Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Singapore - polls apart

Are opinion polls a good way to decide a nation's priorities for governance? Not when public policy has so many shades of grey
By Raymond Lim, Published The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

THE launch of the Singapore Conversation has seen many sessions to discuss what sort of Singapore citizens hope to see in the future.

In a recent session, participants were particularly excited by Yahoo! Singapore's online poll on what are the 10 most pressing concerns for Singaporeans. A total of 21,470 people cast their votes, with the cost of housing voted the No. 1 concern.

Many said this was a good way to feel the pulse of the people. And knowing the popular will, they said, is important as it helps the government set its policy agenda - more resources to housing (28 per cent) and less to public transport, since the public transport crunch received only 3 per cent of votes, coming in at No. 10.

But is this really a good way to govern? Even if we assume the polls or surveys are properly conducted - with proper sampling methods and so on - is governing by opinion polls and laws by referendums the way to go? One participant said it will mean greater democracy in Singapore. Will it?

California in the United States uses referendums and citizens' initiatives to decide on policy issues. The result has been to make the state well-nigh ungovernable as the government is tied up with a mishmash of popular demands, often contradictory and short-term focused.

For example, "Yes, to more public services" but "No, to more taxes to fund them". The problem is amplified on policy issues, where there is short-term pain but long-term benefits. This is not surprising as those who are adversely affected have every reason to campaign against it while the silent majority, well, stay silent.

And since most people are concerned with the present, the here and now, present pain will usually dominate future benefits when they cast their votes.

Ironically, introducing opinion polls to decide on policy issues does not necessarily mean giving more power to the people or greater democracy in practice.

Brunei and Singapore treasure strong ties

Younger generation of leaders will keep friendship going, says PM Lee
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - From student exchanges to an interchangeable currency, Singapore and Brunei cooperate in many areas as part of a friendship that dates back to the 1960s.

It is also one that Singapore hopes to build on for the next generation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said while on an official visit to Brunei.

"This is why I have brought younger ministers along on this trip," he said in a speech at a banquet hosted yesterday by Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his wife.

Mr Lee was referring to Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports; and Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Environment and Water Resources.

The Prime Minister indicated that there would be more of such interactions between younger ministers from both sides next year.

The longstanding ties and warm relations between the two nations were stressed repeatedly yesterday, the first day of Mr Lee's three-day visit to Brunei.

"Brunei is an old friend of Singapore," he explained earlier in a Facebook post.

In the afternoon, the PM and his wife Ho Ching received a warm welcome from Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah and his wife, Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah Salleh, at Brunei International Airport, where the red carpet was rolled out for a full ceremonial welcome.

The delegation was then whisked off in a motorcade to the Istana Nurul Iman, reputed to be the world's largest residential palace, to meet the Sultan.

Coming up: Over 100,000 housing units

Nearly half of new private properties unsold; HDB to launch 6,400 flats too
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

THE number of new private properties in the pipeline has ballooned to more than 100,000 units at the end of the third quarter, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) yesterday.

The news may bring cheer to buyers concerned about the persistent uptick in prices but dismay to those who had bought for investment or leasing purposes.

The upcoming private home supply comprises 83,975 private residential units, 9,824 executive condominiums and 10,070 units from land sites that the Government has sold, or that are slated for sale. This is the highest-ever total recorded since data was collected in 2001.

The URA said many of the units will be completed in the next three or four years. More than 35,000 units will be ready next year and in 2014, with the rest completed after that.

More than 36,000 private residential units or about 44 per cent of the upcoming supply remain unsold. Developers have some leeway to hold back units, but not much. A cooling measure last year requires that they build and sell residential units within five years or face a 10 per cent stamp duty.

In addition, the Housing Board (HDB) announced yesterday it will roll out another 6,400 Build-To-Order flats next month in Bedok, Choa Chu Kang, Queenstown, Sengkang and Toa Payoh, bringing its crop of new flats this year to the promised 27,000 - also a record high.

"Taken altogether, the numbers do look daunting," said Colliers' director of research and advisory Chia Siew Chuin. "The ramping up of supply is to keep prices stable but there is some concern whether this is tantamount to oversupply."

The hefty numbers, combined with the Government's move to slow the influx of foreign labour, will likely hit the rental market the hardest in the coming years, said analysts.

More bicycle racks at 10 MRT stations

By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

COMMUTERS who pedal to 10 MRT stations will have an easier time finding a space to park their bicycles.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has installed 1,500 bicycle racks at these stations: Admiralty, Aljunied, Boon Lay, Chinese Garden, Khatib, Lakeside, Sembawang, Sengkang, Simei and Yishun. These cost $740,000.

By next year, it will add 900 racks at 10 more stations, including Ang Mo Kio and Woodlands for $670,000.

More stations will have them if there is a need, it added yesterday.

These new racks come under a programme to increase bicycle parking facilities at MRT stations.

The LTA said the latest racks allow cyclists to lock their bicycles more securely. The parking areas are also adequately lit for added security.

Racks at eight of the 10 stations are double-tiered.

Speaking after a visit to Sembawang station, Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said the new racks should reduce the number of illegally parked bicycles around Sembawang station.

Downtown Line costs soar by more than 70%

Sharp rise in construction cost and changes to project push bill to $21b
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

A SPIKE in construction cost has contributed to the MRT Downtown Line bill rising by more than 70 per cent from an original estimate of $12 billion to $20.7 billion.

Half of this $8.7 billion increase was attributed to a sharp rise in construction cost, with the other half linked to a number of changes to the project.

This was revealed to The Straits Times by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), which also said it is taking steps - like inviting more firms to bid for projects - to rein in prices.

The Downtown Line will link the north-western and eastern parts of Singapore to the Marina downtown, with the first stage due to open next year, and two other stages in 2015 and 2017.

When the line was announced in 2008, the LTA said that it would cost $12 billion. The latest price tag appeared in this year's Budget statement.

The changes adding to costs include expanding the capacity of the depot in Gali Batu near Woodlands, more stringent safety and regulatory requirements, and more connections to nearby developments to make the line more accessible.

For example, Downtown Line Stage 3's Tampines and Expo stations will each have an additional entrance.

The project is also slightly longer than when it was first announced in 2008. It is 42km long, with 34 stations - from the original 40km and 33 stations.

But construction cost remains the single biggest factor for the cost spiral. LTA deputy chief executive Chua Chong Kheng said that the increase in construction cost from late 2007 to mid-2008 was "quite significant".

Four receive awards for outstanding contributions to social work: SASW Social Workers Award 2012

By Sing Geok Shan, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Oct 2012

Four social workers were honoured on Monday for their outstanding contributions.

At a ceremony at the Istana, President Tony Tan presented the Outstanding Social Worker of the Year Award to Esther Lim and Wu Mei Ling.

Jean Koh and Ivan Woo received the Promising Social Worker Award.

The recipients were recognised for their case work as well as for their efforts in staff management, research and education.

Winners receive cash, personal development grants and training valued at about $100,000.

Organiser Singapore Association of Social Workers hopes the event will inspire more people to join the profession.

Mr Alvin Chua, President of the Singapore Association of Social Workers, said: "To attract new blood and promote retention, I would like to encourage every social worker to be a living testimony for our profession, as no one else would be able to share more passionately about the strengths we observe in our clients and the transformations we witnessed in them in our day-to-day work."

Character matters... the classroom
By Sara Mosle, Published The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

HOW do we help students achieve academically and socially?

As a teacher, I have lofty answers. But challenges - and questions - arise when I try to translate my ideas (and ideals) into concrete lessons, delivered in 90-minute increments to a very particular set of sixth graders, each as individual and evanescent as a snowflake.

To help teachers succeed, schools offer "professional development", universally known as PD. Like a lot of teachers, I've come to regard such training with a mix of optimism and disappointment. Over the last 20 years, I've attended more education "workshops" than I care to remember. Such courses typically lasted no more than an hour or a day, and nearly always contained valid, even vital ideas, but were too superficial, too removed from the realities of my classroom to alter my teaching very much, even when I yearned for change.

Then I started work at a school that takes PD seriously. This summer, my school sent me to a weeklong, intensive course for middle school teachers called Developmental Designs, which derives from a teaching approach known as Responsive Classroom.

Among its guiding principles is a belief that students who develop social skills like cooperation, assertiveness and empathy can achieve more academically. The idea is similar to the "character education" Mr Paul Tough advocates in his new book How Children Succeed.

I'd already watched colleagues attain enviable classroom management through this technique. Still, given my previous PD experience, I initially harboured scepticism. I imagined catching up on e-mail during the course's slow moments. But, it turned out, I didn't send e-mail all week. The programme was a model of effective PD and what it can achieve.

More pursuing studies after secondary school

Rise due to weaker students having more options and support: MPs
By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

MORE students across all races are pursuing studies beyond secondary school, according to data released by the Ministry of Education (MOE) yesterday.

Of the cohort that entered Primary 1 in 2001, about 94 per cent were admitted to post-secondary institutions, compared to about 88 per cent for the 1992 cohort.

The increase was the greatest - at 12 percentage points - for Malay students, compared to those of other races. The corresponding figures for Indian and Chinese students are 11 and 5 percentage points, respectively.

The figures are part of annual data detailing the performances of the major ethnic groups in the national examinations over the past decade.

MPs sitting on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education said the rise in post-secondary enrolment was due to the MOE giving weaker students more options and greater support for teens at risk of dropping out of school.

"Compared to 10 years ago, students now have a wider choice of different learning pathways to develop their potential and areas of interest," said Ms Low Yen Ling, an MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC.

By setting up schools like Northlight to cater to students who otherwise would not even have gone to secondary school, more will end up studying past secondary level, said Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Singapore cannot do away with PSLE completely, says Indranee Rajah

By S. Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Oct 2012

Singapore cannot do away with the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) completely, says incoming Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah.

Sharing her thoughts with Channel NewsAsia, Ms Indranee says while the exam can be called by a different name, Singapore must have something to assess a child objectively.

Member of Parliament and Senior Counsel Indranee Rajah moves to the government bench on 1 November 2012.

And she will focus on two areas when in the Education Ministry - pre-school and tertiary education.

Tharman supports rebalancing of PSLE system

His experience as education minister tells DPM exam sorts pupils too finely
By Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2012

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave his views yesterday on calls to ease the pressure pupils face at the Primary School Leaving Examination.

The heart of the problem, he observed, was that the exam differentiates pupils based on an aggregate of their exact score.

Noting that this meant Primary 6 pupils are sorted even more finely than students in Secondary 4, who receive a letter grade for their exams, he said: "It is inevitable that parents and teachers will place great emphasis on preparing their children for the PSLE."

He said fine-grain differentiation at a young age was something that will have to studied.

Also to be considered are how pupils are posted to secondary schools on the basis of those grades, and how schools, particularly the top ones, can be made more diverse.

DPM Tharman was speaking at an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the death of philanthropist Tan Lark Sye.

He stressed, however, that he was not making policy pronouncements but rather drawing from his experience as the education minister from 2003 to 2008.

He said reducing the focus on exams at an early age will allow attention to be placed on the other goals of education.

"In my opinion, it's only possible to succeed in character education and encouraging students to question and think originally if we create real space for it in the education system," he said.

SME community 'needs a shot in the arm'

Plans to boost business zeal among young, simplify rules: Teo Ser Luck
By Grace Chng, The Straits Times, 29 Oct 2012

ALTHOUGH Singapore already has a good foundation of schemes and funds to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) chairman Teo Ser Luck believes the SME community needs an injection of new life as Singapore's economy shifts towards higher value-add activities.

Mr Teo, who is also Minister of State for Trade and Industry, is looking at various ways to do this, such as taking lessons on entrepreneurship to schools and simplifying the application processes of existing support schemes for SMEs.

Encouraging young people to start their own businesses is one direct way to lead a revival of the SME community, said Mr Teo in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times last Thursday.

Mr Teo, who assumed chairmanship of ACE mid-last year, said he has a plan to create greater awareness of entrepreneurship among students.

Details will be available soon but one aspect of his plan will be to let students hear the stories of entrepreneurs.

"They hear about Google and Facebook and other start-ups, how their founders became multimillionaires," he said.

"But 99 per cent of start-ups also fail. So I also want them to hear these stories, how they picked themselves up and started again."

These students will likely be an enthusiastic audience, as studies show a growing interest in entrepreneurship among young people.

Don't fall for these diversity myths

by Mildred Tan, Published TODAY, 29 Oct 2012

To thrive and innovate in today's global economy, flexibility, creativity and imagination are required - qualities that can be nurtured only by a diversity of voices and viewpoints at the table. However, a wall of misconceptions still surrounds diversity, obscuring the true benefits that it can deliver. 

The definition of diversity has evolved. Traditionally limited to characteristics like race, age, gender, ethnicity and religion, progressive organisations are increasingly considering a wider range of parameters, including socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, life experiences and personalities.

And what was once branded as a "human resources" term associated with fair hiring practices is now recognised as having the power to be so much more - for some companies which are competing globally and drawing diverse talents across markets to serve an equally diverse customer base, workforce diversity and inclusiveness have proven to be a competitive advantage. 

According to the Ernst & Young report, Igniting Innovation: How Hot Companies Fuel Growth From Within, PepsiCo attributed US$250 million (S$305 million) of its revenue growth to new products inspired by diversity efforts. And in a study of 45 teams from five United States high-tech firms comprising people with different functional specialities, the teams worked more effectively with other internal teams and showed a higher rate of product innovation.

Yet, according to a separate Ernst & Young research conducted last year, even as global executives believe diversity of teams and experience improves both the financial performance and reputation of their organisations, many struggle with putting their beliefs into action. Common misconceptions are also hindering an organisation's ability to fully harness the power of diversity.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Ban on ads that drive kids to unhealthy food

New move to kick in next year as part of ongoing efforts to combat rising obesity
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Advertisements that make unhealthy food and drinks appealing to children will be banned from early next year as part of Singapore's battle against obesity.

Topping the list of ads likely to be affected are those for sweet drinks and fast food high in oil and salt.

Announcing this yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the action is not targeted at specific brands, but at unhealthy food.

The move is an important initiative, he added, because eating habits are formed at a relatively young age. Singapore is also seeing a steady rise in obesity rates.

Health Promotion Board (HPB) chief executive Ang Hak Seng said obesity rates have risen by 1 per cent a year over the past three years, and today, about 11 per cent of adults and 9 per cent of children are obese.

But what is scary, he added, is that half the obese children will grow up to be adults with diabetes, which increases a person's risk of serious illness, including blindness, stroke and heart attack.

National dialogue to zoom in on themes

Ideas raised so far will be grouped to give sessions more depth, says Lawrence Wong
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

The national conversation on Singapore's future will soon shift gears, with sessions that zoom in on broad themes taking place as early as next month.

The announcement - made yesterday by Senior Minister of State (for Education, and for Information, Communications and the Arts) Lawrence Wong - comes amid concerns that the discussions so far have lacked focus.

Speaking to reporters at a session at the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre yesterday, he said that the ideas raised so far will be grouped into themes for deeper conversations starting next month or in December.

"By organising them in a more thematic fashion, you can have richer and more focused discussions," he said.

He added that citizen dialogues have thus far been deliberately kept open-ended so as to solicit as many views as possible.

He stressed, however, that having themes was not about "filtering out ideas".

"It's really about moving from a very organic, open, sort of unstructured process, starting to cluster the ideas, starting to put them into broad themes and then going a little more in-depth into these themes," he said.

Growing With Your Child Resource Kit

Parenting kits for 70,000 families
Kits with tips on how to develop children holistically will be given to parents with kids aged below three
By Melissa Lin, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Parents and caregivers now have a new resource with tips on how to develop young children holistically.

The 'Growing With Your Child' parenting kit, comprising a handbook and a series of video clips, was launched yesterday by Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob at the inaugural Child Development Network (CDN) seminar.

The new kit is meant for parents with children below the age of three and will be distributed to more than 70,000 parents over the next two years via childcare centres and hospitals.

Madam Halimah said it outlines the developmental milestones of children from birth through three years of age across five domains - physical, language, cognitive, social and emotional.

"With this resource, parents can be more aware of what to expect for their young children's development and how to apply some good parenting practices that will help build strong relationships and enhance the well-being of your child," she added.

Revolt of the single taxpayer

Even as my tax dollars help support today's poor, I'm not assured of help when I'm old
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Like others seized by the ongoing conversation on Singapore's future, I've been ruminating on the kind of society I want to live in.

But rather than think of ideals and values, an exercise I consider unproductive (would anyone not want a kinder, gentler, happier, more gracious, more equal Singapore?), I prefer to contemplate the kind of political system I want, and the tax and benefits system I desire. I'll leave politics for a later date and focus on taxes today.

Many of us project our wants and desires of today into the future. We forget one thing: In 2032, we will be 20 years older. And as we age, our needs and desires change.

At 44, I favour a society with sufficient buzz with pockets of serenity. I want the economy to go for growth now while we can. I like Singapore's pro-business, open, competitive stance, because these translate into a good job with good pay, and a relatively low tax regime.

If you ask me today, whether I would support higher income tax rates, I would say "no", because I am a taxpayer and because the country's fiscal position remains strong.

In 2032, when I'm 64, I would want a quieter city, of slower growth, with low cost of living. I would likely support higher taxes, because I won't be paying taxes, but want high taxes to fund benefits I can draw from.

The distinction between what you want today and what you want in 20 years' time is too often overlooked in the national conversation.

And yet it can make all the difference in policy.

The Nantah legacy that Tan Lark Sye left behind

By Leong Weng Kam, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

The late rubber tycoon Tan Lark Sye, better known as the founder of the former Nanyang University (Nantah), was arguably Singapore's most prominent Chinese community leader in the last century.

That, despite being stripped of Singapore citizenship by the Government soon after the 1963 elections for allegedly playing "stooge to the communists and (attempting to) jeopardise the peace and prosperity of Singapore" by backing about a dozen Nantah graduates who stood as left-wing Barisan Sosialis candidates against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

The long-time president of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, who gave generously to charitable and educational causes throughout his life, then stepped down from the university's leadership and remained stateless until his death in 1972, aged 75.

The Chinese-medium university's enrolment declined, due largely to changes in language and education policies from the 1960s. It merged with the University of Singapore to become the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1980.

A year later, a new English-medium Nanyang Technological Institute opened on Nantah's sprawling campus in Jurong. It became the Nanyang Technological University in 1991.

Today, 40 years after Tan Lark Sye's passing, he is still remembered for his leading role in promoting higher Chinese education and the founding of Nantah in 1953 with the support of the Chinese community, from poor trishaw riders to wealthy businessmen.

Nantah was then the only Chinese-medium university in South- east Asia. It gave Chinese middle school students in Singapore and the region a shot at higher education as they could not go to communist China.

Today, Tan Lark Sye will be remembered at an event combining a public lecture in Chinese, a seminar and the launch of five new Chinese books - three of them on the history of Nantah.

Held at News Centre in Toa Payoh North, the event marks the 40th anniversary of his death and is organised jointly by NTU's Centre for Chinese Language and Culture and the Association of Nanyang University Graduates.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is guest of honour and Harvard's Professor David Wang Der-Wei will deliver the keynote lecture.

Coach Jing Jun Hong plans for quiet life but ends up in hot seat

By May Chen, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

It all began, quite by accident, for Jing Junhong. Love was what brought the Shanghai native to these shores.

Even then, as China's No. 3, Jing was ready to hang up her table tennis bat for good.

"I felt like I had already accomplished what I wanted. Having grown up in the structured training regimen in China, I was yearning for a change," Jing, 44, told The Sunday Times. "The plan was to come to Singapore and lead a simple and peaceful life."

A life with former Singapore paddler Loy Soo Han, whom she met and fell for when he went to Shanghai for a nine-month training camp in 1988. Four years later, they tied the knot.

She received her citizenship in 1994 and is now the first Singaporean to coach the national women's table tennis team in 16 years,

"Playing for Singapore, coaching... all these were never part of the plan," Jing said. "Man proposes, but God disposes. A lot of things happen without you planning for them to."

Playing at the Vietnam Golden Racket Championships in 1992 - her debut under the Singapore banner - was just to make up the numbers. As a "reward" for winning the Vietnam event, she was sent to the 1993 World Championships in Sweden.

There, she caused the upset of the tournament, beating then-world No. 1 and reigning world and Olympic champion Deng Yaping of China. "Things just sort of got 'out of hand' from there," Jing joked.

She became a Singapore citizen the following year and went on to amass medal after medal for her new country.

Along with team-mates Li Jiawei, Zhang Xueling and Tan Paey Fern, she won the team title at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Singapore's first gold at the quadrennial event in 40 years. There was also a surprise fourth place in the women's singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Comprehensive Package to Increase Birth Rate Expected in 2013

Help package to boost birth rate out next year
Measures will address childcare, housing and other needs: Minister
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

A COMPREHENSIVE package of measures to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have babies, by addressing housing, childcare and other needs, is expected to be announced early next year.

More details will be given around the time the Government issues a White Paper on population in January, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing revealed in an interview.

The package is the latest effort in an ongoing national push to raise Singapore's birth rate, which at 1.2 is far below the replacement figure of 2.1 needed to prevent the citizen population from shrinking.

At the National Day Rally in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had outlined some of the measures being studied to encourage parenthood.

They included giving couples with young children higher priority for Housing Board flats, starting a Medisave account for each newborn with a "small hongbao" to lessen the load of childhood medical expenses, and allowing fathers to take paternity leave.

New goals, new ideas

Ahead of a reorganisation that affects two ministries and creates a new one, Goh Chin Lian talks to the three ministers who will be helming them and finds out their plans and priorities
The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

CHAN CHUN SING: Providing help, building families

MR CHAN Chun Sing will never forget the three families who turned up to ask for help at his Meet-the-People Sessions.

One of them earned just $2,000 a month, but managed to raise three children. Another had double that income, of $4,000 to $5,000, and had no children.

But it was the third, a family that earned $16,000 and had two children, who complained the most, saying the Government was not doing enough to help them.

The incident, says Mr Chan, illustrates the rising expectations that Singaporeans have and the challenge that policymakers face as they try to work out who should get more help.

"It's not an easy question to answer and we will have to find the answer as a society going forward," he says.

It is also a challenge Mr Chan's new ministry, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), will have to grapple with as it streamlines its responsibilities to focus more on policies affecting Singaporean families.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) will be renamed the MSF and pass on its youth and sports portfolios to the newly created Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

That will give Mr Chan's ministry more time and space to look at longer-term challenges such as meeting the needs of singles when they age in 20 years' time and finding ways to tap the energies of healthy elderly people to serve other senior citizens.

At an hour-long interview at the MCYS headquarters in Toa Payoh this week, the Acting Minister laid out the priorities for his new ministry.

Sharp drop in S'poreans becoming Aussie PRs

Better opportunities in S'pore, rising Aussie dollar among reasons cited
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

OF THE 192 "high-value occupations" publicised by the Australian immigration department, Mr Jake Teo, 25, would have easily qualified for as many as five.

The Singaporean holds a degree in electrical and aerospace engineering, and would have been a shoo-in under a permanent residence regime favouring those with special skills.

But he chose to return to Singapore after graduating from the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, last year.

"In my youth, I want to 'piah' and challenge myself," he said, using the Hokkien word that means to strive. "And the Singapore economy looks much more promising than Australia's."

More Singaporeans studying in Australia seem to be thinking along the same lines.

New permanent residents (PRs) from Singapore rose steadily to a high of 4,087 in 2005, then plunged to 1,823 last year, Australian government statistics show.

The 55 per cent drop in six years also coincides with a rise in new PRs from Malaysia, China and India.

The Australian immigration department told The Straits Times this week that PR applications from Singaporeans are drying up. They have fallen every year since peaking in 2005.

Experts, and Singaporeans who live or have lived in Australia, attribute it to improved opportunities in Singapore, a rising Australian dollar and better outreach by the Singapore Government.

Why growth is not a bad word

Editorial, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

SINGAPORE cannot grow fast when, as multilateral financial institutions are predicting, almost all other economies in the region and the West are slowing. And Singaporeans - including those who believe slower growth will ease domestic economic and social pressures - should not see the forecasts as anything but sobering. Business cycles will wax and wane, but when slow growth persists over a sustained period, the consequences could be profound and lasting.

It has become fashionable in some quarters to dismiss the benefits of economic growth. Some say a bit of a slowdown might be good to recalibrate prices and expectations, and ease social tensions. Others go further to argue that slower growth might have hitherto unrecognised benefits, from a better work-life balance, less stress in schools and perhaps even a higher birth rate.

Well, Singaporeans should be careful what they wish for. Given the dark economic clouds that are looming globally, slower growth might well come sooner than we think. Even if a recession is avoided, some businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, might go bust during lean times and investor confidence will be hit. While likely to reduce the need for foreign workers, a slowdown might also cause unemployment to rise among Singaporeans, especially less skilled, lower-income workers who can least afford to lose their jobs. Regaining economic traction in a competitive world will not be an easy task.

When the tide turns, slow-growth champions might find economic and social trade-offs more unpleasant in a downturn than in a growing economy. During good times, problems can be addressed by, for example, using policy initiatives to help integrate newcomers and improve social cohesion. But the harshness of lean times will mean constrained resources for economic and social programmes to ride out the storm. Those who harbour idyllic notions that a slower pace of growth might mean more time for a round of leisurely golf could well find a less rosy scenario of people struggling to pay their mortgages or country club memberships.

Growth, however, is not an end in itself. The point is to avoid it being a loaded word, one way or the other. Ultimately, "it's not about the numbers", as Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has noted. Growth is a means to an end, namely, creating jobs with good wages; generating resources for health, education, social welfare and infrastructure.

Interest in Iskandar grows

S'pore firms form majority setting up factories in Malaysian economic zone
The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

SHARES of Malaysian builder UEM Land have gained about 15 per cent in the past week after the company announced a joint venture with Ascendas Land International on a $1.5 billion project in Iskandar Malaysia.

The two announced last week that they will develop a 210ha site within the economic region to cater to businesses in electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food processing and precision engineering.

The proposed tech park will be located in Nusajaya and will be the nearest industrial site to the Second Link checkpoint. UEM Land shares closed at RM2.13 (86 Singapore cents) on Thursday.

The proposed venture is just the latest sign of increasing interest from Singapore in Iskandar with its low-cost freehold land and ready supply of workers.

A report by Reuters last week quoted Tastyfood Industries, the maker of Mr Cafe instant coffee and Vitamax cereal, which has plans to expand to meet demand in Africa and the Middle East.

It will close its Singapore plant next year and move to Iskandar.

"New-generation Singaporeans do not like production positions as they are more educated now," Tastyfood founder and managing director Joseph Lim told Reuters.

"It's not easy to manage a manufacturing company in Singapore unless you are in high-tech, high value-added businesses like pharmaceuticals."

Tastyfood's marketing and product development operations will be kept in Singapore.

According to the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA), Singapore firms form the majority of those setting up factories in Iskandar.

They account for around 15 per cent of the RM32.7 billion committed as of June.

Socialism or free markets? Consider Myanmar, Thailand

By Lee Kuan Yew, Published The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

IN TERMS of land area and population, Myanmar and Thailand are close in size, and in the 1960s, both countries had similar rates of growth.

But in 1962, Myanmar's General Ne Win led a coup d'etat, establishing a nominally socialist military government that followed an economic policy of autarky. The country closed its doors to the world and expelled the Indians, who had come with the British to help in the retail industry many decades before. Although Ne Win resigned in July 1988, the military junta remained firmly in control of the country.

During the same period, Thailand experienced multiple army coups, but its leaders chose a different economic path. Thailand became a free-market economy, open to all investments from all countries, and it absorbed its Chinese immigrants, who had arrived during and after British rule. Today, Thailand is one of Asia's busiest manufacturing hubs.

Because of its closed-door socialism, Myanmar's per capita gross domestic product (in current international dollars) has lagged behind Thailand's. In 1980, Myanmar's was US$172 and Thailand's, US$1,060. By this year, the gap had widened, with Myanmar's per capita GDP reaching US$1,950 (S$2,400) and Thailand's, US$8,516.

In May 1997, the United States imposed strong economic sanctions against Myanmar for human rights violations, banning all investment and trade activities. With the country's diminished economic growth and its multiple other problems, citizens in need of medicine were forced to travel to the Thai border so they could trade gems or other valuables for medical supplies. At the same time, the government was allowing China to extract whatever resources in gems and precious metals Myanmar held.

Revelations of the Lion City

China documentary finds out what makes S'pore tick
By Peh Shing Huei and Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2012

BEIJING - A 10-part China documentary series on Singapore is titled Lion City Revelation and its producers are determined to uncover everything that makes the tiny country tick.

Not content with just speaking to politicians, businessmen and scholars, the film crew is even shooting Halloween celebrations at Clarke Quay this weekend.

The scale, depth and attention to details have surprised observers and those interviewed by state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

It is a sure sign, they said, that the new Chinese leadership is earmarking Singapore as a model for its renewed push for reforms - both politically and economically.

Most compared it to the CCTV's famous 12-part series in 2006 on the nine great powers of the world, including the United States and Germany.

The state broadcaster this time is devoting 10 episodes to just Singapore.

"This is the first time in China's mainstream media that so much airtime has been allocated to introduce a single country," said Henan Normal University expert Sun Jingfeng, who has done research on Sino-Singapore ties.

"It will surely stir up a fresh round of 'Singapore fever' in China when it is shown."

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Let's talk about sex and seniors

Mary Ann Tsao identifies irrational prejudices people have against seniors, such as about their having sex. Her role, she tells Susan Long, is fighting ageism and opening doors for older people to start a new romance, do work they love, get the education they never had and live their own lives without being pushed into a nursing home.
The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

DR MARY Ann Tsao, 57, wants to re-frame the national conversation on ageing.

She is tired of old age being depicted as a problem, a time bomb, a menace and a scourge. She is sick of it being couched in terms of dependency ratios, health-care expenses, wrinkles and finances.

"Every time I see the statistic that two working-age adults will support one elderly by 2030, I'm like, 'Oh No, not that again.'

"It assumes that things are fixed, always like that and that everyone has to retire at this age and no one's capable of working beyond that," says the president of the Tsao Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for older people. It offers community health services, geriatric care training, does its own research on ageing and engages policymakers.

Long life - so hard-won - is here. "The question is what are we going to do about it in a positive way and to take advantage of it?" What is overdue, she says, is a national conversation as a society on how best to use longevity, as she prefers to call it.

"We miss the boat when we think that all older people need are a roof over their heads, food on the table and maybe some personal care, instead of looking at their overall sense of well-being." She talks nineteen to the dozen, hardly coming up for air.

When was the last time, she asks, that a comprehensive study of the elderly took place here, that delved into their quality of life, going beyond their employability, finances and state of health? "What do we know about their inner lives and aspirations?"

Because "inner life" is seen as "fluffy" and difficult to quantify, it has not been studied or measured. But her foundation has commissioned a ground-breaking study on it, to be rolled out next year, which will hopefully spark such a national conversation.

Growth matters 'as a means to an end': Tan Chuan-Jin

It's about citizens' well-being in terms of bread-and-butter issues: Minister
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

ECONOMIC growth is not an end in itself but a means to an end - that is, the well-being of Singaporeans, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has declared.

Countering the perception of the Government as overly focused on growth, he said policymaking "is not about the economy, not about the GDP growth, it's not about the numbers, not about having wonderful unemployment".

"At the end of it, it's (about) how does it add up, really, to the bread-and-butter issues of the individual concerned, how does it add up to the society."

The right level of economic growth depends on the results desired, such as low unemployment and being able to have "good wages for people, good jobs", he said.

"Secondly, are we able to, as a whole, generate enough income for the economy, for the country, to be able to do the things that you need to do?"

This includes investment in health care, education and infrastructure, he added.

Growth should thus be at a level that meets the above needs, concluded Mr Tan - which he suggested might be around 3per cent.

This is in line with the Government's target of 3 per cent to 5 per cent annual growth in this decade.

Mr Tan's comments cement what appears to be a gradual shift in the Government's stance on economic growth.

Govt will continue to give support to SMEs

But no U-turn on policies to curb foreign labour inflow, Tan Chuan-Jin reiterates
By Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 26 Oct 2012

WHEN talking to business owners, whether as a minister, customer or friend, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says the discussion invariably turns to manpower issues.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are struggling with finding enough workers amid a tight labour market and rising business costs, including high manpower expenses.

Mr Tan told the Singapore Business Federation SME Convention yesterday that the Government is aware of these challenges and will continue to provide support as SMEs are vital to Singapore.

However, he reiterated that there will be no U-turn on policies to restrict the inflow of foreign workers by raising levies and lowering quotas.

The Government will help SMEs cope with these and future moves by managing the pace of manpower tightening carefully, he said.

While Singapore has to keep a steady momentum on this restructuring, the Government will keep a close watch on the global economy and domestic pressures.