does not forget life skills. He is also meaningfully engaged with eating, activities and friends at the centre downstairs."


The number of people with dementia who endure the "frightening isolation" of living alone will double to nearly a quarter of a million in Britain over the next 20 years, an Alzheimer's charity there predicted this month.

There is no national data on the number of people with dementia who live alone in Singapore, though figures for those who live alone as well as those who have dementia have both surged over the years.

One in 10 people 60 years and above has dementia now, and the proportion rises to one in two among those aged 85 and older. An estimated 103,000 people will have dementia by 2030.

The number of seniors living alone was 41,000 in 2016 and is expected to rise to 92,000 by 2030.

Associate Professor Philip Yap, director of the Geriatric Centre at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said: "Since the prevalence of dementia is said to be 10 per cent in seniors, by extrapolating these figures, we can expect more than 4,000 seniors with dementia living alone today and there will be more than 9,000 of them in 2030."

Hospitals and charities such as Alexandra Hospital, the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA) and AWWA also confirm they are seeing more seniors with dementia living on their own.

"Many of them are single or childless without any living relatives. Some may have estranged relationships with their children or relatives. They are generally lowly educated, have little savings and do not know where to turn to for help," said Mr Kavin Seow, senior director of the elderly group at Touch Community Services.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Merdeka Generation to start getting cards from 2 June 2019

By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 25 May 2019

The first batch of about 80,000 Merdeka Generation Package welcome folders will be available for collection at community events from June 2, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced yesterday.

The rest of the 500,000 or so folders will be sent out by SingPost later in the month, she said.

Dr Khor was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the factory where the folders were being prepared by Medialink Printing Services.

The folders include personalised Merdeka Generation cards which qualify holders for outpatient care subsidies at general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) from Nov 1, regardless of income or the value of their homes.

The Merdeka Generation Package was announced earlier this year by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat during his Budget speech and is aimed at offsetting healthcare costs that come with ageing.

It includes an annual $200 top-up to the Medisave accounts of eligible Singaporeans for five years, from this year to 2023. The first top-up will be automatically credited in July.

The term Merdeka Generation generally refers to Singaporeans born between Jan 1, 1950, and Dec 31, 1959, plus others born in this period who became citizens by the end of 1996. Singaporeans born before this may also be eligible if they did not receive the Pioneer Generation Package.

Dr Khor said: "Our Silver Generation Office started their outreach to the Merdeka Generation seniors from April this year. To date, they have engaged close to 40,000 seniors, mostly through house visits and face-to-face engagements."

She added that engagement sessions are likely to continue until the end of next year and that all of the welcome folders should be sent out by the end of July.

Dr Khor co-chairs the Merdeka Generation Communications and Engagement Taskforce with Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, and Communications and Information Sim Ann, who was also on the visit.

The folder will also contain a list of six CHAS clinics nearest to the home address of the person receiving it, said Ms Sim.

The list will include four GP clinics and two dental clinics.

Ms Sim added that the folder will also contain - printed in all four official languages - a thank-you card from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, a booklet detailing the Merdeka Generation Package benefits and a leaflet on courses and activities that seniors can sign up for using the one-off $100 top-up for their PAssion Silver cards.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Single elderly Singaporeans need $1,379 a month to meet basic living standard: Study

Researchers from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy calculate sum needed for basic standard of living after focus group dialogues
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019

For the first time, researchers in Singapore gathered people aged 55 and above to talk about what they considered to be their basic standard of living, and calculated that a single man or woman aged 65 and above would need at least $1,379 a month to sustain it.

A couple aged 65 and above would need $2,351.

The researchers, from different institutions, based their calculations only on items that all participants agreed were necessary to them - which they had to justify - and which included occasional inexpensive meals out with family or friends, safe and comfortable homes, and an annual holiday to a nearby place costing about $500.

Left out of the list were things deemed too extravagant, like air-conditioning and a car.

Published yesterday, the household budgets study, "What older people need in Singapore", raises a range of policy concerns, said the researchers, as to how the older population would have enough to meet their aspirations.

Among other things, it may not be sustainable for coming generations to rely on family support as a source of retirement income, while basic retirement payouts from the Central Provident Fund (CPF) alone may also be inadequate.

The qualitative study, led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and including Associate Professor Teo You Yenn, head of sociology at Nanyang Technological University, involved focus group discussions with 103 participants from diverse backgrounds. They included people who lived in rental flats as well as private property and a larger representation of some groups, such as minorities and women, for a diversity of views.

In defining a basic standard of living, participants went beyond housing, food and clothing, and included opportunities to education, employment, work-life balance and healthcare. It should also enable a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence and include freedom to participate in social activities, and engage in one's cultural and religious practices.

The list, said researchers, reflected the norms and values held by Singaporeans today.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

NDP 2019 theme song: Our Singapore

Stars come out to sing NDP 2019 song
Line-up of 27 across generations among 300 people featured in music video
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019

It is a treat to the ears when some of Singapore's biggest pop stars and acts lend their voices to this year's National Day Parade (NDP) theme song.

Rahimah Rahim, who has been part of Singapore's entertainment scene since the 1960s, and Stefanie Sun, one of the most recognisable home-grown songbirds, are among a star-studded line-up of 27 artists who have recorded Our Singapore, a mash-up of National Day tunes such as We Will Get There (2002) and Our Singapore (2015).

The song composed by creative director and singer-songwriter Dick Lee is aimed at recognising the contributions of earlier generations and signalling the passing of the nation-building baton from one generation to the next.

The music video, released yesterday, features nearly 300 Singaporeans aged between five and 93 from all walks of life.

Other big names include Kit Chan, Taufik Batisah and JJ Lin, rappers Sheikh Haikel and Shigga Shay, veteran radio DJ Brian Richmond, jazz drummer Louis Soliano, and rock icon Ramli Sarip.

The song is one of the ways that Singapore's 54th birthday bash will focus on the Singapore Bicentennial commemoration and the theme of collective ownership of the Singapore Story.

Brigadier-General Yew Chee Leung, chairman of the NDP 2019 executive committee, said the theme - Our Singapore - is simple to understand and complements the Bicentennial celebrations.

"We want to emphasise the collective ownership of Singapore, just as early generations believed in Singapore, took ownership and put in their blood, sweat and tears to build Singapore to what it is today," said the Chief Armour Officer.

This year's parade returns to the Padang for the first time since 2015 to mark a significant milestone - the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore.

The Padang was also the site of post-independent Singapore's first NDP in 1966.

This year's show will include a Bicentennial segment featuring eight floats of organisations that have contributed to building various aspects of Singapore society since the 19th century.

Protecting Singapore’s vulnerable: Will tougher laws make a difference to those at risk?

Recent changes to the Penal Code have introduced tougher penalties against those who abuse domestic workers, children and people with disabilities, and identified new groups of vulnerable persons. Tan Tam Mei and Cara Wong look at whether harsher punishments would translate into better protection for five groups of vulnerable people.
By Tan Tam Mei and Cara Wong, The Straits Times, 21 May 2019

A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members and Singapore's move to recognise more vulnerable groups who need protection is a reflection of a more compassionate nation, say experts.

Under laws passed in Parliament earlier this month, those who abuse vulnerable victims will face up to twice the maximum punishment for similar crimes against others.

For instance, offenders who cause grievous hurt face up to 10 years' jail with a fine and caning, but if the crime is committed against a vulnerable victim, the jail term can go up to 20 years.

The scope of those considered vulnerable will also be widened under the new laws.

Besides the existing vulnerable categories of domestic workers and people with mental or physical disabilities, three groups will be added: children under 14, victims in close relationships with their offenders, and victims in intimate relationships with their offenders.

The need to deter abuse of the weak through extra legislative protection was first recognised more than 20 years ago.

In 1998, the Penal Code was amended, introducing 11/2 times the maximum punishment for certain offences committed against foreign domestic workers.

Last year, similar enhanced punishments were introduced for abusers of vulnerable adults - defined as those aged 18 and above who are unable to protect themselves due to disabilities - under the Vulnerable Adults Act.

During the Bill's debate, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said the changes were borne out of the desire to deter abuse.

He also said the move was an opportunity "for this House to register our strongest condemnation against acts that harm the most vulnerable among us".

The new laws are encouraging, said experts like Mr Norman Kee, an early childhood and special needs education lecturer at the National Institute of Education, who was of the opinion that the law now gives these "silent groups" a voice.

He said: "The changes do signal the need to move towards a more humanistic, compassionate and inclusive society... (It is also a) representation of their distressing and 'unbearable' suffering."

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the move to recognise victims in intimate or close relationships with their abusers signals that such acts, which are sometimes dismissed as "domestic problems", cannot remain private if they involve abuse.

"It is a recognition that we have a responsibility to raise the alarm and not close one eye... that we must feel outraged and act to prevent or stop abusive behaviour," he said.

But on the ground, welfare and social service groups say the new laws will not necessarily translate into better protection.

Under-reporting is also common when it comes to abuse cases, said the experts who noted that published statistics could represent just the tip of the iceberg.

To be effective, the new laws must come in tandem with measures to protect and educate the victims and those around them, say the various organisations who look out for the vulnerable.

In Parliament, Mr Amrin acknowledged that the law has its limits.

"The law can shape social norms, but it is only one factor," he said, adding that while the legal direction is now clear, the Government needs to work with community partners, including non-governmental organisations, to be effective.

Saturday 11 May 2019

DPM Heng Swee Keat at the 49th St Gallen Symposium

Dialogue key to fostering trust between Government and people: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent In St Gallen (Switzerland), The Straits Times, 10 May 2019

For Singapore, the key to fostering trust between the Government and the people lies in dialogue, partnership and always keeping the promises it has made to the citizens, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

This is a legacy, he added, handed down from founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had said the Government must never, in an election, pledge what it cannot deliver.

"Credibility is important. What we promise, we must do our very best to deliver," said Mr Heng, who had been the late Mr Lee's principal private secretary.

The DPM, whose appointment to the No. 2 position this month signals his standing as the next prime minister, was responding to a question at the 49th St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland on how the Singapore Government builds trust with its citizens when in other countries, this trust has broken down.

One key element is dialogue and interaction with the people by MPs at weekly Meet-the-People Sessions, and via platforms like Our Singapore Conversation, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

He hoped the next round of the conversation will focus on imbuing in people a take-charge attitude when they see a problem that needs fixing. This, in turn, will require leaders at all levels of Singapore society, he added.

Building trust also involves working in partnership, like what is being done in Singapore's tripartite system, the DPM said.

For instance, when the Government was working on restructuring the economy, it gathered together business leaders, business chambers, large trade associations and unions to talk about what should or can be done, he said.

Trust is also about honesty, even when undertaking difficult decisions, like raising the goods and services tax from 7 per cent to 9 per cent. This is to take place some time between 2021 and 2025.

"Some people said, 'You are mad to announce a tax increase so far ahead'. I said our projection is that we have an ageing population; if we want to keep our healthcare system sustainable, we each have to do more to take care of our seniors."

He added: "We believe it is better to be honest with our citizens than to say we have solved the problem."

Mr Heng was speaking at a public dialogue with the symposium's chairman Dominic Barton, a former managing director of consulting firm McKinsey.

He attended the symposium as part of a five-day study trip to Switzerland, where he visited Swiss companies and research institutes to learn more about productivity, R&D and industry development efforts there.

Rules on CPF usage and HDB housing loans updated to ensure homes for life

Buyers can use more from CPF, get bigger HDB loans if lease covers them till age 95; rules will kick in on 10 May 2019
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 May 2019

As society ages, there is a risk that some people could outlive their home leases. Rules have now been updated to strike a balance between giving property buyers more flexibility, while ensuring their leases are long enough and their retirement funds sufficient.

Buyers can now use more from their Central Provident Fund (CPF) and get bigger Housing Board loans for ageing flats, so long as the property's remaining lease covers the youngest buyer till the age of 95.

The changes, announced yesterday by the ministries of Manpower and National Development, mark a shift in how the Government regulates CPF usage and disburses public housing loans. Instead of looking only at a flat's remaining lease, the focus is on whether a property can last its home owner for life.

But restrictions will still be in place to ensure buyers have sufficient funds for retirement: HDB flats must have at least 20 years left on their leases - down from 30 years - for CPF monies to be used for the purchase. HDB flats are sold with 99-year leases.

Also, CPF members aged 55 and older must have properties with leases that cover them till age 95, before they can withdraw their CPF savings in excess of the Basic Retirement Sum. This effectively means their property must have a remaining lease of at least 40 years, up from the old requirement of 30 years.

"The updated rules will provide more flexibility for Singaporeans to buy a home for life, and will apply to both public and private properties," Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post last night.

The announcement comes on the back of many public discussions about depleting leases of ageing HDB flats. Apart from announcing steps like a second round of improvements for ageing flats, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last August that the Ministry of National Development (MND) is looking to "improve the liquidity of the resale market, making it easier for people to buy and sell old flats".

OrangeTee & Tie research head Christine Sun said the move would widen the pool of buyers who can use CPF to buy an older flat, and increase demand for such flats.

Some older buyers, who had not been able to use CPF for buying homes, might now be able to do so, she said.

It may also deter younger buyers from purchasing flats whose lease they may outlast.

MND said most buyers will not be affected by the changes, as 98 per cent of HDB households and 99 per cent of private property families have a home that will cover them to age 95. But older buyers can now buy ageing flats and face less restrictions on CPF usage.

Singaporeans living in private property can apply for government help: Indranee Rajah

Asset-rich but cash-poor: Govt aid available to all regardless of housing type
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 9 May 2019

Citizens who live in private property can apply for government aid should they need help, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday in Parliament.

She also cited broad-based schemes that are for all Singaporeans, regardless of the type of housing they reside in.

These include education assistance and being able to go to polyclinics for healthcare, as well as the Merdeka Generation Package to help citizens born in the 1950s with their healthcare costs.

So, she added, it would be "too much of a generalisation to say that there is nothing for them at all in the Budget".

Ms Indranee was responding to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who asked whether the Government could do more to help asset-rich but cash-poor Singaporeans.

Mr Lim cited residents' feedback and said a number of those who live in private homes noted that it was inequitable that they do not qualify for GST Vouchers, among other initiatives.

As a result, they feel disadvantaged because of their residence type, he added.

Ms Indranee said the Government has more targeted initiatives, like the GST Vouchers, that subsidise the expenses of the lower-income group, besides broad-based schemes.

"The ones who don't benefit from the broad-based schemes, we would encourage them to apply (when they have) a genuine need because the system does allow for appeals and consideration of particular circumstances," she said.

"They may have specific difficulties. We will address those on a case-by-case basis."

Thursday 9 May 2019

Singapore Fake news law passed by Parliament on 8 May 2019

Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was passed with 72 Members saying "yes", all nine Members from the opposition Workers' Party (WP) saying "no"
It is not a political tool but about shaping a society that keeps lies out, says Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 May 2019

After a marathon two-day debate that stretched late into last evening, Parliament passed a comprehensive piece of legislation to combat fake news.

The proposed law is not a political tool for the ruling party to wield power, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, but is about shaping the kind of society that Singapore should be.

Summing up the often fractious debate on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, he painted a picture of a society in which lies are kept out and there are honest debates among people based on truth and honour.

"(Debates) should be based on a foundation of truth, foundation of honour, and foundation where we keep out the lies, that's what this is about. It's not about the Workers' Party or the PAP or today, it's about Singapore," he said responding to the 31 MPs who spoke during the debate on the draft law aimed at protecting society from fake news that harms public interest.

At around 10.20pm, the Bill was passed with 72 MPs saying "yes", nine Workers' Party (WP) MPs saying "no", and three Nominated MPs abstaining.

WP chief Pritam Singh, whose party had strenuously objected to the new law for giving ministers too much powers, had called for a division in which each MP's vote is recorded. The opposition party wanted the courts, instead of the ministers, to be the arbiters of falsehoods, and accused the Government of creating a self-serving law that can be abused to quash critics.

Rebuttals came from many of the People's Action Party (PAP) MPs as well as Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung and Mr Shanmugam, who stressed that a minister's decision under the new law is subject to court appeal and judicial review.

The new law is designed to give the Government the tools to deal with falsehoods on the Internet that can go viral in a matter of minutes and cause untold harm, said Mr Shanmugam, who spent much of his speech addressing WP MPs' claims.

There was no way to guarantee that the courts would be able to respond within hours each time a falsehood needed to be dealt with, he added. He also stressed that the Bill narrows the scope of the Government's powers, instead of broadening them.

"There is no profit of any sort, including political profit, in trying to allow these lies to proliferate and damage our infrastructure of fact. It will damage our institutions and, frankly, no mainstream political party will benefit from it.

"It will damage any party that wants to consider itself mainstream and credible. You've seen what happens in the US, you've seen what happened in the UK, the centre gets hollowed out, it's the extremes that benefit," he said.

MPs had asked for clarifications on technical aspects such as how the law defines falsehoods and public interest, and also raised practical concerns like whether people who inadvertently forward fake news will run afoul of the law.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that orders to put up corrections or remove content would mostly be directed at technology companies.

The man in the street who does not purposely manufacture falsehoods to undermine society need not fear, he added.

During the debate yesterday, Mr Ong addressed the concerns of academics, some of whom had sent him a letter last month about their fears that academic work would be caught under the law.

He said their main concern was that the law would be abused to stifle political discourse "because not all researchers are just researchers, they may also be activists". He assured them that criticism based on facts and not falsehoods would not come under the new law.

Mr Iswaran, meanwhile, spoke about how the Government was fighting the fake news scourge from other fronts, such as working with technology companies on a code of practice that will prevent their platforms from being misused to ramping up media literacy through education.

"Ultimately, our first and most important line of defence against online falsehoods is a well-informed and discerning citizenry, equipped with the tools to combat online falsehoods," he said.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

How AI is powering fake news: 'These people never existed'

'Seeing is believing' no longer holds true as technology makes the job of detecting false content increasingly difficult
By Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 8 May 2019

At the Horasis Global Meeting last month in Cascais, Portugal, which brings together innovators and social scientists from around the world, a researcher in artificial intelligence (AI) showed me about 20 photographs of people's faces on her mobile phone.

She asked me to guess which of those faces belonged to actual people.

They all looked lifelike to me, down to fine details like wrinkles, skin tones, hair texture and candid expressions.

So I said, of course, those must be real people. I was wrong.

All the photos were fake - they were photos of people who never existed.

They had been created by a new kind of AI developed by a company called Nvidia and made public.

Earlier this year, a website called was launched, which uses the technology to show faces of never-existent people, all of which look real.

See the sample images on this page and judge for yourself.

I knew there were apps like FaceApp which uses AI to transform anyone's face, making it look older or younger, adding a smile, or changing a hairstyle, as well as various selfie-editing apps.

But what I just saw was something different.

It was the creation of real-looking people out of thin air.

It was proof that AI can now have imagination and can come up with convincing results, unsupervised.

The same technology can generate imagined images of anything: pets, cars, homes and beautiful art out of rough sketches.

It can also create original poetry.

All of that is already available. Some of these imagined, synthetic renderings can be helpful, for instance, to designers, architects, interior decorators and artists, enabling them to experiment and generate new ideas.


But they can also have unintended consequences, some of which can be dangerous.

Sunday 5 May 2019

Law Minister K. Shanmugam responds to key issues on fake news Bill

Shanmugam spells out how law on fake news will work
A minister who takes action will have to give his reasons as to why info is false: Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 May 2019

A minister who acts against false or misleading information on the Internet under the proposed fake news law will have to give his reasons as to why the information is false, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam.

This will be spelt out in the subsidiary legislation of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, and is something the Government had intended to do all along, he added.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Thursday ahead of next week's Parliament session when the Bill will be debated, Mr Shanmugam sought to dispel the misconception that ministers will be able to arbitrarily make decisions without having to explain them.

The proposed law gives ministers powers to fight online falsehoods that harm public interest.

For instance, they can ask websites and social media platforms to put up corrections alongside untruths or take down the information completely, among other things.

Critics have said this would give ministers too much latitude to define what is true or false.

Mr Shanmugam said: "It will be part of the law that when you say something is false, you give reasons why you say it is false. All along we had intended to do it. This is going to be in subsidiary legislation; that's why it was not in the Bill."

He added: "It's common sense. How do you say something is false without setting out what the facts are, right?"

The subsidiary legislation will also set out the timelines for how fast the ministers and courts must respond when people want to challenge a decision. Last month, he had said the Government will make the appeals process fast and relatively inexpensive for individuals.

For technology firms and platforms, the appeal process will also be expedited but "they should pay normal fees", he added.

He emphasised that the law will focus mainly on these companies, which will be required to carry corrections or cut off a user's ability to profit from online advertisements, for instance. "They will be the ones who will be required to carry the clarification because it doesn't make sense to go and ask 20,000 people to carry clarifications. So that is the focus," he said.

When asked if the Government would trawl the Internet for fake news, he said it will not set up a body to do so. "There's no specific mechanism that will be set up to go and monitor. If it is fake news and of public importance, then one way or another, members of the public might alert us, it will come around and if we get to know about it, then we will deal with it," he added.

Since the Bill was introduced on April 1, the Government has received feedback from different groups, including academics, journalists and technology companies.

One of their anxieties is that the Government may treat critical opinions as fact and use the law to censor them. Some have suggested putting into writing that the law does not cover opinions, viewpoints and criticism, while others have asked for examples of falsehoods to be enumerated.

Mr Shanmugam said that while the Government does not plan to change the Bill, he will address the issues in Parliament.

"Instead of putting it in legislation, we will say that in Parliament. And it will go on record in the Hansard," he said, adding that this will be used by the courts for interpretation, during a court challenge or judicial review.

"So the feedback would be useful, in clarifying in public what the law doesn't cover."

Saturday 4 May 2019

May Day Rally 2019: DPM Heng Swee Keat pledges 4G leaders' commitment to unions

Heng renews pledge first made by Lee Kuan Yew to uphold close working relationship between PAP and NTUC
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2019

In his first speech as Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat yesterday underlined that the close and symbiotic relationship between the labour movement and the People's Action Party (PAP) will continue with his generation of leaders, and beyond.

He pledged that the party's fourth-generation leaders will work with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to renew Singapore and create a brighter future for its citizens.

"Today is the first time I'm speaking to you as leader of the next generation of PAP leaders," he told an audience of 1,600 unionists, workers, employers and Cabinet ministers at this year's May Day Rally.

Making reference to a landmark seminar in 1969, at which founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew underscored the necessity of trade unions, Mr Heng said: "I renew the pledge that Mr Lee made at your Modernisation Seminar 50 years ago, and that every prime minister has since renewed. I assure you, the close working relationship between the PAP and the NTUC, which underpins our unique and precious brand of tripartism, will continue into the 4G and beyond."

The 1969 seminar was a turning point for unions, setting them on a path of collaboration with employers and the Government, he noted.

Running cooperatives gave their leaders business experience, shifting their adversarial stance towards management to one based on cooperation and mutual benefit.

This approach was critical in enabling workers to ride change, he said. It is as vital today as Singapore tackles challenges from technological advances, globalisation and a changing workforce profile.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, outlined three strategies for the labour movement: work to transform the economy, prepare workers for jobs of the future through lifelong learning, and ensure economic growth remains inclusive.

He noted that many people in advanced economies are frustrated as wages stagnate, political systems malfunction and living conditions remain stagnant. "We cannot guarantee the same will not happen here. But we can and must try to avoid a similar fate," he said. "And the key to that is tripartism and the continued vitality of our unions."

NTUC backs the PAP because the party has kept faith with the unions, while the party backs the labour movement because it has remained pro-worker, he added.

NTUC, he added, remains committed to the self-respect of every working man and woman, and believes that the purpose of economic development is to improve the lives of all in the workforce. "We strive for growth, in order to improve the lives of every Singaporean. The labour movement can be assured that the PAP will never abandon the working man and woman."

Mr Heng also said that the PAP's 4G leaders - including Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, current labour chief Ng Chee Meng and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung - have been involved in the labour movement in some way.

Mr Chan was NTUC's secretary-general before Mr Ng took on the role last year, while Mr Ong was formerly deputy secretary-general.

Yesterday also marked Mr Ng's first May Day Rally as labour chief. In an opening speech, he stressed that NTUC will work with the Government for the good of workers. "For what is economic growth - it is meaningless if it is not shared with our Singapore citizens and our Singapore workers," he said.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Today, we must again act boldly to champion transformation efforts that benefit workers through better wages, better work prospects and better welfare. Our future will continue to revolve around our workers and their families."

Rounding up his speech, Mr Heng said: "My colleagues and I recognise the importance of what we are inheriting - this shared sense of responsibility that the PAP and the NTUC owe to Singaporeans and Singapore... My generation of leaders is ready to take up the baton."

Thursday 2 May 2019

New health hub in Jurong to integrate bigger polyclinic with 700-bed nursing home by 2025

Integrated facilities set to be ready by 2025; nursing home will also offer short-term care for elderly
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 May 2019

A new health hub will be built in Jurong that integrates a much bigger polyclinic with a 700-bed nursing home that will also provide short-term care for the elderly, so caregivers can have a break.

Announcing this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said the move is timely, as Jurong's population is older than the national average.

By 2025, when the new polyclinic and nursing home are ready, one in four residents would be more than 65 years old.

To cater to them, the polyclinic will have wider corridors to allow easy wheelchair access. It will be located 150m from the current polyclinic and will be 21/2 times larger.

The clinics will be built for teamlet care, where patients with complex chronic conditions are looked after by a team of doctors, nurses and care managers.

The nursing home will be next to the new Jurong Polyclinic to allow for synergy and some shared services.

Mr Ang Wei Neng, an MP for Jurong GRC, said Jurong Polyclinic used to be the most crowded in Singapore until Pioneer Polyclinic was opened in 2017 in Jurong West and took some of the load, although it remains crowded.

He added that the new polyclinic will have a more conducive environment.

This is the second nursing home and polyclinic to be co-located.

The first is in Bukit Panjang.

Dr Lam, who visited Jurong Polyclinic yesterday, said: "With the ageing population and increased prevalence of chronic diseases, there is an urgency to strengthen primary care and anchor the management of these conditions within the community."

This is why the Ministry of Health (MOH) is building more polyclinics as well as expanding the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) to cover more people.

Older polyclinics are being renovated, while several new ones are being built.

By 2030, there should be 30 to 32 polyclinics, up from the current 20.

From November, CHAS will cover another half a million people - those born between 1950 and 1959, or the Merdeka Generation.

There will also be a new Green card that any Singaporean may apply for. The CHAS Green tier is in addition to the existing CHAS Orange and Blue cards and gives up to $160 in subsidies a year.

MOH had earlier announced an additional 25 per cent subsidy for services and medication at polyclinics for the Merdeka Generation from November.

Pioneers already enjoy an additional 50 per cent off.

Dr Lam also announced some changes to strengthen CHAS, including a cap on the number of visits to a general practitioner (GP) clinic for acute problems.

Patients currently receive subsidies for up to four visits a month to one GP clinic.

But a patient could visit different clinics and receive subsidies up to four times a month at each clinic.

This will change from January next year to a maximum of 24 visits for acute problems a year.

About 99.5 per cent of patients now see GPs for acute problems under CHAS fewer than 24 times a year.

Dr Lam said those who need more visits can appeal and subsidies may be extended on a case-by-case basis. However, he added that someone who needs to see a doctor that often may be better off seeing a specialist.

From August, only one member of a household will need to apply for CHAS. Once approved, all members will enjoy the same level of subsidy.

Applications for CHAS subsidies can be made online the following month.

Tweaks will also be made to dental subsidies from November to align them with best practices.