Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Unjustified attacks made against the police must be rebutted; Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam addresses criticism of police raid tactics on illegal brothels

Unjustified attacks do huge disservice to police: Shanmugam
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2017

Unjustified attacks made against the police should be rebutted, as these do a huge disservice to the officers in blue who put their lives at risk to keep Singapore safe, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"In many countries, unjustified attacks on police have eventually led to the weakening of law enforcement," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"We do not intend to let that happen in Singapore. And I believe that the vast majority of Singaporeans support our approach to maintaining law and order," he said.

In another post, Mr Shanmugam addressed online criticism of police tactics used during recent raids on illegal brothels near Rowell Road.

Speed and surprise are key elements during raids, and the police "cannot be expected to knock on the door, and wait for a response", Mr Shanmugam said.

"What do we expect - the gangsters (who might be present) will open the door, and politely admit to their actions? And even if gangsters are not present, we expect the women involved to be cooperative?" he added.

He explained that the police wear masks during such operations to hide their identities, as the syndicates behind these illegal brothels would retaliate, if they can.

He added that he had been quite puzzled by the criticism directed at the police, and "the deeply flawed, misplaced sympathies" for those in the vice trade.

Sharing further details of the case in his post, he said that there had been complaints about the sex workers in the area, with a syndicate seemingly in operation.

During the raid last Friday, more than 20 people - all foreigners - were arrested, including a 16-year-old male sex worker. One suspect injured himself while trying to escape.

Many of them were transgender sex workers, he said, adding that the police are concerned about human trafficking as well.

While the operations were ongoing, the police had noticed a woman filming a video, he added.

She later made a post online accusing the police of "wasting taxpayer money, terrorising women". The post has since been taken down.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said: "Would she prefer that police didn't do anything? (Would she) like the sex workers to continue soliciting for customers along the roads and bringing them into HDB estates among our families and children? What about the exploitation of underage youngsters?"

Monday, 11 December 2017

Volunteers who ensure no one dies alone

NODA members support terminally ill with few or no family members in their final days
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

Mr Tay Cheng Tian, 54, died in a hospice on Nov 4. None of his family members was by his bedside when he took his last breath, but he did not die alone.

In the last few weeks of his life, a bunch of strangers befriended him and committed to spending time with him till the end.

They fulfilled his last wishes and did things such as wheeling him downstairs for smoke breaks.

When Mr Tay started deteriorating rapidly from oesophageal cancer, the volunteers took turns to sit vigil round-the-clock by his bed.

For about two days, they held his hands, whispered to him or played his favourite songs to let him know that someone was there with him.

One saw him take his last breath at 8.30am that Saturday.

"It was a privilege to be with him, knowing that he was comfortable enough with my presence to go at that moment," said Ms Angela Sho, 43, a volunteer with Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone (NODA) programme.

It is part of a small but growing movement to support dying people who have few or no family members or friends to accompany them in their final hours. Demand for the service is likely to grow as the number of elderly folk who live alone in Singapore surges.

The General Household Survey, released last year, shows the number of households comprising only residents aged 65 or older stood at 82,600. About half, or 41,200, are made up of residents who live alone. By 2030, the Government estimates the number of seniors who live alone will hit 83,000.

"Given the increasing trends of one-person and two-person households with the head of households over 65 years old, we foresee the number of persons who die alone may increase," said Ms Chee Wai Yee, chairman of the grief and bereavement work group at the Singapore Hospice Council.

Billion-dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme ends after five years; 80 new services and 1,000 buses added to Singapore roads since 2012

$1.1 billion enhancement of bus services complete
Five-year programme has increased capacity of 70% of bus services and cut waiting times
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

The $1.1 billion five-year Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), which added 1,000 government-funded buses to the country's roads, has been completed.

Since it was rolled out in September 2012, the programme has boosted the capacity of 218 bus services here, which accounts for 70 per cent of the services. This was achieved by deploying more double-decker buses and increasing trip frequencies, said the Land Transport Authority.

BSEP has also bumped up the total fleet of public buses to about 5,500.

LTA said that the programme, coupled with the transition to the Government's bus contracting model in 2014 where operators have to meet higher service standards, has shaved bus intervals from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

Intervals for feeder services during peak periods have also been trimmed to six to eight minutes, from more than 10.

BSEP was introduced after the two publicly listed transport companies, SBS Transit and SMRT, were unable to cope with the burgeoning demand for bus services.

The expansion also helped ease the crunch on trains which also came under greater scrutiny after a series of breakdowns.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commemorated the bus enhancement programme's conclusion at an event yesterday by launching a new service, 71. It is the 80th service introduced under BSEP.

Tuas mega port: Keeping the ships sailing in – why the mega port matters

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transshipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the second of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at the move to consolidate all port operations in Tuas.
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

It is touted as the upcoming site of a mega port - Tuas in the west where Singapore's city port operations, including Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang, will relocate to. The move will free up land for the Greater Southern Waterfront development, three times the size of Marina Bay.

But just how big is "mega"?

After all, much is at stake - the port operations now run by PSA make Singapore the world's top container transshipment hub, so the Tuas mega port must keep building on this success. This is especially as the maritime industry is a key part of the economy, accounting for 7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Yet challenges loom: While Singapore currently holds the title of world's busiest port, other countries in the region are eyeing bigger slices of the transshipment pie and boosting their infrastructure.

A visit to the new port's location, though, shows the sheer, jaw-dropping scale of what is being developed. A construction yard at the tip of the southernmost end of Tuas is a hive of activity round the clock, as 500 workers labour to assemble massive structures that will form the building blocks for the future mega port.

These watertight retaining structures - called caissons - weigh 15,000 tonnes each, the equivalent of 8,000 cars. At 28m, each is as tall as a 10-storey HDB block.

There are two production lines at the construction yard churning out eight caissons a month. When completed, each caisson is towed to sea, where they are placed on a foundation on the seabed. A total of 138 caissons have been installed as of Nov 13 - more than 60 per cent of the 222 needed to form the wharf for Phase 1 of the Tuas mega port.

First announced by then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in 2012, the mega port will consolidate all of Singapore's port operations in Tuas. It will open in four phases, with the first berths expected to be operational in 2021.

The multibillion-dollar Tuas project will increase the port's capacity to 65 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo, more than double what the port handled last year.

This expansion is the latest in a series of bold moves to grow Singapore's port by building ahead of demand. Tuas, in fact, was considered as a potential location before Pasir Panjang was chosen in the early 1990s.

Insight examines why the port is now moving to Tuas some two decades later, and how the mega project is slated to boost Singapore's maritime industry.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Jerusalem as Israel's capital declares US President Donald Trump

Issue of Jerusalem goes back decades
The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

JERUSALEM • The decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would upend decades of US policy.

Underpinning the move is a proposed shift of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Trump was expected to sign a national security waiver - as have his predecessors - keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, but would commit to expediting a move. Here are some questions and answers on the issue:


The tensions over Jerusalem have their origins decades ago. After the end of World War II in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states - one Jewish, one Arab - with Jerusalem governed by a "special international regime" owing to its unique status.

The Arabs rejected the partition plan, and a day after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.

Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan.

Subsequently, Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war, and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community, but Israel declared the city its undivided capital. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

No country accepted Israeli sovereignty and almost all had their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead. Jerusalem is home to holy sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The final status of Jerusalem has been one of the most vexatious questions in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be seen as deciding an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations, breaking with the international consensus.


In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, calling on the country to move its embassy to the holy city.

"Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the state of Israel," it said, demanding that the government move the embassy.

The Act is binding, but there was a clause that presidents could delay it for six months at a time to protect "national security interests" through a so-called waiver.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed these waivers every six months.

Mr Trump reluctantly signed the first waiver that came due during his presidency on June 1. The second deadline lapsed on Monday.

Govt spending on healthcare expected to rise sharply; Singapore faces demographic time bomb in 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says it will go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 because of ageing population, tech advances
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2017

Singapore may have to foot a bigger health bill to care for its ageing population.

Government expenditure on healthcare is expected to "rise quite sharply" in the next three to five years, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He expects it to go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 from the current levels.

To put that in perspective, the total budget for the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2010 was $4 billion. In this year's Budget, Mr Heng allocated it $10 billion.

A jump of another $3 billion by 2020 would mean that in 10 years, the health budget will climb to more than three times its 2010 level.

After a tour of Changi General Hospital (CGH) and St Andrew's Community Hospital (SACH) yesterday, Mr Heng said: "As medical technology improves, as our population ages, the demands will grow, and the need to provide for that will also grow." He predicted an annual MOH budget of "at least" $13 billion from 2020.

Professor Euston Quah, head of economics at Nanyang Technological University, said rising healthcare costs will mean higher taxes.

He said: "It is one major reason since, increasingly, healthcare is subsidised for greater number of eligible people.

"Income tax and corporate taxes, which are direct taxes, are low in Singapore relative to other countries, but indirect taxes (GST and other non-earnings-based taxes) make up for it."

In his Budget speech in February, Mr Heng had said that part of a bigger healthcare bill will be covered by new taxes or the Government raising present taxes.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "Spending on healthcare will comprise an increasing proportion of net government expenditure over the next decade.

"When taxes do increase, it is good to know that a significant proportion of our tax dollars is going towards healthcare, which is a public good and necessity."

Mr Heng said the $3 billion increase is "just an initial estimate", and will depend on "how well we are able to manage in the next few years".

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Singapore football may be beyond saving

While I recognise and respect the efforts of our players and staff in the local football scene, it seems that the sport here is quite well beyond saving.

We have lost many matches and cannot even qualify for the Asian Cup. Stadium attendance shows that the number of people interested in the S-League and the Lions is small. The atmosphere there is also lacklustre. This is hardly the result of a lack of interest in the sport. Many Singaporeans frequently stay up late and get up early to watch Premier League and Champions League matches. They have costly subscriptions to football channels.

I can easily tell you the names of hundreds of foreign footballers and their clubs, ages, nationalities and FIFA ratings. Unfortunately, I cannot name more than five Singaporean football players.

Several solutions have been proposed to revamp our football scene, but none have worked.

We could pump several billion dollars in and set aside hectares of land for football facilities, and hope that we will have exciting matches and packed stadiums.

Or perhaps we should just enjoy the luxury that other countries have already provided for us.

Tan Yi Swee, 14
Secondary 2 student
ST Forum, 6 Dec 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

CPF rumours on social media clarified

Separating fact from fallacy about Central Provident Fund (CPF)
By Christopher Tan, Published The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

Like me, you might have recently received messages or read rumours circulating on social media about your Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. When I saw these messages posted all over Facebook, I knew I had to clarify them as they were not completely true. Let me touch on two of these messages.

The first message claims that when you die, your nominees will not receive your CPF savings in cash. Instead, it said your CPF savings will be deposited into your nominees' Medisave Accounts instead. This is not true.

Part of the message or rumour on CPF nominees goes like this:

"Everybody please note that when we kick the bucket, all our balance CPF money will not be automatically deposited into our nominated NOK (next of kin) bank account in CASH.

"CPF board will instead send all your balance CPF money to your nominated NOK CPF MEDISAVE ACCOUNT. There is a separate form to be filled if cash or cheque is required. So better know this.... Die die they don't give to NOK the CASH."

The second message relates to CPF refunds from property purchases using CPF savings.

Part of the message goes like this:

"Recently, I was asked by CPF Board to return the total amount I used my CPF money plus interest when I sold my apartment. I was shocked and asked CPF staff why I need to return my money when I am already 66 years old, they said it is a new rule regardless of your age.

"Why should I pay interest for my own money and why should I return my money when CPF had released my fund when I reached 55 years old? Please let your friends and family members know of such hidden and unreasonable CPF rules which will affect the seniors."

Unfortunately, both messages contain half-truths and the tone of voice used might generate public mistrust in the CPF system. So allow me to clarify them.

Changi Airport Terminal 5: Decades of groundwork for T5 to take flight

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transhipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the first of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at what it takes to get Changi Airport Terminal 5 off the ground.
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

From the air, it is a striking sight for travellers flying into Singapore: A massive construction zone, as big as Changi Airport itself, with trucks constantly on the move along dirt and paved roads, huge canals being dug and a network of taxiways being laid, as long as the Pan-Island Expressway from Tuas to Tampines.

Next door, it is business as usual with a plane landing or taking off every 11/2 minutes.

By the time construction and other works are completed around 2030, Changi Airport will have almost doubled to cover more than 2,000ha, with enough room to eventually handle up to 150 million passengers a year, compared with 82 million now.

The Changi East project - as the new development is referred to - is Singapore's most ambitious attempt, since Changi Airport opened on July 1, 1981, to cement the Republic's status as a key aviation hub for regional and global traffic.

The stakes are high. The aviation and maritime sectors jointly account for about 10 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and provide nearly 250,000 jobs.

A global airline body forecast that Singapore's total air passenger traffic and the number of aviation-related jobs could more than double in 20 years.

This would increase the aviation industry's contribution to Singapore's GDP by the same quantum to an estimated US$65 billion (S$88 billion) in 2035, said the International Air Transport Association.


Actual ground works at Changi East started just three years ago, but the T5 story dates back almost three decades.

The move from Paya Lebar to Changi in 1981 was an enormous task: 550 buildings demolished, 4,500 graves exhumed, 200ha of swamp land cleared, one airbase that was built during the Japanese Occupation removed, and 870ha of land reclaimed.

Yet, within a decade of the opening of Terminal 1, planners were at it again, hunting for the next big plot of land for further expansion.

In 1989, even before T2 started operating, the Cabinet approved plans for more land to be reclaimed for airport development. This is the area where T5 is being constructed.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

PUB to spend $500 million to upgrade drainage network over the next 3 years

PUB pumps in $500m more to keep floods at bay
Sum will be used for ongoing projects at 75 sites, those at 16 new spots and future works
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2017

To keep floods at bay as Singapore is lashed by increasingly intense storms, the country is pumping another $500 million into a massive upgrade of its drainage network.

National water agency PUB said yesterday the money will be channelled into ongoing projects at 75 spots islandwide, as well as those at 16 new locations and future projects, to make monsoon drains and canals bigger, and fortify older structures, for instance.

Said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB's director of catchment and waterways: "With climate change, we expect more intense storms to occur more frequently in Singapore. PUB will continue to implement 'pathway' (the passage that rainwater takes) measures by deepening and widening drains."

The sum, which will be spent over the next two to three years, adds to the $1.2 billion the Government has already spent on drainage improvement works since 2011.

Meteorological Service Singapore statistics show that the annual maximum hourly rainfall rose to 90mm last year, from about 80mm in 1980.

"We are right to 'buy insurance', to put these plans in place and execute them, so we are not caught unprepared," said weather researcher Koh Tieh Yong from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

There have been floods on 14 days this year, compared with 10 last year, and six in 2015. The figure has, however, dropped from 36 in 2013.

Drains in flood-prone areas or those nearing the end of their lifespans will be given priority in upgrading. Next year, they will be improved in areas such as Thomson Road and Sennett Estate.

The 3.2km Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal will be expanded by the end of next year at a cost of $280 million. It will be able to take in 30 per cent more rainwater.

This will protect buildings in the catchment area, such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Beauty World Plaza, Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Sime Darby Centre, from floods.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New scheme to allow social workers to manage finances for mentally incapacitated seniors under their care

Community Kin Service: Social workers can get powers to manage seniors' finances
MSF pilot project targets elderly folk who have lost ability to make decisions and do not have family support
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2017

Seniors without family support can soon turn to social workers to help manage their finances if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has introduced the Community Kin Service pilot project, where social workers with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) may apply to the Family Justice Courts for powers to manage the finances of seniors under their care. The courts will then approve regular payments for the seniors' healthcare needs and household expenses, with MSF backing such court applications.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday: "The Community Kin Service allows VWOs to help fill the role that a next of kin would typically play in supporting a senior."

The MSF said in a statement that the pilot project will cover seniors who are 60 and above, have no family support and show signs of a declining ability to make decisions for themselves.

Two VWOs - TOUCH Community Services and AMKFSC Community Services - have been chosen for the pilot that starts early next year.

The MSF was unable to say how many seniors could potentially benefit from the scheme.

TOUCH said about 350 of the 7,000 seniors under its care are gradually losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, while AMKFSC estimated that 100 of the 1,000 seniors under its care may have dementia.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director at TOUCH, said the new scheme is an extension of what the VWO's social workers are already doing to help the seniors under their care.

"The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances," she said. "But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so."

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

MOE kindergarten kids get priority P1 admission to co-located primary schools from 2018

Those applying to co-located primary schools will be under Phase 2A2, as part of pilot scheme
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2017

To help children transition more smoothly to Primary 1, those attending Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens will be given priority to enter the primary school that shares a compound with their kindergarten.

The MOE said this will involve 12 kindergartens as part of a pilot scheme next year, involving children entering Primary 1 in 2019.

Kindergarten children applying for admission to the respective primary school will be eligible under Phase 2A2 of the Primary 1 registration scheme, which currently applies to children whose parents or siblings had studied in the primary school, but had not joined the alumni association.

The change, announced yesterday, puts MOE kindergarten children ahead of those who apply in the next phase, 2B, which gives priority to parent volunteers and those with church or clan links.

The ministry will continue to set aside a minimum of 40 places for phases 2B and 2C. It also said it will provide sufficient school places on a regional basis so that no child will have to travel long distances to his or her primary school.

Schools involved include Riverside Primary, Farrer Park, Punggol Green and West Spring.

Explaining the move, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said: "MOE always has the child at the centre of its policymaking. It will facilitate the child's learning in a more familiar environment... We hope to enable the child to have a smoother transition to Primary 1."

Will the change lead to more pressure for Primary 1 registration?

MOE assured parents that the planned intake from its kindergartens will be below that of the associated primary school. Parents may also choose another primary school.

But it admitted that "as demand situations differ from year to year, we are unable to predict the demand situation in individual schools and kindergartens".

"The MOE kindergartens are located in areas with upcoming developments and families with young children. We expect healthy demand for these school-based kindergartens as well as the primary schools in that area."

MOE explained that it was making this change to help children have an easier transition to the co-located primary schools as they would remain in a familiar environment.

"With a close partnership between the kindergarten and the primary school, the latter would also be more familiar with the needs of the children, and can more quickly ensure that they have the necessary developmental support when they enter Primary 1."

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

New foreign workers to undergo settling-in programme from the second half of 2018

Mandatory scheme to help foreign workers settle in
Newcomers will learn about social norms here, laws, employment rights and where to seek help
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2017

From the second half of next year, new foreign workers will attend a mandatory Settling-In Programme (SIP), similar to that for first-time domestic workers.

This is to help them learn about Singapore's social norms and laws, as well as their employment rights and obligations, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday. It will also inform them about how and where they can seek help.

The move was welcomed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that help foreign workers. They said employers not paying their workers their salaries or not compensating them for work injuries continue to be an issue here. The new programme will help newcomers know what they are entitled to and where to go for help, they added.

The programme, to be rolled out in phases, will start with first-time foreign workers in the construction sector, Mr Lim said. Malaysians will be excluded.

He was speaking at a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) appreciation dinner for more than 300 partners, including employers, dormitory operators and NGOs.

The SIP will be extended progressively to other sectors such as the marine, process, manufacturing and service industries.

MOM said about 2,000 foreign workers in the construction sector are expected to attend the SIP each month. Employers will be responsible for registration and course fees.

The ministry conducted a pilot from June to October last year involving close to 1,900 workers. Besides receiving feedback that the course was useful and helped workers understand how MOM can help with employment issues, a post-course evaluation found that the workers showed a more positive work attitude after the course.

Singapore has around one million work permit holders, of whom about 700,000 are non-domestic foreign workers, Mr Lim said.

He stressed the need to take strong action against irresponsible employers and employment agencies, adding that Singapore has strengthened its laws and policies in this area over the years.

River cleanup is never done, Singaporeans must still learn not to litter: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Keeping Singapore River clean 'a relentless effort'
PM urges all to help by refraining from littering; amount of litter removed has barely budged
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2017

Forty years after Singapore embarked on a cleanup of the Singapore River, the Prime Minister says that keeping the river clean is a relentless effort and that people should help by refraining from littering.

"The river cleanup is never done," said PM Lee Hsien Loong yesterday. "Singaporeans still must learn not to drop litter and trash on the ground, which washes into drains and the river, and has to be caught with booms along the way."

He was speaking at a 60th anniversary event of Malay daily Berita Harian. The newspaper's celebration includes a five-day exhibition by the Singapore River, honouring pioneers' efforts in the cleanup, which started 40 years ago.

The amount of litter removed from the 3.2km-long Singapore River has barely budged in the past five years, said PUB. Its contractors, using vessels such as flotsam removal craft, retrieve an estimated 200kg to 400kg of litter a day from the river, between Kim Seng Road Bridge and the Esplanade Bridge.

"The amount of litter has not significantly changed from five years ago," the national water agency told The Straits Times in response to queries. Besides leaves and twigs, litter collected includes plastic bags and plastic bottles.

It added that litter in the vicinity of the Singapore River - which includes spots such as Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay - can be washed into the drains by rain and find its way into the river.

The National Environment Agency, which takes care of the rest of the river upstream of Kim Seng Road Bridge to Alexandra Canal, was unable to respond on the amount of litter it retrieves.

In his speech, PM Lee recalled the state of the Singapore River prior to 1977: "The water was black, notoriously smelly and toxic." A blind telephone operator who worked at his mother's law firm always knew when to get off the bus because he could smell the river when the bus crossed it.

It took much coordination, planning, as well as "determination and political will" to remove the pollution. Over 10 years, Singapore dredged up the polluted riverbed and removed pig farms and other pollutive industries, he said. There was also a need to connect every premise in the catchment to sewers, relocate squatters to Housing Board flats, street hawkers to new hawker centres, and shipyards to Pasir Panjang, he added.

Dr Albert Winsemius, the chief economic adviser back then, even had a bet with the river cleanup team, believing that the river would not sustain life, recalled PM Lee.

"He recommended that we turn the Singapore River into a sewage system by covering it up," he said.

Innovation and traditional strengths key to Singapore's role in China's Belt and Road Initiative: Heng Swee Keat

China's innovation buzz creating more opportunities, says Heng
Reading the pulse of tech scene, he says the unique strengths of Singapore will come in handy
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2017

There is a palpable buzz in the innovation scene in China, and opportunities are growing for Singaporeans to learn from and collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Singapore also has unique strengths, such as in legal and finance, that it should capitalise on to get a slice of the opportunities created by China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Mr Heng told reporters at the close of his five-day trip to Suzhou and Beijing.

"I must say that it is a place that is full of buzz and full of young entrepreneurs as well as older ones who are working very well to think about what is the next stage of growth, what they can contribute and how they can better use technology to improve lives," he said. "I hope that we too can make a contribution in that area."

Reading the pulse of China's tech scene was a key goal of the trip for Mr Heng, who is the first minister from Singapore to visit China after last month's key party congress that put in place the country's top leadership for the next five years.

Among the places he visited were the Tsinghua University Science Park, where he saw the university's built-in ecosystem for turning ideas into commercial products, and Didi Chuxing's office, where he was briefed on how the ride-hailing giant uses big data and analytics with local governments to improve traffic flows.

He also officiated at the finals of a tech summit where nine start-ups, including three from Singapore, pitched their ideas to investors.

China's push for greater innovation also comes through various levels of its government, said Mr Heng, who met senior officials such as his counterpart Xiao Jie and Jiangsu party secretary Lou Qinjian during his trip.

"An area they have given a lot of thought to is the promotion of innovation - this is a topic that came across very strongly in all my meetings, both at the provincial level, as well as at the central government level," he said.

With more Chinese companies today looking at going global, a network of deep linkages with innovation hubs across the world is necessary to encourage more of them to use Singapore as a base for their internationalisation efforts.

To this end, the Global Innovation Alliance, which was launched in Beijing last Friday, will give Singapore entrepreneurs a chance to understand the Chinese market and build relationships, while serving as a sort of satellite campus for students to be exposed to China and "understand the buzz" happening here.

Mr Heng also said more Singaporeans need to be encouraged to go abroad "because the more they understand what is happening around our region and the global economy, the better prepared they will be to take on important roles ahead".

"Singaporeans - with our emphasis on bilingual education, with our emphasis on understanding a broad range of areas, a broad range of subjects - are actually very well placed to do this."

Singapore's traditional strengths also mean it can be a role player in the BRI to build infrastructure across much of the region, he added.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Singapore raising taxes: 3 burning questions on the impending tax hike




Taxing questions: A hike into the future
It has been a week of speculation since the Prime Minister signalled that a tax hike is on the horizon, saying that such a move is inevitable given increased government spending. But not all are convinced. Insight examines the issues.
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 26 Nov 2017

You would think it hard to find fault with cuddly pandas.

But the Singapore Zoo's Kai Kai and Jia Jia have become the target of some vitriol, ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Sunday that taxes are set to rise as government spending grows.

The bears have been labelled a "waste of taxpayers' money" by some discussing the impending hike online - though erroneously, as taxpayers' funds were not used to bring them in from China. The pandas were sponsored by real estate company CapitaLand.

That Kai Kai and Jia Jia have become collateral damage in the debate on the tax hike speaks of how hairy the issue is.

The Government argues that a tax hike is a necessary move. Investments in infrastructure and social spending are costly, and the bill has to be footed somehow, said PM Lee at the People's Action Party convention. So raising taxes "is not a matter of whether, but a matter of when".

Already, government spending more than doubled between 2007 and last year, from $33 billion to $71 billion, and looks set to grow due to infrastructure needs, and also because the country takes care of both an ageing and aged populace.

But questions remain: Is the Government spending taxpayers' monies wisely? Must taxes be raised to foot the bill? And just how will this hike eventually happen?

Sembawang Hot Spring to be developed into community park with floral walk and cafe by 2019

NParks will develop area into Sembawang Hot Spring Park, with various amenities
By Samantha Boh, The Sunday Times, 26 Nov 2017

After years of having ideas for it bounced around, and the threat of closure to facilitate the expansion of a military airbase, Sembawang Hot Spring will finally be spruced up.

The country's only natural hot spring on the mainland will soon be developed into the Sembawang Hot Spring Park. It will be 10 times its current size, with a cafe, toilets and a floral walk.

Construction will start early next year and works are expected to be completed by 2019, the National Parks Board (NParks) said yesterday. It added that it will look at how visitors can still access the spring water during construction.

When completed, visitors will be greeted by a walkway decked in golden trumpet and oleander flowers, befitting the park's kampung setting. Shrubs and climbers will surround the cafe to further integrate it with the surrounding greenery, and fruit trees like chiku and rambutan will be planted in the vicinity.

In place of the snaking central pipes and taps, from which the spring water runs, there will be a cascading pool which will help to cool down the water.

This will allow people to dip their legs directly into the pool. There are currently three access points to the spring water, which can reach nearly 70 deg C at the site where the cascading pool will be built.

Once completed, the pool will be equipped with a temperature meter and a naturalised stream will channel the used water from the pool into a drainage system. Those who want to collect the spring water in pails will be able to do so at a separate water collection point.

Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who is an MP for Sembawang GRC, said at the unveiling of the plans: "We are a concrete jungle... to find a jewel like this in the middle of Singapore is really rare. So we are determined to keep this in the kampung spirit, with the kampung rustic feel."

The NParks is soliciting public feedback on the plans till Dec 10, and will make alterations if need be.

The hot spring currently sits on the grounds of Sembawang Air Base, and is open to the public from 7am to 7pm.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Basic pay for security guards to go up by $300 by 2021, limit on overtime hours

Higher wages, less overtime work ahead for security officers
Basic pay to rise by around $300 between 2019 and 2021; firms won't be allowed to apply for overtime extensions
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2017

Security guards will be paid more while working fewer overtime hours each month in future.

Their basic pay will increase by around $300 between 2019 and 2021.

After that, they will receive an annual basic pay increment of at least 3 per cent, under recommendations accepted by the Government yesterday.

All security guards will also be allowed to put in a maximum of only 72 overtime hours a month.

The current practice - in which security companies apply for overtime exemptions so that their employees can work past this limit - will be discontinued from 2021.

The higher basic pay and subsequent annual increments are meant to offset the cap on overtime hours.

Security agencies must adopt the recommendations from Jan 1, 2019.

The Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) yesterday unveiled details of its proposals, which were made to draw younger Singaporeans to a sector facing growing demand, with more buildings and infrastructure being constructed amid the rising threat of terrorism.

STC chairman Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said security guards surveyed often cite excessive working hours as a reason for leaving the industry.

"To attract young people or make it practical for older people to join the industry, reducing overtime is something that must be done," he said, adding that guards also need enough rest to do their job well.

The changes will benefit more than 34,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents working as security guards.

They follow a review of the progressive wage model in the security industry - a wage ladder that aims to raise the salaries of low-wage workers through skills upgrading and improvements in productivity.

It is compulsory for companies licensed in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors to adopt the wage model. This specifies a starting wage of at least $1,100 a month for security guards, with salaries starting from $1,300 and more for those who are higher-skilled.

Their pay has risen since 2014, when the wage model was introduced, said the STC. It became mandatory in September last year.

Between 2014 and last year, the median basic wage of full-time security guards grew by 23 per cent per year. It was $1,300 in June last year.

With the changes, their basic monthly wages will go up by $75 in 2019 and 2020, followed by a $150 raise in 2021.

Those in senior ranks will see a total increase of $285 in monthly pay: $60 more for the first two years, followed by a $165 raise in 2021.

Casino levies paid by Singaporeans and PRs at their lowest level since opening of two casinos in 2010: Tote Board Annual Report 2016/17

Singaporeans, permanent residents paid $134 million in fees in last financial year, down 21% from 2012/2013
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2017

Casino levies paid by Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) here are at their lowest level since the casinos at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands were opened in 2010.

The Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) collected $134 million in casino entry levies in its last financial year, which ended in March this year - down 21 per cent from the $170 million collected in the 2012/2013 financial year (FY).

The sums collected for the past five financial years were listed in the Tote Board's latest annual report, which was released yesterday.

Singaporeans and PRs have to pay a $100 daily levy or $2,000 annual levy to enter a casino here.

Economist Song Seng Wun said: "The shine of the casinos and its novelty have worn off."

Also out of favour with punters: Horse racing, where turnover fell from $1.6 billion in FY2012/2013 to $1.2 billion in FY2016/2017.

But the lure of 4D, Toto and soccer betting is growing steadily, with $7.2 billion spent on lotteries and sports betting in the last financial year, 15 per cent more than the $6.2 billion in FY2012/2013.

Counsellors who work with gambling addicts said fewer Singaporeans and PRs are going to the casinos here as they are put off by the need to pay an entry levy, and opting for alternatives instead: Illegal online casinos where gamblers can bet on credit, unlike in the casinos here, where they have to fork out cash upfront to bet.

Besides, those who have lost all their money are likely to have barred themselves or have been banned from the casinos here by their families, said Pastor Billy Lee, executive director of Blessed Grace Social Services, which runs a support group for gambling addicts.

The website of the National Council on Problem Gambling shows that as of Sept 30 this year, more than 25,000 Singaporeans or PRs have banned themselves from the casinos, or their families have applied for an exclusion order to ban them from entering.

And almost 47,000 are automatically excluded as they are undischarged bankrupts or are receiving government financial aid, among other reasons.

It was previously reported that Singaporeans and PRs made an average of 17,000 visits a day in 2012, down from 20,000 visits in 2010 when the casinos first opened.

This is one of the few pieces of publicly available information on the number of local visitors, and is based on data contained in the 2013 Casino Regulatory Authority of Singapore annual report.

The sums wagered on lotteries and sports, such as soccer and motor racing, continue to climb. This has been rising each year in the Tote Board's past five financial years.

Counsellors said that the sums wagered at the legal outlets are but a fraction of the sums spent on illegal gambling. Many of the gambling addicts they see place illegal bets online.