Friday, 24 February 2017

Singapore the No.1 tree city

Not a concrete jungle: Singapore beats 16 cities in green urban areas
Study by MIT and WEF puts the city ahead of Sydney and Vancouver which are joint-2nd
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Feb 2017

When it comes to urban tree density, Singapore stands at the crown.

The City in a Garden outshone 16 cities from all around the world, in a study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Almost 30 per cent of the Republic's urban areas are covered by greenery.

This puts Singapore ahead of Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada, both of which are tied for second place with 25.9 per cent.

Sacramento, in California in the United States, follows closely behind with 23.6 per cent.

Of the 17 cities, Paris has the smallest percentage of green urban areas at 8.8 per cent.

More cities will gradually be added to the database, the researchers said last December, when the list of cities was first uploaded on a website known as Treepedia. It was again highlighted by news site Business Insider earlier this week.

Researchers use data from Google Street View to measure trees and vegetation in cities around the world to form the Green View Index (GVI), presented on a scale of 0 to 100. It shows the percentage of canopy cover for a particular location.

The researchers determine this by getting Google Street View images in each city, then extracting green areas using computer vision techniques. The data is processed to obtain the GVI.

As Google Street View shows panoramic photographs of streets and buildings, it allows the study to capture data such as vertical gardens. But as the images are taken by cameras atop cars, only areas with roads are covered in the study, said Mr So Wonyoung, a data visualisation specialist from Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology who is involved in the project.

Professor Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab and head of the project, said the goal of Treepedia is to get people to take action to improve urban tree cover in their cities.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Forging a new consensus for the future economy

Some tough questions need to be grappled with and these concern foreign manpower, population size and pace of growth
By Tan Khee Giap and Gareth Tan Guang Ming, Published The Straits Times, 22 Feb 2017

The Singapore economy seems to have entered a new normal of low and slow growth. There are more out-of-work residents and, last year, those jobless for at least 25 weeks took longer to find work as compared with the previous year. Business sentiment has softened and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have quite understandably been more adversely affected than multinational corporations (MNCs).

The cause of such a subdued economy is more structural than cyclical in nature as the Government has painstakingly engineered a productivity-driven revamp of the labour market, but old habits die hard and it takes time to change human resource management and work behaviour.

Meanwhile, in the Budget statement on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made clear the Government's intent to lend financial support to seven broad strategies tabled by the Committee for the Future Economy(CFE) to improve the longer-term resilience of Singapore's highly open city-state economy. This is taking place amid a challenging external environment of rising protectionism against global trade, disruptive change due to rapid technological progress, and heightened geopolitical tension.


This year's Budget can be said to have three prongs: ease companies' and workers' shorter-term pains and hardships, build capacity for the longer term so the economy can adapt and stay competitive, and further commit to keeping society inclusive and caring.

With companies finding it hard to cope with higher business costs due to wages, rentals, government fees and charges, the Budget sought to ease hardship for companies suffering due to a cyclical downturn in their sector by, among other things, deferring foreign- worker levy hikes, enhancing and extending the corporate income tax (CIT) rebate for the years of assessment 2017 and 2018.

The Budget also includes help and incentives to cushion firms, especially SMEs, going through painful sectoral transformation. The schemes include Wage Credit amounting to $600 million, of which 70 per cent will be for SMEs; extension of Special Employment Credit amounting to $300 million that will benefit 370,000 workers, and the continuation of the SME Working Capital Loan scheme for the next two years.

In terms of capacity building and skills upgrading, the Government has committed up to $600 million in capital for a new International Partnership Fund with Global Innovation Alliance for Singaporeans to gain overseas experiences, build networks and collaborate with their counterparts.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Budget 2017: Moving Forward Together

A budget for today - and tomorrow
• Water prices to go up 30% • Carbon tax from 2019 • Income tax rebate • Fund to help firms go global
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2017

Against a backdrop of rapid technological change and global uncertainty, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a Budget yesterday that addresses Singaporeans' immediate concerns while laying the groundwork for future growth.

The speech kicked off with MPs thumping their seats in a show of support for Mr Heng, who had made a remarkable recovery to speak in Parliament for the first time since suffering a stroke last May.

The Budget offered several talking points of its own. These included an increase in water prices to fund the higher costs of desalination and Newater production, the first rise in 17 years; this was offset, for some, by a permanent increase in the GST Voucher - Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebate for eligible HDB households, ranging from $40 to $120, depending on flat type.

Young home buyers received cheer in the form of generous hikes of up to $20,000 in the CPF Housing Grant for resale flats from a Budget in which expenditure is expected to touch $75.1 billion.

But underpinning it all is a message Singaporeans should find familiar - the Republic has to adapt and thrive as the world undergoes deep shifts that will create new challenges, but also open up new opportunities. It continues the theme of the report by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), co-chaired by Mr Heng, released earlier this month.

"It is critical that we take decisive action to re-position ourselves for the future," Mr Heng told MPs in a packed House, noting that the Budget would take a "learning and adaptive approach", trying new methods, keeping those that worked and learning from experience. "That is the Singapore way."

Mr Heng noted that while the economy grew 2 per cent last year - from 1.9 per cent in 2015 - there was an "uneven performance" across sectors. Similarly, overall unemployment remained low at 2.1 per cent, but redundancies rose.

The Budget measures, he said, aim to see Singapore through this period of transition. "We can aim for quality growth of 2 per cent to 3 per cent, if we press on in our drive for higher productivity and work hard to help everyone who wishes to work, find a place in the labour force," he said.

Workers will be offered programmes to help them retrain and find new jobs. Businesses struggling with tough times will receive immediate relief. The construction sector, for example, will benefit from $700 million worth of infrastructure projects brought forward.

Companies will get help to embrace digital technology and innovate. A new $600 million International Partnership Fund will see the Government co-investing with Singapore-based firms in opportunities to expand overseas.

In all, the Government is setting aside $2.4 billion over the next four years to implement the strategies set out in the CFE. This is on top of the $4.5 billion earmarked last year for programmes to transform industries here, he said.

There will also be a personal income tax rebate of 20 per cent of tax payable, capped at $500, for income earned in 2016.

The Government will spend an additional $160 million in the next five years on community mental health efforts. Medifund will get a $500 million top-up.

There were also measures to make Singapore more environmentally sustainable - a new carbon tax to be introduced in 2019 will levy between $10 and $20 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions by heavy emitters - and measures to encourage a move to greener vehicles.

It was, in short, an expansionary Budget, with ministries' expenditures expected to be $3.7 billion, or 5.2 per cent, higher than last year. However, it included a permanent 2 per cent downward adjustment to ministry budget caps from this year on.

Responding last night, the Singapore Business Federation said it was disappointed with the "inadequate short-term support" to lower business costs. But it welcomed steps to boost innovation and help firms go international.

Others were more upbeat. "It creates opportunities for Singaporeans to chase their dreams and excel internationally, while also providing protection in the current uncertain climate," said Mr Low Hwee Chua, regional managing partner for tax, Deloitte Singapore and South-east Asia.

Parliament will debate the Budget and government spending plans over two weeks from next Tuesday.

PM Lee: 2-state solution only way to peace for Israel, Palestine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu official visit to Singapore
Singapore hopes both sides can resume direct talks for a just and durable solution, PM Lee tells Netanyahu
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Feb 2017

Singapore hopes both Israel and Palestine can resume direct negotiations and make progress on a "just and durable solution" to their longstanding conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We have consistently believed that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples and to the Middle East," he said.

He was reiterating Singapore's longstanding position on the Middle East peace process at a joint press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they met at the Istana.

Mr Netanyahu arrived yesterday for a two-day visit and, after a ceremonial welcome, called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He also met PM Lee and they discussed bilateral cooperation as well as developments in the Middle East.

Mr Lee said he explained to his counterpart that while the Middle East is far from South-east Asia, what happens there has an impact on and concerns Singapore.

Many around the world are seized with the Israel-Palestine issue, an emotional one especially for Muslim communities, he noted.

"Singapore is good friends with Israel and also good friends with the Palestinian National Authority and many Arab countries," he added.

Mr Lee made clear Singapore's stand on a two-state solution when he met Mr Netanyahu in Israel last year. "It is still our view," he said.

During their meeting yesterday, Mr Lee also reiterated Singapore's support for Israel's right to live within secure borders and in peace, and also the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland.

Monday, 20 February 2017

A little less Nimby

Resistance to eldercare facilities has given way to more acceptance, even a welcoming attitude
By Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

In 2012, residents in areas such as Bishan, Woodlands and Jalan Batu expressed resistance to the news that eldercare facilities would be built in their neighbourhoods.

But despite earlier petitions - which some called the "Nimby" or "not in my backyard" syndrome - many have accepted - and, in some cases, grown to embrace - the facilities that they once opposed.

In turn, service providers are making an effort to be considerate to their neighbours.

Five years ago, about 40 residents signed a petition against a nursing home that was set to be built on an empty plot of land facing blocks of flats in Bishan Street 13.

One man said at a dialogue session that "the old folk will be groaning right into my home".

Such sentiment has dissipated. Residents encourage tolerance over minor issues. Some now even volunteer at the home.

The Lions Home for the Elders is set to mark its official opening next month, having been operating for more than a year, and has become "accepted as an integral part of the town", MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC Chong Kee Hiong told The Sunday Times.

"Some residents have family members who are residing in the home and find the proximity a welcome convenience. There are also residents who have taken to volunteering at the home."

Singapore Veterans Futsal League: Playing into the second half of life

Friendly football league for those aged 40 and above reaches fever pitch with 160 players
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 19 Feb 2017

He may be a 61-year-old grandfather of four, but Mr Saleh Ahmad feels young again when he dons his yellow soccer gear and dribbles a ball on the pitch.

Nearly every Tuesday evening for the past two months, the field service engineer has turned up at the Home United Youth Football Academy to play in a five-a-side football tournament. In fact, Mr Saleh is the oldest among some 160 players in the new SG Veteran5s League, which is said to be Singapore's first such tournament for those 40 years old and above.

The league also sports colourful team names such as Chapalang Football Club, Vintage Eagles, Zion Kings and Brickworks Old Boys.

"Age is nothing. I will still play as long as I am healthy and fit," said Mr Saleh, who started playing football as a teenager in his secondary school team.

His 15-man team, dubbed Hydratight Football Club, is led by former national player Ali Imran Lomri, 41, and comprises colleagues from Britain-based oil and gas company Hydratight.

Organised by local start-up PlayPal Group, the league is now into its second season, with the finals to run on Tuesday.

The first season kicked off last August with just five teams and one division, but it has since doubled to 11 teams and two divisions, said co-founder and chief executive Shaun Lin, 32.

The four founders started the free PlayPal football mobile app in March 2015, aimed at gathering social and amateur players to organise friendly games in the community. There are currently 3,400 registered users on the app, with plans to launch the app in other countries in the region.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

New one-stop centre for sexual crime victims after review of investigation, court processes: MHA

New one-stop centre for alleged rape victims
Facility at Police Cantonment Complex among new initiatives to protect victims of sexual crimes
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Victims reporting an alleged rape to the police will no longer have to suffer more stress of being taken to a public hospital for the necessary examination.

If the alleged sexual assault is reported within 72 hours of the incident, a victim can be attended to instead at a new centre in the Police Cantonment Complex, by specialists from the Singapore General Hospital.

The One-Stop Abuse Forensic Examination (OneSafe) Centre was one of the initiatives announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday, following a review of investigation and court procedures dealing with sexual crimes.

"One of the key issues is... to encourage victims to come forward and make the whole experience something that doesn't add to their trauma," Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a press conference yesterday.

This will make it easier for victims to lodge a report and undergo an examination.

The new centre began operations last month and, in its pilot phase, will see adult rape victims who do not require other medical attention.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Tan Chye Hee, who is also the director of the Criminal Investigation Department, said the police see an average of about 150 rape cases a year. Most are reported after 72 hours of the alleged offence.

Officers who come into contact with victims can always be better trained, said Mr Shanmugam, and the police are working with the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) to develop a training video to do so.

Based on the experiences of AWARE's clients at its Sexual Assault Care Centre, the only specialised service here for victims, the video is intended to help sensitise officers to victims' experiences during the investigation process.

PAP town councils to increase service and conservancy charges from 1 June 2017

Higher service, conservancy fees soon for most HDB residents
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2017

Most Housing Board residents will pay higher service and conservancy charges (S&CC) from June 1.

The fee hike by 15 People's Action Party (PAP) town councils will range between $1 and $17 a month.

But it will be implemented in two stages, with the second rise taking effect on June 1 next year.

The increase will also apply to HDB shops and offices, as well as markets and cooked food stalls, the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council said yesterday.

Its chairman, Dr Teo Ho Pin, is also the coordinating chairman for the PAP town councils.

This is the second time that PAP town councils are raising S&CC charges in the past three to five years. In 2012, seven of them raised their fees, citing higher electricity, maintenance and operation costs. The rest did so in 2014 for similar reasons. Before that, fees at most town councils had remained unchanged for almost 10 years.

The reason for the latest increase is the higher costs of cleaning services plus pest and vector control.

Town councils also have to set aside more funds for lift replacement and maintenance, following a spate of lift breakdowns in public housing estates last year.

In the first hike in June, home owners will pay from 50 cents to $9 more a month, depending on flat type.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Are We Well-Positioned for the Future? – Let’s Think About It

16 Feb 2017

Are you driven and hungry enough to find success in the Future Economy?

In this fifth and final episode of the new season of “Let’s Think About It”, Mariam Jaafar of The Boston Consulting Group, Min-Liang Tan of Razer and Anthony Tan of Grab share their views and experiences with Minister Heng Swee Keat on the ways in which individuals and businesses can leverage on opportunities and find success in the future economy.

What public transport surveys tell us about customer satisfaction

By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2017

If you have not already noticed, each time we are told how the public transport system has become better, two things tend to happen.

One, a series of breakdowns will ensue, almost immediately.

In the days following the release of the 2016 Public Transport Customer Satisfaction Survey results last Monday, there were no fewer than six rail disruptions.

Two, there will be widespread disbelief, going by the many comments on social media ridiculing the finding that 96.4 per cent of commuters were satisfied last year - a marked improvement from 91.8 per cent in 2015. Even industry players were surprised.

"What happens when it reaches 100 per cent?" one senior manager of a service provider asked.

Other than attributing it to pure coincidence, explaining the first phenomenon is probably next to impossible. There is, however, a good explanation for the second.

First, it is not uncommon to find differences between perception and reality.

A popular perception here is that the public transport system is completely broken. In reality, it is not, even if the rail system does not rank as high as those in places such as Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo.

The disconnect between statistics and sentiment is also less puzzling if we look at how satisfaction surveys are conducted. Typically, respondents are asked to rank a service on a scale of one to 10.

The rankings are then weighted against the importance respondents attach to qualities such as safety, reliability and comfort.

Anything from 6 is considered "satisfied". Herein lies the nub of the issue. Does a 6 qualify as "satisfied"? Sure it does. But it does not qualify as "fully satisfied". So, it might be more accurate to say that 96.4 per cent of commuters were "moderately or mildly satisfied" last year. That would certainly gel better with other realities, such as the number of rail breakdowns here, which has not changed much.

Then again, such a term would be unwieldy, and certainly less snappy than saying 96.4 per cent were "satisfied".

Household incomes up in 2016, but at a slower pace

Gap between rich and poor also narrowest in a decade as top earners see drop in wage growth
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2017

Families earned more from work last year, but their rise in monthly income was smaller than in the previous year, figures released yesterday show.

Additionally, income inequality in Singapore last year was the lowest in a decade, as households with the highest incomes experienced the biggest slump in wage growth.

This, along with government transfers to the less well-off, narrowed the gap between the rich and the poor.

Last year saw the Gini coefficient - a measure of income inequality from 0 to 1, with 0 being most equal - at its lowest in a decade.

Singapore's score dipped from 0.463 in 2015 to 0.458 last year. It stood at 0.470 in 2006.

After taking government transfers and taxes into account, this score fell from 0.409 in 2015 to 0.402 last year.

The latest numbers on household income from the Department of Statistics' annual Key Household Income Trends 2016 report come amid a sluggish economy, and economists said they are a reflection of the weaker wage growth that has been reported in recent months.

The median monthly income for Singapore and permanent resident households with at least one working member grew from $8,666 in 2015 to $8,846 last year, without taking inflation into account.

After accounting for inflation, it was an increase of 2.6 per cent in real terms, about half of the 4.9 per cent recorded in 2015.

Friday, 17 February 2017

More getting palliative services

MOH aims to make them more affordable, encourage home care
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

Since the middle of last year, doctors and nurses have been visiting Mr George S. Pathy, 87, at his one-room rental flat in Punggol to monitor his vital signs and review his medication.

The visits, which take place once every two to three weeks, are free. Low-income individuals like Mr Pathy receive fully subsidised services to fulfil their wishes of being cared for, and hopefully, of dying at home.

Mr Pathy is receiving palliative care, which aims to minimise pain and improve the quality of life for patients who have terminal illnesses. He has end-stage heart failure and lung disease.

To meet the needs of the ageing population, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been ramping up palliative care services. As of last year, it had built enough capacity for palliative care at home for 5,500 people.

Meanwhile, there are 180 beds available for those who need to be cared for in hospices, nursing homes and community hospitals last year.

"As we face an ageing population, palliative care becomes increasingly important," said Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat during a visit to the new Assisi Hospice in Thomson Road yesterday.

"There is a need to increase capacity, to further raise standards, build capabilities and work together with providers. That is what we have been doing in the past three years and will continue to do so," he said.

MOH said it is on track to meet its target of having 6,000 home palliative care places, and 360 beds by 2020. This was a target set in 2014, when MOH released a palliative care plan to meet the demand for and ensure that such services are affordable. The plan includes a new graduate diploma course to train more doctors in palliative care.

In 2015, people were also allowed to use more of their Medisave for advanced care services, with no withdrawal cap for those who are terminally ill.

Government figures show that about one in four deaths in 2015 happened at home, while the bulk were in hospitals. MOH said it hopes to increase the percentage of people who can die at home by promoting greater awareness of palliative care services and advanced care planning.

That is why the bulk of palliative care services currently being offered are home care services.

New speed cameras tracking motorists over a distance to be introduced in 2018

Average Speed Camera (ASC) to be introduced to 'shape' motorists' road behaviour
By Zaihan Mohamed Yusof, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

A new speed camera system will be introduced early next year along the new Tanah Merah Coast Road with the hopes of "shaping" motorists' behaviour and making them more conscious of speeding.

The Average Speed Camera (ASC) calculates a vehicle's average speed by tracking it on radar when it enters a monitoring zone, the Traffic Police (TP) said yesterday.

The technology used in the ASC can distinguish between a lorry and a sedan car based on its radar signature, and tell if the vehicle has been travelling over its assigned speed limit or the road's speed limit.

But the TP commander, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) of Police Sam Tee, said: "I want to emphasise the point that TP deploys our enforcement cameras based on a risk assessment.

"Where there are speeding-related accidents and danger zones, this is where we will consider (using enforcement cameras)."

The ASC will be deployed at Tanah Merah Coast Road because the new road is heavily used by lorries, delivery trucks and even cyclists on the weekends, he said.

He added that deployment of the ASC on other roads would need to be studied first.

SAC Tee also said the use of enforcement cameras may vary from fixed-speed cameras to mobile ones, adding that it depends on "whichever will give us an effective way to shape motorists' behaviour".

The extensive public education on speed camera enforcement efforts may have contributed to a dip in the number of speeding-related accidents and violations as reported in the TP annual report, Traffic Situation 2016.

India launches world record 104 satellites in single mission

Successful launch boosts country's profile in global space industry worth billions
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched 104 satellites, including 88 from a US imaging company, at one go, setting a new world record and boosting its profile in the multibillion-dollar international space industry.

The 104 satellites, weighing 1,378kg in total, were launched yesterday aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), an indigenous rocket dubbed "ISRO's workhorse". That broke the previous record of 37 satellites launched at one go by Russia in 2014.

Scientists, wearing white jackets with the abbreviation PSLV on the back, cheered in the control room as the satellites - one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, and a total of 96 from the United States, as well as three from India - were sent into orbit, one after the other.

Satish Dhawan Space Centre director P. Kunhikrishnan said the launch was "inscribed in gold in the space history of India".

"The 104 satellites were very precisely injected into orbit, clearly reiterating ISRO's capability in handling complex missions," he said.

Congratulatory messages poured in from across the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it "another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation", saying in a tweet: "India salutes our scientists."

What the hell is wrong with Yishun?

Why do some people make fun of Yishun?
My Turf is a new fortnightly series that aims to tell the untold stories of our neighbourhoods. In this third instalment, we take a look at Yishun and why it has a reputation for the bad and the mad.
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2017

A trending topic on social media has recently been this question: What in the world is wrong with Yishun?

"Build a wall around Yishun," says a popular meme, while a Twitter account has been set up, dedicated to weird happenings in this northern town.

Somehow, Yishun has developed a reputation for bad news. Alongside the everyday events, Yishun is also home to cat abuse, murder, car chases, brothel raids, civilians trying to attack policemen with stun guns, loan sharks, falling concrete slabs, sinkholes, feuding taxi drivers, shopping mall stabbings and more.

Could it be something in the air? Or perhaps the water?

But it turns out that the problem with Yishun is simple, just like what most people won in the Toto draw last week: Nothing.

It is a made-up phenomenon, driven by media coverage and confirmation bias.

Assistant Professor Liew Khai Khiun, from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, said Yishun's reputation boils down to "public imagination".

By coincidence, one or two sensational things happen in the estate that draw widespread coverage, some enterprising wags seize upon it and soon the idea that the place is jinxed enters almost mainstream thought.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Sungei Road flea market to shut for good on 10 July 2017

End of the road for last free hawking zone
Sungei Road flea market to make way for future homes
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2017

The Sungei Road flea market will cease to exist come July.

The authorities issued a multi-agency statement yesterday which gave July 10 as the last day of operations for the approximately eight-decade-old flea market.

Singapore's last free hawking zone will be prepared "to facilitate future residential development use".

Yesterday's government statement was issued jointly by the National Environment Agency (NEA), Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Workforce Singapore, National Heritage Board (NHB) and the Singapore Police Force.

Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin said she is disappointed that the around 200 vendors have not been provided with an alternative site.

"We will be losing the sense of an organically formed flea market. A whole community will be dispersed and can no longer congregate as second-hand sellers," said Dr Chua .

Many netizens have also expressed dismay at the news.

In 2011, the market was halved to make way for the construction of the new Jalan Besar MRT station. The site had been zoned for residential with commercial use in the 2003 Master Plan.

The authorities acknowledged the site's long history and that it holds special memories for many Singaporeans.

However, the government statement added that "over time, the nature of the site has changed, as reflected in both the profile of vendors and buyers, and type of goods sold".

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

75th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15 Feb 1942

'2 bitter but valuable lessons' from Japanese Occupation
You can't depend on others to defend you, and the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must: Ng Eng Hen
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2017

Singapore's commitment to maintaining a strong defence force is the result of the lessons learnt from the Japanese Occupation, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said yesterday, as the country prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of the island's fall.

The 31/2 years of brutal Japanese rule during World War II after the British surrendered Singapore, then a British colony, taught "two bitter but valuable lessons", he said in a four-minute video.

"One, you cannot depend on others to defend you and, two, the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must," Dr Ng said. This is the reason the pioneer generation of Singaporeans introduced national service to keep the country safe and independent, he said as he thanked the more than one million national servicemen who had served since the institution was launched 50 years ago.

"Today, we have a strong and capable Singapore Armed Forces because our national servicemen are committed and dedicated to military defence," Dr Ng said in the video, which was uploaded on his Facebook page yesterday evening.

The video was filmed at the former Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road, where the British formally surrendered to the Japanese on Feb 15, 1942. The day is now commemorated as Total Defence Day.

The World War II museum at the former factory has been revamped and renamed and renamed * Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War And Its LegaciesIt will be officially opened today, and people can start visiting tomorrow.

In his message, Dr Ng reiterated the importance of the five pillars that make up Total Defence: military, civil, economic, social and psychological.

Every Singaporean has a part to play in Total Defence, he added.

"Indeed, when there is a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, civilians will have to take the initiative to save themselves and others first, before the security forces respond."

On the economic front, Singapore cannot afford a prolonged slowdown.

The country needs to keep its air and sea ports as well as businesses functioning even under trying circumstances, he said, citing the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and the severe episode of haze in 2015.

Singaporeans also need to stay united against those who try to sow discord among the different communities or seek to test the resolve of the country, he added.

"We must, as one people, resist external pressures to weaken Singapore's sovereignty and independence. But no country can know all the dangers that may come its way.

"The stronger our Total Defence, the more certain we can be that no challenge will overwhelm Singapore," Dr Ng said.

Other memorial events today include the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry's annual service at the Civilian War Memorial in Beach Road, and a ceremony at the Kranji War Cemetery to remember the war dead. Public warning sirens islandwide will also be sounded for a minute at 6.20pm, the time that the British surrendered to the Japanese 75 years ago.

Founders' Memorial: Most favour Bay East Garden

'Inspiring view' for Founders' Memorial at Bay East Garden
Venue also presents forward-looking narrative, says panel head; over 70% of those polled chose it over Fort Canning
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2017

The Founders' Memorial - in honour of Singapore's founding leaders - could be sited at Gardens by the Bay's Bay East Garden.

The location, which overlooks the Republic's skyscrapers and the historic Civic District, emerged as the venue of choice among 72 per cent of more than 700 people surveyed.

The other option was Fort Canning Park. The two venues had been put forth by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

Those polled had been part of the second phase of engagement by the Founders' Memorial Committee, which was formed in 2015.

The public also gave input on what they would like to see. On the wish list are indoor and outdoor spaces, lush greenery, and even use of holograms and audioscapes to capture key moments in Singapore's history.

The committee's head, Esplanade chairman Lee Tzu Yang, said the Bay East Garden presents "a forward-looking narrative with an inspiring view of the city skyline that was built over the years".

Fort Canning Park was preferred by some for its connection with Singapore's pre-independence history. However, Bay East Garden has more space and potential for future development, noted the committee.

Fort Canning Park got 21 per cent of votes, while 7 per cent had no preference, or suggested elsewhere.

The committee noted that Fort Canning Park is half the size of Bay East Garden. It is also steep.

Professor Lily Kong, a committee member and cultural geographer and provost at the Singapore Management University, said: "The site itself can be a little bit prohibitive. We climbed the stairs up... We imagine that this is a site that many from all generations will want to visit; we think it could be a little bit difficult for the older people."

She added that the park, which dates back to the 14th century as the the palatial resort of former Majapahit kings, "might not allow us to have that flexibility of looking forward".

The committee's first phase of engagement found that most Singaporeans were supportive of the concept of a Founders' Memorial, which commemorated the values and ideals of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the team that led Singapore to independence in 1965.

The second phase of engagement, from last September to this month, had participants take part in workshops focused on the desired visitor experience, physical features and programmes for the memorial.

Trump vs Media: The sorry state of mainstream media in Donald Trump's America

The running war of words between the White House and mainstream media is bad news for the fight against fake news
By Han Fook Kwang, Published The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2017

US President Donald Trump wasted no time declaring war on his first day in the White House. It wasn't against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, not yet at least. Not China or Mexico. Not even the Democratic Party. The war he started immediately was with the American media.

The first salvo was fired over what he alleged as their false reporting of the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Newspapers and television networks said it was much smaller than president Barack Obama's and showed pictures of the two ceremonies. The new President fired back, accusing them of producing fake news. Not mincing his words, he declared: "I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth."


Since then, it has been a non-stop volley of accusations and counter-accusations over issues such as his comments on the number of illegal voters in the election and the media's reporting of his rift with the American intelligence community. The battle lines were drawn by his chief strategist in the White House, Mr Steve Bannon, who declared: "The media here is the opposition party. They don't understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the President of the United States."

The battle between the mainstream media and the right-wing conservative elements of American society which form a large part of President Trump's base has been going on for some time, long before he was elected. Both sides fought such a sustained hate-filled campaign to discredit the other, it became part of the political landscape in America, as commonplace as pork-barrel politics and gerrymandering.

But now, with the President himself leading the charge, the consequences of such a war are far greater. There are three important implications for the US and the rest of the world.

Yale-NUS space use a bone of contention

Students irked by policy change; college cites increasing demand on space and facilities
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2017

Some students at Yale-NUS College have raised concerns that their voices are being drowned out, after what they call a series of troubling decisions taken by the school administration in recent weeks.

The most contentious of the decisions was a change in policy on the use of college space, which students feel would curtail their expression of diverse views and ideas.

However, the liberal arts college, a tie-up between the National University of Singapore and US Ivy League institution Yale University, told The Straits Times that the change is due to an "increasing demand on its space and facilities".

The college said that since it moved to its current campus from its temporary site at the NUS University Town, it has received an increasing number of requests to hold events there.

The response comes after an article in the college's student-run publication The Octant last Tuesday highlighted students' frustration over recent developments.

The first item was the policy change for the use of college space, which disallows any event that requires licences or permits under the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act or the Public Order Act. This could affect events to publicise a cause or support the views of any person or group.

Referring to the change in use of space as a "heavy-handed invocation of Singapore's laws", the article noted that students were not asked for their input in the drafting of the policy, despite the process beginning as far back as last September.

Yale-NUS said the new policy will help it "optimise the allocation of resources, particularly for external events hosted on our campus".

In general, many of the current student events are already exempted from the policy, it added.

"However, we need a set of guidelines to manage the larger-scale events more efficiently as significant resources go into these events."

Monday, 13 February 2017

First compilation of local fatwas launched, gathering rulings on science and medicine

By Loke Kok Fai, Channel NewsAsia, 11 Feb 2017

The first compilation of Singaporean fatwas – the religious rulings from Islamic authorities that provide guidance – that provides both text of the fatwas and their accompanying commentaries, was launched on Saturday (11 Feb) at the inaugural Conference on Fatwa in Contemporary Societies.

The volume gathers 29 fatwas issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore’s (MUIS) Fatwa Committee on the subject of science, medicine and health, and is the first of a planned series that would document the development and socio-historical background of the 577 fatwas issued since October 1968 to 2015.

Speaking at the conference, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim said Singapore’s Muslim community should take pride in the sustained efforts of the Fatwa Committee to find meaningful solutions to concrete and real human problems. He also spoke on the need to ensure the relevance of such rulings, in a world where the speed, scale and volume of social and technological change grows ever greater.

“The issues facing Muslim communities will only become more complex and multi-faceted. At times, novel issues may arise from which no precedents exist,” said Dr Yaacob.

“The Fatwa Committee has therefore taken a multi-disciplinary approach. In deliberating on issues, the Fatwa Committee invites experts and professionals from diverse fields such as biomedicine, social sciences, finance and civil law to provide inputs. This process reflects a desire to embrace knowledge and enables the Committee to have all the necessary information before issuing a fatwa.”

The Mufti, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, echoed Dr Yaacob’s view in his keynote address at the conference, saying that finding the answers to modern-day questions “is not as straightforward as conveniently saying ‘let’s go back to Qur’an and sunnah’”.

“The days of divine revelation have long been concluded. Nor can we feel contented by classical scholars, however excellent these intellectual treasures might have been,” said Dr Fatris.

“This is the era of fatwas, where answers and guidance given in response to specific issues faced by individuals and communities should constitute the major source for the consecutive development of al-fiqh (Islamic positive law). The inability to progress in this regard will only cause Muslims to repeatedly seek legal inspiration in the classical treatises that were written in a time and context totally different from theirs.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who officially launched the first fatwa compilation, acknowledged the contribution of the Fatwa Committee to the Muslim community – and by extension Singapore’s harmonious multicultural society. He added that the publication of the volume in Malay and English was “an important contribution to scholarship”, as well as “a source of public education for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

“To deepen our resilience as a society, we must deepen the multiculturalism that makes us Singaporeans. We must keep each of our cultures alive, but also develop a keener interest in each other’s cultures, and build stronger friendships and interactions” said Mr Tharman.

“The absence of ethnic conflict in Singapore, despite being one of the most religiously and culturally diverse countries in the world, is in fact an oddity. It is something precious in today’s world.”