Thursday, 19 October 2017

Counter-terrorism exercise at Changi Airport Terminal 3: Airport a high-profile target for terrorists, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Crucial for security forces to be well prepared; agencies urged to cooperate closely and practise crisis response
By Danson Cheong and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Changi Airport is a "high-profile target" for terrorists, and it is crucial that security forces here are prepared to react to an attack there, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He added that they would have to do so in a way that will neutralise the attackers decisively, while minimising casualties. He made the remarks after observing a counter-terrorism drill at the airport, held as part of ongoing efforts to hone the multi-agency response to terror threats.

The hour-long exercise, dubbed Northstar and in its 10th edition, involved a simulated attack with gunmen shooting people at the Changi Airport MRT station and a suicide bomb explosion in Terminal 3.

Speaking to reporters, PM Lee said: "If you look around the world, more than one airport has had a terrorist attack... It is completely plausible that something like this would happen in Singapore.

"If it does happen, we must be quite sure that our responders are ready for it. We know what to do, we know how to work together, we know who to go where."

PM Lee urged the various agencies to cooperate closely and have ample practice.

Yesterday's exercise involved more than 650 people from the Singapore Police Force, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and also ministries and agencies including Changi Airport Group, SMRT and the Health Ministry.

The simulated attack on what was supposed to be a busy Saturday afternoon started with two gunmen firing at people as they alighted from a train at Changi Airport MRT station.

Within moments, police officers from the Public Transport Security Command responded, killing one gunman. The other fled to the T3 departure hall. This initial strike was followed by a suicide bomber detonating an explosive vest in the departure hall, before three other gunmen stormed the terminal.

Crack troops from the Airport Strike Force and Rapid Deployment Troops from the Special Operations Command swooped in. The gunmen were later taken down inside the transit area of T3, where combat engineers from the SAF's chemical, biological, radiological and explosives defence group later disarmed an improvised explosive device.

School fees for foreigners, PRs to increase from 2018

School fees going up for foreigners and PRs
Hike for next 3 years applies to local primary, secondary schools, and pre-university level
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2017

Foreigners and Singapore permanent residents (PR) will have to pay more over the next three years to enrol their children in local schools.

Monthly fees for PRs attending a primary school will increase from the current $130 to $155 next year, $180 in 2019, and $205 in 2020.

For international students, monthly fees will increase by $50 each year, from $600 now to $750 in 2020.

Secondary school fees for PRs will nearly double from the current monthly fee of $200 to $380 in 2020, with an annual increase of $60 in monthly fees.

The revision in fees - which applies to primary and secondary schools, and the pre-university level - will take effect from January each year. This will be the third consecutive year that school fees have gone up for non-Singaporeans.

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said yesterday that it conducts regular reviews of school fees and makes adjustments when necessary. "The fee increase sharpens the differentiation between Singapore citizens, PRs and foreigners, to reflect the privileges of citizenship," said the spokesman.

"Having said that, even with the increase in school fees, our fees for international students remain competitive compared to international and private schools."

From 2018 to 2020, school fees will increase by $25 to $60 a month for PRs, and by $25 to $150 a month for international students.

MOE said it released the fee schedule for the next three years "to provide greater certainty and enable parents to plan for the financing of their children's studies in MOE schools".

The fees for Singapore citizens remain unchanged. Primary school education is free for Singaporeans, while those in secondary schools and at the pre-university level pay monthly fees of $5 and $6 respectively.

Affected parents said they were thankful that their children even have places in local schools.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

MRT tunnel flooding: SMRT maintenance team failed us, says Khaw Boon Wan

North-South Line flooding was preventable: Khaw Boon Wan
He says SMRT team in charge of maintaining anti-flood system at Bishan failed commuters
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2017

An MRT tunnel flooding incident which left a section of the North-South Line (NSL) inoperable for 20 hours earlier this month was "preventable", and the SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood measures "has failed us".

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said this yesterday during a press conference together with officials from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and train operator SMRT, which runs the NSL.

"Our findings are that the anti-flooding system there had been poorly maintained... The SMRT team in charge of maintaining the anti-flood system at Bishan has failed us," he said, adding that the incident "should not have happened" and "we are all sorry that it did".

Apologising to commuters, SMRT and SMRT Trains chairman Seah Moon Ming took a bow, as SMRT group chief executive Desmond Kuek and SMRT Trains CEO Lee Ling Wee looked on.

Mr Seah said the incident will have an impact on the bonuses of the SMRT maintenance team. Mr Kuek said SMRT was taking full responsibility and looking into tackling remaining "deep-seated cultural issues" within the company, despite progress on instilling a positive work culture.

"Indeed, many of our major disruptions in the past have been attributed in some part, or all, to human error or failure. We regret that this is so," said Mr Kuek.

Investigations after the Oct 7 incident found that a storm water pit in the tunnel between Bishan and Braddell MRT stations - designed to collect and pump out rainwater - was likely close to full before the recent flooding incident.

It was also found that due to the maintenance lapse, sludge and debris had accumulated in the lower compartment of the water pit, which could have affected the operational capabilities of pumps and float switches. They were to be inspected and maintained last month, but this was postponed as the maintenance team claimed it could not get a slot for track access during engineering hours.

The failure of the float switches resulted in water flooding the tunnel between Bishan station and the underground Braddell station. The water had to be manually pumped out through the night, with help from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and PUB.

NSL services in both directions, between Ang Mo Kio and Newton MRT stations, were down from 5.30pm on Oct 7, and resumed only at 1.36pm the next day. A quarter of a million commuters were affected.

Mr Lee said SMRT will conduct checks on water pumps and flood sensors more rigorously - on a monthly basis instead of every quarter currently. The flood-prevention devices that failed were last inspected in June.

SMRT will also work with LTA to improve the redundancy of flood prevention measures, including additional radar sensors to activate pumps. On top of alerts sent to the operations control centre, SMS messages will also be sent to SMRT staff when water in the storm pit reaches a certain level.

The pump control panel will also be re-located so that track access is not required to manually activate the water pumps, said Mr Lee. LTA added that it will send the failed float switches for further testing.

Mr Khaw said that MRT tunnels are designed to handle Singapore's weather and cope with very extreme storms. "(The) bottom line is that MRT tunnels should not be flooded. Full stop," he said.

MP Sitoh Yih Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said he hopes SMRT can strengthen its system of "checks and balances". "It cannot be that just because one department or a group of people didn't check the water pump, the whole system fails," Mr Sitoh said.

Mr Seah said SMRT has added more staff to its inspectorate teams, which check all work done and reports independently to an audit and risk management committee.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Kampung Admiralty stirs to life as residents move in

Singapore's first 'retirement kampung' is self-contained with many practical features
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2017

Every time a new resident moves into Kampung Admiralty, Mr Heng Gee Choo would rush out to greet them.

The 64-year-old, who is one of the first to move in to his studio apartment at Singapore's first "retirement kampung", said: "This is actually better than a kampung. The people who live here are our age, and have more time on their hands, and it's easier to communicate with them. When new neighbours move in, I quickly go over to say hello. We hope to organise more events such as gatherings and having tea together."

Located next to the Admiralty MRT station, Kampung Admiralty is self-contained. The two HDB blocks house the two-level Admiralty Medical Centre - managed by the Alexandra Health System - a hawker centre, rooftop vegetable and community gardens, and an active-ageing hub. The hub is co-located with a childcare centre and both will be ready in February.

"We've already found a place for our granddaughter at the childcare centre," said Mr Heng.

The couple look after their granddaughter on weekdays while her parents are at work.

As of this month, about 20 households have moved in, out of 30 which have received their keys. All of the 104 flats at Kampung Admiralty were snapped up after they were first offered in the July 2014 Build-To-Order (BTO) exercise.

For the past two weeks, Mr Heng and his wife have busied themselves with furnishing their new home, caring for their 20-month-old granddaughter, and getting to know their neighbours.

Mr Heng, the semi-retired owner of a renovation company, said he and his wife decided to downsize from a four-room flat in Marsiling for the sake of convenience and practicality. The couple can also visit the active-ageing hub which will offer programmes for well and healthy seniors. It will also offer daycare and rehabilitation services for those with greater needs, and help homebound elderly residents at their homes.

People from the active-ageing hub can help seniors with groceries, household chores or personal hygiene if necessary. Residents can also activate an emergency alert system in their studio apartments to call them for help.

The complex is the first of 10 similar Housing Board build-to-order projects with childcare and elderly centres housed in the same area.

Monday, 16 October 2017

10 CPF hacks to grow your nest egg

By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 15 Oct 2017

It is never too early to start preparing for retirement - think of it as a lifelong journey, one that in Singapore is inevitably linked to our Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Whether you're starting work, about to buy a home, raising a family or nearing retirement, small steps like CPF transfers and cash top-ups can help build up your nest egg and secure a desired future lifestyle.

The CPF Board has been organising the CPF Retirement Planning Roadshow series in the past few years to raise awareness on how the system helps retirement planning.

Last year, more than 80,000 CPF members visited the five roadshows held islandwide.

The first one this year kicked off in August at the Toa Payoh HDB Hub and featured a wide range of interactive exhibits, including an augmented reality experience booth.

Not to be left out, young CPF members are encouraged to try out a mobile game app called Ready, Get Set, Grow. The app encourages them to take action today via CPF-related messages based on the three basic needs of retirement - housing, healthcare and income.

The Sunday Times highlights 10 hacks to "game" the CPF system.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Help available for those living on the streets: Ministry of Social and Family Development

We thank Mr V. Balu for his suggestions and concern for those in need (Set up task force to help those living on streets; Oct 11).

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) looks into each report of persons sleeping in public.

The MSF also conducts patrols and joint efforts with other agencies to engage those who are sleeping in public.

Our priority is to ascertain and address their immediate needs, in particular their health and safety.

Those with no family support and housing are offered shelter.

Individuals who need long-term support are cared for in welfare homes.

There are often multiple and complex issues that may result in a person sleeping in public.

For instance, some may have homes but are unable to return home due to a conflict with family members or tenants.

We work closely with social service, community and government agencies to extend help and support to these individuals by providing financial assistance, employment assistance, counselling to address marital and family issues, or referrals to other services.

There are also instances where individuals decline assistance, despite attempts by MSF officers, social workers and community members to engage them to offer the necessary support.

Members of the public can play a role too. If they see someone in need, they can approach him, understand his situation, and call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000 or advise him to approach the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre if he requires help.

Kong Kum Peck (Ms)
ComCare and Social Support Division
Social Policy and Services Group
Ministry of Social and Family Development
ST Forum, 14 Oct 2017

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Esplanade turns 15

#mydurian turns 15
At birth, it was feared that Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay might be a white elephant. Instead, it has become a hub for the arts and the community.
By Benson Puah, Published The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2017

In 2009, amid a financial crisis and rising religious intolerance, we at Singapore's national performing arts centre decided to do something to bring calm and reflection. We created a sacred music festival. We wanted to take sacred music out of the cloisters of religious communities, put it on a secular platform and enable people of different faiths to be uplifted by great and stirring music.

And the people came.

Since then, for one weekend every April, the festival A Tapestry of Sacred Music fills the centre with spiritual sounds. These range from the rousing vocal improvisations of South Asian qawwali (Sufi devotional music) singers to the tranquil chants of Tibetan Buddhist monks.

This festival is one of many in Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay's year-round calendar. It is a demonstration of our vision to be an arts centre for all, as we believe the arts can break down the walls that divide us.

Fifteen years ago, when the Esplanade opened on Oct 12, sceptics wondered if the arts centre would become a "white elephant". At that time, the arts were seen as an exclusive activity for those in the know. The last thing we wanted was to be a glittering but empty shell, underutilised and irrelevant. We wanted to be a living arts centre, alive with people who feel at home here.

To that end, we activated our public spaces to ensure that at any time, a person at the Esplanade will encounter the arts through daily free performances and art installations. For 15 years, we worked hard to develop relationships with the different communities, while raising the capabilities of the arts industry in Singapore to put on shows of the highest quality.

To date, more than 37,000 performances have taken place at the Esplanade, drawing an audience of 26 million patrons and 92 million visitors. And we continue each year to attract some two million attendances.

In 2011, famed Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min - whose Cloud Gate Dance Theatre has performed several times here - would remark in Lianhe Zaobao that Esplanade audiences are "not only there to watch performances" but to hang out with family and friends over food, beer and ice cream and that their behaviour, "be it before or after performances, always seems natural and full of joy".

He added: "A performing arts centre such as Esplanade is very rare elsewhere in the world. It represents an 'ecosystem' where arts & culture and life can coexist, and it's teeming with life."

Harvey Weinstein and the Silence of the Men

The hush in Hollywood about the mega producer only reinforces a culture that keeps women from speaking up.
By Lena Dunham, Published The Straits Times, 13 Oct 2017

I went to Hollywood when I was 23. I had made a low-budget film, won an award at a prestigious festival, scored an agent and made a TV deal all within six months. It was a fairy tale most people will never experience, and I knew, as well as a 23-year-old can know anything, that I was getting a pretty great deal. I bounced from meeting to meeting with the joy of Cinderella at the ball.

These meetings, almost always with men, were rife with acts of everyday sexism - the presumption that I must want to make small "intimate" movies, a suggestion that I write a comedy focused on "the way women's periods sync up and they go crazy for a week", the insistence that I'd be "really funny paired with a hot girl".

There were dinners that went on too long, work lunches that turned into confessions about the broken state of the film executive's marriage and the consistent insistence that I must, as my work suggests, be "up for anything in bed".

I took it in stride, unloading the day's injustices on the couch of my new friend (and now my work partner), Jenni Konner. She told me maddening stories of her own ascent and we plotted a new world for ourselves. We imagined a set run by women, men who wouldn't dream of overstepping or underpaying, a company where girls stretched as far as the eye could see, the chance to write scripts that changed people's perceptions of feminine identity.

We would tell any man who thought that was an invitation for sex to go eat a shoe. The men we have worked with - like Judd Apatow, Hollywood's least sleazy guy - have showed us utter respect. The only terrifying producer rage I ever experienced was from a gay man who tried to take back a purse he had bought me. We got to do all that we had dreamed of and more.

This past week, reports that Harvey Weinstein had sexually harassed women for years came to light, making it crystal clear that not every woman in Hollywood has had the chance to walk our path.

Abuse, threats and coercion have been the norm for so many women trying to do business or make art. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he's certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild. His behaviour, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.