Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Rahmat Yusak: A father, a driver and a pioneer who gave to S'pore

At the National Day Rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to Mr Rahmat Yusak, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's driver in the 1960s.

Mr Rahmat's son, Mr Mohd Zulkifli Rahmat, night editor of Berita Harian, had written an e-mail to PM Lee to say: "My father was only a driver, but I hope people like him will not be forgotten when Singapore honours its pioneer generation." Mr Zulkifli said he wrote to Mr Lee on the spur of the moment, when his ailing father, 95, was into his fourth week in hospital for lung infection. "On the night I was alone with him, watching him sleep, I felt so sorry that we could not do much to help him recover. Doctors had given him only days to live."

Mr Zulkifli then picked up his mobile phone and wrote an e-mail to Mr Lee about his father's condition on Aug 4. The spontaneous e-mail got a response from the Prime Minister, who asked Mr Zulkifli for his permission to mention his father in the National Day Rally speech.

Mr Lee's moving tribute during the speech was "truly unexpected", said Mr Zulkifli, whose father died on Aug 5.

Mr Zulkifli wrote about his late father in an article published in Berita Harian yesterday. Here is a translation of the article.

By Mohd Zulkifli Rahmat, Published The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2014

IN KAMPUNG Chantek Lama, which was also called Kampung Wayang Satu, in the early 1960s, a Land Rover was often parked along the road near my house.

I felt excited every time I saw it. As a child, I waited for a chance to go for a ride in the Land Rover, even for just a short trip. We could not afford to own the vehicle then.

The Land Rover, which belonged to the Primary Production Department (PPD), was driven by my father, Mr Rahmat Yusak, to take PPD staff to crop and livestock farms.

He drove the vehicle home when he was able to return for lunch.

Sometimes, the Land Rover was driven home late at night or early in the morning. Inside, there were pieces of firecrackers and garlands.

I was too young, so I did not understand the circumstances then. My father seldom talked about his job.

When I got older, I knew that the Land Rover with firecrackers and garlands was used during the then Prime Minister's general election campaign.

It turned out that my father was the driver of a very famous individual - Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

NDR 2014: More Opportunities for Non-Graduates

Panel to implement work & study path on national scale
By Kimberly Spykerman, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Aug 2014

To help Singaporeans succeed regardless of their paper qualifications, the Government is implementing a work and study path on a national scale. However, this requires a culture shift and involves multiple stakeholders, so a tripartite committee involving the government, employers and unions will be set up to drive support for this.

For the second year running, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally Speech on Sunday (Aug 17) at the ITE College Central. He explained that this is partly because one of his themes this year is on opening up pathways for ITE and polytechnic students.

Helping Polytechnic and ITE students find jobs well-suited to their skills, helping people progress and upgrade after they have graduated and started work, as well as developing structured career paths for them - these will broadly form the recommendations to be announced by a committee led by Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah, tasked with looking at how to create this work and study path.

However, Prime Minister Lee said implementing this on a national scale will not be easy. He noted that the natural agency to take the lead is an expanded Workforce Development Agency, but acknowledged that it will need strong support from other agencies, like the Education Ministry and the Manpower Ministry, employers, and unions.

To drive support for this initiative, a tripartite committee involving the government, employers, and unions will be set up. It will be led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Mr Lee said: "It will develop an integrated system of education, training, and progression for all Singaporeans, and promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance, based on their skills."

Chinese graduates face tough job market with low pay

Only 14% found work by graduation month, the lowest in a decade
By Esther Teo China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2014

CHINESE graduate Wang Xiaoqing, 23, earns barely 2,000 yuan (S$405) a month at an environmental services firm and has no savings to speak of.

A recent marketing graduate from the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi'an, the capital of northern Shaanxi province, Mr Wang even relies on his parents for handouts occasionally.

"I sent my resume out to more than 10 firms over the past three months before I got a job," he told The Straits Times.

"I knew it would be hard and was mentally prepared, but I worry about how I am going to get married or buy a house in the future."

While the rapid expansion of higher education in China has led to a sharp rise in the number of unemployed and underemployed graduates over the past few years, the situation has gotten worse this year.

Just 14 per cent of graduates had found work by June, the month of graduation, the lowest in a decade.

China's growing ranks of fresh graduates like Mr Wang are struggling to find jobs and make ends meet amid stiff competition from a record 7.3 million graduates this year - more than seven times the number 15 years ago.

According to a new survey by Peking University, more than a third of fresh graduates continue to live off their parents while another 40 per cent live from pay cheque to pay cheque.

This comes as no surprise, considering that starting monthly salaries for graduates this year in 68 Chinese cities averaged just 2,443 yuan - about the cost of half an iPhone in China, according to the Post-90s Graduates Employment Report released last month.

But the issue has raised concerns beyond just bread and butter worries, experts say.

NDR 2014: Jurong Lake District

First phase of Jurong Lake Gardens to be ready by 2017: Khaw
The Jurong Lake Gardens will retain the heritage elements of the Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden, but these will be refreshed as part of the overall development, says National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 18 Aug 2014

Residents in the city-state, particularly in Jurong, can look forward to enjoying the 70-hectare Jurong Lake Gardens "as early as 2017", said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in a blogpost on Monday (Aug 18).

He wrote that heritage elements at the Chinese and Japanese Gardens will be retained, but refreshed as part of Jurong Lake Gardens. The Gardens will be developed in phases, with Jurong Lake Park being the first to be completed in 2017, and implementation plans will dovetail with the greater plans for Jurong Lake District.

Mr Khaw also called on the public to share their ideas with NParks on how it can develop the area. NParks will invite ideas from planning and landscape design professionals and the local community next year for the development of the Gardens, he said.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

NDR 2014: CPF Minimum Sum and retirement

PM Lee, the financial planner
The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday tackled criticisms of the Central Provident Fund head-on but with good humour, role-playing a financial planner to a fictitious Mr Tan and advising him on his retirement options.

Mr Lee, who roled-played a housing agent at last year's National Day Rally, quipped: “Last year, I was your real estate agent. This year, the real estate market is no good. I have upgraded myself and become a financial planner.”

Explaining the rationale behind the increase in CPF's Minimum Sum, Mr Lee played "financial planner" to a hypothetical Mr and Mrs Tan, aged 54, with a monthly income of $4,500.

He asked the audience how much this couple would need in retirement: $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 a month. Most said $2,000.

Mr Lee then used Mr Tan's case to explain how the Minimum Sum of $155,000 was "far from excessive" and might even be insufficient.

CPF Life is sustainable

MR WILFRED Ling wrote about the solvency of CPF Life ("Guarantee CPF Life solvency for peace of mind"; last Wednesday).

We assure him that the CPF Life scheme is designed to be fully sustainable.

First, monies in the CPF Lifelong Income Fund and interest paid on the monies are already fully guaranteed by the Government.

Second, if interest rates or life expectancies change significantly from what is expected, payouts can be adjusted to keep the fund solvent. This is in line with the best practices of well-run and sustainable pension schemes.

For these reasons, CPF Life does not need to be covered by the Policy Owners' Protection Scheme in Singapore, which covers insurance policies written by private insurers.

CPF Life members can be assured that they will receive payouts for as long as they live.

Musa Fazal
Divisional Director
Income Security Policy Division
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 18 Aug 2014

Memory Project to preserve pioneers' stories

MR JASON Ingham ("Preserve accounts of pioneers"; last Tuesday) suggested having an online repository of the verbal and written accounts from the pioneer generation, to serve as a poignant reminder of their lives.

The Singapore Memory Project (SMP) is one such repository for us to preserve the thoughts and reflections of the pioneer generation.

It is a nationwide movement launched in August 2011 that aims to capture and document precious moments and memories related to Singapore.

These recollections are not limited to those from individual Singaporeans, but also organisations and groups.

The SMP has been engaging and reaching out to the pioneer generation to collect their stories and memories, and to showcase them.

A recent campaign, A Tribute To Our Pioneer Generation, ran from February to June and saw members of the pioneer generation sharing their experiences about Singapore's early years of independence, and other members of the public sharing their memories about loved ones who are pioneers.

Another good example is the Hands: Gift Of A Generation project, where more than 400 pioneers were interviewed and their memories captured in various formats, including video and text.

The SMP has also created an inter-generational dialogue platform for students from many schools to interview seniors citizens from all walks of life.

Examples of these stories can be seen at the Singapore Memory Portal

We welcome members of the pioneer generation and the public to continue to deposit their memories and stories (whether in the form of text, video files or images) on the Web portal.

The public can also submit their memories for the project by downloading the free SG Memory iPhone application from the iTunes app store.

We thank Mr Ingham for the opportunity to share more information on the SMP.

Gene Tan
Director, National Library
National Library Board
ST Forum, 18 Aug 2014

PA rolls out first CC on wheels

By Melody Zaccheus, The Sunday Times, 17 Aug 2014

Singapore's first Community Club (CC) on wheels was set in motion yesterday at Bedok Mall.

The roving vehicle, called the CC Xpress, will be making its rounds to different parts of Singapore, popping up in neighbourhood parks, town centres, common public spaces and private estates.

It will bring the People's Association's (PA) programmes, interest groups and courses - like balloon sculpting and gardening workshops such as those involving terrarium, a container which encloses a mini garden - closer to residents of both private and public estates.

Courses can be held on or outside the vehicle, which is smaller than a public bus.

"Our new CC Xpress will bring the best of our CCs to where our residents stay and make it easier for them to find out about our programmes and sign up for them," said PA chief executive director Ang Hak Seng.

Residents at the launch welcomed the initiative. Some said they usually head straight home after work and rarely step into these clubs.

Monday, 18 August 2014

National Day Rally 2014

PM outlines CPF options for retirement
More support for elderly poor, more flexibility for withdrawals by retirees
By Robin Chan Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 18 Aug 2014

SINGAPORE'S fast-rising number of elderly people can look forward to several changes aimed at ensuring they will have enough to live on during their retirement years.

Addressing the nation at his 11th National Day Rally last night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that a new scheme, called Silver Support, will be set up to give lower-income Singaporeans with little or no Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings an annual bonus from the Government. The details will be announced later.

Another change: CPF members who are retired, that is 65 and over, will be allowed to withdraw a lump sum from their Minimum Sum savings if they need. But there will be a limit, perhaps 20 per cent, to ensure they receive monthly payments throughout their later years.

Mr Lee also disclosed that the Housing Board's Lease Buyback Scheme, which allows owners of three-room flats and smaller units to sell a part of their 99-year lease to the Government in return for a regular income, will be extended to four-room flat owners as well.

That means more than half of all flat owners can use their homes to ensure an income this way.

Mr Lee said home ownership and the CPF scheme - Singapore's twin pillars for ensuring that people have enough for retirement - will be improved to better support the poor and be made more flexible for all.

An advisory panel will study these issues and more.

"We will give you greater assurance and more options in retirement," Mr Lee said.

The retirement needs of Singaporeans took up a good part of his address, delivered for the second year running at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio.

He also focused on the pioneer generation, highlighting several remarkable individuals. Among them was Singapore's first president, the late Mr Yusof Ishak, who will be honoured by having a mosque, research centre and university professorship named after him.

And he dwelt at length on upcoming changes to polytechnic and ITE education, showcasing several successful people without degrees to emphasise there are many pathways to the top for those prepared to work hard and upgrade as they go.

Mr Lee quipped that he was playing financial planner this year as he moved on to the issue on many minds: whether people have enough savings for their old age.

He acknowledged the concerns sparked by the increase in the CPF Minimum Sum to $155,000 for those turning 55 this year.

But while he announced that CPF members will be allowed to take out a lump sum, he stressed that the Minimum Sum Scheme will stay.

"If you take out a lump sum, then you will have less left in the CPF, and your monthly payments will be smaller too," he said.

He also revealed that the Minimum Sum will be raised to $161,000 for those turning 55 next July. He said he did not see a need for further major increases.

But other changes could be in store for the CPF system, as the advisory panel to be set up by the Ministry of Manpower will study a range of issues, such as how the Minimum Sum should be adjusted over time to provide an adequate basic retirement payout, or how CPF savings can be invested more widely.

ESM Goh: People, Govt 'must stay united as family'

By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Sunday Times, 17 Aug 2014

Loosening ties between people and government could pull Singapore apart unless Singaporeans demand as much of themselves as they do of the Government, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned yesterday.

Unrealistic demands and frequent criticism of the Government are straining the cohesiveness of the Singapore family, he said.

"This state of relationship between the people and the Government is part of the so-called new normal," he said. "But if this new normal leads to fractiousness, divisiveness and estrangement in the Singapore family, then we will be undoing what the pioneer generation had painfully and diligently built over many decades."

He was addressing about 1,000 residents and volunteers from his Marine Parade constituency at a National Day dinner at Roland restaurant. Manpower Minister and Marine Parade GRC MP Tan Chuan-Jin was also present.

Mr Goh said a good bond between people and government was one of four "goods" crucial to a country's success. The others are good leaders, good governance and good social cohesion. These qualities paved the way for Singapore's survival, he said, but being man-made, they could also be "unmade by man".

Speaking at length on people-government ties in family terms, he said that just as parents do for their children, the Government imparts values and sets norms for society through its policies and creates opportunities for people.

People cannot choose their parents but they can choose their government - a privilege they do not always value and "sometimes decide with less care than we should".

Singaporeans also demand much more from the Government than their parents, accepting their family's situation but not the constraints faced by the Government.

And while they do not criticise their parents' imperfections, when it comes to the Government, they "see only warts... and freely criticise it for its slightest mistakes or when we disagree with it".

Mr Goh worried that people today are pulling in different directions, there is more navel-gazing, and the common space for all is shrinking instead of getting bigger. If this continues, he warned, there will be a high price to pay.

"That is how many countries fail. Across the world, intractable political gridlocks and a deficit of leadership have become the new normal. Countries lurch from crisis to crisis," he said.