Thursday, 31 October 2013

PM: Policy on foreigners must be sustainable

He paints picture of balancing act in speech to French businessmen
By Sumiko Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE needs to manage the complex issue of foreign workers and immigration carefully, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told a gathering of French businessmen yesterday.

It has to be done in a way that is "sustainable over the long term for our society, politically, and also achieves the demographic and economic objectives which we have", he said.

Singaporeans must be able to adapt to the inflow and new immigrants must be integrated into the society and not be so overwhelming that they dilute the country's core, values and ethos.



Foreign workers and immigration, however, are issues that many countries - including France - grapple with, he noted.

But, seeking to paint a picture of the delicate balancing act the Government has to achieve, Mr Lee told the entrepreneurs that Singapore requires foreigners for its economic needs.


"You need that range of skills and experiences and talent which no society can generate on its own, and you have to get them from all over the world - Europe, America, China, India," he said at a France-Singapore Business Forum here.

Foreigners also help demographically as Singaporeans are not having enough babies. Singapore's fertility rate is far below the 2.1 replacement level.

Mr Lee also made the point that when it comes to the foreigner issue, Singapore must do things in an open way to maintain its links with other countries, and develop "win-win mutually beneficial relationships".

When introducing Mr Lee, Mr Jean Burelle, the chairman of the French Business Confederation, Medef International, had flagged work permits as an issue of concern to French businessmen eyeing opportunities in Singapore.

In a 10-minute speech, Mr Lee told the businessmen that Singapore was at a transition point.

Its economy has grown steadily and it must now find a way to continue to upgrade itself and improve its people's lives.

Singapore is investing in infrastructure and its people, to make them more productive in "sunrise industries", he said.

At the same time, they have to be complemented by professionals like scientists from all over the world to make Singapore a vibrant economic hub. There must also be a certain proportion of foreign workers to make up the numbers in such sectors as construction and manufacturing.

Mr Lee noted that there are now 1,000 French companies in Singapore. This was a 50 per cent increase from 2008, the last time he visited Paris.

Singapore is 'top business-friendly economy' again: World Bank Group Doing Business 2014

By Melissa Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE has been crowned the most business-friendly economy in the world for the eighth year in a row, beating perennial bridesmaid Hong Kong into second.

The league table compiled by the Word Bank said that Singapore's regulatory environment was highly beneficial for local entrepreneurs.

It cited the introduction of an online procedure that made property transfers easier and laws that give borrowers the right to inspect their own data, a step that improves the country's credit information system.

Mr Babatunde Onitiri, the Singapore head of International Finance Corp, a World Bank unit, said yesterday: "The Government promotes policies that encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate business, thus attracting more investors to start businesses in this country."

However, local economists pointed out that the World Bank rankings do not take into account other vital factors for investment decisions, such as business costs.

Singapore's top spot this year was "not unexpected if you take cost out of the equation", said Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho.

Pointing to rising rents and labour costs, he added: "Because of congestion and myriad other factors such as tightening immigration flows, costs in some areas would have gone up disproportionately."

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said businesses would also look at ease of hiring and the economy's competitiveness, but the extreme ease of doing business here "will at least offset some other issues".

After Singapore and Hong Kong, the top 10 comprised New Zealand in third, then the United States, Denmark, Malaysia, South Korea, Georgia, Norway and Britain.

The report looked at 189 economies along 10 indicators, including starting a business, trading across borders and resolving insolvency.

Govt to help 3 industries in need of revamp

S'pore will transform retail, logistics and construction sectors: Tharman
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE needs to revamp three industries to ensure they move up the productivity ladder and grow, and yesterday, the Government pledged to help them in their climb.

The three laggards are: retail, logistics and construction.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in identifying them, also said that Singapore will be "as aggressive as it takes" to transform them into not only leaner players but also bigger earners.

Their success, he added, would further fuel Singapore's humming economy.

Mr Tharman, who is also the Finance Minister, was speaking at the opening of a key biennial meeting of union leaders, who will spend the next two days outlining the goals of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for the next two years.

Using a chart, he showed that the changes in store are grounded in a strong foundation.

Singapore's job and income growth in recent years has defied the trend of high unemployment and falling income levels seen in major economies such as the United States and Japan.

In the last five years, Singapore's cumulative real median household income grew by 17.7 per cent while its jobless rate this year is 3 per cent.

In contrast, the US unemployment rate is 7.6 per cent and real median income fell 8.3 per cent.

Singapore, however, cannot rest on its laurels. It needs to continue to grow and ensure that the expansion benefits all Singaporeans. Amid the changes, it also has to maintain social cohesion.

Hence the need to improve productivity, Mr Tharman said as he sketched the improvements lying ahead for the three industries.

ITE student lauded for leadership chops

By Lim Yi Han, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

FOUR years ago, Audric Ping's mother died of cancer.

A year later, his father who was a hawker, lost his job and has been unemployed since.

Despite these odds, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) student - a member of the national karate team - reaches out to his schoolmates and gets them to volunteer with the elderly and intellectually disabled.

He also coaches karate for free at schools and teaches women self-defence skills at the Singapore Karate-Do Federation.

Yesterday, the 18-year-old, who studies semiconductor technology at ITE College Central, was lauded for his resilience and drive and awarded the inaugural National Young Leader Award.


The award, given out by youth leadership organisation Halogen Foundation Singapore, recognises those aged 15 to 19 who show outstanding character and leadership, and are committed to making a difference in their communities. It was presented at Halogen's 10th anniversary fund-raising gala dinner at Conrad Centennial Singapore hotel.

Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, the guest of honour, said: "One important thing that we hope our young people will spend time thinking about is what they can do to build a better and stronger Singapore."

Crane safety lapses: MOM takes action against 61 companies

'Black boxes' may be made compulsory
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

"BLACK boxes" may be made compulsory for some cranes to improve safety in an industry that has been dogged by accidents.

A government pilot trial of black boxes, or data loggers which record a crane's movements, comes amid a spate of serious accidents and scores of crane safety breaches.

The use of these devices could prompt crane operators to take more care as they know their work is being monitored, said experts.

The devices could also be used to probe crane accidents, similar to the way aircraft black boxes are used.



The most recent crane tragedy here was the National Art Gallery tower crane collapse that killed two workers earlier this month.

And dangerous practices persist, with 61 firms from 90 sites inspected fined for crane safety lapses in recent Ministry of Manpower (MOM) surprise inspections.

The data loggers record information such as a crane's load and actions taken by the operator.

To encourage greater adoption of these devices, MOM started a pilot at three sites last month.

"MOM plans to complete the pilot trial some time at the end of the year and may consider making data loggers mandatory for certain cranes based on findings of the pilot trial," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Hawazi Daipi yesterday at the third annual Crane Safety Symposium.

Singapore Cranes Association vice-chairman Jimmy Chua backed the use of data loggers.

But he added that one stumbling block for firms is that the data logger software may not be compatible with all types of cranes.

Mr Hawazi also disclosed the findings of MOM's Operation Skylark, a series of crane inspections.

MOM inspected 90 construction and manufacturing sites from July 15 to Sept 30.

These sites either belonged to firms which had previous crane-related accidents, or a large number of cranes.

Across 67 sites, 189 lapses in crane safety were found.


Inspectors found corroded ropes, damaged safety latches on crane hooks and faulty safety devices, despite the fact that cranes must be checked by authorised examiners every 12 months.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

PUB steps up efforts to prepare for monsoon season

By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Oct 2013

National water agency PUB has stepped up efforts to prepare for the upcoming Northeast Monsoon season.

According to the Meteorological Services Singapore (MSS), the rainfall this season is expected to be slightly above average compared to previous years.

Singapore is in the midst of the inter-monsoon season which is why heavy rain warnings and flash floods have been a common sight in various parts of the island over the past few weeks.



This could continue with the approaching Northeast Monsoon season in mid-November.

On average, there are usually 19 rainy days each in November and December, and 15 in January, according to the MSS. The numbers are expected to be slightly higher this season.


To prepare for this monsoon season and minimise the occurrences of flash floods, PUB has intensified inspections on some 100 construction sites around the island to check for drainage obstructions.

It has also replaced about 6,000 scupper holes drain inlets at flood prone areas with an improved design of Drop Inlet Chambers (DICs). Scupper holes are found on the side of the road, next to kerbs.

The modified DICs will have vertical gratings that will provide an additional opening to allow rainwater to be drained from the roads when the main horizontal gratings are partially blocked by leaves or other debris.

PUB has also been distributing flood advisories to about 500 residential units and shop-houses in flood-prone areas.

These monsoon preparations are on top of current measures to minimise and respond quickly to flash floods. These include real-time monitoring of water levels in drains and canals with its water level sensors and CCTVs.

Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB, said: "Despite our best efforts, I think it's not possible for us to eliminate flash floods.

"When there are flash floods, what we can do is to ensure that information flows to the public as quickly as possible through our multiple channels, through social media and also through the more traditional media like radio and (TV) broadcast.

How to prevent another penny stock fiasco

The recent fiasco involving three local stocks wiped billions off investors’ portfolios. More seriously, it exposed major structural problems in Singapore’s stock trading processes, which should be addressed to prevent the episode from repeating itself.
By Jonathan Kwok, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2013

AT THE start of this year, three locally listed companies - Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and LionGold Corp - were worth a combined $2.34 billion.

By Tuesday, Oct 1, the trio's combined value had skyrocketed to $10.53 billion on the back of corporate acquisitions and a surge in interest in penny stocks, among other things.

But on Friday that week, the trio's ascent abruptly reversed. The shares took a massive dive, losing about $5 billion in market value in their first hour of trading before the Singapore Exchange (SGX) stepped in with a rare directive to suspend trading.

Trading soon resumed, though for a period the SGX slapped trading restrictions on the three counters.

They experienced a temporary fillip when the SGX lifted the restrictions but quickly reversed course on news that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the SGX were reviewing their trading activities. Last Friday, the combined market value of the three companies was only $842 million.

With restrictions now lifted and the financial damage done, the soul-searching has begun, not least because of the possible reputational damage to the bourse.

The MAS last week admitted that the episode ''surfaced broader issues regarding the market structure and practices'', which it will review with the SGX.

Some have questioned if the SGX could have acted earlier and more effectively when the three stocks were rising rapidly - and, market watchers say, beyond reasonable valuations.

The exchange issues public queries when a firm's shares move dramatically - as it did with the beleaguered trio - and it says these are signals to investors. But such queries are often ignored.

The next tools on hand are the SGX's tough measures of suspension and trading curbs, which kicked in only as the shares were collapsing. Before this, the last time such curbs were imposed was in 2008.

Calls have also been renewed for ''circuit breakers'', which will automatically halt trade if a stock's price fluctuates violently.

There were complaints about the confusion over how the curbs should be interpreted and the fact that investors had to wait four days to sell the shares even after paying cash for them upfront. There were questions on whether insider trades in one of the stocks were disclosed in time.

Singapore's energy sector: Countering the age outage

Singapore's multi-pronged approach to addressing its energy needs has helped improve potential problems surrounding supply and security of sources. But today, the industry is facing a different sort of problem. In the first of a new five-part series on Singapore's energy sector, Arti Mulchand looks at the pressing need for a pipeline of talent to keep the critical power sector going.
The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2013

WHEN 28-year-old Valerie Choy graduated with honours in chemical engineering from the National University of Singapore in 2008, she admitted that the prospect of a job in the power sector was not even on the radar.

"I wanted a career that was both challenging and meaningful. But the power sector?

"I don't think fresh graduates are very excited by working in a power generation company and being stuck in the day to day," she says.

"It was hard to see the long-term benefits of joining the power sector. They had an image problem."

Ms Choy's reaction was typical of a graduate - one that was highlighted by a 2011 study by the Energy Market Authority (EMA) and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

In the end, Ms Choy joined another aspect of the sector - energy consulting - but the power sector in Singapore is at a critical crossroads, dealing with an ageing technical workforce yet not attracting much interest among the young.

And for all the advancements that the sector has made in technology and know-how, it is this people problem that now threatens to cause the next major trip.

So in March last year, a new Power Sector Manpower Task Force was set up.

Led by former Singapore Power Group chief executive Quek Poh Huat, it looked to delve deeper into the issues and propose responses.

What followed was a consultation exercise involving more than 300 respondents, a "landscape" review of both local and international manpower initiatives, and then a wider seeking of input from more than 100 stakeholders, including industry leaders, government agencies and even students.

The study turned up some sobering numbers.

The median age of the power sector's technical workforce is 48 years, compared with the national median of 42.

More than 60 per cent are over 40 years old, and less than 15 per cent are under 30.

And the sector could not seem to hold on to its precious young. The attrition rate of young people in the sector was about 15 per cent, much higher than the 2 per cent to 3 per cent for the entire workforce.

The implications for a nation that relies heavily on the unfailing supply of essential utilities like electricity and water to power its key manufacturing and services industries were serious.

"If we don't have the people, we cannot keep up this performance.

"We know this will be a big challenge for us," says Mr Quek.

Call for SMEs to get a helping hand

Bosses want help with rising rents and a dedicated agency for SMEs
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2013

BUSINESS leaders have called on the Government to do more for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including combating greedy landlords and helping exporters.

The suggestions were aired yesterday at the SME Convention, organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

One key demand calls for a dedicated agency to handle issues relating to smaller companies.

Bosses also want more done to stop exorbitant rent rises, and more encouragement for big firms to collaborate with SMEs and help them expand abroad.

Mr Lawrence Leow, chairman of the SME Committee, an SBF-led advocacy group, told the convention: "Moving forward, we'll see more enterprises being formed and developed, and I think their importance will grow over time. Why is there no dedicated agency to look after SMEs from the very beginning?"

Fellow panellist Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, noted that there are different agencies, such as JTC Corp, IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore, working closely together to support SMEs.

"Maybe we've got to have a more aligned and consolidated account management structure where we can manage through a single contact, a single point, for SMEs," Mr Teo said.

This is "work in progress", he added, as the Government has to look at what works best for SMEs - whether, for example, SPRING should be responsible for all SME issues or whether there should be a new agency set up.

Different SME assistance programmes are managed by different agencies. The Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme, for example, is administered by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore, while those to help SMEs expand overseas are run by IE Singapore.

Many other initiatives come under SPRING's ambit.

Mr Manu Bhaskaran, the director of policy advisory firm Centennial Group and another panellist, said the Government needs to intervene in matters such as exorbitant rental hikes, which he branded as anti-competitive.

"We need a lot more emphasis on protecting the small guy from being squeezed," he said. "SMEs work hard, build up their revenues and the rents go up - the landlord creams off a lot of the hard work they have done."

Mr Teo noted that JTC is releasing a lot more industrial property over the next five years and the Government is studying what can be done in the commercial sector.

"I've been meeting some developers and trying to understand the situation. We will monitor the commercial space closely and find out whether any schemes or tax rebates or anything of the sort are necessary," he added.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Singapore must let MNCs transfer foreign staff here: Tan Chuan-Jin

It must play by international rules even as it acts to protect locals
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE must adhere to international agreements and allow multinational firms to transfer foreign staff here, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday, when asked if such transfers circumvent the new Fair Consideration Framework.

The framework, which takes effect next August, requires all firms to advertise openings on a government jobs bank before hiring skilled foreigners.

Mr Tan was replying to a resident's question at a dialogue in the Woodgrove division of Sembawang GRC during his first ministerial community visit.

Ms Oun Hui Ping, 38, applauded the new advertising requirement but worried that multinational corporations (MNCs) could exploit a "loophole" by bringing in foreigners as "transfer staff".

Replying, Mr Tan referred to the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services, and noted that intra-company transfers are subject to strict rules.

The worker must have been employed for at least a year beforehand and must be a manager, executive or specialist.

Transferred workers can stay for a two-year period, which can be extended by three years at a time up to a total of eight years.

But Mr Tan also noted that many foreigners are not here under such transfers.

He argued that Singapore has to make it worthwhile for MNCs to be here, as they generate jobs, and a diverse workforce is one attractive factor.



On the new framework, he said: "It's one of those policies where there will be individuals who will feel that we're not protecting Singaporeans enough.

"But my perspective is, we need to protect Singaporeans by generating jobs."


Another question came from Mr Benny Lim, 22, who asked what the "new normal" in politics means for front-line government staff or grassroots leaders.



Mr Tan said that front-line staff will have a harder time as people are more demanding.

But even though "there might be good reasons why you are frustrated", those are not good reasons to treat someone badly, he said.

A "new normal" does not mean accepting this, he said. "I think we need to push back and say this is not the society we want."

New public hospital in northern Singapore after 2020

Health Ministry looking at demographic needs; Woodlands a possible location
By Siau Ming En, TODAY, 28 Oct 2013

Residents in the northern part of Singapore can look forward to a new hospital, possibly located in Woodlands, with construction set to begin after 2020.

The Health Ministry is looking at several sites for the new hospital and studying demographic needs and land use plans.

This was announced by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on the sidelines of the ground-breaking ceremony for the Sengkang General and Community Hospitals, which will be ready by 2018.



The Sengkang hospitals, touted to be among the largest regional hospitals, will have 1,400 beds. Currently, another regional hospital, Khoo Teck Puat in Yishun, has about 570 beds for both general and acute care, while the Changi General Hospital in the east has over 800 beds.

The Sengkang hospitals are part of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Healthcare 2020 Masterplan to expand national healthcare capacity.

Emphasising the importance of flexibility in new hospitals, Mr Gan said: “What is important is also to ensure that our designing will give us some flexibility because hospitals have to be built for the future, they need to be able to cater to healthcare needs over a longer time frame. Therefore, we need to be able to have some facilities so that, even with demographic shifts, we will be able adapt to the (patients’) needs in time to come.”

As an example, he cited the 200 swing beds in the Sengkang hospitals, which can be added to either the 800-bed general hospital or the 400-bed community hospital.

John Tan: Self-starter and trailblazer

WONG KIM HOH MEETS... JOHN TAN
Asia Capital Reinsurance Group founder quit school after O levels to get head start in career
The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2013

Looking at a clock one day when he was in his early teens, John Tan was struck by an existential question.

"I was thinking to myself: The hands of the clock keep going round and round and whether a person is 15 or 50, he would be doing the same things every day: eating, sleeping or working."

Surely, he told himself, there has to be more to life than one big cycle of repetition?

It took a bit of grappling with but he finally decided he was put on this Earth for a purpose.

"I arrived at a simple answer: I should love life and love everybody unconditionally," he says.

He decided he should also not be a burden to society. And that meant earning enough to not only look after himself but others too.

And that he has done.

The 57-year-old is the founder and chief executive of the Asia Capital Reinsurance (ACR) Group, which has offices in nearly 10 locations across the world and registered US$765 million (S$946 million) in gross written premiums for the last financial year.

The seventh of nine children, he has always been a self-starter and trailblazer.

His late father, the manager of a trading firm, sailed from China to Singapore before the war, leaving behind his wife and four daughters. It was 15 years before he sent for his wife and children and by then, two of the girls had died. The couple went on to have five more children in Singapore.

The need to be self-sufficient surfaced early in Mr Tan. He was paying his own school fees at St Andrew's by the time he was nine.

"I wanted to earn my own money and didn't want my parents to support me. I started teaching my classmates when I was in Primary 3. Their parents paid me by buying my textbooks," he says.

By the time he hit his teens, he was earning his own pocket money by working at night as a factory cleaner.

"I cleaned and swept floors from 11pm to 6am at a textile factory and a rubber factory in MacPherson. I would then go to school, do a bit of teaching after classes, and catch some sleep after that," he says.

At 15, after wrestling with the meaning of life, he decided he had to leave school early in order to get a head start in his career.

With a chortle, he describes what went through his young mind then.

Monday, 28 October 2013

K. Shanmugam: Legal changes about 'protecting our society'

Law Minister K. Shanmugam is unfazed by recent applications for judicial reviews, saying it is people's right to do so. He also tells Tham Yuen-C that changes to mandatory death penalty laws will lead to fewer people being sent to the gallows but that is not why it was amended. Rather, it tightens enforcement to better protect against the drug menace, while murder rates are low so Singapore can afford to relax the penalty for some categories.
The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2013





There have been quite a few applications for judicial review recently, such as over Section 377A (criminalising sex between men) and from Faith Community Baptist Church (ordered to compensate a pregnant former employee sacked after committing adultery). How do you feel about people questioning the decisions of the Government?

There have been a few cases. I wouldn't say there have been a lot of cases. The right to apply (for judicial review), where it is fair or where it is properly applied for, is a matter for the courts. People have a right to apply and that has always been a part of our law. You must allow people to apply.


But as a minister, does it affect your work, or the work of the Government?

Doesn't really affect. In Singapore, we take the obligation to make sure the law complies with the Constitution very seriously. In fact, the previous Chief Justice explained that in other countries, say the United Kingdom, you have various districts with many statutory authorities, local councils. And they may not clear all their actions through lawyers, at least in the past. So these actions may be ultra vires (beyond one's legal power or authority) and you might then find some are successfully challenged.
In Singapore, every piece of legislation is first drafted and vetted by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and run through the Ministry of Law, where independently, we look at it to make sure that it doesn't contravene the Constitution. Legislation also has to be looked at by the Presidential Council for Minority Rights to see whether there are any possible breaches. So every piece of legislation has been first looked at for constitutional compliance.

Separately, actions by ministries, administrative actions can also be judicially reviewed. But usually they will make sure that they have received advice from the AGC's office, and some ministries have lawyers in-house.

So the likelihood that a piece of legislation is ultra vires is not very high. We have a careful system of checks and balances.

So as a minister, does it impact me? No. I carry on as per usual as I have always been aware that legislation and action can be challenged, and we have put in a system that seeks to minimise that by making sure that in the first place we don't contravene.


Do you feel that the Government's actions are increasingly being challenged more?

I don't know that I will draw that conclusion. These are rights that people have.

Leaders 'must fight short- termism'

They are not making time for long-term planning for future challenges: Report
By Rupali Karekar, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2013

LEADERS are too preoccupied with short-term crises and losing sight of major challenges that will determine the lives of future generations, a new report has said.

The report recognises that in a world of fast food and short attention spans, policymakers do not make time for long-term planning for the future.

"We must take a fresh approach if we want to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future," said Mr Pascal Lamy, chairman of The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, which released the report, aptly titled Now For The Long Term, in London last week.

"Creative coalitions, reinvigorated institutions and renewed methods to value the future in business and government practices are urgently needed to accelerate change."

The report is the culmination of a year-long effort by the commission, which comprises academics, economists, business leaders, politicians and thinkers from 13 countries including Singapore, to come up with ideas for tackling pertinent problems of the modern world.

It aims to fight "the increasing short-termism of modern politics" and "break the gridlock in global affairs", and offers recommendations to improve the lives of current, and future, generations.

"The present generation is not taking good care of planet Earth, our only planet.

"If we destroy it, future generations will have no other planet to go to," Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and a member of the Oxford Martin Commission, told The Straits Times yesterday.

This is why the report is very significant, he said.

"It points out how we are destroying the fate of future generations and advises us how to avoid that horrible fate," he added.

Two-party system? Try a litmus test, says ex-minister

It must be able to forge consensus, and get things done: Raymond Lim
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2013

TWO questions should be asked as Singaporeans decide whether they want the country to transition towards a two-party system, said former minister Raymond Lim yesterday.

One, whether the system it is evolving towards can forge consensus on the priorities and "necessary things" that must be done to move Singapore forward.

Two, having reached that decision, whether the system has the capacity to get it done.

The two questions are a litmus test for Singaporeans negotiating the change, Mr Lim told a student who asked him about the contrast between economic competition and political monopoly here.

The student, among 180 guests at a lecture and question-and-answer session held in conjunction with the launch of Mr Lim's first book, had argued that democracy requires the check and balance of a strong opposition.

The book is titled Straight Talk: Reflections On Singapore Politics, Economy And Society.

Mr Lim, a former journalist and economist, said the political situation here has evolved as no society can remain static. But he cited the "dysfunctional" system in the United States as a negative example of one that cannot agree on how to move forward and resolve its problems. The US recently emerged from a 16-day government shutdown caused by gridlock between the Democrats and Republicans over a Democrat-backed health-care law.

Beyond coming to a consensus, an ideal political system should also be able to implement its decisions, said Mr Lim at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"This is the difference between talking about doing something and actually getting it done," the MP for East Coast GRC said.

A former transport minister who left Cabinet after the last General Election in 2011, he also touched on challenges for Singapore and the region in a lecture held as part of NTU's new undergraduate degree programme in Public Policy and Global Affairs.

Rising income inequality, which is troubling not just Singapore but other societies, has led to many feeling excluded from the benefits of growth, he said.

"This is why even though our economy is up, which is no mean feat in a crisis-strewn decade, yet the 'feel good' factor seems missing," said Mr Lim.

Bridging this divide and ensuring no one is left behind is high on the Government's agenda, he said, pointing to recent Budgets aimed at ensuring inclusiveness and the National Day Rally announcements in August.

"But the Government can only pursue this in a big way if it has the support of the people," said Mr Lim.

Support for an inclusive society is not a given once the questions of "how to pay" and "who to pay" are asked, he said.

Mr Lim highlighted the importance of a strong sense of community and an active civic society.

More are now willing to speak up, Mr Lim noted, adding it is "far better" to have an engaged citizenry than a "switched-off" one.

However, he called for courage to not just voice popular discontent, but also to oppose it "when you know in your hearts that it is right to do so".

While people used to speak of a climate of fear deterring them from criticising the Government, the converse is now true.

"Ordinary people are worried that if they speak up in support of an unpopular policy or against a populist view, they are immediately pilloried and flamed on the Net," he said.

"If you concede this civic space, not speaking up for our collective interests, then our society will start to fragment as populist voices and special interests will slice up our common welfare."

Littering punishment under review

Also, green plan to be updated to boost growth, improve living environment: PM Lee
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2013

Litterbugs could soon face tougher penalties, with a review of anti-littering laws under way as part of Singapore's continued push for clean public spaces.

Separately, the national green plan is being updated to include the building of environmentally friendly hawker centres and cutting of carbon emissions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong disclosed yesterday.

These initiatives are part of the review of the 2009 Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines strategies to achieve economic growth and a good living environment.



Speaking at the launch of the annual Clean and Green Campaign - into its 45th year - Mr Lee said Singaporeans have to take pride in their surroundings.

While most help to keep the environment clean, a minority still litter, leave tables at hawker centres dirty, and even abuse enforcement officers.

"We must not condone such bad behaviour, or let it spread," he said. "The Government has tightened enforcement, and we will review our penalties to punish littering, to stop littering."

The National Environment Agency (NEA) told The Sunday Times that it is considering higher fines. Currently, litterbugs face a composition fine of up to $300. Recalcitrants hauled to court can be fined up to $1,000 for the first conviction and up to $5,000 for repeat convictions. They can also be ordered to pick up litter in public for up to 12 hours.

Steady income source for the rest of your life

In the third of a four-part series on ways to better utilise your CPF money, The Sunday Times looks at how you can plan for retirement with a focus on the annuity scheme, CPF Life
By Mok Fei Fei, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2013

Don't rely on just CPF LIFE payouts

For young people, growing old seems a world away. But as we mark off the various milestones of life, our senior years seem to approach very rapidly indeed.

And there is no phase of a person's life for which financial planning is more crucial - especially now that Singaporeans are living longer than ever.

Prudent planning can mean golden years spent travelling and enjoying the grandchildren - rather than worrying about health-care costs and watching the pennies.

A vital tool that will aid you along this journey is the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

With effect from January, it is mandatory for Singaporeans and permanent residents born in 1958 or after to be part of the CPF Lifelong Income For the Elderly (CPF LIFE).

You will be placed on CPF LIFE if you have at least $40,000 in your Retirement Account at age 55, or $60,000 in your Retirement Account when you hit 65.

Under the scheme, you will get a monthly payout for the rest of your life when you reach 65. The more you put in, the higher your payout.

About 62,000 CPF members will turn 55 this year.

If you do not have enough in your Retirement Account to be placed on CPF LIFE, you will stay on the Minimum Sum Scheme, where you will get a monthly payout for about 20 years when you reach 65. But you can opt to join CPF LIFE, although the monthly payout may not be meaningful.

The drawback of remaining on the Minimum Sum Scheme is that you may outlive your savings on this scheme, said Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon from the National University of Singapore (NUS) economics department.

"The Minimum Sum Scheme has no provision for longevity risks, so you would have to find alternative means of supporting yourself at an old age," she said.

Ms Tan Chui Leng, director of retirement income at CPF Board, said: "Singapore has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. For Singaporeans who are aged 65 today, about half of them are expected to live beyond 85, and a third are expected to live beyond 90. A growing proportion of retirees would, therefore, outlive their CPF savings if they were on the Minimum Sum Scheme."

If you are born before 1958, you can also choose to be part of CPF LIFE, any time up to one month before you turn 80.

There are currently 93,000 people under CPF LIFE.

While CPF LIFE offers a steady stream of income till death, financial advisers caution that you should not be overly reliant on CPF for your retirement. Here are some things you should take note of.

175,680 excluded from Singapore's two casinos as at Sep 2013

Number of exclusion orders jumps almost four times from 2011; figure likely to rise
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 27 Oct 2013

The number of people who are not allowed to enter Singapore's two casinos has reached a high of 175,680.

This is almost four times the 47,178 placed under exclusion orders in June 2011 - the first time such figures were released after the safeguard against problem gambling was introduced four years ago.

People can apply to have family members kept out. Individuals too may put themselves under self-exclusion orders if they think they are better off not being exposed to the temptations of gambling.

Latest figures from the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) show 130,556 people were under self-exclusion orders as of last month. Of this number, 118,672 - or about 90 per cent - are foreigners living or working here.

Some 43,565 - either undischarged bankrupts, those on financial aid schemes or with rental arrears - are automatically barred under third-party exclusion orders. The remaining 1,559 are on family exclusion orders.

Casino exclusion statistics are cumulative, which means they remain in force once gamblers are placed under them until they are revoked, which can only be done after a year.

The council has not disclosed how many people have applied to revoke the orders so far.

The NCPG and counsellors say the rising number of exclusion orders shows a growing awareness that such safeguards can help people avoid problem gambling.

"At the start, people didn't know where and how to apply for it but now a lot of gamblers are aware and they force themselves to get it as they know they are becoming addicted to gambling," said Ms Jolene Ong, executive director of The Silver Lining, which runs gambling rehabilitation programmes.

SURE or not? Mr Kiasu is back

By Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 24 Oct 2013

The iconic comic character Mr Kiasu is set to come out of retirement after a 13-year hiatus.

Its creator Johnny Lau is reviving the popular series with a new book to be unveiled on Dec 15, as part of a nationwide information-literacy campaign launched yesterday by the National Library Board (NLB).

Titled Everything Also Want To Be Sure, the comic book was among several initiatives announced at the launch of the S.U.R.E. campaign, which revolves around four simple steps: Source, Understand, Research and Evaluate. “Source”, for example, involves checking whether a piece of information comes from a reliable source.



Beginning its run in secondary schools in May as an enrichment programme called the S.U.R.E. Club, the campaign will now be extended to the general public through online platforms (sure.nl.sg and the campaign’s Facebook page, fb.com/sgsure), workshops and a public symposium on information literacy with speakers like neuroscientist Carl Schoonover and Channel NewsAsia presenter Steven Chia.

S.U.R.E. will also be incorporated into the history and geography curriculum in secondary schools next year and the NLB has joined forces with publishing firm Epigram Books to weave the S.U.R.E. technique into popular book series Sherlock Sam and Triple Nine Sleuths.

Jordan Goh, 13, a Secondary 1 student at St Patrick’s School, one of 24 schools that have started S.U.R.E. Clubs, said of the programme: “It has helped me understand the sources (such as) books, and even newspaper reports I read, (and it) helps me to figure out if what the newspapers said (is) true.”

Mr T Sundraraj, NLB Director of Communications and Development, said: “At the end of the day, we just want people to instinctively adopt S.U.R.E. as part of their daily life.”