Saturday, 30 June 2012

Private versus Public Hospitals

About bill sizes, doctor exodus...

DR GERARD Chee agreed that private hospital charges are higher than those in public hospitals ('Bill comparisons may not reflect true cost differences'; Tuesday).

However, he suggests that the cost comparisons may not be wholly accurate because the report did not reflect all private and public hospital bills. He further concludes that the private-public hospital cost differentials are due more to public-sector doctors being grossly underpaid.

The Ministry of Health has been publishing bill size data for the top 70 medical conditions in public hospitals on our website (www.moh.gov.sg) since 2003.

With effect from last year, all private hospitals have also submitted their bill size data for the same medical conditions for publication on our website.

The published bill sizes include inpatient and day surgery cases, and reflect hospital charges as well as doctors' professional fees.

Inpatient and day surgery cases were chosen because patients would usually incur larger expenses for hospitalisation as compared to outpatient treatments.

The public can refer to the published data on the ministry's website to form their own conclusions on the inpatient and day surgery cost comparisons between public and private hospitals.

While the attrition rate of public-sector doctors has remained stable for the past three years, we are mindful that pay must be fair and competitive in order to recognise the good work of our doctors in the public health-care system.

As announced by the Health Minister in March, a new and more competitive pay framework is being introduced to better recognise the contributions of our doctors in clinical care, education, research, leadership and administration in the public health-care sector.

Doctors who leave the public sector do so for various reasons, of which pay could be one.

It would, however, be disrespectful and unfair to the many dedicated and professional doctors in the public sector to suggest that they, too, will leave eventually in search of better pay and cause their patients to suffer a 'decline' in the quality of care.

Many public-sector doctors are motivated by a sense of mission and the satisfaction of being in public service, contributing to the care of patients, the furtherance of medical knowledge and the nurturing of future generations of doctors. As members of a respected profession, doctors aspire to do their best, regardless of where they choose to practise.

Bey Mui Leng (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
ST Forum, 29 Jun 2012

Factory janitor among Taiwan's big givers

Doing good is a way of life for many, even the poor
By Lee Seok Hwai, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2012

Mr Chao Wen-cheng (fourth from left)
TAIPEI - A vegetable seller donated NT$10 million to children's charities. A factory janitor gave away NT$4 million over 30 years despite having to raise five children. A veteran soldier, 82, gave his life savings of NT$6 million to other veterans.

Such stories of extraordinary generosity from the underclass of Taiwanese society have emerged in recent years, drawing international attention and making waves on the island.

The latest is that of Mr Chao Wen-cheng, 68. The factory cleaner from Taichung, central Taiwan, earns a mere NT$15,000 (S$645) a month, and collects scrap for recycling to supplement his income. Yet, he has donated NT$4.05 million (S$174,000) to orphanages and other charities since 1979.

For his acts of kindness, Mr Chao was named by US magazine Forbes last week as one of its 48 'heroes of philanthropy' from Asia this year, alongside such big-name philanthropists as Evergreen Group founder Chang Yung-fa, Chimei Group founder Shi Wen-long and restaurateur Steve Day, all of whom have donated billions of dollars to charitable causes or foundations.

'I've been through hardship and never completed my studies,' Mr Chao told Taiwanese reporters, who flocked to interview him at his spartan home after the Forbes citation.

'As long as I see children fed well, have clothes on their backs, are healthy and studying well, I'm happy.'

City: Harvest is ours

* All 6 accused, including founder Kong Hee, found guilty of all charges


City Harvest disputes '$50m cheating charges'
Church stands by its 5 leaders who were charged
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2012

CITY Harvest Church last night disputed allegations that its leaders had conspired to cheat the church of $50 million.

In a strongly worded statement, it maintained that it did not lose any funds and no personal profit was gained by those involved in the transactions.

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain, 39, said: 'It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of $50 million.

'This is not accurate. The $24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn't lose the $24 million, nor did we lose 'another $26.6 million' as alleged.'

He added: 'The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned.'

When asked to respond to the church's statement, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said last night: 'We wish to reiterate that as criminal charges are now before the court and will be subject to adjudication by the court; and that as such, neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication and on which evidence will be led in court.'

Similarly, the police, responding to the same statement, said: 'Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused.'

Singapore improves scores in green record card

By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2012

SINGAPORE improved its environmental performance in almost all areas last year, said a government report published yesterday.

The country recycled more, hawkers cleaned up their stalls, and households used less water. The only dark spot was the air pollutants in the Republic.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide rose for the second consecutive year, and the amount of polluting particles in the air continued to exceed World Health Organisation guidelines.

The annual report tracks the country's performance in all green matters, from recycling to water management to the number of electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads.

It showed that almost 60 per cent of solid waste created last year was recycled, keeping Singapore on track to hit its target of 65 per cent by 2020.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Gardens By The Bay officially opened by PM Lee

Gardens by the Bay not an easy decision: PM
Vital to have such green space despite giving up 101ha of prime land, he says
By Tan Dawn Wei, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2012

SETTING aside 101ha of prime land in the heart of Singapore's new downtown for Gardens by the Bay was not an easy decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

The land could have been used for far more valuable commercial and residential developments, but planners believed in the value of an iconic green space - one that would be a key part of the new downtown in Marina Bay South and Singapore's answer to New York's Central Park and London's Hyde Park.

Speaking at the opening of the attraction, at which he unveiled a silver plaque, he said that with the city-state being so densely populated, such green lungs were needed.

'In fact, the more developed a city Singapore is, the more important it is for us to have such peaceful oases amid our tropical concrete and expressways, in order to give us emotional well-being and a sense of belonging.'



He was addressing 700 civil servants, corporate partners and students who were at the Flower Dome conservatory for the opening ceremony. He had earlier gone on a tour of the Gardens, taking in the sights from the OCBC Skyway, a 128m-long aerial walkway linking two 42m-tall Supertrees.

Mr Lee had announced the idea for the Gardens in his National Day Rally speech in 2005.

Child Development Account can now pay for more from July 2012

By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2012

A SPECIAL savings account scheme to help young children is being expanded next month.

Details were released yesterday of 700 new outlets taking part in the government programme.

Parents will now be allowed to use the Child Development Account to buy spectacles or prescription medicine for their children.

And those with disabled youngsters will be able to purchase devices to make life easier, such as special computer equipment.

At the moment, the accounts - which are co-funded by the Government - can be used only at approved institutions like kindergartens and clinics to pay for expenses such as childcare fees and medical services.

The account is closed when the child reaches six. But from next year, this age limit will be raised to 12.

More details on the expanded scheme will be announced later.

Tharman stresses need for social mobility

Deputy PM is confident Singapore can avoid having a permanent underclass
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2012

DEPUTY Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday warned of the danger of an underclass becoming a permanent feature of Singapore society, but expressed confidence that the country can overcome the challenge.

He made the point at the 60th anniversary dinner of the Malay Muslim Women's Association, or PPIS, as he called on the members to partner the Government to ensure social mobility.

He told the gathering of about 600 people: 'This happens in every society... the disadvantage of one generation is very easily passed down to... the children and grandchildren.

'We have to do our utmost to ensure that those who start off behind have the best chances of catching up, so that disadvantage does not get repeated across generations.'

Stuck in the middle-income trap

By Bruce Gale, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2012

MR SAMPAN Silapanad, president of Thailand's Electronics and Computer Employers' Association, had a grim message for participants at a forum on the Asean Economic Community earlier this month.

Thailand, he said, was 'caught between low- and high-end production, unable to move either up or down the value chain'. Many economists believe Malaysia is facing a similar problem.

In other words, the two countries have fallen into what has become known as the 'middle-income trap'. This refers to a situation in which poor countries achieve a high level of economic growth, often by taking advantage of a low-wage workforce and abundant natural resources. But after reaching a certain level of per capita income, they find they are unable to take the next step to becoming developed nations.

Warning: Secular Music Ahead








Can't wait for more? Knock yourself out at Gyrating for Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide to Sun Ho’s Greatest “HITS” -syntaxfree







SMRT increases early travel discount to 50 cents

More incentives to encourage off-peak travel on trains
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Jun 2012

More discounts and incentives for train commuters who choose to travel during off-peak periods.

Starting 6 August, commuters will get 50 cents off their fares under the SMRT Early Travel Discount Scheme - up from the current 30 cents.

This is if they end their journey before 7.45am on weekdays at stations in the city area.

The amount was last increased from 10 cents to 30 cents in October 2011.



Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew announced this during a visit to Clementi MRT Station and Bus Interchange on Thursday.

The discount will also be extended to five more stations in the city - Bayfront, Bras Basah, Esplanade, Marina Bay and Promenade stations on the Circle Line.

There are currently nine exit stations in the city participating in the discount scheme - Bugis, City Hall, Dhoby Ghaut, Lavender, Orchard, Outram Park, Raffles Place, Somerset and Tanjong Pagar.

This will bring the total number of exit stations eligible for the discount in the city area to 14.

City Harvest case: '$50m misused'

Fresh revelations of another $26.6m allegedly used in cover-up bid
By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2012

CITY Harvest Church's Kong Hee and four others were charged yesterday with allegedly siphoning church money, amid fresh revelations that they conspired to cheat the church of over $50 million.

It emerged yesterday that $26.6 million was allegedly used to cover up an initial $24 million which they had taken from the church's building fund and put into sham investments.


These investments in turn were actually being used to finance the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun.

Kong, 47, who showed up at the Subordinate Courts holding Ms Ho's hand and surrounded by a phalanx of supporters, faces three counts of committing criminal breach of trust as an agent.

If found guilty, he could be jailed for life.

All 6 accused, including founder Kong Hee, found guilty of all charges

He and the other four accused are to return to court on July 25. All five posted bail of $500,000 each, with Kong's bail put up by his 42-year-old wife's parents. The passports of the five charged have been impounded.

Their appearance in court yesterday came a day after the Commercial Affairs Department swooped in on them in their homes early on Tuesday morning, wrapping up a two-year probe.

On the same day, the Commissioner of Charities revealed that financial irregularities amounting to at least $23 million had been discovered and eight church members, including the five, had been suspended.

Yesterday, court documents showed that this alleged conspiracy was carried out through bond investments in two companies.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

City Harvested

5 City Harvest leaders arrested
They will be charged in court today over misuse of $23m of church funds
By Ignatius Low, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2012

A TWO-YEAR police investigation into one of Singapore's biggest mega churches has ended with five of its leaders arrested and at least $23 million in church funds found misused.

The charismatic founder of City Harvest Church Kong Hee, and four others were nabbed on suspicion of using the money to finance the secular music career of his wife, pop singer Ho Yeow Sun, over three years, from 2007 to 2010.

This was despite City Harvest insisting repeatedly in public that it has not funded Ms Ho's career.

The church's executive members were also allegedly never told that the funds were being used for this purpose.

All 6 accused, including founder Kong Hee, found guilty of all charges

Apart from Mr Kong, 47, the spiritual leader and president of City Harvest's management board, the others arrested were:
- Mr Tan Ye Peng, 39, vice-president of the management board; 
- Mr John Lam Leng Hung, 44, member of the management board;
- Mr Chew Eng Han, in his 50s, the church's investment manager; and 
- Ms Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, 37, the church's finance manager.
The five will be charged today with conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust as an agent. If convicted, each of them could be jailed for life and fined.

School fees rise for non-Singaporeans from January 2013

PRs, foreigners to pay more in school fees from January
Rise of $50-$250 a month to further differentiate fees by citizenship
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2012

IN ANOTHER move to put Singaporeans first, permanent residents and foreigners will pay even higher school fees in government and government-aided schools.

The changes, which will take effect next January, were made to 'further differentiate fees by citizenship', the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced yesterday.

The adjustments will affect PRs and foreigners in primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges and centralised institutes.

There will be no change in fees for Singapore citizens.


Fees have been going up for PRs and foreigners in the past two years.

Major PCF revamp to offer equal standards

328 kindergartens, childcare centres to come under a centralised system
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2012

PARENTS can expect the same standards when they send their child to a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) kindergarten - be it a branch in Bishan or Bedok.

This is what PCF, Singapore's largest preschool operator, hopes to achieve with the biggest revamp in its 26-year history.

It has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring all its 328 kindergartens and childcare centres under a centralised system.

By doing so, all the centres can have similar curricula. This would help address the problem of uneven standards across the different PCF schools, Minister of State for Education Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

With the revamp, parents can be 'assured of a certain benchmark quality' in all the centres, he said. 'PCF has done well all these years, but we have seen an unevenness in the quality across the centres,' Mr Wong, who is chairman of the PCF executive committee, told The Straits Times in an interview.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

CDAC: More aid for poor Chinese families to move up

CDAC to spend 20% more on social mobility programmes for community
By Phua Mei Pin, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2012

LOWER-income Chinese families in Singapore will receive more help from the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) as the self-help group places greater emphasis on social mobility.

It has budgeted almost 20 per cent more than last year to help the less well-off make good and move up the socio-economic ladder.

The move is in line with the national effort to build a cohesive society and follows Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's call last month for self-help groups to take on the task of helping families climb up the ladder.

In all, the CDAC - which has traditionally focused on providing tuition to poor students and training to low-income workers - plans to spend $4.5 million, out of this year's total budget of $25 million, on social mobility programmes for students, workers and families.

This is 18 per cent more than last year's $3.8 million.



The growing emphasis is inevitable, said Mr Lim Swee Say, 57, outgoing chairman of its board of directors, yesterday when he introduced his successor, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, 53.

'In future years, with a rapidly changing environment, much greater stress, greater diversity, I think we can do a lot more to help many more Singaporeans,' the labour chief, who helmed the CDAC for eight years, told reporters after its annual general meeting.

The big task will now be in the hands of Mr Gan, the CDAC's third chairman in 20 years.

Inflation eases slightly to 5%

It falls from 5.4% but pricier housing, transport keep May index elevated
By Magdalen Ng, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2012

INFLATION moderated slightly last month but stayed elevated, on the back of pricier accommodation and transport.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 5 per cent in May, from the same month a year earlier, just below the market consensus of 5.1 per cent.

That was a fall from April's 5.4 per cent.

Once again, housing and transport costs were the main culprits, rising 8.2 per cent and 9.2 per cent respectively.

These two items accounted for nearly two-thirds of inflation last month, although all segments of the CPI recorded increases.

Rising youth interest in politics

Many still keen on joining parties after the General Election
By Tessa Wong, Teo Wan Gek and Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2012

MORE than a year after General Election 2011, political parties say record numbers of young Singaporeans remain interested in volunteering with them and joining as members.

That is different from past polls, when interest cooled soon after the hustings ended.

The People's Action Party's (PAP) youth wing, Young PAP, has seen about 1,000 new members a year in recent years.

The Workers' Party (WP) did not give exact figures but said more than 100 people - mostly young people - signed up as volunteers during last month's Hougang by-election. The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has seen its pool of youth activists double to more than 100 since the general election.

Many young party activists said last year's general election, the most keenly contested since Independence, gave them a chance to scrutinise the parties more closely, as they perused their manifestoes and listened to candidates' speeches.

The rise of popularism

By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, 23 Jun 2012

TRAVELLING in Europe recently, it seemed as if every other conversation ended with some form of this question: Why does it feel like so few leaders are capable of inspiring their people to meet the challenges of our day? There are many explanations for this global leadership deficit, but I'd focus on two: one generational, one technological.

Let's start with the technological. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore posited Moore's Law, which stipulated that the processing power that could be placed on a single microchip would double every 18 to 24 months.

It has held up quite well since then. Watching European, Arab and US leaders grappling with their respective crises, I'm wondering if there isn't a political corollary to Moore's Law: The quality of political leadership declines with every 100 million new users of Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

SMRT Stumped by Stomp

By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2012

THE photograph that a content producer of citizen journalism website Stomp posted online, supposedly of an MRT train running with one set of its doors open, has been found to be false.

On discovering this, Mr Patrick Daniel, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspapers Division, sent a letter yesterday to Mr Tan Ek Kia, the interim chief executive of rail operator SMRT, apologising for the incident.

The content producer, Ms Samantha Francis, was also sacked by SPH, which owns Stomp, on the same day.

The 23-year-old had initially claimed that she took the photograph at Lakeside MRT station last Tuesday night. But following investigations by SPH, she eventually admitted that she had taken the image from a post on social networking site Twitter. The original tweet has since been removed.

SMRT had said that its own ez-link records and closed-circuit television footage showed Ms Francis had not been at Lakeside MRT station at all last Tuesday, as she had claimed.

The rail operator also assured commuters that its trains are not able to move off if the doors are not properly closed.

CDCs launch "Caring for the Silver Community" initiative

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Jun 2012

Five Community Development Councils (CDCs) have come together to champion the cause of social support for the elderly.

They are doing this through an initiative called "Caring for the Silver Community". It was launched on Sunday morning by President Tony Tan Keng Yam.


Dr Tan said Singapore's focus on seniors is timely as the population of citizens aged 65 and above will triple to about 900,000 by 2030.

In addition, an increasing number of seniors are living alone and many of them face the risk of social isolation.

More Singaporeans encouraged to step forward to help community: Chan Chun Sing

By Saifulbahri Ismail, Channel NewsAsia, 24 Jun 2012

It takes a community to build a community, and more Singaporeans are encouraged to step forward to help one another to build an inclusive society.

Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing made this point during a ministerial community visit to Punggol South on Sunday.


After spending some three hours interacting with residents in the area, Mr Chan said he was impressed by the residents' efforts to help one another.

For example, he observed how senior citizens enjoyed subsidised breakfast under the "Community Breakfast" project, where participating coffeeshops offer discounts to those aged 50 and above.

Mr Chan lauded efforts like this, where the community chips in with their own resources to help the less fortunate.

Number of patients waiting for liver transplant triples

By Melissa Pang, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2012

THE number of patients waiting for a liver transplant has nearly tripled over the last five years.

There were 24 such patients on the waiting list last year, up from just nine in 2007, said the Health Ministry.

While the figure may seem relatively low, an average of about seven patients die each year waiting for a liver transplant over the same period.

Hepatitis B, said doctors, remains the most likely reason for patients needing a liver transplant, but they have also noted a marked increase in cases where patients suffered from fatty liver and liver cancer.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Comparing apples, oranges and Singapore

By John Lui, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2012

Whether the issue is the culling of wild boars, or the falling birth rate, or whether Sticker Lady is an artist or a vandal, or if the capping of mobile data usage is fair to users, there is a type of statement that is becoming much too familiar.

'This is why Singapore will never breed true creativity/a Steve Jobs/an artist like Banksy/ an affinity for nature. Our nation will never be a centre for excellence in high tech/the arts/making babies,' says the Angry Bunch.

And inevitably one or both sides use a uniquely Singaporean rhetorical tool: Comparing Singapore with another country.

Whenever I read that, I weep manly tears.

In a battle of wits, throwing out a national comparison is like flicking peanut shells at someone charging at you with a billiard cue, because there is a chance he may drop dead from a fatal allergic reaction. It is not an effective weapon.

For example, one side may say: 'Save the wild boars. In other countries, these animals are respected. Nay, loved!'

When I read that, I think of various unkind responses, among them, 'Why not you move there?' to 'In one country, they thought Kim Jong Il was a great leader and a snappy dresser' to 'Give those wild boars passports and get them to the airport, pronto!'

Dense cities can be green, says minister

Vivian Balakrishnan tells Rio summit that the key is to build upwards and leave space for trees
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2012

Singapore has shown that dense cities can be green - and ironically, it has achieved this by building upwards, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

In aiming to preserve land for greenery and create a 'city in a garden', the Republic made long-term plans to be high-rise, urbanised and compact.

'Although five million people live within an island 30km across, 47 per cent of our land is covered by trees,' he told delegates at the Rio+20 summit that has just ended in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. 'We have to go high-rise in order to preserve land and trees.'

He was making the point that cities can be environmentally-friendly, and they even have an advantage in providing water and other services, and in keeping pollution down.

'The paradox of a city is that dense, compact, connected, integrated cities are in fact the most sustainable and green way of life in the future.'

Michael Lewis: Here's to success and oh, lots of luck

By Goh Eng Yeow, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2012

In a recent speech to fresh Princeton University graduates, Mr Michael Lewis, the author of financial bestsellers such as Liar's Poker and Moneyball, outlined the important role which luck plays in our lives, using his own life experience as an example.

He said: 'My case illustrates how success is always rationalised. People really don't like to hear success explained away as luck - especially successful people. As they age and succeed, people feel their success was somehow inevitable.'

Recalling his roots as an art history major, he admitted that like many fresh graduates, he had gone to business school because he had no idea what to do with himself when he left Princeton 30 years ago.

But one night, as a graduate school student, he found himself seated next to the wife of a big shot at Wall Street investment bank Salomon Brothers, who then 'more or less forced' her husband to give him a job.

'When I got there, I was assigned, almost arbitrarily, to the very job in which to observe the growing madness: They turned me into the house expert on derivatives. A year and a half later, Salomon Brothers was handing me a cheque for hundreds of thousands of dollars to give advice about derivatives to professional investors,' he recounted.

The point he wanted to make was that 'Wall Street had become so unhinged that it was paying recent Princeton graduates who knew nothing about money small fortunes to pretend to be experts about money'.

The Nordic give & take

State welfare that provides for citizens from cradle to grave is its big draw, but taxes and costs are among the world's highest. In the second of a two-parter, Robin Chan reports on lessons the Nordic model holds for Singapore.
The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

MR HENRIK Ziegler left Denmark for Singapore with a dream. He wanted to build his own business.

He founded Dantech Food Systems, a maker of advanced freezers for the food industry, in 1997.

In 2005, the firm had expanded to become a market leader in the region, and it was bought by a larger Danish firm for a hefty sum.

This would not have been possible if he had stayed in Denmark, Mr Ziegler says, where high taxes on the successful preserve equality but make it difficult for individuals to make a lot of money.

Businesses and businessmen in Denmark pay some of the world's highest taxes - companies pay 25 per cent and personal income is taxed as high as 48 per cent.

In Singapore, corporate tax is 17 per cent, and individuals pay only up to 20 per cent to the taxman on their income.

Mr Ziegler, 51, says: 'I have no plans to go back. Singapore is my home now, it is the place in which I feel I belong and can succeed.'

Sunday, 24 June 2012

S'pore denies alleged role in Bersih rally in KL

MFA confirms officers were present, but only as 'impartial observers'
By Phua Mei Pin and Lester Kong, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

SINGAPORE has refuted allegations that it was trying to interfere in Malaysia's domestic politics, after several of its diplomats were spotted at a recent protest in Kuala Lumpur.

The Republic's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday confirmed some of its officers were present at the Bersih rally in April, but stressed they were there as 'impartial observers' carrying out their duty to monitor political developments.

'The allegations that the Singapore Government is trying to interfere in Malaysia's domestic politics are baseless,' said a spokesman for the MFA.


The comments came after reports surfaced on Malaysian websites earlier this week alleging that three Singapore diplomats were 'actively participating' in the rally held in KL on April 28. Organised by Bersih, a coalition of groups calling for clean and fair elections, the rally resulted in violence and more than 500 arrests.

The online posts accused the Singapore Government of interfering in Malaysia's politics, while bloggers urged their government to send Singapore a protest note.

Their reports were picked up by Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia, which then insinuated in a commentary that Singapore was trying to topple the Malaysian government.

Food Connect @ South West: Free food rations for more lower-income families

550 families to benefit from CDC scheme, thanks to donations from more firms
By Goh Shi Ting, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

ALMOST double the number of low-income families living in the South West District will get free food rations every month, for two years.

In all, 550 families will receive the rations, worth $50, from July 1, compared to 320 families last year.

The rations include rice, canned food and biscuits, and are given by the South West Community Development Council (CDC) under its Food Connect@South West programme.

The bigger group of beneficiaries this year is the result of the longer list of companies that are contributing this year to the programme's second phase, which was launched yesterday.

Circle Line's faulty cables to be replaced

Contractor to bear cost; no fine for SMRT as it was not at fault
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) will be replacing defective and damaged cables along the new Circle Line, in a move to improve reliability of the train service.

These cables were uncovered in the course of tests done after a breakdown last September that affected 27,000 commuters.

The faults in the cables were traced to manufacturing defects and poor workmanship.

As a result, new checking processes have also been introduced on top of replacing the cables under a programme that is likely to start next year and end by December 2015.

But the replacement of the cables will not affect the train service, said the LTA yesterday.

It also said rail operator SMRT will not face any penalty for the four-hour breakdown as investigations showed it was not at fault.

Instead, Alstom, the contractor in charge of laying the cables, will bear the replacement cost. When contacted, it declined to give the cost.

Wild boars hog the limelight

MP holds dialogue on wild boars
Inderjit Singh hears Lower Peirce Reservoir residents' concerns about animals in their neighbourhood
By Cheryl Ong, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2012

About 40 people living near the Lower Peirce Reservoir met their Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh yesterday to discuss how to curb the wild boar population in their neighbourhood.

And a majority at the closed-door session - about 95 per cent - voted in favour of culling the animals.


Mr Singh, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said he arranged the dialogue after hearing from many residents who had spotted the boars in their neighbourhood. His constituents have also become more concerned after one of the animals attacked two people in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park last Friday.

A five-year-old boy was flung into the air when the boar charged at him, and a Cisco officer was also struck down by the same animal.

When money gets in the way

Rich-poor gap is a source of simmering social tension
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

IT IS perhaps a sign of the times that a government minister has to address the traffic offence of a single individual.

The scrutiny plastic surgeon Woffles Wu received this week would have been unimaginable just 10 years ago. But now, it comes as no surprise that many are calling on the authorities to hit him hard.

A large part of this backlash lies in a perceived sense of injustice. In many cases, a country's laws are designed to deter, rehabilitate and incapacitate criminals for retribution as well as to lay down a moral marker for behaviour that a society frowns on.

However, Wu's $1,000 fine, for abetting an employee to give false information over a speeding offence, is seen as too small a part of his income to fulfil any of these functions. Instead, it becomes a mere fee that a rich man can pay for the right to do what he wants.

The backlash also reflects simmering antipathy between the haves and the have-nots.

Should the rich pay higher fines?

By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

IN THE wake of the Woffles Wu case, National University of Singapore law lecturer and criminal law expert Michael Hor talks about some of the challenges of introducing a system of fines that are pegged to a person's income.
- In 2010, a Swiss court fined a Ferrari driver £ 182,000 for speeding. It had decided to impose a fine that fitted both the crime and the personal wealth of the repeat offender. What do you think of such an approach?
It is easy to see why fines which are pegged to affordability are appealing. The point is simply that a fine of, say, $1,000 has a more severe impact on the poor than on the rich.

So to ignore affordability is in effect to discriminate unfavourably against the less well-off.

But it has not been, to my knowledge, seriously contemplated in Singapore.
- Why not? What are some of the drawbacks of having such a system?

Meritocracy's enemies

China's long history shows how easily elitism can rear its ugly head
By Wang Gungwu, Published The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

MERITOCRACY is a valued ideal in most of the modern world. But it is not natural, it can never be absolute and it needs constant attention. That is true everywhere and I believe that Singaporeans are realistic about Singapore being a meritocratic city-state with institutions in place to sustain it.

I was reminded of the ideal when visiting universities in China recently. There are dedicated scholars and brilliant students in many of the universities but fierce debates are going on about meritocracy as an institution. There is the touching belief that if there were meritocracy, many problems in the country would be solved.

But, in the universities, questions are raised as to how they could be rid of failings like fraud, favouritism, corruption, official interference and plagiarism that plague most corners of the system.

One point regularly made was that the Chinese should be reminded that Confucius was the first to propose that education be the basis for meritocracy in public service.

40 years of container shipping

Launch of then-controversial mode of shipping was milestone for S'pore
By Alvin Foo, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

IT HAPPENED 40 years ago, but PSA Corp operations supervisor Martin Verghese, 68, still remembers the day vividly.

It was June 23, 1972, and Singapore was about to welcome the first all-container ship to its port.

Mr Verghese was on edge: He was among the initial batch of crane operators who would be unloading the vessel at PSA's new Tanjong Pagar Terminal.

He said: 'Everybody was eagerly awaiting the ship's arrival - the mood was tense. It was a significant milestone for Singapore.'

The MV Nihon had made its maiden voyage with 300 containers from Rotterdam to Singapore non-stop to be on time for the opening of the new port.

Captain Mervin Lewis, the senior PSA pilot who guided the MV Nihon into Singapore, recalled: 'We realised that something special was taking place that day - we had a glimpse of the future.'

Fast forward to today - the 40th anniversary of container shipping - and more than 404 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of containers have been handled in Singapore. Placed end to end, they would span the distance from Earth to the Moon more than 6.4 times.

Army Sergeant Major inducted into US military academy's hall of fame

Singaporean is 16th person to be so honoured by Texas military academy
By Jermyn Chow, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2012

OVER the last three decades, career soldier Tang Peck Oon did not just pit his wits against the enemy's rifle or machete.

The commando has also been at the forefront of the fight to improve the image of non-commissioned officers like himself in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

Better known here as Warrant Officers and Specialists (Wospec), they used to be seen as merely parade masters who instilled discipline in soldiers. Simply put, they played second fiddle to commissioned officers who hold ranks of second-lieutenant and above.

'Back then, we were seen as the support people... what the officers say, we just follow and do. But things have changed,' said the 52-year-old in an interview earlier this week.

Senior Warrant Officer (SWO) Tang, who attained the highest rank in the Wospec Corps in 2008, has been instrumental in grooming successive cohorts of Wospecs, and adding prestige to the corps. He was promoted to Sergeant Major of the Army in 2011 - the pinnacle position for any warrant officer and specialist in the army.

For his contributions, he was inducted yesterday into the hall of fame of one of the most prestigious military academies for sergeant majors in the United States - the first Singaporean to make it.

He is the 16th person to make it into the United States Army Sergeant Majors Academy's International Student Hall of Fame since it was launched in 2009.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

US blog names a Toa Payoh play area one of the world's amazing playgrounds

By Rachael Boon, The Straits Times, 22 Jun 2012

One of Singapore's oldest playgrounds - a dragon- shaped structure winding above a sand pit in Toa Payoh Lorong 6 - has been picked by a New York culture blog as one of 15 amazing playgrounds in the world.

Flavorwire.com's design-related post in April, titled 15 Amazing Playgrounds From All Over The World, also featured The Blue Whale in Plikta park, Gothenburg, Sweden, designed by Danish design firm Monstrum, and The Forest of Cherry Blossoms at Moerenuma Park in Hokkaido, Japan, designed by Isamu Noguchi, which has seven play areas.

Posted by the website's literary/weekend editor Emily Temple, the slideshow-list is not meant to be exhaustive and readers are invited to suggest their own favourite playgrounds in their comments to the post.

The Toa Payoh dragon is one of the few concrete play structures built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) before the 1990s that remain standing here.

Many of the structures were designed by Mr Khor Ean Ghee, 77, an interior designer with HDB from 1969 to 1984.