Wednesday, 4 May 2016

ISA detentions: 8 Bangladeshis plotting terror attacks held under Singapore's ISA

Members had target list, manuals for bombs, and had raised funds for attacks back home
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 4 May 2016

Eight Bangladeshi workers who were planning to stage terror attacks back home have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The men, aged between 26 and 34, called their group the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB) and intended to join terror group ISIS as foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

But as it was difficult to travel there, they focused on returning home to topple their government through violence, set up an Islamic State there, and bring it under the self-declared caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

They were detained last month, in the first ISA detentions involving a terror cell of foreign workers.

Late last year, a closed religious study group of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers who held extremist material were arrested under the ISA and deported. Their deportations were announced in January.

As for the eight, the ministry said yesterday its investigations found that the men had specifically identified possible targets for attack back home at the time of their arrest.

They also had material on weapons and bomb-making, and raised funds to buy firearms for attacks in Bangladesh. A modest amount of money, which the authorities did not disclose, has also been seized.

The group's leader, Rahman Mizanur, 31, was an S-Pass holder in construction who set up ISB as a clandestine group in March this year.

He recruited the other seven, all work permit holders employed in the local construction and marine industries. They are: Mamun Leakot Ali, 29; Sohag Ibrahim, 27; Miah Rubel, 26; Zzaman Daulat, 34; Islam Shariful, 27; Md Jabath Kysar Haje Norul Islam Sowdagar, 30; and Sohel Hawlader Ismail Hawlader, 29.

According to ISB members, there are at least two more members in the group who are in Bangladesh.

"ISB poses a security concern to Singapore because of its support for ISIS and its readiness to resort to the use of violence overseas," the ministry said in a statement. "The detained ISB members are still under investigation for their activities in Singapore. Rahman Mizanur has said he would carry out an attack anywhere if he was instructed by ISIS to do so, though there are no specific indications that Singapore had as yet been selected as a target."

ISIS had, in social media posts and its magazine Dabiq last year, cited Singapore as a possible target.

Mums of haemophiliacs honoured

Mothers, who are carriers of the gene causing the disorder, often struggle with guilt, says Society
By Chitra Kumar, The Straits Times, 3 May 2016

Six-year-old Ong Yehing was diagnosed with haemophilia, a condition in which the blood does not clot properly, when he was just six months old.

A genetic disorder that generally affects males, it is often passed down by mothers as women are carriers of the haemophilia gene.

His mother, Ms Lim Ting, said she knew little about the condition back then and felt judged by family members and relatives.

"I was very depressed when I got to know (about it). It was stressful. People didn't understand. My son was getting comments that he is not normal," said the 37-year-old housewife. Her younger son, Yexiang, four, also suffers from the genetic disorder, a complicated type of the condition called haemophilia with inhibitors.

"We took a gamble with our second son. It was a 50-50 chance. Unfortunately, he is also a severe haemophiliac," Ms Lim told The Straits Times at an event held yesterday by the Haemophilia Society of Singapore to mark Mother's Day this Sunday.

The non-profit society said many mothers struggle with guilt as carriers of the gene. There is no cure for haemophilia. Victims bruise easily, suffer bleeding in muscles and joints, and can bleed to death when they are injured.

There are about 250 haemophiliacs in Singapore - about 230 are members of the society. Its youngest member is 10 months old while the oldest is 83 years old.

Nine of the society's members gathered yesterday to bake cookies and cupcakes at bakeware store ToTT Store in Dunearn Road to thank their loved ones this Mother's Day. One of them is Mr Lee Lye Onn, 62, a retiree, who wanted to honour his wife.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Dementia costs Singapore $1.4 billion a year

Study highlights urgency of need to tackle problem as nation ages
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

Dementia and its accompanying woes cost the country $1.4 billion every year, making it among the biggest drains on the healthcare system here.

This alarming figure, uncovered for the first time by local and international researchers, underscores the need to prevent the debilitating disease from taking hold in greying Singapore, say experts.

"Part of trying to define the scale of the problem is finding out dementia's economic cost," said Professor Chong Siow Ann, vice-chairman of the Institute of Mental Health's medical board (research), who was involved in the study.

"That then gives us an idea where we might want to intervene."

He and 13 others, from IMH, Changi General Hospital, the Ministry of Health and King's College London analysed the social care costs - such as care provided by family members and maids - and healthcare costs of 2,565 people, the majority of them aged 60 to 74. About one in 10 of them had dementia - consistent with the national average.

What the researchers found: For every person with dementia, he, his family and society paid $10,245 more in health and social care costs in 2013 than those without the condition.

As a country, Singapore shouldered the burden of $532 million that year, to care for people with the brain disease marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. Taking into account social factors and other health problems dementia patients tend to suffer from such as depression and hypertension, the cost triples to $27,331 per person.

The study offers an important benchmark for the illness, said the researchers, who are calling in particular for more help for caregivers.

Said Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health: "Such studies do provide grist to the policy mill and are useful to either start or bookend discussions about resource allocations for specific medical issues, in this case dementia."

Last month, the Government declared war on diabetes, which cost more than $1 billion in 2010 - a figure expected to soar beyond $2.5 billion by 2050. The estimated cost per working-age person due to diabetes was $7,678 in 2010, and is expected to go up to $10,596 by 2050.

As at 2013, the annual cost of dementia, at $10,245 per patient, already closes in on the 2050 mark for diabetes, experts pointed out.

The price tag is expected to grow exponentially as the country ages. There were about 40,000 dementia patients here last year and this is projected to reach 53,000 by 2020, and 187,000 by 2050.

1 in 3 local university students admitted in 2015 is a polytechnic student

Rise in line with diploma holders' aspirations to boost their skills
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

One in three local university students admitted last year is a polytechnic graduate, as the public university landscape expands and diploma holders seek to upgrade themselves.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has revealed that last year's local university intake had the highest ever proportion of polytechnic graduates at nearly 34 per cent, up from 24.7 per cent in 2011.

The figures are based on the student intakes of publicly funded undergraduate programmes at the six local universities. They are the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design, SIM University (UniSIM) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

Educators said the greater proportion of poly graduates in local universities is in line with the rising aspirations of diploma holders who want a university degree.

A spokesman for Ngee Ann Polytechnic said poly graduates have more options today. They can work in an area related to their course, go on to other careers or further their studies. "Ultimately, we want our students to have a passion for their chosen profession and to achieve skills mastery," she said.

One in five poly graduates won a place in a degree course this year. Four years ago, it was 15 per cent - about one in seven.

Education policy expert Jason Tan of the National Institute of Education noted that students' aspirations are linked to "the job market's bias in favour of degree holders". "So it's more for practical reasons than personal interest that most diploma holders want to gain a competitive edge."

While the Government is taking steps to value the skills and on-the-job performance of diploma holders, people's mindsets will take time to change, he said.

The median monthly starting salary for polytechnic graduates last year was $2,100, and $3,300 for university graduates.

Phase 1 of Tuas Terminal construction begins

First part of future mega port in Tuas launched
15,000-tonne 'building block' sent out to sea; new construction method will be quicker
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

The first building block of Singapore's future Tuas mega port has been sent out to sea.

Yesterday, the first of 222 caissons - structures that will make up the wharf of Phase 1 of the Tuas Terminal - was launched on a floating dock from the southern edge of Tuas by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.

It will take a day for it to drift to its destination, where it will be joined by the others over the next three to four years to form the 8.6km-long wharf.

The Tuas Terminal will be developed in four phases over 30 years, with Phase 1 scheduled to be completed by the early 2020s.

Phase 1 of the terminal will be able to handle about 20 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo a year. The entire Tuas Terminal could eventually handle 65 million TEUs of cargo annually - nearly double what Singapore handled in 2014.

Singapore's plan is to move all its port activities to Tuas South from 2027, freeing up prime land in Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang for future residential and mixed-use developments.

Mr Andrew Tan, chief executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), said the reason for Singapore's existence is its port, and it has now to become more efficient, innovative and productive to stay ahead in the game.

Monday, 2 May 2016

May Day 2016

In his May Day Rally speech, PM Lee called on workers to prepare themselves for a more challenging job landscape and urged companies to make adjustments and support their employees on this front.

Workers' training fund gets $200m May Day boost
Govt pledges $150 million to help workers learn new skills if NTUC raises $50 million
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 May 2016

A fund to prepare workers to hone new skills for jobs of the future will get a $200 million boost.

The Government is pledging a contribution of $150 million to the NTUC Education and Training Fund if the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) raises $50 million.

NTUC will use the money to tie up with higher education institutes to help workers - among them professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) - learn new skills in growth areas, training about 30,000 workers each year.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this initiative at the May Day Rally yesterday and said NTUC will partner Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to start 28 part-time courses in August in areas such as data analysis and digital electronics.

More courses are being planned.

"We celebrate May Day this year in a slightly cautious mood," said Mr Lee.

"Around the world, workers are feeling anxious and worried. If you look at other countries' May Days, it is not May Day celebrations, it is May Day demonstrations."

Rise of populist parties in Europe

Voters deserting mainstream political parties amid unemployment and globalisation woes
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

The front runner in the presidential election in Austria has claimed that only one in five migrants entering his country is a "real refugee" and has predicted that his central European state will soon seal its borders to newcomers.

Mr Norbert Hofer, who drew 35 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of Austria's ballots last week, seems best-placed to secure the presidency in a second round of voting scheduled for May 22.

In theory, that should not matter much, since the position of the Austrian head of state is largely ceremonial. Nevertheless, Europe's attention is fixed on Mr Hofer, for he is the candidate of a far-right political movement, and his election could herald a more fundamental shift throughout Europe away from mainstream moderate parties and towards fringe populist movements.

A 45-year-old aircraft engineer who narrowly survived a plane crash in 2003, Mr Hofer has dedicated his entire public life to the Freedom Party, an Austrian nationalist movement which was established during the 1950s by right-wingers and former Nazi party members, and which until fairly recently was considered unelectable.

But Mr Hofer beat all expectations by winning a third more than the presidential candidates of the mainstream centre-left Socialist and the centre-right People's Party, the two movements which have dominated Austrian politics since the country regained its independence after the end of World War II. He now goes ahead to the second and decisive round of voting next month and stands a high chance of winning the presidency - an astonishing turnaround for a hitherto- minor party.

No clear-cut, single definition of human rights: Bilahari Kausikan

IPS-Nathan LecturesLecture IV - The Myth of Universality; The Geopolitics of Human Rights

Veteran diplomat highlights effect of asserting such rights on Trump's rise, Europe's refugee crisis
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

American presidential hopeful Donald Trump has gained much traction in the race for the White House because of the gap between what American elites desire and what everyday Americans are comfortable with, according to ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan.

In his fourth lecture as the Institute of Policy Studies' SR Nathan Fellow yesterday, he noted the "outrageous" comments Mr Trump has made on women and minorities.

He said these "tap into the anger of his white working class base who feel culturally as well as economically insecure because a once familiar America... had been 'stolen' from them by liberal elites and mainstream political leaders who have promoted women's rights".

The veteran diplomat cited the reasons for Mr Trump's surprising popularity as a backlash against pockets of Americans asserting their human rights, such as women's rights.

Another dilemma from the assertion of human rights, albeit in a different context, had ballooned into a crisis in Europe, he noted.

Europeans are now torn between welcoming the hordes of refugees from Syria, which befitted their championing of human rights, and exposing themselves to the risks of doing so.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Fast-response police unit to counter terror rolls out in June 2016

Teams with enhanced weapons will be first wave of responders in case of a terrorist attack
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

A new fast-response police unit trained to react swiftly to armed threats across Singapore will be up and running from June to beef up the counter-terrorism strategy.

The Emergency Response Teams (ERTs), which were unveiled yesterday at the annual Police Workplan Seminar and Exhibition, will be the first wave of responders in the event of a terrorist attack.

Each team comprises four or five officers, who will be the first on the scene to engage and neutralise the attackers. The ERT officers are selected from the six major land divisions, where they will also be based. Equipped with HK MP 5 sub-machine guns and trained in counter-assault skills, they will focus on containing threats quickly while minimising casualties.

The enhanced weapons are now used by the special forces and have more range and ammunition. The ERT officers will also don bullet-resistant helmets and vests.

On a day-to-day basis, the ERT officers will patrol selected public areas, such as shopping centres, as deterrence. That will allow them to be familiar with the areas and work closely with stakeholders in joint response plans.

The move is part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the threat of terrorism by enhancing the security response, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who spoke at the event.

He stressed that the ERTs will "respond faster, more effectively and decisively to attacks".

Idling engines: Higher penalties for repeat offenders from 1 June 2016

Fine raised to $100 from $70; maximum court fine of $5,000 if amount is not paid
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 30 Apr 2016

It does not matter if you are sitting in the car enjoying the air-conditioner while waiting for friends to return - you could still be handed a fine.

From June, repeat offenders who leave the engines of their stationary vehicles switched on will face higher penalties, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced yesterday.

Motorists caught leaving their vehicle engines idling for a second or subsequent time will face a fine of $100, up from the current $70. If the sum is not paid, the errant motorist will be liable to a maximum court fine of $5,000.

The move comes after an increase in such offences. NEA figures show that from 2013 to last year, the number of enforcement cases grew from about 3,200 to 5,100. In the first three months of this year, action was taken against 1,489 errant motorists for idling-engine offences.

The NEA said the surge is due to increased enforcement and a rise in offenders - many of whom drive commercial vehicles such as taxis, goods vehicles and private buses.

The Straits Times spoke to 50 motorists yesterday and only around half were aware that it is illegal to leave an engine idling. Two out of five owned up to having done so.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Integrated North-South Corridor to be ready in 2026

Vehicles to run mainly underground, with lanes for buses; bike and pedestrian paths on surface
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

The North-South Corridor, the first expressway here to have dedicated bus lanes and a cycling route, is targeted to be ready in 2026.

Major construction work on the expressway, Singapore's first integrated transport corridor, will start next year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday. It will be calling several tenders on the planned corridor to link towns in the north to the city in the coming months.

The project was initially a vehicular expressway to be completed in 2020, but it was announced in January that the highway will be redesigned as the first integrated transport corridor here.

There will be cycling and pedestrian paths throughout the surface of the 21.5km expressway. Vehicles will ply mainly underground, on a highway which will have one of three lanes in each direction reserved for express bus services.

Said LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong: "The North-South Corridor underpins our commitment towards a car-lite Singapore, by optimising our land transport infrastructure to better meet the needs of all Singaporeans."

With the new corridor, bus passengers travelling from towns in the north, such as Woodlands, Sembawang or Ang Mo Kio, could have journeys to the city shortened by up to 30 minutes. Besides long-haul routes, inter-town bus services could also leverage on it.

Yesterday, the LTA said the corridor's cycling path will link up with existing cycling infrastructure, including the Park Connector Networks and dedicated cycling path networks in HDB estates.

ASEAN Open Skies: Sky's the limit for ASEAN airlines flying within bloc

By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 Apr 2016

ASEAN countries pushing for free skies, to give travellers more flights, lower fares and new destinations, have reached a key milestone.

All 10 member states have ratified a deal allowing airlines that meet safety requirements to fly freely from their home countries to any city within the bloc.

In other words, the airlines from ASEAN countries will be able to make as many flights within the bloc as they want - as long as the airports can support them. The deal takes effect immediately.

Typically, air services are bound by government-to-government deals that stipulate how many flights airlines can operate and with which aircraft size.

But the ASEAN agreement, sealed about four months behind schedule, comes with a caveat from Indonesia. For now, it has agreed to include just five airports in Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya, North Sumatra and South Sulawesi in the deal.

Countries are sometimes reluctant to remove all barriers for fear that their carriers may not be able to compete effectively with foreign airlines, though experts say the ASEAN deal is still a positive step.

Aviation law professor Alan Tan of the National University of Singapore told The Straits Times: "This is great news for travellers... They can look forward to more flights at more competitive prices."

Among the big winners are low-cost carriers like AirAsia, Tigerair and Cebu Pacific, whose operating models are perfectly suited for the region where no two points are more than a few hours apart.

Six in 10 intra-ASEAN flights are already cornered by low-cost carriers and the proportion is expected to increase.