Monday, 22 September 2014

Singapore Summit 2014 Dialogue with PM Lee

Worries: ISIS threat, Asian stability
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

The rise of a group of jihadists in Syria and Iraq, and growing nationalism in Asia, are two things that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thinks about before he goes to bed.

The first worries him because the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a problem just for the Middle East, while the second threatens peace and stability in Asia, he said.

He was responding to questions at The Singapore Summit dialogue.

ISIS, which has captured large swathes of territory and committed atrocities such as beheadings, has fighters from the United States, Europe and South-east Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

"What is it which has possessed people who want to go and do such things in a faraway land? If they destroy their own lives, that is one thing. If they come back, and bring back trouble to our societies, that is more difficult to contain, so we have to worry about it," he said.

Even though governments can take measures to weaken ISIS, "you can't fundamentally change the texture of the society and the people there. When you are gone, the problem will come back", he said.

"What we can do in our own homes is to watch the security, confidence and trust-building between different communities and make sure... the Muslims have leaders who will stand up and say that ISIS is not Islam, that it is evil, and we repudiate them and condemn them. Fortunately in Singapore, we have got religious leaders who have said that and said that emphatically."

Occasionally, some people are led astray, and Singapore has been lucky to discover them early. But some slip through: "We have a couple in Syria and Iraq, including a woman with teenage children... And the children are part of this. So it is something to be taken in absolute seriousness."

On his other worry, Mr Lee noted that there was rising nationalism, such as in China, Japan and some South-east Asian countries: "You can see it in the territorial disputes... in the tone it has taken in national debates, in an exaggerated and often very harsh and nasty way in the Internet discourse."

Pre-school career path to focus on skills

Teachers may also get better pay with new initiative
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2014

PRE-SCHOOL teachers will get a career pathway that focuses on their skills instead of qualifications - and could see bigger pay packets to go with it.

The initiative to help staff in or entering the sector was announced yesterday by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing.

Speaking at the annual Early Childhood Conference at Singapore Expo, he urged pre-schools to pay their staff more - making the point three times during his half-hour speech.

"I will do what I can to help you... manage your costs," he said. "But I hope that you translate some of these savings into lower fees for our children and better pay for our teachers."

In a message to staff, he said: "My promise to you is that I will take care of your career development, your remuneration, and you help me to take care of the Singaporean children."

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will work with operators over the next year to develop a more structured career framework, in line with recent recommendations from the Applied Study in Polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education Review (ASPIRE) committee, which focus more on competencies than paper qualifications.

The agencies will draw up the competencies required at each job level and aim to offer more development opportunities at different career stages.

Pre-school professionals face different entry requirements, depending on which class level they care for.

About 80 per cent of Singapore's 14,000 pre-school staff are qualified to at least diploma level. The rest have certificates or are being trained.

For those without diplomas, the polytechnic continuing education and training (CET) diploma will recognise skills acquired on the job or from prior training - reducing course hours by up to 25 per cent.

They now need five O-level credits to be eligible for the CET diploma, but from next year this will be reduced to three, though they must also fulfil other criteria such as having at least a year of relevant work experience.

Punggol to get better links to highways

Road expansion project to meet anticipated growth in traffic will be completed by 2019
By Carolyn Khew, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

Punggol residents can look forward to less congested roads and better connectivity from the expressways to where they live.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has called for a tender to expand the intersection of the two expressways that lead to Punggol - the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and Tampines Expressway (TPE) - so as to ease traffic flow.

It will also construct a new arterial road linking the intersection to Punggol to offer motorists greater access to the town.

Construction is expected to begin by the middle of next year after tenders are awarded.

When the project is completed by 2019 as slated, it will provide a new link between Punggol and the TPE.

Currently, those using the expressways to access Punggol can use only two exits on the TPE - Punggol Road and Punggol Way.

"The new project is needed to meet the expected growth in traffic demand generated by the growing Punggol Town and provide better access to the expressway network," said an LTA spokesman. He added that it will also support future plans for the area, which has been zoned by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for industrial use.

The expanded intersection, or interchange, will also provide a more direct connection between Punggol and the KPE, said the spokesman.

Punggol, a new town in the north-eastern corner of Singapore, is expected to get busier.

Joint govt effort to better unclutter lives of hoarders

New task force will work with community groups to identify and help those who hoard
By Janice Tai And Toh Yong Chuan, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

Several government agencies have come together to deal more effectively with the growing problem of elderly people who clutter their flats with numerous items they hoard.

They collect cardboard boxes, plastic bags, canned food, newspapers and umbrellas and, in the worst cases, stack them up from floor to ceiling, making it impossible to move around freely inside their flat.

The Sunday Times understands that those involved in the new task force, led by the Ministry of National Development, are the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social and Family Development, the police, the Housing Board (HDB), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), National Environment Agency (NEA) and People's Association.

Also involved is the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), because hoarding can be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder or dementia.

The new task force will work with community groups to identify those who hoard, clean up their flats, which can be potential fire traps, and send them for medical treatment if they need it.

It allows the different bodies to tackle the issue "in a more coordinated and sustainable manner", a National Development Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times.

Currently, residents are simply advised by HDB officers to remove items, the spokesman said, adding: "For compulsive cases, the HDB will work with social workers, grassroots leaders and the SCDF to provide counselling and help."

Patients don't always know best

That's why, sometimes, they need to rely on the doctor and on family.
By Chong Siow Ann, Published The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2014

MANY years ago, I had a patient with schizophrenia who, when she was well, was an affable homemaker and loving wife. But when unwell, she would transmogrify into an aggressive, unreasoning person with a particular paranoid delusion about her husband.

Unfortunately, she was prone to such relapses of her illness because she was frequently non-compliant with her medication despite repeated efforts to educate her on the need to take her pills.

These relapses finally drove her husband to desperation and to resort - on his own initiative - to administering the medication covertly in her daily cup of morning coffee, which he would make for her. But because she was suspicious, she would insist that he take the first sip.

Her husband told me this after he became worried that the regular, unwanted, partaking of the medication would cause him untoward effects.

Non-compliance with treatment is common in psychiatry, where a lack of awareness of the existence of the illness itself is a manifestation of some form of mental illness.

This is the most common reason why people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder refuse treatment.

However, it is not only mentally ill people who are wont to refuse treatment - people with physical illnesses who do not have any mental illness are also known to reject medication.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Household incomes up, with bottom 20% seeing fastest rises

Residents also spending more each month than five years ago: Survey
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2014

HOUSEHOLDS here enjoyed rising incomes across the board over the past five years, with the bottom 20 per cent experiencing the fastest pace of growth.

Residents here are also spending more every month compared with five years ago, with more money going into higher-quality and more expensive goods and services, such as eating in restaurants, spending on air travel and pay-TV.

These snapshots of the average resident household's income and spending patterns were captured in the latest Household Expenditure Survey, which polled more than 11,000 households.

The survey showed that average monthly incomes of resident households here rose 5.3 per cent a year between 2008 and last year, slightly slower than the 5.6 per cent annual rate in the previous five-year period.

But it was the lowest income group that had incomes rise the fastest over the period. Those at the bottom saw average monthly incomes rise by 6.6 per cent a year, growing from $1,466 to $2,022.

A big part of the reason that incomes at the bottom rose quickly was financial help from the Government, which includes aid such as the Workfare Income Supplement and GST Vouchers.

The Department of Statistics, which conducted the survey during October 2012 and September last year, said regular government transfers accounted for 9.3 per cent of this group's total income.

In all, government rebates, subsidies and financial aid came to nearly 90 per cent of the bottom group's average annual household income per household member before any transfers took place.

The data also gave a glimpse of the changing lifestyles of Singaporeans. The resident family now spends $4,724 on average a month, up from $3,809 five years ago. About 30.1 per cent of the monthly expenses went to housing and related expenses.

The next biggest item on the list was food, accounting for about 26.5 per cent of total expenses. Residents here spent $1,188 a month on food.

Transport came next, with households here spending about $811 on average a month. But the bulk of this expenditure was on private road transport, which cost $574 a month on average. Households here spent just $167 a month on public transport.

Together, all three items accounted for nearly two-thirds of monthly expenses on average, noted the Statistics Department.

But while things did get more expensive, with inflation at 3.1 per cent a year on average over the past five years, the Statistics Department also noted that increases in household expenditure "partly reflect lifestyle changes and spending on better-quality products and services".

In all, growth in household income continued to outpace growth in expenditure, a trend which bodes well for households, said OCBC economist Selena Ling. She noted that the past five years had been a difficult period, starting with the recession as well as rising inflation.

"Given all that, it's encouraging that we see incomes outpacing expenditure growth. We are seeing the effects of fiscal help for some of the poorest households," she said.

NSmen get to take charge of own fitness training

100 in trial to use tracking devices to monitor exercises on their own time
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2014

OPERATIONALLY ready national servicemen (NSmen) will be allowed to use fitness tracking devices to monitor their physical fitness training on their "own time own target", to borrow the popular army slang.

This is to give them free rein over how they want to train for their Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), instead of having them supervised by fitness instructors at physical training classes.

As part of a four-month trial which started yesterday, 100 NSmen will wear a Fitbit band or activate a Global Positioning System- enabled smartphone app to log in completed exercises in the self-administered IPPT Preparatory Training (IPT). They have to run or jog for at least 75 minutes a week, clocking about seven minutes a kilometre, to be counted as having done one IPT session.

The IPT is a voluntary programme for all NSmen - but especially those who fail their IPPT - to get fit through 10 75-minute coaching sessions spread over 12 months. Those who choose to work out on their own are expected to improve on their previous IPPT results.

The latest move is part of recent efforts to make IPPT training less of a chore for NSmen, who have to juggle family and work commitments.

Colonel Chua Boon Keat, who heads the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) National Service Affairs Department, said the armed forces is relooking the way its citizen soldiers train to stay in shape.

"(It is) a big mental shift from looking at how to control everything to one that frees up possibilities where (NSmen) can do it on their own time... it is up to them to choose what suits them best."

NSmen can now choose from five workouts that include ball games and aerobics, among other recent changes.

In another trial, citizen soldiers can work out in more convenient locations downtown and in residential areas, instead of only in army camps. Furthermore, NSmen will now get paid for signing up and attending IPT sessions.

Singapore's health-care system tops efficiency ranking among 51 economies

The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2014

SINGAPORE overtook Hong Kong to top a ranking of the most efficient health-care systems, as the Government boosts spending on medical services to support an ageing population.

The South-east Asian nation was rated first among 51 economies, according to an annual ranking compiled by Bloomberg that tracks factors including life expectancy, the cost of health care as a percentage of gross domestic product and total medical expenditure for each person.

Hong Kong dropped to second place and Italy was ranked third, while the US was 44th and Russia last.

"I describe Singapore's system as the least imperfect in the world," said Dr Jeremy Lim, head of Oliver Wyman's Asia-Pacific health and life sciences practice.

"If Singapore can successfully balance the increased funding availability with prudent measures to curb inappropriate and over-consumption which society as a whole accepts and supports, the future would be very promising."

Singapore will spend close to $4 billion over the next five years to help Singaporeans benefit from MediShield Life, a new universal health insurance plan, to be implemented at the end of next year.

It has also set aside $9 billion as part of a Pioneer Generation Package.

Bloomberg's ranking of the most efficient health-care systems took into account year-on- year changes to the criteria used.

Hong Kong's health-care cost per capita increased 38 per cent from a year earlier to US$1,944, (S$2,455) while Singapore's rose 13 per cent to US$2,426, according to the ranking published yesterday.

Singapore's life expectancy gained 0.4 years in the same period to 82.1 years, compared with Hong Kong's 0.06 years rise to 83.5 years.

Singapore's consumer prices rose 1.2 per cent in July from a year earlier, while Hong Kong's inflation quickened to 4 per cent from 3.6 per cent in June.

Hong Kong has higher utilisation rates and public medical expenditure, while Singapore's health-care spending is more targeted, said Dr Phua Kai Hong, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Friday, 19 September 2014

5-year plan to identify, build skills for the future

Steps to help workers have quality jobs as economy transits to next level
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2014

WORKERS will get more access to training, career guidance and job market information to help them navigate an economy that is being shaped by the twin forces of technology and competition.

Companies will also partner government agencies and educational institutes to anticipate and identify future skills that will grow in demand.

These new moves were laid out by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday in a five-year plan which will see Singapore's economy transit to the next level.

Speaking at the launch of the new Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar yesterday evening, Mr Tharman said technology is sweeping a wave of changes across the global economy.

Automation has begun to replace human tasks across a broad swathe of jobs and even professional jobs such as auditing, legal advice and surgical tasks are being shaped by computerisation and machines, he said.

Developing countries are catching up with Singapore and competition is heating up, he said.

"We cannot change the world, but we can respond to and take advantage of the way the world is changing," he said. "We have to take advantage of new technologies and new global consumer demands to ensure that we remain a vibrant economy, and we give every Singaporean a chance to have quality jobs and fulfilling lives."

Singapore's economy is evolving to become an advanced economy. This will require workers with a mastery of their skills, honed by experience and time.

"We must cherish and respect the mastery of skills - the knowledge, practice and passion that goes into mastering skills, no matter what the job. That has to be our ethos as a society," he said, adding that this is at the "heart of an inclusive society".

Singapore will aim to build a continuing education system which will "intertwine education and the world of work", he said.

"It (the system) will enable every Singaporean to maximise his potential, from young and through life. It will build an advanced economy and ensure us a fair society," he added.

To do this, the Government will provide a full suite of career services that will help Singaporeans plan for their future careers.

Workers will have to be prepared to be lifelong learners and continually equip themselves with new skills, said Mr Tharman.

To smooth the way, employers will be roped in to work closely with the Government to envision the needs of the future economy and workforce.

The standard and quality of the training industry will also be raised, said Mr Tharman.

To drive the new plans forward, a new SkillsFuture Council, chaired by Mr Tharman, will be established. It will be made up of government agencies, the labour unions and employers.

Rounding off his speech, Mr Tharman said that what Singapore needs is "a meritocracy through life, not a meritocracy that's based on what you achieved at 18 or 24. Where you are assessed on your performance at every stage of your life, regardless of where you came from or what you started with. Assessed on your performance - that's a true meritocracy".

Pioneers can apply to be subsidised patients at SOCs

By Lim Bee Khim, Director, Corporate Communications, Ministry of Health, TODAY Voices, 18 Sep 2014

We refer to the recent letters on some Singaporeans’ experiences with the rollout of the Pioneer Generation Package healthcare benefits. We are sorry that some members of our pioneer generation did not receive the appropriate advice at our public health-care institutions.

We have contacted those concerned to make the clarifications and facilitated the submission of applications from those seeking to switch from private to subsidised patient status.

Since Sept 1, lower- to middle-income Singaporeans may apply for means testing to benefit from higher subsidies of 60 or 70 per cent at subsidised specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs). Pioneer Singaporeans who are patients at such SOCs will receive 50 per cent off on top of this. From Jan 1, pioneers will receive a further half off the bill for subsidised drugs at subsidised SOCs and polyclinics.

Only subsidised patients are eligible for these subsidies; private patients, including those who are pioneers, are not.

Pioneers who are private patients and who wish to enjoy these subsidies can apply to switch to the subsidised SOC.

They can obtain an application form from the SOC when they go for their appointment, or request it to be sent to them. The form is the same as that used for applying for Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards as the information needed is the same.

Pioneers who are not patients at the public hospitals’ subsidised SOCs, but wish to seek care there, should first consult a primary care doctor at the polyclinic or a CHAS general practitioner. If needed, the doctor will refer them to an SOC as a subsidised patient.

We have reinforced awareness of the process at the front lines of our public healthcare institutions and for our hotlines. We will redouble efforts to work with our front-line colleagues to welcome our pioneers.