Friday 29 November 2019

Singapore's MRT reliability is at a high - now to keep it there

It's a milestone: Train-km between delays has breached the one million mark. But there's no room for complacency.
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2019

Singapore's MRT has come a long way since 2011, when two massive breakdowns highlighted shortfalls in maintenance and infrastructural upgrades.

Figures earlier this month showed the rail network well on track now in terms of reliability. A benchmark measurement of rail reliability - called mean kilometre between failure, or MKBF - crossed the one million train-km mark for the first nine months of this year.

In contrast, in 2011, delays and disruptions happened every 58,000 train-km - dismal for a system that was on the whole barely 20 years old.

The 18-fold improvement shown in the latest figures is remarkable, putting Singapore's system on a par with Taipei's, which is regarded as one of the world's best. It came on the back of a multibillion-dollar exercise to replace key assets on the two oldest systems here - the North-South and East-West lines (NSEWL).

Both lines have had their rail sleepers, power-supplying third rail and signalling systems replaced. Older trains have been replaced, and trains have been added.

The fleet renewal continues, as does work to rejuvenate other parts of the NSEWL - upgrading the power supply system to cope with additional trains, replacing the track circuit system (a system related to signalling), and replacing the running rail or tracks.

These projects will take up to 2024 to complete, and are necessary for a more robust system that can withstand technical glitches better in the long term.

They are also crucial in lifting service standards - even as the system is largely out of the woods, splinters remain. Actual journey times are still longer than published times. And service frequency has not increased to what the new signalling system allows.


Trains and platforms are still packed, especially during peak periods. To address these issues - which have more of an impact on service than reliability - the remaining upgrading works need to be completed.

For instance, higher service frequency requires additional trains, which in turn require higher power capacity. Also, higher train speeds require a robust running rail.

There are a number of other improvements that will make MRT journeys more pleasant, such as a full suite of working escalators, trains aligning more precisely with platform doors, and doors opening more speedily once a train halts.

These may seem minor, but they have a huge influence on how long a train dwells at a station (which determines speed and efficiency of the entire system), and how fast crowds are cleared from platforms (which has an impact on comfort, not to mention security).

In the same vein, early closure and late opening of stations cannot carry on indefinitely. They are detrimental to overall service.

It is understandable that renewing the three core assets of the NSEWL has soaked up a lot of bandwidth on the part of the regulator and operator. But now that MKBF is suitably high - and hopefully stays high - work on the other parts of the system should accelerate.

Meanwhile, rejuvenation work has already started on newer lines, such as the North East Line. As experience shows, it is far better to embark on such a programme before things start falling apart.


For the NSEWL, which accounts for the bulk of train rides here, the eight-year journey from dismal to dependable has been difficult for all stakeholders, including the millions who rely on the MRT every day.

Credit goes to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who set high and clear targets for senior management at SMRT and SBS Transit, and fostered a more unified approach between regulator and operators in undertaking tasks.

Mr Khaw has also helped raise morale on the ground by his regular depot and station visits. He is known to foot the bill for small celebratory meals for rail workers when a reliability milestone is achieved.

But the road to reliability was also paved by many others. The foundation for the new rail financing framework was laid during the tenure of former transport minister Raymond Lim, and put into motion during the term of Mr Khaw's predecessor, Mr Lui Tuck Yew.

Data security review for Singapore's public sector: 5 key recommendations

All govt agencies to take steps to safeguard personal data; measures to be in place in most systems by end-2021
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2019

The Public Sector Data Security Review Committee has made recommendations in five key areas for entities that handle public sector data to adopt, following a comprehensive inspection of 336 systems in 94 agencies.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on Wednesday (Nov 27) that the Government accepts these recommendations. They will be rolled out in 80 per cent of its systems by the end of 2021, with a deadline of end-2023 for full implementation.

The five key recommendations are:


- Government agencies to collect data only when necessary and limit their retention period.

- Minimise devices which hold data by allowing file access only on secured platforms. Use data only for tasks that require the data, and giving selective access.

- Enhance how data use is monitored through digital watermarking and checking how data moves through the network.

- Detect suspicious activity, through e-mail data protection tools and data loss protection tools.

- Protect stored data by making it unusable and unreadable even if stolen.

- Protecting the data when it is being distributed through password protection and encryption, as well as distribution through secure channels.


- Establish a central contact point for public to report government data incidents.

- Set up the Government Data Office to monitor and analyse security incidents.

- Designate the Government IT management committee as the central body to respond to large-scale incidents that involve multi-agencies.

- Install a framework for all public agencies to notify individuals affected by data incidents promptly.

- Have a standard process for post-incident inquiry for data incidents and share takeaways across all agencies.


- Specify roles for groups of officers involved in management of data security.

- Ensure all public officers are regularly updated on data security considerations through an annual training programme.

- Inculcate a culture of excellence around sharing and using data, and cultivate an environment conducive to open reporting of data incidents.


- Install organisational key performance indicators for data security.

- Hold top leadership of all public sector organisations accountable for installing strong organisational data security practices.

- Ensure accountability of third party handling government data by amending the Personal Data Protection Act to cover Government vendors and non-public officers who mishandle personal data.

- Publish government policies and standards relating to data protection and update this annually.


- Appoint the Digital Government Executive Committee to oversee public data security.

- Set up the Government Data Security unit to drive data security efforts in the public sector.

- Deepen the Government's expertise in data protection technologies.

Thursday 28 November 2019

PSLE results slip withheld over unpaid fees: MOE clarifies

Family did not pay fees despite reminders, so pupil received photocopy of her PSLE results
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2019

Withholding the original Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results slip due to school fee arrears is a "longstanding practice", the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Tuesday.

The ministry was responding to a Facebook post by career counsellor and activist Gilbert Goh, 58, which had been circulating online.

Mr Goh had said on Monday that he knew a parent whose daughter received a photocopy of her PSLE results but not the original slip. Due to financial reasons, the family had not paid $156 in school fees.

PSLE results were released last Thursday.

In response to queries, MOE said: "In the case highlighted by the Facebook posts, the parents did not pay miscellaneous fees for two years despite several reminders, and did not put in any application for MOE or school-based financial assistance, which would have covered all the costs.

"The child will still receive a copy of the results, just not the original results slip, and she can still apply for secondary schools and will progress like all students."

However, Mr Goh said in his post that getting only a photocopy of the results was "rubbing salt into the wound of poverty".

"Fortunately, a Good Samaritan paid for her school fees and she managed to acquire the actual PSLE certificate recently, which she will need to produce when applying for admission into a secondary school," he claimed.

MOE's response clarifies that the original certificate is not needed when applying for a place in secondary school.

Mr Goh's post has drawn more than 3,000 shares and 1,000 comments. The post was also later quoted by former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian.

The MOE spokesman said the issue is "not about recovering the money", adding that the ministry's funding for each primary school pupil comes up to $12,000 a year, and each pupil pays only $13 in miscellaneous fees per month.

Those from lower-income families can apply for financial assistance, which covers miscellaneous fees, uniforms, textbooks, transport and school meals.

"If it is about money, then the easier solution would be to reduce subsidies and financial assistance," said the ministry.

"MOE's consideration stems from the underlying principle that notwithstanding the fact that the cost of education is almost entirely publicly funded, we should still play our part in paying a small fee, and it is not right to ignore that obligation, however small it is. We hope parents support us in reinforcing this message."

It added: "The priority of our educators and our institutions is to ensure that students grow and can fulfil their potential, and we should not allow financial circumstances to become an impediment to their progress and development."

MOE said the authors of the "viral posts are trying to call into question the intention and values of MOE".


"Our educators, parents and members of public will have to decide whether MOE's action is fair and educationally sound, and what the lesson of this teachable moment for our children is," said the ministry.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

POFMA: Govt invokes fake news law for first time, asks opposition member Brad Bowyer to correct Facebook post on Temasek, GIC

Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Brad Bowyer's Facebook post made false statements about investments by GIC, Temasek; correction notice issued under POFMA
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2019

Singapore's law against fake news has been used for the first time, with Progress Singapore Party (PSP) member Brad Bowyer being asked to correct false statements he made about investments by GIC, Temasek and other government-linked companies (GLCs).

A Nov 13 Facebook post he made "contains clearly false statements of fact, and undermines public trust in the Government", the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said yesterday.

In particular, Mr Bowyer had implied that the Government controls Temasek's and GIC's commercial decisions, which is false, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually.

Mr Bowyer, who was born in Britain but is now a Singaporean, was issued a correction direction yesterday under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

By late morning, he had put up a note at the top of his post stating that it "contains false statements of fact", along with a link to the correct facts.

POFMA, which took effect on Oct 2, gives ministers the power to act against a piece of online falsehood when it is in the public interest to do so. They can order that it be taken down or ask for corrections to be put up alongside it.

Critics had said that it could have a chilling effect, but the Government said it would resort to take-down orders only in the more egregious cases.

In the latest case, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had instructed the POFMA Office to issue a correction direction, which requires that Mr Bowyer put up in full a correction note along with his post, which remained online.

Mr Bowyer told The Straits Times that he had no issue with the correction direction.

He later added in a second Facebook post that he had based his opinions on public facts and "details I have access to".

He also said: "I feel it is fair to have both points of view and clarifications and corrections of fact when necessary."

Mr Bowyer, who had previously been a People's Action Party member before he left to join the People's Voice Party, and eventually PSP, also said the incident would not deter him from being vocal about social and political issues.

In his Nov 13 Facebook post, he had criticised GIC and Temasek for certain investments that he said would rack up huge financial losses.

He also said the Government had a "fiduciary responsibility" to account for the losses.

Describing these statements as falsehoods, the Government said on its fact-checking website Factually: "Mr Bowyer implies that the Singapore Government controls Temasek's and GIC's commercial decisions. This is false."

In the article providing corrections and clarifications to the falsehoods, it also said Mr Bowyer had used "false and misleading statements to smear the reputation of Temasek and GIC".

The Factually article said that the investment company and sovereign wealth fund are run on market principles, independent of the Government.

"The Government's role is to ensure that Temasek and GIC have competent boards, which ensure that their respective mandates are met. The Government also holds the boards of Temasek and GIC accountable for their respective overall performances," said the article.

The MOF, echoing this, said that Temasek and GIC have made positive returns over the long term and have contributed significantly to the national budget, contrary to Mr Bowyer's claims.

In a third Facebook post, Mr Bowyer said he had merely been asking fair questions about the Government's oversight of GIC and Temasek, given that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is the chairman of GIC and his wife Ho Ching is chief executive officer of Temasek.

He wrote: "I feel we should all do our best to comment factually and responsibly. However, when questions arise, just asserting something is false or giving irrelevant information does not answer valid questions."

For POFMA to apply, two criteria must be satisfied: There must be a falsehood, and it must be in the public interest for the Government to act.

"With a general election round the corner, I suppose there is the concern that public debate on Temasek, GIC and the GLCs will be on the basis of incorrect information if a clarification was not made," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan. "This is especially so because Mr Bowyer is a member of an opposition party that has said it will campaign on a platform about these issues."

The PSP declined to comment, saying that Mr Bowyer had posted the comments in his personal capacity.

Upcoming NS Hub in Bukit Gombak will be smart, high energy-efficiency building

All national service matters will come under one roof; centre will be open to the public too
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 26 Nov 2019

Smart technology, such as facial recognition, at the new one-stop centre for national servicemen should cut queueing time for medical screenings by 30 per cent.

NS Hub in Bukit Gombak - which aims to be among the top 10 per cent of energy-efficient buildings in Singapore - could also save more than $700,000 in utility bills every year.

The features were unveiled yesterday at the ground-breaking ceremony for the building, which is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Announced in March, NS Hub will see services for national servicemen - from national service registration to physical fitness training - brought under one roof. It will be located near the Ministry of Defence and connected to Cashew MRT station by an overhead bridge.

Currently, national servicemen go to the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) for NS registration, fitness conditioning centres for physical training tests and the Military Medicine Institute in Kent Ridge for specialist medical and dental care.

The hub will house the first purpose-built, all-weather facility for the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) - with a 400m indoor running track - that can accommodate 300 to 500 servicemen a session.

NS Hub will be open to the public and have facilities such as a foodcourt, an e-mart, a childcare centre, a 500m outdoor running track and an exercise corner.

A mobile app will allow servicemen to book appointments and receive updates.

Mr Pang Lu Kit, 45, who is the NS Hub project lead from the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), said that simulations were done to determine the best way to place the building for maximum natural ventilation.

"We are benchmarking ourselves against the BCA (Building and Construction Authority) Green Mark Platinum standard. We are benchmarking ourselves against the super low energy certification and, ultimately, we want to be among the top 10 per cent of energy-efficient buildings in Singapore," he told reporters.

Rainwater-harvesting features will result in estimated savings of 32,000 cubic m of water a year. That is enough for the use of 150 four-room Housing Board units in a year, said Mr Pang.

About 600 new trees will be planted - four times the existing number of trees on the current 9ha site where NS Hub sits. Half of the felled trees will be converted into usable features, such as seats.

CMPB, which administers the NS registration process, was first situated at Pearl's Hill Barracks in 1966, before moving to Kallang Camp the following year. In 1972, it moved to Tanglin Camp in Dempsey Road, before relocating to its current site in Depot Road in 1989.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who officiated the ground-breaking ceremony, said in his speech that NS Hub would likely be CMPB's permanent site, where many generations of national servicemen would enlist.

Monday 25 November 2019

City of Innovation: Singapore

National Geographic show to feature 12 Singapore innovations
By Melody Zaccheus, Housing and Heritage Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2019

Singapore's effort to roll out a stealth weapon to combat dengue is one of 12 innovative home-grown projects featured in a new National Geographic documentary.

Produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), the hour-long documentary will show, among other things, how the National Environment Agency is using male mosquitoes, carrying the Wolbachia bacterium, to mate with females, causing them to lay eggs that do not hatch.

The male mosquitoes neither bite humans nor transmit disease.

If successful, the novel method will form part of Singapore's dengue control programme.

Called City Of Innovation: Singapore, the documentary will be broadcast on the National Geographic channel at 8pm tomorrow.

It showcases Singapore's growth as a city that leverages technology to find cutting-edge solutions for its people and its future.

Facebook takes down fake NUS student group page accused of ‘sowing discord’ by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam’s press secretary

Facebook removes page spoofing students' union, carrying misleading posts
By Malavika Menon, The Sunday Times, 24 Nov 2019

Facebook has taken down a page spoofing a local university group after accounts linked to it failed to meet community guidelines.

The social media giant said yesterday that the page - NUSSU-NUS Students United - was removed for "violating authenticity policies".

A spokesman added that fake accounts linked to it had failed to meet community and authenticity guidelines.

The NUSSU-NUS Students United page is one of many pages parodying the NUS Students' Union or NUSSU.

The page was taken down a day after it emerged that it had misused a quote from Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

In its post last Sunday, the page quoted Mr Shanmugam as having said in Parliament on Oct 7: "If we do not separate religion from politics, then whose religion comes into politics?"

Mr Goh Chour Thong, the minister's press secretary, said the post misused this quote to falsely assert that if People's Action Party member Rachel Ong wants to run for elections, she should "resign ALL executive positions with ROHEI, an organisation with religious leanings".

"The minister did not say that a political candidate running for elections, or an MP, must resign from all executive positions in organisations with religious leanings," said Mr Goh.

"In fact, he said the very opposite, that they can continue to hold such posts, and as he said, these things must be dealt with wisdom and common sense."

He also said the post had taken a quote of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew out of context to mislead people.

Mr Lee had said in the 1987 National Day Rally: "Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off."

The post misuses Mr Lee's quote to falsely assert that he had meant that religious leaders have no political rights, said Mr Goh.

"Mr Lee was actually saying that religious leaders who wanted to make political statements should not do so in their capacity as religious leaders," he added. "The name, as well as its deliberately misleading posts, shows the site is run by people with no integrity, bent on sowing discord and hatred."

Facebook said its authenticity policy states that it believes "people are more accountable for their statements and actions when they use their authentic identities".

"That's why we require people to connect on Facebook using the name that they go by in everyday life. Our policies are intended to create a safe environment where people can trust and hold one another accountable," it said.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Singapore must build bridges, not walls: Heng Swee Keat at ST Global Outlook Forum

Republic needs to work with like-minded partners to keep world open, says DPM
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2019

As the world builds walls, Singapore must go against the tide and build bridges, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

To do so, it must work with like-minded partners to keep the world open, he added. There would be severe implications if the conflict between China and the United States "bifurcated" the world.

"The free, open and rules-based international order is under stress. If countries wall up, or if there is a new Iron Curtain, the cost to Singapore will be significant," Mr Heng said. "Trade is our lifeblood, and multilateralism is how small countries like us have a place in the world."

He was speaking at the annual The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum, which focuses on the political and economic situation in Asia. OCBC Premier Banking is the event's presenting sponsor.

In his speech, Mr Heng highlighted three events that deepened existing fault lines and erected new walls across the world.

These are the Sept 11 terror attacks in the US, the global financial crisis of 2008, and the escalation of the US-China trade war this year.

The conflict between the two big powers is not just about trade, but a contest for global influence and leadership, Mr Heng said, adding that the bifurcation of technology and supply chains is "a real possibility".

"The implications would be far greater now than during the Cold War, because in the decades since, our economies, our societies have become increasingly intertwined," he added.

"We have to go against the current tide, as we cannot afford to be a walled community. Our economy must remain open because trade is our lifeblood. Our society must remain open because diversity is our strength."

At the same time, ASEAN countries must come together. "All of us need to start thinking and acting regionally," Mr Heng said, noting that the region is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy global outlook.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, stressed the importance of a strong economy in keeping Singapore relevant and creating good jobs for Singaporeans. Trust in society breaks down when people lose hope in the future, he added.

But even as Singapore undergoes an economic transformation, the Government will stay committed to investing in its people so that they can access new opportunities.

Mr Heng reiterated the Government's commitment to strengthening social safety nets for those who are unable to keep pace with change.

"Our commitment to our people is that even as we create new opportunities, no one will be left behind, no one will be shut out," he said. "As long as they are willing to work hard, we will support them to make a better life for themselves and their families."

Long-term solutions needed, not quick fixes with populist appeal: Ong Ye Kung

Governance may be in crisis, but solutions to complex problems lie in middle path, not the extremes
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2019

The solutions to complex problems of the day may lie in the middle, but the middle is often boring and rarely appeals naturally to populism, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday.

"It requires tedious explanation, balancing of trade-offs and backbreaking implementation work. It is hard to boil down to a crisp rallying call, compared to the stirring rhetoric at the extremes," he said.

Mr Ong said this might be the reason for the shrinking political middle observed in the West, where places like the United States, Britain and Germany are seeing increasing polarisation and divisiveness.

One exception is France, where President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party still commands a majority in Parliament. Mr Ong said this could be because France still has a large percentage of young people who have a lot of hope for the future.

He was speaking on the third day of the inaugural Festival of Ideas organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. The school marks its 15th anniversary this year. The four-day symposium on the topic of governance for the future ends today.

Governance is becoming more challenging globally, and it may even be in crisis, said Mr Ong.

The fact that the political centre has ceded ground to the extremes has impacted discourse on key issues of the day, he noted.

"Technology is disrupting industries, creating new jobs while displacing workers at the same time. The impact is drastically uneven throughout society, creating both booms and busts for individual lives," Mr Ong said.

While big technology companies paint a rosy outcome for the future, there have also been calls to break up these firms, put a tax on robots and introduce measures like a universal basic income to cushion the impact on affected workers, he added.

He noted that globalisation has also been controversial, particularly in the aspect of immigration.

"When the doors of countries become more open, they attract immigrants, which will unsettle local populations if the numbers are excessive. There is a genuine fear about a loss of a nation's identity."

And climate change has seen prominent people denying global warming despite the scientific evidence before them, Mr Ong said. "We also have activists admonishing world leaders to stop talking about 'money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth' and advocating for global measures that can potentially deprive developing countries of a fair chance for economic growth."

Mr Ong said these issues often resonate emotionally, but the simplistic solutions spouted are essentially that - simplistic. There are no quick fixes, he added, only long-term and consistent strategies that will take time to show results.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Mexico and Singapore both 'pathfinders' for trade and commerce: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Being strategically located, both nations are gateways to their respective regions, he says
By Lim Yan Liang, In Mexico City, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2019

The strategic location of Singapore, near the centre of Asia, and Mexico, near the centre of the Americas, means that the two countries are gateways to their respective regions, and is why both should be "pathfinders of trade and commerce", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

This key similarity is why differences in language, culture, size and geography have not prevented Singapore and Mexico from stepping up exchanges in recent years, PM Lee said in an address to the Mexican Senate on Wednesday as part of his official visit here.

And in a globalised world where countries cooperate extensively with one another, a more integrated Asia-Pacific is in everyone's interest, he added.

PM Lee noted that Singapore and Mexico's similar histories as former colonies and centres of trade have resulted in compatible world views, and a natural instinct to be outward-looking and to connect with others in the world.

Historically, Mexico was also the catalyst for trade between Asia and the Americas, he said.

Spanish explorer Andres de Urdaneta's successful voyage from Manila in the Philippines to the port of Acapulco on the Pacific Coast of Mexico in 1565 opened up "Urdaneta's route", the world's first transoceanic shipping route.

"Manila Galleons would carry porcelain, silk, cotton, dyestuffs, spices and other goods from Asia to the Americas, and return to Asia with polished Mexican silver," said PM Lee. "This was a highly profitable venture: Fortunes were made on both sides of the Pacific, and one could argue that that was the first era of globalisation."

Trade today is no longer a seasonal endeavour but a round-the-clock one, with large container vessels having replaced the Manila Galleons, and transactions crossing land and sea instantaneously over optical fibre cables, PM Lee noted.

Significant growth in trans Pacific trade means the Americas are today a very important part of Asia's economic universe, and Singapore has substantial trade not only with the United States but also with Mexico and other North and South American countries, he said.

There are also many trading and investment opportunities in Asia waiting to be developed by Mexican businesses.

"A more integrated Asia-Pacific, with strong links between the two sides of the Pacific Ocean, gives countries an interest in each other's economic success," added PM Lee. "This fosters peace and prosperity, and benefits all countries."

PM Lee also said he was glad that both Mexico and Singapore are founding members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade deal that covers 13.5 per cent of the global economy and a market of 495 million people.

The trade deal took effect for Singapore, Mexico and some other signatories on Dec 30 last year.

"It signals to our companies that our governments encourage and support their ventures in each other's countries," said PM Lee, who noted that Singapore investments in Mexico have increased every year in the past five years, exceeding $1.5 billion in 2017.

"I am confident that with the CPTPP in effect, our economic ties can only grow further."

While Singapore's engagement with Latin America and Mexico is robust, there is much more potential to be developed, said PM Lee, who is the first foreign head of government to address the Mexican Senate since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came to office last December.

PM Lee's four-day visit to Mexico started on Sunday.

"In foreign relations, countries cannot choose our neighbours, but we can certainly choose our friends and partners, however far away they may be," he said.

"And I am happy that despite our geographical separation, Singapore and Mexico have chosen to be friends and partners with each other."

Senate president Monica Fernandez Balboa, who introduced PM Lee to the chambers, said Mexico is in favour of a comprehensive bilateral agenda that promotes greater business ties between the two nations, as well as the fostering of greater integration between countries on both sides of the Pacific.

"We express our deep will to continue collaborating with your country in order to build a more humane world that is attentive to social causes, solidarity, inclusion and justice," she added. "Mexico and Singapore both have a solid foundation and potential for this."

Senator Ricardo Monreal Avila, president of the Political Board of the Senate, said in a tweet that during his meeting with PM Lee, the two countries reaffirmed the strengthening of cooperation in areas such as economic and parliamentary ties.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Wanted: Vision of Singapore based on values, not just economic value

The old narrative of material success and survival against the odds doesn't spur the young. To root young people to Singapore, we need a vision based on being a global city of opportunities, and being inclusive and embracing differences.
By Clarence Ching, Published The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2019

A recent casual chat with a friend turned to emigration, that old chestnut of an issue.

She is a 24-year-old law student, and is all set on a legal career when she finishes her studies. Asked if she would consider leaving Singapore to work one day, she responded starkly: "If Singapore doesn't serve your interest, why should you serve hers?"

Her bold statement and the way she framed nationality and identity in terms of serving individual interests jolted me.

The idealism of "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" clearly did not resonate with my friend.

But no one can fault ambitious young Singaporeans for being on the lookout for opportunities outside the Republic to advance their careers and improve their lives.

The way this friend saw it, heading back to Singapore meant that she was going to be another cog in the system, defined by her academic results without any real value and having her qualities overlooked. She reckoned a slower pace of life with less pressure in another country would suit her better and help her grow more holistically.

That conversation got me thinking about emigration, young Singaporeans and identity.

As it is, many Singaporeans are attractive global workers with skills well sought after around the world. An annual survey conducted by the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Community in 2017 revealed that seven in 10 Singaporean youth aged 18 to 35 were looking to move overseas to pursue opportunities.

Similarly, a study conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2016 showed that 29.2 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were actively examining the possibility of emigrating in the next five years, an increase from 26.4 per cent in 2010.

Already, 214,700 Singaporeans live overseas as of 2017, compared with 172,000 a decade before that, according to the Department of Statistics.


Why do Singaporeans emigrate?

Surveys point to issues such as the high cost of living, high stress of work life and the education system.

Being able to explore opportunities not available in Singapore and living in societies with greater degrees of freedom were also mentioned as pull factors by some friends I spoke with.

I think another important factor contributing to brain drain is the national psyche.

There is no denying that the "Third World to First" story built on pragmatism and meritocracy forms the bulk of Singapore's DNA. But this is the same narrative that can propel emigration.

Pragmatism means one should seek the best life for self and family regardless of obligations or cost and whichever country is offering that life. There is little place for patriotism in that narrative. Meritocracy rewards those who strive and succeed, regardless of those left behind. Such narratives do not emphasise solidarity or a sense of belonging.

As a friend doing his post-graduate studies in an Ivy League university noted, the world is too big and diverse to be stuck in one single place for the long term. "If life abroad is better, why head back?"

Without a strong sense of identity as Singaporean, talented young locals who set their sights on global ambitions and dreams can easily forsake the land of their birth.

Indeed, countries struggle to maintain a national identity amid the challenges Globalisation 4.0 poses. The Republic is no exception - with the Singapore identity in a constant flux, our sense of who we are as a nation evolves and moves so quickly that we become lost at times.

Friday 15 November 2019

Reflections on Trust from a Pioneer Generation citizen & a Young Singaporean

At the People's Action Party convention on Nov 10, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of societies where citizens have lost trust in the government and how, in contrast, the PAP Government enjoys a "deep reservoir of trust" from Singaporeans. In Singapore, high standards of governance, validated by international rankings, mean such trust is merited. Where there is high trust in government, it is not undemocratic or politically naive to keep returning one party to power.
By Margaret Chan, Published The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2019

Trust in government is crucial for a functioning society, and especially for a small, culturally diverse and complex society like Singapore. I agree with the Prime Minister that the Government enjoys "a deep reservoir of trust" from Singaporeans. Let me give my personal take on this issue as a former university lecturer and a Pioneer Generation citizen.

I trust in our Government because it delivers. Let me count the ways.

First, I have confidence in the rule of law here. Investors want it as assurance, but for citizens, faith in the rule of law is an existential necessity. Singaporeans take for granted what others find crucial and missing in their country, leading them to migrate here.

Some time back, a friend pulled up her roots elsewhere to become a Singapore citizen. When I asked her the reason for her decision, she memorably replied: "I want to live where I can send my children to school knowing they will return home."

Singaporeans take such basic things as personal security for granted; for my friend and millions around the world, assurance of personal security is a gift.

Second, we have a high-functioning education system, although Singaporeans liken it to pressure cooking. The stress does not come from the Government. It is caused by the exponential growth of world knowledge and the speed of information delivery.

Workers today compete in an international labour force. To give Singaporeans a fighting chance in the world market, we must have an education system that is abreast of all international developments. This requires that our education system be a work in progress continually responding to change.

We have universal education and social equity. For example, the recent decision to double state spending on subsidies for pre-school learning is a response to research findings that early childhood education gives children a head start in life. Subsidies make pre-school programmes available to more families so that they are no longer a privilege of the rich.

Singapore's meritocratic system means we are judged on our performance and not because we belong to a certain social class or racial community. We have all heard of people who are living their Singapore dream: children of cleaners, labourers and hawkers, catapulted into the upper middle-income professional class in one generation.

The crucial knowledge we should take away from this is that Singaporeans have the best chance to fulfil their personal potential.

The World Bank Human Capital Index measures the productivity of the next generation of workers relative to the benchmarks of complete education and full health. An economy in which a child born today can expect to achieve complete education and full health will score a value of one on the index.

Singapore topped the 157 countries on the index with a score of 0.88. Comparative indexes: Finland (0.81), Britain (0.78), Switzerland (0.77), the United States (0.76) and Malaysia (0.62).

Third, the Government has fulfilled its paramount pledge to make Singapore an egalitarian society regardless of race, language or religion.

Identity politics has resulted in racial and religious violence in some countries. To be able to complain about "brownface" indiscretions in Singapore is a privilege, for this means we have rights that allow us to call out racist behaviour. However, when we complain of someone's insensitivity, it should not be with a vehemence that can instigate hate. This threatens social harmony.

When a Chinese woman complained on social media that tall Sikh men wearing turbans had blocked her view at a concert, Internet trolls attacked her views. But the Sikh community, trusting that the woman had no ill intentions, offered friendship. Their graciousness in inviting the woman to their temple taught Singaporeans a signal lesson on good citizenship.

Fourth, our Government is clean. Singapore is ranked No. 3 in the list of least corrupt countries by Transparency International.

I have a personal experience of this that remains vivid. In 1976, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises was formed, and I volunteered to guest-edit its first annual report. I visited prisons as part of this job, and one day, I came face-to-face with an inmate who was a former minister. I was only 27 years old then, and I found it a sobering lesson on the Government's zero-tolerance stance against corruption.

Fifth, we have social equity. Housing, healthcare, education and public transport are subsidised. Singapore has an enviable 91 per cent home ownership rate.

I could go on and on. Climate change might cause flooding in coastal areas? A 100-year plan has already been mooted.


I am a Pioneer Generation citizen, and I remember how, in the pre-Independence days, poor people would rush to grab leftovers.

My late friend, 10 years older than me, worked in a shop when he was a boy - not for the pay, but for the right to take home to his family what remained of dinner at the shop. In those days, Chinese businesses provided meals for workers.

The shop supervisor used to sell the leftovers to a farmer for swill. Angry at the loss of his side income, the man made a point of mixing up all the food so that what my friend took home resembled… swill.

My friend became a wealthy medical doctor, but he never stopped eating like a ravenous wolf, causing younger people to remark on his bad table manners.

I can imagine that by now, many younger readers would be sighing "Okay boomer, we've heard it all before", but bear with me, especially if the coming general election is going to be the first one in which you vote.

Or don't take it from me. Here are views on Singapore governance from international observers.