Monday, 6 July 2015

Singapore Botanic Gardens named UNESCO World Heritage Site

Yes, Botanic Gardens is a World Heritage Site
156-year-old landmark gets resounding nod from all 21 members of UNESCO committee
By Melody Zaccheus, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

Singapore now has a UNESCO World Heritage Site to call its own.

The 156-year-old Botanic Gardens received a resounding "yes" from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee yesterday at its annual meeting, held in Bonn, Germany, this year.

Members of Singapore's delegation, including Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong, received handshakes and hugs from the committee's 21 state members, in what was described as a rare outpouring of support.

Mr Wong called it an amazing moment. When the idea to nominate the Gardens was floated five years ago, sceptics wondered if the site was worthy of the accolade.

"We have seen the overwhelming support of international experts... It means we do have something of exceptional value in Singapore. I think it gives us a tremendous sense of pride that we have a site worthy of being a World Heritage Site."

Back home, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post that the accolade is "a great Jubilee year gift to Singaporeans", highlighting the Gardens' key role in making the country a Garden City.

The Gardens joins the likes of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Cambodia's Angkor with its magnificent temples and China's Great Wall on the world heritage list.

There are over 1,000 sites on the list, but the Gardens is its first botanic gardens in Asia and only the third in the world, besides the Orto botanico di Padova in Italy and England's Royal Botanic Gardens.

After UNESCO's experts presented their evaluation of the Gardens' bid, the floor was open and all 21 members, including Japan, Turkey and Germany, announced their support. They lauded the Gardens' "vast botanical values" and "excellent landscape design".

PM Lee joins Christians at SG50 event

51,000 worshippers prayed for Singapore at multi-denominational, jubilee event
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 6 Jul 2015

The new Sports Hub was awash in a sea of red yesterday as a record 51,000 Christians from churches across Singapore gathered to mark SG50 and pray for the country.

The Jubilee Day of Prayer is the largest multi-denominational Christian event in Singapore's history, and is part of a series of events celebrating Singapore's 50th year of independence.

Joining them as guest of honour was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who got a warm welcome from those present as they waved red scarves and cheered his arrival.

In a speech, Mr Lee acknowledged that a jubilee year has special significance for Christians.

He noted that in the Old Testament, a jubilee year was the 50th year at the end of seven sabbatical cycles - seven cycles of seven years each - and a year of great joy and celebration, when people spend time with their families, enjoy the harvest, and freely share what they have, especially with the poor.

Mr Lee urged the congregation to celebrate SG50 with family and friends, give thanks for what Singapore had achieved, and said he was glad the collection from the event's offering will go to those in need.

"This is the spirit of the jubilee: togetherness, thankfulness and generosity that we must nurture and that will see us into the future. A future in which all our communities, including our Protestant community, will have full roles to play," he added.

The arts power on

From 'cultural desert' to a city with 66 arts performances a day, Singapore has come a long way. A week of half-price tickets for local shows sponsored by companies could help bring the arts closer to average families.
By Chan Heng Chee, Published The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

Two weeks ago, in my capacity as chairman of the National Arts Council, I dropped by to see the 15 Stations exhibition presented by O.P.E.N.

It was billed as a "pre-festival of ideas", a curtain-raiser for the upcoming Singapore International Festival of the Arts.

Many young people were bustling around, following a memory tour in the cavernous Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

They downloaded an app to trace a narrative drawn from archival material, at their own pace, connecting with small doses of historical Singapore.

It was evocative, experimental and interesting, reminding the visitor that Singapore artists are setting out to be innovative and meaningful.

Since returning from the United States in 2012, I have been struck by the explosion of activities and energy in our arts scene and marvelled at how far we have come as an arts nation.

When I was growing up in colonial Singapore, culture and the arts came in silos.

The "arts" were what the different ethnic communities would support and sponsor, be it Chinese dialect operas, Malay bangsawan, or Indian dance.

The impact of housing credit on personal bankruptcy

By Sumit Agarwal and Changcheng Song, Published The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

Singapore's home ownership rate of over 90 per cent is now among the highest in the world.

During Singapore's property market boom from 2009 to 2013, house prices reached an all-time high at a time when increased housing credit and record-low interest rates gave people the confidence to borrow and take on more debt to buy their homes.

Given the expectation of low interest rate in the near future, many homes are purchased with floating-rate mortgage debt.

Our prediction is that the expected and sustained increase in the Singapore Interbank Offered Rate (Sibor) will cause mortgage debt repayments to increase in the coming months.

At the same time, according to Singapore Real Estate Exchange, all non-landed property prices fell 3.2 per cent last year and analysts are forecasting continued price declines this year.

This may limit the ability of over-leveraged households, which financed their purchases during the boom, to sell their homes and fully repay their debts.

According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore's household debt-to-income ratio had risen to 2.1 times in 2012 from a low of around 1.9 times in 2008, amid the global financial crisis.

In addition, bankruptcy orders increased to 1,992 in 2013, up a record 14 per cent from 2012. While the actual number is a relatively low proportion of Singapore's population, it is the highest number since 2009.

While the MAS introduced a total debt-servicing ratio (TDSR) in mid-2013 to help contain property prices and limit how much debt households could take on, could we start to see more people falling into personal bankruptcy if the current environment prevails?

In a recent research paper, we examined the impact of housing credit on personal bankruptcy among 150,000 housing transactions from 1995 to 2012.

My sweet, sweaty, life-long obsession

Since I was a teenager, exercise has been my daily anti-depressant and tranquilliser
By Lee Wei Ling, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2015

Many people who know me, even casual acquaintances, often conclude that I am eccentric. One prominent feature of my eccentricity is my addiction to exercising, which can be described as obsessive compulsive.

Exercise, especially aerobics exercise, has been part of my daily routine since I was 13, after I did well in a cross-country race without preparation. At about the same time, I took up swimming.

I am an endurance athlete, and have never been good at short sprints, whether on land or in the pool. The longer the distance, the greater the likelihood that I would win. I have never figured out whether it was natural stamina or sheer will that allowed me to prevail over rivals.

Certainly, I am dogged.

Often, when I am swimming or running a long-distance race, Kipling's poem "If" comes to mind: "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'"

People’s Association: 2,000 Free Courses from 4 Jul to 30 Sep 2015

2,000 free courses, from cooking to dog grooming, on offer till September
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

Singaporeans and permanent residents can now enjoy 2,000 free courses, offered by the People's Association (PA).

The courses, which include both new ones such as dog grooming and popular ones, such as cooking, will be offered at all Community Clubs (CCs) and Water Venture Outlets from now till the end of September. About 50,000 residents are expected to benefit from this offer, which is part of PA's Community Day and SG50 celebrations.

Good News Frenz!In celebration of SG50, we are offering 2,000 selected free courses from now till end of September...
Posted by The People's Association on Saturday, July 4, 2015

On Saturday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said these courses would help residents learn new skills, pursue their interests, know their neighbours and make more friends.

"We hope to encourage more Singaporeans to lead a socially active lifestyle, and enable all to immerse in the celebratory mood of the nation's 50th birthday," said Dr Yaacob, speaking at a PA Roadshow at Bugis+ mall.

DPM Tharman: PM from minority race 'a matter of time'

The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

The possibility of Singapore having a non-Chinese prime minister was raised at a dialogue yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam believes it is just a matter of time before the country gets "a minority prime minister - Indian, Malay or Eurasian or some mixture".

"We've got a meritocracy; it is an open system. It is just a matter of time," Mr Tharman said, noting that the common space shared by Singapore's races was growing.

But, he was quick to add: "Let me say I am not interested."

He was speaking at a session chaired by Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria at the SG50+ conference organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

At a later panel, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh asked Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong if a Malay could be elected president. Mr Goh said it might be difficult, but added that "if good candidates came along... the time will come when the Malay candidate would be elected".

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Singapore voters are astute, says ESM Goh

By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

Singaporean voters are astute in their collective vote and have chosen when and how to calibrate between showing approval and unhappiness towards the Government, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday.

Past general elections have shown this, he noted, adding: "May they remain rational and wise."

Speaking at a conference themed "Singapore at 50: What Lies Ahead", Mr Goh said Singapore's good governance is owing to both citizens and political parties.

To sustain this, Singaporeans must vote for the party that they believe is best able to govern, and not treat elections like "circuses, auctions, beauty contests, or tikam tikam (Malay for select randomly)".

As for political parties, Mr Goh said their task is to seek out and encourage good people who can govern to run for elections.

This is so that whichever party wins can form a Cabinet that is exceptional to run the country.

Also, those who can best run the country must see political leadership as a noble calling, and step forward to run for office, he said.

Mr Goh was speaking on a panel with former British prime minister John Major on effective governance in modern-day democracies.

Later, he added that persuading public servants in Singapore to join politics has not been difficult in his experience because they understand the stakes involved.

"If good people don't come in, then this place can't run as successfully as before.

"The private sector is the difficulty," he said, referring to the challenge of persuading corporate titans to take the political plunge.

But democratic governance is now more complex and challenging in the face of changing and ever-rising expectations of citizens, and the rise of technology and social media, said Mr Goh.

Singapore pledges to rein in greenhouse emissions by 2030

New environmental targets submitted to UN include achieving greater energy efficiency
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

Singapore has set itself the ambitious target of stopping any further increases to its greenhouse gas emissions by around 2030.

It has also pledged to become greener economically, by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to achieve each dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) - by more than a third.

The figures were set out in a document submitted to the United Nations yesterday, ahead of the Paris talks in December aimed at reaching a new climate agreement amid rising concerns over global warming and the dangers posed.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change, said yesterday that, "for a very small country with limited alternative energy options, the stabilisation of our emissions with the aim of peaking around 2030 requires serious efforts by everyone".

Singapore emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 46.83 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010. It plans to cap the figure at about 65 million tonnes by around 2030, and stop any more increases.

New Singapore-made warship launched

Littoral mission vessel Independence is first of 8 new ships fully designed and built here
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

The first of Singapore's eight new locally built warships was launched yesterday.

Littoral mission vessel (LMV) the Independence boasts high-tech systems that deliver quicker and greater firepower than existing patrol vessels, and require a smaller crew. Littoral mission vessels are ships that operate close to the shore.

The warship is the first to be wholly designed and built here since the first Endurance-class Landing Ship Tank was launched in 1998.

At yesterday's ceremony, Mrs Ivy Ng, wife of Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, performed the naval tradition of smashing a bottle of champagne against its hull.

"I name this ship Independence. May God bless her and all who sail on her." With this customary phrase, Mrs Ivy Ng, wife of Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen officially launched Singapore's first Littoral Mission Vessel (LMV). Smarter, faster and sharper, the LMV features an integrated and centralised operation control to boost operational effectiveness and efficiency.Check out this video to find out more!
Posted by cyberpioneer on Friday, July 3, 2015

With the delivery and operationalisation of the LMVs over the next five years, the Republic of Singapore Navy will be able to retire its fleet of 11 Fearless-class vessels, after two decades of service.

The deal to build the LMVs was signed in 2013. ST Marine partnered Saab Kockums AB to design and build them while Defence Science and Technology Agency engineers put together their systems and oversaw their development.

The 80m-long vessel - more than twice the size of its predecessor - can travel further and faster.

Powered by four engines, it can hit speeds in excess of 27 knots and travel 3,500 nautical miles - as far as Sydney - for up to 14 days at sea without stopping to refuel.

RSN sailors worked with engineers and scientists to design a ship tailored to today's needs.

Najib denies claims of $940m wired to his accounts

Malaysian PM says media reports alleging corruption are part of political sabotage
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2015

The political storm that has been raging in Malaysia intensified yesterday after allegations surfaced in the media that US$700 million (S$940 million) from companies linked to debt-laden state firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) had been wired to personal accounts of the prime minister.

This sparked an immediate rebuttal from embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who slammed the reports as a "continuation of political sabotage" and an attempt to damage the country and remove an elected leader.

It also led to calls from the opposition for Datuk Seri Najib to step aside to allow an independent investigation.

Social media was set alight, with some asking why the Premier did not sue the media outlets that carried the claims, or why he did not say he had no such accounts at Malaysia's AmBank as reported.

Said secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Action Party Lim Guan Eng: "Najib should file a suit in the US against the publication to clear his name if necessary. But first, he must explain. Failing which, he has to resign."

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in a report, alleged that documents from a "government probe" into 1MDB - whose advisory board is chaired by Mr Najib - showed five deposits into accounts in his name at a Malaysian bank.

The two largest, worth US$620 million and US$61 million, were transacted in March 2013, just two months before a general election he narrowly won, WSJ claimed.

The allegations published by the WSJ did not specify which government agency had done the probe. Anti-government whistleblower website Sarawak Report - which also carried details of the alleged misappropriations - said the information was known to several law enforcers, including the Attorney- General's office.

Mr Najib's office said in a statement that "these latest claims, attributed to unnamed investigators as a basis to attack the Prime Minister, are a continuation of this political sabotage". "There have been concerted efforts by certain individuals to undermine confidence in our economy, tarnish the government and remove a democratically elected prime minister."

While the Najib administration and 1MDB have faced months of criticisms from former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition and the media, the WSJ report might damage him the most due to the details given and the seriousness of the allegations by the highly regarded financial paper, analysts say. 1MDB said separately that it "has never provided any funds to the Prime Minister".

Hearing to assess damages Roy Ngerng must pay PM Lee

Blogger cross-examines PM for 6 hours
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 2 Jul 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was cross-examined by blogger Roy Ngerng for six hours in the High Court yesterday in a hearing to assess damages for libel.

Mr Lee's lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, are seeking aggravated damages over remarks Mr Ngerng, 34, made in a blog post on the Central Provident Fund in May last year that conveyed the impression Mr Lee had misappropriated citizens' savings.

Mr Lee told the court that all it would have taken for Mr Ngerng to avoid being sued was a sincere apology. Instead, the blogger repeated the libel and characterised himself as a victim of political persecution.

Mr Ngerng, who discharged his lawyer last week, said he had no intention to defame Mr Lee, and posed all manner of questions to him, at times leaving those in court puzzled at his queries, and drawing objections from Mr Singh. But Justice Lee Seiu Kin said he would give Mr Ngerng more latitude as he was representing himself.

At the close of yesterday's session, Mr Ngerng asked if saying sorry was not enough. Mr Lee replied: "Saying sorry alone would have been plenty, but unfortunately, that's not only what you did."