Saturday, 25 March 2017

Public healthcare institutions operate on non-profit basis

We refer to the two letters by Mr David Soh Poh Huat (Do public hospitals profit from medical procedures done?; March 11, and Health Ministry should step in to regulate costs; Forum Online, March 17).

Our public healthcare institutions (PHIs) operate on a non-profit basis. Where margins are applied, these are used to cover manpower, operations and maintenance, and overhead costs associated with the provision of specific services, drugs and investigations.

Revenue from patients alone is not enough to cover costs. PHIs require substantial funding from the Government in order to provide subsidised care to patients.

In financial year 2015, government funding to PHIs amounted to $4.3 billion.

MOH agrees that fee publication improves price transparency and helps patients make better-informed healthcare decisions.

As most patients are concerned with the total cost of treatments, MOH has been publishing "Total Hospital Bills" sizes for 80 common conditions (covering more than 60 per cent of cases) at both public and private hospitals.

MOH has also published "Total Operation Fees" in both public and private hospitals. These are broken down into about 140 common procedures (which account for almost 80 per cent of all procedures).

The Total Hospital Bills and Total Operation Fees for common conditions and procedures can be found at

MOH will continue to review and make improvements in the publication of medical fees.

Lim Bee Khim
Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health
ST Forum, 24 Mar 2017

Friday, 24 March 2017

London terror attack: Westminster attacker identified as ISIS claims responsibility

Probe into London attack widens
Eight nabbed in raids at six places; attacker identified even as ISIS claims responsibility
By Tan Dawn Wei, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2017

British police have raided at least six addresses in various parts of Britain and arrested as many as eight people, after a lone attacker launched an assault in the heart of the British capital.

The attack on Wednesday afternoon outside the Houses of Parliament killed four, including the assailant, and injured 40, with seven still in critical condition.

As intense investigations continued, police late yesterday named the assailant as Khalid Masood, 52. He was born in Kent and detectives believe he was most recently living in the West Midlands.

Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament that he was British-born, was believed to have acted alone and was known to the intelligence services. He was once investigated a few years ago over "concerns about violent extremism", Mrs May told lawmakers.

"He was a peripheral figure... He is not part of the current intelligence picture," she said, adding that police are working on the assumption that he was inspired by Islamist ideology.

Yesterday, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency, calling the perpetrator "an Islamic State soldier".

The attack took place as world leaders met in Washington to discuss how to deal with ISIS; it also coincided with the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings, which were claimed by ISIS.

Pedestrians on Westminster Bridge were mowed down by a speeding SUV on Wednesday afternoon, which left a trail of bloodied bodies on the ground. A Romanian tourist fell into the Thames and was rescued with serious injuries.

The lone attacker crashed his car into a railing outside the Parliament compound, then tried to enter the grounds, stabbing a policeman to death before being shot.

The authorities immediately stepped up policing on the streets and around transport hubs, including airports, even as they urgently reviewed security arrangements around the Parliament area. The review will most likely focus on the Carriage Gates entrance, which was used by the attacker.

Parliament went into immediate lockdown after the attack, with lawmakers holed up in chambers for hours as part of security protocol.

First MINDS activity centre in industrial estate

First activity centre in industrial estate for MINDS clients
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2017

A new day activity centre for people with intellectual disabilities was officially opened yesterday in an industrial estate. It is believed to be a first for such centres here.

The setting offers clients an opportunity to take part in activities in the estate, such as making sushi.

Run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), it is sited in Tradehub 21 in Jurong.

MINDS has five other day activity centres, all in housing estates or community buildings.

These centres offer activities that train MINDS' clients to improve their independent living skills and pre-vocational skills, among others.

Prior to the opening of the latest centre, MINDS had only one similar centre in western Singapore, in Clementi. There were 30 to 40 people on the waiting list. The Clementi centre serves about 70 people. The one in Jurong, which started in August last year, has about 50 places and serves 39 people.

MINDS said in a statement that setting up the Jurong centre was "instrumental in alleviating the pressures of the growing wait list for day activity spaces in the west".

It shares the unit with Evangel Bible-Presbyterian Church and uses the space on weekdays.

The church uses it on weekends.

The church, which had been using the premises since 2011, carried out minor retrofitting works - such as adding window grilles and foldable wall partitions - to meet MINDS' needs. There have also been collaborations between the centre and its neighbours in Tradehub 21.

Sakae Sushi, which has a branch there, has run a sushi-making class for MINDS' clients. It will hold similar classes to develop their work-readiness skills.

NTUC Learning Hub, which has a training facility two floors above the MINDS centre, has agreed to have its staff accompany the centre's clients on morning walks whenever possible.

At the centre's official opening, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin lauded the MINDS centre's partnerships with companies and the church.

He said: "It's multi-faceted but not very complicated and doesn't require a lot more resources...

"If this is scaled across the board, you can imagine the change effect on society. It's quite tremendous."

The proximity means that the companies' volunteering efforts can be executed more easily and regularly, he added.

Keeping Hainanese culture alive

Singapore is a tapestry of languages, each with its own unique syntax and history. Some are endangered and others are thriving. In the ninth instalment of a weekly series, we look at Hainanese.
By Abigail Ng WY, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2017

In some ways, things have not changed all that much at Chin Chin Restaurant in Purvis Street.

After half a century, it still serves up traditional Hainanese favourites such as chicken rice, pork chops and mutton soup.

What has changed is the language one hears as servers take orders and kitchen staff call out that a dish is ready: It is Mandarin.

It was not like this 50 years ago, according to Mr Kenneth Sng, 68, who helps run the family business.

"All our staff were Hainanese until around 30 years ago, when it became difficult to find Hainanese to work in our restaurant," said Mr Sng. He is married to Madam Janet Lim, 67, the third-generation owner of Chin Chin, whose grandparents started the business in 1935.

"Now, though the family still speaks the language, our staff communicate in Mandarin."

The restaurant is situated along what was previously known in the Chinese community as "Hainan Second Street", as many immigrants settled there.

Middle Road and Seah Street were "Hainan First Street" and "Hainan Third Street" respectively.

The Hainanese form the fifth-largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore, numbering more than 170,000 in the 2010 census.

Originating from Hainan island, a province in southern China, the Hainanese arrived in Singapore later than other dialect groups such as the Hokkiens and Teochews.

In the early days, they gained a foothold in the food and beverage industry and remain associated with it.

While Hainanese influence lives on in dishes that have become national favourites, such as chicken rice, Hainanese culture has not fared as well.

In its heyday, Hainanese puppet troupe San Chun Long could be booked for shows every night for a solid month leading up to the seventh lunar month.

Now, it is one of two remaining troupes in Singapore and its members are in their 50s and 60s.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

New 500-bed Tan Tock Seng Hospital rehab complex to open in 2022 at HealthCity Novena

Integrated Care Hub to be built next to TTSH; opens in five years
As part of HealthCity Novena, it will add to growing facilities for ageing population
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) new 500-bed rehabilitation complex, right next to the main hospital in Novena, opens in five years and will add to the growing number of healthcare facilities that cater to the needs of an ageing population.

The new Integrated Care Hub will be part of HealthCity Novena - a mega health complex scheduled for completion by 2030 that will include a hospital, medical school and step-down facilities, as well as the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

TTSH's hub will take in patients who have complex rehabilitation needs, such as those who have suffered spinal cord injuries or lost their limbs, and also care for those who no longer need the acute services of a general hospital but still require a degree of medical care.

In doing so, it will provide what Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor described as "the crucial link between the acute hospital and community care".

Speaking at the hub's ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, she noted that TTSH will also move its current rehabilitation services - including those in Ang Mo Kio - into the new centre when it is ready.

A fifth of the beds at the hub will be used by the Dover Park Hospice, located nearby in Jalan Tan Tock Seng, to care for the terminally ill. The rest of the beds - managed by TTSH - will be for those who need rehabilitation and sub-acute care.

"The Integrated Care Hub is part of our efforts to move beyond hospital-centric healthcare to care in the community," Dr Khor said.

"The elderly are more likely to face complex health issues and are at risk of being readmitted into hospitals if they do not receive proper care within the community and at home."

PM Lee: Singapore's ties with Vietnam prospering

There are opportunities there, he says, urging Singaporeans to venture out into the region
By Joanna Seow, In Ho Chi Minh City, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Singapore's ties with Vietnam are prospering and there are opportunities for Singaporeans in the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

And as Singapore undergoes economic transformation, it is crucial to seize opportunities in the region in order to grow, he told about 280 Singaporeans living in Ho Chi Minh City at a dinner reception.

"If we are to prosper, we have to be able to go overseas and venture and take opportunities and uncertainties," Mr Lee said.

Deepening Singapore's international connections was one of the strategies set out by the Committee on the Future Economy in its report released last month.

Mr Lee added that Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City have progressed since his last visit to the city more than 10 years ago, and he hopes there will be more flights between Vietnam and Singapore.

He arrived in Vietnam yesterday morning for a four-day visit, and joined Singaporeans for dinner at the InterContinental Asiana Saigon hotel, where they tucked into favourites such as nasi lemak, satay and pandan chiffon cake.

There are 937 Singapore projects and more than 2,000 Singaporeans working in Ho Chi Minh City. "The fact that you are all here shows that the adventurous spirit in Singapore is alive and well," said Mr Lee.

Singapore overtakes Silicon Valley as No. 1 for global start-up talent

Startup Genome Global Startup Ecosystem Report and Ranking 2017: Singapore No. 1 in world for start-up talent
By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2017

Perhaps the biggest surprise coming out of a 150-page research report covering 10,000 start-ups and 300 partner companies worldwide is that tiny Singapore has overthrown tech centre Silicon Valley as the world’s No. 1 for start-up talent.

The report by Startup Genome, a US-based organisation, credits Singapore’s innovative policies for its great start-up ecosystem.

While Singapore’s overall ranking this year fell two notches to 12th, this was due to two new Chinese entrants, it said. Singapore’s performance numbers are solid and will probably continue to rise, it added.

Along with a geographical location that offers easy access to up-and-coming tech markets in South-east Asia, Singapore’s 1,600 to 2,400 tech start-ups enjoy significant government subsidies.

Strategies here are working to establish local tech start-ups as globally relevant firms, said the report.

Dr Alex Lin, head of ecosystem development at SGInnovate, said the Republic is evolving at a pace like no other ecosystem.

“Within three years, we are a sustainable ecosystem of accelerators and corporate co-innovation, resulting in a six-fold increase of start-ups raising series A (a type of funding); in a year, venture capital money doubled to US$1.7 billion.”

Singapore’s access to quality talent and its relative cost put it ahead of rivals.

The average software engineer salary here of US$35,000 (S$49,000) per year, for example, is below the US$49,000 global average. High pay is one reason Silicon Valley lost its top talent ranking.

Also, while Singapore trailed behind below the average top 20 nation, in ranking 10th in terms of talent quality, it more than made up for it by being the fourth- and second-best ecosystem for start-ups to access experienced software engineers and growth employees, respectively.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Government moves to speed up smart nation projects

GovTech and two technology planning units to come under PMO to improve coordination
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2017

Smart nation projects such as e-identity, e-payment and an islandwide wireless sensor network have been earmarked for some "turbocharging" following an announcement yesterday to fold a government agency and two technology planning units under the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

From May 1, the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) - the 1,800 people-strong crack team behind tech transformation in the public sector - will come under the PMO. GovTech is currently a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).

Whole-of-government technology planning teams from the Ministry of Finance and MCI will also come under the PMO. The teams will join the Smart Nation Programme Office - formed in late 2014 to spearhead smart nation project planning - to form a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO), which will have a combined headcount of 40.

Both GovTech and SNDGO will report to a new Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG).

"In this way, we will be more coordinated and move forward on the key digital government (and smart nation) programmes in the coming year or two," said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

He added that the reorganisation will provide better central management and accountability, and will have "a greater ability to pull together all the government agencies".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month at the annual Camp Sequoia tech summit that Singapore was not moving as fast as it ought to on digital transformation.

A ministerial committee, chaired by DPM Teo, will oversee the new SNDGG. The committee's deputy chairman is Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim. The committee also comprises Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Psychological first aid training for grassroots leaders and volunteers in fight against terror

Overcoming trauma of terror attack
Grassroots leaders, volunteers will be taught psychological first aid in new move
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2017

Grassroots leaders and volunteers across Singapore will be trained in psychological first aid, to help residents overcome the shock and mental distress following a terror strike.

Psychologists and counsellors from the newly formed Human Emergency Assistance and Response Teams will teach community responders how to identify and support those suffering from psychological trauma after an attack.

These professionals from the Home Team, Ministry of Social and Family Development and Institute of Mental Health will train responders from all 89 constituencies, to ensure each area can support affected residents and their families.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the initiative yesterday at an event in Teck Ghee to raise awareness about SGSecure, the national movement to increase the public's preparedness and resilience in the fight against terror.

Recent terror-related incidents in the region show the threat is serious, Mr Lee said, calling on Singaporeans to strengthen community bonds to minimise the repercussions of an attack. Terrorists would aim not just to hurt people, but also to divide Singaporeans, he said.

That is why Singaporeans should get to know their neighbours and make friends with people of other races. Every little act counts, he added, from holding the lift door open to offering snacks to others.

"The stronger our kampung spirit, the less able the terrorists will be to break us," said Mr Lee at Emergency Preparedness Day in his Teck Ghee ward, organised as part of the SGSecure outreach to neighbourhoods.

He encouraged residents to acquire life-saving skills such as using automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which have been installed at 55 housing blocks in Teck Ghee. The Government aims to install one AED for every two blocks islandwide eventually.

General manager Chong Hwa Heng, 48, was among the residents who learnt how to use an AED yesterday. "It's good to be prepared just in case of emergencies, you never know when you might need to use this skill," he said.

Mr Lee also urged residents to download the SGSecure mobile application, which has been updated with new features. The app can now provide users with customised alerts on emergency incidents occurring in specific locations in Singapore - such as office buildings, shopping malls or residential blocks - by keying in the relevant postal codes. This will inform subscribers of any emergency situation near the specified location.

It will also send subscribers news alerts on terror incidents in specific regions that Singaporeans have key interests in, for instance South-east Asia, East Asia and Europe.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Healthcare Reform: Make America Singapore

By Ross Douthat, Published The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2017

I have been devoting this space to deliberately implausible ideas lately, and the time has come to turn to an issue that our politicians are actually debating: healthcare reform. Though "debating" might be a strong word, since the politicians I'm talking about are all Republicans, and it's hard to have a serious argument when almost everyone involved really, really wishes that they could just stop and talk about tax cuts instead.

In theory, there is a coherent vision underlying Republican healthcare policy debates. Health insurance should be, like other forms of insurance, something that protects you against serious illnesses and pays unexpected bills but doesn't cover more everyday expenses. People need catastrophic coverage, but otherwise, they should spend their own money whenever possible, because that's the best way to bring normal market pressures to bear on healthcare services, driving down costs without strangling medical innovation.

This theory - along with, yes, a green-eyeshade attitude towards government expenditures on the working poor - explains why conservatives think a modest subsidy to help people buy health insurance makes more sense than Obamacare's larger subsidies.

Republican politicians may offer pandering promises of lower deductibles and co-pays, but the coherent conservative position is that cheaper plans with higher deductibles are a very good thing, as they're much closer to what insurance ought to be - and the more they proliferate, the cheaper healthcare will ultimately be for all.

Is there an existing health insurance system that vindicates this boast? Yes, in a sense: There is Singapore, whose healthcare system is the marvel of the wealthy world. Singaporeans pay for much of their own care out of their own pockets, and their major insurance programme is designed to cover long-term illnesses and prolonged hospitalisations, not routine care. The combination has produced genuinely extraordinary results: The island state has excellent health outcomes, while spending, as of 2014, is just 5 per cent of gross domestic product on healthcare. (By comparison, a typical Western European country that year spent around 10 per cent; the United States spent 17 per cent.)

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Singapore rebuts Economist report on free speech for misrepresenting protesters

Government rebuts Economist report
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2017

The Government has refuted an article in The Economist on free speech in Singapore, which said critics continue to be penalised for speaking out even as leaders called for more naysayers.

The magazine, in its March 11 issue, cited the High Court's recent upholding of the conviction of three people who protested against the CPF in Hong Lim Park in 2014.

In a letter published in The Economist's March 18 issue, Singapore High Commissioner to Britain Foo Chi Hsia said: "They were not charged for criticising the Government, but for loutishly barging into a performance by a group of special education-needs children, frightening them and denying them the right to be heard."

This is the second time in a week that the Government has responded to a foreign publication that misrepresented the case.

On Saturday, Reuters news agency wrote that six people "were charged with creating a public nuisance while protesting against a compulsory tax savings scheme".

But the police clarified a day later that their protest had disrupted a charity event at an adjacent lawn. The six, who included blogger Han Hui Hui, were charged with public nuisance with common intention in October 2014, and later convicted.

Last month, the High Court upheld the convictions and sentences of Han and two others .

In her letter, Ms Foo said The Economist's report, titled "Grumble And Be Damned", had "alleged a lack of free speech in Singapore".

But she noted that Singaporeans have free access to information and the Internet, including to international news outlets such as The Economist and the BBC.

Opposition politicians have also successfully gone to court to defend their integrity and correct falsehoods purveyed against them, she noted.

"In no country is the right to free speech absolute," she said. "When this right is extended to fake news, defamation or hate speech, society pays a price. Witness the Brexit campaign and elections in America and Europe.

"Trust in leaders and institutions, including journalists and the media, has been gravely undermined, as have these democracies. In contrast, international polls show that Singaporeans trust their government, judiciary, police and even media," she added.

"Singapore does not claim to be an example for others, but we do ask to be allowed to work out a system that is best for ourselves," she said.

Custody of elderly woman: Family finds closure after viewing police video

By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2017

The woman whose 73-year-old mother was arrested for a municipal offence viewed police footage yesterday and accepted that it clearly showed her mother was not physically restrained at any time while in police custody.

Madam Gertrude Simon, 55, who had all along maintained that her mother had been handcuffed by the police, attended a briefing with her mother at the Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre (NPC).

Madam Simon said: "I appreciate the unprecedented gesture made by the police to show me the video recordings of the sequence of events during the time when my mother was in police custody."

She added: "Based on the police video shown, it is clear that my mum was not physically restrained at any time when she was in their custody."

Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officers, who were also at the briefing, had clarified that physical restraints were used by their officers in accordance with current SPS procedures during the two occasions when her mother, Madam Josephine Savarimuthu, was transported between the State Courts and Changi Women's Prison.

Madam Simon said she was gratified by the transparency displayed by the authorities in coming forward to share their footage and information.

"It has helped to bring a good closure to this unfortunate episode of events," she added.

Friday, 17 March 2017

HDB artists: Authorisation does not kill creativity

One resident who sought official approval for his displays even got support from the town council
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

The authorities must be informed if artists want to build public displays responsibly, said Woodlands resident Tan Koon Tat.

The 56-year-old carpenter has been constructing festive displays at the carpark near Block 179, Woodlands Street 13, for the past decade, even making artificial snow last Christmas.

All these were done with the blessing of the Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council, said Mr Tan.

In Mandarin, he told The Straits Times that he knows the authorities have to account to residents if it goes awry.

Said Mr Tan: "They are in charge of the space, and they have to take responsibility if something bad happens. These rules are meant to protect the residents and we must respect that."

It is also not true that support from officials mean the work is any less genuine, he said.

The town council does not dictate how he conducts his public decorations as long as they fit certain safety and hygiene requirements and do not inconvenience others.

"The town council even volunteered to provide electrical points to power some of my displays, such as the snow machine, which I rejected because I don't think the public should pay for my decorations," said Mr Tan.

While the tableaus may be subjective and might inevitably offend others, Mr Tan said he tries to mitigate this by talking to various neighbours and sharing his plans with them. If there are any concerns, he would alter them.

Every year, he designs and builds displays to celebrate five occasions - National Day, Deepavali, Hari Raya, Christmas and Chinese New Year.

This is so that it is inclusive of all races and religions, he said.

When it comes to the clean-up, he knows he cannot shirk responsibility because of the assurances he has given to the town council, as it should rightly be.

Said Mr Tan: "How do you think the authorities would react if the artist left a mess? Or if the decorations were done improperly and cannot be removed easily?

"These are all things that he or she should expect and the best way to avoid these issues is to inform the town council first."

RSAF's new surveillance drone Heron 1 now combat-ready

NSFs to help fly RSAF's new drone, Heron 1
The drone, which earned combat-ready status, will have NSFs as co-pilots alongside regulars
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

Singapore's new "eye in the sky", the Heron 1 drone which earned its combat-ready status yesterday, has full-time national servicemen (NSFs) serving as pilots - a first for the airforce's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it was revealed.

In a ceremony held at Murai Camp, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen marked the Heron 1's achievement of the Full Operational Capability (FOC) status by the Republic of Singapore Air Force's (RSAF) 119 and 128 Squadrons. "It's a significant milestone.

The FOC of the Heron brings RSAF's (unmanned) aerial capabilities to the level of advanced militaries globally," Dr Ng said in a speech. He called the deployment of NSFs as UAV pilots in the airforce a "significant first". "We have the same exacting standards for NSFs as we do for regular pilots," he added. The NSFs serve as co-pilots, alongside the regulars, who are aircraft captains.

Major John Samuel, the commanding officer of 119 SQN, said the airforce has been looking at tapping on NSFs to fulfil its "manpower needs over the longer term".

The RSAF declined to reveal how many NSF UAV pilots it has, but said it started training them in 2014.

Candidates have to undergo medical and psycho-motor tests and interviews, and it takes about 18 months to be trained as an operationally ready UAV pilot.

NSF Lieutenant Marcus Chia, 20, a UAV pilot, said: "It has been special and meaningful for me. I get to be an aviator (and) operate such a highly advanced platform."

Earlier this month, the Defence Ministry announced that a new cyber-defence vocation for NSFs and operationally ready NSmen had been created with deployment from August.

The Heron 1 provides ground forces with a real-time, bird's-eye view of the battlefield with its advanced imaging sensors. Using its laser designator, the drone can also work with attack helicopters and fighters to guide munitions to targets precisely.

PM Lee opens SMU's School of Law building and Kwa Geok Choo Law Library

School lawyers of tomorrow in many fields: PM Lee
Encourage more cross-disciplinary learning to keep up with changing law practice, he says
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

Singapore's law schools need to produce lawyers who are prepared for the demands of a new working environment marked by disruption and new technologies, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking at the official opening of the Singapore Management University's (SMU) new law school building, Mr Lee said the way law is being practised will change in the future, and more cross-disciplinary learning should be encouraged.

He said the Government will be supporting the bigger law firms to venture into new areas of legal practice while helping the smaller ones raise their productivity and deliver better services to clients.

Mr Lee said the SMU School of Law, Singapore's second law school, was set up in 2007 not just to increase the number of law graduates. "We wanted a law school that would provide a rigorous legal education, coupled with exposure to other disciplines, such as business, economics, accountancy, social sciences or information systems."

He added: "We hoped that the graduates will be more versatile, able to apply their knowledge of the law in many different fields, and to contribute to our economy."

He was speaking to some 800 guests at the school's function hall, where future convocation and commencement ceremonies can now be held in-house for up to 1,400 people.

Mr Lee later toured the new 23,000 sq m School of Law building, located at the junction of Armenian Street and Stamford Road. The building was completed last December at a cost of $165 million.

Previously, law students and faculty members shared facilities across the road with SMU's accountancy and business schools.

The building features the Kwa Geok Choo Law Library. Madam Kwa, a lawyer, was one of the founders of Lee & Lee, one of Singapore's oldest firms. Madam Kwa, who died in 2010, is PM Lee's mother.

SMU chairman Ho Kwon Ping, in his speech, said the 2,200 sq m Kwa Geok Choo Law Library will be "at the heart of legal education and scholarship in Singapore".

He added: "Universities around the world are known for their iconic libraries, and this one is strategically placed at the high point of the site next to Stamford Green."

The three-storey library, which can seat more than 500 people, will focus on developing special collections in commercial law, dispute resolution and ASEAN law, among other areas.

Singapore city infrastructure No. 1: Mercer 2017 Quality of Living Survey

Republic is also top Asian city in Mercer's global survey on quality of living
By Ann Williams, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2017

Singapore has topped a ranking of more than 200 cities around the world in terms of offering the best infrastructure.

This was the first time that city infrastructure has been rated separately in consulting firm Mercer's annual ranking. Frankfurt and Munich were both placed second.

City infrastructure is an important factor when multinational corporations decide where to establish operations abroad and where to send expatriate workers.

Easy access to transportation, reliable electricity, and drinkable water are all key considerations when determining hardship allowances based on differences between a given worker's home and host locations, Mercer said.

The firm's 2017 Quality of Living survey of 231 cities helps companies and organisations determine compensation and hardship allowances for international staff. It uses dozens of criteria such as political stability, healthcare, education, crime, recreation and transport.

In terms of the overall quality-of-living survey, Vienna in Austria came in tops for the eighth year in a row, while Baghdad in Iraq was again considered the worst.

Globally, Singapore was ranked No. 25 and was the top-rated among Asian cities. Hong Kong was ranked at No. 71.

The big financial centres such as London, Paris, Tokyo and New York City did not feature high on the list while the top performers came mainly from the major German, Scandinavian, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian cities.

The United States' highest entry was San Francisco at No. 29 while London, Britain's highest-ranked city, came in at No. 40.

Even with the prevailing political and economic turbulence, Western European cities continue to enjoy some of the highest quality of living worldwide. Mercer said they remained attractive destinations for expanding business operations and sending expatriates on assignment.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Tough job market amid brighter signs for economy in 2017

Those out of work taking longer to find jobs, though 2017 economy expected to grow 2.3%
By Joanna Seow and Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2017

There are good prospects flagged for the economy, but less so for the job market, as Singapore enters a tricky phase of growth.

The slowing economy has been taking its toll on job seekers, with those out of work taking longer to find jobs, data released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday showed. Nor is the job market expected to get any easier this year.

In contrast, private-sector economists are now far more bullish about Singapore's economy than they were three months ago.

The local economy is expected to expand 2.3 per cent this year, according to the latest quarterly survey of economists by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). That is a healthier rate than the 1.5 per cent median forecast in December.

The 23 economists responding to the latest survey see manufacturing powering ahead by 4.5 per cent this year, far more optimistic than their 1.1 per cent estimate in December.

This, however, will not necessarily translate into more jobs. "While the near-term growth outlook for manufacturing has improved, the hiring outlook for 2017 remains cautious, as performance is likely to be uneven across clusters," MOM said.

Its data showed that employment growth slowed last year and the struggle to find new jobs was even harder for older workers, degree holders and PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who get laid off. In all, some 19,170 people were laid off last year. Around half managed to find new jobs, but the rate of re-entry was lowest for those aged 50 or older (40 per cent), degree holders (42 per cent) and PMETs (44 per cent).

The first two groups were also at the receiving end of the rising long-term unemployment rate - the proportion of residents who could not find a job for 25 weeks or more.

This has risen to 0.8 per cent - the highest in seven years - and was even higher, at 1 per cent, for those aged 50 and older, and for those with a degree.

There were fewer job vacancies to go around too - around 77 for every 100 job seekers. The total number of vacancies in December fell to 47,600 - a four-year low.

Lim Swee Say at Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum 2017

Manpower Minister: To do well in future, adapt and learn
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2017

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday declared that the idea of doing the same job for life is obsolete.

In tomorrow's working world, employees will be required to pursue different careers throughout their working life, he said.

The reason: As companies and the economy restructure, sometimes forced by disruptive technology, workers will have to adapt and continually learn new skills.

Mr Lim painted this picture of the future economy to 150 students and guests at the annual Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum held at the National University of Singapore last night.

Offering his advice on how they could stay employed and do well, he said: "You must be prepared that you might have to change from one career to another... even if you continue working for the same employer."

He cited the example of a company that was moving into advanced manufacturing and needed fewer engineers but more data scientists.

"This company told its engineers and technicians, 'Instead of our retrenching you, why don't we retrain you to become data scientists?'" he recalled.

Under the Professional Conversion Programme, the Government gave funding for the engineers to be trained in data analytics.

It was one of the ways the Government was helping Singapore workers adapt to changes, said Mr Lim, as he urged students to stay versatile while pursuing their passions.

Mr Lim set the theme for the evening with a question on many young minds: "As students, you must be worrying - by the time you enter the workforce, will there be enough good jobs for all of you?"

Pointing to the Singapore economy, he noted that it was undergoing rapid transformation, amid slower workforce growth and a push for greater productivity in order to continue growing the economy.

One way to overcome these "bottlenecks" in manpower and productivity is to adopt technology and automate.

This will help produce good jobs but it requires workers to stay nimble and flexible, Mr Lim said.

AGC orders blogger Han Hui Hui to take down scurrilous posts

Han Hui Hui's allegations of prison treatment 'baseless and false': MHA
By Chong Zi Liang, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Mar 2017

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has asked blogger Han Hui Hui to remove a series of online posts in which she alleged judges had lied to persecute her politically.

The AGC wrote to her on Monday and gave her seven days to take down the posts and apologise for her allegations on all her social media accounts.

If she fails to comply, the AGC will file contempt of court proceedings against her, an AGC spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday.

Ms Han, 25, had posted a video on YouTube and made five Facebook postings between Jan 21 and Feb 25 about her brush with the law.

Last June, she was fined $3,100 for co-organising a protest rally in 2014 that disrupted a charity event in Hong Lim Park and organising a demonstration without approval.

Last month, the High Court rejected her appeal against the ruling.

The AGC said on Monday the online posts are in contempt of court.

For instance, a Jan 22 post "wrongfully states that you and the other co-accused persons tried jointly with you were convicted because the court wanted to politically persecute you and your co-accused".

"In addition, it wrongfully insinuates the court secured your convictions by deliberately finding fault with you on unimportant issues."

Ms Han had written in the Jan 22 post that the court's ruling was "a blatant case of political persecution". She said her fine had "the sole intention of political persecution to disqualify me from standing for parliamentary election".

A person convicted of an offence and fined $2,000 or more is disqualified from being an election candidate. Ms Han stood in Radin Mas in the 2015 General Election.

"These are very serious allegations which scandalise our courts. They are scurrilous, false and made without any rational basis," the AGC said in its letter to Ms Han.

Ms Han posted on her Facebook page on Monday that the AGC had written to her. But she has not taken down the posts the AGC says are in contempt of court.

In a separate statement yesterday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) refuted Ms Han's claims that she had been mistreated in a State Courts cell. Prisons found the allegations "baseless and false" after interviewing officers and reviewing CCTV footage.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Mindfulness in Schools: Kids find inner calm through mindful breathing

More than 10 schools here have introduced this practice and say children are more focused, calm and alert
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2017

It was five minutes before the end of recess at Westwood Primary School on Thursday.

A hush descended over the canteen as pupils seated on benches began a "mindful breathing" session.

"Sit quietly, close your eyes... Keep breathing in and out, slowly," said a woman's voice on the speaker system, guiding them through the two-minute exercise.

Some children were fidgety, their eyes darting around as they tried to grab the attention of their friends.

Others, however, took the activity more seriously, closing their eyes and sitting up straight while being aware of their thoughts, and then letting go of them.

Primary 4 pupil Solomon Lim, 10, was a picture of calm. He later told The Straits Times: "It helps me when I'm stressed. I take deep breaths and cool down."

Following a trial last year, Westwood Primary has since January introduced "mindful breathing" sessions at the end of recess daily for all pupils as part of a broader "positive education" framework.

Mindfulness is a state of being aware of one's thoughts, sensations and surroundings in the present, and accepting them without judging them. Mindfulness, which can be achieved by taking deep breaths and focusing on them, has been known to calm people down and reduce stress in their daily lives.

Grab bars, handrails in some cells as number of elderly prisoners rises

By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2017

The number of elderly prisoners has almost doubled in the past five years, and the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has retrofitted some prison cells with senior-friendly features like grab bars and handrails.

Last year, there were 651 inmates above 60 years old - almost double the 359 in 2012, an SPS spokesman told The Straits Times.

These elderly inmates comprised 5.3 per cent of the total prison population last year. This is almost double the 2.8 per cent in 2012.

The proportion of inmates over 60 years of age has increased each year in the past five years, said the spokesman.

Criminal lawyers interviewed attributed the rise to the ageing population in general.

"Singapore's population is ageing, and prisoners are no exception. There is no age limit to crime," said veteran criminal lawyer Edmond Pereira.

In 2015, the SPS retrofitted 25 cells within the prison institutions to cater to inmates with mobility problems. Besides the elderly, such prisoners also include those who find it hard to get around because they have lost the use of their legs, for instance.

Hence, prison cells in the Assisted Living Housing Unit are equipped with features such as handrails and grab bars.