Sunday 27 October 2019

Bicentennial Bonus: 1.4 Million Singaporeans to receive benefits in November 2019

Those eligible get up to three goodies - GST Voucher cash payout, CPF top-up, Workfare bonus
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2019

About 1.4 million Singaporeans will receive up to three of the Bicentennial Bonus benefits next month.

These are the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Voucher cash payout, Central Provident Fund (CPF) top-up and Workfare Bicentennial Bonus, the Finance Ministry said in a statement yesterday.

During Budget 2019, the Government announced a $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus to commemorate Singapore's bicentennial and to support individuals who need more help.

SMS notifications for the bicentennial cash payment and Workfare Bicentennial Bonus will go out by the end of this month.

Letters for the Workfare Bicentennial Bonus and CPF top-up will be issued next month.

To verify the authenticity of an SMS notification, citizens can check that the message is sent by "SG-Workfare" for the Workfare Bicentennial Bonus, or "GSTV" for the GST Voucher.

These notifications only inform citizens of their respective benefits, and citizens will not be asked to reply to the SMS or provide any information, said the ministry.

Those aged 21 and above who earned an income of up to $28,000 in 2017 are eligible for the GST Voucher.

If their home's annual value at the end of last year was $13,000 or below, they will receive $300.

If the annual value was more than $13,000 but no more than $21,000, they will receive $150.

Employees under the Workfare Income Supplement scheme will receive an additional 10 per cent of their total Workfare payment for work done last year, with a minimum payment of $100 to help with daily expenses.

About 300,000 Singaporeans aged 50 to 64 will get top-ups to their CPF Ordinary and Special Accounts or Retirement Accounts.

Those aged 50 to 54 this year will receive $300 or $500.

Those aged 55 to 64 this year will get $600 or $1,000, depending on how much they have in their CPF Ordinary and Special Accounts, or their Retirement Accounts.

To qualify for the top-ups, recipients also have to meet other criteria, such as not owning more than one property and not exceeding $28,000 in assessable income for Year of Assessment 2018.

As part of the Bicentennial Bonus, primary and secondary school students received a $150 top-up to their Edusave acco-unts by June, while Singaporeans aged 17 to 20 got up to $500 in their Post-Secondary Education Accounts.

Each taxpayer will also get a personal income tax rebate of 50 per cent of tax payable for income earned last year, capped at $200.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Speak Mandarin Campaign marks 40 years: Singapore must guard against losing bilingual edge, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Speak Mandarin Campaign must factor in that many families are using English at home
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2019

Many Chinese Singaporean families are using English as their main language, and the Speak Mandarin Campaign must adapt to this major shift, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking in Mandarin at the campaign's 40th anniversary celebration, he noted that most young Chinese Singaporeans can understand and speak the language, but they may not speak it fluently.

And Singapore may be losing its bilingual competitive edge, he said, adding that people all over the world are learning Mandarin eagerly. "They all know that to work in China, to build relationships with the Chinese and to grab opportunities that come with China's development, they have to master Mandarin," he added at the event at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre.

"We have to put in more effort to encourage the use of Mandarin in our daily lives, and find ways to keep the language alive and preserve the uniqueness of our Mandarin," he said.

"As our society and context keep changing, promoting Mandarin will be a continuous, never-ending project," he added.

Citing data from the Ministry of Education to illustrate how the language environment continues to change, PM Lee said 71 per cent of Chinese households with Primary 1 children speak mostly English at home today. The figure was 42 per cent two decades ago.

The trend is similar for the other major ethnic communities.

Among Malay families, the corresponding figures are 67 per cent (18 per cent) and, among Indians, 70 per cent (55 per cent).

The Prime Minister acknowledged the difficulties of using Mandarin at home in a predominantly English-speaking environment.

"Many bilingual parents shared with me that if a conscious effort is not made, it is easy to default to English... Nevertheless, I hope everyone will persevere because it is worth the effort," he said.

While the Government will continue to give its support, family members can help immerse young children in the language at home by speaking more Mandarin to them, he said. This is a stage where children are most sensitive to pronunciations and intonations, and can acquire a language more easily, he added.

PM Lee cited the significant contributions made by the annual campaign, saying its many creative activities have helped to promote the use of the language, so much so that some students are being taught coding in Mandarin.

Also, in multicultural Singapore, the influences of other languages and dialects have created a lexicon of uniquely local Mandarin terms.

For example, "ba sha" is from the Malay word "pasar" for market, while "pai tuo" comes from the Cantonese dialect phrase "pak tor" for going on a date.

A database of Singapore Mandarin terms will be launched next month as part of the anniversary celebration.

This will help Chinese Singaporeans develop a deeper sense of identification with Singapore Mandarin, PM Lee said.

He also announced the campaign's new slogan: Speak Mandarin? Yes, I can.

Singaporeans in their 40s today are better educated, earn more than past cohorts: Ministry of Finance report on socio-economic outcomes of Singaporeans born between 1940 - 1979

But MOF report shows they have less family support as fewer are married and families are smaller
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2019

Singaporeans today are generally better educated, more able to find jobs and earn more, and live longer, according to a study by the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The study looked at Singaporeans in their 40s today, and compared them with earlier cohorts.

It found that those in their 40s also have less family support, as fewer of them are married and families are smaller, the report published yesterday showed.

And while home ownership has risen over time, it showed that the figures for those in their 40s are slightly behind that of those in their 50s and 60s.

The study, which draws on official data, tracks the status of four generations of Singaporeans when they were in their 40s.

It shows that 44 per cent of those born in the 1970s have university degrees, compared with 21 per cent of those born in the 1960s, and 7 per cent of those born in the 1940s.

The median real gross monthly income of those in their 40s is twice that of those in their 60s, when that cohort was still in their 40s.

And the median real balance in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Ordinary and Special accounts is three times that of those in their 60s at the same age, after accounting for inflation.

Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s are not included in the report as outcomes like retirement savings and health are better observed later on in life, said MOF.


The report highlighted that 79 per cent of Singaporeans in their 40s have post-secondary qualifications, compared with 49 cent of those in their 50s and 22 per cent of those in their 70s.

One factor is that those born in the 1940s grew up in a fragmented schooling landscape with uneven quality organised by different community groups. While vocational schools expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, it was not until the 1980s that a robust national curriculum was developed.

Those in their 40s benefited from major shifts in the education system focusing on technological literacy and continuing skills development - a trend set to continue with younger Singaporeans.

The report added: "Today, students benefit from well-resourced schools and a large degree of flexibility... where they can choose from multiple pathways based on their strengths and talents."

Due to an increase in the female participation rate, more are now active in the workforce. While the total labour force participation rate rose by 5 percentage points between 2009 and last year, women's participation jumped by more than 10 points during the same period.

Singaporeans in their 40s are also earning more. At $5,900, the median real gross monthly income including employer CPF contributions of all full-time workers is about twice that of older cohorts when they were at the same age. The median is the midway point in the population. This applies even to the bottom 20 per cent of income earners, who earn $3,000 or less a month - twice as much as those in their 60s, when they were in their 40s.

Overall, when shorn of inflation's effects, the median CPF account balance of those in their 40s is three times that of those in their 60s, when that cohort was still in their 40s.

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Singapore's art of the deal in defence diplomacy

Its latest agreement with the Chinese highlights the balancing involved in keeping ties with both China and US on an even keel
By David Boey, Published The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2019

In the latest sign of its efforts to maintain strong friendships with both China and the United States, Singapore announced on Sunday that it had updated a defence deal that allows Chinese warships to continue using its military facilities, just as it did for the US under a separate pact.

As a maritime nation, it is in Singapore's interest that trade routes remain free and open. It is also imperative for Singapore to nurture meaningful ties with maritime forces that sail in regional sea lanes. The two points are not mutually exclusive.

With China and the US jockeying for power, Singapore's offer to sustain China's regional military presence is a move policymakers would have weighed carefully with due regard to American sensitivities, particularly concerns that Singapore may be straying into China's orbit.

The US Navy's regular demonstrations of freedom of navigation operations in disputed South China Sea waters using its warships and patrol planes have in the recent past triggered tense stand-offs with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy.

So while support for port visits forms a small part of the Sino-Singapore defence deal, it would not be surprising that Singapore's commitment to provide continued support for visiting PLA Navy warships may raise eyebrows about the implications of the agreement.


The enhanced Agreement on Defence Exchanges and Security Cooperation was signed in China on Sunday by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Chinese State Councillor and Minister of National Defence Wei Fenghe. It builds on the January 2008 document that paved the way for the PLA and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to cooperate and train together.

If you deconstruct the enhanced deal, you will find that PLA-SAF defence diplomacy efforts account for all but one of six new areas for constructive engagement. Ministerial-level dialogues, bigger bilateral exercises (currently small scale, with 120 soldiers from each army), port visits by warships, academic exchanges between military academies and think-tanks and a hotline represent fresh efforts to strengthen defence diplomacy.

The sixth point, a visiting forces agreement, is mainly procedural (this covers the legal status of troops participating in exercises).

Signed 27 days after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and US President Donald Trump agreed to extend a 1990 memorandum of understanding (MOU) that allows American military aircraft and naval vessels to use facilities in the city state, the short interval between the two signings is likely to draw comparisons between the two deals and raise questions about Singapore's motives.


Balancing Singapore's relationship with China (the Republic's largest trading partner) and the US (its biggest foreign investor) is more complex than simply brokering a deal with both sides.

Though the specifics are different, the art of the deal with China and the US stems from a common intention by all signatories to enhance regional peace and stability.

Unlike the 1990 MOU, which was intended to give the Americans a place that would partially offset the loss of Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base in the Philippines, the focus of the Sino-Singapore deal appears to be designed for China's military to sustain constructive engagement in the area of defence diplomacy. As part of the balancing act, Singapore will not commit its US-sourced weapons for war games with the PLA even as it seeks to deepen bilateral defence cooperation with the world's biggest military.

It bears remembering that it took eight years before China agreed to resume sending minister-level representation to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore this year. Specific mention of the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Beijing Xiangshan Forum underscores the enhanced deal's commitment to defence diplomacy. This means China and international stakeholders can engage in dialogue. The PLA's willingness to step up its outreach as it expands and modernises is also a positive one.

Sunday 20 October 2019

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam receives Distinguished Leadership and Service Award from the Institute of International Finance

Tharman receives international leadership award for contributions to global economy
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Oct 2019

WASHINGTON • Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has received an award for his contributions to global financial governance and public service from an international finance industry association.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF) awarded him and Bank of England governor Mark Carney its first Distinguished Leadership and Service Award on Thursday.

The award recognises individuals who have made distinguished and sustained contributions to the health of the global economy and financial system through their leadership, the IIF said in a statement.

The finance industry's global association is based in Washington DC. It has more than 450 members from over 70 countries, including commercial and investment banks, sovereign wealth funds, central banks and development banks.

IIF president and chief executive Timothy Adams presented Mr Tharman the award at the association's annual meeting in Washington.

Said Mr Adams: "You're a visionary, there's no doubt about it, and you should be recognised as a leading proponent of global reforms to de-risk and grow development finance and to achieve more resilient capital flows.

"Your ability to see around the corner and consider both the economic implications and the possibilities from the senior banker's perspective is incredibly unique and highly valued, and everybody around the world recognises your unique skills and talents."

Mr Tharman, who is in Washington until tomorrow for the annual meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, said in a statement: "It is my privilege to receive this award from the IIF. It is to the credit of my colleagues at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and in the Singapore Government, and internationally, whom I have been working with to build resilient and growth-oriented financial markets.

"There is still much to be done to put in place the cooperative international networks and global financial reforms needed for more inclusive and sustainable growth."

Mr Tharman is also Coordinating Minister for Social Policies and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

He currently chairs the Group of 30, a group of leading economists and policymakers from around the world.

In a wide-ranging fireside chat with Mr Adams after receiving the award, Mr Tharman said that what was truly unusual in the global economy today was a confluence of different uncertainties, ranging from geopolitical to domestic political concerns, such as the future evolution of liberal democracies.

"We're profoundly concerned. The prospect of a bifurcation, fragmentation of global supply chains, the way in which tech adds value and creates productivity, is a fundamental uncertainty now facing the global economy," said Mr Tharman.

Investment is also weak across the global economy because of this confluence of uncertainties that cannot be priced and are dampening investment in a whole set of sectors, he added.

Mr Tharman also warned of what he called slow-burn issues, such as climate change mitigation, the renewal of infrastructure and the pensions crisis - meaning the future inability of governments to fund their public pension systems.

"It's a looming crisis across the advanced world, and defined contribution and democratisation of pensions hasn't worked out the way it was meant to," he said. "A slow-burn issue, but slow-burning issues eventually end up in a fire.

"There's a massive need to address the slow-burn pensions crisis, because it's unsustainable and if we don't sort it out, it's going to pose an inequitable burden on the next generation," he said.

He called these profound uncertainties over the future - as well as the profound denial over the nature of the problem - a global issue.

Addressing these issues requires a long-term orientation in fiscal policy, but such an orientation is possible only with "faith in the centre of politics", he said.

"Without trust in politics and institutions, it's very hard to take a long-term perspective of things. Things reduce themselves to what happens in the next elections."

But such trust has to be created and earned with policies for inclusive growth - effectively, a new social contract, he added.

Friday 18 October 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Forbes Global CEO Conference 2019 Meeting of Minds dialogue

Singapore guards itself against populist forces by focusing on basic needs: PM Lee Hsien Loong
This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, he says
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

Populism has become an issue in many countries, and Singapore has tried hard to guard itself against this by having a government which focuses on the basic needs of its people, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, as well as ensuring Singaporeans have opportunities to upgrade themselves and cope with new demands, PM Lee noted.

"So, in many ways, we have tried to make sure that people have (their) basic needs met, aspirations (are) achievable and a sense that this is theirs. This is their country... they have every reason to be proud of it, they will defend the system."

If this is achieved and Singaporeans feel that the system works for them, they will not vote for a political team which will pull the system down, he said during the 19th Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel.

He added that such a system calls for political leaders with conviction, commitment and a belief that they are doing this for a purpose, rather than to further their own careers and make a fortune, along with a civil service of high quality.

Populism has become an issue in many developed countries, because of a divide between the elite and the masses, he noted. The latter feel the system has not been fair to them, and they are left behind.

PM Lee was speaking during a dialogue moderated by Mr Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.

During the hour-long dialogue, which covered a broad range of topics, including the US-China trade tensions, the political unrest in Hong Kong, and Singapore's role in South-east Asia, he was also asked how the Republic balances immigration and growth.

To secure the country's future, Singaporeans need to have more babies to maintain the core citizen population, he said, adding that the Government is working hard to promote marriage and parenthood.

The resident total fertility rate was 1.14 last year. PM Lee said if the rate can be pushed to 1.3 or 1.4, this is "two-thirds" of what Singapore needs, and the remaining third can be topped up with immigration.

"We have now about 32,000 to 33,000 babies born in Singapore a year, citizens. We bring in about 30,000 permanent residents.

"So, it is almost one to one; but of those permanent residents, we have about 20,000 who become citizens a year.

"So, we are producing more of our own kids than we are having immigrant new citizens. So, I think that is not a bad balance. If I can have a few more of my own kids, I think it would be better," he noted.

In the workforce, there are around 2.1 million to 2.2 million resident workers and about one million non-resident workers - a ratio of about two to one.

PM Lee said there is flexibility to have more or less, depending on the needs of the economy and the business cycles.

These non-resident workers bring vibrancy to Singapore and also contribute in various sectors, such as in the arts and culture, and business and economy, he said. At the same time, the Singaporean core and identity should be retained.

Mr Forbes also asked when the next elections will be held.

"Any time within the next 18 months. So, just keep your eyes peeled," PM Lee replied.

He reiterated that he will hand over the premiership "some time soon after the next election" to his successor, whom he hopes will have time to build up his team and build mutual trust and confidence with the population, to take the country forward and win the subsequent elections.

"I think it is very important to try to plan ahead and to arrange for orderly political succession," he added.

"So that whatever may happen to you personally, the country is assured of a leadership team which is competent, which is experienced, which is in touch with the population and in sync with the times and is in a position to take the country the next step forward with the next generation of Singaporeans."

ComCare cash assistance: $127 million disbursed to 37,400 households or 75,200 individuals in FY2018

30% seeking shorter-term government aid rejected
Applicants either had enough money, withdrew applications or could not be reached, says MSF
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

About 30 per cent of those applying for short-to medium-term government financial aid were rejected in the past three years, although almost all the requests for long-term assistance were approved.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) gave these figures to The Straits Times, and this is believed to be the first time such data has been made public.

Last Friday, it released its ComCare annual report for its 2018 financial year, which ended in March this year, but the percentage of rejected applications was not contained in the report.

ComCare is a key social safety net providing a financial lifeline to struggling Singaporeans.

About 37,400 families were on the various ComCare schemes in its 2018 financial year - the lowest in four years. In that period, some 72 per cent, or 27,122, of these families received Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA), while 11 per cent, or 4,261 households, were on Long-Term Assistance (LTA).

The MSF spokesman said it had approved about seven in 10 applications for the SMTA in the past three years. Applicants were rejected as they had sufficient income or savings for their basic living expenses, or they withdrew their applications or became uncontactable despite attempts to reach them, she added.

Last year, 10 per cent of the rejected SMTA applications, or 1,551 applications, were not approved because the family was deemed to have sufficient savings.

The MSF said those asking for financial help for the first time are typically assessed for the SMTA, where the amount given and for how long vary from case to case.

Its spokesman added: "Depending on the applicant's circumstances and needs, our Social Service Offices will recommend Long-Term Assistance to those who are assessed to be permanently unable to work and have little or no family support. The majority of LTA beneficiaries are elderly with limited family support."

Those on the LTA scheme are given monetary help each month for the long run. A one-person household, for example, on the LTA would receive $600 a month.

Meanwhile, those on the ComCare schemes have had less savings over the past three years.

Each household member in families who received the SMTA had an average of $246 in cash savings last year, down from $283 in 2017 and $335 in 2016.

The amount refers to the savings they had when they applied for help. This is also the first time the MSF has revealed this information.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave the information in a parliamentary reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong on Oct 7 as she had asked about the savings that ComCare applicants have, among other questions.

Mr Lee said the Social Service Offices look at the applicants' income, assets such as savings, and expenses. In considering their savings, the MSF looks at factors such as their savings for emergency expenses and their family size.

Mr Lee said about the applicants' savings: "There is no hard threshold and the Social Service Offices can exercise flexibility, taking into account the applicants' circumstances and needs."

Thursday 17 October 2019

Singapore's 4G leadership lays out plans to take relationship with China 'to a higher level': Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

4G leaders stress broad plan to engage China economically
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat says Singapore's new political team aims to build on past foundations and scale new peaks in bilateral ties
By Tan Dawn Wei, China Bureau Chief In Chongqing and Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

Singapore's fourth-generation leadership has a comprehensive plan for engaging with China economically and plugging into the East Asian giant's rapid development.

Ten members of the 4G cohort drove home the point yesterday as they spoke to Singapore media at the end of a bilateral meeting in Chongqing that was of particular significance as the Singapore team was composed completely of this new generation of political leaders.

The delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who co-chaired the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level platform for discussions between Singapore and China.

Mr Heng, who took over the reins from former deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean earlier this year, said his first meeting in the new role was forward-looking and productive.

He also took the opportunity to "understand China's development priorities and direction in the coming years, and to look at how we can build on these priorities", he added.

As Singapore transitions to a new political team and marks three decades of diplomatic relations with China next year, the vision of the 4G crew is to build on the foundation of the past decades and "scale new peaks" in ties with China, he said.

An emerging area of collaboration is smart cities, which address today's trends of rapid urbanisation and digitalisation, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran.

The two sides yesterday signed an agreement on a smart cities initiative in Shenzhen that would, among other things, help promote talent flow in both directions.

Another area is the environment, with both sides "at the forefront" and joining forces to fight climate change on the world stage, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

The two nations are also applying technology to achieve zero-waste cities at Tianjin Eco-city, Singapore's second flagship project with China, added Mr Masagos.

The frequent visits to China by Singapore ministers and officials show the relationship "is not static and monolithic", noted Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

These also show they are keen to keep pace with China's developments and understand the different priorities of various provinces as well as the central government.

Mr Chan outlined three priority areas Singapore will focus on in its partnership with China: Internationalisation of the Chinese economy, plugging into the mainland's regional development strategies, and non-physical aspects of the new economy, such as professional services and data flows.

"All these are intangibles, but they all play a part in the new economy, and this is also what the Chinese are focused on," he said.

The Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area economic blueprint is of particular interest, as the ministers spoke about plugging into the masterplan with such existing projects as the Guangzhou Knowledge City and the new smart city agreement for technology capital Shenzhen.

The continued emphasis on ensuring that cooperation is updated to match China's priorities has served the partnership well.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo noted that the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, the third flagship bilateral project, has been elevated to a strategic national-level project and given high priority, as it catalyses the development of China's western region and links up the Belt and Road routes, while fulfilling broader economic integration between China and South-east Asia.

Mr Heng said another important area of cooperation is capital market connectivity, and the development of a more resilient financial system able to channel capital to productive uses across the different areas.

He recounted a Chinese official noting on Monday that Singapore was unique in that it has many cooperation platforms with China.

"The phrase he used was duyi wuer (unique and unmatched)," Mr Heng added. "This is something that both sides value, and we would like to take this forward."

Workers won't be alone as economy transforms: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference 2019

Government will help them train for new roles to remain employable
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2019

As industries transform and Singapore charts an uncertain future, workers will not be left to fend for themselves, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He reiterated the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) promise to always stand with workers and do its best for them, just as it has since early independence.

Speaking at the NTUC National Delegates' Conference, PM Lee pointed to the challenges ahead as the economy enters a new phase.

Technology is transforming many industries, and established players are being disrupted.

Workers have to be ready for change, and the Government has to help them "to train for new roles, to cope with the rapid changes in their industries and to remain employable", said PM Lee. "It will not be easy, but rest assured, we will walk with you all the way."

PM Lee noted that elsewhere in the world, there has been widespread unhappiness as workers lose jobs or feel they have been left behind by progress.

The social compact has been fractured, and this has given rise overseas to populist movements which divide societies.

In Hong Kong, underlying factors behind the protests include the sense that serious economic and social concerns have not been addressed. This social division can befall Singapore if it is not careful, PM Lee said, noting that the country is not immune to such forces.

"If it happens to us... we will suffer the same consequences as the other countries," he told the audience at Orchid Country Club. "Only worse, because we are that much more vulnerable."

He said such circumstances would destroy confidence in the country. "Singapore will be finished," said PM Lee.

The "symbiotic relationship" between the PAP and NTUC is key to helping Singapore avoid the dire outcomes seen overseas, he added.

The PAP Government, which represents workers' interests, will always remain close to its roots in the labour movement, PM Lee said. That is why many of its MPs come from NTUC, and the labour chief sits as a full minister in the Cabinet.

In his speech, PM Lee traced how the PAP and NTUC forged close bonds, which have been renewed by successive generations.

He stressed that these bonds between the PAP and NTUC have to be sustained and strengthened.

The PAP's fundamental objective is to advance the well-being and future of workers, he said, pointing to how the Government has built affordable homes and delivered quality healthcare, education and public transport services.

Most of all, it creates jobs and opportunities for workers, to enable all citizens to improve their lives through their own efforts, he said.

"This is far better than having a populist government that gives vent to the frustrations of the population, or panders to short-term passions at the expense of long-term interests."

Meanwhile, NTUC has been an "equal and constructive" partner in creating prosperity and growth.

"Workers have enjoyed a fair share of the fruits of your efforts," PM Lee said. "You have influence and interests within the system. You do not have to go outside it, work around it, or worse, try to pull it down and replace it.

"This is your system. Make it succeed, and take pride in it."

Concluding, PM Lee said generations of PAP and union leaders have worked closely to keep Singaporean workers at the centre of the country's economic and social development efforts.

The PAP Government, he said, will "ensure that no Singaporean, regardless of family background or life circumstances, will ever be shut out from opportunities, or left behind".

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Racial harmony: Five critical steps to keep the peace

To continue to live in harmony here, we must carefully manage race and religious issues, not leave them to chance
By K. Shanmugam, Published The Straits Times, 15 Oct 2019

At a recent forum on race issues organised by and CNA, and supported by Roses of Peace, I spoke about how we have been careful and deliberate in our policies and how we managed race relations.

Cultural xenophobia is increasing across the world. According to Professor Mark Juergensmeyer, an expert in sociology and religious studies, this is brought on by globalisation, instant worldwide communication and the easy mobility of populations. People now fear losing their identity and sense of belonging.

These fears, coupled with the global economic slowdown and growing social inequality, are manipulated by hard-line nationalists and politicians.

In the United States, the FBI reported that the white supremacy movement was behind the majority of domestic terrorism cases involving a racial motive. The shootings in El Paso, which killed 22 people, is a recent example.

Increased immigration from Mexico and Asia to the US has led to some Americans feeling displaced. Some have capitalised on these concerns by attacking immigrants and religious minorities. These then feed the deeply disturbed minds, like those of the El Paso shooter.

And in May, BBC News highlighted the increasing support for right-wing nationalist parties across 17 European countries. In Hungary, Fidesz, a far-right nationalist party and key member of the ruling alliance government, won more than 49 per cent of the votes in the 2018 national elections. In Switzerland and Austria, nationalist parties won more than 25 per cent of the votes.

In Asia, we are seeing more instances of violence instigated by religious extremists. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, nationalist Buddhist monks have made fiery speeches, inciting violence against minority groups.


Singapore is not immune to identity politics, and ethnic and religious nationalism. The Institute of Policy Studies and conducted a comprehensive survey on race, religion and language in 2018. Most of the findings were positive. About 80 per cent were comfortable to have someone of another race as their neighbour, colleague, employee, boss, and as a close friend.

But the survey also pointed out pockets of concern. Racial stereotyping is quite alive. One stereotype that struck me was that more than half of the Chinese respondents felt that it was unlikely that members of the minority races would return their wallet if they found it in a shopping mall. Similarly, more than four in 10 Malays and Indians agreed that someone's race gave them a good idea of what the person's behaviour and views were like. We are far from a post-race Nirvana.

Saturday 12 October 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry Singapore's 50th anniversary dialogue on 10 October 2019

Singapore can learn from Japan ways to tackle ageing issues: PM Lee
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2019

Japan's ageing society has key lessons for Singapore, which will similarly face a greying society in about 15 years' time, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Speaking at a dialogue to mark the 50th anniversary of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Singapore (JCCI), he said: "We are looking carefully at all the things you do, all the technology you've invented. Devices for old folks, spoons and forks which old people can use, machines to give old people showers.

"All sorts of very clever devices that make life more pleasant and more practical for people," he said.

PM Lee was responding to Mr Takehiko Koyanagi, of financial publication Nikkei Asian Review, who was moderating the dialogue at the National University of Singapore's University Cultural Central.

He also said Singapore needs to learn how Japanese companies have adapted their practices to cater to older people in the workforce.

"Your companies have been very good at adjusting the jobs, the requirements, even the technology, so that old people can be productive and keep on working. We need to do a lot of that."

The Prime Minister also lauded Japan's cohesion in times of crisis, as seen in its response to natural disasters such as the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami that led to an accident at a nuclear power plant.

Japan's Ambassador to Singapore, Mr Jun Yamazaki, noted in his speech the progress made in the relationship between the two countries since the post-war period, when it was "tense".

"Despite the difficult situation, investments and technology transfer from Japan grew steadily after that time. This growth of Japanese investment in Singapore has resulted in Japan being the top Asian investor in Singapore today, in terms of FDI stock," he said, referring to foreign direct investment.

He attributed the win-win relationship partly to the "extraordinary leadership demonstrated by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew".

Moving forward, both countries need to work "even closer together" to deal with global issues like climate change, he added.

PM Lee, elaborating on Singapore's battle to boost its birth rate, puts its low birth rate partly down to the increased education levels of women here, with many pursuing careers.

"If they are working, they will have to assess the impact on their careers and whether they can manage their children and work at the same time," he said. "I can well understand that this is not easy to achieve."

He said the Government has been trying to "make it easier to be a mother in Singapore", by promoting flexible employment practices and improving the infant care and pre-school childcare sector.

The JCCI, which has about 820 member firms, aims to promote trade and investments between Singapore and Japan, along with cultural and social development.

Global Ready Talent Programme launched to train young talent for overseas postings

New scheme to help young people, firms gain global exposure
Overseas internships, management associate positions on offer
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2019

More support is now available for young people keen to work abroad and for companies to train their staff through stints overseas.

The Global Ready Talent programme announced in this year's Budget was launched yesterday by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

There are 60 local enterprises from industries like lifestyle and consumer, media, and manufacturing and engineering offering 110 overseas internship positions and 86 overseas management associate positions under the programme.

The Government aims to have 5,000 overseas placements over the next five years.

Mr Chan told around 100 students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and local universities as well as about 130 business people at the launch event that the most competitive economy will be one that can master its talent best.

"We keep urging (enterprises) to innovate their products and processes, and expand their markets. But in order for the enterprises to do that well, talent is a critical enabler," he noted.

Mr Chan also encouraged young people to build up their skills and international knowledge through gaining overseas exposure.

"Live there... understand the intricacies of how other societies work and how they are similar or different from us," he said. "Once you have done that, the benefits will last a lifetime."

Companies can receive up to 70 per cent funding for the allowances or salaries of participants.

They can offer local and overseas internship placements to students from ITE, polytechnics and local universities, or post fresh graduates or young employees with up to three years of work experience to markets in South-east Asia, China and India, under the management associate track, for at least one year.

Enterprise Singapore, which is running the scheme, will partner trade associations and chambers, and institutes of higher learning, to facilitate internship placements and evaluate companies which want to join the programme.