Friday, 31 October 2014

Indranee Rajah: Parents, bosses 'must look beyond paper qualifications'

Govt is committed to doing so, though it will take time
By Amelia Teng And Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

PARENTS, students and employers need to look beyond paper qualifications and recognise workers' skills and abilities - something the Government is committed to doing - said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah.

But, she acknowledged yesterday, this will take time.

"The traditional thinking was that there's only one path to success, but I think the reality is that it is much more complex," said Ms Indranee, who led the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee.

Last month, the Government accepted ASPIRE's recommendations to improve the quality of education and job prospects of Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic students.

These include giving students the chance to work while studying, and helping workers build up their skills.

"It's not one-size-fits-all," she told a 200-strong crowd of students, staff and alumni who attended the National University of Singapore's (NUS) monthly U@live forum. It was the first dialogue on the issue since the recommendations were accepted.

"There are many paths to success and education, because it's lifelong, because you're learning things along the way. (They) need not be taken all in one bite," said Ms Indranee.

Former Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan, an NUS alumnus who moderated yesterday's forum at the NUS Shaw Foundation Alumni House, said that the recommendations are a step in the right direction. But he questioned how the Government - as an employer itself - would fight mindsets that have become entrenched over decades.

Security guards to get better salary, training

Move comes after mounting concerns over cheap sourcing, long overtime hours
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 30 Oct 2014

Come September 2016, security officers will see basic starting monthly wages increase by about one third and clearer pathways for training and career progression, when the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) is adopted as a licensing requirement for the security sector.

The Government’s move to mandate the model as part of licensing requirements — in line with recommendations by the Security Tripartite Cluster (STC) — comes after months of foot-dragging by the sector in adopting the model, as concerns mounted over cheap sourcing and long overtime hours.

It comes two months after a mandatory licensing scheme — of which the PWM is also a requirement — came into effect in the cleaning sector.

Under the PWM, the basic monthly salary for a full-time security officer would be S$1,100. Currently, the median monthly basic pay of a full-time security officer is about S$800. An officer can earn about S$2,000 after overtime pay and other allowances.

There are about 33,000 active security officers in Singapore, of which 29,000 are Singapore citizens and permanent residents. Part-time security officers, which unionist Hareenderpal Singh said forms 30 per cent of all active security officers, will not be placed on the wage ladder. Instead, the STC recommended that their basic wages be pro-rated based on the number of hours worked as compared to a full timer’s typical contractual hours.

Returning ISIS fighters 'pose threat to region'

Indonesian military chief to meet counterparts to defuse the danger
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE commander of Indonesia's armed forces (TNI) said yesterday that he plans to call for a meeting of his counterparts from the region to discuss how best to counter the threat of extremism from militant group ISIS.

General Moeldoko told a public lecture in Singapore that ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was a significant threat to regional security.

And its full impact would be felt when its fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and even a handful from Singapore return home.

"When they return to their countries... it is not easy to predict what actions they might conduct. This is why we need to think about scenarios to anticipate what might happen when they return," he told reporters later.

Gen Moeldoko, who was on a three-day visit that ended yesterday, said there were no detailed plans for this proposed regional conference yet, but he hoped to discuss it with Asean defence chiefs when they meet in Malaysia early next year.

Indonesia has been cool towards the United States-led global coalition against ISIS, saying military action alone cannot fix the problem.

But officials are concerned about the threat, with at least 60 Indonesians fighting in Syria and Iraq. Several have joined Malaysian fighters to form a military unit, which analysts fear could expand ISIS' reach in South-east Asia.

Seat-hogging students a headache at cafes

Most students oblige when told to move, but some can be difficult, say operators
By Olivia Ho And Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

WITH exams around the corner, cafes are full of students poring over their books, oblivious to the fact that they are taking up precious seats for other patrons.

And this is causing problems for many cafe owners, who have to deal with students who overstay their welcome and refuse to leave when asked.

At D'Good Cafe in Holland Village, the situation has become so bad that it now bans studying at its premises from noon to 2pm. The cafe can seat about 100, but during exam season, it is nearly always full.

"Most students understand, but some can be quite difficult and become arrogant when we ask them to move," said store manager Gary Esplana, 28.

The problem is shared by independent cafes and major chains alike.

A spokesman for coffee chain Spinelli said: "Seat-hogging does pose a challenge for us. However, most of (the students) understand our constraints and are willing to come back after the cafe's peak period."

Ms Serene Foo, 30, a retail store manager at Spinelli's Velocity outlet, said students usually come in the morning and stay till evening.

She recalled one student who occupied four seats with her laptop, bag and notes.

"During lunch, she left for about two hours and it got very crowded, so I collected her things and brought it into the staff area," said Ms Foo, adding that she later explained her actions to the student, who was fine with it.

At Lorong Mambong cafe T Time at 93 Degrees, barista Lisa Tan, 17, expressed frustration at customers who "order minimum items but stay maximum hours".

"Some days, we close at 11.30pm but the students stay till midnight, so we have to close late," she said.

The issue of seat-hogging by students came under scrutiny this week after a student by the name of Yap Huixin had complained on the Facebook page of Starbucks Singapore.

She said staff there had moved her belongings after she had left her table and belongings unattended for 30 minutes.

That sparked a furore online, with most netizens taking the side of the coffee chain.

Court of Appeal rules that Section 377A that criminalises sex between men is constitutional

Court upholds law banning gay sex
It rejects case that Section 377A of Penal Code is unconstitutional
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

THE highest court in Singapore has upheld Section 377A of the Penal Code, the law that criminalises sex between men, rejecting arguments that the provision contravenes the Constitution.

In ruling that the provision is constitutional, the three-judge Court of Appeal yesterday rejected two separate challenges to strike down the law.

Mr Gary Lim, 46, and Mr Kenneth Chee, 38, as well as 51-year- old Mr Tan Eng Hong, argued that the provision was discriminatory and should be declared void.

Their case was that Section 377A infringed their right to equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by Article 12 of the Constitution, and violated their right to life and personal liberty, as guaranteed by Article 9. The offence carries up to a two-year jail term for men who commit acts of "gross indecency" with other men, in public or private.

Mr Tan first filed a challenge against the statute in 2010 after he was charged with having oral sex with a man in a public toilet. Mr Lim and Mr Chee later filed their own challenge. Their cases were separately dismissed by the High Court last year but their appeals were heard together in July.

More vulnerable children, youth to be placed with foster families

By Laura Elizabeth Philomin, TODAY, 30 Oct 2014

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is seeking to move more vulnerable children and youths living in institutional homes into the care of foster families, with the aim of doubling the number of foster parents over the next few years.

To that end, it announced today (Oct 29) an S$8 million three-year pilot that would appoint voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to set up fostering agencies. From next year, the appointed agencies will help to recruit more foster parents, and provide better support services for them in the form of counselling and training, for example.

Currently, the MSF is the only formal provider of foster care. There are over 235 foster parents in its existing Fostering Scheme, and it intends to increase the number 500. The aim is for more of the 700 to 800 children in the 23 children’s homes to join the existing 325 children placed with foster families.

Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing noted that despite the best efforts, the institutional environment in children’s homes is “artificial at best”. “If we believe that a homely environment is best for our children, then it’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to see how we can generate this more homely environment for low-risk children in need,” he said at the Rehabilitation and Protection Care conference at Mandarin Orchard hotel.

Mr Chan noted that many Singaporeans are apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of fostering. “Our challenge is to learn from others to see how we can better support foster families and encourage more to come onboard,” he said.

While the Fostering Scheme caters mainly to children below six, the MSF hopes the expanded pool of foster parents will give older children more chances of being placed with foster families.

Medifund provides S$130 million in aid in FY2013

TODAY, 29 Oct 2014

More financial aid from Medifund was provided to help needy patients with their medical bills in Financial Year 2013.

About S$130 million in Medifund assistance was provided in FY2013, a 27 per cent increase from S$102 million a year ago. Of this aid, elderly patients received about S$43 million — 30 per cent more compared to the estimated S$33 million a year ago.

Some 30 per cent more applications were also approved, from 587,000 in FY2012 to 766,000 in FY2013.

“This higher amount of Medifund assistance given reflected the wider range of services covered by Medifund and was supported by Government’s capital injection of $1 billion in FY2013,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement.

For instance, Medifund Junior was introduced last year to better target assistance at children from needy families. Medifund was also extended to support patients who need care at the polyclinics or services such as dental, antenatal and delivery.

Medifund was set-up in 1993 to assist Singaporeans who are unable to afford medical bills, even after Government subsidies, Medisave and MediShield. Medifund assistance varies according to the patient’s financial situation.

In FY2013, about 93 per cent of the successful applications received full assistance, with their outstanding subsidised bills fully paid for by Medifund. The figure is similar to last year’s figure. On average, the amount of Medifund assistance provided was S$1,579 per inpatient treatment, and S$103 per outpatient treatment.

Singapore still 'most business-friendly economy'

By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE has been crowned the most business-friendly economy in the world for the ninth year in a row.

According to the league table compiled by the World Bank, Singapore's regulatory environment is highly beneficial for entrepreneurs.

The "Doing Business" report released yesterday measures the ease of doing business in 189 economies based on 11 business- related regulations, including starting a firm, getting credit and electricity and trading across borders.

By those measures, Singapore led the pack with a score of 88.27. New Zealand was close behind with 86.91.

The rest of the top 10 comprised Hong Kong in third place, followed by Denmark, South Korea, Norway, the United States, Britain, Finland and Australia.

Entrepreneurs in Singapore need an average of 21/2 days to set up a company, while in Eritrea - the economy that placed lowest in the ranking - investors usually need about 84 days, according to the report.

Still, the World Bank report cautioned against viewing the ranking as "an all-encompassing measure of an economy's goodness".

"'Doing Business' measures a slender segment of the complex organism that any modern economy is," said World Bank senior vice-president and chief economist Kaushik Basu in a foreword to the report.

"Economic efficiency is not the only measure by which we evaluate an economy's performance," he added. "An economy can do poorly on 'Doing Business' indicators but do well in macroeconomic policy or social welfare interventions."

While the accolade "suggests that Singapore will keep its competitive edge, the country will need to brace itself for slower growth next year, being one of the most open and trade-oriented economies", said IG market strategist Ryan Huang.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

2014 Forbes Global CEO Conference dialogue session with PM Lee

PM Lee on democracy: Asian states must find own way
Power structure, politics in nations in the region work in different ways
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh And Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE Western media may paint popular democracy as a good thing but politics operates in different ways in Asia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"If you look at the countries in Asia, you'll know these are complicated countries and they work in different ways.

"Even when you have elections, the power structure, the politics, the government functions in different ways in these countries," he added.

For instance, in Thailand, beyond the elected government, the king and the military play critical roles, he said.

Mr Lee made the point at a dialogue on the opening night of the three-day Forbes Global CEO Conference, which brings business leaders together to discuss global economic issues.

Replying to a question on the fate and future of popular democracy in the region, Mr Lee called it a slogan.

"I think each country has to find its own way forward. I don't think there's salvation in saying, oh, we need more democracy and that will make these countries prosper," he said, citing recent events in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong as a case in point.

In India, he noted, a new government is at the helm every now and again. This makes it harder for the country to address fundamental challenges.

In China, however, "they have no elections, but that doesn't mean they don't have the problems (faced by) a government which is legitimate, which is functioning well, and which is subject to checks and balances".

On Singapore, he said an elected government is in place.

"Yet if you ask whether that is a formula which will automatically yield a good government and a successful country for the next 50 years, nobody can say.

"It depends on the people, it depends on the values of the society, it depends on the quality of the leaders and the connection between the leadership and the population."

MAS's sobering take on S'pore economy

GDP and productivity growth to remain constrained; core inflation to stay above historical average
By Kelly Tay, The Business Times, 29 Oct 2014

THE Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has presented a sobering prognosis of the Singapore economy - GDP expansion will continue to be muted, productivity growth will remain constrained, and core inflation will stay above its historical average on the back of labour cost pressures. The manufacturing sector, too, continues to face difficulties from land and labour constraints, although one positive is that companies have been moving up the value creation chain successfully.

In reiterating its 2014 GDP growth forecast of 2.5-3.5 per cent in its twice-yearly Macroeconomic Review on Tuesday, the central bank also sought to put it in perspective: "This should be seen in the context of the domestic economy settling down to a slower, but more sustainable growth path. With Singapore's relatively high real GDP per capita of US$61,000 (S$77,723) and labour productivity of US$99,700 on a purchasing power parity-adjusted basis (as at 2013), the moderation in the medium-term growth rate is in line with global experience."

In response, UOB economist Francis Tan said: "I see this as the MAS trying to temper growth expectations, to remind people to be more realistic. An abundance of labour is no longer part of the equation, so we won't be seeing growth of 6 or 7 per cent any longer."

Looking ahead, the MAS said that a "broadly similar" pace of growth is expected in 2015, and that the Singapore economy is "on track for moderate growth" despite some external and domestic headwinds. It qualified, however, that the performance across sectors will be uneven. "Sectors that cater to final demand in the US will fare relatively favourably, while those that are tied to the eurozone and China could be weighed down by the sluggish performance in these economies. Concomitantly, some of these external-facing industries will continue to grapple with resource constraints and falling product prices.

"Meanwhile, domestic-oriented sectors will remain resilient on the back of firm underlying demand, although those segments that are more reliant on labour input, or face greater competition, could experience profit margin pressure," said the central bank.