Sunday, 29 November 2015

Govt shift to left in social policies the right move: ESM Goh Chok Tong

There was urgent need to redistribute wealth sustainably to mitigate income gap: ESM Goh
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

The Government's shift to the left in its social policies worried Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong initially. He felt, as did some Singaporeans, that it was "becoming too populist (and) giving away too much", he said yesterday.

But he later saw that it was the right move because there was an urgent need to redistribute wealth in a meaningful and sustainable way to help lessen the stress of a widening income gap.

Mr Goh said this at a forum when he was asked whether he shared the worries of some Singaporeans who felt the Government was "pandering to the electorate's whims and fancies, and is no longer the firm, decisive Government it used to be".

Yes, he shared their concern, he told The Straits Times' editor-at- large Han Fook Kwang, who had asked the question and was moderating the dialogue attended by 230 people, including business leaders and Straits Times readers.

It was the first of six dialogues in a series titled Pioneering The Future, with pioneer leaders giving their insights on key policies that shaped Singapore into what it is today. The series is organised by the Economic Development Board (EDB) Society and The Straits Times.

Mr Goh said that from his experience, "what you give, you can never take away from the population".

"(Founding Prime Minister) Lee Kuan Yew's style was to give away bit by bit, because there's no end to what people want," he added.

"If you give all at one time and have nothing else to give, that's when they kick you out. And this time the Government is giving a lot.''

But later, Mr Goh said, he realised the Government had "no choice" but to introduce policies such as compulsory health insurance scheme MediShield Life and the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-wage workers. The reason is that Singapore was increasingly becoming a very divided society owing to a wide disparity in income, he said.

Despite acknowledging the necessity of the shift, he still wonders whether the policies will be sustainable in the long run. The Government has been doing calculations of its expenditure, but given such unpredictable factors as the demands of the people in the future and demographic changes, he said, taxes may have to be raised three or four decades down the road to fund the policies.

Singapore quietly helping developing nations, says envoy

By Albert Wai, TODAY, 27 Nov 2015

Singapore has been “quietly helping” other developing countries to build up their human resource capacity to address climate change threats, said the Republic’s Chief Negotiator for Climate Change Ambassador Kwok Fook Seng, adding that the sharing of know-how is more impactful than direct cash grants.

In an email interview with TODAY, Ambassador Kwok said Singapore “sees no need to make a big deal or to extract returns for our efforts”.

“As a small country, we do not adopt the conventional approach of establishing donor-recipient relationships, but treat our development partners as equals,” he said, adding that Singapore has been sharing know-how and helping to build capacity in areas where it has relevant expertise, such as sustainable urban development, water and sanitation.

He pointed out that Singapore has helped more than 170 developing countries from Southeast Asia to the Pacific Islands, and from Africa to Latin America on capacity building and addressing climate change issues.

“Drawing from Singapore’s own development journey, we firmly believe this approach is more impactful than direct cash grants,” said Mr Kwok, adding that to date, Singapore has trained close to 11,000 officials from developing countries in climate change programmes alone.

Stalls told to stop selling raw fish dishes after link to GBS bacteria confirmed

By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2015

Hawkers have been told to stop selling Chinese-style raw fish dishes - including raw fish porridge - immediately, unless they can show that the fish are from safe suppliers, the authorities said yesterday.

Investigations have confirmed a link between such dishes and what appears to be a particularly aggressive strain of Group B Streptococcus bacteria (GBS) - Sequence Type (ST) 283 - that has made some people here seriously ill and could have killed one person.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) told The Straits Times that it has been notified of 355 cases of GBS infection this year, of which around 150 belonged to the ST283 strain.

Two infected patients died, MOH said. One death is being investigated, while another is not linked to the outbreak.

"Following the investigations, the National Environment Agency advises that all retail food establishments that sell ready-to-eat raw fish dishes are to source raw fish from suppliers that adopt proper cold chain management and hygienic handling practices of the fish," said the agency, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and MOH in a statement.

ADVISORY ISSUED ON CONSUMPTION OF RAW FISH: Recent investigations by AVA, MOH and NEA into the outbreak in July have...
Posted by National Environment Agency - NEA on Friday, November 27, 2015

Food handlers and fishmongers tested negative for the virulent strain, but fish were a likely source, investigations revealed.

Between August and last month, nearly 400 fish samples across the supply chain, from fishery ports to wet markets and food outlets, were tested. GBS was detected in a fifth of the samples, and 4.1 per cent of total samples tested positive for ST283.

Song fish (Asian bighead carp), toman fish (snakehead) and tilapia, all freshwater species, were the ones which tested positive for ST283.

The authorities stressed that most fish sold in wet markets or at fishery ports are intended for cooking and should not be eaten raw, as they could carry a number of parasites or bacteria.

New NTUC Foodfare scheme for hawker stalls

Social enterprise can help people keen on running outlets under its Rice Garden brand
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2015

Aspiring and current hawkers can now get a leg-up to open their own economy rice stall, while helping to keep prices affordable.

Foodcourt operator and cooperative NTUC Foodfare yesterday launched a new scheme for food-stall operators to convert their stalls to outlets under Foodfare's Rice Garden brand, or for newcomers to start new Rice Garden stalls.

Rice Garden stalls in hawker centres and coffee shops here sell mixed rice dishes at lower prices compared with stalls elsewhere.

A meal of one meat and two vegetable servings is capped at $2.50 for senior citizens and $1.50 for Comcare cardholders. The general public pays $2.70 or $3, depending on the location of the stall.

In return, stallholders get a monthly grant of $4,000 to defray the cost of keeping food prices low as well as an one-off amount of up to $20,000 to buy the equipment they need for setting up the stall.

The stallholder will be linked up with NTUC Foodfare's central kitchen for food supplies, and get training and business operation advice.

The scheme, called the Rice Garden's Business Community Partnership Programme, already has two participants - food operator Kimly Group and a former employee of Foodfare, Madam Diep Phuong Mai.

NTUC Foodfare hopes to open 10 other such stalls next year and will assess applicants based on commitment level and stall location.

Appeal court orders WP-run AHPETC to appoint accountants to fix lapses

Appointment, which is subject to HDB's approval, is to fix lapses at WP town council
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2015

The Court of Appeal yesterday ordered the Workers' Party-run town council to appoint accountants, subject to the approval of the Housing Board, to fix lapses uncovered by an audit this year.

In doing so, Singapore's highest court said it had to "focus sharply on what Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) is obliged to do and has not done".

It noted various lapses in governance and accounting, and said that "on the facts before us, there is no real dispute that AHPETC has not fully complied" with its obligations under the Town Councils Act and guidelines under the Town Councils Financial Rules.

The accountants will help to identify outstanding lapses; advise on steps to be taken to fix the lapses; submit monthly progress reports to the HDB, until they are "reasonably satisfied" that AHPETC is compliant with the law; and look into whether past payments were improper and should be recovered.

The appeals court said the HDB must consent to the identity and, if need be, the terms of reference of the accountants so as to "ensure transparency and efficacy in the execution of these duties".

On its part, the HDB should not "unreasonably withhold" consent.

In the event of any dispute over this, it added, either party can seek assistance from the court.

The court also ordered the town council to make all its outstanding transfers to the sinking fund within three months.

The town council must also decide, by then, whether to accept the grants-in-aid previously offered by the Minister for National Development subject to conditions, so as to make the sinking fund transfers.

Otherwise, it is to take other steps to raise funds, such as increasing service and conservancy charges or liquidating investments.

The 72-page judgment yesterday was delivered by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who heard the case in August with Judges of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Andrew Phang.

In May, the Ministry of National Development (MND), which has withheld $14 million in government grants from the AHPETC, appealed against a decision by the High Court, which rejected MND's application for the court to appoint independent accountants to safeguard the grants to AHPETC.

The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld the High Court's dismissal of that MND application. CJ Menon wrote that under the Town Councils Act, "the court can only make orders compelling the Town Council to perform its statutory duty. It cannot appoint its own agents to perform these powers, duties and functions of the Town Council".

The High Court had also ruled in May that only the HDB or residents - not the MND - could take legal action against a town council if it fails to perform its duties.

Safe spaces on US college campuses shouldn't be echo chambers

Censorship by students is a growing problem on college campuses in the US
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

WASHINGTON • The video clip starts with Mr Nicholas Christakis, the master of Siliman College in Yale University, standing in a square at the school surrounded by a group of students.

"Other people have rights, too, not just you," he says to someone off screen. A voice instantly shoots back, urging the crowd to ignore the don. "Walk away, walk away, he doesn't deserve to be listened to," a student says. But the encounter is only heating up.

Mr Christakis turns to a different student but his attempt to interject seems to set her off.

"Be quiet!" she screams.

And when he persists with his point, she unleashes a tirade: "You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master, you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It's about creating a home here. You are not doing that!"

The video of the confrontation - one apparently triggered by an e-mail arguing that Yale students did not need to be protected from offensive Halloween costumes by the school - has since taken a life of its own.

In two weeks, the 11/2-minute clip kicked up a firestorm of debate over what some see as a worrying trend of sanitising intellectual discourse and restricting academic freedom on campus.

And for her trouble, the shrieking student in the clip has found herself becoming the poster child for the "strawberry generation".

But who is right and who is wrong here? Are students indeed being overly sensitive or are others simply glossing over genuine offence? Is academic freedom really at risk?

Petition war over Adam Lambert's appearance in countdown show

Row over gay singer Adam Lambert performing at Celebrate 2016
By Anjali Raguraman, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2015

A petition in support of American singer Adam Lambert performing at Celebrate 2016, MediaCorp's New Year countdown concert, was launched on Thursday and garnered more than 12,700 signatures in one day.

Titled "We want Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016", it has 12,747 signatures as of 6pm yesterday. It is a response to an online petition launched on Wednesday, asking organisers to remove the openly gay singer from the show.

The earlier petition addressed to MediaCorp, the Singapore Government and Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Grace Fu, other organisers, partners and sponsors of the event, called Lambert an "inappropriate choice" to "send off our historic Jubilee Year or to usher in the new year". It aims to get 20,000 signatures and, as of yesterday, has garnered more than 14,400.

Both petitions are on the website iPetitions.

Those behind the counter-petition call themselves "the moral majority of Singapore". They "utterly denounce and condemn the obvious sexual orientation discrimination demonstrated by the other petition on this site that is against Adam Lambert performing in Countdown 2016". Support in the comments section include one by commenter Soh Yu Da, who says: "Singapore is an inclusive and secular society. Bigots do not speak for me."

Kuhan Mani says: "His music has nothing to do with his sexual preferences. And even if it did, I don't see why it should matter. If you don't like him or his music, don't watch it! Stop ruining it for other people."

Saturday, 28 November 2015

SG Heart Map festival celebrates Singaporeans' favourite haunts

By Jasmine Osada, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

A year-long drive that saw Singaporeans sharing stories about their favourite places has culminated in a grand celebration.

The four-day SG Heart Map Festival @ Float was launched last night amid a light show and fireworks at the Marina Bay floating platform. The SG Heart Map initiative began in November last year, when Singaporeans were asked to share personal stories about the places that define Singapore.

To date, about 100,000 contributions have been collected and they have inspired art installations at the SG Heart Map Festival. Some of the places include Changi Village, East Coast Park, Little India and Tanjong Pagar.

Visitors were greeted by exhibits created by the festival's seven lead artists. The works included poetry and prose, an audio installation, a photography showcase and a short film made specially for the event by Singapore film-maker Royston Tan.

Mrs Chua Xin Ru, 36, a business owner who was at the festival with her husband and children, said: "We sometimes take these places in Singapore for granted as we see them every day, but they are actually what makes us Singaporean."

Encouraging Singaporeans to join in the celebrations, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said: "This is a great event for Singaporeans to come, not only for the atmosphere but also to fall in love with the Singapore cityscape once again."

A community-driven initiative led by the SG50 Environment and Infrastructure Committee, the SG Heart Map Festival @ Float is now on at the Float @ Marina Bay until Sunday.

Today, it is open from 5pm to midnight. More details, including opening hours on specific days, can be found at

Higher income ceilings benefit over 2,000 BTO applicants

By Janice Heng and Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

At least 2,100 families and 220 singles who applied for new flats this month were newly eligible due to higher income ceilings.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong gave these figures on his blog yesterday, to show how changes have benefited buyers.

The figures, from 11am yesterday, were for the Build-To-Order (BTO) and Sale of Balance Flats exercises which closed at midnight.

It was the first launch with new income ceilings of $12,000 for families and $6,000 for singles.

The planned September and November launches had been merged to give time for policy changes to kick in.

Income ceilings were also raised to $8,500 for the Special Central Provident Fund Housing Grant (SHG), making a total of 6,500 applicants eligible as of 11am.

In the BTO launch, projects in the new estate of Bidadari were the most popular.

As of 5pm yesterday, there were 3,283 applicants for 151 five-roomers there, almost 22 applicants per unit.

Four-roomers had more than five applicants per unit.

"To meet the strong demand, we will be launching more flats in Bidadari next year," said Mr Wong.

Also in the BTO launch were flats in the non-mature estates of Punggol, Bukit Batok, Hougang and Sengkang, which saw application rates of 0.9 to 4.3 for various flat types.

For the new two-room flexi scheme, more demand came from singles rather than the elderly.

New scheme to help SMEs Go Global online

By Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

Online commerce is booming, so local firms will no doubt welcome a new website and related services offering guidance on selling goods and services over the Internet.

The "Go Global" initiative, backed by heavyweights such as Google and key government agencies, is aimed at local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It was launched yesterday.

SME bosses can now watch videos by experts on topics relating to selling products digitally. These topics include setting up e-payments systems, navigating international tax processes and structuring a returns policy.

Google and nine other industry partners which launched Go Global will all contribute content.

"The Internet is transformative. It will tear down barriers that have stopped small businesses from thinking and acting as big as they want to be," said Ms Joanna Flint, Google's Singapore director, at the launch of the initiative yesterday.

Google's partners are Spring Singapore, International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, CyberSource, law firm Rajah & Tann Singapore, RSM, SingPost, United Overseas Bank, UOB-SMU Asian Enterprise Institute and Verztec Consulting.

The website also provides businesses with data on demand levels for their products in a given overseas market, and how much competition they will face there.

Using another tool, businesses can also assess how conducive their websites are to supporting online sales.

Regular workshops will be held to help firms improve online sales.

More in Singapore getting cancer, but survival rates also up

Study finds significant rise in proportion of those surviving at least 5 years after diagnosis
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

While more people in Singapore are getting cancer, even more are surviving this killer disease longer , a recently released study has found.

Over 35 years, the proportion of men who survive a cancer diagnosis by at least five years has gone up from 13.2 per cent in 1973 to 1977, to 48.5 per cent in 2008 to 2012.

For the same period, women survivors more than doubled from 28 per cent to 57.1 per cent.

However, the monograph on Cancer Survival In Singapore 1973- 2012, released on Sept 29, cautioned that the increased survival rates could be partly attributed to earlier detection of the cancers, which helps to "prolong" lives.

"Therefore, survival time can still increase even if there is no postponement of death," it noted.

Between 1973 and 2012, 163,331 people here were diagnosed with cancer and 110,899 have died.

But there was improvement in survival for cancers diagnosed at different stages across the years.

Cancers in Singapore are generally detected later than in other developed countries, the study stated.

But it added: "Our treatment and cancer management is comparable to our international counterparts."

Unhealthy lifestyles affect the chances of survival, it said.

SAF 'on guard against terror attack'

Paris attacks are a reminder not to take Singapore's security for granted: Minister
By Jermyn Chow, Defence Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2015

The recent terror attacks in Paris are a sobering reminder that Singapore's safety and security cannot be taken for granted, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung.

"(If) something like that can happen in Paris, it can happen here as well... It can happen in any urban city around the world. We must always be on high alert," said Mr Ong . The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility for the Nov 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

The moment the sirens went off, more than 500 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (2 SIR) sprang...
Posted by cyberpioneer on Thursday, November 26, 2015

Mr Ong said the Singapore Armed Forces is always on standby to stop such attacks from happening here. "If there is any terrorist threat or external incursion, any trouble, we stand ready to react."

But he added that the SAF can only do so much, and Singaporeans also have a role to play in defending themselves.

Mr Ong was speaking to reporters yesterday after he witnessed how soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment (2 SIR) were activated to test how they responded to a mock invasion. It is among several army ground units, like the armour and artillery units, that have been rostered and asked to stand by.

Mr Ong noted that Singapore has been stepping up its security vigilance since the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, with uniformed personnel deployed in key installations, and security agencies working together and conducting frequent anti-terror drills.