Thursday, 25 August 2016

PM Lee is right - this US Congress must pass the TPP

By Steven Okun and Deborah Elms, Published The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2016

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an agreement that helps keep the US front and centre in the Asia-Pacific and we share Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's hope that the United States Congress will ratify it.

On his recent official visit to the US, Mr Lee said: "Singapore fervently hopes that the US will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia-Pacific. In particular, we hope, and I'm sure the President shares this hope, that Congress will ratify the TPP soon."

We agree completely. The TPP is not just a Singaporean interest. It is not only about bringing economic benefits to the United States and other members either. This agreement also helps keep the US front and centre as an "indispensable" nation in the Asia-Pacific.

It hasn't even begun, yet the TPP already has been influential in the region. TPP countries - and even some that are hoping to join in the future - are changing or considering changes to their laws to meet TPP standards and rules.

President Barack Obama has now given notice to Congress that he will be sending a Bill to implement the TPP before this current administration ends. This Bill will die if the Congress does not pass the TPP before the new president and a new Congress are inaugurated on Jan 20 next year.

Given statements by both US presidential candidates, those in the region believe that if the TPP does not pass under this Congress and is signed by Mr Obama, it will be years before the US will be prepared to engage with credibility on crafting an amended trade agreement. Not approving the TPP will necessarily turn partners like Japan, Australia and Vietnam - which have faced often considerable domestic political heat over certain standards in the agreement during the nearly five years of negotiations - to those who can negotiate, sign and close a deal. And other countries, now on the outside of the TPP and looking in, will move forward without the US to engage through other initiatives with the rest of the TPP members.

The damage to US interests would be much greater than simply the loss of years of work putting together a complex agreement with a network of committed partners spanning the Pacific that is widely recognised as bringing the US economic benefits. The US will lose its pre-eminence in designing future trade and economic arrangements if it fails to join the TPP. The TPP requires that the US and Japan, plus at least four other countries, sign the deal for it to go into force. If Congress does not vote in favour of implementing the legislation needed to enact the TPP, the TPP cannot go forward - even if Singapore and the other 10 countries are ready and willing. If this happens, the TPP agreement will unravel.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Singapore's 6th president S R Nathan dies, age 92

Remembering S R Nathan  (3 July 1924 - 22 August 2016)

State funeral for S R Nathan on Friday
PM Lee says ex-president, who died last night, had 'deep sense of duty to nation'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Aug 2016

Singapore's longest-serving president, Mr SR Nathan, died peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 9.48pm yesterday, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

He was 92.

"The Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are sad to learn of the passing of Mr SR Nathan and would like to convey their condolences to his family," the PMO statement said.

Mr Nathan will lie in state on Thursday at Parliament House, where people can go and pay their last respects. A state funeral service will be held on Friday.

Mr Nathan, who turned 92 last month, had suffered a stroke on July 31, and had been in intensive care since then.

Before becoming Singapore's sixth head of state from 1999 to 2011, he had a distinguished 40-year career in public service that spanned the worlds of trade unions, security and diplomacy.

When he was with NTUC's Labour Research Unit in the 1960s, he handled negotiations between trade unions and employers at a time when labour unrest was widespread and pro-communist elements had infiltrated many unions.

As director of the Security and Intelligence Division from 1971 to 1979, he played a leading role in dealing with a terrorist attack. He secured the release of hostages from the hijacked ferryboat Laju by accompanying the hijackers on a flight to Kuwait to guarantee their safe passage.

As ambassador to the United States from 1990 to 1996, he went on talk show Larry King Live to speak up for Singapore when American media attacked Singapore for caning Michael Fay, who had vandalised a series of expensive cars.

But it was as Singapore's President that he became a familiar face to all, endearing himself to many as he recalled their names during his morning walks in the East Coast.

His introduction of the President's Challenge to raise money for the poor most reflected his care and concern for the needy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his tribute last night: "He was a warm and approachable President who endeared himself to Singaporeans."

Noting that his life "is an inspiration to us all", Mr Lee said: "His was a story of how a young boy strove to triumph over his circumstances and make a contribution to society."

Mr Nathan held many public service posts, and occupied the highest office in the land, Mr Lee said, adding: "He impressed visitors with his knowledge of world affairs, and served with dignity and distinction."

Mr Lee said he had known Mr Nathan for 40 years, "since I was a young officer in SAF".

"I remember him as a man guided by a deep sense of duty to the nation... He was a true son of Singapore," he added.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Mr Nathan served with "dedication and distinction" in his long years in public service.

"I had the privilege of working with Mr Nathan from 1996 to 1999 when I was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence," said Dr Tan, adding that Mr Nathan helped set up the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, now called the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

It is ranked among the top think-tanks in the region, he added.

He also said the President's Challenge gained much support and raised over $100 million for more than 500 beneficiaries.

Tributes also poured in from organisations like the Hindu Endowments Board, Hindu Advisory Board as well as people from all walks of life, and religions and races who had benefited from his generosity in time, money and effort.

As Singapore's top leaders and MPs hailed his life, one striking feature stood out: He was a generous mentor.

Calling Mr Nathan "a giant of our times", Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said: "I've benefited personally from his advice and guidance on many occasions."

Mr Teo also referred to the Laju hijack and said: "His courage, fortitude and dignity in dealing with difficult issues is an inspiration to all of us."

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing, addressing Mr Nathan directly in his tribute, said: "When I joined the labour movement, you took time to share with me your perspectives and experiences."

Mr Chan, who is also Minister in the PMO, added: "Your wisdom and selfless contributions will always inspire us to do more for Singaporeans and Singapore."

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim remembered that despite getting on in years, Mr Nathan's concern for the Malay/Muslim community's progress was "sharp and strong".

When, in the 1980s, he was executive chairman of The Straits Times Press - the predecessor of Singapore Press Holdings - he introduced weekend seminars and overseas study programmes for promising journalists and editors to improve the standards of journalism, he recalled.

"He also held the strong belief that our newspapers must reach out to people from every community and background. Serving the news to a multiracial and multilingual population was key," Dr Yaacob said.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in a moving tribute, said: "I have met few people who lived and breathed Singapore the way he did. His fondness for friends of every race and from all walks of life. His complete absence of airs. His love of food. And his remarkable memory of events in our history, small and big, and of everyone he had met along the way."

Mr Nathan leaves his wife Urmila, son Osith and daughter Juthika, and three grandchildren.

Monday, 22 August 2016

National Day Rally 2016

Anxiety, then relief, as PM Lee Hsien Loong completes rally after taking ill
He falters and is helped off stage but returns smiling and looking well
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong drew a standing ovation from a relieved audience when he resumed his National Day Rally speech last night, after he was suddenly taken ill while addressing the nation on live television.

At about 9.20pm, 2½ hours into the rally, he paused, faltered and appeared unable to continue. Three ministers and several security officers rushed up on stage as the audience in the auditorium at ITE College Central - as well as those watching on TV - looked on anxiously.

He was helped off the stage but waved as he left.

Some in the audience went outside to the reception area, while others stayed in their seats. The mood was sombre. About 10 minutes later, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that a medical team attending to him had assessed that his condition was not serious. The mood became perceptibly lighter.

Twenty minutes after that, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean announced that Mr Lee would resume his speech. The PMO also said that Mr Lee had felt "unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration". It added: "His heart is fine and he did not have a stroke."

At 10.40pm, he returned to speak for another 15 minutes. He looked well and thanked the audience for waiting for him.

Smiling, he said: "I've never had so many doctors look at me all at once. They think I'm all right but anyway I'm going to have a full check-up after this. But before that I'd like to finish my speech."

After the rally, he went to the Singapore General Hospital for a check-up.

The rally is where Mr Lee traditionally spends the better part of three hours mapping out the Government's plans for Singapore, speaking first in Malay, then Mandarin and English.

Yesterday, in marked contrast to last year's celebratory rally during Singapore's 50th year of independence, he sketched out threats and challenges facing a Singapore at 51.

But he painted an upbeat portrait of the future, saying that although the nation will be tested from time to time, he was confident it would succeed as long as Singaporeans held fast to their foundational tenet of staying one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

"We are a people building on the work of each generation, looking to the future with confidence," he said.

He said disruptions to businesses and workers from technology and globalisation would be a defining challenge. He noted that small and medium-sized enterprises have found it tough to adapt to the relentless changes, and urged them to stick out the rough patch, promising that there would be opportunity in crisis.

As a small state in a region grappling with the threat of terrorism, Singapore also had to contend with geopolitical and security realities, he added, calling on citizens to understand the national interest and support Singapore's position in its relations with other countries.

He noted that a dozen radicalised Singaporeans had been picked up in the past two years, and this multiracial society will come under strain should an attack happen. Whether it survives an attack will boil down to "our collective resolve to stand with each other".

Singapore is in a good place as religious and community leaders have taken a courageous stand by refuting extremist views, and made clear that terrorists do not represent Islam, said Mr Lee.

Religious leaders, in particular Muslim leaders, have made sure their faiths are practised in a way fit for Singapore's multiracial context.

Ultimately, prosperity and security depend on good politics, Mr Lee said. "Our politics must unite the country and uphold our multiracial society."

To this end, changes will be made to the elected presidency to ensure that minorities are elected to the highest office from time to time. The Government has also accepted in principle the recommendations by a Constitutional Commission on a review of the elected presidency. It will release the commission's report soon, issue a White Paper on the changes later, and debate the matter in Parliament.

Still on the topic of good politics, Mr Lee expressed relief that he had managed to reinforce his team in last year's general election and would continue to do so at the next polls. The issue of succession was all the more important, he said, in the light of what happened to him earlier in the night.


New fault lines could emerge fast: Shanmugam

By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 22 Aug 2016

Singapore is now in a better position to discuss issues like race and religion within a rational framework, but unbridled debates on these topics should still be kept in check as "they can become demons on the loose".

In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao published yesterday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said some people can be swayed by powerful emotive arguments on these topics, which may have an impact on the broader Singaporean identity if one group is pitted against another.

"Attacking somebody based on race and religion, or making fun in the name of freedom of speech or allowing open discussions on race and religion which can easily degenerate - you need to allow the discussions but make sure that it doesn't degenerate into just abuse," said Mr Shanmugam, adding that the Government will put a stop to behaviour that crosses into abuse or potentially incites violence.

He said the potential for new fault lines to emerge due to issues like demographics should not be underestimated. This has already started in the United States, Europe and Japan, where younger citizens feel resentful over having to provide for the needs of the old.

"Particularly with the economy that is growing at a much slower rate and with healthcare costs shooting up, and senior citizens requiring more assistance and help, which has to be provided by the younger citizens, those sorts of fault lines can develop very quickly," he said, adding that fault lines are also developing over sexual and lifestyle preferences.

How well these fault lines can be controlled depends on how sensitive and skilful the Government is, and how it works with the community, he said.

While Singapore is now better off compared with the early post-independence days, it faces issues like terrorism, economic challenges, its small size and an ageing society.

On a (charity) mission to get into Harvard

US teens will go as far as Africa to boost college application essays
By Frank Bruni, Published The Sunday Times, 21 Aug 2016

This summer, just like in the last one, Dylan Hernandez, 17, noticed a theme on the social media accounts of fellow students at his private Catholic high school in Flint, Michigan.

"An awfully large percentage of my friends - skewing towards the affluent - are taking 'mission trips' to Central America and Africa," he wrote to me in a recent e-mail.

He knows this from pictures they post on Snapchat and Instagram, typically showing one of them "with some poor brown child aged two to six on their knee," he explained.

The captions tend to say something along the lines of, "This cutie made it so hard to leave". But leave they do, after as little as a week of helping to repair some village's crumbling school or library, to return to their comfortable homes and quite possibly write a college application essay about how transformed they are.

"It rubs me the wrong way," Hernandez told me, explaining that while many of his friends are well-intentioned, some seem not to notice poverty until an exotic trip comes with it.

He himself has done extensive, sustained volunteer work at the Flint YMCA where, he said, the children he tutors and plays with would love it "if these same peers came around and merely talked to them". "No passport or customs line required," he added.

Hernandez reached out to me because he was familiar with the writing I had done about the college admissions process.

What he described is something that has long bothered me and other critics of that process: The persistent vogue among students for so-called service that's sometimes about little more than a faraway adventure and a few lines or paragraphs on their applications to selective colleges.

Singapore Night Festival 2016: Crowds throng streets as night festival dazzles with technology

Organisers hope to match last year's 600,000-strong record attendance
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 21 Aug 2016

Thousands of revellers took to the streets yesterday evening for the first weekend of the Singapore Night Festival.

Many sang and danced as Peranakan theatre group Main (pronounced mah-inn) Wayang sang golden oldies like Bengawan Solo, Rasa Sayang and Singapura, Sunny Island.

Among those strutting their stuff on Armenian Street - which was closed to traffic - was 60-year-old engineer Michael Hogan.

"These oldies, you don't have to be old to appreciate them," he said.

Many festival goers were regulars at the annual arts event, which is now in its ninth year.

This year's festival began on Friday and several thousands more are expected to attend the final two nights this Friday and Saturday.

Last year's festival drew a record crowd of 600,000 and organisers are hoping to draw a similar number this year.

Organised by the National Museum of Singapore, the festival will feature 86 programmes - mostly free - held in various locations throughout the Bras Basah-Bugis precinct.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

4 self-radicalised Singaporeans who supported ISIS dealt with under ISA in August 2016

2 Singaporeans planning to join Islamic State detained
They were radicalised by Batam radio station; two others given Restriction Orders
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2016

Two Singaporeans planning to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) this month.

Rosli Hamzah, 50, a car washer, and Mohamed Omar Mahadi, 33, a waste truck driver, received two- year detention orders, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said.

In a statement yesterday, MHA also said two Singaporeans have been placed under Restriction Orders, which curtail their movements and activities.

One of them is Omar's wife, Dian Faezah Ismail, 34, the first woman to be dealt with under the ISA for terror activity in recent years.

The ministry said the two detained men had sought information online on how to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.

"There is growing concern that ISIS propaganda has led to an increase in the rate of Singaporeans being radicalised," MHA said.

Between 2007 and 2014, five citizens were detained and six placed on Restriction Orders. But since January last year, eight citizens have been detained and five placed on Restriction Orders.

Rosli searched for possible travel routes to Syria, while Omar contacted militants for travel advice.

One of the militants was from a South-east Asian country and was later killed in combat in Syria, the ministry said without elaborating.

Both Rosli and Omar became radicalised after listening to Radio HangFM, a Batam-based religious radio station that features speakers who preach extreme views.

Rosli began listening to the station in 2009, and was introduced to ISIS propaganda in 2014 by "social media contacts who shared his religious orientation", MHA said.

He became convinced that ISIS militants were fighting for Islam, and their beheading of 'enemies' was religiously permissible.

"Rosli was prepared to die for the ISIS cause," MHA said.

Time running out for Danish welfare system

Shrinking workforce, lower productivity will see fewer people in future contributing to public coffers
The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2016

COPENHAGEN • Denmark has a problem: It may soon be unable to afford offering such a good deal to its people.

Free healthcare for all, a US$757 (S$1,020) monthly stipend for college students and robust safety nets for the less fortunate all cost money.

Denmark devotes slightly more than 30 per cent of its gross domestic product to social spending, one of the highest levels in the rich world.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), such a "generous welfare system requires robust public finances".

And while Denmark's finances "seem sustainable" for now, the assumptions that underpin that view carry a high level of uncertainty, the OECD warned in a recent survey.

Take labour-market participation. An unemployment rate below 4 per cent is one of Europe's lowest, and industry frequently complains about shortages in skilled labour.

But population projections show that Denmark's 600 billion krone (S$123 billion) welfare system is facing a future of more customers and fewer people around to pick up the bill.

Child benefits and an abundance of nurseries have failed to produce a new baby boom.

Importing labour from abroad is not an option due to the minority government's reliance on the anti-immigration Danish People's Party

Like many other developed countries, Denmark's population is ageing. One obvious solution is to get people to work longer.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Jurong smart bus stop makes waiting fun

Experimental bus stop in Jurong East has a book exchange corner, Wi-Fi and even a swing
By Janice Heng and Rahimah Rashith, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2016

Commuters often gripe about having to wait for buses. But the wait is now far more palatable - even enjoyable - at a refurbished bus stop in Jurong East.

There, commuters can tap free Wi-Fi, charge their mobile phones, read books, and even sit on a swing.

Designed to "make waiting fun", the bus stop in Jurong Gateway Road is a ground-up idea by a group of architects and part of a broader vision to make Singapore livelier. The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has been promoting similar efforts such as public art and street closures for parties.

If it is well received, the authorities will consider incorporating the ideas in future bus stops. The features, which were unveiled yesterday, will be in operation for a year. They include digital information boards with bus timings, the weather and a street directory, mobile phone charging points, and free Wi-Fi from September. There are also physical books - from Enid Blyton to classics like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - as well as e-books to download.

Housewife Sharah Syed, 35, was heading home with her son after his tuition class when one of the Enid Blyton books caught the primary schooler's eye. "He saw the books immediately and asked if he could pick up one and read," said Madam Sharah. "I think the shelf of books is useful for the kids. They will like it."

The bus stop also boasts a green roof, vertical greenery, solar panels, bicycle parking and a swing.

50 Years of Indian Community in Singapore

Book pays tribute to Indians in Singapore
It chronicles community's contributions to the nation and progress made over 50 years
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2016

Indians have "outperformed their ratio" in the general population, Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh said yesterday, at the launch of a new book chronicling the Indian community's contributions over the past half century.

50 Years Of Indian Community In Singapore highlights, among other things, how 35 per cent of Indians in 2010 had tertiary education - higher than the national average of 22.6 per cent, and up from just 4.1 per cent in 1990.

It also adds that there are many Indians in high-ranking positions, such as in the legal and public sector. Many are also government leaders, noted Professor Koh.

Saying their success should be celebrated, he added: "My aspiration for Singapore in the next 50 years is that I hope other minority communities, particularly the Malay community, will make enormous progress... and will, like the Indian community, outperform their ratio in the general population."

Published by World Scientific, the book features 16 articles written by Indian academics, thinkers, and leaders in the arts and heritage fields, among others. Launched at the Indian Heritage Centre, it is part of a series of 26 titles by World Scientific that commemorate SG50. So far it has published books on the Chinese and Malay communities. One on the Eurasian community is in the works.

Friday, 19 August 2016

PA's key mission: Ensure unity during crises

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2016

Singaporeans are increasingly conscious of the need to stay united after a terror attack, but this reflexive unity is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the People's Association (PA) has a key mission: to make sure Singaporeans stand as one the day after such a crisis, PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

Like a general rallying his troops, he called on 500 PA staff gathered at a National Day event to further strengthen this conviction in Singaporeans and bring them together as a community.

Mr Chan, a former army chief who is now Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, told them: "Who is there to make sure nobody sows the seeds of discord and distrust among our community?

"It is people like you working day in, day out to build the community."

Should a bomb go off here, Singaporeans should go about life as normal and not be cowed by terrorists, he said at the PA headquarters in Jalan Besar.

Neither should people turn on one another in mistrust.

"Staying united sends a very strong and powerful signal to the people who mean us harm: that even if you break our bones, if you shed our blood, tear our skin, we are not going to let you rob us of our normalcy," he said.

But such unity requires hard work. "We never take for granted that the different communities with different aspirations, fears and concerns will naturally come together," Mr Chan said.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Government responds to lapses found in AGO report 2015/2016; World of difference between AGO and AHTC reports

No evidence of systemic weakness; system is transparent and accountable, says Indranee
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Aug 2016

Most lapses flagged by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) stem from individual officers not following procedures, and do not reflect any systemic weakness, Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah told Parliament yesterday.

She said 28 officers have been counselled or warned arising from this year's audit findings. One officer was put on a performance review process for repeated poor performance and later left his agency.

Ms Indranee added that independent auditors have found public funds to be properly accounted for.

"We have a system that is transparent and accountable, and with Government responding to every weakness that is found," she said.

The fact that there are reports of lapses from the AGO each year reflects this transparency and accountability, she said.

"It is a part of the workings of a robust system - which includes a diligent and impartial AGO, and government agencies that willingly submit to AGO's audit, have their lapses displayed openly and seek to rectify them promptly."

Ms Indranee added that the system "is not perfect" but it has given Singapore international recognition for clean and efficient Government.