Monday, 24 April 2017

Growing number of young Singaporeans in need, relying on Government handouts

Growing number of them relying on handouts - accounting for one in five recipients of ComCare; rise of gig economy may worsen situation
By Janice Tai and Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 23 Apr 2017

Three months ago, Ms Chloe Lin (not her real name) splurged on a big-ticket item. It was her daughter's 11th birthday.

Ms Lin, 33, bought a mango vanilla cake decorated with characters from the movie Frozen. It cost her $50 - one-seventh of the $360 she got a month from ComCare, Singapore's social aid scheme for the poor and needy.

But for Ms Lin, it was worth it. "It's her favourite cartoon and flavour," she said simply.

Having dropped out of school in Secondary 2, Ms Lin struggles to hold on to a job. Her longest stint was as a property telemarketer from 2010 to 2013, earning $7 an hour. But when the sector slowed, she was let go. Twice divorced, she now lives in a one-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio with her daughter.

Last year, Ms Lin applied for and received ComCare help. For nine months, the monthly stipend was all the pair had to live on.

Ms Lin is among a growing number of young Singaporeans who are in need and having to rely on the Government for handouts.

Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) data shows that 5,644 young households - with applicants aged below 35, the official definition of youth - received ComCare's short- to medium-term financial aid in the financial year of 2015.

This is a 40 per cent jump from the 4,016 young households who got such ComCare aid in 2012 - the earliest year that age-segregated data was made public. By contrast, the number of older households whose applicants are aged 35 to 59 went up less - by 34.9 per cent.

Over the years, the Government has become more generous in administering ComCare, bumping up cases. Families now get help when they have a monthly household income of $1,900 or less, or a per capita income of under $650, among other criteria.

But what experts say is troubling is that young Singaporeans account for one in five recipients - a proportion that has not budged despite government efforts such as student care and skills-upgrading subsidies.

It is also just a shade under the share that older Singaporeans aged 60 and above form (these do not include those who get long-term help due to illnesses or disabilities).

Wanted: 10,000 volunteers to help the elderly in Central Singapore

Silver Alliance to woo more volunteers to help seniors
By Joanna Seow, The Sunday Times, 23 Apr 2017

Madam Chen Yueh Lun, 81, has been helping her neighbours in the 24 years she has lived in Teck Ghee, collecting and distributing food items for those with mobility issues. She also helps the residents' committee check on neighbours if they pull the distress cord in their flats.

But the widow, who lives alone in a one-room rental flat, is glad to get help cleaning her home from student volunteers who visit about twice a month. "I'm afraid if I climb up to clean the fan, I'll fall down," she said. "I'm happy when the students come - we chat and I tell them stories."

She is one of over 10,000 seniors helped by Silver programmes run by the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC). Over the past four years, these include home cleaning, befriending and social outings.

The CDC aims to raise its pool of volunteers to 10,000, and launched a recruitment drive called The Silver Alliance yesterday.

Volunteers from companies and schools are matched with seniors, who are identified by grassroots groups and senior activity centres. Last year, about 9,000 people volunteered for the Silver programmes.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was at the launch, said such programmes are important as one in seven Singaporeans is aged 65 and above, and it is important for seniors to stay in the community and remain connected to others. "We can take care of our old people and connect with them, and make them feel they are valued citizens and have something to contribute."

Mr Lee, who helms Ang Mo Kio GRC, visited two residents' rental flats and helped volunteers paint a wall and lay sheets to prevent spills.

Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua said more than half of Singapore's rental units are in her district, with a large number of seniors living in them. The Silver Alliance is a call to action and aims to nurture a culture of care in the community "where we don't just perform a one-time act... but have a passion for and a culture of serving".

Yesterday, seniors in 32 flats in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 had their homes spruced up by 120 students from Raffles Institution, Teck Ghee Primary School and Pathlight School.

Teck Ghee Primary 6 pupil Seah Wei Xiong helped paint Madam Chen's flat and taught her how to take photos with her smartphone. "I think it's a very meaningful programme," he said. "I want to help the elderly have a better environment."

Toa Payoh to get new flats, new parks in makeover

A few thousand flats will be built on two sites, including one next to Caldecott MRT station
By Melissa Lin, The Sunday Times, 23 Apr 2017

Singapore's oldest HDB town, Toa Payoh, will undergo a facelift which will see the building of a few thousand new flats.

There will be two new public housing areas: a 10ha site next to the Caldecott MRT station on the Circle Line and the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line in Toa Payoh Rise, and a 4ha site in Toa Payoh East, next to the Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery.

The exact number of new flats is yet to be finalised. But analysts say that the two plots could fit roughly 5,000 units, depending on the flat sizes. There are currently about 37,000 flats in Toa Payoh.

The new flats, to be completed within the next five to 10 years, come under the Housing Board's Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) programme. Nine towns and estates have been identified for renewal - Punggol, Dawson, Yishun, East Coast, Hougang, Jurong Lake, Woodlands, Pasir Ris and Toa Payoh.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is also a Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP, launched an exhibition on the area's renewal plans at the HDB Hub Atrium yesterday.

Living with noise pollution in Singapore: Serangoon, Bukit Timah and Clementi among the noisiest neighbourhoods

Serangoon, Clementi and Bukit Timah are among the noisiest neighbourhoods in Singapore, one study has found. What does it mean to be living with noise pollution? The Sunday Times finds out.
By Ng Jun Sen and Tang Fan Xi, The Sunday Times, 23 Apr 2017

For the past three decades, Mr K.C. Tang, 72, and his wife have been communicating by shouting at each other.

Even then, the couple can barely make out what each other is saying, due to the unceasing cacophony of horns, sirens and revving engines from the Central Expressway (CTE) around 40m away from their three-room flat at Block 115, Potong Pasir Avenue 1.

Said Mr Tang, a retiree, with a sigh: "We have grown used to this."

Over in Yew Tee and Choa Chu Kang, where MRT tracks are within spitting distance from some Housing Board blocks, residents say that they, too, have become accustomed to living with noise.

Choa Chu Kang resident Nadia Begum, 29, whose home is some 30m away from a stretch of MRT track where a train rattles past every few minutes, said: "Closing all the windows is not sufficient. We have to use pillows over our heads to muffle the noises at night."

Mr Tang and Ms Begum are among the tens of thousands living next to busy roads, MRT tracks, construction sites and shopping malls around Singapore, who are coping with din just outside their homes.

A new study from the National University of Singapore (NUS) found that Singapore's average outdoor sound level throughout the day is 69.4 decibels, which is equivalent to the noise made by a vacuum cleaner.

This exceeds the National Environmental Agency's recommendation of no more than 67 decibels averaged over an hour, and is a whisker shy of the World Health Organisation threshold of 70 decibels a day. Consistent exposure to that level can cause hearing impairment.

United States has no military option against North Korea: Experts

Twenty-five million reasons the U.S. hasn’t struck North Korea
The Sunday Times, 23 Apr 2017

TOKYO • If the US were to strike North Korea, Mr Kim Jong Un's regime would retaliate by unleashing its conventional weaponry lined up on the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that has separated the two Koreas for about seven decades.

And that conventional weaponry is reliable, unlike North Korea's missiles, and could cause major devastation in South Korea, which is a staunch ally of the United States.

"This becomes a very limiting factor for the US," said retired air force officer Carl Baker, who has extensive experience in South Korea.

As tensions between Pyongyang and the outside world have risen over the past month, there has been more talk about Washington using military force either to pre-empt a provocation or to respond to one.

Although most of the recent focus has been on North Korea's ambition to be able to strike mainland US with a missile, the South Koreans have been living under the constant threat of a conventional attack from the North for decades.

North Korea has "a tremendous amount of artillery" right opposite Seoul, said Mr Joseph Bermudez Jr, a senior imagery analyst at 38 North, a website focused on North Korea.

The Second Corps of the Korean People's Army based at Kaesong on the northern side of the DMZ has about 500 artillery pieces, Mr Bermudez said. And this is just one army corps; similar corps are on either side of it.

All the artillery pieces in the Second Corps can reach the northern outskirts of the South Korean capital, just 50km from the DMZ, but the largest projectiles could fly to the south of Seoul. About 25 million people - or half of the South Korean population - live in the greater Seoul metropolitan area.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

8 junior colleges to merge in 2019 due to falling birth rates: MOE

8 junior colleges among 28 schools to be merged in 2019
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

Faced with a shrinking student population, 14 schools will be folded into others by 2019 to keep school sizes feasible. For the first time, this merger exercise will include junior colleges.

Serangoon, Tampines, Innova and Jurong JCs will be absorbed by Anderson, Meridian, Yishun and Pioneer respectively, cutting the number of JCs from 23 to 19.

Seven pairs of primary schools and three pairs of secondary schools will also merge.

For some of the JCs being merged, annual intakes would have dipped to the 200-to-300 range over the next few years, compared to optimal levels of between 700 and 800, the Education Ministry (MOE) explained.

Between 1993 and 2002, births each year fell about 20 per cent from about 49,000 to 39,000. As a knock-on effect, JC intake is now expected to drop by a fifth, going from 16,000 in 2010 to 12,800 in 2019. Said Ms Liew Wei Li, director of schools at MOE: "We have thought through the various options. This is a very difficult decision. We have agonised over it. We find that we have little choice but to merge the JCs, in order that we can provide that kind of opportunities and range of choices for the students to come."

The ministry said that despite the mergers, there will be a place for every student who qualifies for JC admission. All JCs will expand to cater to more students and no teachers will lose their jobs, it added.

The four JCs which will fold into others in 2019 will not take in a fresh cohort of JC1 students next year so that students will not have to move in 2019, while the current cohorts will complete their A-level studies at the same school.

Apart from falling enrolment, schools were picked for merger based on location, to keep a good spread across the country. Hence, two JCs not offering the integrated programme were selected from each region - east, north-east, west and north - to form a merger pair.

MOE said that unless action is taken, some schools might lack the "critical mass" to offer a broader range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities.

Population demographics across various estates have also changed.

As Primary 1 demand falls in mature estates, schools have to be merged. But in newer estates, new schools may be needed. Fern Green Valley School will open next year, to meet the high demand for school places in Sengkang.

Meanwhile, dedicated spaces at the merged schools will preserve the heritage of schools that are no longer on the map.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Smart Nation limited only by imagination: Peter Ho

IPS-Nathan Lectures 2016/17: Lecture II - Governing in the Anthropocene: Risk & Resilience, Imagination & Innovation

Mr Peter Ho's expertise is in futures thinking and, in his second Institute of Policy Studies-SR Nathan lecture on Wednesday, the former head of the Civil Service explores what Singapore can become if its people can imagine and innovate. Below is an edited excerpt of his speech.
The Straits Times, 21 Apr 2017

Singapore has a big ambition to become a Smart Nation.

But what is a Smart Nation?

On one level, it is about the exploitation of technologies in order to make the lives of people better, by giving them convenient and fast access to information and to customised services, including those that we cannot even imagine today. The current state of technology already offers all the ingredients of a Smart Nation.

But on another - I would argue more fundamental - level, being a Smart Nation calls for innovation at the systems level - aggregating technologies and combining them with new operating concepts, policies and plans - to solve national problems, such as the effects of climate change, traffic congestion, an ageing population, or simply to improve service delivery.

But its realisation is the sum of many innovations, big and small. Its ambition should be big, but its implementation is in hundreds and thousands of projects, both large and little.

But on both levels, it is a product of our imagination, and it is limited only by our imagination. Imagine a Smart Nation where there is increased efficiency, convenience and connectivity in and between workplaces and homes. Wearable technology such as hologram devices are used on the go to check and respond to work e-mails. Wi-Fi is available islandwide, eliminating restrictions from fixed data and limited call minutes. In the workplace, robots take over routine administrative tasks like coordinating meetings, conducting research and running daily errands.

At home, robotic helpers do the household chores and prepare meals. They order groceries when food items are low in stock, which are then delivered by drone to the doorstep.

Throughout Singapore, there are healthcare pods deployed islandwide at every housing block. These provide medical diagnosis, dispense medicine and provide simple medical services as well. These make it more convenient for elderly residents, who have mobility problems, and those who do not have the time to visit a clinic.

However, the Government may not be structured to reach this level of imagination and boldness of vision. Some might argue that it is not even its business. Innovation at this level is perhaps better achieved by the private sector, and by individual start-ups with the boldness and the ideas.

Empowerment is key. Too much top-down control will kill the spirit of innovation that is central to a Smart Nation. Instead, the role of the Government should be to facilitate such innovation by funding incentives and arrangements through flexible - rather than restrictive - regulations.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Singapore and Germany have the most powerful passports in the world: Global Passport Power Rank 2017

Singaporeans, Germans hold 'world's most powerful passports'
By Chew Hui Min, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2017

For the first time, Singapore is tied with Germany as the country with the most powerful passport in an international ranking.

Both Singapore and Germany top the Global Passport Power Rank 2017, published by Arton Capital's Passport Index.

Holders of a Singapore passport can now get a visa on arrival in Ukraine for up to 15 days, raising the Republic's score by one to 159, Arton Capital said in a press statement on Tuesday. Singapore was ranked second before this change.

Germany still has the edge for visa-free travel, it said.

Germans can travel to 125 countries without a visa, while holders of a Singapore passport can travel to 122 countries without a visa.

But Singapore beats Germany with a visa-on-arrival score of 37 to 34. The result - a tie.

"Singaporeans can rejoice that their passport offers them first-class global mobility," said Arton Capital. The Passport Index compares the passports of 193 United Nations member countries and six territories.

Singapore was fourth this year in the Visa Restrictions Index, another ranking of travel freedom, which uses a different way of calculating how "powerful" a passport is.

Germany also tops this table, published by Henley & Partners. It has visa-free access to 176 countries out of a possible 218, according to this index.

The Visa Restrictions Index said Singapore passport holders enjoy visa-free access to 173 countries.

In both tables, Singapore is the highest-ranked Asian country.

Woodleigh MRT security incident: Local running group Seletar Hash House Harriers apologises for causing security scare

Running group apologises for MRT station scare
Members had used flour to mark trail through Woodleigh station as it was 'safest route'
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2017

Running group Seletar Hash House Harriers yesterday apologised for the alarm and inconvenience it caused when three of its members used flour to mark a running route through Woodleigh MRT station.

Their actions set off a security scare and the station was closed for three hours on Tuesday.

The group, in a statement, said three of its members were marking a trail for its Tuesday evening run from Bidadari to Woodleigh Close.

The trio, who chose a route that ran through the station, left a little flour at three to four points in the MRT station to mark out the trail, as "this provided the safest route to cross Upper Serangoon Road".

One of its members, a 69-year-old man, was later arrested for causing public alarm. He is believed to be out on bail. The other two members, aged 53 and 70, are helping the police with investigations.

The station was closed after SBS Transit staff found a suspicious white substance and alerted the police. The Singapore Civil Defence Force's hazardous materials team was also deployed.

"In retrospect, they should not have placed any markings in the station, and instead, should have used directional signs outside the station," the statement said.

It added that the three members "stepped forward immediately to identify themselves and have cooperated fully with the authorities", after learning of the security scare.

"They are sorry that their actions caused public alarm and inconvenience," it said, noting that the incident emphasised the seriousness of the security threat in Singapore.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Woodlands Health Campus will add 1,800 beds and use technology for better patient care

Hospital campus of the future to rise in Woodlands
Driven by tech, facilities will be designed to complement one another from the start
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2017

Woodlands is raising the bar for healthcare by getting Singapore's first hospital complex with facilities designed from the outset to complement one another. It will also be driven by technology that enables fewer staff to care for patients.

The 1,800-bed Woodlands Health Campus (WHC), which expects to see its first patient in 2022, will have an acute hospital and a community hospital sharing the same building from the start. It will also house a nursing home and specialist clinics.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told The Straits Times that the WHC would be the first hospital complex in which acute and community care services have been conceptualised together and are being built at the same time.

"We will have seamless integration from hospital to community hospital to nursing home, so if you are in the nursing home and need acute care, it's very near," he said.

Set on a plot of land the size of 11 football fields, the various institutes will also share common facilities such as gardens and rehabilitation centres, as well as services like laundry and cooking.

At the ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, Mr Gan said the WHC has to be "future ready" to meet the growing demands of an ageing population, while overcoming manpower constraints.

The WHC will use new technology to reduce manual work and tap data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve patient care.

The campus plans to provide every patient with a device akin to a watch on admission, to monitor vital signs, activity and location.

Nurses would know the moment a patient's blood pressure rises by too much, or be able to locate a dementia patient. They could also keep tabs on a patient's condition via teleconferencing after he returns home.

In that sense, Mr Gan said, hospitals of the future would be like air traffic control towers "from which the healthcare team monitors its patients whether they are in the hospital or at home".

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Singapore on Criminal Minds Beyond Borders is Beyond Stupid

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders depiction of Singapore slammed as inaccurate, misleading
By Lydia Lam, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2017

American television series Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders has drawn flak for its inaccurate and "stereotypical" portrayal of Singapore, after an episode set here was aired on April 12.

In the episode, titled Cinderella And The Dragon (S02E06), a group of investigators are on a case of two American flight attendants who have gone missing in Singapore.

In one scene, the characters discuss Geylang. Special Agent Clare Seger, played by American actress Alana de la Garza, says Geylang is "the dark side of paradise".

In her spiel, she says: "Officially it's known as the red-light district, but more accurately it's an overcrowded slum with a thriving underworld. In a country as affluent and educated as Singapore, employers have a hard time finding unskilled workers to do manual labour, so they get migrant workers from other countries to come do the menial jobs, but then that leaves the Ministry of Manpower with nowhere to put them, so a lot of times as a result they end up in government dormitories in Geylang."

Other inaccurate bits include a reference to Singapore Police Force as "Singapore PD".

"The country experiences fewer than 10 murders a year," one officer quips in the show.

"To keep crime low, Singapore's justice system is intentionally swift and severe," says Seger. "There's no such thing as trial by jury. Judges have been known to pass harsh sentences for foreigners who commit crimes."

"Isn't Singapore where that kid was caned for being drunk in public?" Mae Jarvis, played by actress Annie Funke, asks.

"Yeah. In 1993, an American college student was convicted of public intoxication and vandalism. He maintains to this day that he was coerced by Singapore Police into a false confession," answers her colleague.

This appears to reference the 1994 Michael P Fay caning, where the 18-year-old was sentenced to six strokes of the cane for theft and vandalism.

An article by "geek" community news site on Sunday (April 16) listed 20 mistakes in the episode.

The "misrepresentation" of Singapore irked netizens on various social media platforms, who pooh-poohed the episode for spreading misconceptions.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Remembering Othman Wok: 1924-2017

Othman Wok, member of independent Singapore's first Cabinet, dies aged 92
State-assisted funeral today for pioneer minister Othman Wok
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Apr 2017

Mr Othman Wok, a pioneer generation minister who helped lay the foundation for a multiracial Singapore, died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 12.21pm yesterday. He was 92.

Mr Othman was one of the 10 Singapore signatories of the 1965 Separation Agreement and a key member of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet.

"He supported Mr Lee in the fight for a multiracial and multi-religious Singapore, and became one of Mr Lee's closest comrades," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement. "The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr Othman Wok and wish to convey their deepest condolences to his family."

Yesterday, Singapore's political leaders lauded Mr Othman as a champion for multiracialism, and a patron of sport and social services. He was Singapore's first minister for social affairs from 1963 to 1977, and concurrently held the culture portfolio from 1965 to 1968. He was ambassador to Indonesia from 1977 till 1981. He returned to Singapore and retired from politics that year.

In a Facebook post yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Othman made many significant contributions to Singapore. "His passion and commitment in helping others, and his impartiality and integrity in serving one and all, are traits that we remember and admire in him," Dr Tan said, adding that he and his wife Mary have lost a dear friend.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailed him as a "a courageous champion of a multiracial, multi-religious, and meritocratic Singapore".

"During Singapore's turbulent years in Malaysia, Encik Othman came under great pressure, and even threats on his life, for his convictions. But he stood firm, and that made all the difference to Singapore," he said in a Facebook post.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim added that while Mr Othman made great contributions to the Malay-Muslim community, he had also urged Singaporeans to "make the effort to strengthen cross-cultural understanding, practise mutual respect, and come together as one united people".

Mr Othman was "keenly aware that race and religion could become major fault lines and conflicts could arise out of suspicion, misunderstanding and prejudice", Dr Yaacob said in a Facebook post.

A state-assisted funeral will be held for Mr Othman today, after a prayer session for him at the Sultan Mosque. In the highest honour accorded to a deceased Singaporean, a state flag will be draped over the casket, with the crescent and stars lying over the head and close to the heart of Mr Othman.

A ceremonial gun carriage will then carry his body to Choa Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery where he will be buried. A memorial service will be held tomorrow at the Victoria Concert Hall for invited guests.

Family members said that Mr Othman had been in ill health for some time. He was hospitalised for a lung infection on April 6.

His daughter Lily Othman, 60, said the family remembers him as a "kind, compassionate and loving father... He always told us that no matter what you must always be humble. It doesn't matter if you are the president's daughter or the king's daughter, humility should be your middle name".

Woodlands revamp: 10,000 new homes could be added

Woodlands to become 'Star Destination of North'
New residential projects part of HDB's plans to transform town into 'star destination'
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2017

Woodlands could get almost 10,000 new dwelling units as part of the Housing Board's Remaking Our Heartland (ROH) programme, which is poised to transform the entire town into a "Star Destination of the North".

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced the new residential projects yesterday at Woodlands Central, where an HDB exhibition on the area's renewal plans was launched. The projects will be sited at Woodlands Central and Woodlands North Coast.

The Woodlands Central homes, to be integrated with commercial and community facilities, will be built near Woodlands MRT station. The authorities have yet to decide if these will be public or private units.

Meanwhile, the Woodlands North Coast public housing development will offer residents a "housing- in-the-woods" experience by leveraging on the area's natural hilly terrain so they can enjoy views of Admiralty Park and the Strait of Johor.

The entire makeover of Woodlands - the Republic's northern regional centre - will be implemented within the next five to 10 years. A budget has yet to be finalised. He added: "In Singapore, the Government not only builds HDB flats, but we ensure a quality home and living environment for everyone, and so we invest significant amounts in upgrading programmes... billions of dollars."

The ROH programme aims to spruce up the heartland for Singaporeans. Woodlands is set to undergo the biggest changes as part of the scheme's third batch, which also includes Toa Payoh and Pasir Ris.

Monday, 17 April 2017

$5 health screening for 1.8 million Singaporeans: Letters out from August 2017

Singaporeans can be screened for up to five conditions under enhanced Screen for Life programme that starts in September 2017
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 16 Apr 2017

Letters will start going out in August to the 1.8 million Singaporeans who are entitled to a health screening for $5 or less, under the Enhanced Screen for Life programme that starts in September.

With the invitation letter, they can call any of the more than 1,000 general practice clinics on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) to fix a date to screen for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cervical and colorectal cancers.

All Singaporeans aged 40 years and older are eligible. The $5 covers tests and, should any prove positive, a consultation with a doctor. The 400,000 Pioneers get the screening for free, while those with the CHAS card pay just $2. Without the subsidy, it costs about $100.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) hopes that by making it both cheap and convenient, more people would find out if they are suffering from chronic medical problems or the two cancers.

Mr Zee Yoong Kang, Health Promotion Board's (HPB) chief executive officer, said: "It is good practice for everyone, even if you feel healthy, to go for regular health screenings so that you can detect any health conditions early, and manage the condition well."

Today, many people here who suffer from chronic ailments are not aware of it, so they do not take steps to keep them under control, leading to major health problems.

The MOH thinks about a third of diabetics are not aware they have this disease that, uncontrolled, could lead to kidney failure, blindness and amputations.

Similarly, many people who have high cholesterol and blood pressure levels also do not know of them, since there are no symptoms in the early stages. But uncontrolled over time, they raise the risk of getting heart problems and stroke. Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer for men, and second in the list behind breast cancer for women.

Letters will go out to the more elderly first because they are more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions. An HPB spokesman said: "Screening them early enables these Singaporeans to seek treatment and manage their conditions early."

However, all Singaporeans aged 40 years and older should get their invitation by the end of this year. There is no time limit for them to get screened at the subsidised rate.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Yusof Ishak Mosque opens in Woodlands

Yusof Ishak Mosque 'a key Singapore institution': Yaacob Ibrahim
It will promote inclusive values embodied by the late president, Yaacob says at its opening
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2017

The Yusof Ishak Mosque is a key institution for the Muslim community and also the wider Singapore family, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday at the opening ceremony of the new mosque named after Singapore's first president.

Through its interactions with the community, the mosque will play an important part in promoting the ethos of multiculturalism and multiracialism, he added, noting that these were values the late Mr Yusof embodied as head of state.

Dr Yaacob was speaking to reporters yesterday after Mr Yusof's widow, Puan Noor Aishah, 84, opened the mosque in a ceremony witnessed by 100 guests, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Yusof's three children, Madam Orchid Kamariah, 68; Dr Imran Yusof, 67; and Datin Zuriana Yusof, 64, and other family members and friends were also present.

Puan Noor Aishah told The Straits Times: "I am very thankful to the Prime Minister and the people of Singapore."

Dr Imran, a consultant at a hospital in Brunei, said his family was honoured that the mosque was named after his father.

"My father was just trying his best to help the people of Singapore. He was very keen to spread the pillars of nation building, and the most important pillar would be unity and diversity of the people - we have to be united, however diverse we are."

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Private-hire cars must display decals from 1 July 2017

Enforcement officers will be able to tell if decal is removed and reattached
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2017

Private-hire drivers here will have to display decals on their car windscreens from July 1.

The 14cm by 10cm plastic decal display - about twice the size of a road tax disc - must be stuck on the front and rear windscreens.

The decal is tamper-evident, which means enforcement officers will be able to tell if it has been removed and reattached.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the measure is "to allow for easier identification of registered private-hire cars, and facilitate enforcement against offences such as unregistered cars providing chauffeured services or private-hire cars picking up passengers by street hail".

Owners of private-hire cars registered with the LTA on or before Feb 28 will have their first pair of tamper-evident decals affixed at no cost. Owners who registered their vehicles after this date will have to pay $20.

They can obtain and get their decals affixed only at the following locations from Monday:

• Vicom/JIC inspection centres

• STA inspection centres

• Uber, Grab affixing centres

The LTA said failure to display the decals will be an offence under the Road Traffic Act. More details on the penalties will be made known at a later date, it said.

Pocket-size gadget for 100,000 potential coders: Digital Maker Programme

Under govt initiative to spark interest in technology, the micro:bit will be rolled out to schools and the community
By Irene Tham, Senior Tech Correspondent,The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2017

To the children in the classroom, it is a toy.

To the Government, it is a device that could help nurture Singapore's future army of coders.

A pocket-size, codeable computer called the micro:bit is being targeted to reach some 100,000 school-going children and adults over the next two years.

The idea is to let the children tinker with it, while they learn to code and, perhaps, develop a love for technology.

Announcing the move yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "Who knows, one day we may be nurturing Singapore's own generation of Steve Jobs."

The $30 micro:bit contains a programmable array of LED lights, sensors, a Bluetooth chip and an accelerometer. Users can write codes to turn the micro:bit into a locator tool, for instance, by detecting the presence of another micro:bit tagged to their belongings.

The device is already in use in schools in Britain to help teach coding and inspire interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

At his ministry's annual workplan seminar yesterday, Dr Yaacob said Singaporeans need a curious mind and the passion to tinker and create things with their hands.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to roll out micro:bit as part of its new Digital Maker Programme to interested primary and secondary schools over the next two years.

Friday, 14 April 2017

99-year lease HDB flats are still nest eggs for future retirement needs: Lawrence Wong

Older flats 'can still be retirement asset'
Lawrence Wong addresses concern about dwindling value of ageing leasehold homes
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2017

Even as home values fall towards the tail-end of the lease, the Housing Board flat can still be a nest-egg for retirement, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong wrote on Facebook yesterday.

"They provide a good store of asset value, so long as you plan ahead and make prudent housing decisions," he wrote.

He was addressing concerns over the 99-year lease issue that surfaced after he cautioned against paying high prices for older leasehold flats on his blog last month.

The post generated debate and discussion over the dwindling value of homes as they age.

Leasehold property will hit zero value at lease expiry and the land it is on will have to be returned to the land owner, which in HDB's case is the state.

Mr Wong said the ageing home can still be seen as a retirement asset through monetisation options for the elderly.

He wrote: "The general point is that the HDB leasehold flat is not only a good home, but also a nest- egg for future retirement needs."

Three options are available: Downsizing with the Silver Housing Bonus (SHB) scheme, selling the remaining lease back to HDB with the Lease Buyback Scheme (LBS) or subletting the home.

Through the SHB scheme, a 65-year-old couple who bought a four-room flat can sell it and down- size to a smaller one, receiving a cash bonus of up to $20,000.

Mr Wong said: "They can also get quite a lot of money from the sale proceeds - around $100,000 upfront in cash, plus $500 per month of additional income for their retirement (on top of what they would get through CPF Life)."

If they want to continue living in the same flat, LBS allows homeowners of four-room flats or smaller to sell back the remaining years of the lease to HDB for a cash bonus and a stream of retirement income.

Video consultations rolled out to cut hospital trips

6 public healthcare institutions in scheme that lets patients consult experts from their homes
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2017

Patients could find themselves travelling to hospital less often once a new video call system for medical consultations clicks into gear.

The system enables patients to consult experts from the comfort of their homes, and hospitals to use their resources more effectively.

Six public healthcare institutions have agreed to join this project, including KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, National University Hospital (NUH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Some have already started using the system, while the rest will do so by the year end. More institutions, including private ones, could come on board later. The list of services and conditions that can be addressed through video consulting could also expand.

Each institution has its own video call services. For example, SGH is focusing on speech therapy, while the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) offers psychiatric counselling.

All patients will get face-time with a doctor at their first appointment. Only those whose conditions are deemed suitable will be given the option of a video call follow-up.

"This is new, so we are moving cautiously... you do need a clinical assessment that involves face-to- face (interaction)," said Associate Professor Low Cheng Ooi, who is chief clinical informatics officer at Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS), Singapore's healthcare technology agency.

"We can't just throw away the stethoscope and replace it with a camera," added Dr Low, who is also chief medical informatics officer at the Ministry of Health.

Still, these calls could either replace follow-up consultations or allow for more frequent check-ups.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Palliative care for dementia patients at Assisi Hospice

At Assisi Hospice's new ward, they can live out their last days in comfort and dignity
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2017

Madam Liow Ah Tay, 87, has struggled with dementia for the last decade. Now as her health declines further, she had been admitted into the first hospice ward here for dementia patients.

In 2007, the former vegetable seller started displaying strange behaviour. At 3am every day, she would wake up to prepare to go to the market to open her stall, even though by then she had long retired from the trade.

Her children refused to let her go out at that hour and she would force open the door with a pair of scissors or a knife. They discovered then that she had mild dementia.

Five years later, her condition deteriorated further. She accused people of stealing her things. Whenever her children - those who did not live with her - went to visit her, she treated them as guests and entertained them.

Today, Madam Liow has advanced dementia - the feisty woman has become quiet and no longer recognises her daughters.

On some days, she even has trouble sitting up.

Her two daughters who look after her are relieved that she is among the pioneer batch of patients to be cared for in the first hospice ward here dedicated to people with advanced dementia. She was admitted in January.

Dr Shirlynn Ho from Assisi Hospice said not many people know that dementia does kill and that palliative care could be needed.

"People don't usually recognise dementia as a terminal illness that one can die from because it is a long and progressive disease," she said.

The hospice opened a dementia ward which has a capacity of 16 beds in January. It provides palliative care that specially caters to people with severe dementia so that they can spend their last days in comfort and dignity.

Driverless buses on Singapore roads by 2020

Commuters can catch a driverless public bus by 2020
Consortium led by ST Kinetics expects to unveil battery-powered prototype by early next year
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2017

From as early as October 2020, commuters will be able to hop on to one of two driverless public buses here.

A newly formed consortium led by ST Kinetics, which is building the autonomous battery-powered buses, expects to unveil a prototype by early next year.

The Singapore Autonomous Vehicles Consortium includes the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore University of Technology and Design, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Institute of Technology.

It will also launch four driverless on-demand minibuses on Sentosa next year.

ST Engineering, ST Kinetics' parent group, announced this yesterday - six months after NTU said it planned to roll out a driverless shuttle between its campus and nearby CleanTech Park by 2018.

ST Kinetics president Lee Shiang Long told The Straits Times that the group decided to develop its own autonomous buses because the ones tested here previously "were not working that well".

"When we were trialling those vehicles, we actually had many (sales) inquiries from neighbouring countries," Dr Lee said. "But I asked myself, 'Do we want to be merely a middleman or do we want to build our own capability?'

"It's not a 100 per cent sure-win, but it's something we must bet on."

Dr Lee revealed that the bus chassis will be from a supplier which has agreed to allow ST Kinetics access to the vehicle's electronic and communications network.

The driverless bus will have an all-aluminium body to keep it light and it will be electrically powered.

Besides lithium-ion batteries, Dr Lee said the team is also looking at another newer form of batteries.

The buses will have Level 4 autonomy initially. Level 4 is when a vehicle can drive by itself but is still manned, whereas Level 5 is the highest level of autonomy when the vehicle can operate on its own with no one on board.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Why was the elected presidency changed?

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2017

Singaporeans will elect a president this September, in the first election since changes to the Constitution were passed last November.

All the candidates will have to be from the Malay community this round, under a new rule that reserves presidential elections for candidates from a particular racial group, if there has not been a president from the group for a period of time.

The criterion to qualify to run for president was also tightened, and candidates from the private sector will have to have experience helming companies that are worth a lot more.

Political observers have called these amendments to the elected presidency one of the biggest political changes in recent years.

Why were they made in the first place, and how big a deal are they?


Singaporeans did not always elect their president. Before 1990, presidents were appointed by Parliament and had a mostly ceremonial role, save for some discretionary powers.

But as Singapore prospered, first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew feared that the reserves Singapore had accumulated so far could be "ruined in one election term".

So the Government made the case for an elected president, to protect Singapore's national reserves and the integrity of its public services. For the president to be able to stand up to the elected government of the day, he would need a popular mandate.

The late Mr Lee likened an elected president to a goalkeeper, the last line of defence against a rogue government wanting to squander the country's hard-earned reserves or install cronies in key public positions.

The Constitution was amended in 1990 to set up the elected presidency, under which the president is elected for a term of six years and can veto the Government's drawdown of past reserves and the appointment of key public-office holders.

He or she can also block, among others, preventive detentions under the Internal Security Act and refusals of corruption probes.

The elected presidency went beyond just one man or woman, and was an institution that would ensure stability for Singapore.

At the same time, the president would continue to be a unifying symbol for all Singaporeans.