Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Video-recorded statements, protection of vulnerable victims among proposed changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act

More protection for victims under criminal code revamp
Earlier gag orders on identity of abuse victims and closed-door hearings among proposals
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

The courts will wrap an extra layer of protection around victims of sex crimes or child abuse to spare them any further trauma, if the sweeping changes to improve the criminal justice process are pushed through.

To prevent such vulnerable victims from being identified, a gag order will kick in the moment a case of sexual or child abuse is reported to the police, it has been proposed.

Vulnerable persons will also be able to testify in closed-door hearings, and physical screens can be used to shield them from the accused person.

These are among the 50 changes to the Criminal Procedure Code and Evidence Act proposed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) which were announced yesterday.

In a first for Singapore, investigators will also be given the power to take statements from suspects and witnesses in a video recording, instead of relying only on written statements.

Victims of sexual crimes may be able to video-record their testimony instead of having to recount it in person in court, while video recording will be made compulsory for suspects in such crimes.

This will give the court a sense of the suspect's demeanour and help it to gauge how voluntarily the statements were made.

The amendments are aimed at enhancing the fairness, accuracy and equity of the criminal justice system, said MinLaw.

Currently a gag order on the identities of vulnerable victims is issued only when the case goes before a court, but MinLaw wants it to kick in as soon as a police report is made.

Closed-door hearings will also be automatic, unless the victims wish to give their evidence in open court.

To prevent misuse of video-recorded statements, these may be viewed only at police stations or approved places.

Lawyers will also be barred from probing a victim's sexual history unless they obtain permission from the court. This would lessen the ordeal faced by such victims, said lawyers and academics.

Terrorists have Singapore in their sights, warns PM Lee Hsien Loong

Community leaders must ensure social cohesion is not affected
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2017

Singapore remains a target of terrorists, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he highlighted how South-east Asia is on the front line of the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

"They have us in their sights, and we have to know that," said PM Lee, in a speech at ITE College Central where he called on about 300 community leaders to ensure social cohesion is not disrupted by the terror threat.

Singapore might be an "oasis of peace", but it is not disconnected from the rest of the world, he said.

His speech comes a week after he held a dialogue with Malay/Muslim leaders on the issue, to hear their concerns and let them know the Government is on their side as they counter extremism and protect the social fabric.

The fight against terrorism is not theirs alone, he added yesterday, saying: "We are all in this together."

PM Lee pointed out that while ISIS is on the defensive in the Middle East, its followers could disperse and return to South-east Asia. Prominent ISIS fighters have been recruiting more from Malaysia and Indonesia and directing attacks on countries, including Singapore.

In a report last week, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said the terror network responsible for the ongoing siege of Marawi in the Philippines had urged militants to attack targets in Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, among other places.

PM Lee said ISIS has been using the fighting in Marawi as propaganda to recruit more fighters, and directing them to the Philippines, where it hopes to set up a wilayat, or province. And it is "unrealistic" for Singapore to think it will be unaffected by this, he said.

He cited a foiled plot by an ISIS-linked group last year to launch a rocket at Marina Bay Sands from Batam. "We know that there are others out there, and we also know of other attacks that had been planned but have not been carried out," said PM Lee. "Singapore is a target, we know it, they've said it, and they've acted on it."

The developments in Singapore are just as worrying, said PM Lee, highlighting three trends.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Why is state funding needed for our arts scene to thrive?

By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2017

It is a universally acknowledged truth that a country in possession of a First World reputation must also have a thriving arts scene.

But when it comes to paying for the arts, people are less quick to reach for the bill. And lately, the dreary economic climate means an increasing reluctance to open wallets.

The arts - which comprise theatre, dance, traditional arts, visual arts, music and literature - in Singapore are mainly funded by the state, unlike in other countries such as the United States, where they are largely supported through private donors and foundations.

In 2015, according to the Singapore Cultural Statistics report, 80 per cent of arts and heritage funding in Singapore, or $595.7 million, was provided by the Government through state agencies such as the National Arts Council (NAC).

This includes $79.4 million under the Cultural Matching Fund, which was set up by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to match private cash donations to arts and heritage charities and Institutions of Public Character dollar for dollar.

The Government's support for the arts takes various forms, from grants and partnerships to industry facilitation and arts housing.

In the 2015/2016 financial year, for instance, $70.9 million was disbursed through the Grants Framework and $7.4 million through the Arts Housing Scheme, which was implemented in 1985 to provide affordable spaces to arts groups and artists.

An NAC spokesman said investing in the creation and appreciation of the arts "does not only add to the national canon of artwork we can be proud of, it also allows the arts on an individual level to entertain and inspire, and provide an avenue for self-expression, learning and reflection". "On a community and international level, the arts can connect our communities and position Singapore globally," the spokesman added.

The remaining support for arts and culture comes from corporate sponsors and individuals.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Racial Harmony Day in Singapore: 20 years on

July 21 is Racial Harmony Day, which schools started observing in 1997. On the 20th anniversary of Racial Harmony Day, Senior Correspondent Toh Yong Chuan reports on efforts to build and boost trust among people of different races and religions in Singapore. Here are 20 items on issues and policies to do with racial and religious harmony.
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017


A couple of riots broke out in Singapore in 1964 - the first of which took place on July 21, which is today marked as Racial Harmony Day.

Amid rising communal tensions following the Malaysian general election in May that year, a procession celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday was disrupted by clashes between Chinese and Malays.

The first day of rioting saw four killed and 178 injured.

The authorities imposed night curfews island-wide and set up goodwill committees of community leaders to calm the situation.

But clashes continued through July, and by the time the situation calmed down in early August, 23 had died and 454 were injured.

The calm did not last long.

On Sept 2, 1964, fighting broke out after a Malay trishaw rider was found dead in Geylang Serai.

The fighting that lasted over a week left 13 dead and 106 injured.

In 1997, the Ministry of Education began marking July 21 as Racial Harmony Day. On this day, schools hold activities to teach students the importance of maintaining racial and religious harmony.

Restrictions on Indian IT professionals moving to Singapore; Wrong to have total free flow of people: DPM Tharman

It's not just wrong politics but also wrong economics, DPM says at a forum in New Delhi
By Nirmala Ganapathy, India Bureau Chief In New Delhi, The Sunday Times, 23 Jul 2017

Singapore has been one of the strongest advocates when it comes to the free flow of goods and services, but there must be limits to the movement of people.

Otherwise there will be less push for businesses to be more productive, and "more fundamentally, you become a society where people don't feel it's their own society", said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday at an economics forum in India.

"This is a reality not just because of (President Donald) Trump in the US or Brexit in UK. It is a reality all over the world,'' he said when asked a question about tighter restrictions on Indian professionals moving to Singapore.

Noting that a third of Singapore's workforce is already made up of foreigners, he added: "It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and constrain the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics."

Mr Tharman, who is in India on a three-day visit ending today, was speaking at the Delhi Economics Conclave held by the Indian Finance Ministry.

Earlier this year, India had expressed concern that curbs on the movement of Indian professionals to Singapore violate the terms of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) signed by the two countries in 2005. A review of the agreement to update the terms has been under negotiation for more than six years as India seeks more access for its professionals and banks.

India's National Association of Software and Services Companies said earlier this year that the movement of Indian software professionals to Singapore has been "reduced to an insignificant trickle" and that it was becoming tough for Indian software firms to operate in the Republic. Its president, Mr R. Chandrashekhar, estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 Indian software workers in Singapore.

The topic of the CECA review came up yesterday when Mr Tharman called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who "expressed support for the expeditious conclusion of the Second CECA Review", said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore last night.

The two leaders discussed the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, agreeing that cooperation between the two countries should be deepened in future. A small team of officials from Singapore and India will be formed to explore new areas of cooperation in digital finance, while there is also scope to strengthen air connectivity between the two countries.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Stricter rules for jackpot machines in clubs to guard against problem gambling

Tougher rules soon to curb jackpot machines in clubs
Measures to protect vulnerable from ills of gambling will be rolled out over next 2 years
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

The number of jackpot machines in Singapore could go down sharply as the football and social clubs operating them will soon have tougher rules to contend with.

The new regime, to be rolled out over the next two years, will raise the bar for securing jackpot machine permits, and there will be tighter quotas for the number of machines a club can operate.

The minimum age for entering jackpot rooms will be raised from 18 to 21, and their operating hours will be restricted as the measures aim to protect the vulnerable from the ills of gambling.

The new rules were announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday and target machines outside the two casinos.

They could have a major impact on the fortunes of some of the clubs running jackpot machines - including football clubs that have earned millions from this while not even fielding professional teams.

The aim is to ensure that jackpot rooms provide no more than an ancillary part of wider activities at clubs with a real social purpose and genuine membership, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a briefing yesterday.

"Our sense is that some (operators) sort of pay lip service to the need to provide other services and focus on the jackpot machines as their primary objective. That, we cannot allow," he added.

Mr Shanmugam also said that the quota for jackpot machines will also be cut over the next two years, without giving details of the reduction.

There are now about 82 jackpot venues and almost 1,900 jackpot machines. The number of machines could drop by around a third with the new rules, said MHA.

Currently, a club may operate jackpot machines if it has at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors.

In future, to renew such permits or apply for fresh ones, a club will have to show that it provides a "suitably wide range" of social and recreational services to members. The amount of income that a club derives from jackpot machines, compared to its total income, will also be examined. Those that do not meet the tighter criteria will have to stop operating such machines by April 30 next year.

All private clubs with such machines will also need to adopt a self-exclusion scheme from next May that allows individuals with a serious gambling habit to bar themselves from entering jackpot rooms.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Singapore a rare, precious example of harmonious multiracial, multi-religious society: PM Lee

Telok Ayer Street a nod to Singapore's religious diversity
Singapore's racial harmony a rare and precious thing, PM says on tour of area
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2017

Telok Ayer Street was once part of Singapore's shoreline, and migrants who arrived by sea built their places of worship nearby.

The area displays remarkable religious diversity even now, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

He went on a walking tour of five places of worship along the street on Wednesday, and met leaders of the church, temples, mosque and shrine that have been there for more than a century.

Race, language and religion are faultlines that have torn many societies apart, Mr Lee noted in his post, which came on the eve of Racial Harmony Day.

"Singapore is a rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together," he wrote.

"This is not by chance. The government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen."

The Harmony in Diversity Gallery, which houses exhibits and interactive features that highlight the common thread among the different religions, is one such collaboration, said Mr Lee.

He stopped at the gallery in Maxwell Road, where he met members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and wrote: "Long may we live peacefully and harmoniously in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."

HDB helping young couples get their flats sooner with two new options

Get flat faster under two new schemes
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

A total of 1,000 Build-To-Order flats in Sembawang, Sengkang and Yishun will be made available to home buyers quicker, with a wait time of 2½ years compared with the typical three to four years.

They will be put up for sale in the second half of next year, and buyers can begin collecting their keys between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Board said this is aimed at helping young couples get their flats faster.

This is achieved not by speeding up the construction. Instead, HDB will begin building the selected projects before the flats are sold. This is unlike the usual process where they are built to order, that is, after they have been bought.

A tender for this batch of 1,000 flats will be called this month. Construction is expected to start at the end of the year.

Another measure to reduce the wait for home buyers is the doubling of the number of times a year when they get a shot at buying unsold units from previous sales launches.

A new sales mode, known as the Re-Offer of Balance Flats (ROF), will pool unsold units from past Sale of Balance Flats (SBF) exercises. ROFs will take place every February and August. This is on top of SBFs, which are alongside BTO exercises in May and November.

The first ROF will take place next month, with 1,394 units. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to select and book a flat if there are available units. At least 95 per cent of the units will be set aside for first- timer families.

"This will help those with more urgent housing needs and/or are less particular about location and attributes to have quicker access to a flat," said HDB.

The two measures were first announced during the debate over the Ministry of National Development's annual budget in March.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday: "I hope the wider range of options and more regular offer of flats will help home buyers find a home that best suits their needs."

Five growth industries picked for more focused job help

Drive to match PMETs to jobs in growth sectors facing disruption
Five political office holders to helm efforts in sectors that employ almost a million workers
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Five political office holders, including a Cabinet minister, will coordinate efforts to match Singaporeans to jobs in industries that hold the promise of growth, but where higher-skilled workers may need help to adapt to the sweeping changes coming their way.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the five industries were chosen as they were likely to be the most affected by disruptive technology.

At the same time, they have tremendous potential for job growth, he added. Between them, these industries currently employ almost a million workers.

Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo will lead the effort. The growth sectors, which will be overseen by four senior ministers of state, are: healthcare (headed by Dr Amy Khor); infocomm and media (Dr Janil Puthucheary); wholesale trade (Dr Koh Poh Koon); professional services; and financial services. The latter two will be overseen by Ms Indranee Rajah.

New sectors may be added to the list later on, Mr Lim told reporters at the opening of the Careers Connect centre at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.

This latest move will also help tackle the growing risk of job loss faced by professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs). This group makes up about seven out of 10 residents made redundant.

Mrs Teo noted in a Facebook post yesterday that in the next few years, about half of the 25,000 to 40,000 PMET jobs created each year are expected to be in the five growth sectors.

Already, they employ more than half a million local PMETs.

"Even against global headwinds, these five sectors in Singapore are growing and creating new jobs for PMETs. Our goal is to help Singaporeans access these opportunities," she said.

Collect your medicine at a 7-Eleven store

Your medicine is ready for collection - at a 7-Eleven store
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2017

Skip the polyclinic visit and collect your medicine at a nearby convenience store instead.

That is what some chronic disease patients under the National Healthcare Group's (NHG) chain of nine polyclinics have been able to do in recent months.

The system, which started in March, allows such patients to pick up medication from 34 7-Eleven stores across Singapore.

The drugs are packed in the polyclinic pharmacy before being delivered to lockers in the stores.

Patients receive a text message when their medicine has arrived, and access the lockers with a one-time code delivered to their mobile phones.

The idea is to offer patients the convenience of being able to collect their medication round the clock, rather than being constrained by the polyclinics' operating hours.

Polyclinics under NHG typically close at 4.30pm on weekdays and 12.30pm on Saturdays. They are not open on Sundays and public holidays.

The service is available only for patients with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol who have an NHG doctor's prescription.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Tengah Air Base to be expanded; more than 80,000 graves exhumed, 4 farms to be acquired

Graves, farms to make way for larger Tengah base
Area quarter the size of Clementi town will be added to take in Paya Lebar Air Base assets
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

An air base in the north-western part of Singapore will get new facilities and a substantial injection of land to spread its wings.

To make way, some 80,000 graves will be exhumed, while six farms will be acquired or not have their leases renewed.

The exercise will yield more than 106ha of land - a quarter the size of Clementi town - to enable the 78-year-old Tengah Air Base to expand. It, together with Changi Air Base, will take in the assets of the Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB), which will move out from 2030.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night that the expansion will allow Tengah Air Base to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities from PLAB.

There will also be a new runway at Tengah Air Base, he said, adding that there will be "net land savings" from the relocation.

The plan to move PLAB was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2013 when he said it would free up 800ha in Paya Lebar for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions around the base.

To accommodate a bigger Tengah Air Base, Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, the only active burial ground and the biggest cemetery here, will lose 100ha, a third of its 318ha area.

Some 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will be exhumed in several phases.

Graves older than 17 years will be exhumed first - from the last quarter of 2018 onwards - while newer graves will be exhumed from a date to be announced later.

The Government will bear the costs of exhumation, as well as cremation for Chinese remains and reinternment for Muslim ones.

Meanwhile, the owners of four plots of private land - affecting three fish farms and a nursery - were notified yesterday that they have been acquired, and will have to be handed over by January 2019. They will be compensated based on market value on the date of acquisition.

Auditor-General's Report FY 2016/17: Financial and IT lapses found in government agencies

Auditor-General raps government agencies for lapses
Government agencies taking action to fix lapses flagged by AGO
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

Several government ministries and agencies have been rapped by the Auditor-General for weaknesses in controls over information technology (IT) systems, lack of financial controls and inadequate oversight over large-scale development projects.

These lapses were discovered by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) in the latest annual audit of government accounts for Financial Year 2016/17.

In response, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said the public sector's overall system of managing public funds remains sound, but acknowledged there are areas where agencies can do better by strengthening their financial governance.

"The Public Service is taking a concerted effort to address the issues identified," it said.

"Heads of the agencies responsible have reviewed each case and where warranted, appropriate actions have been or will be taken against those responsible."

Singapore’s first First Lady: Puan Noor Aishah

New book launched on Puan Noor Aishah, wife of Singapore's first President Yusof Ishak
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Jul 2017

When Japanese troops invaded Penang in 1941, Puan Noor Aishah left primary school and learnt instead to cook and sew to supplement her family's income.

She peddled nasi lemak with her mother, took orders for embroidery and tried to pick up new skills, hungry to make up for the abrupt end to her formal education. This eagerness to learn put her in good stead when her husband Yusof Ishak was made Yang di-Pertuan Negara in 1959. Puan Noor Aishah was just 26.

Her role as spouse of Singapore's head of state put her in completely uncharted waters, she recalls in a new 200-page biography Puan Noor Aishah: Singapore's First Lady, published by Straits Times Press and launched at The Arts House by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Written by legal scholar and historian Kevin Y.L. Tan, the book also contains photos of Puan Noor Aishah and her family, including those from her private albums.

She said of her rapid adjustment: "I was not given any instructions or briefing at all; no guidelines. I had no task lists and no one briefed me on things like etiquette, dress codes and protocol. We had to learn and manage on our own."

She made her mark. She figured out the Istana's workings, and soon breathed new life into it by teaching its cooks - who were still preparing English classics like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding - her own recipes for local favourites like beef rendang.

She went for English lessons, organised events for dignitaries and became involved with voluntary organisations. And when her husband's health began to decline after a heart attack in 1968, she shouldered some of his social responsibilities.

PM Lee, who grew up playing with her three children, said of the book: "It will record for generations of Singaporeans her life story, the role she played and her contributions to our early nation-building days."

Since her husband died in 1970 of heart failure, Puan Noor Aishah, now 84, has largely kept out of the limelight, and the book offers a precious glimpse into her eventful life.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

As a small state, Singapore must not be bullied: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan outlines core principles guiding Singapore's foreign policy
Republic will be friends with all, and also advance own interests
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2017

The ultimate goals of Singapore's foreign policy are to protect its independence and sovereignty, and to expand opportunities for its citizens, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

To achieve this as a small country, Singapore will be friends with everyone and, at the same time, must also advance its own interests, he added.

He was speaking at a townhall with about 200 foreign service officers and other civil servants at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

"There is no contradiction between a realistic appreciation of realpolitik and doing whatever it takes to protect our sovereignty, maintain and expand our relevance, and to create political and economic space for ourselves," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan outlined five core principles that guide Singapore's foreign policy, underlining points Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made recently.

He said the principles have served Singapore well since independence.

First, it is important to keep the economy vibrant and successful, and society stable and united.

Without this, Singapore will be completely irrelevant. "All of us in this room have all witnessed how delegations of less successful small states are ignored at international meetings," he said.

Second, Singapore must not be a vassal state and needs to show it cannot be bought or bullied.

For this reason, Singapore has built up a credible armed forces that is taken seriously, he said.

Third, Singapore must aim to be a friend to all, and an enemy to none.

This means working to ensure peace and stability in the immediate neighbourhood and also building political and economic relationships with superpowers and other regional powers so that "they will find our success in their own interest", said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added that this "delicate balancing act" becomes more difficult when the superpowers and regional powers "contend with one another", which is why it is important to avoid taking sides.

While Singapore spares no effort to develop a wide network of relations, he said, these must be based on mutual respect "for each other's sovereignty and the equality of nation states, regardless of size".

He added: "We don't compromise our national interests in order to have good relations... so when others make unreasonable demands that hurt or compromise our national interests, we need to state our position and stand our ground in a firm and principled manner."

Fourth, Singapore must promote a global order governed by the rule of law, international norms and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Without such a system, small states like Singapore have "very little chance of survival", he said, stressing the importance of Singapore speaking with conviction on these issues.

That is why Singapore has always participated actively at the United Nations and in the formulation of international regimes and norms, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan also warned against appeasement, saying that Singapore must be clear about its long-term interests, and "have the gumption to make our foreign policy decisions accordingly".

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Parents' Perceptions of the Singapore Primary School System: Institute of Policy Studies Survey

Parents happy with their children's schooling: IPS poll
Survey of 1,500 shows over 90% are satisfied with quality of schools, education system
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

Some people may doubt the slogan "Every school, a good school", but most parents in a recent poll do believe it.

More than 90 per cent of them felt that Singapore's education system is among the best worldwide and were satisfied with their children's primary schools, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey. But the results also show that about a quarter of parents had trouble enrolling their children into a school of their choice.

They also felt fairly stressed about helping their children with school examinations and syllabuses, and large amounts of homework.

IPS senior research fellow Mathew Mathews, who led the survey - the first of its kind here - said the findings dispelled the myth that many parents are very unhappy with the education system.

In his research on marriage, parenthood and singles, he had observed that people sometimes said they hesitate to have children partly because of the stress of the education system. He wanted to hear from parents if the school system is really as "daunting" as it is made out to be. The survey of 1,500 Singaporean and permanent resident parents conducted last year, however, found that most were contented with their children's primary schools, he said.

The sample of parents, whose median age was 42, had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.

Dr Mathews said: "Most people do feel that the school their kid goes to is a good school. Even if they didn't think so, they are satisfied with the (school) quality.

"(The results) also busted the myth that most parents are in a mad rush to get (their children) into a good school by volunteering and moving house to get a place in that school," he said. "Sometimes, we play up the notion that most of our parents are 'kiasu' (Hokkien for competitive). That may not be the case for many, at least now."

Close to three-quarters (73.6 per cent) of parents said they could enrol their child in a school of their choice. More than three in four respondents did not undertake activities such as volunteering to secure a school for their child.

However, about 28 per cent of parents said they had experienced challenges in enrolling their child in a school of their choice. Of this group, more than half said there were too many applications to the school. More than 30 per cent also felt places for children with no alumni links were limited and there were few "good" schools nearby.

Dr Mathews said the overall findings are a reflection of the gradual shift in parents' mindsets. "Many of us as parents grew up in a system that placed a lot of emphasis on examinations and grades, so that pattern is still prominent in our mind."

Early action to break cycle of poverty in Singapore: Tan Chuan-Jin

Disadvantaged children will get a leg up as pilot scheme KidStart is made permanent
By Priscilla Goy and Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2017

A pilot scheme KidStart, which aims to level the playing field for disadvantaged children, will be made permanent in a bid by the Government to break the cycle of poverty in Singapore.

It is among a series of moves that the authorities want to make to intervene earlier to prevent social problems, such as inequality and family dysfunction, from becoming entrenched, said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

Another is to develop early intervention programmes for at-risk youth and adults.

The shift upstream to tackle social challenges comes as Mr Tan expressed concern about intergenerational poverty in Singapore.

While the Gini coefficient shrank slightly from 0.463 in 2015 to 0.458 last year - suggesting that the rich-poor gap is narrowing - it remains stubbornly among the highest in developed countries. Some children from poor families find it tough to move out of the poverty trap, said the minister.

"Certainly, anecdotally we see that (intergenerational poverty) happening," he said. "For certain family circumstances, we know it is challenging and the probability of perhaps poorer outcomes for the children as they grow up will be higher. So we want to make sure that we intervene."

Last year, his ministry piloted KidStart, a three-year scheme to help 1,000 disadvantaged children aged up to six. Mr Tan said he wants to expand it beyond the five locations where it is now in place even before the pilot ends, depending on resources available.

The Government is also stepping in earlier to help workers and families who are showing signs of financial struggle yet would not usually qualify for ComCare aid.

Last year, nearly half of approved applications for short- to medium-term aid were granted to such beneficiaries, said the Ministry of Social and Family Development. Some were offered a higher cash quantum or had their period of aid extended if they still could not find jobs.

Mr Tan said such flexibility is especially important today when many Singaporeans are finding their livelihoods affected by disruption due to technology. "I think we will continue to see this affecting us for years to come. Some jobs will disappear from the market."

Sunday, 16 July 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong dialogue at FutureChina Global Forum 2017

PM Lee underlines Singapore's policy towards superpowers
Being good friends with both China and US is the right position to take, he says
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2017

Singapore is good friends with China and America, and this is the right position to take, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"Those in the foreign policy establishments will appreciate where we stand even though they may wish us to tilt towards one end or the other," he told 700 business leaders, academics and policymakers last night.

Mr Lee laid out the principles behind Singapore's foreign policy on both superpowers, in a 30-minute dialogue at the FutureChina Global Forum.

Newly returned from the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Germany last weekend, he also gave his reading of global trade winds and the business opportunities Singapore can seize amid China's growth.

He recounted his meeting and "good discussion" with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit, during which they talked about bilateral issues and areas for cooperation, such as the large projects between both governments and in human resources.

China may be world-class in many areas, but Singapore can still find niches in which to work with China, Mr Lee said at the forum organised by Business China, which aims to connect Singaporean and Chinese businesses and marks its 10th anniversary this year.

"I do not accept the principle that anything I can do, they can do better. The world is not like that, he said. "If you are strong at something, you are relatively less strong at other things, and there are other centres of prosperity, ingenuity and energy in the world. It will be like that with China also."

For instance, Singapore as a financial services hub is a natural base for infrastructure financing needed under China's massive Belt and Road initiative, he said when asked to give advice to local businesses keen to get a piece of the action.

The proposed Belt and Road infrastructure network aims to create land and sea trade routes to link Asia with Europe and Africa.

Moderator and Business China board director Robin Hu noted that some observers saw it as China's attempt at creating a Chinese economy outside of China, making nations beholden to it. Mr Lee replied that the Belt and Road was a constructive way for China to grow its place and influence in the world.

"It is win-win, linking to the countries around the region with infrastructure projects... in a way which enables the region to benefit from China's prosperity but at the same time to maintain the region's links with the rest of the world," he said.

The initiative is also open, he noted. "China will enhance its links with other countries. At the same time, other countries can do business with anybody in the world. It is not a closed group. It is an open, welcoming, intensification of mutually beneficial linkages," he added.

But its success hinges on the free flow of trade and goods, said Mr Lee, stressing a point Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean made a day before at the same forum.

"Singapore depends on trade. It is our lifeblood. If the lines are cut, we die," he said, noting that Singapore's trade is more than 31/2 times its gross domestic product.

Singapore therefore has a vested interest in making sure the seas remain open, particularly narrow straits like the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Singapore.

"If any country tries to restrict or go through with (restrictions) unilaterally or selectively... we would be completely opposed to that," said Mr Lee.

Asked if there was a danger of this happening, he said: "I don't think we are at risk of it happening, but I think some countries do worry that it could happen to them."

Highway viaduct structure under construction collapses at Pan-Island Expressway worksite

Safety review at all road, rail sites after viaduct collapse kills 1, injures 10
Work at Upper Changi Road East suspended after accident leaves 1 worker dead, 10 injured
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 Jul 2017

Work at all public road and rail worksites was suspended for half a day yesterday after part of a new viaduct that was being built collapsed early in the morning, killing one worker and injuring 10.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) used this "timeout" to review safety measures at all its rail and road projects all morning, before work resumed at 1pm.

Work remains suspended, however, at the $94.6 million project to build the viaduct in Upper Changi Road East, where a portion of the structure collapsed in the early hours of yesterday morning. The Building and Construction Authority revoked the permit for works at the project as the authorities conducted their investigations.

The project had been awarded to Or Kim Peow (OKP) Contractors, which was expected to complete it by the first quarter of 2020.

Shares of the mainboard-listed OKP crashed 8 per cent in the wake of the accident, before trading was halted at 10.15am.

OKP has been pulled up for safety lapses previously, and was blacklisted between January and April this year.

The latest accident took place at around 3.30am, when a portion of the structure collapsed. Eleven workers who had been working on it fell from a height of around 4m.

Preliminary investigations by the LTA showed that corbels - structures put in place to support the weight of precast beams between two sections - had collapsed.

A 31-year-old Chinese national was pronounced dead at the scene, while 10 others were taken to Changi General Hospital. Seven remained warded, with two in intensive care, while three were discharged after treatment.

OKP, which has been in construction since the 1960s, said in a statement to the Singapore Exchange that it was "deeply saddened" by the accident. It said it would "assist and cooperate fully with the authorities in their investigations".

Just three days earlier, OKP was fined $250,000 in connection with another incident on Sept 22, 2015. Four workers fell 6.4m after a section of the working platform they were standing on - under a flyover being constructed in Yio Chu Kang - became dislodged.

Between January and April this year, OKP was put on a Ministry of Manpower blacklist after receiving 25 demerit points for lapses.

Yesterday's incident brought the number of reported worksite fatalities to 20 this year. There were 66 fatalities last year.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

NTUC Returners Programme: Help for PMETs who return to work after career break

NTUC to match 'latent talent pool' with firms offering job trials
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 14 Jul 2017

Mothers and other professionals who took a break from the workforce can look forward to getting more help to restart their careers.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is trying out what it calls a Returners Programme to match economically inactive professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) with companies offering paid job trials.

These trials will lead to a permanent position if both parties agree, labour MP Desmond Choo said in a Facebook post yesterday, calling on employers to join the initiative.

The out-of-work PMETs are a "latent talent pool" who may have years of experience from their former careers, he said. "Additionally, they have also gained newfound perspectives and strengths - such as resourcefulness, resilience and heightened multi-tasking abilities - during the time they spent on personal commitments," he said.

Mr Choo, NTUC's spokesman on women and family matters, added that employers may need support to implement workplace practices and schemes to attract and retain the new hires. He said he hopes the Manpower Ministry, which NTUC is in discussions with, will give funding support to employers who offer permanent positions to those who successfully complete the job trials.

Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo also voiced support for the programme on Facebook, saying her ministry is looking into supporting companies which offer job-sharing opportunities.

The Straits Times understands NTUC's U Family unit has been approaching employers for the pilot run of the scheme since early this year, after the labour movement mooted the idea in its recommendations for this year's Budget. It also holds networking sessions for PMETs and potential employers.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Upgrading coffee-shop talk - and public policymaking

A better grasp of economic thinking can help us come to better decisions, from understanding what is 'value' in a cost-benefit analysis of the MacRitchie MRT proposal, to public online input on broken street lamps
By Euston Quah and Jonathan Tan, Published The Straits Times, 13 Jul 2017

The Government has been increasing its engagement with the public. In turn, as a people, we have the responsibility to help make better decisions.

This is especially important as good public policy processes place value on social impact and seek to understand the behaviour of Singapore's diverse society, as well as make sense and use of increasingly abundant behavioural data.

As Singapore gets more complex, and citizens get better educated and informed, more public voices are able to offer more informed views, drawing from academic disciplines. However, this can be strengthened further through sound economic thinking. Singapore must move towards more rigorous reasoning across all levels of public choice, starting from the grassroots - including at the coffee-shop level.

Here are some principles, drawn from the study of economics, that show how public policymaking can be enhanced, including how the public's views and perceptions on an issue can be more informed in giving feedback.


Should we tunnel the Cross Island MRT Line through MacRitchie Reservoir? Let's think beyond the cost of construction and service benefits of the new line. Soil investigations present the risk of pollution despite costly mitigation measures. Aquatic habitats and animals, including the globally vulnerable Johnson's freshwater crab found nowhere else on our planet, are at risk.

The systematic analytical technique of cost-benefit analysis (CBA) can be used to evaluate the desirability of alternatives - including building around MacRitchie - by comparing their costs and benefits in social welfare terms.

Indeed, CBA is fundamental to governmental decisions on how to use society's scarce resources, such as whether a project or programme is worthwhile, and its optimal scale or constraints. It steers our transportation, environmental, agricultural, land-use, urban-renewal, educational and health policy choices.

Monetary and non-monetary incentives drive economic decisions in households, organisations and public policy. The concept of welfare, rather than mere money, is the currency of economic analysis.

Good policy must recognise the trade-offs of available options.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Singapore has responsibility to speak up on key issues to secure its space in the world: PM Lee Hsien Loong

This is especially crucial when Republic's security or interests are at stake, he says
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor In Munich, The Straits Times, 12 Jul 2017

Singapore has a responsibility to highlight important issues of concern to the country, deal with them and push its position on them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Doing so is particularly crucial when Singapore's security, safety or fundamental interests regarding its position in the world - such as the rule of international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes - are at stake, he added.

"If we don't stand up and be counted, you cannot lie low and hope that nobody will notice you.

"That is how Singapore must conduct our foreign policy," he told Singapore reporters on Monday when asked about the role of small states in processes like the Group of 20 (G-20) summit.

His comments, in an interview wrapping up his six-day work visit to Germany, come amid a debate in Singapore on how small states should behave, with one school of thought stating that they should not comment on issues that do not directly involve them. This was in reference to how Singapore could have handled better its comments on the South China Sea dispute.

Without citing the debate, Mr Lee made the point that even as Singapore, a small country, has to take the world as it is, it also has to protect its interests and do the best for itself in the world. "These two are complementary, they are not contradictory. We have to be aware of the realities, but at the same time that does not mean surrendering ourselves to our fate," he said.

Singapore can contribute by having "something to bring to the table" and working with other countries towards a common cause.

It can do it with other small and medium-sized countries in the Global Governance Group (3G), or big countries in the G-20, he added.

"That is to our advantage, and our voice is heard and we are able to protect and advance our interests."