Thursday, 30 July 2020

Dialogue by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Atlantic Council Front Page Online Event on 28 July 2020

Singapore hopes US can stabilise its relations with China
Asia depends on this to have a secure and predictable environment to prosper: PM Lee
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2020

Singapore hopes the United States is able to stabilise its relationship with China because Asia depends on stable ties between the two countries to have a secure and predictable environment to prosper, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He made the point in an online interview when American businessman David Rubenstein asked him what he would say to an incoming US president asking for advice on how to strengthen the country's relationship with Asia.

PM Lee said he would also encourage the next president, be it Republican President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election, or his Democratic rival Joe Biden, to develop a bipartisan consensus on US-Asian relations so that American foreign policy would last beyond the president's administration.

He cited how the previous Obama administration's rebalance towards Asia had been supported by many Asian countries, but the Trump administration had a different take on the issue, wanting Japan and South Korea to pay more for the US troops stationed on their soil.



"If you can establish a stable, predictable policy with bipartisan consensus, I think it would be a great help to all your friends and partners who want to be able to depend on you and to rely on you, without the risk that one day, the big power may suddenly decide its interests lie elsewhere," he said.

PM Lee also urged Washington to find a way to return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership mega trade pact it had withdrawn from at the start of the Trump administration.

Worries about the direction of US-China relations featured heavily in the interview on Asia's response to tensions between the two major powers and COVID-19, hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank.

PM Lee described the US-China tensions as very unfortunate, saying: "Actions have been taken which have provoked counter-actions, and the issues have metastasised and spread into all fields of the relationship... The way things have developed over the last several years, you have very many areas where there is not only contradiction, but also deep distrust, and this is corrosive and it is making a very difficult relationship very dangerous."



He noted the relationship historically tends to get tangled with presidential campaigns in election years, but that things settle down after the new administration settles in.

But this year's election - due on Nov 3 - and its aftermath may be different, he said.

"I am not sure whether it will happen this time because the feel is quite different, and the degree of animus and... bipartisan consensus on treating China as a threat is quite extraordinary. I fear that it may carry on past the election and if it does, I think that bodes ill for the world."


PM Lee set out two outcomes, both of which worry Singapore.

The first is that the US will collide with China, and the other is the US will decide it has no stake in the region and leave Asian countries to their own defences. Singapore and other countries in the region want good relations with China while keeping their deep relations with the US at the same time, he added.

"Maintaining that balance and for the US to be able to play that role, and tend to your many interests and your many friends and your influence in the region, I think that requires a significant amount of attention from the United States policy establishment," he said.

"Otherwise, a part of the world which has been crucial to you since the Second World War may become a problem rather than an asset to you."

The dialogue was moderated by Mr Rubenstein, who heads the American private equity firm The Carlyle Group and is chairman of the US non-profit think-tank Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr Rubenstein asked if PM Lee was worried that China's tech companies would become so dominant that Singapore would be dependent on them for technology, noting that the US government had expressed concerns that telecommunications equipment from Chinese tech giant Huawei could pose threats to national security.

PM Lee said Singapore did business with Huawei and did not exclude it from its 5G network bidding process, although Huawei was not chosen this time round.



Noting that no system was 100 per cent secure, he said: "It is a balance of the risks and the purposes to which it is going to be put, and how you can minimise the risks and operate in a way which does not lead you to conclude that you must do everything yourself."

He added: "If the supply chain bifurcates, it will be painful. It may still happen, but we hope there will be trust between the two sides and it will be possible for cooperation to continue.

"It does require a significant degree of trust and a willingness to want to work together, rather than to have a one up, one down outcome. And I am not sure that is the way things are going now."

Sunday, 26 July 2020

PM Lee Hsien Loong unveils new Cabinet line-up on 25 July 2020

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's crisis Cabinet a mix of continuity and change
Senior leaders stay on; 6 ministries to have new leaders; 7 new MPs appointed to office
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 26 Jul 2020

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his new Cabinet yesterday, which sought to strike a balance between continuity provided by his senior colleagues, exposure for younger ministers and leadership renewal, as Singapore navigates its worst crisis since independence.

The new line-up will see six of the 15 ministries having a change in minister. Seven of the PAP's new faces have also been appointed political office-holders, with the oldest among them - Dr Tan See Leng, 55 - made a full minister.



Most older ministers - including Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam - will stay on to provide continuity amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's role overseeing the nation's economy has been cemented. Apart from continuing as Finance Minister, he will take on an additional role as Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.


This formalises the role Mr Heng was playing in the last term, said PM Lee. Mr Heng chairs the Future Economy Council as well as the National Research Foundation.



Noting that having experienced leaders at the helm was especially important to tackle the ongoing crisis, PM Lee said at a virtual press conference held at the Istana: "We need experienced ministers to provide steady hands, and also to mentor the younger ministers.

"And in this crisis, this need is even greater. We are in the thick of a grave crisis, dealing with a fast moving uncertain situation... And this puts a premium on experience and a sure touch."


That was why most ministers of this Cabinet had the experience of serving at least one term as political office-holders, he added.


The reshuffle also exposes younger ministers to different portfolios and brings in fresh faces as part of the renewal process.


In total, the new Cabinet will have 37 office-holders - the same number as in the previous one.


Said PM Lee: "It is a team with experience and depth, with senior members tempered by the challenges that they have gone through together, reinforced with younger members who will bring different perspectives to bear, and fresh ideas and energy to take us forward."




Mr Lawrence Wong will helm the Education Ministry, while Mr Desmond Lee will move from the Ministry for Social and Family Development to succeed him at the National Development Ministry.

Mr Ong Ye Kung will move from the Education Ministry to head the Transport Ministry, which was formerly helmed by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who has retired from politics.


The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has been renamed as the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment, to better reflect its future role as sustainability has become an increasingly important part of the national agenda. It will be headed by Ms Grace Fu.


Mr Masagos Zulkifli will leave that ministry and move to head the Ministry of Social and Family Development. He will remain the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.


Two senior ministers of state have been promoted. Mr Edwin Tong succeeds Ms Fu as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, while Dr Maliki Osman is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.



PM Lee, 68, reiterated his pledge to see the country through the crisis. He had previously stated his hope to retire from politics by his 70th birthday, which is in 2022.

"But I do not determine the path of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a lot will depend on how events unfold," he said. "And all I can say is, I will see this through, and I'll hand over in good shape as soon as possible to the next team, and into good hands."


The Cabinet and other office-holders will be formally sworn in tomorrow, 27 July 2020.


Saturday, 25 July 2020

The energising spirit of empathy stirs in Singapore

Empathy is good for society and for business. It can be a way for organisations to identify and meet unmet needs and for Singapore to stay relevant.
By Richard Magnus, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2020

Sometimes, a struggle can have beautiful results.

Just ask an oyster. It defends itself from an invading parasite by coating itself with layers of a material called nacre. The oyster becomes adaptive and resilient.

In time, this process forms a lustrous pearl, glowing and defiant.

In a strange way, the coronavirus pandemic reminds me of this magical and indomitable quest for survival in nature.

COVID-19 sneaked into our nation, uninvited and unwelcome. It caused major catastrophes that changed our lives. The disease lifted the veil on hidden vulnerabilities. But these grim realities on the ground can translate into opportunities.

The relentless march of the coronavirus was met by an equally determined swell of empathy that lifted the nation. Empathy was manifest in action by thousands of individuals who self-organised efforts to help the vulnerable, and seen in generous donations by organisations and in unprecedented Budget support by the state.

When face masks became the central focus in our fight against the disease, organisations both public and private stepped up to combat a potential lack of supply. There are now 1,200 24-hour vending machines across 800 locations to dispense masks to some five million Singaporeans and residents at the flash of an identity card.

It sounds simple, but using dispensing machines to distribute masks this way is complicated. Security, convenience and the sheer volume of people collecting make the task challenging. More importantly, the insight to deliver masks via vending machines springs from an empathetic understanding of what a customer wants in a pandemic situation: a low-touch, yet reliable way to collect the masks without face-to-face contact, to reduce transmission risks.

For Singapore, this surge of empathy has another far-reaching value. Empathy can lead to innovations for economic recovery, and give us relevance on the international stage.



EMPATHY IN CRISIS

In Singapore, our society has displayed a strong, collective fighting spirit through a heightened sense of empathy at this time of national crisis. It was not only COVID-19 that brought this out.

Throughout our young history, an empathetic response has been part of our arsenal to meet crises. We have had to delve deep into our internal faith - our confidence in destiny - through many years of overcoming pain in our history.

There was the separation from Malaysia after the merger, the British army's withdrawal in 1971, the oil crisis in 1973, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the Asian financial crisis and then the global financial crisis, and the impact of the Sept 11 terror attacks.

Together, we have built, and are building, a nation. We have kept the covenant made by our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that we will be "one united people, regardless of race, language or religion". This is our duty of care to one another.

During this pandemic, there are many stories about how we have gone above and beyond this duty, and extended service to our neighbours. These are promising and powerful energies of empathy stirring in our society.

Invisible heart of society and staying open to trade can spur economic growth: Tharman

Economies cannot just rely on invisible hand of market or visible hand of govt, he says
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2020

The "invisible heart of society" is necessary for markets to work well, and for governments to curate and coordinate all players so that there is a sense of mutuality of interests, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

He said economies cannot just rely on the invisible hand of the market or the visible hand of the government.

"Mutuality of interests is what allows the system to be dynamic, as an economy, but it also allows people to feel good about their role in society," he added.

He was responding to a question about the need for a more activist and expanded government for global cooperation and multilateralism at the DBS Asian Insights Conference, where he was one of two keynote speakers.

The dialogue, held at the start of the two-day conference, is titled "The Economics of a Pandemic" and was moderated by DBS Bank chief economist Taimur Baig.

"I've no doubt that governments will grow in importance," Mr Tharman said, adding that the growing emphasis on governance will outlast the current COVID-19 crisis.

"Ultimately, we need a new way of ordering the relationship between the state and markets, and between the state and community."

Mr Tharman's reference to an invisible heart of society is a nod to The Third Pillar, a book published last year and written by Professor Raghuram G. Rajan of the University of Chicago, the other keynote speaker.

The invisible hand of the market or the visible hand of the government is not enough for markets to do well, said Mr Tharman.

"You need the invisible heart of society," he said. "State, markets and community are the three pillars that keep societies together."


Prof Rajan, a former Reserve Bank of India governor and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, had argued that strengthening and empowering local communities help ensure that groups are not left behind.

Earlier in the dialogue, Prof Rajan stressed the importance of countries working together and called on global leaders to focus on building on similarities.

Both speakers made the case for countries to stay open for trade.

Prof Rajan noted countries that cannot stimulate domestic demand must then have growth coming from "outside, at least in the recovery phase (of COVID-19), and this is why it's extremely important that trade and global investment remain open over the next few years".

"We've had huge frictions before the pandemic, but (at) this point... we need leadership to call a truce."

"There is really an enormous role for global leadership here, and especially a coming together of the two most important countries," he added, referring to the tensions between the United States and China.

"My hope is that the US presidential election will be a turning point (to improve on the two countries' ties)," said Prof Rajan.

Mr Tharman said the most thoughtful and forward-looking companies are injecting some diversification in their global supply chains, rather than moving everything onshore.

He said: "They are going for multiple supply chains, somewhat simpler supply chains, but there will still be a role for the Singapores, Vietnams, the Finlands of the world.

"There will still be a role for countries that are competitive at their game to be part of global supply chains, and we must encourage emerging countries to stay plugged in to the world, and not think that a domestic strategy alone is going to get them out of the problems we now face."

He added that the responsibility of all countries is to keep both virtual and physical lanes open.

"There has been a tendency, because of the pandemic, to try to protect my own country first, but it is short-sighted."

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Singapore GE2020: PAP spells out reasons vote fell below expectations

GE2020 results a ‘clear mandate’ although 61.2 per cent vote share lower than 65 per cent PAP hoped for: Lawrence Wong
But it says GE result is still a solid majority and its heartland base kept faith with the party
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 19 Jul 2020

The voters made it clear that they wanted a People's Action Party (PAP) government at the helm by giving it 61.2 per cent of the vote in the general election, but the result fell slightly short of the party's own expectations, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.

It was nevertheless a solid majority, given the difficulties that people were facing on the ground, he added.

"And that's because the base kept faith with the PAP, knowing that the PAP kept faith with its base. What is this base? They are the working class, the middle class, the heartland of Singapore," said Mr Wong, who shared the party's preliminary analysis of the recent election.

He acknowledged that the result was lower than the 65 per cent the party had hoped for, with that 4 percentage point gap translating to around 100,000 votes.

To close the gap, the party must do better at appealing to the young and work to address the economic pain of voters in their 40s and 50s, Mr Wong said.

"We are unlikely to exceed 65 per cent of the vote in future," he added. "The desire for diversity in Parliament, for checks and balances, is permanent. It is here to stay, and we must be prepared for this new reality."



Mr Wong, a member of the PAP's central executive committee, was addressing party activists in a speech streamed live from the PAP's Bedok headquarters, and took questions from reporters afterwards.

Putting the party's performance in context, he said pundits and commentators had predicted that the PAP could get more than 70 per cent of the votes as voters sought safety amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling party itself did not expect that, given the pain on the ground.

In fact, over the past nine general elections, it had approached or surpassed the 70 per cent mark only twice, said Mr Wong. In 2015, it got 69.9 per cent of the vote. In 2001, it won with a 75.3 per cent vote share. In contrast, the party got 63 per cent or less in four out of these nine races, he added.



This year's result is at the "low end of the expected range", which is between 60 and 65 per cent.

"It is not a very good result, but it is within the range of expectations, and we've been here before," he added. "The expectation that the PAP should have had a result at the top end this time, I think, has coloured the outcome as a setback."

He set out several reasons for the PAP's performance in the polls.

First, the Workers' Party ran a good campaign that spoke to the desire of many voters to have more checks and balances in Parliament, he said. The emergence of the Progress Singapore Party cut into the PAP's western strongholds.

The PAP's online campaign also did not connect well with voters, Mr Wong noted. "We produced a lot of good content online, but not all of this connected with netizens - especially on newer platforms like Instagram and Telegram."



While there has been much talk of younger voters turning away from the party, the swing against the PAP was also seen among voters above 40, who make up a much larger proportion of the electorate, Mr Wong said. This group faced economic hardship due to job or income losses from the pandemic, he added.

The PAP also saw support fall among those who lived in private property, who may have felt they were not sufficiently supported during the crisis, he said.

The party will conduct a thorough review of the general election, identifying two areas that the party will have to work on. It must better connect with younger voters and address the "real economic pain" that a substantial segment of older voters are feeling, he said.

The emphasis on the base will remain unchanged. "Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable," said Mr Wong. "This is in the PAP's roots and DNA. We must never waver in our commitment to social justice, to preserve social mobility for all Singaporeans, and to build a more fair and just society."

Saturday, 18 July 2020

COVID-19: Rise in infections at foreign workers dormitories due to final stretch of testing, says Lawrence Wong

All foreign workers in dorms could be tested for COVID-19 before mid-August: Lawrence Wong
Positive cases among workers can be expected even after dorms cleared
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2020

As Singapore heads into the final stretch of testing and clearing all migrant workers in dormitories of the coronavirus by the middle of next month, the number of daily infections among this group can be expected to rise, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Even after all of the workers are cleared of the virus, Mr Wong, who is co-chair of a multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak, cautioned that positive cases can still be expected, and regular testing will need to be done.

This is similar to the case for work permit holders in the community, such as those living in private residences or Housing Board flats, where positive cases have continued to be picked up, despite some of them serving a 28-day isolation period.



He was responding to a question during a virtual press conference on why there have consistently been positive cases among work pass holders in the community.

As of Thursday, around 232,000 workers have either recovered or been tested to be free of the virus. There are about 323,000 workers staying in dorms in Singapore.

About 94 per cent of the 47,453 confirmed coronavirus cases in Singapore as of yesterday, 17 July, are dorm residents.

Mr Wong said that for the final phase of testing, many of the workers come from dorms with higher prevalence of coronavirus cases. This is why there has been an increase in confirmed cases from dorms in recent days.

"We expect this trend to continue over the coming days. But the main point is we are completing the clearance of all the workers in the dormitories quite soon," he said, adding that this could be done by the middle of August or possibly earlier.

"So, we are doing everything we can to complete that work and to allow the workers to resume work safely thereafter."



He added that even after all of them are cleared, periodic, routine testing will have to be done every fortnight.

"And I would not be surprised at all that we will still pick up positive cases, and many of them may well be older infections, but it may very well happen - just as we are seeing this for workers in the community. I think the same situation will arise later on for workers in the dorms."

For workers in the community, because they are coming from a "high viral load environment" in their dorms or work sites, there is still a chance of them being infected even after serving an isolation period, said Mr Wong.

"When we find positive cases, we have to pull them aside. We do serology tests for some of them and we find that... many of them are older infections. And that is in a way looking at the tail end of coming off a very high viral load situation."

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force, agreed that it is not going to be the case that there will be no more infections after all the workers in the dorms are tested and cleared.

This is because there will still be transmission in the community, which is happening even today in the local population. This is why cases of acute respiratory infections are being picked up. "The numbers are small, but they are ongoing," he said.

"And therefore there will always be risk that you will trigger another series of infections, going forward. So, even after clearing all the migrant workers and the dorms, you will still be picking up cases from time to time," said Mr Gan, adding that these may be old or new infections.



He called for vigilance even after all the workers are cleared of infection until there is an effective vaccine and the virus can be wiped out.

"Before that comes about, I think we have to learn to live with the virus in the community, and do what we can to reduce the number of infections, to slow down the transmission, so that we are able to contain and control the situation."

Mr Wong added that clearing all the workers of infections in dorms would be an important milestone.

"After the clusters in the dorms flared up, we have had to manage, contain and control the flare up, but now we are reaching the final stretch and are able to very soon complete the clearance... and eventually have these workers back at work."

GE2020 shows a new political culture of a 'kinder and gentler politics' is emerging, says Chan Heng Chee

These are edited excerpts of a lecture and question-and-answer session held virtually with Professor Chan Heng Chee on Wednesday. Prof Chan is an S R Nathan fellow with the Institute of Policy Studies. The session was moderated by Mr Bilahari Kausikan, chairman of the Middle East Institute.
The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2020

General Election 2020 is over.

The PAP (People's Action Party) Government has been returned to office with 61.2 per cent of the vote and 83 of the 93 seats. The Workers' Party now holds two GRCs (group representation constituencies) and a single-member constituency, 10 seats in all, and for the first time since independence, Singapore has a Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.

This is a historic watershed. The election demonstrated that the electorate chose safety, security and solutions by returning the incumbent PAP, but at the same time wanted to strengthen opposition voices and checks and balances in the legislature.

The electoral result was a vote on the last five years, the last five months and the last nine days.

The last five years: Voters were looking at PAP predominance or the "super majority" and how governance and parliamentary debate had been conducted. They did not approve of the way the elected president was introduced and other policies as well, like Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act).

The last five months. The vote was also on how the COVID pandemic was handled, with the lack of clarity and micromanaging of rules and protocols for businesses. There were also growing fears and anxieties about jobs. And in the last nine days of the campaign, it was about messaging, communicating and the online presence and savviness of the parties.

Which brings me to an important fact and trend in our society. We talk a great deal about the youth vote and younger voters.

What has not been highlighted in the commentaries is that GE2020 occurs at a time when Singapore is at its youth peak.

The biggest youth bulge is aged between 25 and 35, and if you include those in the age group 20 to 24, it is a huge group. The Workers' Party understood this and chose youthful candidates and issues for the Zoomer generation who prefer personal narratives and "I feel your pain" connectivity, approachability and authenticity. This online digital politics is now the new retail politics. Up close and personal.

Clearly, this age group bought the opposition message of the need for diverse voices in Parliament and the need for checks and balances.



The question is: As this demographic group grows older, will their values and issues change? It has been conventional wisdom that as people get older, they become more conservative, but a Pew Research report suggests American millennials and Gen Xers are different from boomers and the silent older generation.

They buck the trend of changing, and on many issues, they have a distinct and increasingly liberal outlook. So I expect our millennials will continue to support diverse voices and an opposition in Parliament as a good thing even as they age. They will have specific personal concerns too in different phases of their lives. The incumbent party will have to understand this group better to win back their vote.

During the campaign and in the post-GE analysis, the word that comes up in most conversations is "fair". There is a strong desire to see the incumbents play politics more fairly when dealing with the opposition. I have been thinking about the evolving political culture of Singapore for some time now. As I listen to panellists and read the online posts, it is evident that a new political culture is emerging.

On the one hand is the culture of government which emphasises strong government, effectiveness, a legalistic culture, delivery of public goods and services, and a better life for the people. Critics have characterised the PAP political style as paternalistic. On the other hand, many Singaporeans invoke democracy and want to see Singapore evolve into a full-fledged democracy.

Yet, political commentators have asked why the PAP is asking for a strong mandate, and why they are not more magnanimous in the treatment of opponents. They would like to see rules applied to all political participants fairly, that gerrymandering be restrained.

A KINDER, GENTLER POLITICS

It strikes me that even as we yearn for democratic competition, competitive politics, we are asking for a kinder and gentler politics. We seem to be repulsed by the competitive mean politics of some Western democracies.

Educated and younger Singaporeans do not want to see political overkill when the Government deals with political opponents. This may be the result of the decades-long predominance of the ruling party in Parliament and in government that, as politics matures and evolves, these are the values and norms that have come to be shared by the society and community. This is who we are.

Consequently, the political tools in the toolbox that worked in the past may not be acceptable or as effective going forward. Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) was seen by many as gracious and honest in his reaction to the election results, and his reaching out to the Workers' Party leader Pritam Singh was applauded.

Post-election, the PAP as a party would seek to understand the messages voters were sending in the results and as (Law and Home Affairs) Minister Shanmugam said: "It requires a lot of soul-searching and reflection." I believe we will see changes. The tone post-election was a unifying one.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Singapore's fourth desalination plant begins operations

Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant begins commercial operations with effect from 29 June 2020
It can treat both fresh water and seawater, meet the demands of 200,000 households
By Lester Wong, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2020

Singapore's fourth desalination plant, which can produce about 30 million gallons of fresh drinking water a day, has begun commercial operations, said national water agency PUB yesterday.

This amount of water is equivalent to the water demands of about 200,000 households, and accounts for about 7 per cent of Singapore's daily water demand of 430 million gallons.

The Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant, which officially started operations on June 29, is the Republic's first large-scale plant able to treat both fresh water and seawater.

In dry weather, the plant draws water from the sea to produce desalinated water.

When it rains, the plant will instead use rainwater collected in Marina Reservoir to make potable water, which requires less energy and fewer steps in the treatment process compared with desalination.

This will strengthen Singapore's water supply resilience in the face of increasingly dry weather conditions caused by climate change, PUB said.

PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee said desalination is one of Singapore's four national taps, alongside imports, rainfall and recycled water, but unlike the other three, it is a "practically limitless source".

"The plant's completion is also eagerly awaited because it is such a special facility: A dual-purpose desalination plant in the middle of our city, integrated with parkland, accessible to the public, and a beautiful piece of architecture," he added.



The new desalination plant is located along the stretch of the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network that bridges East Coast Park and Gardens by the Bay East.

It features nearly 20,000 sq m of open green rooftop space for community activities and recreation, with the space freed up by situating treatment facilities underground.

Last October, the Marina East plant became the first industrial plant here to be given PUB's ABC Waters Certification (Gold) award for its design features.

Keppel Infrastructure subsidiary Marina East Water, which has a 25-year concession period, will operate the plant from this year to 2045. Keppel also operates the Ulu Pandan Newater plant.

Keppel Infrastructure CEO Ong Tiong Guan said the company faced some "inevitable challenges" while completing the final lap of testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic owing to reduced manpower.

"The commencement of operations is a testament to Keppel's can-do spirit and resilience, as we worked closely with PUB and our contractors to overcome these challenges and deliver a successful project," Dr Ong added.



Singapore's three other desalination plants are the SingSpring, Tuas South and Tuas plants, which began operations in 2005, 2013 and 2018 respectively. Including the new plant, the four plants now have a combined capacity of 160 million gallons of water a day.

GE2020: Lessons learnt from Singapore's first true Internet election

Online engagement, authenticity are vital, but may not always translate into votes
By Hariz Baharudin and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2020

While physical rallies were absent during the hustings for the recently concluded general election, some politicians did not seem to need them.

By the midpoint of the campaign, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock was able to reach out to 12,000 followers with each Instagram post - thrice the capacity of Clementi Stadium, where rallies for West Coast GRC were held in past elections.

The veteran politician wooed younger voters online by posting videos of himself responding to their attempts to educate him on slang terms like "woke".

Dr Tan, who now has over 70,000 Instagram followers - more than local celebrities like TV personality Denise Keller and rapper Sheikh Haikel - was among the politicians who thrived in what experts have dubbed Singapore's "first truly Internet election".


Political parties have traditionally relied on mass rallies to rouse the electorate and drum up support. But this time, restrictions on large gatherings due to COVID-19 measures saw the battle for hearts and minds take place mostly in the digital realm.

Some observers have argued that an Internet campaign benefits the opposition parties, as it enables them to raise their profiles quickly, affordably and widely.

And even though the Internet had been around during the past three or four elections, it was the current social distancing restrictions that necessitated the use of online campaigning by parties and candidates, said Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University's School of Law.

"For many voters, it was their only means of finding out information about parties, their candidates and their policy platforms," he added.

AN ONLINE ADVANTAGE?

In lieu of physical rallies, parties held talk shows - such as Straight Talk by the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Hammer Show by the Workers' Party (WP).

These programmes allowed parties to engage with voters on a more intellectual level than at physical rallies, where voters can be moved by emotion, noted Prof Tan.

The Singapore Democratic Party and Peoples Voice also featured candidates' speeches on their Facebook pages.



All 11 parties in this year's general election had their own e-rallies and participated in televised constituency political broadcasts.

Such efforts gave voters a better sense of the parties' ideas, said former Nominated Member of Parliament Lim Sun Sun, who is head of humanities, arts and social sciences at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

"Unlike public rallies where candidates tend to engage in histrionics and grandstanding, the e-rallies and public broadcasts were calmer and more measured, thereby enabling voters to concentrate on the substance of the issues and the strength of the arguments," she said.

Dr Natalie Pang, a senior lecturer in the communications and new media department at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said the online hustings gave voters opportunities to hear from more parties and candidates, compared with the past, when there was a limit to the number of rallies they could attend.

But the glut of content also resulted in "information overload", said NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser, with netizens finding it hard to follow all the political discussions online.



Dr Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said political parties could have missed out on engaging some segments of society, such as senior voters who are tech-averse.

Another disadvantage of e-rallies instead of physical ones is that parties lose opportunities to connect emotionally to voters, said experts.

Parties also lose the opportunity to raise funds by selling merchandise or appealing for donations at physical rallies, said Prof Eugene Tan.

The PAP was returned to power after winning 83 of 93 seats with 61.24 per cent of the votes, down from the 69.9 per cent vote share it received in the 2015 General Election.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

NDP 2020 Theme Song: Everything I Am

NDP 2020 theme song seeks to promote community spirit and gratitude in the face of challenges
By Aqil Hamzah, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2020

While this year's National Day Parade (NDP) is poised to be a unique affair, with many people going to celebrate at home instead of at a central location, its theme song is a tribute to Singaporeans' spirit of community.

Composed by producer Joshua Wan and performed by singer Nathan Hartono, Everything I Am also encourages Singaporeans to express gratitude and appreciation for one another.

The song had been planned since last year, and while the COVID-19 pandemic has put to rest the usual NDP arrangements, it has made the song's message all the more salient.



Dr Sydney Tan, music director for this year's NDP, said the song was originally written for a normal climate, but its message also applies in the midst of the pandemic.

The accompanying music video, which was directed by local film-maker He Shuming, was released yesterday on YouTube and the NDP website. Mr He said he was inspired by real-life stories of Singaporeans, and sought to create an intimate video that would encourage Singaporeans to rally together.

"I hope... Singaporeans, after they watch the music video... think about the people around us who have impacted us and inspired us.

"It's been a challenging year, but I hope Singaporeans will remember that we're never alone and that we can get through this together."

The husband-and-wife team of Mr Daniel Tan and Madam Clara Loh, who run OK Chicken Rice in Ang Mo Kio, are among those featured. Amid the pandemic, the couple delivered free chicken rice to healthcare workers, sending more than 10,000 packs to workers in various hospitals over about two months. They also started an online campaign, Cheer Up, for members of the public to make donations to offset their delivery costs.

Hip-hop group Redeafination, which comprises individuals from the deaf community who make use of vibrations through the floor to keep in time with the music, choreographed moves in the Everything I Am video.

Come Makan With Me, a ground-up initiative in which locals invite migrant workers to their homes to share a meal and learn more about them, is also seen in action.

It was started by Dr Mohamad Farid, who volunteers with the Migrant Workers' Centre.

In all, 55 stories of everyday Singaporeans who have stepped up in the fight against COVID-19 and helped those in need will be featured in this year's NDP, which will be split into two shows.

Brigadier-General Frederick Choo, chairman of this year's NDP executive committee, said: "Through these stories, we hope to inspire Singaporeans to continue playing their part to build a better and stronger Singapore, and to remind us that together, we can and will prevail through tough times, just as we always have."



The parade will also feature two "unity moments", which Singaporeans are encouraged to participate in as a show of solidarity.

The first moment will take place in the morning, as President Halimah Yacob leads the singing of the National Anthem at the Padang.

This will be broadcast on TV as well as online platforms concurrently with flag-raising ceremonies taking place at several locations islandwide, including a hospital.

The second moment will take place at night, at around 8.20pm, when the pledge will be recited. This will also be broadcast.

BG Choo said that while this year's NDP celebrations will be starkly different from those of previous years, he hopes they will rally Singaporeans to come together in thinking about the nation's future beyond the current challenges of COVID-19.