Tuesday 30 June 2020

Mobile Access for Seniors: Low-income seniors to get mobile data plans that cost as little as $5 a month from July 2020

One-year plans to be offered by four telcos from July under national scheme; no charges for excess data used
By Lester Wong, The Straits Times, 30 Jun 2020

From next month, low-income seniors will be able to sign up for more affordable one-year mobile data plans that cost as little as $5 a month for 5GB, as part of a national initiative to get them connected online.

Basic smartphones starting at $20 will be bundled with the mobile plans under the Mobile Access for Seniors scheme, which was announced yesterday by the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

There will also be no excess data charges, though surfing speeds will be limited should seniors inadvertently exceed their data limits.

The plans will be offered by Singtel, StarHub, M1 and TPG Telecom. Seniors have to be aged 60 and above, and be receiving ComCare assistance or living in HDB Public Rental Scheme housing, to qualify for the new scheme.

"Seniors worry about the knowledge part (when going digital) - 'Who can help me'? Another major concern they have is about cost, and I think this subsidised plan addresses that concern," said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran yesterday when unveiling the mobile data plans.

He added that the absence of excess data charges is an "important source of reassurance" for seniors - that they are not going to be "shocked by a bill" that exceeds what they are committed to.

Eligible seniors can register their interest in the mobile plans with Seniors Go Digital digital ambassadors after they have attended digital literacy programmes and acquired at least one basic digital skill, such as using messaging apps like WhatsApp, or scanning QR codes.

Separately, the four telcos, along with virtual telco Circles.Life, are also launching low-cost mobile plans available to all seniors.

For example, StarHub's four plans include SIM-only plans with 5GB or 30GB of monthly mobile data for $8 or $20, respectively.

The other two plans, which come with a bundled smartphone, are priced at $40 or $60 a month for 15GB or 40GB of mobile data, respectively, over two years. Customers can sign up for these plans now at all StarHub outlets.

Meanwhile, M1 is offering a 25 per cent discount on its regular device and SIM-only plans for seniors, along with three-month complimentary access to streaming services Viu Premium and TVBAnywhere+.

This means, for instance, that its $25 SIM-only plan with 30GB monthly mobile data will cost $18.75 for seniors. The plans will be available for sign-up from July 24.

Singtel said it will launch its plans next month. These will come with data-free messaging on WhatsApp, among other perks.

The telco will also hold Seniors Go Digital workshops at eight outlets across the island every Wednesday to give seniors personalised assistance. These will be held from 9am to 11am, two hours before the outlets open.

The new Mobile Access for Seniors scheme augments broad-ranging outreach efforts under the Singapore Digital Office (SDO) formed last month, including the Seniors Go Digital movement that aims to reach 100,000 seniors by the end of this year.

The SDO will recruit 1,000 digital ambassadors by the end of this month to help seniors as well as stallholders at hawker centres and wet markets to learn how to use digital tools.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to retire from politics after 44 years as MP; Low Thia Khiang and Khaw Boon Wan also not running in GE2020

Singapore GE2020: Singapore's second Prime Minister tried to foster a kinder, gentler nation and enhanced regional links
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2020

The man who served as Singapore's second prime minister from 1990 to 2004 is retiring from politics as the country gears up for an election campaign in which leadership transition is a key issue.

Specifically, it involves a planned handover to the PAP's fourth generation of leaders since Singapore's independence in 1965.

Mr Goh Chok Tong, 79, has been a Member of Parliament for 44 years. He stepped down from Cabinet in 2011 and has been known as Emeritus Senior Minister since then.

Even as he departs the political stage, he has signalled his continued preoccupation with Singapore's future, asking in a cryptic Facebook post on Tuesday, the day the election was called: "Parliament dissolved. Quo vadis, Singapore? Quo vadis, me?"

"Quo vadis" is a Latin phrase commonly translated as "Where are you going?" or, more poetically, "Whither goest thou?"

Mr Goh announced his decision to retire in a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

PM Lee accepted his decision and thanked Mr Goh for a lifetime of distinguished service.

Born into a working class family in 1941, the man who stood out from childhood - not just because he was the tallest among his peers - began his working life as a civil servant who went on to lead Neptune Orient Lines before being inducted into politics in 1976, at the age of 35.

He rose swiftly to helm several ministries, including Trade and Industry, Health and Defence, before being appointed deputy prime minister in 1985. Five years later, he succeeded Mr Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister.


When he was sworn in as prime minister on Nov 28, 1990, he pledged to make sure "Singapore thrives and grows after Mr Lee Kuan Yew".

During his 14 years at the helm, Singapore's per capita gross domestic product grew from $21,950 in 1990 to more than $38,000 in 2004. A web of free trade agreements (FTAs), including with major economies like the United States and Japan, expanded the island nation's political and economic space overseas.

Mr Goh played a key role in regional integration, working to narrow the development gap between the original Asean five and the newer member states of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. This was done through the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) launched in 2000.

He sparked an "India fever" in Singapore in the 1990s, making multiple trips to the country, urging it to forge closer ties with the region and pushing for the conclusion of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

He also led Singapore's efforts to grow links between world regions, through the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation and Asia-Middle East Dialogue. These cemented Singapore's cultural, economic and political relevance to the world.

As prime minister, it also fell to him to secure a team to succeed himself and his peers in Cabinet.

During his tenure as minister for defence, Mr Goh talent-spotted a young Lee Hsien Loong, then a Singapore Armed Forces leader, and persuaded him to enter politics and stand for election in 1984.

PM Lee himself spoke of Mr Goh's ability to get capable people to join his team and work for him, when he launched the latter's biography Tall Order in 2018.

PM Lee said of his predecessor: "He nurtures and holds the team together. He considers and takes in their views, and gets the best out of the team."

It was Mr Goh who brought in key third-generation leaders, including Mr George Yeo, Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, as well as Mr Lim Hng Kiang, Professor Yaacob Ibrahim and Mr Lim Swee Say. In his speech, PM Lee observed that Mr Goh had assembled "some of the strongest Cabinets Singapore has had" at a time when the task of governing Singapore had become more complex.


At home, the Goh years were about renewing the bond between people and government on terms that the second-generation PAP leaders believed in - a kinder, gentler nation, a government that listened, and paid attention not just to material well-being but also matters of the heart, or "heartware".

Wednesday 24 June 2020

GE2020: Singaporeans to vote on 10 July 2020

Singapore General Election 2020: Parliament dissolved, Polling Day set for July 10
PM Lee Hsien Loong sets out why he is calling general election now amid COVID-19 pandemic
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

Singaporeans will go to the polls on July 10, in a general election that will take place in a time of crisis as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The widely anticipated announcement of the election date came yesterday, when President Halimah Yacob dissolved Singapore's 13th Parliament and issued the Writ of Election.

Nomination Day will be next Tuesday, with the minimum nine days of campaigning before Cooling-Off Day on July 9.

Polling Day will be on July 10 - a Friday and a public holiday.

In a televised address to the nation yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has decided to call the general election now, while the COVID-19 situation is relatively stable, to "clear the decks" and give the new government a fresh, full five-year mandate.

After the election, the new government can focus on the national agenda - which includes handling the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and jobs - and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry, he said.

The alternative is to wait out the pandemic, he said, noting however that there is no assurance the outbreak will be over before the Government's term ends next April, with the virus expected to linger for at least a year - most probably longer - until a vaccine is available.

The election, Singapore's 13th since independence, is likely to see the People's Action Party (PAP) challenged for all seats - as the ruling party was in 2015.

A total of 93 elected seats are at stake - in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies.

GE2020 will be waged on a drastically different battleground due to the pandemic.

Safe distancing rules that restrict the size of public gatherings to five people mean traditional campaign staples like mass rallies cannot be held. Political parties will also have to scale back on the scope of their walkabouts in constituencies.

They have geared up to turn to cyberspace and social media instead, to get their messages across to the electorate. Each candidate will also get airtime on national television, as part of the new, one-off constituency political broadcasts.

Following the announcement yesterday, political parties sprang into action and ramped up their planning and preparations.

Due to safe distancing restrictions, they ironed out campaign strategies via WhatsApp messages and Zoom calls, instead of traditional meetings in larger groups.

The PAP will launch official introductions of its new candidates and release its party manifesto over the course of this week.

Opposition parties said they were ready for the election, as the possibility of one has been on the cards for some time.

Observers reckon issues that will feature prominently at the hustings include the state of the economy and jobs, the Government's handling of the coronavirus situation, political succession and the setting of the direction of Singapore's future after COVID-19.

The PAP's leaders have, in a series of six national broadcasts over the past two weeks, set out the key issues at stake, including protecting jobs, overcoming the current crisis and securing Singapore's future.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are expected to question the Government's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, and call for greater accountability as well as more checks and balances to keep the ruling party on its toes.

The pandemic has brought economies to a near standstill, as countries lock down to curb the spread of the virus. Singapore's economy is projected to shrink by up to 7 per cent this year, which would make it the worst recession since independence in 1965.

In response, the Government has rolled out nearly $93 billion to fund four COVID-19 support packages, requiring a draw of up to $52 billion from past reserves.

This coming election will see Mr Lee lead the PAP into battle for the fourth, and what looks set to be the final, time as prime minister.

He had earlier declared his intention to hand over the reins to his successor by the time he turns 70, which will be in 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who leads the PAP's fourth-generation team, is poised to take over.

The 2006 General Election, the first led by Mr Lee, saw the PAP get 66.6 per cent of the popular vote.

The ruling party saw its vote share fall to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 election, but rebounded to secure 69.9 per cent of the vote in 2015.

There will be 2,653,942 voters heading to the polls next month.

There will also be a minimum of 12 opposition MPs in Parliament - including Non-Constituency MPs - up from nine currently. This stems from changes to the Constitution that were passed to guarantee that number, should there be fewer than 12 elected opposition MPs.

The Returning Officer for this election is Mr Tan Meng Dui, replacing Mr Ng Wai Choong, who was the Returning Officer for the 2015 General Election.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Madam Halimah said: "It is important that every care and effort be taken to ensure that our voters' safety is not compromised.

"I would also like to urge Singaporeans to have open, civil and respectful conversations with one another during this period.

"For us to continue prospering as a nation, we must stay united and build upon our strengths."

Sunday 21 June 2020

National Broadcast: DPM Heng Swee Keat on Emerging Stronger Together from COVID-19

DPM Heng spells out plans for Singapore to emerge stronger after COVID-19 crisis
Robust response to crisis with past reserves tapped; present generation must 'build back better' for future
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 21 Jun 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday made a rallying call to Singaporeans, saying that this generation will respond to the COVID-19 crisis, emerge from it stronger, and "build back better" for the future.

Underpinning this is the partnership between the Government and the people, which has become more critical than ever in the face of the twin threats of a pandemic and recession, he said in a televised address from The Treasury building.

Capping the series of six national broadcasts by ministers on the country's post-coronavirus future, he unveiled plans for Singaporeans and the Government to shape the future together.

A sum of $20 billion will be set aside to support basic and applied research, along with a series of innovation challenges to rally people to pioneer solutions for some of the world's major challenges.

Industry-led alliances have been formed to prototype ideas that can become new avenues of growth, while ideas from Singaporeans will be turned into solutions through new networks that bring together partners from different sectors.

Already, the Government has marshalled almost $100 billion in support measures to mount a robust response to what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has described as "the crisis of a generation".

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said: "I never expected to put up four Budgets, one after another, within just 100 days. Never before in our history have we done so... Had we not done so, we would have lost years of progress and an entire generation."

More than half of the war chest had come from the country's past reserves, painstakingly built up by the previous generations.

"So let us remember - once we have recovered from this crisis, our generation must build back better," he added.

Amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore will face its worst economic contraction to date and Mr Heng acknowledged people's anxiety over their livelihoods.

He said saving jobs is the Government's top priority, and it will do so by helping viable companies survive so they can keep their workers, and also by transforming the economy so more and better jobs can be created.

In the earlier broadcasts, PM Lee and the other ministers had laid out the Government's plans, explaining how it would deal with the virus, help Singapore navigate a more fractious world, transform its economy and create opportunities, as well as deepen the social compact and care for the vulnerable.

In his address to the nation, Mr Heng sketched out how all this would be jointly realised as "Singapore Together", inviting all Singaporeans to join in these efforts.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who had overseen several national engagement sessions and launched the citizens engagement movement named Singapore Together last year, said the Government has started a new series of Emerging Stronger Conversations to hear from people about how the pandemic has affected them and how to overcome the challenges.

Mr Heng also set out the work that the fourth generation ministers have been focusing on, and promised that the Government is committed to safeguarding everything that Singaporeans hold dear.

He said the Government has the will and the way to lead the country out of the crisis and added that the actions in the next five to 10 years will chart Singapore's course for decades to come.

"We will fight COVID-19 as Singapore Together. Everyone counts, and can be counted on... We will overcome this crisis of our generation. We will be a generation that emerges stronger. Together, we will be the generation that sets our children and their children onto a path to an even brighter future."

Saturday 20 June 2020

Phase 2 of Singapore's COVID-19 reopening will be test of public hygiene habits: Masagos Zulkifli

Government may consider rules to make picking up after oneself at eateries mandatory, says minister
By Audrey Tan, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of personal hygiene, but the test of whether it has changed people's habits will be in phase two of Singapore's reopening, when people are allowed to dine in at food and beverage outlets again.

Diners will be reminded by safe distancing ambassadors to pick up after themselves at hawker centres and coffee shops.

But the Government may consider rolling out regulations to make this mandatory, said Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

"We may even resort to regulations... We have to see how things evolve," he said in an interview with The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao that was broadcast yesterday.

"Most importantly, I hope that we embrace this, understand how it affects our public health, as well as how it affects people around us," said Mr Masagos.

Compassion and care for the environment and those around us should be what spurs people to be more hygienic when eating out, he said, and not regulations.

Mr Masagos heads the SG Clean Taskforce, which was set up in March to raise hygiene standards across the country and to change social norms so that they become Singapore's first line of defence against current and future outbreaks of infections.

While the question of how clean Singapore is has been a perennial one, it has come into stark relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, a check by The Straits Times at five hawker centres islandwide found that many diners still left their dirty dishes, leftovers and used tissues on the table for workers to clean up after them.

This occurred even though a number of customers were observed wiping the tables with hand sanitisers and disposable wipes before sitting down for their meals.

Used tissue paper or wet wipes - which Mr Masagos described in earlier interviews as being "little biohazards" - can be contaminated, as they are often used to cover a person's nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, or to wipe respiratory discharge and sputum.

Contact with such contaminated droplets is considered the primary way that the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, is transmitted from person to person.

Mr Masagos said: "We (want) to remind the population that (public hygiene) is not just for COVID-19. We have to adjust our basic habits so that whether it's COVID-19 or other viruses, we are not spreading them."

This includes practices such as not sharing utensils and not leaving used tissue paper behind.

"In phase two, we will come back with full force and raise the cleaning standards both by the industry as well as to instil good habits in our population," Mr Masagos added.

Earlier this week, the National Environment Agency, which Mr Masagos oversees, said it will introduce a toilet improvement programme for coffee shops and hawker centres that have ageing infrastructure.

These premises will get co-funding to refresh the designs of older toilets and to speed up the adoption of new technologies and productivity measures to make the toilets easier to clean and maintain, the agency said.

The programme will also factor in downstream operations and maintenance issues. More details will be given later this year.

But Mr Masagos said people must also ensure that they flush properly when they use public restrooms, citing recent scientific findings on how COVID-19 patients' stool may contain traces of the virus.

There have not been reports of patients getting the disease through such a transmission route so far, but the findings raised the possibility of a faecal-oral route.

"There have been many studies, although not verified fully, on issues around the hygiene of public toilets in terms of whether they can pose a risk to other users if one of them has COVID-19," said Mr Masagos.

"But it is better to take precautions - in terms of how we clean, how frequently we clean, as well as advising users on the right way of using them."

Friday 19 June 2020

COVID-19: Lives v livelihoods debate - the economist's take

With Singapore gradually reopening its economy while controlling COVID-19 transmission, it is important to strike a balance between the cost of saving lives and the cost to the economy of a prolonged shutdown.
By Euston Quah and Eik Swee, Published The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2020

At one of his daily briefings last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke about his plans for reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying: "The fundamental question which we are not articulating is, how much is a human life worth? […]To me, I say the cost of a human, a human life, is priceless. Period."

As a moral statement, few would disagree with Mr Cuomo. However, notwithstanding the significant value of human life, one cannot possibly ascribe infinite value to it. Indeed, human lives are finitely priced all the time by civil courts, regulatory agencies and businesses.

The thought of ascribing a monetary value to human life often provokes ethical outrage, but this process is necessary for good public policy. No government can spend a limitless amount of money to protect citizen life or health. Hence, to formulate effective policies, they need to know how many lives would be affected, and how much those lives are worth.


Measures to combat the pandemic, such as social distancing and lockdowns, can help minimise widespread infection, ensure that hospitals are not overwhelmed, and save thousands of lives. However, doing so will also mean that schools, businesses and factories will be immobilised, and the economy will suffer. Therefore, we must inevitably face the trade-offs: lost lives versus lost livelihoods.

To work out the trade-offs, we must first put a dollar value on human life.

One approach, commonly used by economists who conduct cost-benefit analyses, is the value of statistical life (VOSL). It measures the loss or gain that arises from changes in the incidence of death, by eliciting people's willingness to pay for small reductions in the probability of death, or their willingness to accept compensation in exchange for tolerating a small increase in the chance of death.

For example, if an employee is willing to accept a higher wage remuneration, for example, $1,000, for an increase in risk of death of 1 per cent, then it can be inferred that his VOSL is 100 times that, or $100,000.

Similarly, if an employee is willing to pay $100 to install safety equipment that will lower the risk of death by 1 per cent, then his VOSL is 100 times that, or $10,000. In Singapore, the first local study on VOSL applied to transport projects (done in 2007) reported a VOSL estimate then of about $2 million for an average commuter's life.

Taking the example of a complete lockdown, we can estimate the potential number of lives saved - based on infection and fatality rates and applying them to epidemiological models - and multiply that by VOSL to compute the dollar value of saved lives. If this number exceeds the costs of a faltering economy under a complete lockdown, then we know that the hardline policy is desirable.


Nonetheless, a systematic assessment of the trade-offs need not imply that we must choose between complete lockdown or zero restriction.

Thursday 18 June 2020

National Broadcast: SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam on A Stronger and More Cohesive Society

Singapore to strengthen social compact to keep society united
Tharman spells out steps to stave off social polarisation and despair in the face of crisis
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2020

Singapore cannot defy the global economic downturn. But it must "absolutely defy" the loss of social cohesion, the polarisation and the despair that are taking hold in many other countries, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages economies, he said Singapore must strengthen its social compact by helping those who have lost jobs to find work, by keeping social mobility alive and by assuring Singaporeans that help is at hand when they meet difficulties.

Mr Tharman, who is Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, also said mature workers would get special help in finding jobs so that no employer rejects them on account of their age.

Speaking yesterday from the Devan Nair Institute of Employment and Employability, in the fifth of six national broadcasts by ministers on Singapore's post coronavirus future, he said job losses and disrupted schooling have widened social divisions around the world.

He cautioned against thinking that Singapore is immune to these trends: "No society remains cohesive simply because it used to be."

The Government's first priority is to save jobs and help those laid off to return to work. This, he said, cannot be left to market forces.

Mr Tharman, who helms the new National Jobs Council that oversees efforts to help Singaporeans stay employable, said this is why the Government is working with companies, sector by sector, to take on Singaporeans through temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships.

"No amount of unemployment allowances can compensate for the demoralisation of being out of work for long," he said.

Special attention will be paid to workers in their 50s and 60s, and the Mid-Career Pathways programme will be scaled up so that they can prepare for more permanent jobs, he added. But this is a national effort that requires employers to change their thinking.

Mr Tharman said: "No Singaporean who is willing to learn should be 'too old' to hire. And no one who is willing to adapt should be viewed as 'overqualified'.

"Our workers will be able to build on their skills and experience, and we will have a more capable and motivated workforce, with a strong Singaporean core, that every employer can rely on."

He added that good schools are critical to social mobility, and Singapore must never become a society where social pedigree and connections count for more than ability and effort. "There is nothing natural or preordained about social mobility," he said, noting that successful countries have found this harder to sustain with time. "It therefore requires relentless government effort, quality interventions in schools and dedicated networks of community support to keep social mobility alive."

Hence, the Government is equalising opportunities when children are young, such as by expanding the Kidstart programme to help lower-income families. Plans are also afoot to equip all secondary school students with a personal laptop or tablet by next year, seven years ahead of the original target.

A strong spirit of solidarity is also important. Key to this, he said, is strengthening support for lower income Singaporeans at work.

He pointed out that cleaners, security officers and landscape workers have seen their wages increase by 30 per cent in real terms over the last five years under the Progressive Wage Model. The eventual goal is for every sector to have progressive wages, with a clear ladder of skills, better jobs and better wages for those with lower pay.

Those in short-term contract work should also have more stable jobs, better protection and the chance to progress in their careers, he said. "It may lead to a small rise in the cost of services that we all pay for. But it is a small price for us to pay for better jobs and income security for those who need it most, and a fair society."

He noted that the social compact is also about the "self-effort and selflessness" that must be strengthened in the country's culture.

"It is about the networks and initiatives that we saw spring up in this COVID-19 crisis... And it is about how we draw closer to each other, regardless of race, religion or social background. It is how we journey together. A forward-looking, spirited and more cohesive society."

Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation Seniors to Receive $255 million in MediSave Top-Ups in July 2020

Eligible seniors will receive top-ups ranging from $200 to $800 next month
By Cheryl Tan, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2020

Pioneer and Merdeka Generation seniors will receive a total of $255 million in Medisave top-ups next month.

The top-up can be used for payment of insurance premiums for MediShield Life and other Medisave-approved insurance plans, as well as to pay for medical expenses such as for hospitalisation, day surgery and outpatient treatments.

The sum will be credited into their Medisave accounts next month. Seniors will be given more details of the top-up in a letter by the end of this month.

The top-ups are part of the benefits under the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation packages.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said it is to "thank our Pioneer and Merdeka Generation seniors for their contributions to Singapore".

"Altogether, we had set aside more than $14 billion for these packages, to cover about one million seniors for life."

He added that the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations had weathered difficult storms in the early years of Singapore, and contributed to Singapore's growth.

"We owe them a debt of gratitude for their hard work and dedication. Let us continue to support them to stay active and healthy," he said.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Health said the top-up for Pioneer members totals $160 million, while the top-up for Merdeka seniors is $95 million.

Eligible Pioneer members will receive between $200 and $800, depending on their age this year. Those who were born earlier will receive higher top-ups as they typically have less accumulated savings. Eligible Merdeka Generation seniors will receive $200 in Medisave top-ups annually until 2023. They started receiving the sum from last year.

Around 450,000 Pioneer and 500,000 Merdeka Generation seniors have been receiving Medisave top-ups as part of the Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation packages since they were launched in 2014 and last year, respectively.

For the Pioneer Generation Package, $8 billion was set aside in 2014 to be given out to those born in 1949 or earlier.

This helps to cover outpatient subsidies, Medisave top-ups, MediShield Life premium subsidies, and payouts for long-term care.

As for the Merdeka Generation Package, $6.1 billion was set aside last year to provide seniors with greater assurance of their healthcare costs, and to help them stay active and healthy through their silver years. The top-ups help ease the burden of healthcare costs for Singaporeans who were born between Jan 1, 1950 and Dec 31, 1959.

From last year, Merdeka Generation seniors received additional benefits such as higher subsidies under the Community Health Assist Scheme and an extra 25 per cent discount on their bills at polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics, in addition to the yearly $200 Medisave top-ups.

The Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Medisave top-ups are in addition to the annual Medisave top-ups under the GST (goods and services tax) Voucher scheme for Singaporeans who are aged 65 and above.

The Medisave top-ups under the GST Voucher scheme will be made in August, and the amount that seniors can receive will depend on their age, the annual value of their place of residence, and the number of properties that they own.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Singapore retains top spot as world's most competitive economy: IMD World Competitiveness Ranking 2020

Its economic performance, tech infrastructure, education system help it stay No. 1 for second year
By Ovais Subhani, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2020

Singapore has retained its top spot as the world's most competitive economy, in the latest edition of the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking 2020.

It held on to the No. 1 position for a second straight year in the annual list of 63 economies that analyses their ability to generate prosperity.

Making up the top five after Singapore were Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Hong Kong.

As a group, they illustrate the strength of many small economies amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Institute for Management Development (IMD) said in a statement yesterday.

However, Hong Kong dropped three spots on the list to settle at No. 5 this year. IMD attributed the city's slide to a relatively deficient performance of its economy, employment and societal framework. The underlying strengths of the autonomous region's economy, however, remain in place, it said.

In fact, besides Singapore and Taiwan - which rose to 11th place from 16th - rankings for all other Asian economies dropped from their year-ago positions.

The world's two largest economies fell in the rankings as well.

The trade war between the United States and China damaged both economies, reversing their positive growth trajectories, IMD said. The US fell seven spots to 10th place, while China slipped to 20th from 14th place last year. The US was toppled from its No. 1 spot last year by Singapore.

Professor Arturo Bris, director of the IMD World Competitiveness Centre, said: "The benefit of small economies in the current crisis comes from their ability to fight a pandemic and from their economic competitiveness. In part, these may be fed by the fact it is easy to find social consensus."

The rankings are based on responses in the first quarter of this year from business executives on questions about how they perceive their country's economy and hard data from last year.

IMD noted that the factors behind Singapore's success include its strong economic performance, which stems from robust international trade and investment, employment and labour market measures.

"Singapore is a small economy with similarities to Denmark and the Netherlands. Its rise to the No. 1 spot was largely driven by the relative ease of setting up business, the availability of skilled labour and its cutting-edge technological infrastructure," IMD said.

Stable performances in both Singapore's education system and technological infrastructure - telecommunications, Internet bandwidth speed and high-tech exports - also played key roles, it said.

Elsewhere in the Americas, Canada moved up to eighth from 13th, while in Europe, the United Kingdom climbed from 23rd to 19th, and France lost its foothold on 31st, having to settle this year for 32nd.

Economies showing noteworthy year-on-year consistency include Germany (17th), Australia (18th) and India (43rd). An eye-catching rebound came for Greece, up to 49th from 58th with government efficiency to thank, IMD said.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, speaking at an Enterprise Singapore event yesterday, said it was good to see that Singapore has managed to maintain its top position in overall global competitiveness.

However, he said, the report also shows the challenges the Republic is facing.

"There are significant changes in the relative rankings in many countries. And this just goes to show that we are living in a very volatile environment," he said.

"We cannot be complacent during the COVID-19 situation," he added.

Changi Airport Terminal 5 construction pushed back by two years: Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan

Scale and design of planned terminal will be reviewed and study done on sector's prospects
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2020

With a cloud hanging over the future of aviation, Singapore has halted construction of the upcoming mega Changi Airport Terminal 5 for at least two years, and will review its scale and design.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that the project will not resume until the Republic has undertaken a study on prospects for the sector which has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Big questions remain, and we don't think we will get the answers very quickly within the next few months," said Mr Khaw.

"It may take us a couple of years, and that is why we have decided to take a pause in the T5 project... So at the minimum, I think we will push it back by two years."

The Changi Airport T5 project was scheduled to be completed in the 2030s. It was earmarked to provide future capacity for the airport to ride on the projected growth in air travel.

From 85 million passengers a year currently, Changi Airport planned to have the capacity to handle 140 million a year - with T5 alone being able to handle up to 50 million passengers per year in its initial phase.

It held the key to Singapore retaining its status as an aviation hub, analysts said.

But now, instead of calling for major civil engineering tenders that the initial timelines would have demanded, the Government will review the additional safety features that will need to be built into T5, Mr Khaw told scholarship holders under the Transport Ministry's agencies in an online engagement session.

"In the case of the virus, what are the additional safety features we need to adopt?" he said. "All major airports are testing and experimenting... We are already experimenting with some of these safety rules."

Mr Khaw said the continuous stream of cargo traffic going through the airport despite reduced passenger traffic will be considered in the review of T5's design.

The Changi air hub contributes more than 5 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and employs 192,000 people.

While all air hubs globally have been hit hard by the pandemic, International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said the worst part of the collapse in air traffic is likely over, provided there is not a second and more damaging wave of COVID-19 infections.

In April, Changi Airport handled just 25,200 passenger movements, a 99.5 per cent drop from the same time last year.

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the airport has shut down T2 for 18 months, in part to facilitate upgrading works. It has also temporarily closed T4.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a national address on Sunday that all of Singapore's major infrastructure projects, including T5, will be completed, although timelines may shift based on demand.

Experts said the move to delay T5 was sensible.