Friday, 21 July 2017

Singapore a rare, precious example of harmonious multiracial, multi-religious society: PM Lee

Telok Ayer Street a nod to Singapore's religious diversity
Singapore's racial harmony a rare and precious thing, PM says on tour of area
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Telok Ayer Street was once part of Singapore's shoreline, and migrants who arrived by sea built their places of worship nearby.

The area displays remarkable religious diversity even now, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He went on a walking tour of five places of worship along the street on Wednesday, and met leaders of the church, temples, mosque and shrine that have been there for more than a century.

Race, language and religion are faultlines that have torn many societies apart, Mr Lee noted in his post, which came on the eve of Racial Harmony Day.

"Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together," he wrote.

"This is not by chance. The government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen."



The Harmony in Diversity Gallery, which houses exhibits and interactive features that highlight the common thread among the different religions, is one such collaboration, said Mr Lee.

He stopped at the gallery in Maxwell Road, where he met members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and wrote: "Long may we live peacefully and harmoniously in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."

HDB helping young couples get their flats sooner with two new options

Get flat faster under two new schemes
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

A total of 1,000 Build-To-Order flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun will be made available to home buyers quicker, with a wait time of 2½ years compared with the typical three to four years.

They will be put up for sale in the second half of next year, and buyers can begin collecting their keys between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Board said this is aimed at helping young couples get their flats faster.

This is achieved not by speeding up the construction. Instead, HDB will begin building the selected projects before the flats are sold. This is unlike the usual process where they are built to order, that is, after they have been bought.

A tender for this batch of 1,000 flats will be called this month. Construction is expected to start at the end of the year.

Another measure to reduce the wait for home buyers is the doubling of the number of times a year when they get a shot at buying unsold units from previous sales launches.

A new sales mode, known as the Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF), will pool unsold units from past Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises. ROFs will take place every February and August. This is on top of SBFs, which are alongside BTO exercises in May and November.

The first ROF will take place next month, with 1,394 units. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to select and book a flat if there are available units. At least 95 per cent of the units will be set aside for first- timer families.

"This will help those with more urgent housing needs and/or are less particular about location and attributes to have quicker access to a flat," said HDB.

The two measures were first announced during the debate over the Ministry of National Development's annual budget in March.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday: "I hope the wider range of options and more regular offer of flats will help home buyers find a home that best suits their needs."

Five growth industries picked for more focused job help

Drive to match PMETs to jobs in growth sectors facing disruption
Five political office holders to helm efforts in sectors that employ almost a million workers
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Five political office holders, including a Cabinet minister, will coordinate efforts to match Singaporeans to jobs in industries that hold the promise of growth, but where higher-skilled workers may need help to adapt to the sweeping changes coming their way.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the five industries were chosen as they were likely to be the most affected by disruptive technology.

At the same time, they have tremendous potential for job growth, he added. Between them, these industries currently employ almost a million workers.

Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo will lead the effort. The growth sectors, which will be overseen by four senior ministers of state, are: healthcare (headed by Dr Amy Khor); infocomm and media (Dr Janil Puthucheary); wholesale trade (Dr Koh Poh Koon); professional services; and financial services. The latter two will be overseen by Ms Indranee Rajah.

New sectors may be added to the list later on, Mr Lim told reporters at the opening of the Careers Connect centre at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

This latest move will also help tackle the growing risk of job loss faced by professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). This group makes up about seven out of 10 residents made redundant.

Mrs Teo noted in a Facebook post yesterday that in the next few years, about half of the 25,000 to 40,000 PMET jobs created each year are expected to be in the five growth sectors.

Already, they employ more than half a million local PMETs.

"Even against global headwinds, these five sectors in Singapore are growing and creating new jobs for PMETs. Our goal is to help Singaporeans access these opportunities," she said.

Collect your medicine at a 7-Eleven store

Your medicine is ready for collection - at a 7-Eleven store
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Skip the polyclinic visit and collect your medicine at a nearby convenience store instead.

That is what some chronic disease patients under the National Healthcare Group's (NHG) chain of nine polyclinics have been able to do in recent months.

The system, which started in March, allows such patients to pick up medication from 34 7-Eleven stores across Singapore.



The drugs are packed in the polyclinic pharmacy before being delivered to lockers in the stores.

Patients receive a text message when their medicine has arrived, and access the lockers with a one-time code delivered to their mobile phones.

The idea is to offer patients the convenience of being able to collect their medication round the clock, rather than being constrained by the polyclinics' operating hours.

Polyclinics under NHG typically close at 4.30pm on weekdays and 12.30pm on Saturdays. They are not open on Sundays and public holidays.

The service is available only for patients with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol who have an NHG doctor's prescription.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tengah Air Base to be expanded; more than 80,000 graves exhumed, 4 farms to be acquired

Graves, farms to make way for larger Tengah base
Area quarter the size of Clementi town will be added to take in Paya Lebar Air Base assets
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

An air base in the north-western part of Singapore will get new facilities and a substantial injection of land to spread its wings.

To make way, some 80,000 graves will be exhumed, while six farms will be acquired or not have their leases renewed.

The exercise will yield more than 106ha of land - a quarter the size of Clementi town - to enable the 78-year-old Tengah Air Base to expand. It, together with Changi Air Base, will take in the assets of the Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB), which will move out from 2030.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night that the expansion will allow Tengah Air Base to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities from PLAB.

There will also be a new runway at Tengah Air Base, he said, adding that there will be "net land savings" from the relocation.

The plan to move PLAB was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013 when he said it would free up 800ha in Paya Lebar for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions around the base.

To accommodate a bigger Tengah Air Base, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, the only active burial ground and the biggest cemetery here, will lose 100ha, a third of its 318ha area.

Some 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will be exhumed in several phases.

Graves older than 17 years will be exhumed first - from the last quarter of 2018 onwards - while newer graves will be exhumed from a date to be announced later.

The Government will bear the costs of exhumation, as well as cremation for Chinese remains and reinternment for Muslim ones.

Meanwhile, the owners of four plots of private land - affecting three fish farms and a nursery - were notified yesterday that they have been acquired, and will have to be handed over by January 2019. They will be compensated based on market value on the date of acquisition.

Auditor-General's Report FY 2016/17: Financial and IT lapses found in government agencies

Auditor-General raps government agencies for lapses
Government agencies taking action to fix lapses flagged by AGO
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

Several government ministries and agencies have been rapped by the Auditor-General for weaknesses in controls over information technology (IT) systems, lack of financial controls and inadequate oversight over large-scale development projects.

These lapses were discovered by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in the latest annual audit of government accounts for Financial Year 2016/17.

In response, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said the public sector's overall system of managing public funds remains sound, but acknowledged there are areas where agencies can do better by strengthening their financial governance.

"The Public Service is taking a concerted effort to address the issues identified," it said.

"Heads of the agencies responsible have reviewed each case and where warranted, appropriate actions have been or will be taken against those responsible."

Singapore’s first First Lady: Puan Noor Aishah

New book launched on Puan Noor Aishah, wife of Singapore's first President Yusof Ishak
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

When Japanese troops invaded Penang in 1941, Puan Noor Aishah left primary school and learnt instead to cook and sew to supplement her family's income.

She peddled nasi lemak with her mother, took orders for embroidery and tried to pick up new skills, hungry to make up for the abrupt end to her formal education. This eagerness to learn put her in good stead when her husband Yusof Ishak was made Yang di-Pertuan Negara in 1959. Puan Noor Aishah was just 26.

Her role as spouse of Singapore's head of state put her in completely uncharted waters, she recalls in a new 200-page biography Puan Noor Aishah: Singapore's First Lady, published by Straits Times Press and launched at The Arts House by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.



Written by legal scholar and historian Kevin Y.L. Tan, the book also contains photos of Puan Noor Aishah and her family, including those from her private albums.

She said of her rapid adjustment: "I was not given any instructions or briefing at all; no guidelines. I had no task lists and no one briefed me on things like etiquette, dress codes and protocol. We had to learn and manage on our own."

She made her mark. She figured out the Istana's workings, and soon breathed new life into it by teaching its cooks - who were still preparing English classics like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - her own recipes for local favourites like beef rendang.

She went for English lessons, organised events for dignitaries and became involved with voluntary organisations. And when her husband's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1968, she shouldered some of his social responsibilities.

PM Lee, who grew up playing with her three children, said of the book: "It will record for generations of Singaporeans her life story, the role she played and her contributions to our early nation-building days."

Since her husband died in 1970 of heart failure, Puan Noor Aishah, now 84, has largely kept out of the limelight, and the book offers a precious glimpse into her eventful life.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

As a small state, Singapore must not be bullied: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan outlines core principles guiding Singapore's foreign policy
Republic will be friends with all, and also advance own interests
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

The ultimate goals of Singapore's foreign policy are to protect its independence and sovereignty, and to expand opportunities for its citizens, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

To achieve this as a small country, Singapore will be friends with everyone and, at the same time, must also advance its own interests, he added.

He was speaking at a townhall with about 200 foreign service officers and other civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

"There is no contradiction between a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and doing whatever it takes to protect our sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and to create political and economic space for ourselves," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan outlined five core principles that guide Singapore's foreign policy, underlining points Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made recently.

He said the principles have served Singapore well since independence.

First, it is important to keep the economy vibrant and successful, and society stable and united.

Without this, Singapore will be completely irrelevant. "All of us in this room have all witnessed how delegations of less successful small states are ignored at international meetings," he said.

Second, Singapore must not be a vassal state and needs to show it cannot be bought or bullied.

For this reason, Singapore has built up a credible armed forces that is taken seriously, he said.



Third, Singapore must aim to be a friend to all, and an enemy to none.

This means working to ensure peace and stability in the immediate neighbourhood and also building political and economic relationships with superpowers and other regional powers so that "they will find our success in their own interest", said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added that this "delicate balancing act" becomes more difficult when the superpowers and regional powers "contend with one another", which is why it is important to avoid taking sides.

While Singapore spares no effort to develop a wide network of relations, he said, these must be based on mutual respect "for each other's sovereignty and the equality of nation states, regardless of size".

He added: "We don't compromise our national interests in order to have good relations... so when others make unreasonable demands that hurt or compromise our national interests, we need to state our position and stand our ground in a firm and principled manner."

Fourth, Singapore must promote a global order governed by the rule of law, international norms and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Without such a system, small states like Singapore have "very little chance of survival", he said, stressing the importance of Singapore speaking with conviction on these issues.

That is why Singapore has always participated actively at the United Nations and in the formulation of international regimes and norms, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan also warned against appeasement, saying that Singapore must be clear about its long-term interests, and "have the gumption to make our foreign policy decisions accordingly".