Friday 31 January 2020

Sports School being sporting by thrashing opponents 32-0 in football match

It is heartening that there are fans like Mr Jaspal Singh Sidhu (The real winners in 32-0 thrashing at National School Games football match, Jan 28) and Ms Lim Mei Ling (Referees and adults present could have intervened in 32-0 whipping, Jan 30) who are passionate about improving Singapore football. Their letters raise valid points.

There is discussion over whether a player who beats his opponent by a wide margin lacks true sportsmanship.

I believe the Singapore Sports School (SSP) would not be honouring their opponents by "giving chance" and going easy on them. Likewise, Assumption Pathway School (APS) would not want to be patronised by their opponents.

Had SSP, a specialist institution focused on developing elite sports talents, beaten run-of-the-mill APS by a narrow margin, it could very well have been viewed as an example of the relevant organisations not doing enough to raise the standards of football in Singapore - it's a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Former sprint champion and current 100m and 200m world record holder Usain Bolt often beat his opponents by phenomenally wide margins.

Should he have slowed down for his opponents just so they wouldn't lose by too much and look bad?

As for the lessons learnt from hammering a team 32-0, I would suggest winning - and losing - with grace and honour and, for the losers, giving them the hunger to keep their chins up and win the next game.

Also, aren't we always talking about teaching our kids resilience? Yet, here we are in the same breath saying adults need to intervene when the children are losing - what kind of conflicting messages are we sending to the children?

At the end of the day, I'd be very surprised if anyone is genuinely mocking either SSP for their disproportionate thrashing of APS, or APS for their sub-par performance on the pitch.

That's how the game should be played, that is true sportsmanship and it is how the standard of football in Singapore can be raised.

Woon Wee Min
ST Forum, 31 Jan 2020

Thursday 30 January 2020

Fake news in the time of coronavirus

Digital space a new battleground in war against Wuhan virus
The SARS crisis 17 years ago did not have to deal with a multitude of online platforms to channel rumours and fake news
By David Boey, Published The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2020

Concerned that friends in a WhatsApp chat group who live in the eastern parts of Singapore might be worried by online chatter telling people to avoid Eastpoint Mall because of the Wuhan virus, my friend advised us to ignore such rumours. With good intentions, he then forwarded the rumour to show us what we should ignore, thus inadvertently spreading the falsehood even more.

When Singapore confronted the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis in 2003, it did not have to deal with the likes of Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and the vast digital universe of blogs, online influencers and citizen journalists.

Now, besides the battle to contain the spread of the 2019-nCoV, Singapore also has to contend with a different sort of fight, with falsehoods going viral in the digital arena.

POFMA, or the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, has already been triggered at least twice to correct fake news just one week after Singapore confirmed its first case of the new virus.

There is no guarantee that POFMA won't be needed again to deal with more health scares.


Singapore's digital battle space has at least two characteristics that make the fight much harder.

First, the city-state has one of the world's highest mobile phone penetration rates with over nine million mobile phones for a 5.3 million population (including children and babies). Many Singaporeans use two mobile phones. Many start their day by reaching for their phones even before they touch their toothbrush. Information travels fast in Singapore, and the velocity at which information is disseminated means crisis communicators have to be at the top of their game.

Second, the propensity of some segments of society to believe what they come across online can lead to rash and disproportionate reactions. This unquestioning tendency is reflected in statistics released from time to time by the Singapore Police Force on the tens of millions of dollars lost each year to online scams. The victims are of all ages and educational profiles, highlighting the vulnerability of our mobile-phone-savvy, highly connected society to the so-called Drums (distortions, rumours, untruths, misinformation and smears) - a term mentioned by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen at a Total Defence Symposium in 2013.

Mind you, not all Drums arise from sinister intent. During a crisis that involves a matter of life and death, people are even more inclined to err on the side of caution in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. This "kiasi" (literally fear of death) mindset leaves them even more open to all sorts of online rumours. It is, therefore, imperative that fake news is nipped in the bud quickly.


Case in point: the rumour that ran rampant on Tuesday that the Woodlands MRT station had to be shut down because of the virus. Readers sent a flood of inquiries to The Straits Times to ask if it was true. Calm was eventually restored when the report went out that it was not. But what was concerning was that in the absence of any update from transport operator SMRT, fake news grew legs unnecessarily and rapidly. The rumours died when debunked by the Ministry of Communications and Information.

While centralised dissemination of information during a nationwide crisis is important, bureaucratic processes can sometimes be counter-productive.

Service updates related to public transport, for instance, should be issued swiftly and decisively. The public has already been conditioned to receive updates on matters such as train disruptions and service delays. Was Woodlands MRT station open or closed? A swift tweet or Facebook update in response to that simple question would have gone a long way to replace fears and uncertainties with the facts.

In the absence of that, people not in the vicinity of the train station might have been left wondering about the lack of updates while being bombarded by shared messages about a shutdown.

Commuters who were at the station might have mistakenly thought that the "disinfection" work had been completed and the station reopened. Minus the simple assurance that Woodlands MRT station was operating normally, anxieties and conspiracy theories thrive.


Competing narratives will take root if one does not own the narrative. In a pandemic, the last thing you want is mass hysteria to break out due to an information lag.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a Facebook update on Tuesday on Singapore's efforts to counter the Wuhan virus, ending with a plea not to spread fake news: "Please do not listen to or spread rumours and untrue reports - alas, there is a lot of that circulating around, on WhatsApp and social media. Sharing news responsibly is an important way we can protect ourselves."

Sunday 26 January 2020

Moral leadership in a fragmenting world: George Yeo

This is an edited transcript of the 24th Gordon Arthur Ransome Oration by ex-foreign minister George Yeo in Singapore last week
The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2020

This oration was originally planned to be held in Hong Kong last December in conjunction with an event co-organised by the Academies of Medicine of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, that event had to be cancelled because of the unsettled situation in Hong Kong.

No one expected the protests which began in June last year to become so big and to last so long. As a legislator of many years, I decided to download the Extradition Bill and read it for myself. Frankly, I did not find the proposed amendments to existing laws unreasonable. It did not seem right that one could commit rape or murder in China and find sanctuary in Hong Kong.

However, most Hong Kongers viewed the Bill differently and were outraged that Chief Executive Carrie Lam was determined to get it passed despite mass opposition. Looking back, the Bill was only the spark that set off a forest fire. For many years after the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the fuel load in the forest had been building up. Social injustice had gotten worse. Most parents no longer believed that their children could do better than them. As a result, there is not a sense of hope and, without a sense of hope, society turns sour.

After leaving government in 2011, I joined Robert Kuok in Hong Kong. My wife and I shuttle back and forth between the two cities. Hong Kong has become for us a second home. We now have our own social circle there, including a number of young Hong Kongers interested in politics. Some of them are yellow, some are blue; all feel deeply for Hong Kong.

We ourselves have developed an affection for Hong Kong and its people, and decided, after my retirement as chairman of Kerry Logistics last year, to buy an apartment near Hong Kong University. Like many others, we were shocked by the rapid deterioration of Hong Kong in the past eight months. Unlike many others, we remain cautiously optimistic for Hong Kong's long-term future because of its special position half-in and half-out of China and the resilience of its people.

It is, however, not my intention to talk principally about Hong Kong today. The reason for my raising Hong Kong is because there are larger, deeper forces at work in Hong Kong which affect the whole world. We have to be mindful of them because they affect us in Singapore too. These forces are unleashed by technology and challenge us morally.

I would like to highlight four in particular - the social media revolution, fragmentation and reconfiguration of human society, growing wealth and income inequality, and mass manipulation by new masters of the universe.

50 Secrets Of Singapore's Success: Tommy Koh

What is the secret of Singapore's success?
There is not one but 50 ways a small country can overcome its limitations
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2020

As this is my first op-ed in the new solar and lunar year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers of The Straits Times a peaceful, healthy and successful new year.

I have a new year present for Singapore. The present is in the form of a new book I have edited. The title of the book is: 50 Secrets Of Singapore's Success. The book will be launched on Wednesday by Mr Eddie Teo, the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers.


There are two stories behind the book. The first story is a meeting with 28 university students from the state of Guanajuato of Mexico last year. Following the advice of the governor of their state, the students had spent a week in Singapore on a study trip. They asked to meet me before they returned to Mexico.

During our dialogue, one of the students asked me for the secret of Singapore's success. I told her that our success was not due to one secret but many secrets. She requested me to write a book on the secrets of Singapore's success. I promised her that I would think about it.

A few days after meeting the Mexican students, I received an unexpected gift from the outgoing Ambassador of Finland to Singapore Paula Parviainen.

She gave me a book, entitled: 100 Social Innovations From Finland. The book is an international bestseller and has been translated into 27 languages.

The success of the Finnish book gave me the courage to edit a book on the 50 Secrets Of Singapore's Success.


It is not the purpose of my book to boast about Singapore's achievements. We are successful but we must remain humble and modest.

We live in a world which is dominated by bad news. The world is hungry for good news and for success stories. This is why the Finnish book is so well received by the world.

My hope is that the book on Singapore will be an inspiration to other developing countries. My message is that if your country is small and has no natural resources, do not despair. If you pursue sound policies and have good values, if you have competent and honest political leaders, a good public service and an industrious and adaptable population, you can overcome your limitations of size and the lack of natural resources.

Singapore is not a model but it is a source of solutions to many of the problems faced by the developing countries.

HDB Home Ownership Support Team guides rental flat families in buying their own homes

20 of 200 households assisted on way to home ownership
By Amrita Kaur, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2020

A scheme that guides and supports families in rental homes to buy their own flats is seeing results.

Out of more than 200 rental households provided help by a Housing Board team, 20 have booked flats or are ready to apply for one, while another 26 should be ready to apply for a flat in the next one to two years, as of Nov 30 last year.

The seven-member Home Ownership Support Team (HST), set up last June, is still in the process of helping the other households, some of which are not yet ready to apply for a flat.

Among those the team has helped is 46-year-old Mr Chua, whose family has selected a three-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat.

"I wanted to buy a house but I didn't know the various assistance schemes available. An officer from the HST explained the schemes and guided me through a step-by-step process on preparing the documents to apply for the BTO flat," said Mr Chua, who declined to give his full name.

The food and beverage outlet manager has been living in a rented flat in Tampines with his wife and eight-year-old daughter for three years. He will know the results of his BTO application in May.

The HST is guiding him in working out his housing budget and planning his finances so that he will be able to pay his home loans.

HDB estate manager Tan Shimin, a member of the HST, said the team reviews the individual circumstances of each rental household and helps the tenants work out a plan towards home ownership.

"We do a holistic assessment of their circumstances, including their financial health, and check that they are employed and that they do not have medical conditions that require a lot of expenses. Most importantly, they have to be keen on buying a house and have the desire to take ownership of the process to buy a house," said Ms Tan.

The HST has been reaching out to households by calling them, making house visits, as well as putting up posters about the team at the void decks of rental housing blocks.

It also works with different social service agencies and partners to help the families address their challenges and achieve better stability, if they are not found to be ready to own a house.

The setting up of the HST was announced last year as part of a series of measures to mitigate income inequality and uplift lower-income families in a more holistic way.

Wuhan virus: Singapore confirms first case of novel coronavirus infection on 23 January 2020

Temperature screening, already at airport, to extend to land, sea checkpoints
By Chang Ai-Lien, Science and Health Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2020

A man from China is the first to test positive for the Wuhan virus in Singapore, with another Chinese national here in an unrelated case also likely to have contracted it.

The 66-year-old Wuhan resident arrived in the country with nine travelling companions on Monday, and stayed at Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said at a briefing last night.

The announcement of Singapore's first confirmed case came amid intensified efforts here to keep the novel coronavirus at bay, including temperature screening at land and sea checkpoints starting this morning, in addition to ongoing checks at Changi Airport.

A 53-year-old woman, also a Chinese national but not with the group of 10, came up positive in preliminary tests, which were awaiting confirmation.

In addition, the man's son, 37, a suspected case, has been admitted to hospital, while the rest of the group have left the country.

All three were in stable condition, and there was no evidence that the virus had spread to the community, the ministry said.

After widening the net to include temperature screening for all air travellers from China, the number of suspected cases in Singapore went up. In total, there have been 28 suspected cases aged one to 78 years, said MOH. Seven people have been ruled out.

"All measures will be taken to contain its possible spread," said the ministry's director of communicable diseases Vernon Lee.

But more cases are expected, given the large number infected in China and high travel volume from the country to Singapore.

As for the first case here, the man was in isolation and was no longer a risk to the public, Associate Professor Lee stressed. "There is no need for the general public to panic or take any special measures."

Close contacts of confirmed cases will be quarantined.

Yesterday, in measures to shore up defences against the virus, the newly formed multi-ministry task force decided at its first meeting to enhance border control and intensify screening. Measures have also been stepped up in places such as hospitals, schools and army camps.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who heads the task force with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, said that the effort was multi-tiered.

"First, we have to ensure that we do what we can in our defensive measures in terms of our border controls, temperature screening and so on, but at the same time, we have multi-layers of defence, including our clinics, hospitals, health institutions and healthcare workers who are at the front line."

Finally, he said, it was important that everyone protected themselves by observing personal hygiene and behaving in a socially responsible way.

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore had been preparing for a new viral outbreak since severe acute respiratory syndrome hit in 2003.

This included doing a thorough review of infrastructure, hospitals, isolation wards, and scientific testing and capabilities. "And I think we are much better prepared now," he said.

China, too, had made progress in dealing with public health emergencies, he noted.

The country has taken the unprecedented move of putting extensive travel restrictions on cities at the heart of the outbreak, which has killed at least 17 and infected more than 600 people, with cases surfacing all over the world.

Singaporeans are advised to avoid travel to the whole of Hubei province, in view of the travel restrictions China has imposed on Huanggang, Chibi, Xiantao and Ezhou, in addition to Wuhan, and to be cautious and pay attention to hygiene when travelling to the rest of China.

The virus, now known as 2019-nCoV, is mutating and can now be passed from person to person. Infections are expected to spike over the Chinese New Year weekend, with hundreds of millions of travellers on the move.

Friday 24 January 2020

Davos 2020: Keeping faith in globalisation, but system must work for Singaporeans, says PM Lee Hsien Loong in dialogue at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020

How Singapore can thrive in the new globalised environment: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2020

DAVOS (Switzerland) • At a time when globalisation is under pressure around the world, Singapore has to continue to bet on countries cooperating closely with one another, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

It has to up its game, raise its capabilities and bring in new investments that will connect it to centres of vibrancy and prosperity worldwide, and enable it to make a contribution to this growth, he added.

"We can do things in Singapore, which are not so easy to be done, all together in one place. That means we have to upgrade our companies, our people, education, skills, and have the environment where we can welcome in very high-quality investments, operations, R&D centres, places where high-quality people want to live, work, want to be.

"It is not just costs, it is also the whole environment - the safety, the security, the confidence, the opportunities, the vibrancy," he said.

But the system must also work for Singaporeans, he stressed at a 30-minute dialogue with World Economic Forum president Borge Brende yesterday. "If it doesn't work for them, the system will fail," he added. "And in Singapore, we must not fail because we only have one chance to succeed."

"We have to look after our own people, make sure that all these good things which happen in the world benefit not just Singapore, but benefit Singaporeans - across the board - so that they are able to take advantage of the jobs that we create, so that they are able to fend for themselves against global competition," said PM Lee.

"So that if one industry is declining, which will happen from time to time, the people there are given the help, the support and the time to gain new skills, and transfer their employment to another industry, another job and be able to make a living for themselves and not feel that they are fending for themselves on their own, that the system is not on their side."

PM Lee also spoke about challenges posed by the US turning inward and a rising China, and how Singapore plans to navigate its way in a more challenging environment.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Singapore Perspectives 2020: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s vision on 4G leadership

4G leaders to offer Singaporeans more say in shaping policy: Heng Swee Keat
Plans are also afoot to give more help to lower-income citizens, says DPM
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2020

Amid challenges such as inequality and economic disruption, the fourth-generation leadership is determined to build a future of progress and prosperity for Singaporeans, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Mr Heng, who is expected to take over as Singapore's next leader in the coming years, also painted a vision of how he and his colleagues intend to lead the country. Their approach hinges on going beyond working for Singaporeans to working with them in designing policies and implementing them.

He also hinted that plans are afoot to give more help to lower-income Singaporeans.

"We are now studying how we can better help lower-and lower-middle-income Singaporeans, including current and future seniors, to meet their retirement needs in a sustainable way," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

More help will also be given to workers - like those in their 40s and 50s - to upskill, with the Government putting in place the next phase of SkillsFuture, he added.

"I will provide more details in the coming Budget."

Speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies' annual Singapore Perspectives conference, Mr Heng invited "all Singaporeans to work with us, and with each other" to tackle the challenges facing the nation.

Just as the founding leaders fostered a sense of nationhood through policies such as home ownership that gave the people a stake in Singapore, Mr Heng said the Singapore Together movement launched last year "will be our new cornerstone of nation building".

For instance, new platforms have already engaged Singaporeans on ways to improve work-life harmony and encourage household recycling, said Mr Heng.

Singaporeans are also being involved in the development of Singapore's landscape such as the Somerset Belt, the Geylang Serai cultural precinct as well as parks.

"What we see forming is a new model of partnership between the Government and Singaporeans in owning, shaping and acting on our future," he told an audience of students, academics and policymakers.

"In this process, government agencies are learning to develop and deliver policy solutions in a more collaborative manner."

This collaborative approach is Singapore's way forward in a world marked by differences and uncertainty, he said.

He noted that many countries have seen their political consensus fracture over the past decade, brought about by changes such as technological disruption, growing inequality and ageing populations.

Singapore is not immune to these divisive forces, and there were hints of this in some of the public discourse around foreigners, he added.

Amid these disruptive forces, a strong sense of unity is key to keeping Singapore successful, the same way the founding political leaders beat the long odds facing the Republic in the early days, said Mr Heng.

"Our improbable success was made possible by exceptional governance - capable leaders, working together with a united people."

People had a stake in the country and there was trust between them and the Government.

"This approach must remain core to the Government's mission, especially as we grapple with longer-term issues facing us," he said.

But in a society increasingly flooded by information and misinformation, it is critical to find ways to deepen understanding and relationships among people, he noted.

"We must reject extremist views that will fray our social fabric, and be discerning about falsehoods and irresponsible promises that cannot be fulfilled."

That is why giving Singaporeans a bigger role in shaping policy would help them appreciate the trade-offs involved and distinguish truth from falsehoods, he said.

Singaporeans have also shown they want to let their actions speak for themselves: Total volunteer hours have nearly trebled in the past 10 years, from 45 million hours in 2008 to 122 million hours in 2018, he noted.

At the same time, the Government will continue to exercise leadership in areas such as security and defence, and in planning for the long term, said Mr Heng.

"I am confident that our partnership efforts to date will set the foundations for the work of a generation," he said.

Migrants in Singapore mostly from Malaysia: United Nations report debunks popular perceptions

Malaysians make up 44% of foreign-born population here, followed by Chinese nationals at 18%
By Tan Ee Lyn, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Jan 2020

Malaysians form the biggest group of migrants living and working in Singapore, accounting for almost half - or 44 per cent - of the foreign-born population here, United Nations figures show.

They are followed by Chinese nationals, who make up around 18 per cent of the migrant pool. Together, the two groups account for over six in 10 migrants in Singapore.

Rounding off the top three sources of migrants is Indonesia, which made up 6.4 per cent of the foreign-born pool last year.

They are followed by Indians (5.9 per cent), Pakistanis (5.1 per cent) and Bangladeshis (3.2 per cent). Those from Hong Kong and Macau together make up 3.3 per cent.

This diverse group of migrants has tripled in the last 30 years from 1990 to last year, according to figures from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The rise from 727,262 to 2.16 million has, in turn, boosted Singapore's total population from three million to 5.7 million last year.

The UN figures reveal, for the first time, where migrants in Singapore were originally from. They include those who have acquired the Singapore passport, such as Haidilao hotpot founder Zhang Yong, a newly minted Singaporean who was born in Sichuan.

Others in the group include permanent residents, work pass holders and their dependants, as well as students.

The Singapore Government has never published figures on the origins of migrants by country. Its official figures are only by region.

Its Population In Brief 2019 report shows that among those given permanent residency and citizenship in 2018, for example, 62.5 per cent and 61.6 per cent respectively were originally from South-east Asian countries, while 31.2 per cent and 32.4 per cent were from other Asian countries.

Sociologist Zhan Shaohua said the UN data shows the diversity in Singapore. "This will, in turn, increase people's understanding of each other's cultural differences,"said Dr Zhan from Nanyang Technological University.

A significant feature of the UN figures is that Malaysia has consistently been the top source of migrants - debunking the widespread perception that the overwhelming majority of foreigners in Singapore are from China and South Asia.

In the last 30 years, the proportion of Malaysians has shot up, to 44 per cent last year from 27 per cent in 1990. In absolute numbers, the group has ballooned five times to almost one million - 952,261 - last year, from 195,072 in 1990.

As for China-born migrants, the proportion has hovered around 18 per cent, except in 1990, when it was 21 per cent. This works out to 380,145 last year, from 150,447 in 1990. Indonesia stands at No. 3, with its proportion more than doubling to 6.4 per cent last year from 3 per cent in 1990. In absolute numbers, this stood at 138,338 last year from 21,520 in 1990.

The UN figures are based on public data from Singapore's Department of Statistics. Most countries also share with the United Nations partial lists of the origins of their migrants.

A National Population and Talent Division spokesman said: "Numerous factors affect the mix of countries from which people come to work or settle in Singapore. They include the attractiveness of Singapore through family ties, economic needs, geographical proximity, as well as the situation in their home country and other possible destinations."

Sunday 19 January 2020

Public Service and Politics in Singapore

Political leadership vital to Singapore’s success: PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 2020 Annual Public Service Leadership Dinner
Civil service cannot function well without first-class political leadership, he says
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Jan 2020

A high-quality public service is critical, but for Singapore to be successful, it must work closely with a "first-class political leadership", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said. It must also be fundamentally aligned with elected leaders.

"Some people argue that since we have a capable civil service to keep things working, Singapore already is in good hands.

"Hence, we need not be so stringent in our expectations of political leaders - of capability, or mastery of their portfolios, of the experience they bring to the job," he told 900 public servants at the Public Service Leadership Dinner yesterday.

"And (that) we can even survive a bad election, or a bad government, because the civil service is there.

"I believe this is totally misguided. Leadership does matter, and political leaders play a specific, vital role in any country, but especially in our system of government," he said.

PM Lee added that a competent civil service may be able to keep the country going on autopilot for some time, even if its politics are divided, or its political leaders well-meaning but mediocre.

But the civil service cannot launch major policy, set new directions or mobilise the population to mount a national response to major challenges, he said.

Citing the example of the United States, where there is widespread agreement that the country's ageing infrastructure is due for an urgent upgrade, PM Lee noted that the necessary work cannot be done because of deep political divisions.

In Singapore, the political climate gives the country the luxury of looking beyond the short term, and public servants can work alongside leaders with the political will to do things the right way, he added.

And just as public servants must understand the political context, ministers are expected to be "hands-on executive leaders" rather than simply providing strategic guidance, he said.

This means that if they are not up to scratch or cannot play their roles properly, the public service will not function well.

"Maintaining an outstanding public service will itself be in jeopardy," PM Lee said. "The quality of Government will go down, and it will take years to recover, if at all."

He also stressed the public service must be "fundamentally aligned" with the elected government.

This means being sensitive to the political context and sharing the fundamental values and priorities of the political leadership.

Only when senior public service leaders work closely with their elected counterparts will both parties be able to give effect to the will of the people, PM Lee said.

"It is a fine balance - for the public service to be neutral and non-political, insulated from the hurly-burly of party politics, and yet politically sensitive and responsive to the nation's priorities and aspirations. But this is inherent in the role of a public service leader," he said.

He added that a political transition will happen in a few years, with the fourth-generation political leaders coming to the fore.

The next general election has to be held by April next year, but polls are expected to be called this year.

He said that while the working style of the 4G leaders may be different, one thing cannot change.

This is the "fundamental alignment, close working relationship and mutual trust between the ministers and civil servants".

PM Lee said he was confident that 4G leaders and public service leaders share the same core values: meritocracy, clean government, multiracialism, inclusive development and economic growth.

"And the conviction that an outstanding government is a vital differentiator for Singapore, and that Singapore has to be exceptional to thrive," he said.

Singapore attracted $15.2 billion in investments in 2019; set to create 32,000 jobs

Big jump in investments in 2019 set to create 32,000 jobs in Singapore
Singaporeans to get most new jobs, says Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing; half of the roles are linked to digital economy
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2020

Despite a challenging year weighed down by global economic uncertainties, Singapore beat expectations for investment commitments last year.

It secured $15.2 billion in investments last year, which are expected to create more than 32,000 jobs over the coming years, the Economic Development Board (EDB) announced at its year in review yesterday. The vast majority of these jobs will go to Singaporeans, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

This would be in line with the trend seen between 2015 and 2018. Some 60,000 jobs were created during that period, of which 50,000 were taken up by Singaporeans, said Mr Chan.

Large manufacturing investments from semiconductor as well as energy and chemical companies were key to the surge in investments last year.

Technology firm Micron expanded its presence here with a multibillion-dollar investment, while gas giant Linde pumped in $1.9 billion to quadruple its footprint in the Republic by 2023.

EDB chairman Beh Swan Gin said that the strong investment commitment numbers reflect companies' confidence in Singapore's strong fundamentals and its strategic position in a fast-growing Asia.

The $15.2 billion worth of investment commitments beat EDB's forecast of $8 billion to $10 billion for the year, and exceeded 2018's $10.9 billion figure. The electronics industry accounted for some 28.4 per cent of investments.

When fully implemented, the projects will create 32,814 jobs, almost double the forecast of 16,000 to 18,000 positions.

Close to half of these jobs will be in the digital economy, and around 60 per cent to 70 per cent will be jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), noted Dr Beh.

Mr Chan highlighted that while Singapore drew strong commitments last year, it has no room to be complacent as there is global competition for talent in sectors such as information and communications, robotics and deep technology.

The projects committed to last year are expected to contribute $29.4 billion in value-added per annum - the direct contribution to Singapore's gross domestic product.

Total business expenditure, which refers to companies' incremental annual operating expenditure, such as on wages and rental, was $9 billion last year. This exceeded the forecast $5 billion to $7 billion.

EDB managing director Chng Kai Fong highlighted three reasons for the strong investment commitments last year: Singapore's position at the heart of a growing Asia which provides companies with access to the booming region, trust in the Republic and the stability it offers, and the sophisticated capabilities of its economy.

He said EDB will continue to strengthen Singapore's position as a platform for companies to tap opportunities in the region, reinforce its role as a hub for companies to develop digital solutions, and support companies in innovation.

Mr Sanjiv Lamba, Linde Asia-Pacific chief executive, said that the company's $1.9 billion commitment to Singapore last year was its largest worldwide.

"For over 20 years, Linde has continuously strengthened our presence and operations in Singapore through multiple investments, made possible by its excellent infrastructure, abundant highly skilled workforce, and stable and friendly business environment," he said.

Meanwhile, EDB is moving away from yearly forecasts to long-to medium-term ones to reflect how companies plan their investment positions.

From this multi-year perspective, EDB still expects to draw $8 billion to $10 billion in investment commitments and create around 16,000 to 18,000 expected jobs yearly.

Investment commitments for 2020 should come in above the forecast based on the pipeline of projects, said Mr Chng.

Friday 17 January 2020

Stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring practices in updated Fair Consideration Framework

Firms to pay heavier price if they don't give locals a fair shot at jobs
They face stiffer penalties for discrimination and prosecution in court for false declaration
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2020

Employers who discriminate against locals when they recruit now face stiffer penalties and could be prosecuted in court if they make false declarations on their hiring considerations.

The new regime has kicked in with changes to the Fair Consideration Framework, which was introduced in 2014 to specifically target discrimination against locals and has now been given sharper teeth.

While most employers have adapted to it since, it is timely now to weed out the minority that still think they can treat the job advertising requirement in the framework as a paper exercise, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Firms must advertise openings for jobs paying below $15,000 a month on the national Jobs Bank for at least 14 days before applying for an employment pass for a foreigner.

Some try to game this.

"In places where the workforce is multinational, like Singapore, perceptions of discrimination against locals are particularly toxic," said Mrs Teo, noting that other forms of workplace discrimination, such as those based on age and gender, are just as unacceptable.

She said that it is important for Singapore to stay open and help businesses put together the best possible team to compete on the world stage.

But this requires a balance of foreigners and local workers - which means regulating the flow of foreigners coming to work in Singapore and investing to build up a local pipeline to help businesses grow here, she added.

Employers must practise fair consideration including for local applicants, and hire on merit, Mrs Teo said.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices followed up on around 2,000 complaints of discrimination from 2014 to 2018, she noted.

Of those complaints, action was taken against employers in 680 cases, with 280 cases resulting in debarment from hiring new foreign workers.

Half of these cases were for nationality discrimination, and the others for other forms of discrimination, such as age and gender.

Mrs Teo said that cases where action has been taken include those where employers had pre-selected foreigners for job positions and went through the motions of advertising the role, and omitted critical job requirements so there were no suitable applicants, and those who made false declarations to the ministry that they considered local candidates fairly when they did not.

Under the updated framework, employers found guilty of discrimination will not be able to renew work passes for existing employees during the period of debarment. In the past, debarment mostly applied to new work pass applications.

In addition, these errant employers will not be able to apply for new work passes for at least 12 months - up from the minimum of six months previously. The debarment period can extend to 24 months for the "most egregious cases", said Mrs Teo.

These changes to the Fair Consideration Framework took effect earlier this month.

Employers who falsely declare that they have considered all candidates fairly will also now be prosecuted in court and face up to two years in jail, if found guilty.

Yesterday, logistics firm Ti2 Logistics became the first to be charged for falsely declaring it had fairly considered locals before trying to hire a foreigner.

The harsher penalties will deter would-be and recalcitrant employers and businesses, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay in a Facebook post.