Saturday, 24 March 2018

Public Hearings on Fake News: 22 - 23 March 2018

Day 4: 22 Mar 2018

Social media execs face panel on fake news
Facebook admits it should have told users earlier about breach of policy
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2018

Facebook executives were grilled yesterday by members of the parliamentary Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam took the tech giant to task for not telling its users soon after it found out their data was breached by political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

He said Facebook fell short of its own pledges on transparency, which calls into question whether it can be relied on to fight false news on its own.

Facebook Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy Simon Milner admitted it did wrong in withholding the information, but said steps have been taken to fix the problem, and it is serious about cooperating with governments to fight disinformation.

The company, with Twitter and Google, had suggested new legislation was not necessary in Singapore. But the committee said other experts at earlier hearings had pointed out gaps in existing laws.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged the company should have done better in handling the breach. Outraged US and British lawmakers have opened investigations into the scandal that came to light in the past week.

Friday, 23 March 2018

What's the price for a safe, secure source of water?

By Cecilia Tortajada and Asit K. Biswas, Published The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2018

Today is World Water Day. Every year, it offers an occasion for all of us to pause and consider our use of this most vital of resources.

On a global level, it helps focus attention on what lies behind the problem of scarcity in various cities around the world, and what can be done to avert or manage it.

First, some hard facts. About 2.5 billion to three billion people in the developing world currently do not have access to safe drinking water. What we are facing here is not so much a physical scarcity of water but of water that is fit for human consumption.

Even in the developed world, trust in the quality of tap water is not assured and has, in some places, declined in recent years.

The reasons for this are many and varied. For example, most Singapore and Hong Kong households continue to boil water for drinking even when it is safe. This may be a holdover from the practice during the 1960s and 70s, when the quality of tap water was still questionable.

In North America, trust in the safety of water took a big hit after two major incidents. In 2000, seven people died and more than 2,000 fell ill in Canada as a result of bacterial contamination of the municipal water supply in Walkerton, Ontario.

In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan, made headlines worldwide for a crisis that arose from poor urban water management. Improperly treated water taken from the Flint River left thousands of the city's residents in danger of lead poisoning after it leached the metal from the pipes.

Years on, the state of Michigan continues to spend US$22,000 (S$29,000) a day on bottled water, Newsweek reported this month.

In most other places where lead poisoning is not a problem, aggressive advertising campaigns by bottled water companies and manufacturers of point-of-use treatment systems have made water a costly lifestyle issue.

Health-wise, it is difficult to understand why any individual would pay at least 1,000 times more for the bottled stuff in cities like Singapore or Tokyo, where piped water undergoes extensive safety checks each day. And even then, the authorities are likely to add to the number of safety tests as new contaminants like microplastics and endocrine disruptors become a public health issue.

One major takeaway is that it is no longer enough for utilities to focus simply on ensuring adequate quantities of water. Increasingly, we will see a shift towards ensuring trust in the quality of water as well.

Just as water is essential to human survival, it also plays a vital role in sustaining the economy. Food production is an obvious example, but its impact is far greater.

Population growth, urbanisation and, lately, climate change - especially in terms of the costs of evermore intense droughts and floods - drive home the message of how critical sound water management is to national survival.

As the task becomes evermore complex and challenging, growing attention is also being paid to studying people's attitudes and behaviour on water-related issues, in particular, pricing.

Police get wider powers to deal with serious incidents; Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act passed by Parliament on 21 Mar 2018

Powers include communications stop order; safeguards in place, says Josephine Teo
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2018

A new law that expands police powers to allow officers to respond swiftly and with greater flexibility during serious incidents like a terrorist attack was passed yesterday after a three-hour debate.

Under the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act (POSSPA), the police commissioner can impose measures such as a curfew and a stop order on communications to ensure the secrecy of security operations.

But the Act may be invoked only with the authorisation of the Home Affairs Minister, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said yesterday, following concerns expressed by MPs during the debate on the proposed legislation.

Other safeguards are also in place to ensure the police commissioner and the minister exercise their special powers only for specified incidents, where the police are likely to be in a race against time, Mrs Teo added.

"Once the threshold of a serious incident is crossed, we must give the police sufficient latitude to act decisively," she told the House on the final day of a three-day sitting.

The new law comes in the wake of a "clear and continuing threat" of a terror attack facing Singapore, which has been cited as a target in extremist publications and videos.

During the debate, Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun, who was among 10 members of the House who spoke on the proposed legislation, expressed concern over the discretion given to the minister and police commissioner.

Mr Kok asked if there could be conditions on the use of the special powers, and cited the Internal Security Act, which requires the minister's decision to be concurred by the president on the advice of a special advisory committee.

Replying, Mrs Teo stressed that the special powers will not be used for day-to-day policing, but only for specified incidents like a terrorist act or large-scale public disorder.

"Members will have to weigh: Which is the bigger risk in a serious incident? Which has the graver consequence?" she said. "There is a risk of too much discretion, but there is also a risk of too much delay."

Mrs Teo also said that after an incident has been dealt with, Parliament can still debate if the minister and police had done the right thing and hold them to account - as was with the 2013 Little India riot.

This new law repeals the Public Order (Preservation) Act, which allowed Parliament to annul the minister's proclamation as a safeguard.

This will no longer be the case. "There is no sinister reason for this," said Mrs Teo. " Judicial review of the minister's decision to make an activation order remains an avenue to curb improper use... of his powers."

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Singapore's oldest living kidney donor

Dad donates kidney to son - at age 79
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2018

Mr Wong Siak Wan has built structures with a blowtorch, welding helmet and steady hands for more than 60 years.

The 81-year-old has welded undersea oil pipes and covered walkways in Housing Board estates, and even built his own fish tank from metal bars and glass panels.

But about three years ago, he had to confront a problem that his decades of welding experience could not fix.

His son Jack, then 45, had kidney failure.

He solved the problem by donating one of his kidneys to Jack. He was 79.

The act made him the oldest living kidney donor in Singapore, a record that the Ministry of Health confirmed this week.

The soft-spoken Mr Wong was uncomfortable being under the spotlight when The Straits Times interviewed him this week.

"What I did, any parent would have done," he said in Mandarin. "Which parent would bear to see their children suffer?"

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Changes to criminal justice system passed in Parliament

Video-recordings of suspects' statements to start in phases
Use of new procedure in specified rape cases first among slew of changes to criminal justice system
By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2018

The video-recording of statements from suspects will be introduced in phases, starting with the interviews of those accused of specified rape offences, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said yesterday.

The video recording of such interviews is mandatory, she added, disclosing that enough police officers have been trained to implement the first phase.

This new requirement is among more than 50 diverse changes spanning the criminal justice system that were approved by Parliament after debate yesterday. These related to matters ranging from investigations to court processes to sentencing.

Ms Indranee said video-recording the interviews of the rape suspects will allow the courts to take into account their demeanour, and also provide an objective account to help the court decide on allegations that may arise over how the interview was conducted.

But the legislation will allow for flexibility to take into account operational exigencies, she added.

For example, there may be a need to record a handwritten statement immediately at the crime scene where a suspect is arrested.

The Government plans to eventually let video statements of vulnerable victims be used in place of their oral testimony in court.

It will monitor the first phase before deciding how to put it into operation because the video-recording of victims' statements involves complex issues, said Ms Indranee.

During the debate, Members of Parliament expressed support for the video-recording of suspects' statements, saying it makes the interview process more transparent.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Public Hearings on Fake News: 14 - 16 March 2018

Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods - Public Hearings

Eight-day hearing on how Singapore should battle online disinformation begins
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2018

The fight against deliberate online falsehoods in Singapore is under way at Parliament House, with academics, legal experts and religious groups slated to speak on Wednesday (March 14) at the first public hearing on the issue.

At the opening of the hearing, chairman of the committee looking into the issue, Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, said: "Deliberate online falsehoods are a serious global problem, which many countries, including Singapore, have to grapple with. It is a complex problem, affecting us in many different ways."

The full-day session will first see academics Carol Soon and Shawn Goh of the Institute of Policy Studies, who have studied the impact of new media, as well as their colleague Mathew Matthews - known for his research on societal cohesion in Singapore - give their views on the problem of online fabrications.

Singapore Management University law school dean Goh Yihan, lawyer and former Nominated MP Shrinivas Rai, and cyber-conflict expert Michael Raska, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, are also slated to speak.

Representatives for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, National Council of Churches of Singapore and the Singapore Buddhist Federation are scheduled to weigh in with their community's views as well.

These speakers will appear before the 10-member Select Committee, which was set up in January to look into how Singapore can tackle deliberate online falsehoods.

The high-level parliamentary committee will speak to a diverse range of individuals and organisations from Singapore and abroad to help it decide on its recommendations, which will be submitted to Parliament.

This will take place over eight days this week and the next two weeks. As the hearings go on, the committee will decide whether all the dates are needed.

It received a record 164 written submissions, toppling the previous high of 99 submissions to the 1988 Select Committee on the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill and reflecting the interest and anxiety sparked by the scourge of disinformation. These included perspectives from religious groups, traditional and alternative media, technology companies and academics.

A total of 79 individuals and organisations have been invited to speak - outstripping past Select Committee hearings. Said Mr Chong: "We may revise the witness list as the hearings progress."

He said the current committee’s decisions on the process so far have been unanimous and consensual. "This reflects our common intention to engage widely on our terms of reference."

The committee said in a statement on Tuesday: "This is an indication of the importance of these issues at stake, and the (committee's) commitment to consult widely."

Fewer foreigners, more locals in workforce last year: Labour Market Report 2017

Biggest drop in foreigners working in Singapore in 15 years: Manpower Ministry
Employment pass holders declined for first time in at least six years, MOM data shows
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2018

The number of foreigners working in Singapore fell by 32,000 last year - the biggest drop in 15 years - even as more locals were in jobs.

While the decline was mostly due to fewer work permit holders in the construction and marine shipyard industries, the number of skilled foreigners on employment passes (EP) also went down by 4,500.

This was the first drop in at least six years, according to the latest figures released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

Industries that employed fewer EP holders included the professional services and infocomm technology sectors. In tandem, they employed more local workers, the ministry said in its report.

The last time Singapore saw such a steep decline in the number of foreigners working here was in 2002, when it plunged by 43,000.

This time, weaknesses in both the construction and marine shipyard industries played a key role, said MOM, pointing to poor demand for oil rigs.

But observers also said there has been some success in the Government's effort to build a so-called "Singapore core" in the workforce - by both tightening foreign manpower policies and upgrading the skills of local workers.

"The policy measures have helped improve employment prospects for resident workers," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Overall, 21,300 more Singaporeans and permanent residents were in jobs last year than in 2016. As a result, they made up a slightly bigger share of the workforce - at 67.2 per cent, up from 66.4 per cent.

The workforce, excluding maids, stood at 3.42 million in December.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

ISEAS 50th Anniversary Lecture by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

ASEAN must stand united amid tidal pulls on members as regional powers grow in strength: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2018

ASEAN has to get used to new internal dynamics as each member - to a different degree - feels the influence of burgeoning regional powers, especially China and India, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But this must not lead to a divided ASEAN, he said yesterday.

"We must accept the reality of these tidal pulls, without allowing them to lead to fault lines forming within the ASEAN group," he said.

New powers, especially China and India, are growing in strength and influence, creating new opportunities, he noted. At the same time, "countries have to take into account the policies and interests of new powers, while maintaining their traditional political and economic ties".

In the United States, the political mood has changed. But ASEAN hopes the world's biggest economy and region's security anchor remains active in South-east Asia.

"In this shifting environment, it is important that ASEAN works actively to maintain its centrality and relevance," the Prime Minister told about 500 people, including diplomats and students, at a lecture marking the 50th anniversary of think-tank ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

He noted that there is nothing to prevent other groupings or projects - such as China's Belt and Road Initiative - from being launched. "Amid this Darwinian process, ASEAN members must come together to maintain ASEAN's relevance and cohesion."

Thus, while each ASEAN member has its own domestic issues to manage, a unified front is key. PM Lee called on governments to invest political capital in the ASEAN project and to make a conscious effort to think regionally, not just nationally.