Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Adversarial political system not good for Singapore: DPM Heng Swee Keat

DPM says people should have different ideas and debate them, but agree on decision afterwards
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2019

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat believes a more adversarial political system will not be good for Singapore.

Instead, what the country needs is a "certain political maturity" in which people are encouraged to come up with different ideas on how to get things done, said Mr Heng, who is tipped to lead the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and be the next prime minister.

"At the end of the day, the country cannot be going in 10 different directions because then we go nowhere," he said, stressing it is important that energy is not frittered away on disagreements.

"What is important is that having debated the options, we agree - let us do this, or let us do that."

He was responding to Mr John Teo of Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times, who had asked if Singapore's political system needs to evolve into a more adversarial one, with "more team rivalry even within the same party".

Mr Heng said that worldwide, systems that have done well and delivered a better life for their people are those that are prepared to deal with differences, but not in an adversarial way.

"I prefer to be a constructive problem solver," Mr Heng told the eight Malaysian journalists who met him last Saturday as part of a programme to give foreign journalists a sense of key policies in Singapore. "If there are problems, let us work together to see how best we can solve them, in as constructive a way as possible, that can meet the needs of as many people as possible."

"And if there are differences that we cannot agree on, we should set them aside and say, let these differences not impede us from cooperating closely to achieve things that we can achieve. I think that is a more practical way," he added.



Mr Firdaus Azil of TV news channel Astro Awani asked the Deputy Prime Minister what his "ideal Singapore" looks like.

It is one in which every Singaporean feels that this is a country where he can realise his potential and fulfil his aspirations, Mr Heng said. To this end, the Government emphasises education, job creation and economic transformation. It also ensures that seniors' healthcare needs are met through schemes such as the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages.



On the regional front, he underlined the importance of working with other ASEAN members to achieve economic progress.

The regional grouping has brought peace and stability to the whole region, and all member countries have grown economically, he said.

Asked for his thoughts on being poised to take up the mantle of prime minister in the future, Mr Heng said that his focus is, at present, on restructuring the Singapore economy to catch up with global changes.

"Our term of government is up to April 2021. We want to make the best use of the time to ensure that we deliver on the policies, and that we can help to improve the lives of our people over this period," he added.

On how Singaporeans can treasure their racial and religious harmony, Mr Heng replied that they must celebrate diversity and promote deeper understanding among different faiths.

"For instance, in the area of religion, I think it is important for us to respect what each of us believe."

He highlighted that Singapore has laws on the maintenance of religious harmony, and that leaders from the Inter-Religious Organisation meet regularly to discuss what can be done to promote deeper understanding.

"And, of course, we must start young, in our schools," he said. "Because when our kids go to school and they interact with people from different faiths, they must learn to appreciate that diversity."

Monday, 29 July 2019

More Singaporeans to benefit from higher healthcare subsidies under revised income criteria by October 2019

More than 365,000 people will benefit from revised healthcare subsidies like CHAS by October
Income ceilings for subsidies to be raised by Oct; those paying less to get extra help
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent and Vanessa Liu, The Sunday Times, 28 Jul 2019

By October, more people here will qualify for healthcare subsidies, and many of those who are already entitled to pay less will get additional help to offset their medical expenses.

At least 365,000 Singapore residents will enjoy more healthcare subsidies after the Health Ministry's revision of income eligibility criteria for various schemes, ranging from basic medical insurance to clinic visits.

Each person in a household can earn an average of between $100 and $300 more per month and still qualify, following the latest review "to ensure that healthcare remains affordable for Singaporeans", Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

For example, a family with a per capita monthly income of $1,200 will qualify for up to 50 per cent subsidy of their MediShield Life premiums. Previously, it would have been up to 45 per cent.

Premium subsidies will also be available for a new group of people: those with a per capita family income from above $2,600 to $2,800. This translates to a total cap of $11,200 for a family of four. By October, they will be eligible for subsidies of between 15 and 40 per cent, depending on their house type and age of the person.

Another group of beneficiaries is set to grow: seniors aged 60 years and older.

When the per capita household income ceiling for the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund is raised from $1,800 to $2,000, more will enjoy up to 90 per cent subsidy for devices such as wheelchairs, pressure relief mattresses, hearing aids and spectacles. They will also be able to get up to 80 per cent subsidy for consumables, including adult diapers and milk feeds.

With Singapore's high rate of diabetes and kidney failure, subsidies for a number of patients with these conditions will also rise, depending on their household income. More than 7,000 people are on dialysis, which they must routinely do for the rest of their lives.

The changes will not affect people from households with no income. Their eligibility remains dependent on the annual value of their homes.

More than two million Singapore residents are currently receiving means-tested subsidies for at least one healthcare scheme or service.

In all, the changes will call for an additional $65 million per year, increasing the yearly budget for the schemes in question to about $2.17 billion, the Ministry of Health told The Sunday Times.

"No one will be denied appropriate healthcare because they cannot afford to pay," said a spokesman.

People who qualify will automatically enjoy the higher subsidies and they do not need to take any action, Mr Gan said when announcing the new income criteria at a carnival to raise awareness of the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) at Toa Payoh HDB Atrium.

Another significant move is the introduction of a new tier to CHAS which subsidises people who see specified private general practitioners or dentists. This is the Green tier for Singaporeans with chronic ailments, a change Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced at last year's National Day Rally.

To be launched on Nov 1, it has no income criteria, unlike the existing Blue and Orange tiers which are means-tested.

The new tier "is a major shift towards universal subsidies for chronic conditions under GP care", said Mr Gan, who noted that as the population ages, more Singaporeans will need help to manage their chronic ailments.

Businesswoman Rena Lim, who has diabetes, is looking forward to paying less and has applied for the Green CHAS card to help offset the cost of regular check-ups at the polyclinic near her home. "Having the same doctor monitoring my condition is good," said the 59-year-old.

The per capita monthly household income to qualify for the existing CHAS subsidies will also go up by October, Mr Gan announced. The ceiling for the Blue tier will be raised from $1,100 to $1,200, and for the Orange tier, from $1,800 to $2,000.

Existing CHAS cardholders who qualify for a higher tier will get replacement cards by October. There are now about 1.2 million existing CHAS cardholders, including Pioneer Generation members.

From Nov 1, higher annual subsidy limits for CHAS also take effect.

In the same month, about 500,000 Singaporeans in the Merdeka Generation - those born in the 1950s - will start getting subsidies at over 1,000 specified private GP and 700 dental clinics. Their subsidies will be higher than for CHAS card holders.



Mr Gan said the CHAS enhancements and the Merdeka Generation package will cost $200 million a year, or a third more than the $152 million disbursed last year under CHAS.

Underlining the importance of family doctors and dentists in Singapore's healthcare system, Mr Gan said: "Our regular family doctors and dentists are our first line of care when we fall ill, and provide continued care to help us manage our health conditions well. Through their advice, health checks and screening, as well as vaccinations, they also help us to stay healthy."

Saturday, 20 July 2019

4G team to create opportunities at every stage of life for all: Indranee Rajah

Meritocracy not to blame for Singapore's inequality: Indranee Rajah
Indranee sets out 4G team's twofold approach to tackling inequality
It is also trying to make sure the disadvantaged can make the most of diverse paths opened up
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2019

To tackle inequality in its current form, Singapore's fourth-generation (4G) leadership will not just strengthen support for those who have less, but also strive to create opportunities for all citizens at every stage of their life.

Apart from creating diverse and rewarding paths, the 4G team is also seeking to address a critical issue: How to make sure the disadvantaged can make the most of the opportunities that are created?

Second Minister for Education and Finance Indranee Rajah yesterday set out how the 4G team will address inequality and ensure social mobility, even as she acknowledged that the issue has been around since Singapore became independent.

"Singapore must always be a society of opportunities for all, throughout life, where everyone can progress irrespective of the starting point," she said at the National University of Singapore's Social Service Research Centre Conference.



Flagging that society could fracture in the face of widening inequalities, she said: "What is at stake, therefore, is the very nature of our society. This is not just the task of the Government. It is the task of everyone because it affects all of us."

Inequality and social mobility have been in the spotlight in recent years. In March, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said inequality needs to be tackled on multiple fronts.

Yesterday, Ms Indranee said tackling inequality and social mobility, which have been concerns since 1965, is a "fundamental tenet of achieving a fair and just society".



The nature of the problem has also changed. In the early years, the base starting point for the majority of Singaporeans was very low.

But while the country's economic progress has created prosperity for many, it has also meant that their children started with even greater advantages over those at the bottom end of the spectrum.

Advancements in technology also threaten to deepen the divide between higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers, who risk being shut off from new opportunities.

These trends and tendencies pose new challenges that did not exist in earlier decades, she noted. "Left unchecked, they will cause less advantaged Singaporeans to be left behind and feel that opportunities available can only be accessed by a privileged few," she added.



The 4G team's approach, she said, is not to do away with meritocracy, which some have blamed, or cap the top, but to uplift the bottom by improving access to opportunities among the less advantaged.

She added: "In tandem with this, there must be multiple pathways for achievement, success and careers to ensure continuing social mobility."

Ms Indranee detailed various government assistance schemes, such as enhancing subsidies for childcare, and increasing the qualifying cap and raising the annual maximum payout for the Workfare Income Supplement. The 4G leaders will share more in the coming months on strengthening support for the disadvantaged, she said.

But it was important to offer opportunities for all at every stage of life, she added. "The Government will strive to ensure that no one, no matter the conditions of his or her birth, will be denied the opportunities to improve the conditions of their life."

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Singapore's first dementia care village to be built in Sembawang

Plan envisions safe, home-like environment with help for residents to live independently
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2019

A special village, the first of its kind in Singapore, will be built to care for dementia patients and improve their quality of life and the residential options available to them.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday that a site in Gibraltar Crescent has been put up for sale by public tender for the village.

Dementia care villages encourage residents to pursue their own lives as much as possible despite their age and condition, as opposed to nursing homes, which have sometimes been criticised for being too institutionalised.

The move comes amid a growing incidence of dementia in Singapore. A 2015 study by the Institute of Mental Health found that one in 10 of those aged 60 and above here has dementia. And, according to the Alzheimer's Disease Association (ADA), there were almost 82,000 people with dementia in Singapore last year. This number is expected to hit 103,000 in 2030.



MOH and URA said the planned village will be specially designed to provide a safe, home-like environment where residents are assisted to live independently.

The village will provide tailored services and programmes to create meaningful participation and social interaction among its residents.

"We hope that (it) will offer insights into market demand for such facilities and the community needs of persons with dementia, which will contribute to the development of suitable dementia care models in the future," MOH said.

The site for the village comes with a 30-year lease. It is located near Sembawang Park and comprises a cluster of 10 state bungalows on two land plots. The larger plot is 26,350 sq m, while the other is 1,756 sq m.

The maximum permissible gross floor area (GFA) is 9,170 sq m, with another 900 sq m for extensions to the 10 existing buildings.

The Straits Times understands that the bungalows must remain structurally intact.

Can Singapore remain pragmatic in policies, yet idealistic in vision?

As the future of liberal democracy is debated, Singaporeans should remember that the kind of political system they live under is less important than the quality of governance. The real challenge is whether policies can adapt and remain effective.
By Ho Kwon Ping, Published The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines recently when he loudly and proudly declared that liberalism is, in his words, obsolete.

He would have been roundly ridiculed if he had said this at the end of the Cold War 30 years ago. However, the fact that this remark created anxious, hand-wringing defensiveness on the part of Western liberal democrats illustrates how far democratic liberalism has fallen as an ideology since its heyday.

It is a fundamental tenet of democratic liberalism that as societies become richer, people will look beyond material needs and embrace democracy, individual freedoms, human rights, and so forth. That was what Western liberal democrats predicted would happen with supposedly authoritarian regimes such as China. Give them enough time, the thinking went, and their own repressive regimes will collapse and they will become like us.

That has, to put it mildly, not come about. Instead, the very founts of democratic liberalism such as Europe and the United States have witnessed severe political stress and even aggressively anti-liberal protests, even though they remain the world's wealthiest countries. China continues to power ahead towards global economic supremacy with an authoritarian leadership and single-party political system, and with the broad mass of the Chinese people seemingly quite content with their lack of Western-style freedoms.

The notion that with growth, countries would enjoy less economic inequality and elitism would give way to egalitarianism is now empirically disproven. Indeed, there is nothing directly causal or deterministic between economic growth and liberal democracy.

On the contrary, it is the complex and dynamic interplay between elitism, egalitarianism and inequality that can, depending on the specific mix of circumstances, make societies more cohesive or more fractious regardless of their state of economic development. Particular political systems such as liberal democracy have little to do with it.

GAP BETWEEN ASPIRATION AND REALITY CAUSES SOCIETAL DISSONANCE

For example, a highly elitist and unequal society, which has little egalitarian social values, can exist undisturbed for a long time because reality and aspirations do not result in any societal dissonance. This probably describes the situation in quite a few developing countries with traditions of rigid hierarchies.

On the other hand, a society with low levels of elitism and inequality and a high level of egalitarianism, but which experiences rapid increases in elitism and inequality, is likely to see social unrest. This describes the current situation in many generally affluent Western countries, which has led in particular to anti-establishment, populist political parties and leaders.

In other words, it is not so much the static quantum of elitism or inequality that causes social unrest but the speed and extent of a growing disparity between reality and aspiration.

In particular, it is the self-perception by groups that feel left behind while others see their lives improve, which is critical in determining the extent of societal dissonance. Farmers and steel mill workers in the US are far richer than their counterparts in a developing country, but they may feel more unhappy because their relative economic status within their own society has declined. Furthermore, they live in a culture of egalitarianism where the right to be equal to others is their cultural norm, compared to many developing countries where such values are weaker.

Contrary to the common notion of democratic liberalism that economic progress inevitably prompts a yearning towards free markets and freer societies, history has ironically shown that at the inflection point of the greatest socio-economic progress, societal dissonance can be greatest.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Singapore Together: Redefining the national conversation

Is the latest citizen engagement exercise just another national conversation? Insight looks at why it's set to be different this time.
By Grace Ho, The Sunday Times, 14 Jul 2019

In 1991, then Acting Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo likened the state to a large banyan tree whose reach was so extensive, few other organisms could take root: "The problem now is that under the banyan tree very little else can grow. When state institutions are too pervasive, civic institutions cannot thrive. It's necessary to prune the banyan trees so other plants can grow."

But now it's 2019 and other plants have indeed grown. In fact, there is a variety of civic group "species" ranging from nature and heritage, to gender equality and animal rights.

What's more, the banyan tree of the Government itself has lost some of its "bark". Branches and roots are more intertwined within the ecosystem of all Singapore people.

Rather than standing apart, this outreach has included getting an on-the-ground take from Singaporeans in the form of feedback.

There have been national dialogues including The Next Lap (1991), Singapore 21 (1999), Remaking Singapore (2002), SGfuture (2015) and the biggest, Our Singapore Conversation (OSC).

Unprecedented in scale and reach, OSC was held a year after the watershed 2011 General Election, where the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) garnered its lowest vote share since independence.

And Singapore is now getting set for the latest citizen-state engagement, Singapore Together.

In announcing Singapore Together last month at the REACH-CNA Building Our Future Singapore Together dialogue, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that he and other ministers would work with Singaporeans to design and implement solutions across a wider range of issues and policy areas. These include environmental sustainability, housing, youth and social mobility.

Sceptics might wonder, though, if this is just going to be another national conversation under a different name.

But, as Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan points out: "It is hard to avoid how closely public engagement initiatives have been linked to critical economic, political or electoral events in the nation's life."

The critical event looming is, of course, the segue to 4G leadership, which Mr Heng is poised to helm.

Insight looks at how this particular outreach is poised to be a sea change in these exercises, why there is a need for new ways to create policy and build trust amid Singapore's changing electorate, and what an expanded "democracy of deeds" - a theme in Mr Heng's outline - could look like.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Coding classes for all upper primary pupils from 2020; Merdeka Generation Digital Clinics to equip seniors with basic digital skills starting from September 2019

Non-examinable 10-hour programme aims to expose them to skills needed in digital economy
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 11 July 2019

All upper primary pupils will take coding enrichment classes from next year to expose them to the skills needed to embrace new opportunities in the digital economy.

Efforts to equip Singapore's seniors with basic digital skills will also be ramped up, along with a continued drive to make it easier for businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to go digital, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said yesterday as he laid out his ministry's upcoming plans.

Another key move is setting up a telecoms cyber-security specialist team to ensure that the country's 5G network is designed to be secure, given that its ability to carry more data increases its vulnerability.



"We want to build a digital economy where every business is digitally empowered, every worker is digitally skilled and every citizen is digitally connected," said Mr Iswaran.

"This is our overall vision for an inclusive digital Singapore that brings benefits to all Singaporeans... We must also excite young Singaporeans about the new opportunities in the digital economy. For a start, we are exposing them to the skill sets that are needed."

This involves a 10-hour coding programme for Primary 6 pupils, which will be piloted at some schools this year, after their Primary School Leaving Examination, before being rolled out to Primary 4 to 6 pupils in all primary schools by next year.



Developed by the Education Ministry and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, and offered as an optional enrichment course since 2014, the Code For Fun programme aims to develop an appreciation for computational thinking and coding concepts, using tools such as simple visual-based programming and robotic kits.

It will not be examinable.

The programme will continue as an option to complement existing computing subjects in secondary schools, helping students to go deeper into coding, while other initiatives for tertiary students will also be enhanced.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards: 13 people with disabilities recognised for their contributions to society

By Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 4 July 2019

When he was five years old, Mr Michael Ngu contracted polio and became paralysed in both legs, but his disability did not stop his dream of becoming an architect.

His career began in the 1980s and for nearly a decade, he worked for celebrated architect I.M. Pei in New York. Today, Mr Ngu, 62, is the president and chief executive of Architects 61, an award-winning local company.

Yesterday, he was one of 13 people with disabilities recognised for their achievements in their fields, as well as for their potential and contributions to society, at the inaugural Goh Chok Tong (GCT) Enable Awards.

"I hope my achievement can be an inspiration to others," said Mr Ngu. "It has been challenging for a person with disabilities to achieve and gain acceptance in society."



Today, Mr Ngu's projects are seen not just in Singapore, but also overseas - in China, India, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

Closer to home, his firm has had a hand in designing several notable structures including Changi Airport's Terminal 1 and 5, and the Helix Bridge.

Mr Ngu has also found time to give back to the community, having served as vice-chairman of the Singapore Cheshire Home, a charity for people with disabilities, and treasurer of the Handcycling Association of Singapore, now known as the Para Cycling Federation of Singapore.

Yesterday's awards ceremony, held at the Istana, was graced by President Halimah Yacob and attended by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Lauding the award recipients, Madam Halimah said: "Their stories remind us that everyone is unique and differently abled, and can contribute back to society in their own ways. I hope today's awards will inspire everyone to go the distance with our endeavours."

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Career Trial for Jobseekers: More help for those seeking part-time employment

Career Trial's expansion a boon for firms as well as some job-seekers who want flexibility
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Jul 2019

Footwear retailer Skechers has 66 vacancies in retail and logistics that it is looking to fill as it expands, but finding dedicated workers has not been an easy task.

Ms Zann Lee, its regional director for sales and products, said the company has tried to fill the gaps by hiring part-time sales associates through recruitment agencies, but the recruiters promised more flexibility in working arrangements than the company could provide. "The drop-out rates are about 40 per cent," she said.

Many part-timers did not want to work during the busy evening and weekend hours, which is when they are most needed, she said.

Now, Ms Lee hopes to bring some on board through the Career Trial scheme, which lets employers and job-seekers try out a work arrangement for up to three months. The Government foots the bill for a training allowance of between $7.50 and $15 per hour.

This is capped at 480 hours for full-time workers and 80 hours per month for part-timers.

After the trial period, the company may then offer a permanent job or a contract of at least a year.



The scheme was expanded on May 15 to include part-time work, which has attracted at least 13 employers so far, said Workforce Singapore (WSG), the agency which runs the programme. Besides Skechers, these include electronics and furniture retailer Courts, restaurant chain Han's and integrated resort Marina Bay Sands.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling said yesterday that the expansion was aimed at benefiting more Singaporeans, such as caregivers and retirees, who want flexibility.

"This also widens the talent pool for our companies, especially companies in the service sector," she said, on the sidelines of the Adapt and Grow career fair at HDB Hub.

There are 750 employers on the scheme, she said, with most of them offering full-time work.

She also said about 30 per cent of the 730 people who found jobs through Career Trial last year claimed a retention bonus of $500, which means they stayed on the job for at least three months.

In the first three months of this year, more than 100 people found full-time jobs through Career Trial, WSG said.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

What makes Changi Airport shine

Nearly four decades on, Changi Airport remains a leading international air hub in an intensely competitive and volatile industry. Jewel reflects the innovative spirit that drives Changi Airport Group's efforts to stay in the top league.
By Liew Mun Leong, Published The Straits Times, 1 July 2019

Today, we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the formation of Changi Airport Group (CAG).

It has been 38 years since Changi Airport started operations on July 1, 1981 and I have been deeply involved in its development from as early as the mid-70s. Despite scepticism from many quarters, our leaders back then believed that the future capacity of Changi Airport should cater for 30 million passengers per annum (mppa). Today, we have superseded this amid strong growth in passenger demand, with a total handling capacity of 85 mppa across our four terminals. How did we achieve this?

FORESIGHT AND PLANNING

From the outset, our leaders had the foresight to invest in the airport. Running an airport is like managing an asset-heavy business. It is also inherently complex. To build more capacity takes a long time and comes with high infrastructural costs.

At the same time, the aviation industry is dynamic and volatile, making it challenging to look to the future even though it is necessary to do so. With the combination of a risk-taking mindset and a team of highly astute and dedicated staff to plan, design and manage the airport, we were fortunate to have done well.

In 2009, our leaders further made the bold move to corporatise the airport by forming CAG as a private company and restructuring the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). CAG was to undertake airport operations and air hub development, while CAAS focused on its regulatory and air traffic management roles. Corporatisation has allowed CAG to be more customer-focused and gives it greater flexibility to respond and innovate in a rapidly changing aviation environment where there is intense competition, especially in the region.

In recent years, many airports have made significant improvements in their operational efficiency and service levels. Transfer passengers account for about 30 per cent of Changi's total traffic, and it is a competitive market, with travellers having the option of different air hubs to stop over or transit. Since the formation of CAG, the number of passengers passing through Changi has gone up from 37 million to 66 million annually. But our efforts to attract passengers and visitors to Singapore continue. This is where the latest addition, Jewel Changi Airport (Jewel), comes in.



THE BIRTH OF A GEM

Recently, I accompanied the Chinese Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Hong Xiaoyong, on a visit to Jewel. The moment he saw Jewel, he turned to his embassy colleagues and said in Mandarin, "This is innovation in Singapore!" and diplomatically repeated that to me in English.

I responded that Jewel is indeed a bold innovation in ideas and technology and briefed him on how it was originally an open-air carpark with 800 lots built about 40 years ago for hourly parking using paper coupon payment. I am familiar with the history of the site because I was the engineer in charge of building the carpark back then. The open-air carpark has now been converted into a high value, multi-functional commercial asset with extended airport functions, shopping, restaurant outlets, an airport hotel, recreational facilities and attractions, including 2,500 carpark lots.

The unveiling of Jewel on April 17 is a clear demonstration of our continual innovative efforts to ensure that Changi Airport remains a leading international air hub. I have been involved with the building of Changi Airport from its early phases in 1975, but Jewel is truly one of the highlights of my professional career.

Its birth began at least nine years ago. Changi was critically short of parking lots at Terminal 1 (T1). As T1 was hemmed by T2 and T3, expansion was possible only at the open-air carpark in front of T1. Airport land is precious and we wanted to create greater economic value in the use of the 3ha (about the size of four football fields), which lies at the heart of Changi Airport, surrounded by the three terminals.

However, we rejected the obvious solution of simply building a multi-storey carpark in front of T1, an approach which has been conveniently adopted by quite a few major airports in the rest of the world.

CAG chief executive Lee Seow Hiang came up to me one day with the idea of constructing a commercial building with additional carpark spaces on the site. The proposed building could be integrated with an expanded T1 and open the flexibility for us to re-imagine what an airport infrastructure could be.

Frankly, at the time I was sceptical if the idea could work financially. But I left it to Mr Lee and his team to innovate and develop his new "dream". A bid was eventually called for design proposals to develop the site and several parties took part in the competition. Finally, a bold and highly imaginative glass dome conceptualised and designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie was selected.

Throughout, there was one key strategic goal - to upgrade and maintain the attractiveness of Changi Airport as an international air hub by entertaining and providing stopover passengers with more "pleasurable transit time" when passing through Changi. We also wanted to better serve growing passenger segments such as those who travel to Singapore to connect to cruises and ferries. With this, we also wanted Jewel to be a space for all Singaporeans to enjoy bonding with family and friends.