Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Making it easier for retail investors to buy bonds

Small investors could get bonds on their menu
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2014

THE man in the street could soon be offered another avenue to grow his money: Investing in bonds.

Proposed changes include making bonds more accessible to the average investor by offering them in smaller lots.

Bonds are a form of borrowing by companies and governments for which bondholders are generally paid a steady interest rate or coupon. While they are generally seen as a safe investment with fixed, regular returns, not many are available for retail investors.

Often, $250,000 is needed just to get started, which means that usually, only sophisticated and wealthy investors tend to dabble in them.

This is set to change, as the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) seek public reaction to the new proposals.

Currently, only a handful of retail bonds are traded on SGX - like one issued by Singapore Airlines that offers a coupon rate of 2.15 per cent.

In seeking to broaden the choice, one key proposal is to offer existing bonds to retail investors after they have been listed on SGX for six months.

These so-called "seasoned bonds" could be redenominated into smaller lot sizes to be sold to smaller investors.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Govt looking at flexible options for lease buyback

Instead of 30-year lease, flat owners may get to vary the number of years
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2014

ELDERLY flat owners who opt for the Lease Buyback Scheme may be given the option to retain more or fewer years on their flat's lease, in a bid to make the scheme more flexible.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said this yesterday during a post-National Day Rally dialogue for youth in Sembawang GRC, adding that his ministry is set to announce changes to the scheme this week.

Currently, under the scheme, retirees retain 30 years of the lease on their flat and sell the remaining period to the Housing Board in return for monthly payouts. The proceeds can be used to top up their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Retirement Account for annuity payouts.

But depending on when they join the scheme, said Mr Khaw, some seniors may find the 30-year lease too long or too short.

For example, those who join when they are younger may worry about outliving the lease period, while those who join when they are older, say at 80 years old, may find the 30-year period too long.

To address these concerns, he said the Government could vary the period of the lease that it buys back.

He suggested, for example, a 35-year period for those who sell part of the lease back at 65 years old, so that it would last until they are 100 years old.

Someone who joins the scheme late may be able to sell the Government a longer part of his lease to get a bigger payout, he said.

His comments yesterday followed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement during his National Day Rally speech last month that the Lease Buyback Scheme will be extended to owners of four-room flats as well, as part of the larger push to make sure that Singaporeans have enough for retirement.

Mr Khaw said that this makes about 75 per cent of seniors eligible for the scheme, compared with about 35 per cent previously when it was limited to owners of smaller flats.

No degree, no problem

Culture shift a matter of degrees
A university degree carries more weight in the workplace than any other academic qualification but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wants this to change. In his National Day Rally speech he signalled a paradigm shift in how Singapore regards qualifications, urging that skills and experience be equally valued. The change comes amid a burgeoning number of ITE and polytechnic students seeking higher education. Insight looks at three obstacles that must be overcome before the cultural change can take place

OBSTACLE 1: The glass ceiling for non-grads
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

NO DEGREE, no problem.

Try telling that to corporate communications manager Vivien Tan.

The 39-year-old had thought along those lines 23 years ago when, after her O levels, she chose to go to a polytechnic instead of a junior college and university like most of her classmates did, despite her 11-point aggregate.

Her lack of a degree would later prove a disadvantage at various times over the past 18 years working in both the public and private sectors, when she was denied opportunities because she was not a graduate.

"There were limited opportunities given to non-degree holders to lead projects or take on leadership positions. Even though I was ready for new challenges and opportunities to showcase my leadership qualities, I wasn't able to do so," she tells Insight of the obstacles she faced.

The numbers bear out this unequal treatment. In the public sector, where Ms Tan worked as a corporate communications officer from 2006 to 2011, a diploma holder typically starts at a monthly pay of $1,800, while a degree holder can get $3,200.

A report of average starting salaries by global recruitment firm Hay Group found that graduates get paid up to 46 per cent more than diploma holders in Singapore.

These statistics, and the experience of Ms Tan and many others like her, make the Government's message - that people can also succeed without a degree - a hard sell for now.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat acknowledged just as much, when he said during a press conference to announce the Government's push to improve opportunities for ITE (Institute of Technical Education) and polytechnic graduates, that changing mindsets would take time.

Observers say for the message to get through, the glass ceiling for non-graduates must be shattered.

Empathy a factor when choosing Public Service leaders

We thank Mr Kwek Jia Hao for his comments in the letter “The importance of leaders’ empathy and a sustainable meritocracy” (Aug 20) and agree it is important that public officers perform their duties with empathy.

It is this quality that ensures that our officers are able to better understand our citizens’ concerns and connect with those whom we serve.

Indeed, to better connect with those whom we serve, our officers, beginning with the leaders, are encouraged to be involved in the community, for example, through community attachments.

They are also posted to front-line agencies to be exposed to operational issues and serve through direct interactions with our citizens. We do this systematically, including with our scholarship recipients.

Our officers move through the ranks on merit.

There is no presumed fast-track progress for an officer just because he was a scholarship recipient.

Everyone is assessed based on his or her performance and ability to take on larger responsibilities.

Many officers holding senior appointments in the Public Service did not start out as scholarship recipients.

Qualities such as the ability to empathise with the concerns and needs of our citizens and staff are also considered when choosing leaders.

Within the organisation, we regularly conduct employee engagement surveys, where emphasis is placed on the leaders’ ability to lead and win their colleagues’ trust.

Bidadari to have first bus interchange underground

To be ready by 2019, it will sit below carpark and garden flanked by flats
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 1 Sep 2014

THE new Bidadari housing estate will be home to Singapore's first underground air-conditioned bus interchange below Housing Board flats.

The new interchange next to Woodleigh MRT station, expected to be ready by 2019, will cater to five bus services.

It will be "tucked away and hidden from the street view", sitting below a carpark and neighbourhood garden flanked by blocks of flats, according to the HDB's plans seen by The Straits Times.

The Housing Board handed out design briefs and sketches to architects and engineers last week as it invited them to draw up architecture and engineering plans for the new housing estate.

The bus interchange is part of an integrated transport, commercial and residential project that will form the estate's town centre. Besides the interchange, the project will also have a foodcourt and 360 flats, split equally into three- and four-room flats.

Sales of these Build-To-Order flats are expected to be launched in August next year, with construction starting in 2016.

They are among 10,000 HDB flats and 1,000 private homes slated to be built on the sprawling former cemetery grounds.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Self-help groups ask better-off to chip in more

From next year, the Chinese, Indian and Eurasian self-help groups will raise monthly contribution rates. High-income earners face the largest increases. The groups said they need more money to cope with rising costs and to roll out new programmes. These contributions, which people can opt out of or give more if they choose, are deducted automatically from monthly salaries.
By Priscilla Goy, The Sunday Times, 31 Aug 2014

SINDA: Smaller community faces fund pressures

High-earning Indian professionals have been asked to step up their donations to their community's self-help fund.

From the current $7 a month, those earning more than $15,000 monthly will be expected to contribute $30 from next year.

This is the steepest rise among the increased rates announced by three self-help groups, including the ones for the Chinese and Eurasian communities, yesterday.

"The new rates are more progressive," Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who is president of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), told community stakeholders at a forum at PGP Hall in Serangoon. "Those who earn more will contribute more."

A majority of the contributors - those earning between $1,000 and $4,500 a month - will not see any changes. The lowest income tier has also been broadened, such that those earning between $600 and $1,000 each month will be asked to pay $1 a month instead of $3.

The changes are expected to add about $3 million to the fund's annual collection of about $8 million, excluding the Government's contribution, other grants and programme fees.

China's experience with graft: The good and the bad

Decades of corruption have not slowed China's growth. In fact, "good corruption" might have catalysed the economy at some stages.
By John Wong, Published The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

CHINESE President Xi Jinping's new leadership has appeared radically different from his predecessors'.

Nowhere is it so markedly distinctive as in his determination to fight China's widespread corruption. Mr Xi's war against corruption, first launched in December 2012 to catch both "flies" (low-level offenders) and "tigers" (high-level corrupt officials), is still going on unabated. It has netted more than 40 high-profile "tigers" or officials and executives of state-owned enterprises equivalent to ministerial and provincial-governor rank.

They included one former Politburo Standing Committee member, Zhou Yongkang, and one senior general, Xu Caihou. As for the "flies", some 180,000 Communist Party members were punished last year. In the first half of this year, another 84,000 officials were disciplined.

The tenacity and ferocity of Mr Xi's anti-graft drive have totally surprised many observers at home and abroad who initially thought he would just use it against his potential political opponents so as to consolidate his power, much as his predecessors had routinely done. Others thought that he was doing this to facilitate the implementation of his reforms.

'Hippie hair' crisis between Singapore and Malaysia

This is an excerpt from the book The Accidental Diplomat: The Autobiography Of Maurice Baker by Maurice Baker, an academic and one of Singapore's pioneer diplomats
The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

I THOUGHT that a meeting of the two prime ministers face-to-face might help to lead to better understanding and improve relations between Singapore and Malaysia.

The plans were made and set in motion for Lee Kuan Yew to visit Kuala Lumpur.

But an unfortunate incident ruined our plans and set back the visit till after I had left Kuala Lumpur and returned to teach at the University of Singapore in 1972.

The Singapore police had received information that a gang of youths, probably secret society members, would meet in the Orchard Road car park (now no more) which at night flourished as a hawker centre.

By an unfortunate coincidence, three long-haired Malaysians, two of whom were university undergraduates from Kuala Lumpur and who were on a visit to Singapore, had decided to have a meal at the hawker centre.

The local detectives promptly arrested them and, despite their protests that they were Malaysians who had left behind their passports in their hotel, the detectives hauled them to the Central Police Station, forced them to have a haircut and locked them up for the night!

They were searched but no drugs were found on them. The next day the police realised their mistake but it was too late. The high-handed action of the detectives was to have severe repercussions as the undergraduates from the Universiti of Malaya at Pantai Valley in Kuala Lumpur decided on a huge demonstration against the Singapore High Commission which was then located at the fifth floor of the Straits Trading Building on Market Street (now Jalan Leboh Pasar).

PM Lee, Khaw urge new citizens to integrate and Singaporeans to help newcomers settle in

PM urges all citizens to build a common identity
Both new citizens and Singaporeans can take their cue from country's pioneers
By Tham Yuen-C and Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 31 Aug 2014

New citizens and Singaporeans alike should follow in the footsteps of the country's pioneers, who contributed and built a common Singaporean identity, despite being from different races and cultures.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan had this message for Singaporeans yesterday, as they welcomed new citizens at two separate National Citizenship ceremonies.

Both also called on new citizens to integrate into society, and Mr Lee asked that Singaporeans, too, play a part in helping their new fellow countrymen fit in.

This weekend, 14 such ceremonies will be held across the island, where close to 3,350 new citizens will get their pink identity cards and certificates of citizenship.

Speaking at the Cheng San Community Club at a ceremony for 150 new Singaporeans from Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West, Mr Lee said changing their citizenship was a major decision and was not one that was made lightly.

Those who chose to make Singapore home were not just weighing the benefits and costs but were also declaring that "this is where I belong".

He said: "It's not just a matter of weighing up the benefits and the costs rationally... but committing your heart. What identity you adopt, what values you will make your own, where will your loyalty lie."

Tin Pei Ling: A young politician needs thick skin, and a cause to fight for

In the 2011 General Election, Ms Tin Pei Ling received some of the harshest criticisms levelled at candidates. Then aged 27, she was deemed too young, inexperienced and lacking in substance. She was mocked for owning a Kate Spade handbag. She was shrugged off as having entered politics via her husband Ng How Yue, who was then principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She was also belittled for riding on the coat-tails of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who led the five-member Marine Parade GRC team to victory. But three years later, Ms Tin, who turned 31 last month, was praised by PM Lee for proving her detractors wrong by being able to connect with her residents and solving their problems. She tells Rachel Au-Yong about her trials, how she coped with the stress of being attacked especially on social media, and whether she would contest a single-seat constituency.
The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

How did you feel when PM Lee praised you last weekend at the opening of the refurbished community club in your MacPherson ward?

Pleasantly surprised. My grassroots leaders, volunteers and myself - we were all very touched and pleased that PM did it.

As you know, I had a tough start in 2011. If not for my team who stood by me, it would have been difficult to arrive at where I am today. So, by PM acknowledging that we had done at least an okay job - that was a morale booster.

Although you seem to have overcome most of the criticisms, many people are still sceptical about your political mandate. Would contesting a single-seat constituency silence your critics?

Hopefully. But nobody can please everyone every time and so, there may be new criticisms that will emerge.

At the end of the day, a politician must be prepared to face such negativity, develop a thick skin and do things for the right reason.