Thursday, 31 May 2012

2012 Pre-U Seminar: Unemployment, recession top concerns of students

53% of 500 teens at Pre-U Seminar cite them as their biggest worries
By Matthias Chew & Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 30 May 2012

BREAD-AND-BUTTER issues were topmost on the minds of participants at this year's Pre-University Seminar yesterday.

More than half - 53 per cent - of the 500 teenage students attending this year's edition of the annual event cited fears of unemployment and a potential economic recession as their biggest worries, trumping concerns over, for example, war and climate change.

The 53 per cent figure emerged at the close of Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's three-hour keynote address to them, during which technology figured hugely.

In a departure from a traditional speech, he turned his talk into a lively interactive session by inviting his young, tech-savvy audience to respond to questions he lobbed at them.

As he made his points, he asked them about their aspirations and what they thought about Singapore's future, and they responded using their smartphones; the results of each poll flashed in real time on the screen behind him.

The students, hailing from polytechnics, junior colleges, Millennia Institute and Integrated Programme schools, will spend the next three days meeting political, community and industry leaders to discuss issues key to the future of Singapore.

Organised by the Ministry of Education and Millennia Institute, the seminar opened on Monday and is held at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Among the questions the students were asked by Mr Teo were: 'What are the ideal attributes you want to see in Singapore?', 'Where you would like to live?' and 'Are you optimistic about Singapore's future?'

Over 62 per cent of the students said they were optimistic about their future; 52 per cent said they were optimistic about their future here.

Singapore Sports Awards 2012

Joseph, Fu are tops
By Fabius Chen, The Straits Times, 30 May 2012

Swimmer is named the country's top male athlete but misses presentation due to maths exam

MAKING sporting history and sitting for his maths exam at the same time - yesterday was a big day for Joseph Schooling.

The 16-year-old swimmer was one of the big winners at the Singapore Sports Awards at Swissotel the Stamford, beating shooter Zhang Jin, who won the 10m air rifle gold at the SEA Games, to the accolade.

It makes Joseph the first swimmer since Mark Chay in 2002 to win the award, in addition to being its youngest recipient.

Kegler Lim Zhong held the previous mark. He was 18 when he won the award in 2000.

Singapore still best for business, report finds

India, China score poorly and US slips in rankings released ahead of E. Asia forum
By Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, 30 May 2012

BANGKOK - Singapore again topped a list of 132 countries and territories ranked on the degree to which they encourage trade - beating Hong Kong by a 'large and widening margin', according to a report released before the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

Smaller countries are traditionally more open to trade, and two engines of the world's economy - India and China - scored poorly. A third - the US - has slipped in the rankings.

The United States slipped from 19 in the last report, two years ago, to 23 in this year's report - with researchers citing 'deteriorating infrastructure and a less conducive regulatory environment'.

The US scored poorly on market access and business environment, and additional costs related to security.

Hougang By-election: Analysis & Reactions

Fallout from the Hougang showdown
Editorial, The Straits Times, 29 May 2012

THE Hougang by-election outcome was hardly ever in doubt. So talismanic has been the local presence of Workers' Party (WP) leader Low Thia Khiang over 21 years that, predictably, the party relied heavily on him at the stump. Indeed, some voters, when asked about their choice, said simply that they had voted for Mr Low. The WP's strong win was foremost an affirmation of the loyalty Hougang voters have long showed Mr Low.

This may be the party's greatest strength, but is also a weakness. For all its brand recognition, observers and rivals alike have wondered whether the party's reputation for cohesion and discipline ran deep. Recent events, from the expulsion of its former Hougang man Yaw Shin Leong, which precipitated the by-election, as well as several recent resignations of party members, to the surprise emergence on the eve of Nomination Day of WP veteran Poh Lee Guan as a possible alternative candidate, and the leaking of internal party memos which raised questions over whether its candidate Png Eng Huat had been upfront about the process which led to him not having been put up for an NCMP seat, added to the doubts.

Hougang By-election: The Art of Low

Low explains comments on media
I SHARE the editorial writer's view that 'anyone who claims to promote the idea of a First World democracy should take care to uphold its institutions, including the media' ('Fallout from the Hougang showdown'; yesterday).

At the by-election public rally last Thursday, I said: 'The media is a potentially powerful tool for or against certain political parties. Therefore, it is imperative that the media must become a reliable source of information for the people, independent from the strong influence of the Government... We must not allow the media to be used by the Government as a political tool.'

At the press conference last Saturday night, I reiterated that only with an independent media that presents fair and accurate information, can the people make an informed choice of their Member of Parliament.

In the recent campaign, I detected biased reporting, calculated to damage the Workers' Party (WP) candidate and the party itself. For example, the front page of The Straits Times last Wednesday showed a large photo of party chairman Sylvia Lim and myself talking to each other with grim faces at our rally, with the candidate in between, with the headline 'WP faces allegations of dishonesty'. This was after the accusations had already been publicly clarified.

The writer is wrong to suggest that I am unhappy because there were adverse reports about WP. I welcome scrutiny of WP, but when images and headlines are manipulated to mislead readers, is it acceptable?

The media also reported unverified news and anonymous opinions. In Lianhe Zaobao on Monday, I cited the front-page report by my paper last Thursday, featuring an e-mail interview with the 'Secret Squirrel', who claimed to be a WP member, attacking WP.

Major economies need more skilled workers, engineers: study

By Nick Zieminski, Reuters, 29 May 2012

The United States and other large economies cannot find enough skilled workers, engineers and other in-demand employees, according to an annual study on talent shortages.

The study, by staffing services giant ManpowerGroup (MAN.N), found 34 percent of employers around the world report trouble filling jobs because of a lack of available talent. The percentage is unchanged from 2011 but up from the prior three years.

However, most of the employers -- 56 percent -- say unfilled jobs are likely to have little or no impact on customers and investors. That is up from 36 percent who said so a year ago.

Talent shortages persist despite high unemployment in many economies, especially among young people. Employers are more comfortable conducting business in an environment of talent shortages and remain reluctant to add workers while memories of recession are fresh, according to Manpower.

"Leaving positions unfilled may be a short-term fix, but it's a short-sighted and unsustainable approach to addressing talent shortages," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres said.

Singapore to woo more foreign law firms

Move will boost sector, give lawyers here more international exposure
By K. C. Vijayan, The Straits Times, 30 May 2012

MORE foreign law firms are to be allowed to practise in Singapore under a scheme that aims to build on the Republic's status as a legal hub.

They will be licensed to operate in areas such as corporate cases, but must employ a minimum number of local lawyers.

The aim is to develop the sector, while giving Singaporeans employed by the foreign firms more international exposure.

A second round of licences will be issued to companies from overseas later this year as part of the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice scheme, the Government announced yesterday.

The programme was introduced in 2008, when six firms were licensed.

LTA gets feedback every 24 seconds

It received 1.36m responses last year on road, vehicle and transport issues
By Karamjit Kaur, The Straits Times, 30 May 2012

EVERY 24 seconds, someone has something to say about buses, trains, cars or taxis.

Last year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) received more than 1.36 million responses as part of feedback over the phone or in writing. This is about double the number in 2007, a spokesman told The Straits Times.

The surge is a positive trend, said Mr Cedric Foo, MP for Pioneer SMC and chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport. 'As our society matures, the 'bo chap' attitude is gradually giving way to 'I can make a difference with my feedback'. This should definitely be encouraged,' he added.

Political observer and former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said all feedback received, including complaints, should be viewed in a positive light.

'The thinking is that this transport issue is mine. It's public, therefore I own it. It affects my comfort and convenience so therefore, I want to have a say in it,' he said.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Rochor Road-Victoria Street junction is safe, says LTA

It has done checks but some drivers, experts point out potential hazards
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 29 May 2012

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) has checked the Rochor Road-Victoria Street junction where two recent high-profile accidents took place, and found it to be safe.

The checks were done in the day as well as in the middle of the night after the accidents.

But 'as an added precautionary measure', LTA said it will 'synchronise the green phase' of the pedestrian crossing signals and the Victoria Street signal lights, so that both will be green at the same time.

It added that it will reinstate a set of overhead traffic signals once MRT works in the area are completed next year.

LTA group director of road operations Chin Kian Keong added yesterday: 'We cannot over-emphasise the importance for motorists to abide by the mandatory traffic signals and keep to the speed limits, and not to drive if they drink.'

The overhead traffic signals in question were removed when construction of the Downtown Line's Bugis station started five years ago, because of space constraints.

Observers said the absence of overhead signals, as well as a number of other characteristics of the area, could have made the junction more dicey for drivers.

On May 12 at 4.15am, a speeding Ferrari travelling down Victoria Street towards Kallang went through a red light and slammed into a taxi. The driver, taxi driver and cab passenger died, and a passing motorcyclist was injured.

Last Saturday at 3.15am at the exact spot, a Lexus driven by a man suspected to be intoxicated hit a taxi after allegedly breaching a red light. The passenger in the cab was slightly injured.

Retired traffic engineer Joseph Yee said that overhead traffic signals are a standard feature at most major junctions.

Mr Yee, 67, said they improve visibility, as vertical pole signals are often visible only to drivers of the first few vehicles in a queue as these structures are not tall enough.

He said in situations where a junction does not have overhead signals, and subsequent junctions have them, 'some ambiguity in some circumstances' could result. For instance, a driver can miss a red flashed on vertical signal poles and see the green at the subsequent overhead signals.

Bidadari works begin by end 2012

First launch of build-to-order flats at new town may take place by 2015
By Esther Teo, The Straits Times, 29 May 2012

WORK on the latest new town, Bidadari, will start by the end of the year, paving the way for 12,000 new homes to be built in central Singapore.

The site is slated for both private as well as Housing Board (HDB) homes.

Depending on demand, the first HDB build-to-order launch may take place as early as 2015, a National Development Ministry (MND) spokesman said.

This could mean HDB flats completed by 2018 or so, consultants said.

The move to develop Bidadari is part of a twin-pronged strategy to meet ongoing strong housing demand. The other is to use land in existing estates more intensively, the MND spokesman said yesterday in response to queries.

Bidadari, near Potong Pasir, is a former cemetery whose graves were exhumed in 2001 to make way for housing.

It is currently a park, slightly smaller than Punggol estate.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

No to nursing home, say Bishan residents

About 40 people signed petition to oppose MOH plan
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 28 May 2012

NOT in my neighbourhood, please.

In the latest example of Singaporeans not wanting certain amenities in their estate, a group of Bishan residents are clamouring for a nursing home to be sited elsewhere.

The Ministry of Health plans to build a 260-bed nursing home on a 0.3ha site facing three blocks of flats in Bishan Street 13.

The Lions Home for the Elders will be six to eight storeys tall.

At a dialogue held at Bishan Community Club yesterday to discuss the issue, about 20 residents voiced their opposition.

Some wanted the Government to scout for other sites while others lamented the loss of the site which is now used as a football field.

Hougang By-election: The Day After

WP will work with PAP to better Singapore: Low
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 28 May 2012

A DAY after emerging victorious in the Hougang by-election, the Workers' Party said it wants to move on and work with the People's Action Party to tackle important national issues.

WP chief Low Thia Khiang said he noted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call to Singaporeans late on Saturday to refocus on longer term issues and 'work together as one people to achieve the best for Singapore'.



Speaking to reporters yesterday morning, Mr Low said: 'The WP will move on from this election and work together with the ruling party for the betterment of Singapore.'

It was the opposition leader's way of explaining why he would not be taking up points raised by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean during the by-election campaign, which Mr Low described on Saturday night as 'character assassinations'.

A German model goes global

Apprenticeship - mixing classroom, practical training - gains popularity
By Chris Bryant, Published The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

MERCEDES-BENZ began building cars near Tuscaloosa, Alabama more than 15 years ago. Over time, US sales and the technological complexity of its vehicles accelerated but the company faced a bigger challenge: the supply of skilled labour did not keep pace and the German company feared driving headlong into a wall.

'Producing a Mercedes car is a hugely technical task in terms of the materials and process involved such as automation technology, laser welding and gluing,' says Mr Marcus Schaefer, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz US International.

'That ultimately requires high- quality trained people who can manage the technology in the plant. But there was a gap between what we could get from the labour market and what we needed in the plant.'

Mercedes-Benz decided to take matters into its own hands and set up an apprenticeship scheme based on the German dual system, which emphasises a combination of classroom training and hands-on technical experience in the factory. In January, 40 Alabama high school graduates began a seven-semester programme at the plant.

Iskandar Malaysia no longer a pipe dream?

Ambitious growth corridor takes shape but faultlines emerge as well
By Anita Gabriel, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

ALL roads lead to Iskandar Malaysia, or so it seems, since the RM945 million (S$380 million) six-lane coastal highway opened in Malaysia's southern tip last month.

The spanking new expressway cuts travel time by half - to about 20 minutes - from Singapore.

Toll booths are visibly absent along the wide 14.5km stretch from Danga Bay, Johor Baru's central business district, to Iskandar Malaysia's Nusajaya, further sweetening the proposition for motorists.

'Iskandar Malaysia is no longer a pipe dream,' said an observer.

Iskandar is Malaysia's largest growth corridor, sprawled over 2,217 sq km, three times the size of Singapore. The government has invested RM6.3 billion in the project, which has created 20,000 jobs since its ground-breaking six years ago. Job creation is set to double in three years.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Can we cope with 8 million on the island?

Much depends on how we plan - and provide - services to meet growing needs
By Warren Fernandez, The Straits Times, 27 May 2012

Xenophobia is alive and well around the world, including in some corners of this island.

Just look at the vitriol being spewed on the Internet against foreigners in the wake of the tragic accident on Rochor Road involving a speed demon from Sichuan.

A foreign observer might be forgiven for concluding that Singapore is not far off from spawning a nationalist party, whose rallying cry might be the mantra now being spouted by politicians of every stripe: 'Singaporeans first.'

This seems ironic in a nation where most people are second- or third-generation offspring of immigrants themselves. How has it come to this? What explains the visceral reactions to those who have arrived here more recently?

Sure, some new immigrants may be arrogant and uncouth. But when I hear venom being heaped collectively on 'foreigners', I can't help but wonder if those speaking realise that our forefathers too hailed from similar sources, probably spoke little English and had social graces that might not sit so comfortably in modern Singapore. They were probably looked down on, discriminated against, perhaps even abused, by their colonial masters.

Have we forgotten?

Aid for the 'silent' needy

The Silent Foundation helps those overlooked by traditional charities
By Judith Tan, The Straits Times, 27 May 2012

There is no question that Mr Teng Ngiek Lian is at the top of his game.

Before he founded Target Asset Management as a boutique fund manager in 1996, he led investment banks such as Morgan Grenfell and UBS Asset Management in Asia.

He has held top management positions elsewhere and sat on many boards in his 43 years in the financial world.

And through it all, he has not forgotten how his success has been entirely self-made.

Hougang By-election: WP retains seat

WP wins 62.1%
Party chief Low quick to challenge PM to show sincerity by approving upgrading
By Lydia Lim, The Straits Times, 27 May 2012

The Workers' Party won its sixth straight election in Hougang yesterday with 62.1 per cent of valid votes cast.

It was a strong showing by its candidate Png Eng Huat, whose winning margin was just three percentage points lower than the party's best of 64.8 per cent in last May's general election.


Polyclinic services are heavily subsidised

$37 bill before subsidy: Polyclinic group

WE THANK Mr Lim Ingyew for his letter ('Polyclinic puzzle'; Wednesday).
Polyclinic services are heavily subsidised.

Generally, polyclinic bills will list the actual cost of the services and/or drugs before subsidy, and the amount payable after subsidy.

The $37 cited by Mr Lim is the cost of consultation before subsidy.

All Singaporean patients receive a government subsidy of $26.70 for consultation at the polyclinic and need to pay only $10.30 out-of-pocket at each visit.

Polyclinics operate as one-stop centres, providing a comprehensive array of primary care services, including laboratory services, X-rays, dental, pharmacy and allied health services.

This allows us to be centres of excellence for chronic disease management. With heavy government subsidy, Singaporeans can enjoy the convenience of such multiple services under one roof at very affordable rates.

We wish Mr Lim and his family the very best of health.

Grace Chiang (Ms)
Chief Operating Officer,
National Healthcare Group Polyclinics
ST Forum, 26 May 2012

Looming weight on young shoulders

The children of today will have to support many more non-working elderly people than their parents, if current demographic trends continue. In the first of an occasional series on population issues, Insight looks at what a shrinking old-age support ratio means for the city state.
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

YEE Yan Wan is just three years old but policymakers here are already worrying about her future choices.

The concern arises because of Singapore's shrinking old-age support ratio. That is the number of people aged 15 to 64 available to support each person 65 or older.

If Singaporeans do not start having more babies, and even with a steady intake of 30,000 new immigrants each year, the ratio will plummet from 10.3:1 in 2010, to 3.9:1 by 2040.

That is the year Yan Wan turns 31 and enters her prime working years.

Strip away the foreigner quarter of the population, and that ratio shrivels to 2.7:1 by 2040.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Some flat owners sitting on a goldmine

HDB units bought in 2007 can fetch more than double the purchase price
By Daryl Chin, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

SOME lucky Housing Board home owners, whose flats are entering the resale market this year, are looking at more than double the price they paid for the units.

Property analysts say such high asset appreciation, attributable to good timing and a buoyant resale market, is one that is unlikely to be repeated in a long time.

These flat owners, who had the keys handed to them in 2007, would have fulfilled the minimum occupancy period (MOP) of five years this year.

'Back then, HDB prices were in the doldrums because of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the Asian financial crisis,' said PropNex chief executive Mohamed Ismail, who linked the windfall they could enjoy to the surge in resale flat prices in recent years.

What is it about Singapore?

The unofficial capital of Asia is the place to be to witness an exciting future unfolding
By Ayesha and Parag Khanna, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

IT IS a cliche that the Pacific Ocean is displacing the Atlantic, China will replace America at the top of the world's hierarchy of power, and the East will surpass the West. We do not believe any of that for a minute. The multipolar world we are entering will have no single winner, and the three-pillared West of the European Union, North America and Latin America remains a triangular zone of peace and the foundation of global stability.

But a world of continued Western power is not a world of Western dominance. Areas once considered the West's eminent domain such as the Middle East and Africa are now looking East for investment and exports, and new models of growth, development and governance. It would not hurt for the West to do the same.

We can all start by looking at Singapore, to which we are relocating shortly.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 29, Close of Public Inquiry

SMRT 'will learn from mistakes'
Both train operator and transport regulator willing to set things right, says judge at close of inquiry
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

THE six-week MRT inquiry drew to a close yesterday on a positive note, with the Committee of Inquiry looking forward to improvements that will be made in the wake of December's breakdowns.

In his closing remarks, Chief District Judge Tan Siong Thye said train operator SMRT had shown it was prepared to learn from its mistakes.

'The scale of the two disruptions was, without any doubt, the worst in the history of the Singapore MRT system,' he said.

But people have to understand that even the best system in the world may falter, he added.

'What is important is the willingness to learn and the positive attitude to acknowledge the shortcomings and put things right quickly.'

He said he had seen this willingness in both SMRT and the Land Transport Authority, Singapore's transport regulator.

'Thus there is a silver lining in these incidents,' he added.

Disabled to run new thrift shop

Minds partners NTUC arm to set up store in Redhill
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

A THRIFT store with a difference will open at a void deck in Redhill next month.

Located within an eldercare centre operated by NTUC Eldercare and selling recycled items, it will be manned by adults with intellectual disabilities and the elderly.

The store is a partnership between the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) and NTUC Eldercare.

MINDS, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, is looking for more such collaborations with other social service providers such as eldercare agencies.

MINDS president Conrad Campos said: 'To achieve economies of scale, we can partner other sectors, especially in areas where the issues are similar and future demand cannot be met with current supply.'

Project One More Thing: Youth group grants old folk's wishes

By Jose Hong, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

GIVEN Singapore's sweltering weather, 64-year-old Ong Siew Hong has one wish - a fan.

That could come true with Project One More Thing, a youth movement which was officially launched on Monday. It hopes to fulfil the wishes of an often- neglected segment of society - the elderly.



Saturday, 26 May 2012

Bosses okay higher pay but not built-in raise

They fear mandatory pay hikes will saddle them with high fixed costs
By Alvin Foo and Melissa Tan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

BOSSES are willing to raise wages of low-income workers to stay competitive in the tight labour market but maintain that built-in pay increases may be too costly a burden.

They believe the National Wages Council's (NWC) call for mandatory pay rises will lock them into untenable commitments.

Mr Kenneth Loo, general manager of Straits Construction, said: 'When we tender for a job today, it's for something that's in two years. We don't know what changes will come so it's pretty risky for us.'

He said that while he was willing to raise wages, part of the increment was likely to go to a variable component and the allocation would have to be determined after considering the full impact.

S'pore chooses new leaders very carefully: Lee Kuan Yew

By Michiyo Ishida, Channel NewsAsia, 24 May 2012

Singapore's former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore is very careful in selecting its new leaders, allowing them to work with senior leaders for long years before they take over the leadership.

He said this is to ensure that leaders understand the intricacies of government and also maintain high standards of honesty and duty.

"I hope that successive leaders will bring in carefully selected people who have got the potential to do more than something for themselves. They're not paid very much to do that. It must be a bit of a sacrifice, because the people with the potential to be ministers can easily earn bigger figures outside in the public sector," he said.

Mr Lee was asked at the annual Nikkei "Future of Asia Conference" in Tokyo about Singapore's leadership succession process.


Political and business leaders meeting in Tokyo reaffirmed the importance of Asia to the global economy, and discussed the impact of the eurozone crisis.

The eurozone crisis has had a direct impact on Asia, with many countries - including China - exporting to Europe.

The Asia Pacific region, comprising 45 countries, was projected to grow 6.9 per cent in 2012, picking up to 7.3 per cent in 2013.

But the forecast by the Asian Development Bank is expected to be revised due to global uncertainties.

Blogger Xiaxue fights back against Facebook abuse

She posts on blog pictures of those who insulted her over PAP rally photos
By Grace Chua and Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

MEN who this week called popular blogger Xiaxue a 'stupid bimbo' and a 'whore' online are getting a taste of their own medicine.

She is fighting back by posting their photos and information on her blog, in an attempt to show that they do not have much of a leg to stand on in the looks and intelligence department themselves.

The furore started when photos of her with two friends, taken without permission from their blogs, surfaced on the Facebook page of political website Temasek Review on Monday, Tuesday and yesterday, with an invitation to caption them.

The photos of the three - Xiaxue and her friends Qiu Qiu and Sophie - were taken at a People's Action Party (PAP) rally in Aljunied GRC during last May's general election. In the photo, Xiaxue, 28, and Qiu Qiu, 24, have PAP logos on their faces.

In her blog, Xiaxue has never made her support for Singapore's ruling party a secret.

Commenters responded to the Temasek Review's invitation readily: 'Cheap b****,' said one.

'Pretty and sexy girls, which part of Geylang they work?', said another.

Xiaxue, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, posted on her blog yesterday: 'I don't know what is their problem (sic) because as I said, I have not uttered a word about this election and the photos are one year old.'

To get back at them, she trawled Facebook for their photos and information - and Facebook was obliging, because many of their profiles were public.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 28

Dislodged claws 'not on my radar'
SMRT V-P quizzed on maintenance; he did not expect 3rd rail to collapse
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE top man in charge of trains at SMRT was yesterday quizzed on the most prevalent topic of the six-week-old Committee of Inquiry hearing: maintenance.

Mr Khoo Hean Siang was asked about SMRT's maintenance regimen, the amount of money it spends on upkeeping and renewing its operating assets, and why the power-supplying third rail and its support assembly had not been given as much attention as some other parts of the system.

On the latter, Mr Khoo, SMRT's executive vice-president of trains, said dislodged claws of the third rail had 'not been on my radar screen'.

Have baby before 30, get 20% off HDB flat?

On Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, specialist in women's cancer Tay Eng Hseon talks to Susan Long about women's cancer, fertility and how the state can incentivise young women to have babies.
The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

DON'T cave in and allow women to freeze their eggs while waiting for Mr Right to show up. It won't boost Singapore's flagging fertility. Instead, it will probably cause it to plummet further, warns one of Singapore's top gynaecological oncologists.

Dr Tay Eng Hseon argues that it will lull women into a false sense of security that they can afford to wait to settle down, since they have stashed away their 'young eggs'.

This may worsen the trend of late marriages and births here. 'In time, we will have more and more older pregnant women with increased medical risks,' he fears.

It will make child-bearing costlier as in-vitro fertilisations (IVF) and embryo transfers may become the norm, using banked eggs.

Ageing: Turning crisis into opportunity

What are the social implications of an ageing population, and how can we respond to them as a society?
By Radha Basu, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

MR WEE Char Lee, 85, spends three to four hours nearly every day volunteering at an activity centre for senior citizens.

The father of three grown-up children shares jokes and gossip about the ways of the world with his peers who frequent the centre. Laughter and camaraderie are what keep him going, acknowledges the former executive in a multinational firm, who has both savings and family support.

Not too far from the Tiong Bahru centre that Mr Wee frequents are some not-so-fortunate older folk who face a far more uncertain future.

I met one of them, Mr Ang Seng Hwee, 65, late last year. He and his wife, Madam Lee Siew Moi, were both surviving on the $297 he got in Central Provident Fund payments every month. Madam Lee, who is in her 50s, could not work because of an earlier wrist injury. He had just lost his job as a cleaner.

They later applied for aid from the Government, which they received. But for three months after Mr Lee lost his job, the couple would walk 20 minutes from their York Hill rental flat to a temple for free food.

Demographers have called ageing one of the defining global trends this century. According to some estimates, no other country will age as rapidly as Singapore.

Hougang By-election: On The Campaign Trail, Day 9

PAP: Chance to start afresh in Hougang
PM Lee, Khaw Boon Wan urge residents to back young candidate
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

THE People's Action Party (PAP) ended its campaign in Hougang yesterday with a call for change in the ward, urging voters to start afresh with its young candidate.

'Hougang, let's turn over a new page and start again,' declared party chairman Khaw Boon Wan at the PAP's final rally of the by-election last night.

With the ward in opposition hands since 1991, Hougang residents had been adversely affected, said Mr Khaw.

'This is a good chance for a fresh start.'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong struck the same note in remarks to the media yesterday.

'Now the people of Hougang have a chance to make a fresh start, to vote in a PAP candidate who will work with the Government to improve their lives,' he wrote.

'I hope Hougang voters seize this chance.'

PAP candidate Desmond Choo, 34, described Hougang's 23,368 voters as standing at a crossroads.

In an impassioned rally speech, he said voters could either stick with the status quo in Hougang, or make a change now.

Sticking with the status quo would mean four more years of the same thing, he said. 'And that is four years too long.'

Mr Choo, who has run a dogged campaign centred on door-to-door outreach, was repeatedly described by PAP leaders as 'sincere, idealistic and hard-working' last night.



NWC Guidelines 2012/2013: Give built-in pay rises, low-wage workers to get higher increase

Low-wage workers to get higher increments; Govt accepts guidelines
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

THE National Wages Council (NWC) yesterday recommended that workers here get built-in wage increases this year, to cushion against rising inflation and cost pressures.

It said low-wage workers should receive higher built-in increases because their income growth in the last 10 years has lagged behind that of the rest of the workforce.

It recommends that companies grant them a built-in wage increase in the form of a dollar quantum and a percentage wage increase.

'This will give the low-wage workers in the company a proportionately higher built-in wage increase,' it said.

Companies that are doing well may also consider giving these workers an additional one-off lump-sum payment, to help them better cope with the cost of living.

For the first time in nearly three decades, the NWC also specified the amount of wage increase some workers should get this year. It said those earning a basic monthly salary of up to $1,000 should get a built-in increase of at least $50 - a figure reported by The Sunday Times this week.

However, it recommends that companies that are doing well give these workers a larger increase.

Inflation hits 4-month high of 5.4% in April

Higher-than-expected figure mainly due to high transport, housing costs
By Aaron Low, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

HIGHER car prices and accommodation costs drove inflation to a four-month high of 5.4 per cent last month with warnings that any relief from soaring prices is a few months away at least.

The high number caught out economists who had expected the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to come in at 5.2 per cent. Inflation was at 5.2 per cent in March.

All segments of the CPI recorded increases but the biggest contributors were again private transport and accommodation costs.

They formed more than two-thirds of inflation last month, said a statement by the central bank and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) yesterday.

New-look schools

School gets spruced-up facilities
Guangyang Primary pupils enjoy new theatrette, science and herb garden
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

GUANGYANG Primary School has been at its Bishan location for nearly 20 years - not that anyone can tell by looking at it today.

The school, which moved from Yio Chu Kang to Bishan in 1993, is not only freshly painted, but has a suite of new facilities, including an outdoor science and herb garden and a theatrette for about 100 pupils that opens up into a performing arts area.


Guangyang was renovated in 2010 under an Education Ministry (MOE) initiative that helps primary schools upgrade their facilities to include those that promote skills and values - such as for music and drama lessons.

Since the scheme was launched in 2009, 78 primary schools have been slated for upgrading and 11 new schools built.

Last week, MOE said that from November next year, another 71 schools will be given a makeover at a cost of $650 million.

It is the largest batch of schools to come under the scheme so far.

Confinement nannies go professional

WDA-Thomson Medical initiative to ease shortfall
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

CONFINEMENT nannies are so in demand that some couples book their services eight months before the baby is due.

But a first-ever initiative to train confinement nannies - who provide help in the first month after birth - should help ease the supply crunch.

The Confinement Nanny Train-and-Place Programme
was announced by Minister of State for Health Amy Khor at a career fair in Jurong East yesterday.

She noted that this year, being the Dragon Year in the Chinese zodiac, will 'intensify the shortage of confinement nannies by an estimated 30 per cent'.

Many Chinese believe the Dragon Year is auspicious for having babies. The figures bear that out, with some 9,900 babies born in the first three months of the year - an 8 per cent rise from the same period last year.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Union explains SMRT's new pay framework for bus drivers

TODAY, 23 May 2012

Following media reports that some SMRT bus drivers are fretting that their new six-day work weeks would actually result in lower pay, the National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) yesterday stressed that the salaries will go up. 

In a letter to the media, NTWU assistant executive secretary Choo Joon See also provided a breakdown of how much more the bus drivers would be earning under the new pay framework.

Last week, the SMRT announced that since the start of this month, it has increased the pay of its bus drivers. But it later emerged that the bus drivers have to work an additional day under the new pay framework.

Mr Choo reiterated that although the bus drivers now have to work six days a week, the number of working hours each day has been reduced from 8.8 to 7.3 hours. 

Hence, the total weekly working hours remain unchanged, he said. 

Previously, under a five-day-week framework, most bus drivers volunteer to work on the sixth day, during which they are paid an overtime rate of 1.5 times the normal day rate. 

Said Mr Choo: "The fear is that with a six-day week, their overtime for working on a day off will disappear. However, with shorter working hours every day under a six-day week, they now accumulate overtime every day instead of only on the sixth day."

Mr Choo said the union has "gone through the roster cycle and is assured there is no loss in overtime overall". He added: "In fact, with a higher basic wage, the overtime rate per hour will go up, further boosting their pay." 

He noted that six-day work weeks are a norm in the service industry and that SBS Transit bus drivers have always been on six-day week, as were bus drivers from TIBS and, later, the SMRT until this arrangement was changed to a five-day work week in 2006. 

"We hope more (drivers) will be more reassured," Mr Choo added. Communication sessions with drivers are ongoing.

SMRT has been more proactive in minimising faults: Lui Tuck Yew

By Hetty Musfirah, Channel NewsAsia, 23 May 2012

Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew said on Wednesday that rail operator SMRT has been more proactive in its approach to minimise faults in the train network.

"I appreciate very, very much ... that it was not just the management people who have put in many extra hours, but also the people on the ground, the engineers, the maintenance staff, the technical people," Mr Lui said.

"They have worked much, much harder than in the past, over the last few months."



He made the comments during a visit to Bishan Depot in the morning to get a better sense of the work processes for components such as batteries, current collector shoes and wheels.

The emphasis in the maintenance regime of SMRT has shifted - from just repairing and maintaining assets - to replacing them.

MRT breakdown COI: Day 27

SMRT unaware vibration would disrupt power
By Jermyn Chow. The Straits Times, 24 May 2012

RAIL operator SMRT was unaware of the damage that vibration from passing trains could inflict on its system until its train services broke down for the second time in two days last December.

Its vice-president for maintenance Ng Tek Poo told the Committee of Inquiry (COI) yesterday that the rail operator did not know that vibration could dislodge the metal claws holding the power supply third rail in place.

In last December's breakdowns which hit more than 200,000 commuters, third-rail claws that had come loose caused the third rail to sag, disrupting power supply to the trains.