Monday, 11 December 2017

Volunteers who ensure no one dies alone

NODA members support terminally ill with few or no family members in their final days
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

Mr Tay Cheng Tian, 54, died in a hospice on Nov 4. None of his family members was by his bedside when he took his last breath, but he did not die alone.

In the last few weeks of his life, a bunch of strangers befriended him and committed to spending time with him till the end.

They fulfilled his last wishes and did things such as wheeling him downstairs for smoke breaks.

When Mr Tay started deteriorating rapidly from oesophageal cancer, the volunteers took turns to sit vigil round-the-clock by his bed.

For about two days, they held his hands, whispered to him or played his favourite songs to let him know that someone was there with him.

One saw him take his last breath at 8.30am that Saturday.

"It was a privilege to be with him, knowing that he was comfortable enough with my presence to go at that moment," said Ms Angela Sho, 43, a volunteer with Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone (NODA) programme.

It is part of a small but growing movement to support dying people who have few or no family members or friends to accompany them in their final hours. Demand for the service is likely to grow as the number of elderly folk who live alone in Singapore surges.

The General Household Survey, released last year, shows the number of households comprising only residents aged 65 or older stood at 82,600. About half, or 41,200, are made up of residents who live alone. By 2030, the Government estimates the number of seniors who live alone will hit 83,000.

"Given the increasing trends of one-person and two-person households with the head of households over 65 years old, we foresee the number of persons who die alone may increase," said Ms Chee Wai Yee, chairman of the grief and bereavement work group at the Singapore Hospice Council.

Billion-dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme ends after five years; 80 new services and 1,000 buses added to Singapore roads since 2012

$1.1 billion enhancement of bus services complete
Five-year programme has increased capacity of 70% of bus services and cut waiting times
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

The $1.1 billion five-year Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), which added 1,000 government-funded buses to the country's roads, has been completed.

Since it was rolled out in September 2012, the programme has boosted the capacity of 218 bus services here, which accounts for 70 per cent of the services. This was achieved by deploying more double-decker buses and increasing trip frequencies, said the Land Transport Authority.

BSEP has also bumped up the total fleet of public buses to about 5,500.

LTA said that the programme, coupled with the transition to the Government's bus contracting model in 2014 where operators have to meet higher service standards, has shaved bus intervals from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

Intervals for feeder services during peak periods have also been trimmed to six to eight minutes, from more than 10.

BSEP was introduced after the two publicly listed transport companies, SBS Transit and SMRT, were unable to cope with the burgeoning demand for bus services.

The expansion also helped ease the crunch on trains which also came under greater scrutiny after a series of breakdowns.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commemorated the bus enhancement programme's conclusion at an event yesterday by launching a new service, 71. It is the 80th service introduced under BSEP.

Tuas mega port: Keeping the ships sailing in – why the mega port matters

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transshipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the second of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at the move to consolidate all port operations in Tuas.
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

It is touted as the upcoming site of a mega port - Tuas in the west where Singapore's city port operations, including Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang, will relocate to. The move will free up land for the Greater Southern Waterfront development, three times the size of Marina Bay.

But just how big is "mega"?

After all, much is at stake - the port operations now run by PSA make Singapore the world's top container transshipment hub, so the Tuas mega port must keep building on this success. This is especially as the maritime industry is a key part of the economy, accounting for 7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Yet challenges loom: While Singapore currently holds the title of world's busiest port, other countries in the region are eyeing bigger slices of the transshipment pie and boosting their infrastructure.

A visit to the new port's location, though, shows the sheer, jaw-dropping scale of what is being developed. A construction yard at the tip of the southernmost end of Tuas is a hive of activity round the clock, as 500 workers labour to assemble massive structures that will form the building blocks for the future mega port.

These watertight retaining structures - called caissons - weigh 15,000 tonnes each, the equivalent of 8,000 cars. At 28m, each is as tall as a 10-storey HDB block.

There are two production lines at the construction yard churning out eight caissons a month. When completed, each caisson is towed to sea, where they are placed on a foundation on the seabed. A total of 138 caissons have been installed as of Nov 13 - more than 60 per cent of the 222 needed to form the wharf for Phase 1 of the Tuas mega port.

First announced by then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in 2012, the mega port will consolidate all of Singapore's port operations in Tuas. It will open in four phases, with the first berths expected to be operational in 2021.

The multibillion-dollar Tuas project will increase the port's capacity to 65 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo, more than double what the port handled last year.

This expansion is the latest in a series of bold moves to grow Singapore's port by building ahead of demand. Tuas, in fact, was considered as a potential location before Pasir Panjang was chosen in the early 1990s.

Insight examines why the port is now moving to Tuas some two decades later, and how the mega project is slated to boost Singapore's maritime industry.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Jerusalem as Israel's capital declares US President Donald Trump

Issue of Jerusalem goes back decades
The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

JERUSALEM • The decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would upend decades of US policy.

Underpinning the move is a proposed shift of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Trump was expected to sign a national security waiver - as have his predecessors - keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, but would commit to expediting a move. Here are some questions and answers on the issue:


The tensions over Jerusalem have their origins decades ago. After the end of World War II in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states - one Jewish, one Arab - with Jerusalem governed by a "special international regime" owing to its unique status.

The Arabs rejected the partition plan, and a day after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.

Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan.

Subsequently, Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war, and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community, but Israel declared the city its undivided capital. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

No country accepted Israeli sovereignty and almost all had their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead. Jerusalem is home to holy sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The final status of Jerusalem has been one of the most vexatious questions in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be seen as deciding an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations, breaking with the international consensus.


In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, calling on the country to move its embassy to the holy city.

"Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the state of Israel," it said, demanding that the government move the embassy.

The Act is binding, but there was a clause that presidents could delay it for six months at a time to protect "national security interests" through a so-called waiver.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed these waivers every six months.

Mr Trump reluctantly signed the first waiver that came due during his presidency on June 1. The second deadline lapsed on Monday.

Govt spending on healthcare expected to rise sharply; Singapore faces demographic time bomb in 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says it will go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 because of ageing population, tech advances
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2017

Singapore may have to foot a bigger health bill to care for its ageing population.

Government expenditure on healthcare is expected to "rise quite sharply" in the next three to five years, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He expects it to go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 from the current levels.

To put that in perspective, the total budget for the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2010 was $4 billion. In this year's Budget, Mr Heng allocated it $10 billion.

A jump of another $3 billion by 2020 would mean that in 10 years, the health budget will climb to more than three times its 2010 level.

After a tour of Changi General Hospital (CGH) and St Andrew's Community Hospital (SACH) yesterday, Mr Heng said: "As medical technology improves, as our population ages, the demands will grow, and the need to provide for that will also grow." He predicted an annual MOH budget of "at least" $13 billion from 2020.

Professor Euston Quah, head of economics at Nanyang Technological University, said rising healthcare costs will mean higher taxes.

He said: "It is one major reason since, increasingly, healthcare is subsidised for greater number of eligible people.

"Income tax and corporate taxes, which are direct taxes, are low in Singapore relative to other countries, but indirect taxes (GST and other non-earnings-based taxes) make up for it."

In his Budget speech in February, Mr Heng had said that part of a bigger healthcare bill will be covered by new taxes or the Government raising present taxes.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "Spending on healthcare will comprise an increasing proportion of net government expenditure over the next decade.

"When taxes do increase, it is good to know that a significant proportion of our tax dollars is going towards healthcare, which is a public good and necessity."

Mr Heng said the $3 billion increase is "just an initial estimate", and will depend on "how well we are able to manage in the next few years".

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Singapore football may be beyond saving

While I recognise and respect the efforts of our players and staff in the local football scene, it seems that the sport here is quite well beyond saving.

We have lost many matches and cannot even qualify for the Asian Cup. Stadium attendance shows that the number of people interested in the S-League and the Lions is small. The atmosphere there is also lacklustre. This is hardly the result of a lack of interest in the sport. Many Singaporeans frequently stay up late and get up early to watch Premier League and Champions League matches. They have costly subscriptions to football channels.

I can easily tell you the names of hundreds of foreign footballers and their clubs, ages, nationalities and FIFA ratings. Unfortunately, I cannot name more than five Singaporean football players.

Several solutions have been proposed to revamp our football scene, but none have worked.

We could pump several billion dollars in and set aside hectares of land for football facilities, and hope that we will have exciting matches and packed stadiums.

Or perhaps we should just enjoy the luxury that other countries have already provided for us.

Tan Yi Swee, 14
Secondary 2 student
ST Forum, 6 Dec 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

CPF rumours on social media clarified

Separating fact from fallacy about Central Provident Fund (CPF)
By Christopher Tan, Published The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

Like me, you might have recently received messages or read rumours circulating on social media about your Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. When I saw these messages posted all over Facebook, I knew I had to clarify them as they were not completely true. Let me touch on two of these messages.

The first message claims that when you die, your nominees will not receive your CPF savings in cash. Instead, it said your CPF savings will be deposited into your nominees' Medisave Accounts instead. This is not true.

Part of the message or rumour on CPF nominees goes like this:

"Everybody please note that when we kick the bucket, all our balance CPF money will not be automatically deposited into our nominated NOK (next of kin) bank account in CASH.

"CPF board will instead send all your balance CPF money to your nominated NOK CPF MEDISAVE ACCOUNT. There is a separate form to be filled if cash or cheque is required. So better know this.... Die die they don't give to NOK the CASH."

The second message relates to CPF refunds from property purchases using CPF savings.

Part of the message goes like this:

"Recently, I was asked by CPF Board to return the total amount I used my CPF money plus interest when I sold my apartment. I was shocked and asked CPF staff why I need to return my money when I am already 66 years old, they said it is a new rule regardless of your age.

"Why should I pay interest for my own money and why should I return my money when CPF had released my fund when I reached 55 years old? Please let your friends and family members know of such hidden and unreasonable CPF rules which will affect the seniors."

Unfortunately, both messages contain half-truths and the tone of voice used might generate public mistrust in the CPF system. So allow me to clarify them.

Changi Airport Terminal 5: Decades of groundwork for T5 to take flight

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transhipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the first of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at what it takes to get Changi Airport Terminal 5 off the ground.
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

From the air, it is a striking sight for travellers flying into Singapore: A massive construction zone, as big as Changi Airport itself, with trucks constantly on the move along dirt and paved roads, huge canals being dug and a network of taxiways being laid, as long as the Pan-Island Expressway from Tuas to Tampines.

Next door, it is business as usual with a plane landing or taking off every 11/2 minutes.

By the time construction and other works are completed around 2030, Changi Airport will have almost doubled to cover more than 2,000ha, with enough room to eventually handle up to 150 million passengers a year, compared with 82 million now.

The Changi East project - as the new development is referred to - is Singapore's most ambitious attempt, since Changi Airport opened on July 1, 1981, to cement the Republic's status as a key aviation hub for regional and global traffic.

The stakes are high. The aviation and maritime sectors jointly account for about 10 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and provide nearly 250,000 jobs.

A global airline body forecast that Singapore's total air passenger traffic and the number of aviation-related jobs could more than double in 20 years.

This would increase the aviation industry's contribution to Singapore's GDP by the same quantum to an estimated US$65 billion (S$88 billion) in 2035, said the International Air Transport Association.


Actual ground works at Changi East started just three years ago, but the T5 story dates back almost three decades.

The move from Paya Lebar to Changi in 1981 was an enormous task: 550 buildings demolished, 4,500 graves exhumed, 200ha of swamp land cleared, one airbase that was built during the Japanese Occupation removed, and 870ha of land reclaimed.

Yet, within a decade of the opening of Terminal 1, planners were at it again, hunting for the next big plot of land for further expansion.

In 1989, even before T2 started operating, the Cabinet approved plans for more land to be reclaimed for airport development. This is the area where T5 is being constructed.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

PUB to spend $500 million to upgrade drainage network over the next 3 years

PUB pumps in $500m more to keep floods at bay
Sum will be used for ongoing projects at 75 sites, those at 16 new spots and future works
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2017

To keep floods at bay as Singapore is lashed by increasingly intense storms, the country is pumping another $500 million into a massive upgrade of its drainage network.

National water agency PUB said yesterday the money will be channelled into ongoing projects at 75 spots islandwide, as well as those at 16 new locations and future projects, to make monsoon drains and canals bigger, and fortify older structures, for instance.

Said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB's director of catchment and waterways: "With climate change, we expect more intense storms to occur more frequently in Singapore. PUB will continue to implement 'pathway' (the passage that rainwater takes) measures by deepening and widening drains."

The sum, which will be spent over the next two to three years, adds to the $1.2 billion the Government has already spent on drainage improvement works since 2011.

Meteorological Service Singapore statistics show that the annual maximum hourly rainfall rose to 90mm last year, from about 80mm in 1980.

"We are right to 'buy insurance', to put these plans in place and execute them, so we are not caught unprepared," said weather researcher Koh Tieh Yong from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

There have been floods on 14 days this year, compared with 10 last year, and six in 2015. The figure has, however, dropped from 36 in 2013.

Drains in flood-prone areas or those nearing the end of their lifespans will be given priority in upgrading. Next year, they will be improved in areas such as Thomson Road and Sennett Estate.

The 3.2km Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal will be expanded by the end of next year at a cost of $280 million. It will be able to take in 30 per cent more rainwater.

This will protect buildings in the catchment area, such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Beauty World Plaza, Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Sime Darby Centre, from floods.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New scheme to allow social workers to manage finances for mentally incapacitated seniors under their care

Community Kin Service: Social workers can get powers to manage seniors' finances
MSF pilot project targets elderly folk who have lost ability to make decisions and do not have family support
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2017

Seniors without family support can soon turn to social workers to help manage their finances if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has introduced the Community Kin Service pilot project, where social workers with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) may apply to the Family Justice Courts for powers to manage the finances of seniors under their care. The courts will then approve regular payments for the seniors' healthcare needs and household expenses, with MSF backing such court applications.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday: "The Community Kin Service allows VWOs to help fill the role that a next of kin would typically play in supporting a senior."

The MSF said in a statement that the pilot project will cover seniors who are 60 and above, have no family support and show signs of a declining ability to make decisions for themselves.

Two VWOs - TOUCH Community Services and AMKFSC Community Services - have been chosen for the pilot that starts early next year.

The MSF was unable to say how many seniors could potentially benefit from the scheme.

TOUCH said about 350 of the 7,000 seniors under its care are gradually losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, while AMKFSC estimated that 100 of the 1,000 seniors under its care may have dementia.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director at TOUCH, said the new scheme is an extension of what the VWO's social workers are already doing to help the seniors under their care.

"The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances," she said. "But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so."