Sunday 29 September 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

National Statement by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September 2019

Leaders have a duty to youth to act on climate change: PM Lee
It is about their futures during their lifetimes, he tells world leaders at UN General Assembly
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2019

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on world leaders to act on climate change, saying that they owe young people a responsibility to do so.

It is an issue the young are seized with, "and rightfully so, because it is about their futures during their lifetimes", he said in a speech yesterday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

PM Lee was among several leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who have highlighted the issue this week as leaders from 193 countries gathered here to discuss important global challenges.

It was PM Lee's first address at the UN General Assembly since becoming prime minister in 2004.

And in presenting Singapore's national statement to the UN, he also dwelt on multilateralism and championing the rules-based international system, which he said was essential for dealing with "wicked" problems, such as climate change and eradicating poverty.

These problems cannot be solved by a single country alone, he said, calling on the UN members to support the multilateral approach and "push harder against the tide" of isolationist and protectionist sentiments.

"A rules-based multilateral system is still far preferable to any other way to secure peace and prosperity, and to solve global problems," he said.

One such challenge is climate change. PM Lee acknowledged the hundreds of thousands of young people who demonstrated peacefully all over the world last week, including in Singapore at Hong Lim Park, to demand action from governments to slow the warming of the earth and the rising of the seas.

"We owe them a responsibility to act, and they deserve our full support," he said. "It is the responsibility of our generation to leave future generations with a habitable planet, both through mitigation and adaptation."

In Singapore, where climate change is an existential issue, significant measures have been rolled out to reduce emissions, he noted.

PM Lee had outlined them on Monday at the UN Climate Action Summit. These range from a carbon tax, the first in South-east Asia, to working with the UN to offer technical assistance to other countries.

Singapore will also collaborate with partners to better understand climate change and its impact through research and institutions such as the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre. The centre, set up in 1993, is headquartered in Singapore.

Using a variety of data sources including satellite imagery and computer models, it supports national meteorological centres in the region in predicting weather and the climate as well as to monitor and assess land and forest fires, plus the occurrence of transboundary smoke haze for South-east Asia.

But most importantly, he said, "we have to inculcate in our populations the mindset that each one of us has a responsibility to live sustainably and in harmony with the environment".

While Singapore will do its part to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels, the key threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change, it is under no illusion that the target will be easy to achieve, he added.

"Even if we do make it, the problem will not be completely solved, because that will only slow down the rise in sea levels, but will not stop it. But we must try our best, and over time, all countries will have to do more to mitigate climate change," PM Lee said.

Heng Swee Keat on the Singapore economy: CNA938 interview

No need for extraordinary budget at this stage: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Singapore economy
By Tang See Lit, ChannelNewsAsia, 27 Sep 2019

While there are various scenarios in which the Government is ready to step in to support the economy, it does not see the need for an “extraordinary budget" at this stage, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (Sep 27).

Nevertheless, the Government is closely monitoring how the economy will pan out by the end of the year, and is prepared to take action when necessary, he said during an interview with CNA938.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, was responding to a question about the state of the Singapore economy and the measures that the Government has in place should it decide to step in.

Currently, while there are increasing downside risks to growth, some sectors have continued to do well.

These include the information and communications technology, financial services and insurance services sectors. Even within the electronics sector, some segments like data storage have also seen growth, Mr Heng said.

“But how the whole economy will pan out by the end of the year is something we are watching very closely and are prepared to take action when needed,” he added.

This as Singapore remains part of the global economy and is “very dependent” on trade and external demand.

“This trade tension is not helping. In fact the International Monetary Fund has cut global forecasts several times, which is quite unprecedented. It’s (a) much more uncertain state today,” he said.

Mr Heng pointed to monetary and fiscal policies that the Government can turn to when it comes to counter-cyclical measures.

For the former, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is “weighing very carefully as to what is the appropriate exchange rate and they will be announcing this as part of the regular monetary cycle”.

In terms of fiscal policy, Mr Heng said: “Depending on the state of the economy, we have various scenarios in which we are ready to step in when the time comes. I do not foresee a need for an extraordinary budget at this stage.” 

But more importantly, these will have to go alongside structural policies given how the global economy is seeing a combination of cyclical and structural changes. 

“Many other economies also want to do better and therefore they are making changes and reforming their economy. When our trading partners make changes, we too must upgrade otherwise we will be left behind.

“So we have a whole range of important structural policies and in particular, helping our workers learn new skills and working together with companies to restructure jobs so our workers can do better,” he said.


During the nearly hour-long interview on Friday morning, Mr Heng was asked about a range of issues, including living costs in Singapore with an impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax, his journey in politics thus far as well as his leadership style.

I think we already have a very good team,” he said in response to a question from CNA938’s Arnold Gay on the qualities that he is looking out for as he forms the fourth-generation leadership team.

“Many of us have been working together when I entered politics in 2011 but at the same time, I am hoping for more to join us,” added Mr Heng, citing commitment to Singapore as a criteria and his hopes to assemble “a diverse group with experience”.

When asked how the next Cabinet reshuffle could play out given this vision that he has, Mr Heng said he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “have been discussing some of these issues quite regularly”.

Mr Lee has also been “sharing quite a lot of his views” with him.

“We are in discussions and when the time comes, he will announce it. But it’s progressing well and I am happy with the progress that we're making,” said Mr Heng.

As to when the next General Election might take place, Mr Heng would only say that “it’s coming nearer each day” before going on to stress the need for “constructive politics” in Singapore.

“I think the most important issue to address is: What are the issues that Singaporeans like to see tackled in the coming years? What is our strategy for taking Singapore forward?

“It is easy for anyone to say you’re not doing enough on this (and) that but I think what we need is constructive politics in Singapore, which is that I offer this vision of where Singapore is going to go and Singaporeans decide first and foremost do I like that? Second, are you able to get it done? It’s not making empty promises,” he added.

Mr Heng also touched on Singapore’s long-standing identity as a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

“The pledge that our children take every day – regardless of race, language or religion – it’s a very important aspect of our society. Let’s keep it,” he said.

However, this is “always a work in progress” as misunderstandings can happen very easily.

“First and foremost, misunderstandings can happen even between the closest people – a husband and a wife – but when it takes on racial religious dimension, it can be dangerous," he said.

"So it is important for our leaders to promote deeper understanding and appreciation of diversity, and value of that diversity.”

Saturday 28 September 2019

Singapore needs laws to tackle foreign interference in domestic matters: Law Minister K. Shanmugam

Such interference is an age-old affair, but the Internet has revolutionised this, he says at RSIS Conference on Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Sep 2019

Singapore needs laws to counter any foreign attempts to influence its domestic politics and public opinion, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Pointing out that foreign powers have all along sought to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries, Mr Shanmugam said the Internet has revolutionised this process.

Such interference can be even more deadly than military force in undermining a country's politics and stability, and every state has the right to protect its national security, he said.

In Singapore's case, its laws should give the Government powers to tackle foreign interference attempts through targeted, surgical interventions, and to investigate and respond expeditiously to hostile information campaigns.

It must also have the power to get information in order to investigate the provenance of content, to see the extent to which it is foreign influenced and respond appropriately, he added.

Such legislation needs to be able to deal with a diverse range of threats, such as the flow of funds, and interference during and outside election periods, Mr Shanmugam stressed.

When it comes to addressing hostile information campaigns online, it cannot be left to technology companies to regulate themselves, he told a conference on foreign interference tactics and countermeasures organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"We may also need to consider how we restrict foreign participation in the leadership of specific organisations... that are closely involved in our political landscape," he said. "This is similar to our position on foreign participation in cause-based public assemblies and processions."

In his 45-minute speech, Mr Shanmugam outlined examples of how foreign interference has taken place at home and globally, including in the 2016 United States election.

He also spelled out the various methods which foreign interference can take, such as the use of diplomatic channels to subvert and interfere with other states.

The media can also be used, such as via secret funding and control of the publications, and in other cases, having agents use the cover of journalists themselves.

States have also been known to target cause-based movements in other places, mobilising activists in order to advance foreign countries' interests, said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that foreign interference has been turbo-charged because of the Internet and the almost limitless possibilities it has opened up.

Hostile information campaigns can identify the "protest potential" of any population of the target country, he said. The campaigns seek to create protests which deepen divisions among different groups, and get people to distrust institutions.

But it is the combination of online hostile information campaigns, and offline activities, such as foreign-controlled media and agents of influence, that is extremely toxic and powerful, said Mr Shanmugam.

He cited the example of how this took place in Ukraine, where a foreign country built a narrative that the government was fascist and corrupt. He also cited how online campaigning and falsehoods during the vote on Brexit played on people's anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiments.

"All that hasn't happened in its full glory in Singapore. But it can happen. Some of it has happened," he said.

The minister said there are attempts to combine the different approaches of foreign interference, and outlined how a group of local activists met Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad last year to urge him to bring democracy to Singapore. Two of them - historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han - also started New Naratif, which is funded by a foreign foundation and has received foreign contributions.

He also noted that The Online Citizen website has employed foreigners to write almost exclusively negative articles on Singapore matters, including inflammatory pieces that seek to fracture social cohesion.

"Foreign interference is an age-old threat which has adapted to modern technology," he said. "This is an issue of sovereignty and national security. The governments have to lead from the front, and we need to ensure that we have the right tools to fight this threat".

Thursday 26 September 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong receives World Statesman Award recognising Singapore's religious harmony

Singapore works hard to maintain religious harmony: PM Lee
He cites the creation of structures that curb chauvinism and nudge social behaviour in positive ways
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 25 Sep 2019

Singapore is ranked the most religiously diverse country in the world, but its harmonious society did not come about by chance, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in New York on Monday.

Rather, it worked hard to lay the foundation for religious harmony and maintain it over the years, he said in a speech on Singapore and the Government's approach to race and religion.

"We did not become so because Singaporeans are a uniquely virtuous people," he added when accepting the World Statesman Award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a New York-based interfaith group promoting mutual acceptance and respect. "We created structures - constitutional, political, social - that discouraged intolerance, curbed chauvinism and nudged social behaviour in positive ways."

As examples, he cited the country's "strictly secular, but not anti-religious" constitutional approach that treats all faiths impartially, as well as electoral rules to boost multiracial politics, and policies to encourage people of different races to live and study together.

"I went to a Catholic school - there is a church in the school grounds and across the road, there is a synagogue," said PM Lee, referring to Catholic High School when it was in Queen Street, and Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street.

He also noted the compromises religious groups make. For example, mosques tone down their loudspeakers that carry the prayer call, and to make up for it, the call is broadcast on national radio.

On their part, Christians exercise restraint in proselytising to people of other faiths, he added. "Because to you, it is the gospel - the good news - but to people of other faiths, if it is not done sensitively, it can be taken amiss and can cause offence."

PM Lee said he accepted the award on behalf of all who contributed towards building a harmonious society in Singapore.

The World Statesman Award honours leaders who support peaceful coexistence and mutual acceptance in multi-ethnic societies. World leaders given the award in the past included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Reading the citation was former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, 96, whom PM Lee called a long-time friend of Singapore and a close friend of his father, the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Dr Kissinger traced Singapore's success as an extraordinarily modern country despite it being a small island surrounded by large countries, describing its population as one that has faith in itself.

"I have had the good fortune of knowing the (Lee) family for most of my public life, and I have always believed in their contributions to peace and stability in Asia," he said.

PM Lee said Singapore's harmonious society, however, is facing a world that is changing, and Singaporeans need to adapt to new forces.

He listed four: Growing religiosity among all faiths, external influences, provocative views that proliferate on social media, and violence in the name of race and religion.

First, people of all faiths are practising their faiths more fervently, which in itself is not a bad thing, he said. "But as convinced as one might be of one's own faith, we cannot... show disrespect to other people's faiths or other people's gods."

This is why Singapore opposes practices that discourage people from befriending those of other faiths or exchanging greetings during their religious festivals.

Second, racial and religious groups in Singapore have extensive links with their larger counterparts abroad, which can result in the import of disputes from other lands. This can undermine social cohesion.

Singapore therefore bans or expels foreign preachers who bring their foreign quarrels into the country, or who want to persuade Singaporeans to practise their religions in ways inappropriate for local society, said PM Lee. "At the same time, we explain to Singaporeans that different societies often practise the same religion in different ways."

Third, social media means a single offensive or thoughtless post can go viral and be seen by millions.

"It has become dangerously easy for people to cause offence and to take umbrage. We must not allow those who spread toxic views and poison on the Internet to get away with what may literally be murder."

But policing the Internet was a Sisyphean task that still needed to be done, he said, referencing the new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

It allows the Government and the courts to compel the correction of misinformation and falsehoods online and take action against those who deliberately spread untruths.

Fourth is the continuing threat of terrorists who pervert and misuse religion to justify violence.

PM Lee cited how Singapore thwarted a planned terror attack just after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, and strove swiftly to reinforce trust and confidence between religions.

Muslim leaders condemned the terrorists, while non-Muslims expressed continued confidence in their Muslim brethren, he said.

But government actions alone cannot bring about religious harmony, he said, calling on "responsible voices" to spread the message of tolerance and respect.

"I hope future generations of Singaporeans will cherish this harmony... and strengthen it further. We must never allow religion to be weaponised, or used as a front for other conflicts," he added.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Yale-NUS module on dissent: Singapore does not need a 'colour revolution'

Cancelled Yale-NUS course on dissent raises questions about external interference
By Goh Choon Kang, Published The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2019

According to a news report on March 11 last year, a group of Yale-NUS College students held a silent sit-in protest as they claimed that the college did not adequately consider the views of its students when making decisions. The protest ended only after a dialogue between the school and the students.

More than 20 students were believed to have taken part in the protest. The decisions they were unhappy about included the use of public space on campus, changes in the residential life system, mental and academic wellness, and faculty and leadership hiring practices.

The protesters also demanded the reinstatement of monthly town hall meetings, as well as student representation should decisions that affect students be made.

Judging from the report, the rare sit-in protest should have been resolved after the dialogue. There were no follow-up reports for more than a year.

However, the college recently made headlines again. This time, it was reported that the college had cancelled a short-term course titled Dialogue And Dissent In Singapore as the curriculum lacked the diverse perspectives needed for a proper academic examination of the issues around dissent.

The course had originally arranged for local social activists to conduct lectures and dialogues with students, as well as to teach them how to design protest signs.

The programme, which was scheduled to run from the end of this month to early next month, was to be led by Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa'at and Yale-NUS programme manager of leadership and global citizenship Tan Yock Theng. It was originally titled Dissent And Resistance In Singapore.

According to a course outline published earlier on the college's website, the course content included a film on Operation Spectrum, 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy, produced by independent film-maker Jason Soo. A dialogue with Mr Soo was also arranged as part of the programme.

In addition, students would have been able to watch documentaries on prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Local social activists Jolovan Wham and Seelan Palay, historian Thum Ping Tjin, and political website writer Kirsten Han were also invited to interact with the students. To anyone who pays attention to local news, they are no strangers - almost all of them are so-called dissidents or anti-establishment figures.

Dr Thum appeared at one of the hearings of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods last year, and made the astonishing claim that politicians from the People's Action Party were the source of fake news in Singapore.

He claimed that Operation Coldstore in 1963 was conducted for political purposes and there was no evidence that those detained were involved in any conspiracy to overthrow the Government. In response, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam firmly refuted his claims.

One cannot help but associate the latest news with the college's sit-in silent protest last year, not least because this form of protest is one of the non-violent means of resistance adopted in "colour revolutions".

DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Summit 2019

Business leaders can do more to bridge social divides: Heng Swee Keat
Singapore not immune to global challenges, and is renewing its social compact, he says
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2019

Business leaders need to do more than ever to help tackle challenges that undermine social cohesion, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He identified three divides that all societies have to address: Growing inequality as a result of globalisation and advances in technology, a widening divide among different generations and the deepening political polarisation that is made worse by social media.

Unless resolved, the tensions will make it difficult for countries, including Singapore, to weather the challenges of a slowing economy, Mr Heng added yesterday.

And companies can do more in this effort by becoming more socially responsible in areas such as gender equality, environmental sustainability, and promoting education and healthcare, he said in a speech to 400 business and thought leaders at the annual Singapore Summit, which discusses global trends.

Noting the economic and political influence of big businesses today, Mr Heng said companies can do even more to make a difference, by working together as well as with governments to create solutions to improve people's lives.

"More than ever before, business leaders must play a greater role - to renew the social order of the countries they operate in and revitalise the international system," Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said at the Shangri-La Hotel.

In his broad speech on problems confronting societies and the way forward, Mr Heng urged the business leaders to do more to strengthen the social compact, saying that "doing well and doing good need not be contradictory".

He pointed out how some businesses have been championing "conscious capitalism", or the idea that companies should not only serve their shareholders, but customers, employees, suppliers and the environment as well.

He called on countries to work together to tackle global challenges such as climate change, poverty, food security and cyber security.

Likewise, he urged them "not (to) forsake multilateralism simply because the current ground sentiments are shifting away from it". "Instead, it is our role as leaders to uphold this system collectively and convince others that this remains the best way forward," he said.

The need for each society to renew its social compact is urgent amid global economic tensions.

Societal interests have fractured, he noted, making it difficult for governments to secure a mandate to make important decisions.

"Politics is increasingly marked by snap polls, hung Parliaments and government shutdowns, which in turn engender further distrust towards governments and the political system. All these point to a fraying of the social compact that holds societies together," he said.

The relationship between companies and societies has altered too.

"Singapore has so far been spared the full force of these challenges, but we are not immune to them," he added. "We are renewing our social compact. We do not have all the answers to these complex issues."

Every society has to find its own formula to give citizens a stake in shaping its future, Mr Heng added, citing the Singapore Together movement he launched in June to get citizens together to find common cause and create solutions.

Other countries have embarked on similar journeys, he noted, citing France's Great National Debate and Japan's Society 5.0. "We can all learn from each other," he said.

Sentosa-Brani Master Plan: $90 million project to link Sentosa's north, south shores

Sentosa Merlion to make way for themed linkway project
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2019

One of Sentosa's famous structures will be making way for a themed thoroughfare that will link its north and south shores.

The demolition of the Merlion statue is part of long-term plans to reshape the resort island and the adjacent Pulau Brani into a premier leisure and tourism destination.

The last day of operations for the Merlion will be on Oct 20.

Work to demolish the towering 37m statue, located in the heart of Sentosa, will begin by the year end, when construction on the $90 million Sentosa Sensoryscape project will commence.

The new double-level thoroughfare, which will occupy about 30,000 sq m, will connect the mainland-facing Resorts World Sentosa with the beaches in the south, and replace the existing walkway.

Lookout points, water features and other architectural elements will create a multi-sensory experience for visitors strolling across the island, Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) said yesterday.

Its completion by 2022 will mark the first milestone of the blueprint for the two islands, to be rolled out in phases over the next two to three decades.

Details of the Sentosa-Brani masterplan, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally last month, were revealed at a media briefing on Sentosa yesterday.

The two islands will be divided into five zones. The Vibrant Cluster zone, which spans the two islands, will have large-scale attractions. Island Heart will feature hotels, conference spaces, dining and shops, while the Waterfront zone on Pulau Brani will house a Discovery Park.

The Ridgeline zone will connect green spaces from Mount Faber to Mount Imbiah and feature nature and heritage attractions, while Sentosa's beaches will be rejuvenated with a water show, fairgrounds and other attractions in the Beachfront zone.

Transport connectivity will also be enhanced, and a "Downtown South" resort modelled after the labour movement-run Downtown East in Pasir Ris will likely be built on Pulau Brani.

The 1.22 sq km Pulau Brani, about a quarter the size of Sentosa, now houses a port terminal, which will move to Tuas by 2027, along with the terminals in Keppel and Tanjong Pagar.

SDC chief executive Quek Swee Kuan said that rather than having distinct identities, the islands will be linked and integrated in their development, leveraging their island charm and proximity to the city.

When the Merlion statue was constructed in 1995, visitorship to Sentosa was between four million and six million, compared with more than 19 million last year, said Mr Quek. There is thus a need for a wider thoroughfare, and the Sensoryscape will double the current pedestrian capacity, he said.

"We won't relocate the Merlion because of its size, but we are considering how to commemorate it," said Mr Quek.

A new icon for Sentosa is also being considered, he added.

He confirmed that the Police Coast Guard headquarters on Pulau Brani will remain, but said that other plans for the island are still being developed.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, who revealed plans to reshape the two islands in line with plans for the mainland last year, said that the blueprint aims to position Singapore as a leading tourist destination over the coming decades.

"There are also plans to see how we can, in the short and medium term, enhance the value of... the Southern Islands for eco-tourism, for families to visit and learn about a part of Singapore," he said.

Saturday 21 September 2019

PSI or AQI: Why air quality measurements in Singapore differ from other indexes

By Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2019

The haze is back, and the National Environment Agency's (NEA) air quality monitoring network is in full gear.

As air pollution descended on Singapore over the past week, many have questioned whether the figures on the NEA's website have downplayed the severity of the haze.

Instead of relying on readings provided by the NEA, some turned to other air quality readings, such as the World Air Quality Index (AQI), which is compiled by a non-profit outfit headquartered in Beijing and uses measurements provided by affected countries.

The AQI is published online at

During hazy episodes over the past week, people have pointed out that while the AQI reflected unhealthy levels, the NEA's 24-hour PSI showed "moderate" air quality.

The differences in the two readings, the NEA told The Straits Times yesterday, boil down to the way the readings are calculated.

"There are no international guidelines on how air quality indices should be computed," said an NEA spokesman. "Different countries and organisations have their own indices for air quality."

The NEA provides two air quality readings - the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) and the one-hour PM2.5 readings.

Both serve different functions.

Forecasts for the 24-hour PSI should be relied on when planning future activities, such as whether one should go for a picnic the next day.

The one-hour PM2.5, on the other hand, is meant as a gauge for immediate activities, such as whether going for a jog now is the best option.

The readings hinge on the time period over which pollutants are measured.

The 24-hour PSI measures the average concentration levels of six component pollutants over the given period. These include PM10 and PM2.5 - particulate matter of different sizes - sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide. As it is an average over 24 hours, the reading could remain low even if the air currently appears milky.

The one-hour PM2.5 reading, however, measures the average hourly concentration of only one of the six pollutants - PM2.5, tiny particles 30 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair, small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs.

As PM2.5 is the dominant pollutant during periods of trans-boundary haze and has the most influence over the 24-hour PSI readings, it provides a good indication of the current air quality, said the NEA.

However, as Singapore has experienced over the past week, weather conditions can be fickle.

Changing wind patterns, for instance, can make skies hazy one moment and clear the next, which was what happened at the weekend.

Monday 16 September 2019

How GST vouchers help in various ways

Govt will disburse $1 billion in GST vouchers and Medisave top-ups in 2019, defraying costs
By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Sep 2019

None of us like forking out more money to the Government than we have to. Since the goods and services tax (GST) came along in 1994, it has been accompanied by a range of offsets to take some of the pain away, especially for lower-income groups.

The latest payout was last month when about 1.4 million Singaporeans received up to $300 each in the form of GST Voucher - Cash. In a few weeks, about 930,000 eligible HDB households will each receive their GST Voucher - U-Save to help offset utilities bills.

The GST Voucher scheme was introduced in 2012 to help the lower-and middle-income households with daily expenses and to defray GST expenses.

It has since become an indispensable source of support, providing assurance that there is government support for GST expenses for individuals and households, particularly those with lower incomes.

If you received the GST Voucher - Cash payout last month, you can expect to get the GST Voucher - Cash (Bicentennial Payment), which provides an additional cash payment of up to $300.

All in, the Government will pay out $1 billion in GST vouchers and Medisave top-ups this year, benefiting 1.7 million Singaporeans.

The Sunday Times highlights the GST Voucher scheme and other government assistance measures.


The GST Voucher scheme has three components:

• GST Voucher - Cash: This goes out every August to defray some of your GST expenses.

• GST Voucher - Medisave top-up: This is credited to the CPF Medisave accounts of eligible Singaporeans aged 65 and above every August. It can be used to pay for their own or their immediate family members' hospitalisation expenses incurred at any of the participating medical institutions under the Medisave scheme. Medisave can also be used to pay for day surgery and approved outpatient treatments.

• GST Voucher - U-Save: This is given out over four payments each year as a rebate to help HDB households offset part of their utility bills. Note that GST Voucher - U-Save payments are credited automatically to the household's utilities account once it is opened.

Each household will get a GST Voucher - U-Save of up to $400 this year, based on the HDB flat type. This includes an additional U-Save of $20 a year from this year to 2021.

The U-Save rebates are paid out in January, April, July and October this year.

Singaporeans will get some or all of these three components depending on their age, income and the valuation of their homes.

People who own more than one property are not eligible for the GST vouchers - Cash, Medisave and U-Save.

The eligibility criteria is available at

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Enhanced CPF Housing Grant: Higher grants, more choice for first-time HDB flat buyers from 11 September 2019

More incentives to buy resale flats; income ceiling raised to widen the pool of buyers
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2019

From today, first-time buyers will get higher grants and more flexibility to choose the size of their flat and where it is located.

The income ceiling for Housing Board flats has also been raised for the first time since 2015, widening the pool of eligible buyers.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday that the new Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (EHG), which streamlines two older grants, gives couples more flexibility in affording a flat that suits their needs.

It also helps the authorities meet the growing demand for homes without building new flats, which is limited by a lack of land, especially in mature estates, he said.

Instead, the incentive structure has been changed to make it attractive to buy resale flats.

Mr Wong said past incentives, with subsidies and grants, encouraged first-timers to choose new flats, adding: "This is one reason why first-timers often prefer new over resale flats. So, we ought to adjust our grant structure to achieve a better balance."

The changes were hinted at by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally last month, when he said his younger colleagues had ideas to keep flats affordable.

Before this, there were three types of grants: The CPF Housing Grant of $50,000 for resale flats, the Additional CPF Housing Grant (AHG) of up to $40,000 for those earning $5,000 and below, and the Special CPF Housing Grant (SHG) of up to $40,000 for those earning $8,500 and below and were looking to buy four-room or smaller flats in non-mature estates.

Those buying Build-To-Order (BTO) flats may have been eligible for the AHG and SHG, while those buying resale homes could get only the CPF Housing Grant and AHG.

From today (11 Sep), the AHG and SHG will be combined into the EHG of up to $80,000 and available to eligible buyers - including resale flat buyers who did not get the SHG before.

There are also no more restrictions on buyers' choice of flat type and location. "This (dropping of restrictions) means first-timers can get up to $40,000 more when they purchase a new flat," Mr Wong said.

The income ceiling for the EHG is $9,000, higher than the AHG's cap of $5,000 or the SHG's $8,500.

The caveat for the EHG is that the flat's lease must cover buyers until they are aged 95, in line with the authorities' push to get people to buy homes that can last them for life. Those who do not meet this condition will get a pro-rated amount depending on the lease.

With this change, an eligible first-timer family earning $4,800 a month and buying a new four-room flat in a mature estate from the HDB can get $45,000 in grants, compared with $5,000 previously.

As for resale flat buyers, they may get up to $160,000 in grants - a third more than before. This figure takes in the $50,000 CPF Housing Grant and $30,000 Proximity Housing Grant.

The income ceiling for Singaporean households to buy new flats and executive condominium units will be raised by $2,000 - to $14,000 and $16,000, respectively, to allow more to qualify.

Mr Wong said the HDB will likely increase the BTO supply in 2020 to meet the extra demand for public housing expected to arise from these changes. The board is on track to launch 15,000 flats this year.

Its third BTO launch of the year, initially scheduled for last month, has also been pushed to later this month to allow more home buyers to take advantage of the changes.

Property analysts, buyers and sellers said the new system not only benefits first-time buyers, but also sellers looking to upgrade.