Friday, 27 May 2016

In an ambiguous world, can Singapore cope?: Bilahari Kausikan

Domestic strength key for Singapore to stay relevant
Veteran envoy stresses three aspects that are crucial for that internal strength
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 26 May 2016

Singapore, as a small city-state, needs to have a sound domestic foundation in order to remain relevant in the international arena, said ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan.

And that internal strength hinges on three aspects: politics, policy and the role of the civil service, and social cohesion, Mr Bilahari said yesterday in his fifth and final lecture as the Institute of Policy Studies' S R Nathan Fellow.

With politics, partisan interests should be kept out of foreign policy. But in reality, this is hard to achieve, he added.

In countries with long histories, partisan debates over foreign policy are conducted in a framework of shared assumptions on what ought to be in the fundamental interests of the nation, regardless of which party is in power, he said.

Singapore's opposition parties, so far, have not shown they "have any concept of the fundamental national interest", he added.

Mr Bilahari criticised the Workers' Party's Mr Pritam Singh for asking in Parliament in 2013 about Singapore's Middle East policies that "could have stirred up the feelings of our Malay-Muslim ground against the Government".

Noting that Singapore has been consistently even-handed in its relations with Israel and Palestine, he said: "The Arab countries understand our position and have no issue with our relations with Israel.''

Also excoriated was the Singapore Democratic Party's Dr Paul Tambyah, who called for a reduction in the defence budget in favour of health spending, pointing out that Singapore had a history of being non-aligned in its foreign policy.

Mr Bilahari retorted: "If the good doctor really thought that being non-aligned is an adequate substitute for deterrence through a strong SAF, he ought to consult a doctor of another sort without delay: a psychiatrist."

Scheme takes safe cycling message to schools

It will also be piloted at foreign worker dorms and community centres, before public roll-out
By Danson Cheong and Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 26 May 2016

Students could soon be learning basic bicycle handling skills, cycling etiquette and how to recognise off-road signs and markings under a new programme that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is rolling out in secondary schools.

Launched yesterday at Qihua Primary School in tandem with the start of the Singapore Road Safety Month, the half-day Safe Cycling Programme will have both theory and practical sessions.

Students will learn how to manoeuvre through crowded spaces, share paths with pedestrians and other cyclists, and pick the best routes to go by bike.

The LTA said the programme will complement plans to boost active mobility here. Last month, the Government accepted a list of recommendations from an expert panel to allow cycling on footpaths. These are expected to be passed into law by the year end.

Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim, who chaired the expert panel, said in a speech yesterday that the new programme was "a follow-up" to the recommendations. It will help students "internalise what they need to do in real-life situations", he said.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Why reading should be a compulsory subject in school

Reading not only improves grades but also nurtures better citizens
By Tan Tarn How, Published The Straits Times, 25 May 2016

Let's make reading a compulsory subject in our primary and secondary schools. In fact, let's make it examinable too.

This idea might seem hare-brained at first glance. But I believe that it will transform us not only as individuals but also as a nation.

The benefits of reading are widely established. As I argued last year in a commentary titled "Out with tuition, in with reading" co-written with Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee, an expert in reading and libraries from the National Institute of Education, research has shown how reading not only improves school grades, but also enables a flourishing life as adults and nurtures better citizens.

I see readers as lucky beings with a light, one that illuminates a little of the mystery of life and pierces the darkness of ignorance for themselves and for others.

How will reading as a subject work?

Research shows that young children need help to read independently and with pleasure, so that can be the role of lower primary teachers.

Later on, up to secondary school, teachers can go on to talk about how to get more out of reading fiction, how to read non-fiction more efficiently, how to read critically, and how to choose books. Better still, rather than tell, teachers can show and share the sheer fun of reading.

However, the key is that most lessons will simply be class time set aside solely for reading, half an hour to an hour a day. The teacher will go round to help struggling kids, or just to chat with them about what they are reading or wish to read.

Each level will have a recommended list of both easy and difficult books, which students can borrow from the school library. Students need read only some of the books on the list, and can also choose to read books beyond the list.

The list should have a very wide range of titles: fiction, non-fiction, novels, poetry, science, biographies, history, philosophy, gastronomy, sports; and Singaporean, regional and international works. It will include books related to other classroom subjects. For instance, biographies of scientists, mathematicians and artists, travelogues, popular science or history books, or books on language. Students must also read some books in their mother tongue.

Why make reading compulsory?

Singapore orders Swiss BSI bank unit shut as 1MDB probe widens

1MDB probe: BSI Bank told to stop operations in Singapore
MAS cites poor management oversight and orders first bank shutdown in 32 years
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 25 May 2016

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has ordered the closure of BSI Bank's operations here over anti-money laundering rule violations, as the bank's Swiss parent faces criminal proceedings in Europe in a deepening probe into scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

"BSI Bank is the worst case of control lapses and gross misconduct that we have seen in the Singapore financial sector," MAS managing director Ravi Menon said yesterday.

The MAS condemned poor management oversight and gross misconduct by some bank staff as it effected the first such shutdown of a merchant bank here in 32 years.

The closure is also the most dramatic development in the 1MDB probe, which now spans at least seven jurisdictions, including Singapore, the United States and Hong Kong.

The MAS has also referred six individuals from BSI to the public prosecutor to evaluate if they have committed criminal offences.

The Office of the Attorney-General of Switzerland said it has opened criminal proceedings against BSI SA Bank, BSI Bank's Swiss parent, over suspected deficiencies resulting in it being "unable to prevent the commission of offences", including suspected money laundering.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

ISIS video shows terror battle is about winning young hearts, minds: Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 24 May 2016

The latest propaganda video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showing child fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia firing guns, burning their passports and denouncing their citizenships — while a wanted terrorist delivered a provocative message for regional governments — has raised concerns among terror experts.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday also weighed in on the “disturbing” 16-minute clip, calling it a reminder that “this fight against terrorism is global and above all, about winning hearts and minds of the younger generation”.

Noting that the video showed footage of young children “excelling in unarmed combat, drills with rifles and knives”, Dr Ng wrote on Facebook: “Many of them should be in school getting a proper education to ensure a bright future. Instead they spend their days in training camps, indoctrinated to hate their fellow countrymen in Malaysia and Indonesia, burn their passports as a sign of their allegiance to terror groups like ISIS, and drilled to kill innocent lives.”

Dr Ng described the clip — which named Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as countries which “created trouble” and “damaged” Islamic beliefs — as “the first ISIS video that targets South-east Asia explicitly”. “But unfortunately, I expect more to come,” he said.

What the 'CV of failures' really reveals about career setbacks

Not all rejections are equal and those followed by successes stop mattering at once
By Lucy Kellaway, Published The Straits Times, 24 May 2016

Professor Johannes Haushofer, an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton, last month published a CV recording every professional failure in his career to date. He listed the university courses he didn't get on to. The academic jobs he failed to land. The papers that were turned down for publication. The fellowships that went to someone else instead.

The resulting "CV of failures" was a Twitter sensation and picked up by newspapers around the world. So humble! So inspirational! So brave! - was the verdict. The whole thing was so popular it constituted what Prof Haushofer called a meta failure - as it attracted far more attention than his entire academic output combined.

Although amusing, his curriculum vitae doesn't strike me as brave in the slightest. If you teach at Princeton, listing your failures takes little courage. To say that the Stockholm School of Economics turned you down feels more like a taunt: Look what they missed. It is not humble: it is a humblebrag.

To prove how easy it is to be blase about failure when you've had some success, last week I cheerfully sat down to compose my own CV of rejections. It involved quite a lot of brain-racking as my memory has done me the service of forgetting most of my failures over the past 40 years but, as far as I recall, it goes roughly like this.

Commitment of Government critical for rule of law, good governance: Chief Justice

Detention case highlights Govt's compliance with law pronounced by judiciary
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 24 May 2016

A few weeks after the Court of Appeal freed alleged match-fixing kingpin Dan Tan from detention without trial, the Ministry of Home Affairs reviewed its legal position and released three others who had been similarly detained.

Citing the case in a speech he gave recently in the United States, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the apex court released Tan on the ruling that detention is permitted only if the detainee's activities caused harm in Singapore. But the grounds for Tan's detention failed to show how his activities did this.

Tan was later re-arrested and detained on fresh grounds that set out the relevant threat in Singapore.

Noting that the Home Affairs Minister then reviewed the detention of three other detainees and revoked it in the light of the court's ruling, CJ Menon said it is critical to have the commitment of the Government in complying with the law pronounced by the judiciary, to have rule of law and good governance.

In his address to the American Law Institute in Washington, DC last week , he focused on the instrumental role played by the courts in upholding the rule of law. CJ Menon is the only Singaporean to be elected a member of the institute, an independent organisation established in 1923 that produces scholarly work to clarify, modernise and improve the law.

In his speech, The Rule Of Law: The Path To Exceptionalism, he said that despite the vast differences in the legal systems, history and culture of the US and Singapore, both nations share a commitment to the rule of law, although the application could differ in practice.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Smart Nation report card: Let's get digital

Catching a bus is now a breeze, as is renewing a passport. But how far has Singapore really come in its Smart Nation drive? The Sunday Times speaks to those with their finger on the (pulsing) screen, including the minister overseeing it, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.
By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

Creation of new high-tech jobs? Tick

Improved quality of life? Tick

Impact on society? Tick

When Singapore launched its Smart Nation initiative in November 2014, these were the goals the minister in charge of the drive, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, wanted to achieve.

Other facets have emerged as the digital push went into overdrive: openness of data and the notion of creating solutions.


Asked for his report card on the Smart Nation project in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times recently, Dr Balakrishnan, who is also the Foreign Minister, says: "By looking at these areas, in terms of jobs, business, quality of life and openness of data and the whole (notion of) creating solutions, I think we have made reasonable progress in the past 18 months."

In terms of jobs, he says, based on reports in the media, there is a shortage of engineers, computer scientists, cyber security experts and data analysts, which is a good sign because "we have generated demand for jobs by Singaporeans".

There is no question then that Singaporeans know something is afoot, and that there are fresh opportunities for those who want to switch careers and get retraining in infocomm and communications technology (ICT) skills. General Assembly, a global educational firm that teaches digital technologies to mature students, for instance, has even opened an office here.

"Even the universities are getting better-quality students, truly interested in computer science, and this is good," he says.

There is a greater sense of community ownership, participation and problem-solving on the Internet - whether it is in coming together to help deliver masks during the haze or to identify and help those with special needs.

Organ donations remain low despite changes to law

Average wait for kidney transplant still 9 to 10 years, and 1 to 2 years for liver or heart
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 23 May 2016

Singaporeans are still not donating their organs despite several legislative changes made over the years to enlarge the donor pool.

"The numbers of deceased organ transplantation for kidney, heart and liver (have) remained low for the past 10 years," said a Ministry of Health (MOH) spokesman.

There were 58 such organ transplants last year, compared with 69 in 2006, the latest figures from the National Organ Transplant Unit show. These numbers are a far cry from those in other developed countries such as Spain and Norway, which have eight times the number of cadaveric kidneys for every million people.

Donations from living donors - which are much better for recipients than cadaveric organ donations - have seen only modest growth. Last year, 58 people donated their kidneys and livers, up from 34 in 2006.

Despite legislative changes, such as including Muslims as donors, the average wait for a kidney is still nine to 10 years and one to two years for a liver or heart. Many people with heart and liver failure here die each year, and thousands with kidney failure are on dialysis.

The availability of organs for transplantation is influenced by factors such as public awareness, and societal views and religious beliefs, said the MOH spokesman.

"Even with legislation aimed at improving deceased organ donations, there is a need to continuously engage the public to raise awareness about the issues around organ donation and transplantation, including the benefits of transplantation," she added.

Last year, 334 people were on the waiting list for kidney transplants, with 54 people waiting for a liver and 23 for a heart.

Indonesia needs to stop acting as a “big brother”: Johannes Nugroho

High time Jakarta treats Singapore and other South-east Asian countries as equals
By Johannes Nugroho, Published TODAY, 22 May 2016

Tensions between Indonesia and Singapore are simmering as a kerfuffle is developing over the decision by a Singaporean court to grant a warrant to the National Environment Agency (NEA) for an Indonesian businessman suspected of involvement in last year’s forest fires. The warrant was obtained after the businessman, whose identity remains hidden, failed to turn up for an interview with the Singaporean authorities while he was in the city-state.

The saga took an interesting twist as Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied its counterpart’s repeated claims that a formal complaint against the warrant had been lodged by the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore.

The reason for Indonesia’s umbrage remains unclear, although implicit in the protest was the notion that Singapore had tried to force Indonesia’s hand in acting against responsible parties for last year’s environmental disaster, which saw much of South-east Asia engulfed in a haze. Jakarta’s reaction suggests that it deemed Singapore to have overstepped its scope of action. By contrast, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) felt that it had every right to prosecute those deemed responsible, based on the 2014 Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

To be fair, Singapore’s move was both logical and laudable. However, it was an inadvertent slap in the face for the Indonesian government. Chiefly, politicians in Jakarta were worried that, if successfully pulled off, it was bound to be seen by the public as a derogation of sovereignty: that an Indonesian national could be arrested and even tried in a foreign country.

To Airbnb or not to Airbnb...

Can Singapore make room and rules for Airbnb and other home-sharing offerings?
As URA continues to study issue, residents and hospitality players remain divided
By Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

From stylish apartments to cheerful single rooms, tourists in search of alternative lodgings in Singapore are spoilt for choice.

The website of Airbnb, a leading player in the home-sharing market here, has options such as a Kallang shophouse for $249 a night, a Tiong Bahru flat for $114 or a room in East Coast with queen-sized bed and balcony for a mere $48.

According to Airbnb, there are about 6,000 properties listed on its website here.

Other home-sharing websites have set up here as well, such as PandaBed and Roomorama.

Yet, it is currently illegal for private and public home-owners to lease their properties for less than six months.

While a few home-sharing site listings are for long-term options, most are for short stays, which means they are breaking the law.

The authorities are still trying to decide if rules should be relaxed for private properties.

From January to April last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) held a public consultation to assess if this short-term rental policy for private properties needed to be reviewed.

But last Wednesday, more than a year on, the URA said it needs more time to consider the issue.

In the meantime, enforcement action will still be taken, it added.

Under current rules, private home-owners who lease their units for less than six months can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to a year.

Monday, 23 May 2016

F-35: The future of the RSAF?

The F-35 has been billed as the world's most advanced fighter jet. It flies at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth capabilities and is armed with a supercomputer. But production has been hit by flaws, delays and ballooning costs. Has Lockheed Martin done enough to persuade Singapore that this jet is the future of its air force? The Sunday Times examines the issue
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent In Dallas Fort Worth, The Sunday Times, 22 May 2016

Welcome to Dallas Fort Worth, where production of what has been labelled the world's most advanced fighter jet is continuing apace.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can travel at nearly twice the speed of sound, has stealth features that make it tough to detect by enemy planes and radars, and high-tech systems which let it strike the enemy first before being spotted.

But the plane, which Lockheed Martin started developing in 2001, has also become a lightning rod for criticism. It has faced delays, ballooning production costs and a series of production flaws, such as a fuel tank prone to exploding, a vulnerability to lightning strikes and even a faulty ejection seat which could snap a pilot's neck during ejection.

But that has not stopped 11 countries, including the United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan, from buying the F-35, with Denmark possibly joining the list after its defence ministry made a pitch to Parliament two weeks ago to opt for fifth-generation aircraft.

Now, Lockheed is looking to sew up a multibillion-dollar deal with Singapore, which is in the final stages of considering if it will also go down the F-35 route and buy both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B, which takes off from shorter runways and can land like a helicopter.