Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Workers' Party town council managing agent FMSS has been "grossly profiteering" off AHPETC: MND

AHPETC faced losses while agent's profits jumped 300%: MND
Such levels of profit margin are abnormal, says MND, which also says there was "gross profiteering" on the part of FMSS from its only client
By Walter Sim, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

The Ministry of National Development (MND) yesterday produced figures which show that in one year, the managing agent for the Workers' Party (WP) town council made a 300 per cent jump in profit after tax.

Its profit was around $510,000 in financial year 2012/13, and rose to over $2 million the following year.

But in this same period, the revenue of FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) rose by only 30 per cent, from $6.7 million to $8.8 million.

The ministry also noted that total payments by the town council to FMSS owners, who were at the time also senior officers of the town council, amounted to 22 per cent of the revenue in financial year 2012/2013 - and 36 per cent a year later.

Such levels of profit margin are "abnormal", said MND, which also said there was "gross profiteering" on the part of FMSS from its only client: the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC).

"Had the town council not overpaid FMSS, it might well have had been able to break even."

FMSS, which was appointed by AHPETC from July 2011 until last month, is owned by long-time WP supporters Danny Loh and his wife How Weng Fan. Both were senior officers at the town council.

Two hours after MND issued its statement, Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters at a community event that AHPETC has stayed silent on related party transactions involving FMSS.

To prove his point, he pointed to statements by WP MPs that show their stance on the matter, including remarks by Mr Pritam Singh during a parliamentary debate in February on the findings of a special audit by the Auditor-General's Office. It detailed major lapses in accounting and governance at AHPETC.

Several other People's Action Party (PAP) leaders have also weighed in on the issue of AHPETC's financial mismanagement, which is shaping up to be a hot-button issue at the Sept 11 General Election.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is PAP secretary-general, said at the launch of the party's manifesto yesterday morning that if an opposition party runs a town council like AHPETC, "I don't know where your service and conservancy charges (S&CC) money is going to go. Surpluses will turn into deficits. You will have problems for many years to come".

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, PAP's second assistant secretary-general, also underlined the gravity of the town council lapses last Friday, when he unveiled the PAP's slate for Aljunied GRC.

MND's statement came two days after the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) submitted its findings of an ad hoc review into FMSS' auditor, Teo Liang Chye & Co, to look into the quality of the managing agent's accounts and audit process.

The ministry had written to ACRA on July 9, shortly after getting AHPETC's financial statements and reports for FY2013/2014. It asked ACRA if it had any concerns about the quality of FMSS' accounts and the audit process. It did so after noting that AHPETC's auditors for FY2013/2014 found that AHPETC's then deputy general manager Yeo Soon Fei, who owns shares in FMSS, had certified FMSS invoices totalling $2.1 million on behalf of the town council. He subsequently approved related payment vouchers by the town council to FMSS, with no segregation of duties.

"This reinforced MND's concerns about the town council's state of financial management and, in particular, whether payments made by the town council were valid and proper," the ministry said.

ACRA started its review on Aug 14, after giving FMSS' auditor the required one month's notice, and submitted its report to MND on Aug 27.

MND then wrote to WP chairman Sylvia Lim to ask, among other things, if she was aware of the extent of profiteering in FMSS and, if so, when she had known and what she had done about it. It also asked how she intends to recover the monies lost due to overpayment.

"As FMSS was paid using S&CC collections from residents and operating grants from the MND, public monies are at stake," MND said.

"What happened between the town council and FMSS is not a private matter, but one which MND needs to look into."

The former managing agent of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has sent a letter of demand, saying the...
Posted by The New Paper on Sunday, August 30, 2015

Monday, 31 August 2015

GE2015: PAP launches manifesto, With You, For You, For Singapore

Vote for party you want to form govt: PM
Election not about 'sending a message' to ruling party, he says, but picking leaders
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has asked voters to back the People's Action Party (PAP) if they wanted it to form the government and not "live dangerously" by giving their vote to the opposition even while hoping that the PAP would be returned to power.

Launching the ruling party's campaign manifesto and slogan yesterday, he refuted the opposition line urging voters to cast dissenting votes to send a message to the Government to work harder.

Cautioning that the Sept 11 polls were not a by-election but a general election, in which every seat would be contested and the party forming the government was not guaranteed, he said in Mandarin: "If you support the PAP, vote PAP. If you support opposition, vote opposition.

"But if you think that by voting for the opposition, you can get the PAP to work harder - when you regret it, it might be too late."

Speaking in English later, he said: "Be very careful not to live dangerously (by) wanting one party but voting for a different one. Please take this GE very, very seriously."

Mr Lee also quoted Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say's response when asked last week about the thinking that a vote for the opposition would "send a message" to the PAP.

Mr Lim's East Coast GRC team saw a 9 percentage point drop in vote share in 2011 and garnered just 54.8 per cent of the vote to beat a Workers' Party team.

He said last week: "We do not need another drop of 5 percentage points for us to continue to improve. In fact, if there's another drop of 9 percentage points, we won't be their MP any more."

Mr Lee yesterday emphasised the possibility that "I won't be here to receive the message", if enough voters used their ballots that way.

He said opposition parties used such psychological tactics knowing that they would not win votes if they said they wanted to form the government, given their lack of credibility.

Mr Lee spoke plainly when he referred to lapses in governance and compliance found at the Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and reminded voters that the opposition candidates they voted in would be responsible for running their town council.

"And when they run it like AHPETC, then I don't know where your S&CC money is going to go," he said, referring to the service and conservancy charges which residents pay to the town council. "Surpluses will turn into deficits. You will have problems for many years to come.

"The opposition asked to be given a chance to prove themselves. But the one place where they are given the responsibility and the chance to prove themselves, they have failed the voters.

"And do you really want to give them more responsibility, and trust them with more of your hard-earned money?

"If you vote for the opposition and they win many constituencies combined, enough to run the government, then I think Singapore is sunk."

GE2015: PAP not taking vote of Pioneer Generation for granted

Slew of goodies for the over-65s comes amid shifting political landscape, Insight finds
By Aaron Low, Deputy News Editor and Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

It was more than 50 years ago, but Mr Sayuti Dahlan - then in his 30s - still clearly remembers standing in the jostling crowd, his whole body drenched in sweat.

He was listening to a young man with fierce eyes telling them why the people of Singapore should stand up to the mighty British.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew would stand on an open-top lorry, shout to all of us and say in Malay: The British think we are stupid. But we will have freedom and I will show you how," says Mr Sayuti, 82.

Cycling from Pasir Panjang to Tanjong Pagar, Mr Sayuti would make it a point to listen to the late former prime minister, whenever he gave speeches.

"The speeches were always powerful; we believed him and we followed. After Singapore was formed, I voted for him. No problem," says the Tanglin Halt resident.

Mr Sayuti belongs to a group of voters who went through the uncertain pre-independence period, weathered the economic shocks of 1984 and 1997, and retired in a global city completely transformed.

These voters aged 65 and up have traditionally given their support to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and are seen as its bastion. But they are also a bloc of voters that the PAP is not taking for granted, judging from the raft of policies that have been targeted at them.

The most substantial of the lot was the $8 billion Pioneer Generation package rolled out last year. The huge package, paid for upfront by surpluses generated by the Government, greatly subsidises healthcare for seniors and will benefit 450,000 people.

All Singaporeans above the age of 65 as at last year are eligible for the subsidies, regardless of income.

Last week, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong introduced a $3 billion package to help seniors age well.

The new Action Plan for Successful Ageing will open senior centres for social activities as well as daycare in at least 10 upcoming HDB projects, among others.

The Government also implemented a state-funded income supplement for low-income seniors.

Current and future low-income senior citizens will receive these payouts under the Silver Support Scheme, a permanent initiative which aims to help the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above. They will receive between $300 and $750 every three months in payouts.

Mood swings can lead to vote swings

Research says a negative mood has a stronger impact on elections than positive sentiment
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-large, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

Here is a numbers quiz: 70, 74, 78, 65, 63, 61, 65, 75, 67, 60. (Hint: It is not about maths.)

If you have been following the political news closely, it is not hard to guess that the figures represent the People's Action Party's (PAP's) percentage share of the valid votes in past elections.

With campaigning for the Sept 11 General Election set to intensify in the coming week, this numbers game will be making the rounds. How many seats will the PAP and opposition parties get, how much share of the popular vote, and what sort of swing will we see, if any?

While the general election is serious business about issues concerning Singapore's leadership, the future of multiparty politics, and even about the next 50 years, the reality is that when the ballots are finally counted, all eyes will be on these numbers.

And indeed when you look closely at the 10 numbers listed, they tell quite a story.

Here is one observation: There were four large swings in those 10 general elections.

In 1984, the ruling party suffered a 13-percentage-point swing against it, down from 78 per cent to 65 per cent.

That was the year it failed to regain Anson, which the Workers' Party (WP) represented by Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam had won in a by-election in 1981, and it lost Potong Pasir to the resolute Mr Chiam See Tong.

Its share of the votes then continued to fall in the next two general elections.

But it bounced sky high to 75 per cent in 2001, a huge swing of 10 percentage points.

This was followed by two other large swings, but this time downwards, of 8 and 7 percentage points in 2006 and 2011.

Here are the numbers again with those swings in brackets: 70, 74, 78, 65 (-13), 63, 61, 65, 75 (+10), 67 (-8), 60 (-7).

What can we draw from this?

To what end, all the President's Scholars?

By Lee Wei Ling, Published The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

When the A-level results of my cohort were announced in 1973, I was named the top science student. I did not expect it and was pleased and surprised. I remembered feeling that I had performed extremely inadequately after completing every paper.

My results also earned me a President's Scholarship. I don't know where the scroll is now, nor does it matter. I wonder as well now whether the scholarship had a positive effect on my life's journey subsequently. That may astonish some, given the acute prestige associated with being a President's Scholar. Yet, the same prestige exerts extra pressure on the recipient to perform. Winning the scholarship attracts jealousy as well, and I have experienced both.

I was among 11 students in the class of 1972 who received the scholarship. Since then, I am aware of the progress of six. Three - Teo Chee Hean, George Yeo and Lim Hng Kiang - were also Singapore Armed Forces scholars. As many Singaporeans know, the trio became household names after they entered politics and rose to become senior Cabinet ministers. A fourth boy, Chan Seng Onn, is currently a Supreme Court justice.

As for the female recipients I know, Lee Bee Wah and Yap Hui Kim, like me, joined the medical faculty of the University of Singapore (now the National University of Singapore). After obtaining our basic degree, all three of us specialised in paediatrics. 

Bee Wah and Hui Kim were inseparable best friends who had studied in Methodist Girls' School and National Junior College. By contrast, I was dubbed a "Martian" - a term medical students in the 1970s coined to describe students who went it alone. While I knew my classmates, I did not forge deep friendships until after medical school.

I don't know how others felt about me when I graduated top of my class with MBBS Honours. But I certainly knew that news of the only examination I have ever failed, a requisite part of the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) which led to a post-graduate diploma, spread swiftly here as soon as the results were announced in Edinburgh where I had sat the test. People were glad that I failed and subsequently decided I was likeable after all.

In my contacts with other President's Scholars over the years, I discovered that some did as well as they expected while others did not. One observation that dawned on me was that several of these scholars as well as their circle of family, friends and community expected comparable achievements to continue by default. If a scholar did not do well, or as well as perceived, a sense of betrayal over what was deemed an entitlement to success crept in.

'Expect more to be self-radicalised', warns DPM Teo

Anyone susceptible to ISIS rhetoric and more will be drawn to violence, warns DPM Teo
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 30 Aug 2015

The persistent conflict in Syria and Iraq will draw more individuals to violence and more self-radicalised cases can be expected in Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean warned yesterday.

He was speaking at an appreciation lunch for volunteers from the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG) and Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) who have provided religious and social rehabilitation to radicalised individuals detained for terrorism-related activities.

Terima kasih kepada para relawan Kumpulan Jagaan Lanjut Antara Agensi (ACG) dan Kumpulan Pemulihan Keagamaan (RRG). ...
Posted by Teo Chee Hean on Saturday, August 29, 2015

Such individuals or "lone wolves" pose a growing threat in many countries, including Singapore, he said.

In the last few months, the Internal Security Department has detained two people and issued a restriction order against another.

A 51-year-old Singaporean who was on his way to Syria to join militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was detained last month. In April, a 19-year-old student was detained for making plans to join ISIS in Syria, and in June, a 17-year-old was placed under a restriction order for the same reason.

Mr Teo said this shows that anyone is susceptible to the appeal of online extremist rhetoric by ISIS.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

GE2015: PAP unveils Aljunied GRC team

PAP team has a fighting chance, says Tharman
Candidates can stand up to WP with 'mindset of being underdogs'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

The People's Action Party's Aljunied GRC team has a fighting chance of winning the constituency back from the Workers' Party, second assistant secretary-general Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday as he unveiled its candidates.

The team comprises four-term veteran MP Yeo Guat Kwang who moves in from Ang Mo Kio GRC, insurance firm manager Victor Lye, lawyer K. Muralidharan Pillai, private banker Chua Eng Leong and former teacher Shamsul Kamar.

"I think this team has a fighting chance. They go in with the mindset of being underdogs because they've got incumbents at present. They go in with a mindset of being humble at everything they do," said Mr Tharman, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

Former PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng also suggested why the PAP reckons the team can stand up to the WP's "A" team of incumbents that includes WP chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim.

Mr Lim recounted how residents in the GRC were hostile to PAP activists in 2011, after the WP won Aljunied at the polls with 54.7 per cent of the vote.

But things have not been going well in the GRC, he said at a press conference at the PAP's Serangoon branch, citing issues from town council finances to estate maintenance.

Residents have noticed and have become friendlier and more welcoming towards the PAP, he added.

"People told us that they were disappointed with the performance of their (WP) MPs in Parliament. They didn't make any major contributions to the creation of national policies in Government," said Mr Lim.

The PAP candidates zoomed in especially on the WP's management of town council finances as being an issue that is of concern to residents. Asked if such lapses have gained traction with residents, Mr Lye said that going by feedback from residents and non-residents that he met on walkabouts, they had.

"There is obviously a sense on the ground, not only in Aljunied but throughout Singapore, that something isn't quite right," he said.

Although it is difficult for most people to understand the nitty-gritty details of the town council accounts, those who are able to do so "came away with a very different sense that there is indeed something wrong", he added.

Mr Tharman also underlined the gravity of the town council lapses.

"I think you know me. You know my personality, you know my views. You know that I've never been against the idea of an opposition in Singapore. People know," he said.

"So when I speak about an issue, it is because I'm really worried. It is not because I'm trying to put an opposition down or the WP down.

"The town council issue is, for us, not a political game. I want to make sure we have responsible and honest politics in Singapore."

This applied to the PAP and the opposition alike, he added.

"When the Government does wrong, expose us, criticise us. We must get it right and we expect the same of everyone else," he said.

On a similar note, Mr Lye urged voters to apply the same standards when weighing candidates from the PAP against those from the WP.

Voters should look at the WP's performance since the 2011 polls and "go by their performance as you would go by our performance", he said.

"Be objective, recognise the sacrifices and the willingness of our candidates to serve you and do better for you. Don't be taken in by other people's ambitions. You have done it for 41/2 years. It's time to bring us home to Aljunied."

He added: "I only ask that you measure all of us by the same yardstick that you measure others. It's only fair."

Targeted GST Voucher criteria benefit Singaporeans

Mr Stewart Christopher Bernard ("Exclude home value from GST Voucher criteria"; Wednesday) asked whether overseas Singaporeans are eligible for the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Voucher and also suggested removing the Annual Value (AV) component as a criterion to determine eligibility for the scheme.

The GST Voucher scheme is aimed at benefiting less well-off Singaporeans who incur GST on their living expenses in Singapore. To identify those permanently residing overseas, we have used the place of residence registered with the Government.

If we discover that an individual appears to be living overseas permanently but continues to have his registered place of residence in Singapore, we conduct further inquiries to reassess his eligibility for the GST Voucher.

The use of both income and the AV of one's residence as criteria for a person's eligibility for the GST Voucher is not perfect, and does not capture every individual's situation accurately.

But it provides us with a fair and practical basis to administer a large national scheme, reaching 1.6 million beneficiaries.

Among Singaporeans with the same income, those who live in private homes are generally better off than those who live in HDB homes. Likewise, those with no income (such as retirees and housewives) living in higher-end homes are generally better off than the same group living in lower-value homes.

The current AV threshold of $21,000 covers 80 per cent of homes in Singapore, including all HDB flats and some private properties. Nonetheless, we recognise that not all Singaporeans living in homes in the top 20 per cent of the AV range are well-off, and some may experience instances of financial hardship.

The best way to help them is not by changing the rules across the board.

We can instead use more flexible forms of support, such as ComCare, which allows for a more detailed assessment of a person's situation.

Low-income families may approach their nearest Social Service Office for an assessment of their needs.

We thank Mr Bernard for his feedback and will continue to review the criteria for the GST Voucher scheme regularly.

Lim Yuin Chien
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Finance
ST Forum, 29 Aug 2015

Jobs and skill mismatch

Are non-graduate jobs 'upgrading' to give the graduates who do them more autonomy?
By Craig Holmes, Charoula Tzanakou, Daria Luchinskaya and KenMayhew, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

In an ideal world, everyone investing in their skills through education and training would enter the labour market and find a job which took full advantage of those skills. Concerns that this has not been the case for successive cohorts of university graduates are longstanding, particularly in Britain following the rapid expansion of the higher education sector in the early 1990s. However, there is wide disagreement about the extent of the problem, or how much it has changed over the past decades.

It is commonplace to hear people refer, often interchangeably, to "over-education", "under- employment", "over-qualification", "over-skilling" and "under- utilisation". But ultimately these terms apply to two aspects of graduate work: Whether a person needs to possess a degree to get a job, and whether they need the skills learnt through studying for a degree to actually do the job.

Given the increase in the number of graduate applicants for jobs, it should not be surprising to find that more and more jobs require a degree to get through the recruitment process. As the Higher Education Funding Council for England has pointed out, 65 per cent of recent graduates report that having a degree was either a formal requirement or an advantage in securing jobs once out of university.

The more substantial issue is whether the job, once secured, requires skills learnt at university, or if the degree was simply a way for employers to screen candidates. All too frequently, the two points are conflated.

Singapore 'most at risk of facing high water stress'

It tops list of 167 nations likely to face shortage in 2040: World Resources Institute
The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

WASHINGTON • The world's demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades against the backdrop of climate change and a rapidly growing population.

Thirty-three countries, including Singapore, have been singled out as those likely to face extremely high water stress in 2040 in a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a think-tank in Washington.

Singapore was ranked first among the countries at the highest risk of high water stress in 2040, alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Territories, according to the report, which evaluated 167 nations.

The ranking was based on an index measuring competition for and depletion of surface water, such as lakes and rivers, each decade from 2020 to 2040. Singapore was ranked as one of the highest risk countries in each decade.

"The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources," said Ms Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, citing Singapore as an example of a state that uses innovative methods to manage water resources.

Singapore relies heavily on imports from neighbouring Malaysia, but has well-founded plans for enhancing future supply and self-sufficiency. Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas and the recently built US$226 million (S$317 million) Marina Barrage is among the highlights of the nation's water management plan.

In the WRI rankings, the Middle East was identified as the least water-secure region in the world, with limited surface water and high demand. It draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces "exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future", the WRI report said.

One measure likely to become more common in the Middle East and elsewhere is water reuse systems that recycle waste water.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away," Ms Otto said.

Singapore has a system in place for water recycling as part of its Newater programme.

Let's talk about living and dying well, today

People should talk to loved ones in advance about how they want to die. Such conversations are always too early - until one day when they might be too late.
By Raymond Ng, Published The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2015

Death and dying engender complex emotions in people. To some, death is a remote event far removed from life's daily pursuits or a taboo subject to be avoided, yet, to others, there is peaceful acceptance of death as a final chapter of the natural cycle of life.

As a palliative care physician treating patients with advanced illness, I have witnessed an entire gamut of emotions and reactions to death and dying.

However, my first personal experience with death was not with my patients.

It was when my mother died when I was 18 years old. She had advanced ovarian cancer and battled the disease for five years through multiple operations and cycles of chemotherapy.

Those years were like a blur as we tried to have a normal family life, and I coped by burying myself in my studies. Though she grew cachectic and weak and was literally wasting away nearing the end, death was a taboo subject which never surfaced in our conversations. It just hit one day when I received a phone call during my basic military training at the army camp. It was only then that I knew she had died and was gone forever. My mother died without the family's presence and with a certain degree of pain in the final stage. My only goodbye was a tender kiss on her cheek as she lay lifeless on her bed.

Perhaps my parents wanted to shield us from the spectre of dying, or perhaps her doctor didnot adequately prepare us. Death and dying were issues that we did not talk about. It was not just about death and dying, there were many things I would have liked to say to or ask her, if only I knew.

After my mother's death, I entered medical school and found my way into palliative care some years after graduation. My experience with my mother was one of the reasons why I chose this speciality. Many have asked if it is a depressing practice. Personally, it has been a rewarding experience of professional and personal growth. I have been privileged to journey with many patients in their final act of life and to be let into their life stories and deepest thoughts.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Our Retirement Journey - Let’s Think About It

Let’s Think About It: Our Retirement Journey
27 Aug 2015

Should there by a retirement age or a range of retirement ages? Is a comfortable retirement possible?

What's the rule of thumb for retirement saving? Watch “Let’s Think About It” Gurmit Singh, Gerard Ee, Henry Tay and Stephanie Phua will share views and stories with Minister Chan Chun Sing on their retirement plans and journey.

K. Shanmugam's dialogue at the Singapore Press Club

Singapore cannot exist in a cocoon
Republic is affected by what happens in neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, says Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Singapore enjoys good relations with Malaysia and Indonesia, but Singaporeans need to be more aware of trends and developments in these countries, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

His remarks came four days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans should pay attention to the world around them.

In a speech to media professionals, Mr Shanmugam said the Malaysian economy is not doing too well, even as Malaysia is grappling with rising racial, religious and political polarisation, as well as a weakening economy. These trends may have serious implications for Singapore's own economy and social cohesion, he said.

"Anyone who thinks that 700 square kilometres can exist by itself in a cocoon, unaffected by international or regional economic or sociopolitical issues, clearly doesn't understand how Singapore functions," he said in a speech titled Small State Diplomacy: Challenges And Opportunities For Singapore.

Any economic problem in Malaysia will be a serious issue for Singapore as the two countries are closely linked, he said at a two-hour session organised by the Singapore Press Club and held at the Singapore Press Holdings' auditorium.

While Singaporeans may see the current weak ringgit as a good thing, Mr Shanmugam disagrees. "When your neighbour's economy is in such a state, and your neighbour is your second-largest trading partner, it doesn't benefit us," he said.

He argued that Malaysia's challenge in the medium to long term is to move away from relying on its extractive industries and lift its economy to the next level.

But it needs an educated population to do it, he said, a requirement that highlights another long-term problem: Malaysia's schools are not racially integrated.

Chinese children attend Chinese-medium schools, while Malay children go to mainstream schools "which are becoming more and more Malay and Islamic". "From a very early age, the Malay and Chinese population are apart. How will they integrate later?"

This underlies Malaysia's second problem of rising racial polarisation, seen in how its race-based political parties are increasingly under strain, Mr Shanmugam said.

He highlighted the widening political divide among races, with the opposition Democratic Action Party dominated by ethnic Chinese, while Umno grows more powerful in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

He noted that high-level Umno leaders, but not the leadership, are openly pushing for a fully-Malay government, arguing that as Malays form 65 per cent of the population, there is no need for the Malaysian Indian Congress and Malaysian Chinese Association as in the current coalition government. Also, talk of Umno combining with Parti Islam SeMalaysia has become mainstream as well.

Closely tied to the increasing salience of race is Malaysia's rising Islamisation, Mr Shanmugam said. Broad sections of the Malay population support the adoption of Islamic laws and assess their political leaders in terms of how Muslim they are.

"An honest politician, an upright politician, will find it very difficult to talk about a united Malaysia that is more integrated. The political dynamics are such that he will have to play to the Malay ground," he said.

The Islamisation "has gone past the tipping point now", he added.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is under pressure from his political opponents, said Mr Shanmugam. This weekend's Bersih rally is shaping up into a confrontation between the authorities and the organisers who insist on defying orders.

The upshot is that Singapore will be affected by these trends, Mr Shanmugam said.

How not to dismantle a meritocratic system

Learn from Britain, and avoid the mistakes it made when it overhauled a merit-based system and ended up with a system criticised for dumbing down examinations.
By Calvin Cheng, Published The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

The recent debate on elitism and meritocracy in our education system struck a chord. As children of the 1970s, my friends and I grew up in a generation when social mobility was highest. We went through an education system which allowed the children of lower-income parents to climb the socio-economic ladder if they did well in school, and make a better life for themselves than their parents and grandparents.

The thought that this meritocratic pillar of Singapore society is under threat, and that there are people calling for it to be dismantled, frightens me to the core. The speech by Mr Chan Poh Meng, the principal of Raffles Institution (RI), a school that traditionally takes in the highest academic performers, warning that RI is becoming more elitist, has focused attention on when meritocracy ends up breeding elitism.

Here, the experience of Britain can be instructive. Singapore's education system, with its O and A levels, is after all based on the British system.

In 1958, British sociologist Michael Young published a satire on society that described a future where a new elite, the "meritocracy", rose to rule over an underclass. This new ruling class, unlike the old aristocrats of Britain, legitimised their power not through bloodlines but on merit and on achievement, and, in particular, academic achievement.

At the heart of the satire was the criticism of the then British tripartite education system, which is what the current Singapore education system is based on. The idea was that students, regardless of background, should have access to an education. They would be empowered by placing them in schools with different curricula that suited their needs.

War veterans commemorate 70th anniversary of the end of World War II

Unforgettable images of World War II
Survivors and veterans share memories at ceremony to commemorate 70th anniversary of the end of the war
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Major (Retired) Ishwar Lall Singh still remembers the shrill whistle of Japanese bombs falling through the sky and the sound of artillery fire thundering past.

The sight of dead bodies, crawling with maggots on the streets of Singapore, is another unforgettable World War II image.

Commemorating 70 Years Since the End Of World War II
While we celebrate a proud half century of independence this Singapore50, we also remember a very poignant landmark in our history some 20 years before our independence- when the Second World War officially ended in Singapore. The resilience and courage that our veterans displayed during World War II was recognised at the ceremony to commemorate the end of World War II yesterday. Many of those who experienced the war are no longer with us, but their tenacity lives on in the fighting spirit that their succeeding generations have exemplified in the decades since. From our Founding Fathers who overcame the early challenges of independence, to our Team Singapore athletes who recently overcame all limitations to excel above all expectations at SEA GAMES 2015, the greatest tribute we can pay to our forebears who lived through World War II is to live our lives in keeping with the values they stood so valiantly for. #70thAnniversaryWWII #LestWeForget
Posted by Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth - MCCY on Friday, August 28, 2015

The 86-year-old recounted his experiences at an event yesterday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

"I saw many dead people. With very few able to lend a helping hand, many died due to lack of proper care, food and medicine. There was no one around to clear their bodies," said Maj (Ret) Singh.

"Scabies, malaria and dysentery were common ailments that afflicted the whole population."

The ceremony, which was attended by war survivors, veterans and Inter-Religious Organisation representatives, included a segment in which Cultural Medallion recipient Professor Edwin Thumboo read a poem he wrote about growing up during the war.

A minute's silence was observed as well.

The National Heritage Board event was held in the City Hall Chamber at the National Gallery Singapore - the former Municipal Building.

It was where British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in South-East Asia, accepted the surrender of the Japanese forces in the region on Sept 12, 1945.

No link between GBS infection and eating sashimi, says MOH

It responds to claims of a bacterial outbreak from consuming contaminated raw fish
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has not found any links between the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection and the consumption of Japanese raw meat or fish dish sashimi.

In a Facebook post, it responded to messages circulating by SMS and WhatsApp from an unknown source that claimed a person had died recently from a bacterial infection after eating sashimi over the National Day weekend, and that a professor had been critically ill after consuming salmon sashimi two months ago.

The MOH said its investigation found only an association between the GBS infection and the consumption of "yusheng-style" raw fish sold at food stalls.

It had previously found traces of GBS in some raw fish samples, although it said more cases would have to be studied before a definite conclusion can be made.

In its post on Wednesday, the MOH highlighted that there has been a "significant downtrend" in the number of GBS cases since the middle of last month, when licensed foodshop and food stall holders were advised to stop selling raw fish dishes using Song fish, also known as Asian Bighead Carp, and Toman fish, also known as Snakehead fish.

A weekly average of three cases has been reported in the past three weeks, down from an average of 20 at the start of the year.

The WhatsApp messages warning of a bacterial outbreak from eating contaminated raw fish began circulating last month.

GBS is a common bacterium found in the gut and urinary tract of 15 to 30 per cent of adults, but it does not cause disease in healthy individuals. However, it may occasionally cause infections of the bloodstream, skin and soft tissue, joints, lungs and brain.

Those with chronic or multiple conditions are at higher risk of getting GBS infections.

MOH advised vulnerable groups, especially young children, pregnant women, elderly persons, or people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, to continue to exercise caution by avoiding raw ready-to-eat food.

More firms join Golden Work Series for seniors

It offers workshops to train them in job skills; 10 new partners bring jobs on offer to 200
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

Seniors in the heartland are to get more internships and part-time work opportunities offered through an active ageing programme.

The People's Association (PA) announced yesterday that 10 new companies will join the seven existing ones under its Senior Academy Golden Work Series.

The jobs offered by the new partners - which include POSB bank, Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya and Pet Lovers Centre - will add 100 vacancies to the programme, doubling the total to 200.

Launched in April, the Golden Work Series offers job skills-related workshops to seniors, who can then go on to try for internships, and part-time or light work opportunities at companies. They can earn between $5 and $8 an hour from this work. To date, 560 people have signed up for courses and 20 per cent of the available job opportunities have been taken up.

The PA is also expanding the programme from 10 to 15 community centres (CCs). More than 500 seniors attended a programme showcase at Potong Pasir CC yesterday, where they got to try their hand at courses such as mocktail making and basic banking.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, grassroots adviser to Potong Pasir and the event's guest of honour, said he felt the programme was especially useful in a mature estate like Potong Pasir. He said: "Many of our elderly, health permitting, would like to carry on working, meet new friends and earn some pocket money."

GE2015: PAP introduces East Coast GRC, Fengshan & Punggol East SMC candidates

Singapore faces challenge of 'three peaks': Swee Say
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2015

The leaders who emerge from the Sept 11 General Election will have to tackle key challenges posed by peaks in Singapore's workforce, population and the elderly.

Calling them the "three peaks", Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that much is at stake at the polls because strategies will have to be found to address the implications of these issues.

"The way we grew our economy in the past... is no longer sustainable. It was the right strategy for the last decade, but it would not be the right strategy for the next decade and beyond," he said.

This is why it is important that voters back candidates who can help take the country forward over the next 50 years, he added.

"It's important to make sure that at the local level, we're electing people who can serve the community at the local level," he said.

"But I think it's even more important for us to put together a team to ensure that we can lead; we can serve Singapore at the national level for the next 10, 20, 50 years."

He was speaking at the People's Action Party's (PAP) Bedok branch, where the PAP candidates for East Coast GRC and Fengshan, the single-member constituency carved out of the group representation constituency, were introduced.

Ending speculation over who it would field in Fengshan, the party named long-time grassroots worker Cheryl Chan, 38. She replaces former minister Raymond Lim, who is quitting politics, and is expected to face a Workers' Party (WP) opponent, who is yet to be named.

The four remaining East Coast GRC incumbents will run again - anchor minister Lim Swee Say, 61, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan, 53, Minister of State for National Development and Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, 50, and two-term backbencher Jessica Tan, 49. In 2011, they won with just 54.8 per cent of the vote, a nine-point drop from 2006.

Meanwhile, PAP veteran Charles Chong, 62, settled another question by announcing that he will try to take back Punggol East SMC from WP incumbent Lee Li Lian. He issued a statement, breaking from the PAP tradition of holding a press conference.