Thursday, 19 October 2017

Counter-terrorism exercise at Changi Airport Terminal 3: Airport a high-profile target for terrorists, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Crucial for security forces to be well prepared; agencies urged to cooperate closely and practise crisis response
By Danson Cheong and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Changi Airport is a "high-profile target" for terrorists, and it is crucial that security forces here are prepared to react to an attack there, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He added that they would have to do so in a way that will neutralise the attackers decisively, while minimising casualties. He made the remarks after observing a counter-terrorism drill at the airport, held as part of ongoing efforts to hone the multi-agency response to terror threats.

The hour-long exercise, dubbed Northstar and in its 10th edition, involved a simulated attack with gunmen shooting people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomb explosion in Terminal 3.

Speaking to reporters, PM Lee said: "If you look around the world, more than one airport has had a terrorist attack... It is completely plausible that something like this would happen in Singapore.

"If it does happen, we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where."

PM Lee urged the various agencies to cooperate closely and have ample practice.

Yesterday's exercise involved more than 650 people from the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and also ministries and agencies including Changi Airport Group, SMRT and the Health Ministry.

The simulated attack on what was supposed to be a busy Saturday afternoon started with two gunmen firing at people as they alighted from a train at Changi Airport MRT station.

Within moments, police officers from the Public Transport Security Command responded, killing one gunman. The other fled to the T3 departure hall. This initial strike was followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest in the departure hall, before three other gunmen stormed the terminal.

Crack troops from the Airport Strike Force and Rapid Deployment Troops from the Special Operations Command swooped in. The gunmen were later taken down inside the transit area of T3, where combat engineers from the SAF's chemical, biological, radiological and explosives defence group later disarmed an improvised explosive device.

School fees for foreigners, PRs to increase from 2018

School fees going up for foreigners and PRs
Hike for next 3 years applies to local primary, secondary schools, and pre-university level
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Foreigners and Singapore permanent residents (PR) will have to pay more over the next three years to enrol their children in local schools.

Monthly fees for PRs attending a primary school will increase from the current $130 to $155 next year, $180 in 2019, and $205 in 2020.

For international students, monthly fees will increase by $50 each year, from $600 now to $750 in 2020.

Secondary school fees for PRs will nearly double from the current monthly fee of $200 to $380 in 2020, with an annual increase of $60 in monthly fees.

The revision in fees - which applies to primary and secondary schools, and the pre-university level - will take effect from January each year. This will be the third consecutive year that school fees have gone up for non-Singaporeans.

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said yesterday that it conducts regular reviews of school fees and makes adjustments when necessary. "The fee increase sharpens the differentiation between Singapore citizens, PRs and foreigners, to reflect the privileges of citizenship," said the spokesman.

"Having said that, even with the increase in school fees, our fees for international students remain competitive compared to international and private schools."

From 2018 to 2020, school fees will increase by $25 to $60 a month for PRs, and by $25 to $150 a month for international students.

MOE said it released the fee schedule for the next three years "to provide greater certainty and enable parents to plan for the financing of their children's studies in MOE schools".

The fees for Singapore citizens remain unchanged. Primary school education is free for Singaporeans, while those in secondary schools and at the pre-university level pay monthly fees of $5 and $6 respectively.

Affected parents said they were thankful that their children even have places in local schools.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

MRT tunnel flooding: SMRT maintenance team failed us, says Khaw Boon Wan

North-South Line flooding was preventable: Khaw Boon Wan
He says SMRT team in charge of maintaining anti-flood system at Bishan failed commuters
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2017

An MRT tunnel flooding incident which left a section of the North-South Line (NSL) inoperable for 20 hours earlier this month was "preventable", and the SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood measures "has failed us".

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said this yesterday during a press conference together with officials from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and train operator SMRT, which runs the NSL.

"Our findings are that the anti-flooding system there had been poorly maintained... The SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood system at Bishan has failed us," he said, adding that the incident "should not have happened" and "we are all sorry that it did".

Apologising to commuters, SMRT and SMRT Trains chairman Seah Moon Ming took a bow, as SMRT group chief executive Desmond Kuek and SMRT Trains CEO Lee Ling Wee looked on.

Mr Seah said the incident will have an impact on the bonuses of the SMRT maintenance team. Mr Kuek said SMRT was taking full responsibility and looking into tackling remaining "deep-seated cultural issues" within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture.

"Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so," said Mr Kuek.

Investigations after the Oct 7 incident found that a storm water pit in the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell MRT stations - designed to collect and pump out rainwater - was likely close to full before the recent flooding incident.

It was also found that due to the maintenance lapse, sludge and debris had accumulated in the lower compartment of the water pit, which could have affected the operational capabilities of pumps and float switches. They were to be inspected and maintained last month, but this was postponed as the maintenance team claimed it could not get a slot for track access during engineering hours.

The failure of the float switches resulted in water flooding the tunnel between Bishan station and the underground Braddell station. The water had to be manually pumped out through the night, with help from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and PUB.

NSL services in both directions, between Ang Mo Kio and Newton MRT stations, were down from 5.30pm on Oct 7, and resumed only at 1.36pm the next day. A quarter of a million commuters were affected.

Mr Lee said SMRT will conduct checks on water pumps and flood sensors more rigorously - on a monthly basis instead of every quarter currently. The flood-prevention devices that failed were last inspected in June.

SMRT will also work with LTA to improve the redundancy of flood prevention measures, including additional radar sensors to activate pumps. On top of alerts sent to the operations control centre, SMS messages will also be sent to SMRT staff when water in the storm pit reaches a certain level.

The pump control panel will also be re-located so that track access is not required to manually activate the water pumps, said Mr Lee. LTA added that it will send the failed float switches for further testing.

Mr Khaw said that MRT tunnels are designed to handle Singapore's weather and cope with very extreme storms. "(The) bottom line is that MRT tunnels should not be flooded. Full stop," he said.

MP Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said he hopes SMRT can strengthen its system of "checks and balances". "It cannot be that just because one department or a group of people didn't check the water pump, the whole system fails," Mr Sitoh said.

Mr Seah said SMRT has added more staff to its inspectorate teams, which check all work done and reports independently to an audit and risk management committee.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Kampung Admiralty stirs to life as residents move in

Singapore's first 'retirement kampung' is self-contained with many practical features
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2017

Every time a new resident moves into Kampung Admiralty, Mr Heng Gee Choo would rush out to greet them.

The 64-year-old, who is one of the first to move in to his studio apartment at Singapore's first "retirement kampung", said: "This is actually better than a kampung. The people who live here are our age, and have more time on their hands, and it's easier to communicate with them. When new neighbours move in, I quickly go over to say hello. We hope to organise more events such as gatherings and having tea together."

Located next to the Admiralty MRT station, Kampung Admiralty is self-contained. The two HDB blocks house the two-level Admiralty Medical Centre - managed by the Alexandra Health System - a hawker centre, rooftop vegetable and community gardens, and an active-ageing hub. The hub is co-located with a childcare centre and both will be ready in February.

"We've already found a place for our granddaughter at the childcare centre," said Mr Heng.

The couple look after their granddaughter on weekdays while her parents are at work.

As of this month, about 20 households have moved in, out of 30 which have received their keys. All of the 104 flats at Kampung Admiralty were snapped up after they were first offered in the July 2014 Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise.

For the past two weeks, Mr Heng and his wife have busied themselves with furnishing their new home, caring for their 20-month-old granddaughter, and getting to know their neighbours.

Mr Heng, the semi-retired owner of a renovation company, said he and his wife decided to downsize from a four-room flat in Marsiling for the sake of convenience and practicality. The couple can also visit the active-ageing hub which will offer programmes for well and healthy seniors. It will also offer daycare and rehabilitation services for those with greater needs, and help homebound elderly residents at their homes.

People from the active-ageing hub can help seniors with groceries, household chores or personal hygiene if necessary. Residents can also activate an emergency alert system in their studio apartments to call them for help.

The complex is the first of 10 similar Housing Board build-to-order projects with childcare and elderly centres housed in the same area.

Monday, 16 October 2017

10 CPF hacks to grow your nest egg

By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

It is never too early to start preparing for retirement - think of it as a lifelong journey, one that in Singapore is inevitably linked to our Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Whether you're starting work, about to buy a home, raising a family or nearing retirement, small steps like CPF transfers and cash top-ups can help build up your nest egg and secure a desired future lifestyle.

The CPF Board has been organising the CPF Retirement Planning Roadshow series in the past few years to raise awareness on how the system helps retirement planning.

Last year, more than 80,000 CPF members visited the five roadshows held islandwide.

The first one this year kicked off in August at the Toa Payoh HDB Hub and featured a wide range of interactive exhibits, including an augmented reality experience booth.

Not to be left out, young CPF members are encouraged to try out a mobile game app called Ready, Get Set, Grow. The app encourages them to take action today via CPF-related messages based on the three basic needs of retirement - housing, healthcare and income.

The Sunday Times highlights 10 hacks to "game" the CPF system.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Help available for those living on the streets: Ministry of Social and Family Development

We thank Mr V. Balu for his suggestions and concern for those in need (Set up task force to help those living on streets; Oct 11).

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) looks into each report of persons sleeping in public.

The MSF also conducts patrols and joint efforts with other agencies to engage those who are sleeping in public.

Our priority is to ascertain and address their immediate needs, in particular their health and safety.

Those with no family support and housing are offered shelter.

Individuals who need long-term support are cared for in welfare homes.

There are often multiple and complex issues that may result in a person sleeping in public.

For instance, some may have homes but are unable to return home due to a conflict with family members or tenants.

We work closely with social service, community and government agencies to extend help and support to these individuals by providing financial assistance, employment assistance, counselling to address marital and family issues, or referrals to other services.

There are also instances where individuals decline assistance, despite attempts by MSF officers, social workers and community members to engage them to offer the necessary support.

Members of the public can play a role too. If they see someone in need, they can approach him, understand his situation, and call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000 or advise him to approach the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre if he requires help.

Kong Kum Peck (Ms)
ComCare and Social Support Division
Social Policy and Services Group
Ministry of Social and Family Development
ST Forum, 14 Oct 2017

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Esplanade turns 15

#mydurian turns 15
At birth, it was feared that Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay might be a white elephant. Instead, it has become a hub for the arts and the community.
By Benson Puah, Published The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2017

In 2009, amid a financial crisis and rising religious intolerance, we at Singapore's national performing arts centre decided to do something to bring calm and reflection. We created a sacred music festival. We wanted to take sacred music out of the cloisters of religious communities, put it on a secular platform and enable people of different faiths to be uplifted by great and stirring music.

And the people came.

Since then, for one weekend every April, the festival A Tapestry of Sacred Music fills the centre with spiritual sounds. These range from the rousing vocal improvisations of South Asian qawwali (Sufi devotional music) singers to the tranquil chants of Tibetan Buddhist monks.

This festival is one of many in Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay's year-round calendar. It is a demonstration of our vision to be an arts centre for all, as we believe the arts can break down the walls that divide us.

Fifteen years ago, when the Esplanade opened on Oct 12, sceptics wondered if the arts centre would become a "white elephant". At that time, the arts were seen as an exclusive activity for those in the know. The last thing we wanted was to be a glittering but empty shell, underutilised and irrelevant. We wanted to be a living arts centre, alive with people who feel at home here.

To that end, we activated our public spaces to ensure that at any time, a person at the Esplanade will encounter the arts through daily free performances and art installations. For 15 years, we worked hard to develop relationships with the different communities, while raising the capabilities of the arts industry in Singapore to put on shows of the highest quality.

To date, more than 37,000 performances have taken place at the Esplanade, drawing an audience of 26 million patrons and 92 million visitors. And we continue each year to attract some two million attendances.

In 2011, famed Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min - whose Cloud Gate Dance Theatre has performed several times here - would remark in Lianhe Zaobao that Esplanade audiences are "not only there to watch performances" but to hang out with family and friends over food, beer and ice cream and that their behaviour, "be it before or after performances, always seems natural and full of joy".

He added: "A performing arts centre such as Esplanade is very rare elsewhere in the world. It represents an 'ecosystem' where arts & culture and life can coexist, and it's teeming with life."

Harvey Weinstein and the Silence of the Men

The hush in Hollywood about the mega producer only reinforces a culture that keeps women from speaking up.
By Lena Dunham, Published The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2017

I went to Hollywood when I was 23. I had made a low-budget film, won an award at a prestigious festival, scored an agent and made a TV deal all within six months. It was a fairy tale most people will never experience, and I knew, as well as a 23-year-old can know anything, that I was getting a pretty great deal. I bounced from meeting to meeting with the joy of Cinderella at the ball.

These meetings, almost always with men, were rife with acts of everyday sexism - the presumption that I must want to make small "intimate" movies, a suggestion that I write a comedy focused on "the way women's periods sync up and they go crazy for a week", the insistence that I'd be "really funny paired with a hot girl".

There were dinners that went on too long, work lunches that turned into confessions about the broken state of the film executive's marriage and the consistent insistence that I must, as my work suggests, be "up for anything in bed".

I took it in stride, unloading the day's injustices on the couch of my new friend (and now my work partner), Jenni Konner. She told me maddening stories of her own ascent and we plotted a new world for ourselves. We imagined a set run by women, men who wouldn't dream of overstepping or underpaying, a company where girls stretched as far as the eye could see, the chance to write scripts that changed people's perceptions of feminine identity.

We would tell any man who thought that was an invitation for sex to go eat a shoe. The men we have worked with - like Judd Apatow, Hollywood's least sleazy guy - have showed us utter respect. The only terrifying producer rage I ever experienced was from a gay man who tried to take back a purse he had bought me. We got to do all that we had dreamed of and more.

This past week, reports that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed women for years came to light, making it crystal clear that not every woman in Hollywood has had the chance to walk our path.

Abuse, threats and coercion have been the norm for so many women trying to do business or make art. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he's certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild. His behaviour, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Singapore women's CPF savings go up, narrowing gender gap

It is a reassuring sign that women can better meet their retirement needs, say experts
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Singapore women's nest egg for retirement is growing at a faster pace than men's, Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board figures show.

Experts attribute it to a shift towards women holding better-paying jobs and working longer these days, and the easing of rules to encourage more husbands to top up their wives' CPF savings.

Over the past 10 years, women's average balance rose by 8.3 per cent a year against 7.7 per cent a year for men. This refers to savings in their Ordinary, Special, Retirement and Medisave accounts.

As a result, the gap in average CPF balances between women and men narrowed from 16 per cent in 2006 to 11 per cent last year - a reassuring sign that, increasingly, women can better meet their retirement needs.

The trend could help women enjoy a higher standard of living in their senior years and lower the financial pressure on their children and the national budget, said National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

He believes these children, being less likely to be part of the sandwiched generation that have to take care of both the old and young, would be inclined to have more children themselves.

The rise in women's balances is largely fuelled by job-related factors, such as higher wages and the growing proportion of working women, said NUS economist Chia Ngee Choon.

Sociologist Kang Soon-Hock of the Singapore University of Social Sciences said there are now more initiatives to encourage women to remain in or return to the workforce. Flexible work arrangements, for example, are more widespread.

Ms Mayda Jutahkiti, 43, an account director at Rice Communications, said she rejoined the workforce full time last month after four years as a stay-at-home mum.

"I was also a little worried about my retirement savings, given all the news about the rising cost of living," she added.

Also, more husbands are contributing to the CPF savings of their wives, a move encouraged by a change in the CPF transfer rule.

Last year, the minimum amount members must save before they could transfer excess savings to their spouses was halved.

Malaysian Muslim preacher arrested for sedition after criticising Johor Sultan's decree against Muslim-only launderette

He slammed ruler for barring Muslim-only launderette, called Chinese 'unhygienic'
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 12 Oct 2017

Muslim preacher Zamihan Mat Zin was arrested yesterday for sedition following a religious lecture in which he criticised a sultan - understood to be the Johor ruler - for barring a Muslim-only launderette, and called Chinese people "unhygienic".

National criminal investigation chief Wan Ahmad Najmuddin Mohd told The Straits Times the former officer with the government's Islamic Development Department, or Jakim, will be remanded today.

"He was arrested at 3.50pm, after he was summoned to have his statement recorded," he said.

The arrest comes after the Conference of Rulers issued a statement on Tuesday condemning moves to set up Muslim-only launderettes as divisive and tainting the reputation of Islam.

In a video of a lecture that has gone viral, the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah Organisation president said the Muslim-only launderette controversy was sparked because the sultan commented on it.

"There was a sultan who had said Muslim-friendly launderettes are not allowed in his state. It is not right for the sultan to say such things. These launderettes are meant to show that Muslims prioritise cleanliness," he said. "Chinese usually don't wash after they urinate or defecate. What about menstrual blood on their underwear? Or if they had hugged a dog, or spilled alcohol or food containing pork? If they want to enter a laundry, then just go to a normal one."

In an interview with The Star last month, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar said he could not accept "this nonsense" after news broke of a Muslim-only launderette in Muar. "This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor, and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state. This is not a Taleban state and as the head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature," he said.

The Conference of Rulers - made up of Malaysia's nine Malay rulers and the governors of the four states without royalty - backed Sultan Ibrahim, as well as the Crown Prince of Perlis, who also ordered a similar launderette in the northern state to drop its Muslim-only policy.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Capability Transfer Programme: Foreign trainers to help impart expertise

Companies can tap new MOM scheme to help local workers learn from overseas experts
New govt programme will subsidise cost of bringing them in to train local workers
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2017

Singapore food manufacturers want to learn more about high-pressure processing to extend the shelf life of their products, while a furnishing firm wants to break into the healthcare interior furnishing market.

But such expertise is scarce here, a shortage the Government hopes to address with a new funding scheme.

Called the Capability Transfer Programme, it will subsidise the cost of bringing in trainers from abroad to arm local workers with skills and knowledge of new technology. The scheme will also help fund the salaries of both trainers and trainees.

Companies can get from 30 per cent to as much as 90 per cent of the cost of introducing such training.

More support will be provided to projects by small and medium-sized enterprises and those that benefit industries as a whole rather than a single company, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday when he announced a pilot run of the programme.

This latest move is part of an ongoing national effort to upgrade the skills of the local workforce, strengthen its "Singaporean core'' and enhance how local and foreign workers complement, rather than compete with, one another. Also, in the new world of rapid technological innovations, Singapore has to compete not just on cost, but also in new and better capabilities, Mr Lim said.

"It is simply not possible for any economy, corporation and workforce to try to be self-sufficient in the fast-changing world of technology, innovation and global competition. So, we have to build new capabilities that will be in great demand in the future but are currently lacking or in short supply here."

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Hawkers' Productivity Grant: Kitchen equipment grant, info centre for hawkers launched

Initiatives part of the Government's efforts to sustain the hawker trade and attract more new hawkers
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2017

Potatoes, cucumbers and carrots - none is a match for the $2,000 commercial-grade vegetable cutter from Spain, which can slice up to 300kg of vegetables in an hour.

From yesterday, eligible hawkers might pay only 20 per cent for such kitchen automation equipment, by tapping a government grant announced in March.

The Hawkers' Productivity Grant, administered by the National Environment Agency (NEA), allows stallholders to claim 80 per cent of the unit cost of equipment on a reimbursement basis, up to a total of $5,000 within three years.

As part of the Government's efforts to sustain the hawker trade and attract more new hawkers, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor launched the grant at the opening of a one-stop information and service centre for hawkers yesterday.

Located at the revamped Customer Service Centre at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, the centre provides information on the hawker trade for both aspiring and current hawkers, such as how to tender for a stall, where to take courses on food hygiene, and how to apply for the productivity grant.

Sharing sessions by veteran hawkers and courses related to the trade, such as on how to improve a stall's signboard and menu, are also in the works, said Dr Khor.

On some of the uses of the centre, Dr Khor said: "Apart from training, some hawkers are unaware of resources such as various types of equipment that can help in food preparation and suppliers' contacts for raw ingredients, which would be particularly helpful."

She added that the NEA will conduct briefings at hawker centres to help hawkers understand the types of equipment available to help them reduce their workload, especially for repetitive tasks such as chopping vegetables.

Monday, 9 October 2017

60 years of the Singapore citizenship: From hawkers to millionaires, they all queued up

How did the landmark 1957 citizenship law come about? What has changed in the 60 years since, and what were the consequences in terms of building a Singaporean identity? Insight takes a look.
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Sunday Times, 8 Oct 2017

"You go through one door, come out another door, and you are a Singapore citizen." So read an eye-catching quote by then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock in a Straits Times report on Oct 15, 1957.

At a meeting with Chinese teachers, he sought to stress that an upcoming government campaign to register citizens - dubbed Operation Franchise - would be hassle-free.

The message was received.

Over a three-month window from November 1957 to January 1958, hundreds of thousands turned up to queue at registration points like the Singapore Citizenship Registry in Fort Canning Road, community centres and clan associations.

"Labourers, hawkers and millionaires queued up holding their application forms," said a news report.

In some cases, people waited more than an hour for their turn - but that did little to quell their eagerness, since some had waited decades for this moment.

The Chinese formed the bulk of those queueing, but there were also Indian and Malay registrants, and those of other races.

Millionaire banker Lien Ying Chow, among the first to submit papers, hailed the moment as important for overseas-born residents like himself who had worked hard to build a new life in Singapore.

India-born legislative assemblyman M.P.D. Nair registered, calling on others to follow, so that "they may help in shaping the destiny of our country".

By the end of Operation Franchise, more than 320,000 mostly foreign-born residents in Singapore had "come out another door" as Singapore citizens. A very big majority of those eligible signed up.

When added to a group of mainly local-born residents who were automatically considered citizens, the final tally was over 600,000 in total - the first people in history to be called Singapore citizens.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the enactment of the Singapore Citizenship Ordinance of 1957, the law that gave birth, unexpectedly, to a new national identity.

What led to the passing of this ordinance? What was its significance? How did it shape the course of later events? And what future scenarios are possible for the Singapore citizenship?

Insight speaks to historians and experts to shed light on the subject.

Singapore's first dementia-friendly coffee shop in Bishan

Stallholders trained as 'dementia friends' to recognise and help people with the condition
By Lin Yangchen, The Sunday Times, 8 Oct 2017

Since Friday, a bustling coffee shop in the heart of Bishan has displayed large decals showing life-sized photographs of delicious hawker food on every table big and small.

And if you sit down and read the accompanying text in English and Chinese, it tells you that someone who has dementia might not be able to see coin denominations correctly; think they have been served the wrong food; or ask for the wrong condiments, such as ketchup for half-boiled eggs.

Fifteen stallholders at Kim San Leng Food Centre at Block 511, Bishan Street 13, have also been trained as "dementia friends" to recognise and help possible dementia sufferers in what is being billed as Singapore's first dementia-friendly coffee shop.

They are also given a checklist to display in their stalls. It explains what to look out for, and contains advice to be polite and to let suspected dementia sufferers take their time instead of growing impatient.

This is the work of the Forget Us Not (FUN) initiative run by local philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation.

Mr Hoon Thing Leong, group chief executive of Kim San Leng and chairman of the Bishan Merchants' Association, said he immediately agreed to the proposal because his Bishan coffee shop has high footfall and the scheme would benefit many elderly people.

MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong said the coffee shop is a good place to raise awareness as the tenants are long-term operators who know regular patrons and can alert family members if they notice any behaviour changes.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace: Big push to equip workers with basic digital skills

Largest national training programme in a decade to get 100,000 trained over 3 years
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2017

A major initiative to ensure that Singaporeans keep pace with the digital economy, at work and in everyday life, was launched yesterday.

Over the next three years, the SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace - the largest national training programme in a decade - aims to get 100,000 people equipped with basic digital skills that suit them, from the use of e-payments and e-commerce platforms, to data analytics and automation.

This will be done through two-day customised courses, developed with tech giants IBM, Lazada, Microsoft and Samsung. Courses cost $50 each, which can be paid using the $500 SkillsFuture credits given to all Singaporeans aged 25 and above.

SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) said the aim is to instil digital confidence and a positive attitude towards digital disruptions - a point which Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung stressed yesterday when launching the initiative. "Every workplace that we go to - regardless of industry - we have to know IT, we have to know robotics, digital technology. We don't have to be experts, we don't all have to be coders but we must know that these are our friends," he said.

He recalled the sense of unease among certain segments of the population when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at this year's National Day Rally, highlighted the need to adopt cashless payments as key to Singapore's vision of becoming a Smart Nation. "The recent feedback we got when e-payment came on stream was a sign of this (fear)," said Mr Ong. "There are people who are not familiar with technology and they are afraid, concerned."

He described the digital workplace initiative as a "friendly way" to overcome this. He hopes that "more and more workers can be familiarised with digital technologies and that will help Singapore in our economic restructuring".

The courses, which SSG chief executive Ng Cher Pong said have already drawn strong interest from the public and small and medium-sized enterprises, will introduce participants to how technology can uplift jobs and personal lives.

Workplace role model: The chef who gave up his Michelin stars

By Stefan Stern, Published The Straits Times, 6 Oct 2017

Maybe life is too short to stuff a mushroom after all. That is one conclusion to draw from the news that three-star Michelin chef Sebastien Bras has decided to renounce the accolade for a simpler existence in the kitchen instead.

"I want to give a new meaning to my life… and redefine what is essential," he said last month in a Facebook video message. He still wants to cook, it seems, just not so much of the fancy stuff and not under constant scrutiny.

How should you react to achieving a lifetime's ambition? The restless and the neurotic would press on, set new goals, imagining new threats or rivals to dispatch.

Alexander the Great was said to have wept when he saw there were no new lands to conquer. But having reached the top, Bras has decided it is time to do something else, to choose a calmer life. Once you have reached a peak, it is hard to avoid a sense of slipping downhill. But keeping up a three-star culinary performance does not seem to Bras to be worth the candle, the linen or the silverware.

Motivation and satisfaction in doing a job well can be shattered if you feel disrespected, menaced or taken for granted. Indeed, that elusive third star sometimes seems to have as much to do with staffing levels and degrees of luxury as it does with the cooking. It costs money to run a place like that. If clients don't spend an average of £100 (S$180) a head, a three-star establishment would probably struggle to break even.

The real significance of Bras' decision is what it tells us about motivation and meaningful achievement at work. What he likes is cooking, not the theatre or outward frippery of the three-star venue. Nor does he want to be measured by the anonymous Michelin inspectors who might descend at any moment. He wants to do work that he feels good about, that matters to him. He wants to satisfy customers, not hit arbitrary targets or conform to other people's ideas of quality. His motivation comes from within. He cannot be motivated or "incentivised" by other people. It is all down to him.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Bukit Batok water pipe leaks caused by corrosion, says PUB

Investigations are ongoing; works start this week to replace 170m of pipeline in St 21 area
By Lin Yangchen and Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2017

National water agency PUB is checking all 100km of water pipes in Bukit Batok after initial observations found that corrosion caused two water pipes in the estate to burst in the span of less than a week.

Investigations into the incidents are ongoing, including what caused the pipes to corrode, added PUB yesterday, even as it looks to speed up a project to renew old water pipes islandwide.

On Sept 26, and then on Sunday, pipes had burst in Bukit Batok West and Bukit Batok East, respectively. Water spouts rose several storeys and caused localised flooding.

Mr Michael Toh, director of PUB's Water Supply (Network) Department, told reporters during a site visit to Bukit Batok that both pipes were laid in the 1980s, when Bukit Batok New Town was being developed.

The pipe that burst in Bukit Batok West was a 700mm-diameter high-pressure steel pipe and supplied water to the whole Bukit Batok estate.

The one in Bukit Batok East was a smaller 150mm ductile iron distribution pipe.

Starting later this week, PUB will replace 170m of pipeline within the Bukit Batok Street 21 area, which includes Blocks 222 and 223, where the most recent incident occurred. The works are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

PUB will also examine the condition of the old pipes that will be dug out in Street 21 before deciding whether to step up the frequency of inspections elsewhere in the estate.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Singapore must stand united against terror threat: Members of Parliament

Multiracialism, strengthening bonds among communities key to prevent distrust, they say
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

Parliament yesterday roundly vowed to keep Singapore united against the threat of terrorism, at a time when attacks have sowed discord in societies around the world.

During a 4 1/2-hour debate, 17 MPs from both sides of the House noted the Muslim community had stepped up to counter extremism, and stressed the importance of all communities standing together.

This has become more crucial as the country faces its highest terror threat in years, Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) noted. "That multiracialism can be discussed so openly by members of many different races here in Singapore's Parliament is itself a strength not many Parliaments around the world possess," he said.

Mr de Souza was part of a multiracial slate of four People's Action Party (PAP) MPs who filed a motion on staying united against terror by reaffirming multiracialism and social cohesion.

MPs who spoke - four from the Workers' Party - agreed not to point fingers at any race or religion but to condemn terror attacks in a single voice, he noted. "That agreement is not something to be belittled, especially when we see how so many countries around the world choose the fractious route of finger-pointing and ostracising," he said. "So this bipartisan support for this motion is good for Singapore and good for a united stand against terrorism."

MPs had come armed with suggestions on what more Singaporeans could do to prepare for an attack and nurture trust among the different communities, along with anecdotes illustrating how multiracialism has featured in their own lives.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Las Vegas shooting kills at least 59 in deadliest ever gun attack in modern United States history

Polarised politics ensures little will change on gun policy
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 4 Oct 2017

As the scale of Sunday night's massacre at a concert in Las Vegas became apparent, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, tweeted: "Tragedies like Las Vegas have happened too many times. We need to have the conversation about how to stop gun violence. We need it NOW."

But America has been having the conversation for years. It peaks at every mass shooting that shocks a nation increasingly dulled by 24-hour cable news.

Sunday's mass killing may stall a pending Bill to loosen restrictions on the purchase of gun silencers, and another to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their guns with them to another state. But many analysts say that may be as far as it goes.

The massacre is unlikely to make any decisive difference to a gun debate trapped in political and ideological gridlock.

"We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by," United States President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday morning as he left for a visit to hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico.

Earlier on Monday, asked about gun legislation and possible political outcomes, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said it would be "premature" to discuss gun restrictions. "Today is a day for consoling survivors," she said.

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Josh Horwitz told The Straits Times: "We have 85 people killed every day from gun violence. Congress somehow manages to do nothing. But when we learn more about this, there will be an effort. And if Congress somehow manages not to do anything important, things can happen in the states, where leaders are much less beholden to the National Rifle Association. We have to try, we have to hope."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its five million active members helped elect Mr Trump. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre pledged that his organisation would cover Mr Trump's back for the next eight years. Mr LaPierre's simplistic position is: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun."

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Of LRT disruptions and political pressure

By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 2 Oct 2017

Eyebrows were raised last month when Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that "political pressure" had prompted the building of the Bukit Panjang LRT (BPLRT) line, which was completed in 1999.

He also described the BPLRT as an "afterthought" - a line constructed in a built-up town, as opposed to one planned from the town's inception.

His comments were part of an explanation as to why the BPLRT faces more frequent disruptions. His broad point: It was conceived in less-than-ideal circumstances.

A brief backgrounder: When the Bukit line - or the branch line from Jurong East to Choa Chu Kang that was later merged into the North-South MRT line - was built in the 1980s, Bukit Panjang happened to fall some distance from it. Residents had to go to the neighbouring Choa Chu Kang to board an MRT train.

Those from Bukit Panjang and other areas without MRT stations could feel the daily inconvenience, and they asked for better links to MRT lines. The Government studied the use of LRT lines to do this.

"Political pressure" came from residents asking questions of the Government, and MPs reflecting the sentiments behind closed doors with ministers or in Parliament.

One Bukit Panjang resident told The Straits Times before the BPLRT was built: "I hardly ride on the MRT as the bus (to Choa Chu Kang station) can be a 20-minute wait." Another resident said: "The internal (feeder) bus service is quite bad and, although the bus into town is fast, it's always very crowded."

Then Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan, who oversaw transport, told Parliament in 1994 that "many MPs and members of the public have suggested introducing light rail systems as an additional form of public transport". The LRT issue was also raised in 1995 at a dialogue with residents when Acting Environment Minister Teo Chee Hean visited Bukit Panjang for a ministerial walkabout.

The Government thus began planning for two LRT lines - in Bukit Panjang and Buona Vista. In 1996, it announced that BPLRT would go ahead, but Buona Vista would not, because it was not financially viable - there were not enough riders.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Singapore soldiers on the front line in the fight against ISIS

Flying flag high amid the heat and danger
They miss local food, and once a week, they sing the National Anthem. Toh Yong Chuan stayed three days with members of Singapore's medical team supporting the coalition in the fight against ISIS.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 1 Oct 2017

Singaporean Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad created a stir online last Sunday when he featured in the latest recruitment video for terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

When news of the video broke, I was in the United States Air Force (USAF) airbase in Kuwait waiting to board a C-130 transport plane that would take me to Iraq.

I was travelling to meet a little-known group of Singaporeans who, like Shahdan, had gone to Iraq. But unlike the militant who had gone to create violence, the men whom I was meeting were there to stop it. They are Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers who are members of the multinational coalition set up to defeat ISIS.

They have been deployed there since June as part of the medical team, working alongside the Australian Defence Force and New Zealand Defence Force to provide medical support to coalition efforts.

To get to the coalition base in Iraq, I had to take a commercial flight to Kuwait City through Dubai, before hopping onto the USAF plane.

My travelling companion was a Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) media relations officer.

"Getting you into Iraq is unprecedented," she said, referring to MINDEF making an exception to its media restriction policy and allowing The Sunday Times to visit troops on the ground there.

About a dozen US Army soldiers were also in the plane, as was cargo bound for Iraq. The Americans mostly kept to themselves.

The C-130 cargo plane was unlike passenger planes. Its soldier passengers sat in the cargo hold - about the size of a four-room HDB flat - along the sides of the plane, shoulder to shoulder, on webbing seats.

The windows consisted of a few portholes along the fuselage. The four propellers were so noisy that earplugs were given out by the air crew and had to be worn throughout the flight. It was impossible to talk above the noise.


The last leg of the flight was dramatic.

As the plane prepared to make its landing at an airstrip within the base, I had to don a Kevlar helmet and body armour. It dived sharply towards the airstrip and I heard what sounded like crackers being fired from the sides of the plane.

A senior SAF officer travelling with us explained: "Those are chaffs. It is standard operating procedure for pilots to fire them when they land in hostile zones."

I learnt later that chaffs are flares used to counter heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Reserved presidential election was right thing to do: PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee spells out why he pushed for reserved election
He knew it'd be unpopular and cost votes, but sees it as necessary for multiracialism
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has made it plain that he knew the reserved presidential election would be unpopular - and would cost his party votes.

"But I did it because I strongly believe, and still do, that this is the right thing to do," he said, addressing the unhappiness squarely for the first time last week at a closed-door dialogue.

The reason he gave is that despite the progress made in building a multiracial and multi-religious society, Singapore has "not yet arrived at an ideal state of accepting people of a different race".

His candid remarks were made to about 500 grassroots leaders at a People's Association Kopi Talk dialogue last Saturday, and an edited transcript was released by the Prime Minister's Office yesterday.

PM Lee cited recent surveys that show "we are not completely colour-blind". This will influence people's choices, he said, and he is convinced it is harder for a minority - Malay, Indian or Eurasian - to win an open election for president than it is for a Chinese.

To lend weight to his view, he pointed to the 2011 Presidential Election when there were four candidates, all Chinese.

"Where were the Farid Khans and the Salleh Maricans? Why didn't they come?... Because they knew that in an open election - all things being equal - a non-Chinese candidate would have no chance."

He added: "It is a reality."

Businessmen Salleh Marican, 68, and Farid Khan, 61, had applied to contest the recent presidential election reserved for Malays, but they did not qualify and President Halimah Yacob, 63, won in a walkover.

Another reality is racial issues crop up even in day-to-day living.

Sometimes, minorities face discrimination when looking for a job or a house to rent. Recently, a picture on a construction hoarding of a Malay girl wearing a tudung had the word "terrorist" pencilled on it.

"These are the realities we have to manage," he said.

PM Lee said the Chinese, being the majority race, may think Singapore has "arrived" as a multiracial society. They get occasional reminders when they travel abroad and encounter racism, then "you may know what it feels like to be treated as a minority", he said.

For Singapore's young, having known only racial harmony here, it is very easy to believe race does not matter any more. "We have to know our blind spots," he said, adding that the Chinese community, especially, must make a special effort to make the minorities feel welcomed and valued.

However, having multiracial presidents in itself does not make Singapore a multiracial country. "But it is an important symbol of what Singapore stands for, and a declaration of what we aspire to be," he said.

He noted that nearly two years were spent discussing and debating having a multiracial presidency.

"But it is only now that people are seized with it, after a reserved election in which only one candidate qualified," he said.

PM Lee said he could feel there was some unhappiness. "People think we may be going backwards, towards racial politics. But actually, the reality is the opposite: We are making necessary changes to strengthen our multiracial system."

He shares President Halimah's hope for that day when Singapore will not need the reserved election to ensure minority representation.

But to get to the ideal state, "we need guide ropes and guard rails to help us get there and to prevent us from falling off along the way".

"The reserved election for the president is one such guard rail."

He also said striving for multiracialism includes having the courage and determination to take pragmatic steps to get there, step by step. "That is how we will continue to expand our common space, strengthen trust and become one people, one nation, one Singapore."