Saturday, 26 July 2014

In a national crisis, can we count on you, Singapore?

Is our society resilient enough to survive tragedies like MH17?
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

IT HAS been a week since the crash of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 over Ukraine. Even as recovery efforts are still in progress, a quick scan of the front pages of major newspapers and news websites suggests that the world is already moving on from the tragedy.

The contrast between the permanent and deeply unsettling effect of the crash on family and friends of the victims, as well as on MAS as an operating entity, and the shifting interest of the rest of the global community is sobering.

It has been reported that there were many more flights by Singapore Airlines (SIA) traversing the route flown by MH17 than most other airlines - including MAS. Given that the attackers seemingly did not specifically target the aircraft because it was MAS, the statistical probability was greater that an SIA aircraft would have been struck - simply because it flew more flights over the area. We lucked out, MAS did not.

Our feelings are with the Malaysians and all those affected by the tragedy. For ourselves as Singaporeans, we may feel some relief at our good fortune. But perhaps we can also spend some time to pause and reflect on what it would mean if it had been an SIA aircraft that had been shot down and if many of the passengers had been Singaporeans. How would our Government have responded? How would our people have reacted?

These are important questions to ask ourselves for two reasons.

First, awful tragedies can happen even when all things are done right, so we should think about how best to manage our reaction now rather than in the event, however unlikely.

Second, the quality of a country's response to a tragedy is not only a function of the crisis management efforts of the government but the reaction and conduct of the people.

The Malaysian government has been resolute and confident in its response to the MH17 tragedy. This is in marked contrast to its handling of the earlier MH370 incident. Obviously, many lessons have been learnt and applied.

What CPF reform should achieve

By Devadas Krishnadas, TODAY, 25 Jul 2014

Earlier this week saw a lively discussion on reforming the Central Provident Fund or CPF at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies. Several ideas have been thrown out for consideration and we can expect to hear more about the Government’s thinking during the upcoming National Day Rally.

One proposal is the option of taking higher risk in investing CPF monies in return for the prospect of higher returns. Ideally, this should be limited to CPF members who already have high confidence of meeting their retirement needs through meeting a certain minimum sum. This would ensure that they have the base of security before taking greater risks.

What is important is that CPF members who qualify and elect to take higher risks should be expected to indemnify the Government from protecting them against any losses or from making good their retirement adequacy if their total financial circumstances are significantly altered by future events, such as another global financial crisis. This is to ensure that well-to-do CPF members do not benefit from a privatised upside gains but also socialised downside protection.

WHY PRIVATISING CPF MAY NOT WORK

Another suggestion often touted in social media discussions is to privatise, in part or as a whole, the management of CPF in order to have full transparency. This would be a very radical option.

The CPF system is not only integrated into our social fabric but also our national fiscal management system, as CPF monies are invested in Special Singapore Government Securities or SSGS bonds that are issued and guaranteed by the Government. The proceeds from SSGS bonds are invested by the Government via the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) to generate the required returns to cover the interest rates payments on CPF deposits.

Privatising CPF would reduce GIC’s inflow of fresh funds and affect its current operating model. GIC, being our sovereign wealth fund, can be relied on to keep the national interest as its highest priority. Private investment houses would no doubt be eager for the opportunity to manage the large pool of CPF capital, in view of the handsome management fees involved.

But unlike GIC, private investment managers’ focus would be serving their corporate and shareholder’s interests. GIC can afford to invest long term as Singapore is its sole client. Private investment firms would find it more difficult to do the same under the pressure to produce early results. Privatisation of CPF, therefore, entails higher risks than simple portfolio risks.

Too early to relax property curbs: MAS

Risks remain, it says; modest pick-up in overall economic growth expected
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

PROPERTY cooling measures of recent years are helping to rein in housing prices and household debt, but it is too soon to ease restrictions, a top official says.

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) managing director Ravi Menon, speaking at the release of the MAS annual report yesterday, noted that housing prices have moderated but that risk factors are largely unchanged.

"Property prices remain at elevated levels... Prices have gone up 60 per cent in the past four years, and they've declined just 3.3 per cent in the past three quarters," he noted. "Global interest rates are still extremely low, and if you relax property measures in the current, very easy liquidity environment, it might set off another spiral of price increases."

Also, high-debt households are still cleaning up their finances and need time to pay off their loans.

Still, he said, property cooling measures have helped strengthen overall household balance sheets.

First, household debt growth has moderated. In the third quarter of 2011, for example, households took on 13 per cent more debt than they did in the same quarter of 2010. But in the first three months of this year, debt grew just 5.5 per cent.

Second, new housing loan borrowers are better placed to repay loans. Almost all new housing loans granted since the introduction of the total debt servicing ratio - designed to stop borrowers from overextending themselves - were within the 60 per cent limit.

The moderation in property prices, along with a fall in car prices, has seen MAS narrow its forecast range for headline inflation to 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent, from 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent before.

This comes amid a somewhat brighter economic outlook, with growth set for a modest pickup in the second half, Mr Menon said.

The economy is on track to grow 2 per cent to 4 per cent this year, with both major engines of world growth, the United States and China, holding up, he said.

New Lorong Halus Jetty a boost for fish farmers

By Amanda Lee, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Jul 2014

The new S$3.85 million Lorong Halus Jetty was launched on Thursday (July 24). The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it was developed as part of efforts to bolster Singapore's food supply resilience - the location and surrounding infrastructure will enable fish farmers to easily load and unload their produce in Singapore's East.



Farmers will also get a boost as they will be allowed to use the jetty for free during the first three months of operation. The jetty will also help them land their fishes and moor their vessels.

Previously, they used Changi Creek and Senoko Fishery Port, which were considered too far from the fish farms off Pasir Ris. These were also smaller in size and lacking in facilities.

Fish farmers say the new jetty has facilities that make it safer and easier for them.

More social service offices to help needy

3 more added to 20 planned, with better idea of caseloads for each town
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

BY NEXT June, 23 social service offices (SSOs) will be up and running across the island, as part of a network of help points close to needy residents.

The number of offices exceeds the initial target of 20.

Twenty was an estimate based on "rough geographical location and dispersal", said Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing at the official opening of the 11th such office in Sengkang yesterday.

"But after starting operations and having a better idea of caseloads from each town, we further refined the plan."

He also announced where the 20th SSO and the three additional ones will be - Bukit Batok, Hougang, Punggol and Pasir Ris.

Run by his ministry, the SSOs will work with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and community partners in their areas to better coordinate the social services they offer. Along with the 43 family service centres islandwide, the SSOs will put help within 2km of where 95 per cent of needy residents live or work.

Mr Chan said they will have first dibs on the national database of aid recipients when it is ready next year. Other VWOs will follow suit later.

The national case management system for the social service sector will be similar to that for health, which allows doctors to call up a patient's records no matter where the patient is treated.

Social service workers can get an overview of the case history of each beneficiary and the different places he has sought help from, so that he does not have to repeat personal details to every agency.

Unlike the other SSOs, the Sengkang office at Block 261C, Sengkang East Way, has two in-house job placement officers. The office roped them in from the Singapore Workforce Development Agency and a grassroots group as they found that residents in Sengkang needed help to find jobs.

Social media resource kit to help at-risk youth

By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

WHEN a young person with links to a gang is invited to a fight online, he could face more pressure to join in, because of social media's "visibility".

"If they get the invitation through an SMS, they can feign ignorance and say they did not see it. But on social media, others can see if they're online, so there is more compulsion for them to be seen as being supportive," said Dr Lim Sun Sun, an assistant dean at the National University of Singapore.



Social media thus poses a greater risk for delinquent youth, said Dr Lim, who led a team to develop a resource kit for those helping these young people. Targeted at schools and help groups, it aims to guide them in speaking to youth at risk and their parents about the dangers of using social media.

"There are many cyberwellness kits, but many of these are targeted at mainstream youth," Dr Lim told The Straits Times on Wednesday, at a symposium where the kit was launched.

The guide - which parents can view online - was designed based on interviews conducted by Dr Lim and her team in 2010 to 2011 with 36 juvenile delinquents regarding their use of social media. The study found they could be drawn into criminal activities and re-offending through social media.

Security guards get special day to mark their contributions

Move comes amid severe manpower crunch in sector
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

ABOUT 25 security guards were absent from their regular posts yesterday morning but they were not skiving or on strike. Instead, they were taking part in the inaugural "security officers day".

The Security Association of Singapore (SAS) picked yesterday - July 24 - to honour security guards because they work round the clock, or 24/7.

Speaking at the event, SAS president T. Mogan said security guards were not people who were unsuccessful in joining the police force. "You protect and save lives," he said.

The move to recognise the contributions of security guards comes amid a severe manpower crunch in the sector. Industry players estimate that some 50,000 guards are needed but only about 40,000 are currently working.

While there are more than 66,000 unarmed security guards licensed by the police, many of them do not take on work because of the long hours - it is the norm to work 12 hours a day, six days a week.

At yesterday's event, held at the Regional English Language Centre in Orange Grove Road, the 25 guards took a public pledge to help the police protect lives and properties. They also recited the national pledge ahead of National Day next month.

NUS makes it easier for students in four faculties to qualify for honours

By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

MORE than eight in 10 students on the four-year direct honours degree courses at public universities here graduate with honours or the equivalent.

But only six in 10 of those in the three-year arts and social sciences, business, science and nursing bachelor's courses at National University of Singapore (NUS) get to the fourth year of study, which allows them to graduate with honours.



To close the gap, NUS is lowering the grade to allow another 10 per cent to 15 per cent of students to qualify for the honours year in these four schools.

This means 400 to 500 more students from these faculties, which take in 3,700 students a year, can move on to the fourth year to study for their honours.

Previously, students in these faculties required a Cumulative Average Point (CAP) of 3.5 and above for honours study. With the change, they need only 3.2.

NUS will keep the three plus one structure, where students do honours in the fourth year if they qualify. Those who qualify but choose not to do honours can opt to graduate with a pass with merit, instead. Every year, some with good job offers do that.

Friday, 25 July 2014

New 3-station IPPT from 1 April 2015

Easier IPPT will not mean lower fitness standards: Army chief
Revised test 'will ensure servicemen are fully fit to perform their duties'
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

THE revised Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) might be easier for servicemen to train for and pass, but it will still ensure that they meet fitness standards required of them to perform their operational roles, said army chief Perry Lim.

The major-general gave this assurance on Wednesday after he announced details of a simplified IPPT with three components instead of the current five.

From April next year, members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) need clear only the 2.4km run, sit-up station and a new push-up station.

The Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force will also use the new test for Home Team servicemen next year.

Instead of having to meet a passing mark for each component, servicemen will clock the fastest time for the run and count their personal best for how many sit-ups and push-ups they can do in a minute. Points will then be accumulated from all three stations.

As servicemen grow older and their fitness levels drop, the required performance standards will change every three years, instead of the current five.

The new IPPT will do without three components: the 4x10m shuttle run, standing broad jump and chin-up stations. The last two have drawn complaints from servicemen who failed them and were sent for remedial training.

While more participants are likely to pass the new IPPT, the changes have raised concern among servicemen that the new fitness test will lower the bar.

Maj-Gen Lim defended the move to have fewer stations, saying the military already has a comprehensive combat fitness test regime in place.

Implemented in 2010, this requires combat-fit career soldiers and full-time national servicemen to clear obstacles that mimic hazards on the modern battlefield, such as blind corners, falling rubble, sewers and long corridors.

Maj-Gen Lim said soldiers already "execute movements that require them to also manage or carry their body weight".

While most operationally ready national servicemen do not have to do combat drills, many undergo route marches and "physically rigorous field exercises that require them to apply many parts of their body", he added.

The new format is also aimed at motivating fitter servicemen to excel and less fit ones to train.

C3A Chinese portal tailored to senior citizens' interests

By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2014

MANDARIN-SPEAKING senior citizens now have an online Chinese portal to find out more about topics varying from current affairs to lifestyle activities.

The Council for Third Age (C3A), a group that promotes active ageing, launched a Chinese edition of its one-stop Web portal for seniors yesterday. A pilot version went live in May.

It offers large font options and a user-friendly layout for the elderly. The platform works with more than 120 partners to feature news, events, activities and promotions for seniors. It also has content such as recipes and information about government policies which affect the elderly.

The English version has received 1.2 million page views and more than 200,000 unique visitors since it was launched in 2012.

Mr Heng Chee How, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and chairman for the active ageing and employability sub-committee, was the guest of honour at the launch.

"Seniors today have access to technology and many are using it to stay in touch with their friends and relatives through various platforms, including social media. It is encouraging to see seniors embracing technology to stay connected," he said.

An online survey of 191 people by C3A reported that three in four people found the organisation's Web portal useful in helping them stay connected with society.

Those surveyed were between 40 and 78 years old.