Saturday, 31 January 2015

Sengkang plot not for commercial columbarium: Khaw

By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

NO COMMERCIALLY-driven columbarium will be built on land set aside for a Chinese temple, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament yesterday.

He explained that the project in Sengkang was awarded to funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land (EPL) because Housing Board officers assumed that the company was acting for a religious group.

"For 20-odd years, we would never have thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit-making venture like building a Chinese temple," said Mr Khaw, adding that a review of the tender process was ongoing. "The key point is... we do not want a commercial columbarium, and we won't have one.

"But having reached such a situation, I will find a way to try to unwind this."

While a commercial columbarium was ruled out for the site, an incidental columbarium offered as a service by a temple was acceptable, he said.

Mr Khaw added that the Ministry of National Development is in talks with EPL, whose parent company, Life Corporation, had raised $20 million to fund the project.

Soon after the company's plans for the columbarium were shot down yesterday, it asked the Australian Securities Exchange, on which it is listed, to stop trading in its shares for 48 hours.

The controversy ignited last month after a Straits Times article highlighted that a new columbarium was going to be built next to the Build-to-Order project Fernvale Lea, catching future residents by surprise. At first, the authorities said the columbarium could go ahead as it met guidelines.

Yesterday, MPs Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) questioned if it was fair for a purely for-profit company to challenge religious organisations for scarce land.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) and the Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) asked if enough checks were done before a site reserved for a place of worship was awarded to a commercial firm.

Mr Khaw explained that private companies have always been able to bid for such sites. However, these firms were either set up by or in joint ventures with religious organisations. EPL was the first to break the mould.

"The officers assessing the tender just assumed (EPL) must be affiliated to some religious organisation, and because it made the highest bid, (the tender) was awarded to it."

He said the government had been looking to tighten tender rules even before the controversy broke. Some religious organisations had complained about losing bids to groups with smaller congregations or to those with deeper pockets.

"It is not easy to assess needs, especially when different kinds of religious organisations are involved, but we will find a way. We will seek religious wisdom. We will meditate on it."

Parliament Highlights - 29 Jan 2015

Parliament passes MediShield Life Scheme Bill
By Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

Parliament on Thursday (Jan 29) passed the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which will provide universal insurance coverage for all Singaporeans.

The Health Ministry is also reviewing the list of pre-existing medical conditions which warrant additional premiums and will inform Singaporeans who are affected.

To help Singapore citizens who will have to pay higher premiums - despite various subsidies - the Government has raised what is known as transitional subsidies.

In the first year, all citizens will get 90 per cent subsidy on the net increase in premium - instead of 80 per cent announced previously. In the second year, they will get 70 per cent subsidy - instead of 60 per cent. They will enjoy 40 per cent subsidy in the third year and 20 per cent in the fourth year.

The Health Ministry on Thursday (Jan 29) said it will begin checks to calculate each household's eligibility for MediShield Life premium subsidies in a few months' time.

For the data to be accurate, Singaporeans will need to update their address in their IC. There will also be letters sent to them in a few months' time, to give them more information on how to confirm their estimated household make up.


More than 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) rose and spoke about the Bill. Among the issues raised was the confusion between MediShield Life and Integrated Shield plans, and whether Singaporeans have to pay for both MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plan premiums.

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor explained: "This is clearly not the case. Let me explain it this way. MediShield as it is today forms the foundation of all Integrated Shield Plans, and the IPs ride on this foundation to provide additional coverage targeting the Class B1/A wards or private hospitals.

"When MediShield Life is launched, it will become the new foundation. To use everyday language, MediShield Life is like plain Milo, which is tasty enough for most people. IPs are like Milo Dinosaur or Milo Godzilla, which taste even richer than Milo but will definitely cost more."


Some MPs asked for more details regarding pre-existing conditions.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "MOH (Ministry of Health) is currently reviewing the list of serious pre-existing medical conditions, with specialist advice from clinicians, and will share more on the broad categories of such conditions later.

"The key focus would be on serious pre-existing medical conditions that are likely to be life threatening; or have high risk of future complications or recurrence, and therefore may require prolonged treatment."

20 new speed cameras to be installed at 11 locations from March

Beware: Digital speed traps ahead
Police hope they do for speeding what cameras did for running red lights
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

DIGITAL red-light cameras have made drivers more wary of running a light, and now the Traffic Police are hoping their new digital speed traps will have the same effect.

Last year, 120 digital red-light cameras were installed at traffic junctions resulting in 38,977 drivers caught, more than double the 18,796 caught in 2013.

Thirty more cameras will be put up by the end of September.

The Traffic Police are taking the same approach with the scourge of speeding, an area of concern it flagged yesterday in its annual release of statistics.

It will install 20 digital speed traps, which transmit wirelessly and do not rely on film, at 11 locations starting from March till the end of the year.

Mr Bernard Tay, chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said: "The new measures will deter motorists who are tempted to flout safety rules whenever they are in a hurry."

The new cameras will be painted in bright orange and have reflective strips. Eight, such as one along Loyang Avenue, are in new locations. "Speeding continues to be one of the very bad habits of our motorists," said Traffic Police Commander Sam Tee.

Last year, 278,545 drivers were caught speeding, an increase of 6.5 per cent from the 261,540 the year before. The number of fatal accidents involving speeding also increased by three to 42 last year.

But while road fatalities decreased from 160 to 154 last year, another concern is the spike in the elderly pedestrians among them, from 17 in 2013 to 25 last year.

Big spike in cyber scams drives up crime stats

TODAY, 30 Jan 2015

A startling three-fold jump in the number of cyber-cheating cases drove up the total number of crimes here for the first time since 2009, the police’s latest annual crime statistics show.

Overall, there were 29,984 cases reported last year, 7.4 per cent more than in 2013. While most crime classes continued to register declines, e-commerce cheating or extortion on cyberspace climbed from 510 cases to 1,659 cases last year, in addition to blips in statutory rape and outrage of modesty cases.

Shoppers who were duped into making multiple payments for purported online bargains made up the bulk of these cases. The 904 cases last year was more than triple that in 2013. Crooks would put up advertisements for products at low prices but ask for payments repeatedly on the pretext that the goods would be delivered eventually.

Bogus emails from online payment service PayPal asking victims to disclose their personal information was another favoured scam, with the number of cases jumping from nine in 2013 to 122 last year.

And despite warnings in the last six years, women still fell for cheats posing as Casanovas online to ask for monetary “help”. Such cases more than doubled to 197 last year, involving a whopping S$8.8 million. Similarly, there were more than twice as many people falling prey to hoaxes of their loved ones being kidnapped last year.

New Internet scams have also emerged, in the form of fake gift cards or virtual credits being peddled online, the police warned yesterday. There were 149 such cases reported last year, with victims losing a total of S$138,700.

To curb the growing trend of online crimes, the police said they will carry out more exercises to educate the public on the scammers’ modus operandi.

Do S'pore neighbourhoods risk death by cappuccino?

By Pow Choon Piew, Published The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

BY ALL accounts, gentrification should not exist in Singapore, at least not in the conventional sense of the term, which refers to the displacement of a lower-income population from a neighbourhood by new groups of middle and upper class residents.

With an often-lauded public housing programme that accommodates more than 80 per cent of the population in Singapore, the story of residential displacement and eviction due to the vagaries of gentrification "turf wars" seems remote in the city-state.

It is not surprising, then, that gentrification as a term has seldom been invoked in the context of Singapore, be it in official planning documents or academic literature. State housing provision, it is assumed, has provided an effective buffer that keeps gentrification at bay.

But is this starting to change?

Why it's wise to steer clear of stem cell clinics

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

TENNIS star Rafael Nadal, who crashed out of the Australian Open this week, was reported in late 2013 and again late last year as having received stem cells for his joint and back problems.

This sort of free publicity involving celebrities can only boost business for stem cell clinics, which are already operating in China, Ukraine, Italy, Panama and Mexico, among others. But stem cell science is unsettled and stem cells are not ready for therapeutic use. If so, it is very reasonable to call them rogue clinics that one should keep well away from.

No Singapore-registered doctor may use stem cells except in a formally approved clinical trial. Those who do otherwise, whether they do it here or elsewhere, risk disciplinary action.

Surprisingly, rogue stem cell clinics are flourishing in the United States, and there are now even chains of such clinics on both coasts of the country. If seriously ill Singaporeans reason that medical practice must be regulated stringently in the US, they may well seek stem cell treatment there. Given how much more needs to be done before we can be sure stem cells work safely and for which ailments, these clinics are clearly not as well regulated as one might imagine.

Priced up to US$20,000 a pop just seven years ago, market competition seems to have driven prices down. On its website, one US clinic posts a flat fee of US$7,600 (S$10,300) for treatment of various conditions with stromal vascular fraction (SVF), the stem cell product commonly used in these clinics.

Made from a patient's body fat extracted by liposuction, SVF has not been proven safe or effective. In fact, neither that nor any other stem cell product offered by these clinics has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the country's drug and medical devices regulator.

Volunteers may act for mentally incapacitated

New scheme lets them help manage finances for those unable to do so
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

A NEW scheme where volunteers help to make financial decisions for people who can no longer do so for themselves is being firmed up here.

Currently, someone who loses his mental capacity due to, say, mental problems or dementia, and has nobody to help manage his affairs, has his assets locked.

No one can help him withdraw his money or sell his flat, for instance, even if this is needed for him to stay in a nursing home, or to pay for his funeral when he dies.

But soon, volunteer guardians called "professional deputies" may extend a lifeline to such folk, mainly the elderly, who have not appointed a "donee" under the Lasting Power of Attorney scheme to make financial decisions such as selling their house and operating their bank accounts, if necessary.

The effort, which is roping in volunteer lawyers and social workers, among others, complements the Mental Capacity Act (MCA), say experts.

So far, under a one-year pilot led by the Law Society, four individuals have been matched with about 10 volunteers.

While the Act does not preclude the appointment of professional deputies, this is usually confined to trust companies which help those with no kin.

"The MCA need not necessarily require amendments if the pilot scheme were to be implemented," explained a spokesman for the Law Society. "The pilot went well, helped the beneficiaries and enabled us to discover issues that may arise when implementing the scheme on a larger scale," he added.

15th Social Service Office officially launches in Serangoon

By Nadia Jansen Hassan, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jan 2015

The 15th Social Service Office (SSO) in Singapore was officially launched on Thursday (Jan 29) by Mr Seah Kian Peng, Adviser for Braddell Heights.

The office has been running since October 2014, and has benefited some families who can now choose to go to it because it is closer to their homes. It has handled more than 500 cases so far, and 224 individuals are currently receiving financial assistance from the SSO.

One of those receiving assistance is a 49-year old single mother with eight children, and she said having a one-stop centre with multiple services has helped ease her burden.

"Being a single mom, before receiving help previously, I had to run around a lot and my time with my family was very little. Now with this help, I have time to focus, I have quality time with my children, and it helps me with the rental fee that is being paid by them; my income is enough for my children."

During the launch, it was also announced that 50 needy families in Serangoon will receive help from March. This is through S$2 meal tokens, which they can exchange at any five selected food outlets to get their meals subsidised - about eight to 10 times a month.

Friday, 30 January 2015

PM Lee calls for clean, not cleaned, city

PM reacts to meadow of trash that music fans left behind
Help S'pore progress from cleaned city to truly clean, he posts
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

REVELLERS at the Laneway music festival last weekend left a meadow of trash at the Gardens by the Bay, prompting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to urge Singaporeans to pick up after themselves.

He posted a picture of the litter-strewn meadow taken last Saturday, contrasting the scene to a picture of a Myanmar football fan picking up litter after a match at the Singapore National Stadium last November.

"It takes continuous effort to keep Singapore clean. We need to progress from being a cleaned city to a truly clean city," he wrote on Facebook yesterday.

"All of us can play a part - picking up our own litter, educating our children and grandchildren, and reminding others to do the right thing."

Some of the 13,000 festival-goers said they assumed the organisers hired cleaners for the all-day event, while anti-littering advocates said the Laneway detritus was another example of a deep-seated societal problem.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council (PHC), said he has heard Singaporeans argue they are providing cleaners with jobs, an excuse he said was a self-justification.

"It is so easy to pick up after yourselves. The problem here is a selfish, take-things-for-granted ingrained mindset," he said.

A National Environment Agency survey in 2010 found that one-third of the respondents said they would litter if they could get away with it.

"It didn't occur to me to take my trash away when I left because there was trash everywhere left by others," said Mr Wei Chua, 28, a senior product manager who was at the 19-act festival from late afternoon until midnight. "So, it seemed like an understanding that the festival hired cleaners."

A standard ticket to the festival cost $165, a price that sales executive Ho Minwei assumed factored in cleaning costs.

"There is no way that a festival of this scale could leave the grounds spotless, so the cleaning fees should be built into the price of the ticket," said the 27-year-old.

Still, she is concerned about the littering problem in Singapore, and picks up trash in her Housing Board neighbourhood. "There is nothing I can do about the root cause, which is that people assume someone will take care of their litter," she said.

Mr Liak noted that Singapore has 70,000 cleaners for five million people, while a city such as Taipei has 5,000 cleaners for a population of three million.

On a recent work trip, a PHC delegation spoke to officials in Taipei, where schools do not hire cleaners, so students are taught from a young age to clean up after themselves, he said.

"They told us, cleaning is a part of education. It teaches the value of labour and that it is not shameful to sweat," said Mr Liak. "In Singapore, we have let things deteriorate until we now have a crisis of cleanliness."

'Fear and paralysis' in Taiwan's policymaking

Ex-minister warns about reluctance to make correct but unpopular decisions
By Li Xueying, Regional Correspondent In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

IN TAIWAN, 1,000 litres of tap water cost NT$7 (S$0.30). In Singapore, consumers pay seven times more - NT$50.

Little wonder then that the Taiwanese guzzle 274 litres a day each on average against Singaporeans' 155 litres. And the chickens will come home to roost by 2030 when Taiwan is confronted with a severe water shortage, warns Dr Lee Hong-yuan.

Yet, the former interior minister found it tough going when he tried to introduce a plan two years ago to build water-recycling plants. Calls for water prices to be raised - something he has lobbied for in the past two decades - were deemed even more politically untenable, with legislators unwilling to support such a plan.

This fear of making "correct but unpopular decisions" has paralysed policymaking, and Taiwan's officials and politicians - with an eye constantly on the next election - are crafting short-term policies only that look just one or two years down the road, he charges.

"Long-term plans that require 10 or 20 years to be realised - they don't exist any more..."

Taiwan "is kidnapped by our own democracy", asserts Dr Lee in an interview about his new book, How To Make Taiwan A First-Rate Country.

Released on Jan 7, it is generating buzz, having made it to best seller lists with 12,000 copies sold. This is amid a general malaise within Taiwan, one of the so-called Four Asian Tigers together with South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Concerns abound over the rising costs of living, stagnating wages and the sense that the island is lagging behind its peers.

Dr Lee, who left the government last February, sidesteps the question of what "rate" he thinks Taiwan is at today, but alludes to a certain nostalgia in society for the 1980s, when Kuomintang (KMT) strongman Chiang Ching- kuo was in charge.

"We were not quite a modern country but the economy was booming, everybody had hope and was motivated," recalls the 58-year-old, a hydraulic engineer by training.

By contrast, today, "everyone is depressed and people complain about their salaries".

"I don't feel any good energy. If you turn on the TV, you see our very popular talk shows blaming the government. The whole society is jammed with negative messages," he says.