Thursday, 23 October 2014

President Tony Tan on first state visit to Britain by a Singapore leader

Royal pageantry marks start of President's UK visit
Booming gun salutes and stately carriage procession all part of day's splendour
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

THE red-and-white flag of Singapore flew proudly alongside the British Union Jack in central London yesterday, as President Tony Tan Keng Yam officially began his state visit to the United Kingdom to much fanfare.

Booming gun salutes and a stately carriage procession flanked by Royal Horse Guards were all part of the day's pageantry for Dr Tan, the first Singaporean president to make a state visit to Britain.

The morning began with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greeting Dr Tan at the Royal Garden Hotel where he was staying.

It was the first public appearance of Prince William's wife, Catherine, in over two months, and she appeared healthy and cheerful. The royal couple are expecting their second child in April next year, and the Duchess has been suffering from acute morning sickness.

Dr Tan and his wife, Mary, together with the royal couple, then went in a car procession to the Horse Guards Parade ground, where they were received by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. A 103-gun royal salute was fired from Green Park, a royal park, and from the Tower of London, a royal palace and fortress, as part of the ceremonial welcome.

The Queen, who wore a navy blue coat and matching hat, presented dignitaries to Dr Tan. These included British Prime Minister David Cameron, secretaries of state, senior military officials, and top officials from London.

Dr Tan then inspected the guard of honour, who were in their signature red tunics and towering black fur hats.

The President and his wife then boarded gilded state carriages - Dr Tan rode with the Queen while Mrs Tan rode with the Duke of Edinburgh - that brought them to Buckingham Palace, where they will stay until tomorrow.

Escorted by over 100 members of the Queen's household cavalry mounted on horses, the procession moved off to rousing renditions of the Singaporean and British national anthems, Majulah Singapura and God Save The Queen.

Lonely Planet picks Singapore as top travel spot in 2015

By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

GLOBAL travel company Lonely Planet has named Singapore the world's No. 1 country to visit next year, thanks to the line-up of events for its golden jubilee.

Its latest guidebook, Best In Travel 2015, published yesterday says that multicultural Singapore "is always celebrating something" and has more reason to when it turns 50 next year.

New attractions opening to coincide with the anniversary include the National Gallery Singapore, which will house art of 19th- and 20th-century Singapore and South-east Asia. The Singapore Sports Hub, which will host the 28th South-east Asia Games, will hold its official opening ceremony next year.

National Day, which falls on Aug 9, is expected to be "celebrated with ultra-extravagant fanfare", the popular guide said.

Best In Travel 2015 is Lonely Planet's 10th collection on top destinations, experiences and travel trends, curated by its staff, authors and contributors. The book is available in eight languages and is on sale in over 100 countries.

Strong anti-ISIS stand 'a responsible move'

But it may also make Singapore a target for extremists, says Masagos
By Toh Yong Chuan In Irbid (Jordan), The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE is taking a firm stand against militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) because it is the responsible thing to do, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

But the move may also make Singapore an ISIS target, he added.

Mr Masagos, who is on an official visit to Jordan, made the point at a closed-door dialogue on Monday in Irbid city, barely 20km from Jordan's border with Syria and less than 100km, or two hours' drive, from where ISIS is fighting in Syria.

"Singapore has to be a responsible player on the world stage," he told about 70 Singaporean students studying in Jordan.

"It is about the rule of law... They (ISIS extremists) are acting as a non-state player, they obey no rules that the world has set for itself."

For example, ISIS does not comply with the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war and it executes "people who are probably innocent", he added.

But while Singapore's stand "will have consequences", he believes that "whether or not we participate (in the fight), Singapore is a prized target".

His comments follow Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's statement in Milan last Friday, after the Asia-Europe Meeting of country leaders, that Singapore is seriously considering how it can be a helpful partner in the fight against ISIS.

Despite the ISIS attacks in neighbouring countries, Singaporean Taufiq Yahya, who is studying Arabic in Jordan's capital Amman, feels safe in the country.

"The reason is that Jordanians take security seriously," said the 30-year-old, a former enrichment centre owner who attended the dialogue with Mr Masagos.

More SMEs head abroad to grow their businesses

Fewer firms expanding here given cost and manpower issues: Survey
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

INCREASING numbers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are trying to grow their businesses overseas while fewer are expanding their presence here, according to a survey released yesterday.

It found that 20 per cent of SMEs plan to try their hands on foreign shores, up from 14 per cent in the same poll last year.

The survey of 2,836 firms in seven sectors also noted that only 8 per cent are expanding their presence here, down from 17 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, 15 per cent of SMEs this year are loss-making, up from 13 per cent, according to the poll by DP Information Group.

"Prevalent domestic issues, such as rising business cost and manpower challenges, have eroded SMEs' confidence in the local market," said Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive of the Singapore Business Federation yesterday.

The survey also revealed that more SMEs are doing business overseas, but the proportion of revenue generated from these operations is falling.

The percentage of SMEs generating less than 30 per cent of their sales overseas rose to 53 per cent from 43 per cent last year.

But those earning more than 70 per cent of their revenue overseas fell to 21 per cent from 26 per cent.

Liquidity has also fallen with average cash reserves down 24 per cent between 2012 and 2013, continuing a three-year downtrend that leaves the 2013 figure of $718,310 at half of its level of $1.37 million in 2010.

Scientists make leap in reversing paralysis

Cell transplant procedure shows strong results in case of injured man
The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

LONDON - A Bulgarian man who was paralysed from the chest down can now walk with the aid of a frame after receiving pioneering transplant treatment using cells from his nose.

The technique, described as a breakthrough in a study in the journal Cell Transplantation, involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells from the patient's nose into his spinal cord and constructing a "nerve bridge" between two stumps of the damaged spinal column.

"We believe... this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury," said Professor Geoffrey Raisman from University College London's institute of neurology, who led the research.

Mr Darek Fidyka, 38, was paralysed after suffering stab wounds to his back in 2010. He has recovered some voluntary movement and some sensation in his legs, after 19 months of treatment.

"When there's nothing, you can't feel almost half of your body. You're helpless, lost," the patient, who is now recovering at the Akron Neuro-Rehabilitation Centre in Wroclaw, Poland, told BBC's Panorama programme.

"When it begins to come back, you feel you've started your life all over again, as if you are reborn," he said.

S Rajaratnam Endowment launched

$100 million endowment to honour Rajaratnam
It will seek to deepen regional ties to keep alive the beliefs of founding leader
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

A $100 MILLION endowment has been set up by Temasek Holdings to honour the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, a founding father of Singapore who played a pioneering role in the country's foreign policy.

In striving to keep alive his beliefs, the S Rajaratnam Endowment will seek to deepen regional ties, a crucial backdrop to achieving economic cooperation and development in the region.

Such strong links will bring peace and stability to the region, said Mr Wong Kan Seng, chairman of the endowment, at its launch yesterday.

This is especially pertinent amid "a tumultuous era in world history with profound and momentous shifts of power and ideas under way", added the former deputy prime minister.

The United States, China, Japan and India are seeking a "new equilibrium" with one another, he said, while South Korea, Australia and Russia also have interests in the region.

"The next phase of Asia's growth will see more complex and greater challenges in geopolitics, changing demographics, income disparities and the competitive use of resources.

"It is thus important for all stakeholders to reinforce the foundations for sustainable growth in the region," he told an audience that included former president S R Nathan and former senior minister S. Jayakumar.

Protests that matter

Protests are part of democratic dialogue. Protests may be legal but not legitimate. So when are disruptive protests warranted?
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

THE continuing protests in Hong Kong have received international attention. Some commentators, both internationally and locally, have made comparisons between the protest culture in Hong Kong and in Singapore and concluded that the former reflects dynamism and vitality while the latter reflects conformity and apathy.

Such superficial extrapolations are not worthwhile. It would be more meaningful to ask when and why disruptive protests, whether on a large scale as has happened in Hong Kong or on a small scale as recently occurred at Hong Lim Park in Singapore, are warranted.

First, let us accept as a priori that protests are a channel to make views heard. In the negotiation of the national course there are several channels. Protest is just one of them.

Second, let us correct the impression that protests and Singapore are incompatible. After all, the People's Action Party Government legislated the creation of Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park as a site specifically to host free speech and then, latterly, protests. It is worth noting that legislation to this effect was first introduced in 2000, 14 years ago, and it was to allow protests in Hong Lim Park, which is not hidden away in a marginal corner of the country but located in the middle of the Central Business District.

Thus, far from wanting to marginalise or mask public speaking and protest actions, the Government acted to legitimise and facilitate protests in a specified highly visible venue - at a time when it arguably faced little domestic or international pressure to do so.

Third, that protests are legal does not mean that they are always legitimate. While protests are one of a range of accepted channels of public discourse, it should be noted that there is a hierarchy within these channels.

This hierarchy serves to ensure both efficiency and effectiveness in the discourse without undue disruption to social harmony and economic activity.

Participating in organised public consultations, attending forum engagements, submitting to letters pages, producing editorials, publishing books and giving feedback at Meet-the-People or dialogue sessions are just a sampling of the long list of available channels. To this list we can add peaceful, non-disruptive protests. If all these channels are present, then there should not be disruptive protests. In my view, disruptive protests deserve support only if three tests are met.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Can PAP stay dominant? A daunting task, says Ho Kwon Ping

'Freak election', party split, or defeat by opposition possible scenarios
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE'S best days are still ahead of it but, in contemplating its next 50 years, a key question to ponder is whether the ruling party will stay dominant, said leading public intellectual Ho Kwon Ping yesterday.

The People's Action Party (PAP), which has been in uninterrupted power for 56 years, has accomplished two major feats where many others have failed, he said.

First, it has produced consistent economic growth with broad- based gains for its entire people, and second - even harder - it has maintained exemplary, transparent governance with an entrenched ethos of incorruptibility.

"Its third challenge is not to just remain in power, nor to maintain its one-party dominance and deny the opposition its self-described role as a 'co-driver' of the nation, but to do so in a manner which ensures that the party truly renews itself and retains its original vitality, vibrancy and vigour," said Mr Ho in the first lecture of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS)-Nathan lecture series on Singapore's public policy.

But will it be able to do so, asked the businessman as he sketched out three basic possibilities.

First, an accidental or freak election that throws out the PAP. Second, a split within the PAP resulting in a loss to an opposition party which might not otherwise be stronger than a united PAP. And third, an anticipated, outright loss to an opposition party.

"I would rate the first possibility - a freak election - as having the highest chance, followed by an internal split, and the least likely is an outright, widely predicted loss," he said.

In all likelihood, it would be an interplay of these scenarios, he added.

While he did not think the PAP would lose its dominance in the next 15 years, it could happen further down the road, he said.

Jokowi invited to make pitch to firms in S'pore

Both countries work well and would like to do more together: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong has invited newly inaugurated Indonesian President Joko Widodo to make a pitch to businesses in Singapore for investments in infrastructure and developing the maritime sphere when he or his ministers next visit.

Mr Lee was speaking to the Singapore media after paying a courtesy call on Mr Joko at the presidential palace yesterday afternoon. He described their first meeting as "good".

"We have many things going on - economic, trade, investments, we've got security cooperation, our armed forces work together with the TNI, and I told him that we work well and would like to do more together," Mr Lee said, referring to the Indonesian Armed Forces by its acronym.

He noted that the new President's priorities were domestic, saying he had focused on certain ideas and reforms such as over the fuel subsidy, for a start.

But Mr Joko also spoke about "reforms to the bureaucracy, getting investments in on infrastructure, getting the idea of a maritime nation going, and he believes that Singapore can help him to achieve this".

"So I said, 'Yes, certainly.' Next time he or his ministers are in Singapore, I encouraged him to meet our business people and make a pitch to them of his strategy and plans, and I'm sure they'll be very interested to hear what he has to say," Mr Lee added.

Mr Lee noted that while the two countries may occasionally face some knotty differences, on the whole, bilateral ties are very good and both sides have made much progress in the last decade.

And he hoped Mr Joko and his Cabinet would continue to cooperate with Singapore and take the relationship further.

Asked about the different styles of Mr Joko and his predecessor, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Mr Lee said: "We are very happy to work with the elected president of Indonesia, and with president Yudhoyono we had a good 10 years.

"Our relationship developed in a very steady way and I think that this was a positive decade."

Govt to continue easing up on housing supply next year

By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

BOTH public housing supply and land sales for private property will continue to slow next year, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday.

However, married couples and their parents will get more help to live close together when buying new Housing Board flats.

As for calls to re-examine property cooling measures, he reiterated that this was not the time.

Mr Khaw addressed these topics in a blog post and on Mandarin television news programme Hello Singapore last night.

There will be 25 per cent fewer Build-To-Order (BTO) flats next year. After BTO supply was ramped up between 2011 and last year, the pace slowed by 10 per cent this year to 22,400 units.

The HDB has decided to slow things down further after studying recent BTO application rates. In recent years, there have been six launches a year of an average of 4,000 units. From next year, there will be four a year, with a total of about 16,000 new units.

"This should be sufficient to meet demand, without causing a glut in the public housing market," said Mr Khaw.