Monday, 27 March 2017

Amos Yee gets US asylum; Singapore says it's America's prerogative

US' prerogative to take in Yee, says Ministry of Home Affairs
The Sunday Times, 26 Mar 2017

It is the prerogative of the United States to take in people who engage in hate speech, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), following news that the US has granted teenage blogger Amos Yee asylum. Here is MHA's statement:

In 2015, Amos Yee was charged for engaging in hate speech against Christians.

He had said "Christians… are… power hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind.

Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they are full of bull… Similar to the Christian knowledge of the bible, and the work of a multitude of a priests."

He was convicted on the charge. He was also convicted on another charge for publishing an obscene image. He was sentenced to a total of four weeks' imprisonment for these charges.

In 2016, Yee was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians.

He had said "the Islamics seem to have lots of sand in their vaginas too… But don't mind them, they do after all follow a sky wizard and a pedophile prophet.

What in the world is a 'moderate muslim'? A f*****g hypocrite that's what!...

...With all due respect, Christians, you can shove that faith up your a**. Faith! Faith! I'd be damned at this retardation of humanity. F**k you, Christian sh***".

He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment and a fine of $2,000. He was represented by counsel in both the 2015 and 2016 proceedings.

Yee had engaged in hate speech against Christians and Muslims.

The US adopts a different standard, and allows such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.

The US, for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran.

Singapore takes a very different approach. Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged.

The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee's asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.

It is the prerogative of the US to take in such people who engage in hate speech. There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately engage in hate speech, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them will no doubt take note of the US approach, and consider applying for asylum in the US.

Water price hike could have been better explained, but is necessary: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Water price must reflect scarcity, says PM Lee
Price hike necessary and unavoidable, but could have been better explained
By Charissa Yong, The Sunday Times, 26 Mar 2017

The water price hike is necessary to bring home the scarcity of water but more time could have been spent explaining the price increase before it was announced, so that people would not have been so surprised, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But the increase is unavoidable, with water a strategic resource in Singapore, he added.

Commenting on the 30 per cent price hike announced last month, Mr Lee spoke about water's importance to Singapore's survival and said that it must be priced properly to reflect its scarcity.

Raising water tariffs, rather than taxes, is a fairer way to foot the bill needed to pay for investments in water infrastructure, said the Prime Minister at the completion ceremony of the revamped Pang Sua Pond in Bukit Panjang.

He also said the Government is looking at other ways to bring down the cost of producing water and encouraging conservation.

The hike is the first in 17 years.

About 40 per cent of Singaporeans disagreed with the price hike, according to a recent survey by government feedback unit REACH.

Yesterday, Mr Lee acknowledged that the hike has provoked a strong reaction from Singaporeans.

However, he stressed that water is fundamental to Singapore's survival, as he put forth the case for the hike.

Despite Singapore's four sources of water - Johor, the reservoirs, NEWater and desalination - the country will "never have the luxury of not having to save water, or to make every drop count", said Mr Lee.

He said that people now understand the issue better after a rigorous Parliament debate this month, during which ministers explained why the hike was necessary and what the Government was doing to help households cope.

For example, the increase is over two years, and lower-income families are given extra U-Save rebates so that "they actually have to pay very little", said Mr Lee.

He added that the Government is supporting research into new ways of making NEWater more cheaply, and encouraging big users of water such as industries to recycle more and use water more efficiently.

"But we also have to price water properly. Because it's scarce, and not cheap to produce, and consumers need to know how precious it is every time they turn on the tap."

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Don't assume all old HDB flats will be picked for SERS, cautions Lawrence Wong

Lawrence Wong spells out conditions for scheme to be met, following recent sales of old flats for high prices
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2017

Early this month, a 30-year-old flat in Bishan sold for $1.09 million. Last month, a 33-year-old flat in Potong Pasir went for $925,000.

With some old Housing Board flats fetching such high prices, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has issued a word of caution to home buyers: Do not assume your flat will be selected for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) when the lease runs out.

In fact, just 4 per cent of HDB flats have been identified to undergo SERS since it was launched in 1995, he said in a blog post yesterday.

Under the scheme, the state buys back the flats at the market rate and offers residents discounted new units at another address.

Mr Wong spelt out the conditions that have to be met for SERS to take place.

It is granted only to HDB blocks on sites with the potential to be redeveloped. Typically, the land has not been well utilised.

Suitable replacement sites for residents must be available. The Government's financial resources also have to be considered.

Mr Wong said: "We will continue to maintain this strict selection criteria. So please do not assume that all old HDB flats will be automatically eligible for SERS."

In fact, he added, for the vast majority of flats, the leases will expire and the flats will be returned to the HDB, which will in turn have to surrender the land to the state.

Drug addicts to get online counselling via live chat service

Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association's pilot scheme, part of its new portal, starts in July 2017
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2017

The Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) is offering new services to tackle the drug threat - top of which is an online counselling service.

Those looking for help can already call the SANA hotline, but executive director Abdul Karim said some are "too afraid to pick up the phone or visit us personally for advice". He hopes the anonymity of the live chat service, which will be launched on July 1, will encourage more to seek help to kick the habit.

The live chat is one of the features of talk2SANA, the voluntary welfare organisation's new online portal. The portal is part of SANA's new brand identity, which will focus on connecting with young people.

SANA also unveiled its new logo yesterday. It features an elevated "A", which represents an individual taking flight.

Mr Abdul Karim said: "We believe that every one of us can stand tall, rise above peer pressure, instant thrills and self-doubt."

The portal goes online today with information on drugs and drug abuse and its consequences.

At the launch yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee called the change a timely one as he highlighted three challenges that Singapore faces in tackling the drug problem.

One challenge is the increase in the number of young drug abusers. Mr Lee said close to two-thirds of new abusers arrested last year were below 30 years old.

He also said young people are influenced by the growing acceptance of recreational drug use overseas, such as the use of cannabis.

The availability of narcotics online is another challenge. Mr Lee pointed out that last year, about 200 people were caught buying drugs and drug-related paraphernalia off the Internet, compared with just 30 in 2015.

The third challenge involves the active push by many groups internationally to legalise, commercialise and market the recreational use of drugs. Many half-truths or falsehoods about drug use have been put into circulation online, he said.

Mr Lee said: "Some claim that cannabis is not harmful. This is not true.

Covered linkways a much-needed facility

Providing covered linkways for people to transport nodes is definitely not spoiling the population (Use umbrellas at unsheltered areas by Mr Alex Yeo Eng Buan; March 16).

Covered linkways are a much-needed facility, especially for the wheelchair-bound, the elderly and those who use prams and trolleys.

It is money well spent, considering the long-term and wider benefits to the community as a whole.

Using umbrellas, particularly on busy walkways linking up to transportation nodes, can inadvertently impede people's movements because the objects take up more space.

Wet umbrellas will also create puddles on MRT platforms and in buses, which may be slippery.

Certainly, money assigned to building communal amenities could be used for other purposes, like helping the poor.

But there are already many social outreach organisations across the spectrum, such as voluntary welfare organisations, community stakeholders and religious bodies, which ensure affected individuals and households receive help promptly.

The Government also provides support in the form of the ComCare scheme for the low-income.

So, let's not suggest that money for covered walkways be used to help the poor.

Priscilla Poh Beng Hoon (Ms)
ST Forum, 25 Mar 2017

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Silver Industry Standards Roadmap and Guidelines on user interface design for older adults launched

Guidelines lay path to bridge 'silver' digital divide
Road map on standards for elder industry also launched to support active ageing
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2017

Senior citizens here could benefit from more elder-friendly devices and online services, after a set of guidelines on the design of user interfaces for them was launched yesterday.

For instance, it recommends that at least a 12-point font size should be used as the default setting on a 15-inch screen, with font size scaled according to the screen size and easily adjustable.

Another recommendation: The use of time-based content, such as filling an online form within a time limit, should be minimised. Otherwise, users should have the option of extending the time limits.

The set of guidelines, also known as SS 618, was one of two initiatives launched yesterday to support active ageing.

The other was a road map that charts the direction of developing and implementing standards for the silver industry in the next three to five years. It covers four aspects: how the elderly live, work, and play; and infrastructure.

With this road map, more guidelines that support the needs of the elderly - which could cover office ergonomics and the design of gyms, for instance - will be rolled out too.

The two initiatives were launched by national standards body SPRING Singapore and the industry-led Singapore Standards Council. They come amid increasing Internet use and an ageing population. Currently, one in eight Singaporeans is older than 65, but by 2030, this proportion will increase to one in four.

Public healthcare institutions operate on non-profit basis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 March 2017

London terror attack: Westminster attacker identified as ISIS claims responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First MINDS activity centre in industrial estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church uses it on weekends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Hainanese culture alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PM Lee: Singapore's ties with Vietnam prospering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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