Thursday, 18 January 2018

Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link to open by 2024

PM Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian PM Najib Razak at the 8th Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat on 16 January 2018

Singapore, Malaysia ink bilateral agreement to build rapid transit link
This and other bilateral projects on the cards underscore excellent ties, say PM Lee, Najib
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2018

Seven years from now, Singaporeans and Malaysians will be able to hop on an MRT train every eight minutes to get across the border.

The completion of this Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, following the signing of a legally binding agreement yesterday, is expected to ease the daily congestion at the Causeway.

Other bilateral projects on the cards include schemes to raise the water levels in Johor's Linggiu Reservoir to meet the needs of both countries. And one possibility is a joint hydrometric modelling study of the Johor River.

These projects underscore the excellent relations between their countries, prime ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak said, adding that ties will not be affected by domestic developments on either side, including an imminent general election in Malaysia.

Datuk Seri Najib, when asked for his outlook on bilateral ties this year, said: "I don't expect elections to change the nature of relations between our two countries."

Mr Lee said Singapore and Malaysia are constantly looking for new areas of cooperation. "It is a sign of our confidence in each other's future, and commitment to good relations with one another."



The two leaders discussed various issues, including water supply, during their eighth Singapore-Malaysia Leaders' Retreat at the Istana yesterday.

They noted that demand for water from Linggui Reservoir will rise as more developments come up in Iskandar, Johor, and Singapore.

Although the reservoir has filled up in the past year, it is unclear when the next prolonged dry spell will hit, Mr Lee noted.

Mr Najib said a detailed hydrometric study will be commissioned to produce technical proposals "to increase the water supply for both Singapore and Johor".

The two leaders also witnessed the signing of the RTS Link agreement by Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan, who is also Transport Minister, and Malaysia's Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan. This is the second agreement in two years, following the 2016 pact to build a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Construction of the 4km link is expected to begin next year.



Mr Lee said the cross-border service will benefit thousands of daily commuters. "It will provide a convenient means for Johoreans to come to Singapore to work or to play, and Singaporeans to go to Johor to study, to work, to shop," he added.

Mr Najib said the link will provide "seamless connectivity" and the required capacity.

Up to 10,000 passengers an hour can travel in each direction between Johor's Bukit Chagar terminus station and the Singapore terminus in Woodlands North, where it will join the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL).

When the RTS Link begins service, commuters can hop on a train every eight minutes on average.

Trains will eventually arrive every four minutes on average during peak periods. The line will start with five trains, and gradually have a total fleet of seven trains.

Commuters can transfer to the TEL concourse via an underground link, without having to exit the RTS station.



On how both sides will ensure the RTS Link and high-speed rail line will not be affected by political and other changes, Mr Lee said the long-term commitment has been formalised in the binding agreement signed yesterday.

"Whoever is the government on either side, this is an agreement which they inherit... If a subsequent government has other ideas, well, that will have to be dealt with and the agreement will deal with these contingencies," he added.

Commuters like Ms Chen Zihui who travel regularly to Johor Baru look forward to the RTS.

The 26-year-old bank associate visits her family in Johor Baru every weekend. "Sometimes, I get caught in the jam at the Causeway," she said of the two-hour commute by bus or taxi. "I hope the RTS will reduce my travel time to Johor Baru."

Monday, 15 January 2018

SG Cares app to matchmake do-gooders and causes; PM Lee calls on Singaporeans to step forward

New SG Cares app to make volunteering easier
It matchmakes those keen with social causes; PM Lee calls on Singaporeans to step forward
By Ng Jun Sen, The Sunday Times, 14 Jan 2018

It will soon be easier for Singaporeans to volunteer or donate, with the launch of an app to matchmake aspiring do-gooders and social causes.

Developed by SG Cares, the national movement to promote volunteerism, the app was announced yesterday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who called on Singaporeans keen to contribute to step forward.

"Doing good for others, caring for the vulnerable and needy in our midst, deepening our sense of responsibility for each other - these will help us build a better home, where every member of the Singapore community contributes to a caring society and in turn enjoys strong social support," he said at a SG Cares carnival at Our Tampines Hub.

While volunteerism is on the rise here, some patchy spots remain: For instance, those between the ages of 25 and 34 tend to volunteer less.

Only 29 per cent of respondents in that age group volunteered for a social cause in 2016, a biennial survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) found. In contrast, those aged between 35 and 44 were the most enthusiastic, with 48 per cent stepping forward.

Overall, 35 per cent of all respondents volunteered - up from 15 per cent in 2014.



In 2016, SG Cares was kick-started as a national initiative to support volunteerism. For instance, it helps to coordinate efforts - such as those between social service organisations, companies and public agencies. It is managed by NVPC and the National Council of Social Service.

Beyond getting Singaporeans to help the needy, SG Cares is also among the programmes cited by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to promote mixing across different social classes.

This comes after a survey published last month which found that the sharpest social divisions in Singapore may now be based on class, instead of race or religion.

Yesterday, PM Lee recounted how Singapore's forefathers - both the successful and the less well-off - had looked out for one another. Those who could, built schools, hospitals and places of worships. Others helped immigrants who arrived after them.

"Everyone understood that they were stronger together, than standing alone," he said. "It is this spirit that we hope SG Cares can help to engender; a caring society where no Singaporean is left behind."

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map: Road map to boost Singapore's edge in maritime industry launched

Over 5,000 good jobs to be created by 2025, with sector's value-add expanded by $4.5 billion
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 13 Jan 2018

Maintaining Singapore's thriving maritime industry as a world leader is the central theme of an ambitious new blueprint for the sector unveiled yesterday.

It underlined just how vital the industry is for the economy while also laying out the challenges it faces to maintain and strengthen its position amid fierce global competition.

The Sea Transport Industry Transformation Map (ITM), as the strategy is called, noted that Singapore starts from a position of strength.

Container throughput rose 8.9 per cent to 33.7 million containers last year, while the maritime industry as a whole employed more than 170,000 people and contributed 7 per cent to the economy.

"While 2017 was a better year than the last, we watch with cautious optimism, as the road ahead remains challenging. Indeed, we have to continue to paddle hard to stay ahead," said Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport and for Health.

He made it clear that major changes lie ahead, from port workers upgrading skills to management grappling with radical new technology. The sector is in for "real and deep transformation over the next few years", he noted.

"We must fundamentally relook the way we operate... as well as the kind of capabilities our maritime workforce needs," he said.

The ITM has an overarching vision: to make Singapore a global maritime hub for connectivity, innovation and talent. That, in turn, means expanding the sector's value-add by $4.5 billion and creating over 5,000 good jobs by 2025.

Dr Lam said at the ITM launch ceremony at PSA Pasir Panjang Terminal Building 3: "We not only have to continue to deliver world-class port services, we must also capture new growth opportunities."

One key strategy is to build up a well-connected international maritime centre cluster. That will involve the Government continuing to boost the port's physical connectivity by anchoring and attracting shipping lines here.

More initiatives, such as the inaugural Maritime Capital Forum last year, will also be rolled out to develop the maritime financing landscape here.

Another key thrust is to drive growth through better productivity and innovation, particularly by using automation and digitalisation.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is developing technology platforms to facilitate the sharing of vessel and cargo-related information with the wider trading community.

It is also looking at digitalising trade and maritime documentation, like using electronic bills of lading.

The Singapore Maritime Institute will invest $12 million to set up the Centre of Excellence in Modelling and Simulation for Next Generation Ports that will enhance the Singapore port's ability to handle increasingly complex operations.

The Government will do more to bring well-trained personnel into the industry, said Dr Lam, adding that most of the 5,000 new jobs to be created will be professional, manager, executive and technician roles.

Those in more traditional jobs will undergo skills upgrading as jobs evolve with increasing automation and digitalisation.

This year, two maritime SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programmes launched earlier in 2016 will be open to more graduates, enabling junior seafarers to deepen their skills to take on higher-level jobs.

The ITM is the first of eight road maps to be launched this year. A total of 15 ITMs have already been set in motion as part of a $4.5 billion industry transformation package announced in Budget 2016.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Each generation of leaders must earn trust, says Chan Chun Sing

He lists three things leaders need to do: Be upfront, stay accountable and find new ways to communicate
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 12 Jan 2018

To earn the trust of the people, each generation of Singapore's leaders needs to be upfront and accountable, as well as find new ways to communicate, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Only then can leadership teams make difficult but necessary decisions, while still keeping faith with the people, he added.

Mr Chan, tipped as one of the three front-runners to be Singapore's fourth prime minister, laid out his vision of how each generation of leaders should carry out their duties. He was speaking at the inaugural S R Nathan Hard Seats Lecture, inspired by Mr Nathan's remark that Singapore was built "because his generation did not believe in sitting on cushy seats, but on hard seats".

In a wide-ranging speech, the minister, an economics graduate of Cambridge University, described leadership as one of the things that Singapore needs to get right to continue to thrive. The others were geopolitics, economic survival and forging a sense of nationhood.

"Ultimately, people and government must work together to keep Singapore successful," he told the 90 people at the event organised by the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Singapore.

Mr Chan noted that "trust" was described by late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as his team's "greatest asset". It allowed the pioneer generation of leaders to be effective and not shy away from making difficult but necessary decisions, such as introducing mandatory national service when the country needed to build a defence force.

Mr Chan listed three things that leaders must do to build trust with their people.

First, they need to be upfront and help people understand the issues at stake and the trade-offs involved in policy considerations.

Second, they must keep finding new ways to communicate with people, especially in an age when "inaccurate or misleading information can 'go viral', possibly clouding a person's view on an issue".

Third, they must be accountable and responsible, he said, adding: "That means making good on our promises. And when there are problems, we work hard to put things right immediately."

It also entails being nimble and consultative in meeting people's needs, while making sure that finite resources are used wisely, he said.

"These are important so that we do not face a trust deficit and run the risk of citizens disconnecting with or being disenfranchised by the Government. We have seen this happen in other countries, and we can't take for granted that it won't happen in Singapore," he added.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Parliament Sessions Should be Screened Live


Improve accountability by telecasting Parliament sessions live

I applaud Mr Leon Perera for his apology in Parliament, but actions should be taken to prevent similar incidences (Parliament: WP's Leon Perera apologises, withdraws statements on Mediacorp's editing of parliamentary footage; ST Online, Jan 8).

With the resurgence of fake news, there is a possibility of Parliament being manipulated by outside forces or parliamentarians using unreliable information.

Parliament has utmost authority in Singapore and any manipulation could be harmful for the country.



Steps need to be taken to prevent Parliament from being misled. This could involve increasing the accountability of parliamentarians, which can be done through live telecasting of parliamentary proceedings.

A trial of this should be done.

Live telecasts would allow Singaporeans access to Parliament, hence putting public pressure on parliamentarians to be accountable, for instance, sticking to statements made by them in and out of Parliament, or being cognisant of the details of any cases they bring up.



Live telecasts would also prevent any further questions on the neutrality of parliamentary reports.

As Singapore's democracy evolves, new measures must be taken to deter those who wish to manipulate Parliament.

Parliament must evolve as well, or face further problems in the future.

Christopher Burchell-Davies
ST Forum, 9 Jan 2018

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Select Committee to look into fake news threat

Committee of MPs to consider online falsehoods issue including the need for legislation
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam to move motion in Parliament to get feedback on response to online falsehoods
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 6 Jan 2018

A rarely used parliamentary process is being kick-started to garner public feedback over the issue of "fake news" online - and to decide if Singapore should introduce laws to combat it.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam will be moving a motion in Parliament on Wednesday, 10 January, to appoint a Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

This committee will take submissions from the public and hold public hearings to gather feedback before reporting to Parliament with its recommendations, which will also be published.

If appointed, it will be chaired by Deputy Speaker Charles Chong and comprise seven MPs from the ruling People's Action Party, one member from the opposition and one Nominated MP. The members have to be nominated by a Committee of Selection, which is led by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.

This is a change in approach from that articulated by Mr Shanmugam previously. Last June, he said that new legislation to tackle fake news is likely to be introduced this year.

"A Select Committee process provides a platform to study the problem carefully, to talk to experts and other stakeholders, and to involve members of the public," said a government spokesman.



The Law Ministry (MinLaw) did not say why it is not proposing that laws be enacted immediately this year.

It is uncommon for the Government to set up a select committee to examine policy issues.

The last time was 22 years ago, in 1996, when a Select Committee looked into the healthcare subsidy of government polyclinics and public hospitals.



Yesterday, MinLaw and the Ministry of Communications and Information also issued a Green Paper on the issue. It is a discussion paper containing proposals on an issue for public discussion.

The last time one was issued was three decades ago, in 1988.

The new 21-page document said Singapore should be prepared ahead of time for the "real and serious challenges" posed by online falsehoods.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Personal Mobility Device users caught riding on roads will face tougher enforcement action from 15 Jan 2018

Stiffer fines, possible jail time for offences involving Personal Mobility Devices (PMD) from Jan 15
Those riding on public roads to be dealt with more harshly, amid rise in number of cases
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Jan 2018

From Jan 15, personal mobility device (PMD) users caught riding on public roads will face fines of up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of three months, in addition to having their devices impounded.

In a toughened stance against an increasing number of offenders, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that a composition fine of $300 will be imposed on first-time offenders who ride on local roads, and $500 on those caught on major roads.

First-timers nabbed on expressways will be charged in court. If convicted, they will face a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and jail term of three months.

Repeat court convictions will carry a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to six months. This applies to those caught using PMDs on any public road.

The penalty now is a $100 composition fine for first-timers, regardless of the type of road they are on.

Second-timers are fined $200, and those caught for the third time onwards are fined $500.



Since the advent of PMDs such as electric scooters and hoverboards two years ago, more have been sighted on roads, even though they are strictly for use on footpaths and park connectors.

In the first 11 months of last year, an average of 40 users were caught monthly. This was 18 per cent more than the monthly average of 34 recorded in 2016.

The LTA said it is an offence under the Road Traffic Act to ride PMDs on roads. Electric bicycles, however, are allowed on roads, except expressways. But observers said the line separating e-bikes and other PMDs is fast blurring.

The new Active Mobility Act may address the situation. It will require users, among other things, to ensure their PMDs weigh no more than 20kg and measure no wider than 700mm. They also cannot exceed a speed limit of 15kmh on footpaths, and 25kmh on cycling and shared paths in park connectors.

Meanwhile, the LTA has increased the number of enforcement officers from 24 in June to more than 50. Officers are also being equipped with speed guns to check speed limits.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Sour grapes: The art of self-deception

By Gary Hayden, The Straits Times, 2 Jan 2018

When I was a child, I liked to leaf through the pages of a collection of Aesop's Fables in my primary school classroom. I enjoyed the pithy stories and the simple line-drawings that accompanied them.

One story I remember well was called The Fox And The Grapes. It went like this.

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked: "Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! I don't need any sour grapes."

Aesop's fables illustrate moral precepts, and these were generally obvious to me, even as a child. However, in this case, the moral eluded me. I knew that the story was supposed to teach something, but I had no idea what.

Nowadays, a quick search of the Internet is sufficient to determine that the accepted moral of The Fox And The Grapes is that "it is easy to despise what you cannot have".

Instead of admitting his failure to reach the grapes, the fox tells himself that they are not worth having. Similarly, rather than admitting to our disappointments and failures, we will often disparage the things we cannot have, or cannot achieve.

When I was at secondary school, I witnessed a splendid real-life illustration of this idea. A friend of mine plucked up the courage to ask a pretty girl to "go out with" him. When she refused, he reported back to me saying: "I'm not bothered. I didn't really like her anyway!"

SELF-PROTECTION

We humans will often try to protect ourselves from disappointment by belittling the things we cannot have.

In the same way, we will often try to bolster our self-esteem by sneering at the things we cannot do, or cannot achieve.

In American teen movies and TV-shows, you will often see this idea played out. The "nerds" despise what they see as the brute athleticism of the "jocks", while the jocks despise what they see as the effete intellectualism of the nerds.

In fact, both athleticism and intellectualism are good and desirable traits. But it is sometimes psychologically convenient to pretend that one or other of them is not.

As a rule, we attach far more importance to the things at which we excel than we do to the things at which we suck.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Singapore economy grew by 3.5% in 2017, says PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2018 New Year Message

PM Lee credits productivity growth and global upswing for strong performance in 2017
Plans to mark 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore in 2019
By Elgin Toh, Insight Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jan 2018

Singapore's economy grew by 3.5 per cent in 2017 - more than double the initial forecast - and incomes rose across the board, especially for low-and middle-income earners, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

In his traditional New Year message, he noted that Singapore benefited from the global economic upswing. But more fundamentally, the better-than-expected growth was because Singapore's productivity - long a challenge for the country - has grown.



"Singaporeans are upgrading and learning new skills, while businesses are innovating and adopting new technology. That is how we will stay competitive and ready for the future," PM Lee said.

Singapore is finishing the year stronger than it started, and "we are ushering in 2018 with confidence and strength", he added.

In the past five years, productivity growth has languished at between minus 0.2 per cent and 1 per cent despite efforts to help firms and workers upgrade. Last year, it shot up to between 3 per cent and 3.5 per cent, due to an improving global economy and a tightening of the inflow of foreign workers, said analysts.

Looking ahead to 2018 and beyond, PM Lee announced plans to mark the 200th anniversary of 1819, when Stamford Raffles set foot on the island. Singapore marked 50 years of independence in 2015 but "the Singapore Story began way before 1965", he said. "We must understand truly how far back our history reaches, and how complex it is."

The history goes back at least 700 years. Singapore was a maritime emporium in the 14th century, though it declined in later centuries.

"We should commemorate this bicentennial appropriately, just as we marked the 150th anniversary in 1969. It is an important milestone for Singapore; an occasion for us to reflect on how our nation came into being, how we have come this far since, and how we can go forward together," he said.

With observers expecting firmer clues this year on who Singapore's fourth prime minister would be - especially with an imminent Cabinet reshuffle - PM Lee said younger ministers will play a bigger role in policymaking. Parliament will be prorogued after the Budget before a new session opens in May. The opening will see the President's Address laying out the Government's agenda for the rest of the term.

PM Lee said "this will bear the imprint of the fourth-generation leadership, who are taking on greater responsibilities, and putting forth their ideas for Singapore".



The home front will also see an upgrade of industries and workers' skills, improvements to healthcare, work to raise rail reliability and big infrastructure projects such as the Tuas Megaport, the High Speed Rail link to Malaysia and Changi Airport's Terminal 5.

These domestic priorities are essential investments for the future, which "will stretch way beyond this term of government", he said. "We have to plan well ahead for them."

Looking back on 2017, PM Lee said the year began with uncertainty at home and abroad. The economic mood was muted and there were worries about security and terrorism. "But Singaporeans pressed on, undaunted," he said. "We dealt with the urgent concerns, but we looked beyond immediate problems and did not settle for quick fixes."

Monday, 1 January 2018

What made Singapore tick: Soft options and hard rules

To go from Third World to the top of the world, Singapore went for 'soft' options - like changing mindsets - and hard rules, such as the Land Acquisition Act and congestion pricing.
By Cecilia Tortajada and Asit K. Biswas, Published The Sunday Times, 31 Dec 2017

A modern-day traveller arriving in Singapore's Changi Airport will immediately realise that he is entering a special airport. It is one of the busiest in the world, serving some 380 cities in about 90 countries through more than 100 airlines. It handles more than 58.7 million passengers a year - that is more than six times the city's entire population. Very seldom does one have to spend more than 25 to 30 minutes from the time the plane lands, to clear immigration and customs, collect baggage and be on a taxi to one's destination.

For many travellers, introduction to Changi Airport is a proxy for the rest of their Singapore experience.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, its economic and social conditions were poor. Trade with Indonesia, a key trading partner, had declined due to Indonesia's strong opposition to the formation of Malaysia.

The economy further suffered because of the withdrawal of British troops during 1968-71. British military expenditure contributed to nearly 20 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) and 10 per cent of employment.

During the 1960s, Singapore's population growth was one of the highest in the world. Unemployment was widespread. The majority of the population was living in overcrowded housing without access to clean water, sanitation or proper waste disposal. At Independence in 1965, very few people thought Singapore would do well in the future, with a land area of 581 sq km, no natural resources and no perceptible comparative advantages.

Not surprisingly, in 1965, Singapore's per capita GDP was US$519, only 13.5 per cent of the US' and 77 per cent of Hong Kong's. By last year, Singapore's per capita GDP had galloped to US$52,960 (S$71,000), 92 per cent of the US' and 1.21 times that of Hong Kong.

TRANSFORMATION: WHY AND HOW THIS HAPPENED

The question then is, how did Singapore achieve this remarkable progress in such a short period?

Numerous experts have tried to explain this development. Our view is that this has been possible because of the highest leadership, starting with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team. The fact that he was prime minister during 1965 to 1990 gave him time to transform his vision into reality.

Mr Lee had no dogmatic beliefs and was the ultimate anti-ideologue. Fiercely ambitious for Singapore's development, he guided its unprecedented economic and social growth for its people.

We were fortunate enough to meet Mr Lee. We had extensive personal discussions as to how Singapore became a global role model. In his own words: "We are pragmatists. We do not stick to any ideology. Does a policy work? Let us try it, and, if it does work, fine, let us continue with it. If it does not work, toss it out, try another one that may work."

Regrettably, we are not aware of similar political leaders elsewhere in the world. Leaders have become image-conscious and populist opportunists rather than honest pragmatists searching for the best alternatives for their countries. Mr Lee showed that forthright pragmatism is the antithesis of die-hard ideologies and political opportunism.

While visitors to Singapore may see its gleaming towers, excellent infrastructure and legal and governance systems, and a very safe and secure First World city without corruption, it was not so at Independence and several years after.