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.


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.

PM Lee Hsien Loong outlines Singapore's key goals as chairman of ASEAN in 2018

Grouping a vehicle for 10 nations to manage issues and improve lives in South-east Asia, he says
By Charissa Yong Political Correspondent In Manila, The Straits Times, 15 Nov 2017

ASEAN is a lifeboat for all 10 countries in South-east Asia to come together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, on the cusp of Singapore's helming the group.

ASEAN, which turned 50 this year, is a vehicle "to have our voice heard on the world stage and to be able to manage our own issues among ourselves, and to cooperate to improve the lives of the people in South-east Asia", he told Singapore reporters.

He also outlined Singapore's key priorities as chair, captured in its tagline "Resilient and Innovative", in a speech at last night's closing ceremony for the 31st ASEAN Summit, the last major event on ASEAN's calendar this year. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the host, gave him a symbolic gavel to mark the hand-over of the rotating chairmanship.

PM Lee said Singapore, as ASEAN chairman next year, will seek to ensure the group promotes and upholds a rules-based regional order.

This is to better deal with emerging security challenges in the neighbourhood, such as cyber security, transnational crime and terrorism.

Singapore will also steer fellow members to press on with regional economic integration and enhance connectivity, so as to keep the region competitive and prosperous.

And it will find innovative ways to manage and make use of digital technologies, and equip ASEAN citizens with skills and capabilities.

The goal, he added, is for ASEAN to remain a central and dynamic driving force in the region that can deal with challenges and opportunities.

Singapore will also continue to build relations with ASEAN's external partners, PM Lee added. If it can make ASEAN more effective and strengthen cooperation with its neighbours, this will benefit the man on the street, he said.

"It means for Singapore a stabler world to live in, a safer South-east Asia in which we can operate, a more prosperous region in which we can grow our economy, expand our markets and seize opportunities which will be there," he said.

PM Lee also congratulated the Philippines for its successful chairmanship. A major highlight was a framework for the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

More children hurt in road accidents in first half of 2017

By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 14 Nov 2017

A total of 132 children aged 12 and below were injured in road traffic accidents in the first half of this year, up from 128 in the same period last year.

"We can avoid and prevent needless tragedies, and more can be done to educate and instil road safety habits in young children," said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim.

He was speaking at the closing of the 37th annual Shell Traffic Games - which tests pupils' road safety knowledge - at the Road Safety Community Park in East Coast yesterday.

In his speech, Associate Professor Faishal noted that children are vulnerable as they may not understand the dangers present on the road, and their size makes them less visible to motorists.

He cited a video that went viral in October, showing a six-year-old boy dashing across Leedon Road and being hit by a car. He was flung off his kick scooter.

"Fortunately, the boy suffered only minor injuries. This is why I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to teach children about the dangers on our roads," said Prof Faishal.

Three educational animation videos for children were also launched at the event.

The videos are a collaboration between the Singapore Road Safety Council, students from Nanyang Polytechnic's School of Interactive and Digital Media, the Traffic Police and oil company Shell.

The videos will be distributed to all primary schools and can be found on the Singapore Police Force's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

They aim to educate pupils on key road safety practices - the kerb drill; looking out for blind spots; and the dangers of crossing the road while distracted.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Why public sees foreign workers as more helpful than Singaporeans

By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2017

In September, a group of foreign workers were hailed for helping to move a car that had been stuck on a flight of stairs at Waterway Point in Punggol - while Singaporeans looked on and snapped pictures with their phones.

After the video circulated online, there was an outpouring of goodwill from Singaporeans, many of whom compared the foreign workers favourably against locals.

The workers, The Straits Times understands, had in fact been asked to move the car. But public response was telling, with many Singaporeans saying that foreign workers here are helpful and friendly - perhaps even more so than locals.

People ST spoke to suggested reasons that foreign workers are seen in such a positive light, although they were cautious not to generalise.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, from the National University of Singapore's department of sociology, said: "It could be that we tend to be generous in our views of people who are no threat to us. Here, we are speaking of foreign workers who perform the menial tasks that we avoid doing ourselves."

An unequal relationship of power could affect the way foreign workers interact with locals.

"Because the foreign workers see themselves as of lower status to middle-class Singaporeans, they may tend to display what could be deemed to be deferential, even subservient, behaviour, but manifested as friendly or helpful behaviour.

"Consequently, we may actually develop some positive stereotypes about them... along with some negative stereotypes. The latter could be activated should they, for instance, compete with us for public space or amenities," Prof Tan added.

Singapore National Football League game descends into mass brawl, police called in

By Lim Say Heng and David Lee, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2017

A National Football League (NFL) Division 1 game between the Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association (SAFSA) and Yishun Sentek Mariners ended in a mass brawl last night at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The incident occurred in stoppage time of the second half, when Sentek Mariners' defender Zulfadhli Suzliman was sent off with SAFSA leading 3-2.

Prior to the game, Sentek Mariners were top of the 12-team NFL while SAFSA were second.

Sentek Mariners coach Yakob Hashim told The Straits Times (ST): "Zulfadhli told me Nazirul (Islam) verbally abused his mother and he retaliated with a kick, which led to his red card although Nazirul was not booked.

"I was paying attention to the both of them when another scuffle involving the reserves broke out at another corner of the pitch."

SAFSA could not be reached for comment yesterday.

ST understands that play was stopped for about 15 minutes before the match resumed. SAFSA won 3-2. ST also understands that the police have been called in, and was still at the stadium at 11pm last night.

Yakob said: "It is regrettable that such an incident has happened. Investigations are ongoing and we will cooperate fully with the relevant authorities."

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said in a statement: "The FAS does not condone any ungentlemanly behaviour that taints the name of our sport, and brings it into disrepute.

"As the matter is under investigation, we are unable to make any further comments."

Monday, 13 November 2017

TPP deal moves ahead without US, trade pact renamed CPTPP - Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

Business groups cheer new Trans-Pacific trade pact involving remaining 11 countries
By Lee U-Wen In Danang, Vietnam, The Sunday Times, 12 Nov 2017

Eleven countries in an ambitious free trade deal, including Singapore, have agreed to go ahead without the United States after a week of drama when agreement seemed elusive.

They will stick to the core elements of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreed upon two years ago, but which the United States pulled out of in January.

The deal substantially lowers tariffs on a wide range of goods and, even without the US, remains attractive, although some had sought to weaken its onerous standards.

For Singapore companies, it offers access to a market of 500 million people with a combined output of US$10 trillion (S$13.6 trillion).

The new pact - the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the TPP (CPTPP) - suspends 20 provisions of the original TPP, mostly on intellectual property.

It was reached on the sidelines of the annual leaders' meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a grouping of 21 economies set up to liberalise trade across the region. All the TPP countries are members of APEC.

Japan's Economy Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the CPTPP will enter into force after at least six members ratify it. Its members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Speaking to Singapore reporters after the APEC Summit ended, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it took "a lot of skill and determination and willingness" among the 11 parties to agree not to renegotiate the pact, even though the circumstances have changed.

"It is not easy to take the TPP that was designed for 12 countries, remove one and then have the remaining 11 reach an agreement almost the same as the original, because economic calculations change, strategic calculations change, and political calculations change."

The deal appeared to hit a major roadblock on Friday when a planned meeting of TPP leaders was shelved as Canadian PM Justin Trudeau did not attend. His Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne later put this down to "a misunderstanding about the schedule".

Business groups cheered the deal, including the Singapore Business Federation, whose chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit said he "looked forward to the speedy conclusion and subsequent implementation of the restructured agreement".

The Asian Trade Centre executive director, Dr Deborah Elms, told AFP that even without the US, the CPTPP was "the most important trade agreement signed in the last 20 years". "Companies had largely given up on the TPP after the withdrawal of the United States," she said. "Now, firms will need to scramble to figure out how the agreement matters to their business."

OCBC: The 85-year journey of a Singapore bank

A new book, Wind Behind The Sails: The People And Ethos Of OCBC, published by Straits Times Press, traces the bank's growth and how it helped transform Singapore's cityscape. Below is an edited excerpt.
The Sunday Times, 12 Nov 2017

Built in early 1932, the China Building along Chulia Street was one of the most recognisable landmarks in the business district. A head taller than the surrounding shophouses, it stood out for its distinctive Peking style. Designed by international architecture firm Keys & Dowdeswell, it had elaborate decorations adorning its exterior walls. But it was its pagoda-style roof that marked its presence in the area, giving it an aura of aristocracy.

It was therefore unsurprising that the fashionable building was often a gathering place for the who's who of the Chinese business community in the early 1950s to 1960s. Former OCBC chairman Lee Kong Chian often hosted contemporaries to lunch at the Garden Club, located at the top floor of the China Building, discussing everything from business to politics.

The China Building was officially opened in January 1932 to house the Chinese Commercial Bank and the Oversea-Chinese Bank. It became the headquarters of OCBC when the two banks merged with Ho Hong Bank later that year. For an entire generation - nearly 40 years - the building housed the top tier of Chinese bankers in Singapore till the late 1960s. But by the beginning of the decade, it was increasingly clear that OCBC, with its thousands of employees, had outgrown the small but elegant headquarters that had served it for so long. In 1969, the bank started to plan for a new headquarters that would serve as the nerve centre for the growing banking group.

The planning and building of the new headquarters was the most important project for the bank up till that point in its history. It would be the tallest building in the region, equipped with the most up-to-date features and facilities of any building in Singapore. Representing a bank on the ascendancy, the new skyscraper was to be the crowning glory of the towering financial institution. OCBC Centre was not just going to be the new home of the group but a symbol of its strength and the pillar of its future.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Risk of enlisting radicalised National Servicemen exists: MINDEF; 3 Singaporeans dealt with under ISA for terror-related activities between Sep and Nov 2017

Radicalised teenager's individual beliefs do not represent Singapore's national servicemen who dutifully serve to protect their loved ones, regardless of race or religion, says the Ministry of Defence.
By Jalelah Abu Baker, Channel NewsAsia, 9 Nov 2017

The risk of enlisting a radicalised serviceman exists, as full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) are drawn from the entire male population at large, said the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) on Thursday (Nov 9).

The ministry was responding to Channel NewsAsia's queries following news that a 19-year-old NSF was arrested after becoming radicalised.

Adzrul Azizi Banjuri, a former logistics assistant in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), was exposed to radical material online and supported Islamic State. He was issued with a Restriction Order under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in September this year, and will be required to undergo counselling.

MINDEF said Adzrul's interest in extremist ideology began when he was in a local secondary school three years ago.

“Adzrul’s individual radical beliefs do not represent our national servicemen who dutifully serve to protect their loved ones, regardless of race or religion,” said a spokesperson for MINDEF, describing the ministry and the Singapore Armed Forces as a “microcosm” of Singapore society at large.

Adzrul was one of three Singaporeans recently dealt with under the ISA for terror-related activities.

“While serving his NS, Adzrul started having doubts about the legitimacy of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ideology and its violent tactics,” said the MINDEF spokesperson.

"Hopefully the counselling and correct religious instruction that he receives will assist in de-radicalising his extremist views."

In a separate statement on Thursday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said there are no indications that Adzrul radicalised any of his fellow national servicemen.

Under the Restriction Order, Adzrul must abide by several conditions such as not travelling out of Singapore. He is also not allowed to change his place of residence or employment without prior approval from the director of the Internal Security Department.


MHA said that Adzrul’s radicalisation was left unchecked because no one came forward to report him.

“Although some of his relatives and associates had seen indications of his radicalism, they did not inform the authorities,” said MHA in response to media queries.

Friday, 10 November 2017

CNA-IPS Survey on Ethnic Identity in Singapore 2017: CMIO racial categorisation system still important

More than 2,000 people, mostly Singaporeans and across ethnicities and ages, participated in the survey jointly conducted by Channel NewsAsia and the Institute of Policy Studies.
By Jalelah Abu Baker, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Nov 2017

The CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) racial categorisation system that Singapore uses, as well as race-based policies, still have a place in Singapore, going by a survey on what defines ethnic identity here.

The CMIO framework seems to be important, said senior research fellow Mathew Mathews from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in response to questions from the media during a briefing on Wednesday (Nov 8) on the findings of the survey done jointly with Channel NewsAsia.

“The fact that even among our millennials, they care about some of the core markers of their identity ... they still think it's important. That tells us that ethnicity and how we identify ourselves as ethnic individuals continue to be important for many Singaporeans,” said Dr Mathews, who was the survey's principal investigator.

He added that one of the benefits of the CMIO framework is it ensures that minorities will continue to be able to practise their culture in Singapore, and feel just as Singaporean as someone in the majority ethnicity.

According to the study's findings, the current CMIO classification system, due to its use in public policy, may have resulted in Singaporeans’ perceptions of ethnic identity converging on certain key indicators such as language.

When asked about whether there is a need for race-based policies such as the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and reserved presidential election, Dr Mathews said that Singapore needs policies to ensure that “every one of our races in Singapore will be able to feel that they do not have to give up their particular culture, their language, what they feel is valuable to them”.

The GRC system was put in place to ensure minority representation in Parliament, while a reserved presidential election is open only to candidates from a particular minority group to contest. The reserved election held in September this year caused unhappiness among a group of Singaporeans, who staged a so-called “silent protest” at Hong Lim Park.

More than 2,000 people, mostly Singaporeans, participated in the survey, which was conducted by questionnaires being given to them and collected later. The survey aimed to study what Singaporeans felt were core identity markers of the main ethnic groups in the country.

MOH wants to make national patient database mandatory; Legislation set to be introduced in 2018

All health providers, even GPs, will have to upload health details if plans are approved
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2017

The Ministry of Health (MOH) wants to make it compulsory for all healthcare providers to upload data to the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system - from large hospitals all the way down to the neighbourhood GP clinic.

This means that every aspect of a person's medical history, including visits to doctors in the private sector, chronic medication, allergies and vaccination details, will be captured in these records.

These plans come on the back of a slow take-up rate from the private healthcare sector in the six years since the NEHR was launched in 2011.

Sharing medical data in a national electronic repository will make for more seamless treatment and save money for patients, said the Government.

Singapore is one of the first countries to have established such a comprehensive system. The records, however, will not include details such as doctors' personal case notes, as they are meant chiefly to provide a summary.

Currently, most NEHR data comes from public sector institutions such as public hospitals and polyclinics.

Only 3 per cent of the more than 4,000 private healthcare providers - including specialist clinics, nursing homes and hospices - contribute to the scheme.

This is despite the fact that a quarter of them have access to it and can view patient records.

"Patients can realise the full potential of the NEHR only if the data is comprehensive," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who made the announcement yesterday at the start of the three-day FutureHealth Conference. The conference was jointly organised by Nanyang Technological University and the Centre for Healthcare Innovation.

"And for NEHR data to be comprehensive, every provider and healthcare professional needs to contribute relevant data to it," he added.

The proposed changes will likely be tabled in Parliament next year. If approved, healthcare groups will be given a grace period of two to three years to make the necessary preparations.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Collective sale fever: Spotlight on decaying home leases

While a lucky few pocket windfalls, others worry their ageing apartments might become depreciating assets
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2017

Collective sales have a way of making property owners, other than those getting a windfall, envious. This is especially so in a boom like the current one for houses sold en bloc.

These days, besides envy, owners of ageing apartments - whether private or public - may also feel a tinge of anxiety if the 99-year lease of the land their property sits on, or the 99-year tenure of the flat, is decaying fast, with no prospect of a buyout by either a private developer or the Government. The anxiety is due to a distinct possibility that instead of their property appreciating in value, it may start to depreciate as the lease runs out, and restrictions on Central Provident Fund usage, bank loans and Housing Board loans start to apply.

This problem of decaying leases is not confined to Singapore. Other countries are also grappling with it, with China in the midst of working out a provision to deal with 70-year residential leases that are fast running out.

What may be unique to Singapore is the large share of home owners affected, said Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan. "Singapore is unique because of the increasing preponderance of land with 99-year leases; the vast majority of Singaporeans live in HDB flats, and home owning is far more popular than renting here," he said.

What does that mean for home owners then, and for would-be buyers and sellers of older flats?


Since last year, there have been 20 collective sale deals transacted. These have generated a whopping $7.28 billion in proceeds for owners of the 3,268 apartments, according to Colliers International.

Private developers' hunger for residential land sites was evident in their willingness to shell out record amounts in upgrading premiums to top up the lease and differential premiums to intensify land use.

Legal age for smoking to be raised from 18 to 21

Minimum age for smokers to be raised to 19 on 1 Jan 2019, 20 on 1 Jan 2020 and finally to 21 on 1 Jan 2021; e-cigarettes to face ban
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2017

The minimum age for smoking will be raised to 19 on Jan 1, 2019, as Singapore intensifies its efforts to get people to stub out.

It will then be raised progressively every January until 2021, when smokers have to be 21 before they can light up. Currently, the minimum age is 18.

The amendments to the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, approved by Parliament yesterday, also ban people from buying, using and owning imitation tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, e-cigars and e-pipes.

The Straits Times understands that the ban will kick in early next year. This move extends the current ban on the sale, import and distribution of battery-powered devices that heat nicotine-infused liquids to produce a vapour for inhalation.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said the measures are to "de-normalise" the use of tobacco products over time and deny youth access to cigarettes.

Surveys show that young people get their cigarettes from friends and schoolmates, he said when tabling the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) (Amendment) Bill for debate. Social and peer pressure also strongly influence them to start smoking, he added when explaining the move to raise the minimum smoking age to 21.

Although the Health Promotion Board's data showed that the proportion of smokers here had fallen from over 18 per cent in the 1990s to around 12 per cent to 14 per cent in the past 10 years, Mr Amrin believed it could be reduced further.

He noted that 23 per cent of the men here still smoke, much higher than in countries such as Australia (14.5 per cent) and the United States (15.6 per cent).

Also, about 95 per cent of smokers here took their first puff before they turned 21, Mr Amrin said. And 45 per cent cultivated the habit between 18 and 21 years old.

Research in the US found that the brains of adolescents were particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction, Mr Amrin said, adding that "smokers who start earlier also find it harder to quit later in life".