Wednesday, 29 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 November 2017

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


1. IS THE GOVERNMENT SPENDING WISELY?

2. WHY CAN'T WE USE MORE OF THE RESERVES?

3. WHEN WILL THE TAX HIKE BE?




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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 November 2017

Driverless vehicle rides in three new towns from 2022; New $3.6 million centre to put self-driving vehicles to the test

Punggol, Jurong Innovation District and Tengah to have robot buses and shuttles
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2017

Residents and workers in three new towns will be the first in Singapore to ride driverless vehicles as part of their daily commute from 2022.

The Government has identified Punggol, Tengah and the Jurong Innovation District (JID) as areas where residents and workers can turn to pilot self-driving buses and shuttles for their first-and last-mile commutes.

The plans, unveiled by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday, are the latest in Singapore's drive towards adopting autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, alongside other applications announced earlier, such as driverless campus buses, truck platooning systems and unmanned road sweepers.

At these three new towns, the plan is for robot buses to run scheduled services during off-peak periods to complement human-driven ones, while commuters can summon driverless shuttles on demand.

"We expect that the autonomous vehicles will greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of our public transport system, particularly for the elderly, families with young children and the less mobile," Mr Khaw said.

He was speaking at the opening of the first test centre for driverless vehicles, located outside Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and a part of the future JID.



Punggol, specifically the Punggol Northshore, Punggol Point and Punggol Digital districts, Tengah and JID were chosen as they are areas whose development timelines coincide with when the Government expects AV technology to be ready for limited deployment.

"Furthermore, it is expected that the relatively younger demographic in these areas would be more receptive to newer technologies and modes of travel," said the Ministry of Transport and the Land Transport Authority.

The piloting of AVs will help the Government plan for the safe mass deployment of driverless vehicles.

Meanwhile, a Request for Information, open till May 31 next year, has been launched so that the Government can look at aspects like the physical space required for depots and other facilities, and the technologies needed.

Mr Khaw said: "The biggest challenge for autonomous vehicles is not the development of the technology, but how we can safely incorporate it into our living environment, through appropriate regulations and town planning."

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Singapore students are best team players: PISA 2015 study on Collaborative Problem Solving

Singapore students top OECD global survey in problem solving through teamwork
Republic had the highest proportion of top performers, over 20%, in the global PISA test
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Nov 2017

Singapore students are world beaters not just in science, mathematics and reading, but also in the ability to solve problems in teams, according to new findings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Republic topped a global test of collaborative problem-solving skills under the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test conducted in 2015.

Singapore had the highest mean score of 561 points, followed by Japan with 552 points, Hong Kong with 541 points and South Korea with 538 points.

The PISA 2015 Collaborative Problem Solving results, released yesterday, are the first test of such skills to help countries see where they stand in preparing students to live and work in an interconnected world.

Some 125,000 students across 52 economies around the world took part in the test, which measured students' ability to solve problems collaboratively, negotiate and come to agreement, for instance.

The PISA test has traditionally assessed abilities in science, mathematics and reading - core subjects in which Singapore was ranked first in the latest 2015 exercise - but is including skills that are increasingly important in the new economy.

Singapore had the highest proportion of top performers - more than 20 per cent of students here achieved the highest level of proficiency (level 4) in collaborative problem-solving. This means they could carry out tasks needing high levels of collaboration, maintain an awareness of group dynamics and had the initiative to take action or make requests to overcome obstacles and resolve disagreements.

On average, only 8 per cent of students could perform at this level.

The results also showed that students here have positive attitudes towards collaboration. More than nine in 10 said they are good listeners, enjoy seeing their classmates be successful, take into account what others are interested in and like cooperating with their peers.

Dr Andreas Schleicher, OECD director for education and skills, said: "Singapore demonstrates that strong academic performance does not have to come at the expense of weaker social skills. In fact, Singapore scores even better in collaborative problem-solving than it does in science and mathematics."

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Work starts on 2nd phase of $10 billion underground sewage superhighway

Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) Phase 2: Costing $6.5 billion, it will free up 83ha of land and also boost the supply of NEWater
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2017

Phase two of the construction of a $10 billion underground sewage superhighway, one of the world's largest, started yesterday.

The Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS), which will be the conduit for all used water islandwide, will boost water recycling and free up space in land-scarce Singapore.



When Phase 2 is completed in 2025, the sloping infrastructure of giant pipes will harness gravity to channel used water in the western parts of the island to a new water reclamation plant in Tuas.

Phase 2 of the project by national water agency PUB, which costs $6.5 billion, will also free up an additional 83ha of land - about the size of 116 football fields - currently housing the Ulu Pandan and Jurong water reclamation plants, about 70 pumping stations and many more sewage treatment plants.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli marked the start of construction at a ground-breaking ceremony in Penjuru Road in Jurong East.

He said: "We have experienced how unpredictable weather patterns can be, and we expect dry seasons to worsen with climate change. It is, therefore, critical to augment our water sources by reclaiming water, so it can be used again and again, in an endless cycle."

DTSS Phase 2 will boost Singapore's NEWater supply, he added. The DTSS will eventually channel all of the island's used water to water reclamation plants in Changi, Kranji and Tuas, where it will be treated and purified to either produce NEWater, or be discharged into the sea.

The tunnels, which sit under the Republic's rail network and above its electricity grid, slope downwards towards the three plants as they are dug at a gradient.

Phase 1, which cost $3.4 billion, was completed in 2008. It serves the eastern parts of Singapore, channelling used water to the Kranji and Changi water reclamation plants.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Singapore to raise taxes as govt spending increases: PM Lee Hsien Loong at People’s Action Party Convention 2017

PM Lee highlights need to invest in economy, infrastructure and social safety nets
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2017

Singapore will be raising its taxes as government spending on investments and social services grows, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"(Finance Minister) Heng Swee Keat was right when he said raising taxes is not a matter of whether, but when," he said at the People's Action Party (PAP) convention.

PM Lee was referring to Mr Heng's remarks during his Budget speech earlier this year, where the minister outlined how spending on healthcare and infrastructure will rise rapidly, and spoke of the need for new taxes or higher tax rates.



He told some 2,000 party members that "well before that time comes, we have to plan ahead, explain to Singaporeans what the money is needed for, and how the money we earn and we spend will benefit everyone, young and old".

The spending on Singapore's economy, infrastructure and social safety nets is necessary, and is a vote of confidence in the country's future, said PM Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general.

Just as older generations saved and invested, this generation must "plant trees in order that our sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters, will be able to enjoy the shade", he added.

Economists said a rise in the goods and services tax (GST) could be in the works. It was last raised in 2007 by two percentage points to 7 per cent.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Anti-Trump media risks hurting US global standing

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Nov 2017

LONDON • "Thank you for your support" was the title of an e-mail I recently received from The New York Times. At first glance, this seemed a cute expression of thanks for being an electronic subscriber. Yet when I went on to read the e-mail, complete with the paper's pledges to remain tireless in the "pursuit of truth", I was reminded of just how much the US newspaper industry but also the broader mainstream media has changed during the past year.

The quality is still there, and so is the instinctive chutzpah of assuming that America is central to most things.

But most of the media coverage on domestic US matters is no longer about reporting events, unless they fill one messianic mission: to unearth any transgression, real, alleged or imagined, of Mr Donald John Trump, the 45th President of the United States.



Much of the current mainstream reporting on Mr Trump boils down to a self-feeding loop in which new stories are published or picked up not because they are significant but because they may strengthen the openly held opinion among most US mainstream journalists that Mr Trump ended up as President by mistake, and must be removed.

The New York Times used to run on its masthead the famous slogan "All the News That's Fit to Print"; its real slogan today should be "Any Anti-Trump News Ends Up in Print".

If this was just an internal US episode, it would have been regrettable, but not very significant for non-Americans. But the hate and vilification campaign against Mr Trump in his country's media has a very practical and potentially very harmful effect around the world.

Of course, the President has brought much of this upon himself. He has dismissed some of America's most honourable and worldwide respected media networks as purveyors of "fake news".

And his network of friends, family and business associates, as well as their potential links to foreign powers, are now subjected to federal investigations and, occasionally, criminal proceedings.

Mr Trump once excoriated journalists as "among the most dishonest human beings on Earth"; he should not complain that they respond in kind.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Heritage buff hand-draws Singapore's national monuments in ink

Just call him Mr Monument
Retiree aims to draw all 72 of Republic's national monuments to showcase heritage
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2017

Online photos of the country's national monuments usually fail to fully capture their profile, scale, architectural details and surroundings in a single frame.

Frustrated, heritage buff Steven Seow decided to hand-draw in ink A3-sized perspectives, to share with Singaporeans the sheer majesty of these monuments.

Take, for instance, the Hong San See temple in Mohamed Sultan Road. Mr Seow, 65, has reproduced a sweeping view of the temple with its roof's curved ridges and upturned swallow-tail end sweeps.



Mr Seow has drawn 33 of the 72 national monuments here since he started on his personal project in June.

He adds in surrounding buildings, roads, infrastructure and landscaping features. Most of these are reproduced in exacting detail.

The retiree said: "Drones have their limitations in capturing full details. Photographs don't present our full, complete heritage.

"A more visual and holistic portrayal of the monuments, in the context and setting they were built, might help Singaporeans fully appreciate the country's heritage."

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The iGens - trying to connect from the privacy of their rooms

A new generation bred on smartphones and social media is changing social mores
By Peter A. Coclanis, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

Few nation-states anywhere in the world have embraced information and communications technology (ICT) as enthusiastically, intelligently and successfully as has Singapore.

Along with Scandinavia and Estonia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan, it regularly ranks highly on league tables relating to ICT metrics, and the futuristic, high-tech character of the city-state is one of the first things that visitors notice and comment upon.

The Government, as usual, has long been out in front of ICT issues, having drawn up and largely implemented bold and far-sighted national ICT plans since the early 1980s. As a result, Singapore has largely fulfilled the goal of the Government's Intelligent Nation masterplan (iN2015), for which it certainly merits high praise.

That said, it might be time for all of us to shift greater attention at the margin to some of the downsides of information technology. Here, I'm not speaking so much of excesses in the political blogosphere, of attempts to spread misinformation and false facts, or even of cyber bullying, for various parties in Singapore and elsewhere have already weighed in usefully on such matters.



Rather, I'm speaking here about what the heavy reliance on electronic technology is doing to both our own moral development and to our ability to connect deeply with others around us.

Last year I wrote a piece for The Straits Times ("Digital natives risk losing empathy for real people"; Feb 13, 2016) where I discussed some of the issues raised by Dr Sherry Turkle in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power Of Talk In A Digital Age.

In this important work, Dr Turkle, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argued that heavy reliance on electronic technology hurts individuals in a variety of ways, not least by reducing one's ability to conduct face-to-face conversations, to work in groups, and to engage productively in civic life.

In iGen, a new book attracting a lot of attention these days, psychology professor Jean M. Twenge from San Diego State University has gone one step further, analysing the deleterious effects of hyper connectivity not just on individuals, but on entire generations in the United States.

Although it is both wise and prudent to take generalisations made about entire generational cohorts with a grain or two of salt, Prof Twenge, at the very least, is on to something about the tendencies of "iGens", the cohort of Americans born between 1995 and 2012.

According to her, this cohort of over 74 million - about 23 per cent of the US population - is the first generation of Americans that grew up completely immersed in ICT. Unlike the millennial cohort that preceded it, iGens don't remember a world without the Internet, grew up with cellphones - most notably, the iPhone, which debuted in late June 2007 - and seem to live by and for social media.

Let's not condemn Singaporeans to extinction

Some European cities have managed to reverse declining fertility rate trends. Singapore, too, must persevere in its society-wide efforts to become more pro-family.
By Paulin Tay Straughan, Published The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2017

As a novice sociologist in 1991 returning to the National University of Singapore after completing my PhD, the very first project I embarked on was on work-life balance for women from dual-income families.

As a young mother and a new assistant professor, I found it daunting to have to manage job expectations as well as be a good mother to my sons. My husband was facing similar challenges at his workplace, and we felt entrapped in a circumstance we seemed to have little control over.

The power of sociological methodologies framed me with lenses that revealed the inter-connectedness of social agencies. Thus began my journey to distil the complexities of our population woes.

That was in 1991.

Along the way, I matured as a sociologist and learnt more about the intricacies of the world we live in. My sociological model for understanding fertility decisions became more complex, and also more focused. Meanwhile, Singapore's marriage and birth rates continue to fall, making it more urgent to devise policies to ease transition to an ageing population.

Some have argued that we should just face the inevitable, and focus on the advantages of growing a "quality" Singapore family, rather than think in terms of growing the quantity or size of the Singapore population. I find that disturbing on several grounds. Let me address these systematically.

That we should accept that the Singapore population would shrink and do nothing about it, to me is nothing short of being irresponsible. This perspective may allay concerns of the present population as we struggle through spatial congestion and economic competition. But it does little to advance the needs of the younger and future generations.

The correlation between population growth and economic health is notable. As a small city state that relies heavily on foreign investment to generate employment opportunities, Singapore's ageing labour force would not place us in good stead to compete with emerging markets in the region with younger and lower-cost labour forces.

LIMITS OF IMMIGRATION

One argument suggests immigration as the solution to our population woes. Carefully calibrated immigration strategies do help in mitigating our ageing demographics, and a globalised workforce adds significant value to our cultural diversity. But relying primarily on immigration for population augmentation is not sustainable in the long run.

First, to rely on surplus labour from the region puts our economic stability at high risk as we cannot control the supply of manpower inflow as and when the need arises.

Second, the 2011 elections and conversations on the Population White Paper revealed how Singaporeans might be nervous about the inflow of immigrants. If we over-compensate through immigration to address the needs of the economy, we may aggravate social tensions and jeopardise racial harmony on home ground. For a multi-ethnic nation like Singapore, any attempts to segregate by national identities will inadvertently lead to dangerous discourse on race relations.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

MRT collision: Signal fault to blame as trains collide at Joo Koon Station





Signal fault to blame for Joo Koon MRT collision
Stalled train hit by another train at Joo Koon after software glitch; 29 injured
By Maria Almenoar, Assistant News Editor and Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Nov 2017

An unprecedented software glitch in the signalling system of the East-West Line resulted in a stalled MRT train being hit from behind by another one at Joo Koon station yesterday morning.

This resulted in injuries to 29 people, three of whom were still in hospital yesterday evening.

The collision took place at 8.20am during the morning peak hour and disrupted train services between Boon Lay and Tuas Link stations through the day.

Train services between Joo Koon and Tuas Link stations will remain suspended today while the authorities carry out their investigations. Bus bridging services will be provided to the affected passengers. Other trains on the East-West Line will run at slower intervals.



In the accident yesterday, the first train had pulled into Joo Koon station when it stalled because of an anomaly in the signalling system, and its passengers were offloaded, save for a solitary SMRT staff member who remained on board.

The second train, which had stopped more than 10m behind and was carrying more than 500 passengers, unexpectedly lurched forward and collided with the first train.

At a press conference later in the day, Land Transport Authority (LTA) and SMRT officials explained that the signalling system had mistakenly profiled the stalled train as a three-car train, instead of the six-car train that it really was.

As a result, the second train which had stopped 10.7m behind the first "misjudged the distance" between the two, resulting in a collision.

"It is an awful day today. Commuters were inconvenienced, and some even injured. We are deeply sorry for that," said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who showed up at the press conference and spoke to reporters after it was over. SMRT chief executive Desmond Kuek was present, but did not speak.

The incident was the latest in a series of mishaps that have hit the train operator, including tunnels between Braddell and Bishan stations being flooded last month.

Sharing their preliminary findings yesterday, SMRT and LTA said the first train departed Ulu Pandan depot with a software protection feature, but this was "inadvertently removed" when it passed a faulty signalling circuit.

Passengers got off the stalled train and the second one halted at the correct, safe stopping distance behind it. However, the second train moved forward a minute later when it could not properly detect the stalled train as having six cars.



Mr Alexandru Robu, 35, who was in the second train, described how it came to a sudden halt after its impact with the first one, causing passengers to lose their balance and fall. "I have experienced sudden stops before on the MRT, but this time, it was really bad," said Mr Robu, a service coordinator.

One MRT employee on each train and 27 commuters were hurt. Several were taken to hospitals, and most were discharged with minor injuries. The remaining passengers were taken off the train through the driver's cabin at the front - a process that took some time.

Thales, the firm supplying the new signalling system for the North-South and East-West lines, said it had never encountered a glitch similar to yesterday's before.

Mr Khaw said after the press conference: "Thales is confident of their system, but I advised the team, let's play doubly safe, where safety is involved, that is why I want them to suspend the Tuas West Extension tomorrow, so we have a whole day to do a thorough check before we resume the Tuas West Extension."



Asked if a committee of inquiry will be convened to look into this, Mr Khaw said the investigation should be allowed to take its course.

On whether commuters' confidence in the MRT system had been undermined following yesterday's accident and last month's MRT tunnel flooding, Mr Khaw said: "Obviously people will be upset... I am equally upset."

New 130/80 high blood pressure guideline by American Heart Association means more people in Singapore - 1 in 3 - have hypertension

New US standard redefines high blood pressure
Stricter limit of 130/80 means action should be taken sooner, including adoption of lifestyle changes: Report
The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2017

LOS ANGELES • High blood pressure was redefined on Monday by the American Heart Association (AHA), which said the disease should be treated sooner, when it reaches 130/80mm Hg, and not the previous limit of 140/90.

Doctors now recognise that complications "can occur at those lower numbers", said the first update to comprehensive US guidelines on blood pressure detection and treatment since 2003.

A diagnosis of the new high blood pressure does not necessarily mean a person needs to take medication, but that "it's a yellow light that you need to be lowering your blood pressure, mainly with non-drug approaches", said Dr Paul Whelton, lead author of the guidelines published in the AHA journal, Hypertension, and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Healthy lifestyle changes include losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, not smoking, avoiding alcohol and salt, and reducing stress.


The new standard means nearly half (46 per cent) of the US population will be defined as having high blood pressure. Previously, one in three (32 per cent) had the condition, which is the second leading cause of preventable heart disease and stroke, after cigarette smoking.

The normal limit for blood pressure is considered 120 for systolic, or how much pressure the blood places on the artery walls when the heart beats, and 80 for diastolic, which is measured between beats.

Once a person reaches 130/80, "you've already doubled your risk of cardiovascular complications compared to those with a normal level of blood pressure", said Dr Whelton.

"We want to be straight with people - if you already have a doubling of risk, you need to know about it."

The new guidelines are expected to lead to a surge of people in their 40s with high blood pressure - once considered a disorder mainly among people aged 50 and older.

"The prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45, and double among women under 45," according to the report.

Damage to blood vessels is already beginning once blood pressure reaches 130/80, said the guidelines, which were based in part on a major US government-funded study of over 9,000 people nationwide.