Tuesday, 28 June 2016

SAFTI plays key role in Singapore's security: PM Lee Hsien Loong

By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2016

The SAFTI Military Institute started out in a primary school, but has gone on to become a key institution of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and plays an important role in Singapore's security, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

PM Lee, who was himself trained in the institute, lauded it for producing past and present military leaders who have built and transformed the SAF.

Speaking at the commissioning parade of a new batch of officers, he recalled how then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had said, at the first commissioning parade in 1967, that the SAF can make up for its lack of numbers by "the standards of discipline, training, dedication and leadership".

PM Lee said: "This has become part of the SAF's ethos and spirit, and enabled the SAF to perform its duties to keep Singapore safe and secure."

SAFTI, which now has a sprawling camp in Jurong, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Around 70 of its pioneer batch of 117 officers were at yesterday's parade.

PM Lee thanked them for volunteering as cadets at a time of great uncertainty, when Singapore had just separated from Malaysia. "The first batch knew what was at stake, and... persevered through blood, sweat and tears, out of a love for... this country."

This has inspired generations of officers, who have together built up the SAF from just two infantry battalions to today's tri-service fighting force with the latest equipment, technology and tactics, he said.

To the 547 new officers, he added: "It is your duty to ensure that Singapore will always be secure, so that your families, and all Singaporeans, can always be confident of our future together."

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act: Sovereignty, jurisdiction and international law

Singapore's transboundary haze pollution law is consistent with international law principles, which do permit a country's laws to have extraterritorial jurisdiction in some instances.
By S. Jayakumar and Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

In 2014, Singapore enacted the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, which came into force on Sept 25, 2014. Essentially, the Act makes it an offence for any entity to engage in conduct, or to condone conduct, causing or contributing to haze pollution in Singapore. Apart from criminal liability, the Act also creates statutory duties and civil liabilities.

The Act is unusual but not unprecedented in targeting conduct that occurs outside Singapore, and which causes or contributes to haze pollution in Singapore.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, speaking in Parliament in August 2014, said the Act "is not intended to replace the laws and enforcement actions of other countries, but it is to complement the efforts of other countries to hold companies to account". He added that "we, in Singapore, cannot simply wait and wishfully hope that the problem will be resolved on its own. The Singapore Government would want to send a strong signal that we will not tolerate the actions of errant companies that harm our environment and put at risk the health of our citizens".


There were mixed reactions to this law in Indonesia. Some parties expressed support for Singapore's law. Others, including some Indonesian ministers, criticised the law on the grounds that it was a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty. A typical comment was: "As it happened in Indonesia, it is part of Indonesia's jurisdiction. If Singapore could easily try Indonesian citizens, it could be a violation of Indonesia's sovereignty."

The Singapore Government responded that the law was consistent with international law. It was drafted with the advice of international law experts and did not violate the sovereignty of any country.

The issue is whether it is permissible for a country to enact legislation that would have extraterritorial reach. The answer to this question turns on a proper understanding of the established principles of international law.

Brexit: UK votes to leave EU in historic referendum

David Cameron Resigns As UK Prime Minister After Brexit Vote

Turmoil as Britain votes to leave EU
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor (Global Affairs) In London, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain is faced with negotiating a tricky exit from the European Union and picking a new leader after the hotly contested referendum on remaining within the EU produced a stunning Leave verdict.

Prime Minister David Cameron, whose decision to call the vote is now regarded as a blunder, announced yesterday that he would quit office by October. He leaves a party and nation badly divided over issues of immigration, identity and the economy.

Asian markets were roiled after the results showed a 51.9 per cent vote for Leave against 48.1 per cent for Remain, defying predictions of pollsters and bookies. The result threatens to unravel the European project and even the United Kingdom, with every voting district in pro-Europe Scotland voting Remain and Northern Ireland also voting decisively to stay. Wales voted to Leave.

"This is Independence Day," said Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who, along with former London mayor Boris Johnson, spearheaded the Leave campaign. "See EU later!", crowed the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun tabloid, which had vigorously campaigned for Brexit.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit poll: a sobering lesson for Asia

Politics let loose can be a dangerous thing; this region needs to resist a tide of xenophobia and isolationism
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, Global Affairs, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

LONDON • A young British MP is brutally murdered in her constituency by a neo-Nazi type because she spoke up for immigrants and favoured her nation staying in the European Union. Days later, in Miri, Sarawak, a prominent opposition politician is gunned down in broad daylight as he waits in his car at a traffic intersection, a new edge added to Malaysia's troubled politics.

In the United States, the presumptive Republican Party frontrunner for the US presidential election is coarse of tongue, deeply divisive in his positions, stokes suspicions about Muslims and is on record saying he thought the United Kingdom should leave the EU because migration had been a "terrible thing" for the country.

In the UK, Mr Nigel Farage, head of the UK Independence Party that campaigned for Britain to exit the EU, publishes a poster captioned "Breaking Point". It has a picture of a wave of anxious refugees, many with beards. The picture was apparently taken last year in Slovenia, whose border is some 1,600km from London. But the message was unmistakeable and shocked many Britons. J.K. Rowling called it "Nazi propaganda".

It is "nonsensical to pretend that racists and bigots aren't flocking to the 'Leave' cause, or that they aren't, in some instances, directing it", the celebrated author of Harry Potter books wrote on her blog.

A referendum, like an election, is a celebration of the democratic process. Inevitably, some base instincts surface in these things as private ambitions of a Himalayan scale are pursued.

Even so, the fight witnessed over Brexit can only be said to have raised mirrors to the darkest sides of the human personality. The tribal instincts, nationalism, xenophobia, isolationism and yes, violence, that it unleashed will linger on and be examined closely around the world.

Singapore caught in the middle as China-ASEAN country coordinator

Still, it did creditably as 'the well wasn't poisoned and bridges weren't burnt' despite the Kunming meeting ending with disjointed public statements
By Teo Cheng Wee, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

BEIJING • An hour before a special ASEAN-China meeting was convened last week, officials from China and Singapore sat down for a discussion.

Against the backdrop of South China Sea tensions, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out that Singapore should play a role in addressing "historical issues" between China and some ASEAN countries.

"As the country coordinator for ASEAN-China dialogue relations, Singapore needs to act as a bridge between the two sides," he said.

Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan responded that Singapore hopes to help build up mutual trust between ASEAN and China. But he prefaced his remarks with: "Singapore is just a coordinator, not the leader."

That point was made to stress Singapore's impartiality, underscoring the tricky balance it has to strike even as most ASEAN countries press for a stronger stand against China.

Singapore faces several challenges as country coordinator, noted Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the governing board of the Centre for International Law at the National University of Singapore. These include the South China Sea disputes, disunity in the ASEAN family, intense competition for influence between the major powers, and the deficit of trust between China and some ASEAN member states, he told The Straits Times. Indeed, the idyllic scenery of the lakeside resort near Kunming could not hide the storm that brewed in its meeting rooms.

Singapore's middleman task has been made more onerous by an impending United Nations tribunal ruling over an arbitration case brought by the Philippines on China's claims in the South China Sea. The decision - widely expected to go against China - is likely to be announced in a few weeks' time.

Singapore 5th on global list for attracting female entrepreneurs

By Chia Yan Min In Palo Alto, California, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

Singapore has come in fifth on a list of cities ranked by ability to attract and support female entrepreneurs.

The Republic is ahead of cities such as Hong Kong, Paris, Washington and Shanghai, according to a new study by US technology giant Dell and market research firm IHS.

New York topped the ranking, followed by the Bay Area, which includes parts of San Francisco and San Jose. London was ranked third and Stockholm, fourth.

The findings were unveiled at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is being held over three days ending today on the Stanford University campus in California.

More than 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from around the world are taking part in the summit, including at least seven representatives from Singapore.

The Dell and IHS study assessed five key characteristics - capital, technology, talent, culture and markets - in 25 global cities.

Cities, instead of countries, were identified in order to show the impact of local policies and programmes as well as national laws and customs.

In addition to the overall ranking, Singapore came in third - after Stockholm and Beijing - on the technology front. The Republic also came in fifth for having a culture that is friendly towards entrepreneurship and women-owned firms.

MRT Free Pre-Peak Travel to be extended till 30 June 2017

Free MRT rides for early birds extended for one more year
Getting more people to hop onto scheme depends on companies making early start a culture, say experts
By Jalelah Abu Baker, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2016

Free train rides into the city area before 7.45am will continue until June next year. But getting people to travel outside of the morning peak period still depends on companies encouraging them to do so, said transport and recruitment experts.

The free train ride scheme, which has been extended three times since it began in 2013, has cost the Land Transport Authority (LTA) more than $28 million up until March this year.

LTA said 7 per cent of commuters had made a consistent switch away from travelling during the peak time of 8am to 9am.

Announcing the extension yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said more than 65,000 commuters benefit from the free travel scheme every day.

Asked if it would be made permanent, she said: "We really have to see how people respond to the idea of travelling off-peak.

"A lot of it has to do with whether their job requirements and family commitments allow them to do so."

Feedback on what works and what needs to be improved has to be gathered, she added.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Public car park rates to rise in first revision after 14 years

By Wong Pei Ting, TODAY, 23 Jun 2016

The parking rates at all public car parks are set to be raised following an ongoing government review of both short-term and season parking schemes.

The price revision will be the first in 14 years.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) told TODAY that the aim of the review is to “reduce the gap between the fees charged by private and public car parks” and appropriately price “public car park charges”.

“Since (2002), the costs of managing and operating car parks have increased substantially,” the URA spokesperson added. “This is reflected in the current fees charged by most private car parks, which are substantially higher than public car parks.”

The Housing Development Board (HDB), which manages most of the public car park spaces (about 607,000 lots), is also studying parking schemes as part of its regular policy review.

“While car park charges have not changed since 2002, the provisions within old and new HDB car parks have evolved and improved over the years, to bring convenience to residents,” said a spokesperson for HDB.

She cites improvements like better-designed car parks with landscaped decks, the implementation of the Electronic Parking System and the addition of lifts at multi-storey car parks where feasible.

In addition to the revision of car park charges, the HDB is looking to put in place differentiated parking charges for non-residents who use HDB car parks, and those who require multiple parking lots because they own more than one car. This is so that the parking demand can be better managed, with priority accorded to the parking needs of residents’ primary car, the spokesperson said.

The review came two months after National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament that his Ministry may have to look at raising car park charges if Singapore wants to move in the direction of a car-lite society.

The amount of increase will be announced when the review concludes, the URA spokesperson said.

Negative inflation: Below the surface of falling prices in Singapore

The risk to sustainable growth is not deflation but a debt spiral
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

April marked Singapore's 18th straight month of negative inflation, and economists reckon that this streak would have entered its 19th month once the May data is released on Thursday.

Never before has Singapore's consumer price index (CPI) been in contraction for so long. The last time prices fell for so long was back in late 1975, when the CPI went into 16 straight months of contraction in the wake of a world recession.

On the surface, this current prolonged bout of falling prices seems alarming. Previous episodes coincided with recessions in 1998, 2001 and 2008, when weak demand dragged prices lower. Often, a prolonged fall in prices is also a sign of deflation - a problem with dire consequences that are hard to reverse. In what is called a "deflationary spiral", consumers, anticipating that things can only get cheaper, save rather than spend. Firms' profits fall, wages stagnate, and so does growth.

Japan, which has had deflation for 15 years, is still struggling to stoke spending. Having exhausted better options, the Bank of Japan decided in January to set a -0.1 per cent interest rate on some deposits that banks keep at the central bank, to spur bank lending. Meanwhile, the annual interest rate on a regular savings account is just 0.001 per cent.

Is Singapore at risk of a similar plight?

MOH suspends two dental clinics from CHAS scheme for fraud probe

2 dental clinics under police probe for fraud
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2016

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will suspend two dental clinics from offering subsidised care to middle- and lower-income Singaporeans and the Pioneer Generation because of possible dental fraud.

The two are Phoenix Dental Surgery clinics in Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade. The suspension begins on July 8 for an indefinite period.

A statement from the MOH yesterday said it had referred the matter to the police for investigation into possible criminal offences.

The Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) subsidises pioneers and citizens, whose per capita monthly household income is $1,800 or less, for treatments at private medical and dental clinics.

The doctor or dentist makes a claim for the subsidy on behalf of the patient, and the amount is deducted from the patient's bill.

For dental treatment, subsidies, which are paid by the Government, range from $11 to $266.50.

The MOH said the two clinics had continuously made claims that breached MOH rules and guidelines.

This included making claims for procedures that were not carried out. The ministry said it took a serious view of such errant practices.

Although the clinics will not be able to offer patients the subsidy, they may continue operating.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

All national servicemen to get free insurance

MINDEF, MHA will pay for coverage during full-time national service, reservist duties
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

Both full-time and operationally ready national servicemen will have free life and personal insurance coverage provided by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

The scheme applies to servicemen in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and will take effect on July 1.

Premiums for the $150,000 group term life and $150,000 group personal accident insurance coverage from Aviva will be paid for by MINDEF and the MHA during the servicemen's full-time national service or reservist duties.

The insurance will also cover pre-existing medical conditions.

The scheme was one of the recommendations by the Committee to Strengthen National Service to better recognise the contributions of national servicemen.

"The provision of this group term life and group personal accident insurance, which is on top of our current welfare and compensation frameworks, is our way to thank (our national servicemen) for their contributions to national defence," said MINDEF's National Service Affairs director, Colonel (NS) Simon Lim.

Currently, SAF servicemen have the choice of opting into an insurance plan when they enlist, while those in the SPF and SCDF are automatically enrolled in schemes with premiums paid from their monthly allowance. Those in the SAF who are injured in the course of training can also seek compensation for medical expenses.

The new insurance coverage will be extended to regulars in MINDEF/SAF and the Home Team (Uniformed Officer) during their period of employment.

National Service volunteers, as well as volunteers from the SAF Volunteer Corps, SPF Voluntary Special Constabulary and Civil Defence Auxiliary Unit will also be covered during their official duties.

Dental clinic for the elderly and special needs opens in Outram

By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2016

A dental clinic set up for seniors and people with special needs was officially opened at the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) yesterday.

The Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic, located at the Singapore General Hospital's Outram campus, sees patients with complex oral health conditions and who typically also have behavioural issues.

For instance, patients with Parkinson's disease may have trouble brushing their teeth, while many of those with autism get easily agitated by dental care.

The new clinic, which started operations last September, is the first of its kind in Singapore. It has seen more than 4,000 patient visits to date. Patients are generally referred from polyclinics or hospitals.

The clinic is designed to make dentist visits as fuss-free as possible for its special clientele.

"For example, for the less mobile and frail patients who have difficulty being transferred to a dental chair, the wheelchair tilting system allows the dental team to treat the patients in their wheelchairs," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who spoke at the opening.

Every room is equipped with a dental X-ray machine so that patients do not need to travel to another part of the building.

In addition, general dental radiography and surgical procedures that require only local anaesthesia can be done within the clinic.