Monday, 8 February 2016

Happy Chinese New Year: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong on economy: Government's watching it
There are still opportunities to be seized amid uncertainties, he says
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 7 Feb 2016

The Government is watching the uncertain global economic situation closely, but does not expect a severe downturn like in the global financial crisis of 2008, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

In his traditional Chinese New Year message as Singaporeans usher in the Year of the Monkey, Mr Lee noted that the world economy is slowing, China's economy is softening, stock markets are down and business sentiment here is guarded.

Hope all of us celebrating Lunar New Year will have a happy reunion dinner with our families tonight. May you have a joyful and prosperous new year! - LHL祝大家新年快乐, 身体健康,万事如意!- 李显龙
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, February 6, 2016

He pledged the Government's continued support for businesses and workers as they restructure and upgrade so they can prosper again "when conditions improve, as they will".

"We should take these ups and downs in our stride. We still enjoy full employment, and there are still opportunities to be seized, in Singapore and in the region," he said.

Mr Lee hoped Singaporeans would continue to take on these opportunities, and be quick-witted and dexterous, "just as the monkey leaps onto higher branches to pick peaches, and through his wit and agility takes care of himself, and stays at least one jump ahead of others".

Slowdowns in global demand and local labour supply meant local employment here grew at its slowest pace last year, a rate not seen since the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

But companies reported 60,000 vacancies as of September last year, down 11 per cent from a year ago.

Mr Lee devoted a large part of his message to the significance of Chinese New Year as a time when many catch up with their extended families, and welcome new additions.

He was delighted that more Singaporeans were born last year - 33,800, the highest in 13 years. The figure surpassed the figure for 2012, the last Dragon Year which is seen as a propitious time to have children and which has seen more births.

"I hope we will have more babies in the Year of the Monkey," he said, adding that the Government will continue to support Singaporeans in the many responsibilities and joys of parenthood.

Besides babies, family is also about living a full life and sharing joys and sorrows over a lifetime with loved ones, said Mr Lee.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

SGH campus to get makeover under 20-year masterplan

Singapore General Hospital to get more space, facilities in big makeover
New campus, to be built over 20 years, will triple amount of space devoted to patient care
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

Some 200 years after it was born, Singapore's oldest and largest hospital is poised to become much larger and better equipped.

After the makeover, to take place over 20 years, the amount of space devoted to patient care at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) campus, which includes five speciality centres, will triple.

The hospital itself will shift to another site nearby at the junction of Outram Road and Eu Tong Sen Street within the larger Outram campus, according to the masterplan unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The high-patient volume services will be just a short walk away from the Outram Park MRT station.

"We have to do a musical chairs exercise," said Mr Lee. "Keep a very busy hospital running while shifting roads and buildings around."

By the time the masterplan is completed, almost 50 years would have passed since SGH's last redevelopment in 1981, said Mr Lee.

The hospital, along with its five speciality centres and polyclinic, already cares for a third of all patients in the country.

The coming decade will see four new buildings taking shape: the 550-bed Outram Community Hospital, National Cancer Centre, an interim emergency department, and part of the new bigger SGH.

Mr Lee pointed out that the new SGH campus will target areas where most demand is expected.

Cancer is high on this list, so the tallest building on the campus will be the new 20-storey National Cancer Centre. Mr Lee said it will have a lot more space than the current centre as demand for cancer care is expected to grow, as better treatment means longer lives for patients who will need follow-up care.

One of the hospital's busiest departments, Accident and Emergency, cannot wait for the new SGH and will require a new interim building to cope with rising demand.

The department handled more than 135,000 patients last year and this number is likely to grow.

'Alarming rise' in younger dementia patients

Number diagnosed last year up 4 times from 2011, says NNI study
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

Four times as many younger people were diagnosed with dementia last year than in 2011, the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) revealed yesterday.

It had 27 patients under 65 in 2011 and 121 last year, though the reasons for the "alarming" rise are not yet fully understood, according to Associate Professor Nagaendran Kandiah of the NNI's neurology department.

"If this trend continues, we are in big trouble because we don't have enough services for these patients at the moment," he said.

Prof Nagaendran carried out a study of 250 dementia patients - around a third of whom were under 65 - to find out the financial impact of getting dementia early.

Forthose over 65, he found, the median annual cost was around $11,400. For younger patients, it was nearly double that, at $21,400.

Around 40 per cent of the younger patients in his study reported losing their jobs due to dementia, which was a main contributor to the higher cost.

"If you have dementia when you are 75, you have already retired," Prof Nagaendran said. "But if you are 50, you are most likely still working, or even the sole breadwinner."

While dementia typically hits the over-70s, young dementia patients start showing symptoms in their 40s or 50s.

Prof Nagaendran estimates that there are 40,000 people in Singapore with dementia, 10 per cent of whom are under 65.

While dementia in older people tends to show up as forgetfulness, younger dementia patients usually have problems with language.

Their behaviour may also be radically different and could be disruptive, which contributes to their losing their jobs.

Pre-Grave Robbing: Breaking the silence on financial abuse of elders

By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

Two years ago, I interviewed a widow in her 80s who was cheated of her flat and later abandoned in a hospital by her son.

He promised to take care of her after he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sale of her four-room flat. But he disappeared after checking her into a hospital for a cataract operation.

He left her to fend for herself with just $1,000, her clothes and her identity card.

Destitute, frail and without any other kin to live with, she was sent to a shelter for the abused elderly.

What I remembered most from the interview with her was this: A part of her believes her son will come back for her one day.

The last time I checked, at the end of last month, she was still living at the shelter, still hoping that her son would show up.

Social workers say such cases, where seniors have been financially abused or exploited by their children or other loved ones, are increasingly common.

Some, like the widow, were tricked or talked into selling their flats and giving the proceeds to their children. But they were left high and dry when their children went back on promises to house and care for them.

Others asked their children to help them manage their finances, but discovered, to their horror, that their offspring had wiped out their life savings.

And some were regularly threatened, beaten or confined at home if they did not give in to their children's demands for money.

Fathers could get longer paternity leave

Dads may get more paternity leave
Second week of leave looks set to be made compulsory; leave shared by couple may go beyond current one week
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2016

Dads can look forward to getting more time to spend with their newborns, as Singapore strives to draw the stork to visit more often.

The second week of paternity leave, now voluntary for employers, looks set to be made compulsory.

The Government is also looking at letting working mothers share more of their four-month paid maternity leave with their husbands. Currently, they can share only one of the 16 weeks of their leave.

These possible changes to the law to help new fathers play a bigger role in parenting are being considered to help lift birth rates, Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said yesterday.

CONFESSIONS OF A NEW PARENT Meeting a group of new parents at a dialogue late last year reminded me very much of my...
Posted by Josephine Teo on Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mrs Teo, who took over the population portfolio last October, raised these possibilities in a Facebook post titled "Confessions of a New Parent". It arose from a dialogue last year when she met more than 20 first-time parents.

The post follows the release of official figures earlier this week that show Singapore's Golden Jubilee year ended with at least 33,793 new babies, 600 more than in 2014. The figure is the highest in 13 years.

It also comes after enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood Package were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last year's National Day Rally.

The Baby Bonus cash gift was raised by $2,000, and the Medisave grant for newborns was increased by $1,000 to $4,000. These changes were backdated to take effect from Jan 1 last year.

The current extended paternity leave, which was announced at the August rally as well, was backdated to January last year.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Govt agencies testing more than 25 potential uses of drones

Master contract for drone services will make it easier for public agencies to use technology
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

The Government is embracing drone technology in a big way this year, as the authorities roll out changes that will make it easier for government agencies to obtain drones for their operations and save on manpower.

Already, public agencies are testing more than 25 potential uses of drones, it was revealed yesterday.

These include using drones to survey hard-to-reach potential mosquito-breeding sites to fight dengue, and to carry out construction site surveys using fewer people.

Now, the Ministry of Transport (MOT), which chairs the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Committee, is set to make drone adoption even simpler for its sister government agencies.

The ministry will call for a tender at the end of this month to invite drone providers to bid for a master contract for drone services.

Successful contractors will be tasked with providing drones and technical expertise to agencies which may want to use drones for their operations, MOT said yesterday. Safety and operational standards will be spelt out in the tender.

By taking the lead on this tender, MOT cuts the red tape for other agencies that may find themselves in need of drones. These agencies can now ride on this master contract and get a drone from the vendor, within days.

Luxembourg announces space-mining ambitions

Luxembourg in quest to be space mining pioneer
It is creating legal framework for commercial exploitation of asteroids for precious metals
The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

LUXEMBOURG/PARIS • Luxembourg is positioning itself to pioneer the potentially lucrative business of mining asteroids in space for precious metals such as gold, platinum and tungsten.

The government announced on Wednesday steps to create a legal framework for exploiting resources beyond Earth's atmosphere, and said it welcomed private investors and other nations.

The framework is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Primarily known for its fund management and private banking industry, Luxembourg would become the first country in Europe to give legal clarity to the commercial exploitation of asteroids.

Such mining is at least a decade away, if not longer. But the duchy's move is expected to draw interest from pioneers in the field such as US operators Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.

"In the long term, space resources could lead to a thriving new economy and human expansion into the solar system," said Economy Minister Etienne Schneider.

Last November, the United States passed a similar law which cleared American companies to own what they mine from asteroids and other celestial bodies.

Extracting resources from celestial bodies is a volatile and contentious issue, with global treaties calling for exploration to be carried out for the benefit of all countries.

But advocates say mining in space would not only help to provide diminishing resources for Earth, but also aid in the exploration of distant planets.

TPP agreement signed, two years to ratification

By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the world's biggest multinational trade agreements, was signed by its 12 member nations yesterday in New Zealand.

The signing marks the end of the negotiating process, but the member countries now have two years to get the deal approved at home before it takes effect.

The TPP is a far-reaching agreement involving 12 countries making up 40 per cent of the world economy. They are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The countries represent a large market for Singapore, accounting for 30 per cent of its total trade in goods in 2013, and 30 per cent of foreign direct investment here.

The TPP has its roots in the P4 (Pacific four) partnership from a decade ago, which Singapore inked with Brunei, Chile and New Zealand. This formed the core of the TPP.

US President Barack Obama hailed the signing of the deal yesterday and said the TPP would give the US an advantage over other major economies, notably China. "TPP allows America - and not countries like China - to write the rules of the road in the 21st century, which is especially important in a region as dynamic as the Asia-Pacific," he said in a statement from Washington.

The agreement has been fraught with controversy. Yesterday, protesters blocked roads outside the signing venue, Auckland's Sky City Convention Centre.

Those against the deal have expressed concern about the secrecy in which the negotiations were conducted and the threats it poses to some local sectors. They also argue that it will likely protect the rights of large investors and corporations.

The TPP will enter into force once at least six original signatories, accounting for at least 85 per cent of economic activity across the TPP countries, have ratified the deal. This is by no means certain, with the deal being seen as a lightning rod in countries like the US and Canada.

In Singapore, the agreement will be ratified once it is approved by the Cabinet and any legislative changes that may be required are passed in Parliament.

PAP won GE2015 before campaign began: Polling firm Blackbox Research

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2016

Last September's election was won by the People's Action Party (PAP) well before the campaign began, polling company Blackbox Research said yesterday at a discussion on opinion polls and sentiment towards the Government.

It noted that while there was some public unhappiness in 2013 due to the Population White Paper and public transport breakdowns, policy shifts from 2014 helped win Singaporeans over again.

And the death of first prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew last March led to a significant uptick in support for the PAP, its polls found.

Blackbox drew these conclusions from its monthly surveys of 1,000 adults across Singapore, which it began in January 2014 to track public satisfaction with the Government.

Blackbox managing director David Black said yesterday: "Our polling indicates that the campaign in itself didn't really lift the PAP vote. The 70 per cent vote that was achieved by the PAP was pretty much locked in before the election campaign started."

Last year, the PAP won 69.9 per cent of the vote, a 9.8 percentage point rise from the 60.1 per cent it won in the 2011 General Election.

During the discussion at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Black and his colleague, Blackbox associate research director Johannes Loh, said the public noticed improvement in hot-button issues such as public transport and jobs.

Friday, 5 February 2016

WWII tours to mark 74th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore

'Behind the scenes' at Battle of Singapore
Museum tours, heritage walks among events to mark 74th anniversary of Japan's surrender
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

In Japanese film footage depicting the surrender of Singapore, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, who sat across from British Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival, is a picture of power.

The commander of the Japanese 25th Army is shown nodding vigorously and looking menacing, compared with the British officer commanding Malaya, who was edited to appear indecisive.

The speed of the Feb 15, 1942, surrender footage from the boardroom of the Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road had been tinkered with and produced as Japanese propaganda.

The historical footage is now on display at the National Museum to mark the 74th anniversary of the Battle of Singapore.

Visitors to the museum will also get to see the long teak table on which the surrender documents were signed. The surrender marked the largest military defeat of British and Commonwealth forces in Britain's military history.

The display is part of the National Museum's new WWII history gallery guided tour.

The National Heritage Board (NHB) is presenting 30 other WWII tours with its partners such as heritage experts, community groups and its Museum Roundtable members from Feb 12 to 28.

Ms Norsaleen Salleh, deputy director of the Museum Roundtable unit at NHB, said the programmes are "valuable opportunities for Singaporeans to learn more about the war period in Singapore's history".

Adopt-a-Station scheme lets kids serve the public

Under initiative, students become service ambassadors at MRT stations and learn to be gracious commuters
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2016

Commuters tapping in at the fare gates at the Toa Payoh MRT station in April and September last year may have been wished a good afternoon by an 11-year-old.

They may have met Pei Chun Public School's Camille Yeo, one of the SMRT's youngest service ambassadors, at the station.

Camille, along with more than 30 Primary 5 prefects from the nearby school, helped commuters with directions, lent a hand at the ticketing machines and ensured that the elderly and disabled were given priority to use the lifts. Their work came under the SMRT's Adopt-a-Station initiative, in which children can serve the community near their schools and learn how to be gracious commuters themselves.

The programme is incorporated into the schools' Values in Action activities, a requirement by the Education Ministry to get students to work on community projects.

While each child performed ambassador duty only one or two times for three hours at a go, they said it was a confidence-builder and taught them perseverance.

Camille, now 12 and in Primary 6, said: "Some people nodded and smiled; others just ignored us as they were rushing or using their phones."

Another Pei Chun pupil, Ong Wee Lyn, 12, who helped at the ticketing machines, said: "We stood there for three hours... But when we helped somebody, and they said thank you and smiled, it made us forget our tired legs."

The programme was started in September 2014 and 21 schools are now taking part in it.

Alarm over Australian universities low entry standards

Many students don't make the grade, but varsities have other admission criteria
By Jonathan Pearlman, The Straits Times in Sydney, 3 Feb 2016

Universities in Australia have been accepting large numbers of students who fall below the admission requirements, prompting concerns about a decline in the nation's education standards.

The falling entry standards came to light after figures were published last week by Fairfax Media showing that leading universities in the state of New South Wales have been accepting students whose high school rankings were well below the universities' advertised minimum.

The Vice-Chancellor of the UNSW (The University of New South Wales) has called for an end to the ATAR university admissions system,
Posted by SMH Student on Tuesday, January 26, 2016

These included Macquarie University, where 64 per cent of students who were offered places for this year had a ranking below the cut- off. The figure was 46 per cent at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), 27 per cent at the University of Sydney, and 59 per cent at Western Sydney University. Universities in other Australian states reportedly had similar numbers.

The figures sparked a debate on whether universities were allowing standards to slip or whether the problem was with catch-all ranking systems that do not consider a candidate's other qualities.

New South Wales State Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said he believed the admission practices of the universities risked damaging their international reputation.

Australia has about 300,000 international university students, with six universities in last year's top 100 world rankings by Times Higher Education.

Mr Piccoli told Fairfax Media last week: "I'm annoyed that universities are taking students with such low marks... For universities that are concerned about their rankings internationally to be taking in students with such low (admission scores) is not a good look. I know they have funding pressures, but that is no excuse."