Saturday, 17 March 2018

Public Hearings on Fake News: 14 - 16 March 2018

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods - Public Hearings

Eight-day hearing on how Singapore should battle online disinformation begins
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2018

The fight against deliberate online falsehoods in Singapore is under way at Parliament House, with academics, legal experts and religious groups slated to speak on Wednesday (March 14) at the first public hearing on the issue.

At the opening of the hearing, chairman of the committee looking into the issue, Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, said: "Deliberate online falsehoods are a serious global problem, which many countries, including Singapore, have to grapple with. It is a complex problem, affecting us in many different ways."

The full-day session will first see academics Carol Soon and Shawn Goh of the Institute of Policy Studies, who have studied the impact of new media, as well as their colleague Mathew Matthews - known for his research on societal cohesion in Singapore - give their views on the problem of online fabrications.

Singapore Management University law school dean Goh Yihan, lawyer and former Nominated MP Shrinivas Rai, and cyber-conflict expert Michael Raska, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, are also slated to speak.

Representatives for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, National Council of Churches of Singapore and the Singapore Buddhist Federation are scheduled to weigh in with their community's views as well.

These speakers will appear before the 10-member Select Committee, which was set up in January to look into how Singapore can tackle deliberate online falsehoods.

The high-level parliamentary committee will speak to a diverse range of individuals and organisations from Singapore and abroad to help it decide on its recommendations, which will be submitted to Parliament.

This will take place over eight days this week and the next two weeks. As the hearings go on, the committee will decide whether all the dates are needed.

It received a record 164 written submissions, toppling the previous high of 99 submissions to the 1988 Select Committee on the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill and reflecting the interest and anxiety sparked by the scourge of disinformation. These included perspectives from religious groups, traditional and alternative media, technology companies and academics.

A total of 79 individuals and organisations have been invited to speak - outstripping past Select Committee hearings. Said Mr Chong: "We may revise the witness list as the hearings progress."

He said the current committee’s decisions on the process so far have been unanimous and consensual. "This reflects our common intention to engage widely on our terms of reference."

The committee said in a statement on Tuesday: "This is an indication of the importance of these issues at stake, and the (committee's) commitment to consult widely."

Fewer foreigners, more locals in workforce last year: Labour Market Report 2017

Biggest drop in foreigners working in Singapore in 15 years: Manpower Ministry
Employment pass holders declined for first time in at least six years, MOM data shows
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2018

The number of foreigners working in Singapore fell by 32,000 last year - the biggest drop in 15 years - even as more locals were in jobs.

While the decline was mostly due to fewer work permit holders in the construction and marine shipyard industries, the number of skilled foreigners on employment passes (EP) also went down by 4,500.

This was the first drop in at least six years, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

Industries that employed fewer EP holders included the professional services and infocomm technology sectors. In tandem, they employed more local workers, the ministry said in its report.

The last time Singapore saw such a steep decline in the number of foreigners working here was in 2002, when it plunged by 43,000.

This time, weaknesses in both the construction and marine shipyard industries played a key role, said MOM, pointing to poor demand for oil rigs.

But observers also said there has been some success in the Government's effort to build a so-called "Singapore core" in the workforce - by both tightening foreign manpower policies and upgrading the skills of local workers.

"The policy measures have helped improve employment prospects for resident workers," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Overall, 21,300 more Singaporeans and permanent residents were in jobs last year than in 2016. As a result, they made up a slightly bigger share of the workforce - at 67.2 per cent, up from 66.4 per cent.

The workforce, excluding maids, stood at 3.42 million in December.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

ISEAS 50th Anniversary Lecture by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

ASEAN must stand united amid tidal pulls on members as regional powers grow in strength: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2018

ASEAN has to get used to new internal dynamics as each member - to a different degree - feels the influence of burgeoning regional powers, especially China and India, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But this must not lead to a divided ASEAN, he said yesterday.

"We must accept the reality of these tidal pulls, without allowing them to lead to fault lines forming within the ASEAN group," he said.

New powers, especially China and India, are growing in strength and influence, creating new opportunities, he noted. At the same time, "countries have to take into account the policies and interests of new powers, while maintaining their traditional political and economic ties".

In the United States, the political mood has changed. But ASEAN hopes the world's biggest economy and region's security anchor remains active in South-east Asia.

"In this shifting environment, it is important that ASEAN works actively to maintain its centrality and relevance," the Prime Minister told about 500 people, including diplomats and students, at a lecture marking the 50th anniversary of think-tank ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

He noted that there is nothing to prevent other groupings or projects - such as China's Belt and Road Initiative - from being launched. "Amid this Darwinian process, ASEAN members must come together to maintain ASEAN's relevance and cohesion."

Thus, while each ASEAN member has its own domestic issues to manage, a unified front is key. PM Lee called on governments to invest political capital in the ASEAN project and to make a conscious effort to think regionally, not just nationally.

Singapore tops Global Smart City Performance Index 2017

Republic ranks first on use of tech solutions in areas of mobility, health, public safety, productivity in Intel-sponsored study by Juniper Research
By Navin Sregantan, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2018

Singapore has triumphed over big guns like London and New York to top a global ranking of smart cities in 2017.

The ranking lists the top 20 cities in terms of the integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technology and connected services across the key areas of mobility, health, public safety and productivity. Singapore not only ranked as the top "smart city" but also came out tops in all these areas.

The study noted that Singapore's Smart Nation initiative and its position as a city-state make the country unique in its ability to execute its smart-city vision.

It found that the use of IoT-enabled infrastructure here, such as applied smart traffic solutions used by the Land Transport Authority, may save drivers up to 60 hours a year.

San Francisco and London were ranked second and third, respectively, in this area for their efforts to use technology solutions to curb mobility-related issues such as traffic congestion.

In healthcare, the study found that smart cities with connected digital health services, such as wearable apps that monitor blood pressure, can save individuals close to 10 hours a year. "Singapore and Seoul were notable in terms of their focus on addressing healthcare service provision for elderly citizens through a range of technologies, including digital service platforms as well as remote monitoring devices," said market researcher Juniper Research, which carried out the survey with help from Intel.

Mr Windsor Holden, Juniper Research's head of forecasting and consultancy, said: "We can't overlook the importance of the real human benefits that smart cities have. Connected communities, municipal services and processes have a powerful impact on a citizen's quality of life."

Monday, 12 March 2018

Test balloons on GST tax hike claim; Parliamentary Privilege: When is it abuse?

Robust debates in the House: How far is too far?
Parliamentary privilege allows MPs to speak without fear of being sued. But when does this cross into abuse of power?
By Ng Jun Sen, Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 11 Mar 2018

The Budget 2018 debate may be over, but one aspect still sticks in people's minds: the exchanges between Workers' Party (WP) leaders and several People's Action Party (PAP) ministers.

During the Budget round-up debate on March 1, WP chairman Sylvia Lim voiced her suspicion that the Government had intended to raise the goods and services tax (GST) immediately but that it backtracked after negative public reaction. While later acknowledging that her suspicion "may have been wrong", Ms Lim refused to withdraw her comment and apologise for it.

Her rationale: Her "honest suspicion" was based on a sequence of events - including the Government's non-denial of public chatter that a GST hike was imminent. In articulating it, she was doing her "duty as an MP to convey ground concerns, reactions and confusion". No one knew the truth of the GST hike except for the Cabinet, she added.

In response, Leader of the House Grace Fu said that in refusing to retract the comment and apologise, Ms Lim's conduct fell short of the standard of integrity and honour expected of members.

The Aljunied GRC MP had suggested that the Government was dishonest, and had tarnished the reputations of leaders who had earlier made it clear that tax revenues needed to be raised in the long run, said Ms Fu.

"I must put the honourable member on notice, and the rest of the House too, that if she repeats such dishonourable conduct and abuse parliamentary privilege, I'll refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges," said the minister in charge of order and procedure in Parliament.

A spokesman for Ms Fu said yesterday that the Government had sought the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) on the matter.

She said Ms Fu had made her statement in Parliament last Tuesday - asking Ms Lim to withdraw her comments and apologise - "after taking AGC's advice". She did not say what advice the AGC gave.

The Committee of Privileges looks into alleged breaches of parliamentary privilege. Being referred to it is no small deal - punishment ranges from, at the very least, a reprimand or admonishment by the Speaker, to being fined up to $50,000, to being suspended and even jailed during the duration of a parliamentary session.

Insight looks at what parliamentary privilege is, and where the line is drawn between allowing MPs to raise suspicions in a relatively unfettered way and abuse of that privilege.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

CPTPP: Singapore inks new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact with 10 other countries

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) keeps door open to new members
New trade grouping vows to bring deal into force as soon as possible
By Charissa Yong, Regional Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2018

Fresh from signing the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), ministers from the newly formed trade grouping vowed to bring the agreement into force as soon as possible.

The club is also open to new members, the 11 countries in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) underlined.

The CPTPP was signed in Santiago, Chile on Thursday afternoon (yesterday morning Singapore time), hours before United States President Donald Trump - who pulled America out of the trade deal in January last year-signed off on steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

The signing of the agreement sends a "powerful message" against trade wars, Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said. The agreement, he added, is a strong signal "against protectionist pressures, in favour of a world open to trade, without unilateral sanctions and without the threat of trade wars".

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said the signing is "a concrete demonstration of the signatories' commitment to the collective goals of greater trade liberalisation, regional economic integration and better opportunities for our people." The pact, he added, sets out "a new regional standard for future free trade agreements".

Canadian Minister for International Trade Francois-Philippe Champagne said: "We're proud... to show the world that progressive trade is the way forward, that fair, balanced and principled trade is the way forward, and that putting citizens first is the way forward for the world when it comes to trade."

In a joint statement, trade ministers from all 11 CPTPP members said the agreement demonstrated their "collective commitment to an effective, rules-based and transparent trading system which is open to all economies willing to accept these principles". They welcomed the interest shown by a number of other economies wishing to join the bloc, which accounts for 13.5 per cent of the world's gross domestic product.

The 11 CPTPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

2018 Committee of Supply Debate Highlights: MCCY, MOH, MOT, MSF, MND, MEWR, MCI, MOF

MPs debated budgets over 52 hours - the longest in five years
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Mar 2018

As the eight-day debate on the Government's spending plans for the coming financial year drew to a close, history of sorts was made.

The 530 questions prepared by MPs were allocated 52 hours in all, the longest in the past five years.

The achievement underscores the "breadth and gravity" of the issues that Singapore faces, Leader of the House Grace Fu said yesterday in her speech wrapping up the marathon session.

Job security remained a hot topic even as economic growth made a recovery last year, but this year's debates also saw a keen focus on social inequality and fostering a more caring society.

For instance, a recent Institute of Policy Studies survey, which showed a concentration of social networks around class differentiators like housing type and schools attended, as well as sociologist Teo You Yenn's book on inequality, were cited several times.

"As we embrace globalisation and technology to expand opportunities for our businesses, to transform industries and build deep capabilities, how do we ensure that we move forward together and leave no one behind?" said Ms Fu, who is also Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

She noted that a lot of time was spent debating the budgets of the Manpower, Trade and Industry, and Culture, Community and Youth ministries.

Parliament spent 21/2 days debating the national Budget, and the rest of the time on the 16 ministries' budget debates.

Questions raised included how to support more vulnerable segments of the workforce, how to help enterprises stay competitive and create good jobs for locals, and how to strengthen social cohesion across race, religion and class lines.

MPs also asked about dealing with external threats, such as extremism and and cyber-security issues, as well as domestic challenges such as housing for young couples and regulating personal mobility devices, said Ms Fu.

She highlighted how Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin and Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) had spoken about the need for both pragmatism and ideals to take Singapore forward.

Agreeing, she said: "To tackle the problems of today and prepare ourselves for tomorrow, we must be bold and embrace change. We must have that grit and bias for action that makes us an exceptional nation. This would not be the case if we had no ideals."

Calling on Singaporeans to help build the "ideal Singapore", Ms Fu said that while the Government plays the role of an enabler through the Budget, success depends more on individuals taking ownership of the nation's future, amid the challenges of income inequality, disruptive technology and an ageing society.

The support of Singaporeans of all ages will be needed to nurture a strong society which dares to be entrepreneurial - "a smart nation with a heart", she said.

Friday, 9 March 2018

New Integrated Shield Plan riders must incorporate a co-payment of 5%

New policyholders will eventually have to pay at least 5% of bill, but amount will be capped
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Mar 2018

You can no longer go to an insurer and buy riders that pay your entire hospital bill, as the Government is rolling back a regime that threatens to make health insurance unsustainable.

Anyone buying a new rider from today will need to eventually pay at least 5 per cent of his hospital bill. But the total amount a policyholder has to pay can be capped at $3,000 a year, although insurers are free to set a higher threshold. This is to give people the peace of mind that they will not have to dig too deeply into their pockets, whatever the size of their hospital bill.

However, the $3,000 cap applies only if patients are treated by doctors on the insurer's approved panel, or if they had received prior approval from the insurer. Otherwise, they have to pay the 5 per cent, with no cap on their share.

These measures were announced in Parliament yesterday - the same day that The Straits Times reported that insurers had asked the Ministry of Health (MOH) to get people to pay at least part of the bill.

MOH has agreed to this for new riders. However, it has not mandated any change for the 1.1 million people who already have full riders for their Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) - which means they pay nothing for hospital bills.

MOH is giving insurers until April 1 next year to come up with new riders that include the co-payment and cap. At that point, no full riders for IPs can be sold.

Meanwhile, anyone buying a rider from today has to switch to the new scheme by April 1, 2021, at the latest.

Elaborating on the scheme, Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said: "Any pre-existing conditions that are covered prior to the switch will not be excluded."

This should also apply to people with full riders who want to switch to the new scheme. Mr Chee said: "We expect the new riders to have lower premiums than full riders, so the switch will result in premium savings for policyholders."

As for those who already have riders, Mr Chee said: "We recognise that existing rider policies are commercial contracts between insurers and their policyholders.

"If insurers intend to make changes to their existing policies, they should consider the interest and well-being of all policyholders, as they seek to keep premiums affordable for everyone in the longer term."

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament that co-payment is an integral part of healthcare schemes as zero payment "dilutes the personal responsibility to choose appropriate and necessary care".

It would "encourage unnecessary treatment, leading to rising healthcare costs not only for those with such riders, but for all of us", he said.