Thursday, 31 July 2014

Debunking myths in revitalising Chinese languages

By Luke Lu, Published TODAY, 30 Jul 2014

In the past few weeks, there have been various calls (including a letter to Today’s Voices and an editorial in Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao) for Chinese languages other than Mandarin to be given a more prominent space in the public sphere in Singapore. The Prime Minister’s Office also weighed in on the issue by responding to Zaobao’s editorial.

Calls to revitalise Chinese languages are not new and have, indeed, surfaced on occasion since the shift towards English and Mandarin became obvious to the public. However, the debate has often involved assumptions and gross simplifications that seem to perpetuate popular myths regarding language in practice and identity.

HOW MANY LANGUAGES CAN ONE LEARN?

A common view is that the average person has a limited mind that is incapable of learning and handling more than two languages. It is true that adult learners do find it more difficult to acquire new languages and attain a high level of proficiency in them.

It is this view that seems to be translated into our education policy, under which only students who do well enough in school are allowed to learn a third language.

However, one’s ability to acquire multiple languages is particularly contingent on one’s social environment, exposure to and constant use of these languages; and less so a matter of IQ and academic proclivity.

There is no evidence to suggest exposure to more than two languages leads to a confounding of one’s linguistic abilities. In the same vein, it is not true that the use of Chinese languages — or what most Singaporeans would call dialects — in the home environment will necessarily impede one’s learning of Mandarin.

How then do we account for the situation in a society such as Hong Kong, where students face difficulties acquiring English and Mandarin? For one, Hong Kong’s sociolinguistic milieu is hardly comparable with Singapore’s. Hong Kong has had a stable population of 90 per cent ethnic Chinese, who have been almost homogeneously Cantonese-speaking throughout its history.

Students get involved in keeping estates clean

By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

GET a free canned drink for every 1kg of rubbish collected in a trash bag.

Students at Woodgrove Secondary School plan to implement this idea to curb the littering problem at nearby Housing Board flats. It received the most votes in a poll which was part of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement in Schools, launched yesterday by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"Through the movement, students can learn to take ownership of our community spaces and our Singapore," he said. "(They) can become role models and advocates of a clean Singapore to their classmates, family members and people in the community."



The movement is an updated version of the Use Your Hands campaign started in 1976.

After cleaning a school toilet with a few Woodgrove Secondary students and viewing an exhibition of their cleanliness-related projects, Mr Heng said activities in the latest movement would be mainly "student-initiated". "In that way, the values that underpin these activities can be more deeply internalised... So it's not just a set of activities that they have to do, but because they want to do them."

While some activities may be organised by schools, the movement also encourages students to propose ideas for keeping clean the places they frequent - such as the school campus and local neighbourhoods.

The movement will be part of the character and citizenship education curriculum, and will involve all primary, secondary and pre-tertiary schools.

CPF study to quiz 25,000 on health, retirement needs

Govt's aim is to improve policies and services related to ageing
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

SOME 25,000 Singapore residents aged 45 to 85 would soon be invited to take part in an unusual government study of retirement and health needs.

The group of Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) will take part in what is believed to be the largest study of its kind here.

And it is a longitudinal study: A participant will be polled once every two years over 10 years, "to study changes in his employment and health status", said the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board, which is leading the study.

The Government hopes to "improve ageing-related policies and services", said the CPF Board in a booklet on the study, which also involves the Finance, Health and Manpower ministries and the Housing Board.

The study's launch comes after much recent discussion about whether CPF funds are enough for people's retirement needs, prompted in part by blogger Roy Ngerng's May 15 post, which alleged that the Government "misappropriated" CPF savings.

But The Straits Times understands that the authorities had been considering having such a study from as early as last year.

Incidentally, a DBS Bank survey released earlier this month found that middle-income Singaporeans could risk underestimating their retirement needs.

The poll of 800 people aged 18 to 59 found that the "emerging affluent" were starting to save for retirement too late and could run out of funds in later years.

As for the CPF study, it will cover four main areas: family; health conditions; household expenses; and employment, income and personal savings.

Marriages down, divorces up in 2013

6% drop in marriages; divorce numbers 2nd-highest on record
By Priscilla Goy And Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 30 Jul 2014

THE number of marriages fell last year as divorces hit the second highest annual figure on record.

Department of Statistics figures released yesterday showed 26,254 couples tied the knot, a 6 per cent drop from 2012 when marriages hit a 50-year high.

However, there were 7,525 divorces and annulments. Only in 2011 has there been a higher total - 7,604 - before 2012 saw the first drop in seven years, to 7,237.

The top reasons among non-Muslims for getting divorced were unreasonable behaviour, and having been living apart or separated for three years or more.

Among Muslims, infidelity was the biggest issue leading to a break-up, followed by financial problems and desertion.

Sociologist Paulin Straughan of the National University of Singapore believes the divorce numbers are not worrying and that the health of marriages here is "decent". She said: "The recent number of divorces has not deviated significantly from 2011." She added that the figure is still considered low compared with those in other developed countries.

However, she said it is important to keep in mind young children who are growing up with step-parents or who come from single families.

"Given that the divorce rates had been sustained, we must be culturally and socially sensitive to children so that they are not made to feel stigmatised," said Professor Straughan.

These children, if made to feel that they are not normal, are likely to run into problems "fitting into their reconstituted families" and become cut off from an important form of social support, she added.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Singapore at the Commonwealth Games 2014

Give due credit to foreign-born S'pore athletes

I HOPE the hard-earned victories of our national shuttlers and paddlers have vindicated the decision of our national sports associations to bring foreign-born sports talent into our national teams ("Shuttlers pick themselves up to land unexpected bronze" and "S'pore glue on crown holds"; yesterday).

Of course, we would love to have local-born athletes mount the victory podium. But the reality is that athletes like paddler Isabelle Li and shuttlers Vanessa Neo and Derek Wong, who are willing and able to train almost full-time, are hard to come by.

Sports training is tough and the hours are long. Careers can be short-lived and there is no guarantee of success.

Our society focuses on academic pursuits and the corporate rat race. This, plus the many other distractions in life, serves to discourage young Singaporeans from taking up careers in sports.


It was tough enough for them to uproot themselves from their comfort zones in their native countries to make their new homes here. They then went on to earn their stripes as Singaporeans by training hard daily and then fighting their guts out at competitions for our nation.

This was amply demonstrated by the courageous and spirited performance of Yao Lei and Shinta Mulia Sari in their epic 29-27 win in the second game of Singapore's deciding women's doubles match against their Indian rivals for the Commonwealth Games mixed team bronze.

At that moment when match point was won and all the Singapore players and officials dashed onto the court to huddle together in an unbridled display of pride and joy, it did not matter where the shuttlers were born - they were all Singaporeans.

Edwin Pang
ST Forum, 30 Jul 2014

Germany seizes economic lifeline immigrants offer

By Anthony Faiola, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

AN UNEMPLOYED architect back in Barcelona, Mr Jordi Colombi weighed his options and decided to start a new life. Armed with two suitcases and a Spanish-omelette recipe to feed his homesickness, he arrived two months ago in the land of opportunity.

Germany.

In the United States, the immigration debate is toxic and paralysed. Political parties raging against foreigners are surging at the polls in Britain and France.

But in Germany, the government is rolling out a red carpet by simplifying immigration procedures, funding free language classes, even opening "welcome centres" for newcomers seeking a piece of the German dream.

In the rankings of the globe's most prosperous countries, this economic powerhouse of 82 million has now leapfrogged Canada, Britain, Italy and Spain to become the largest destination for immigrants after the US, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Because of a low birth rate, the population is shrinking, raising the pivotal question of who will keep the massive German economy humming in the years ahead.

Yet even as insular nations facing similar plight, such as Japan, continue to resist importing workers, Germany is counting on immigrants such as Mr Colombi.

In a nation which former chancellor Helmut Kohl once famously declared "is not an immigrant country", the 36-year-old Spaniard is part of what is fast becoming a global experiment in the immigration debate.

S'pore's no utopia but still a good place to live in

By Peter A. Coclanis, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

IN RECENT months, Singapore's government, for a variety of reasons, has expanded and extended its social welfare activities and made moves to redress problems arising from growing income inequality.

It has, for example, increased health subsidies for the elderly. Through the National Wages Council it has also recommended significant wage increases for the poorest-paid members of the labour force.

Such actions have surprised some critics, who have long believed that the Government was committed, first and foremost, to limiting its role and responsibilities in such realms to ensure that Singapore would not succumb to some of the problems associated with over-extended welfare states in the West.

Even before the recent moves, of course, Singapore was well known for having created a social order and, indeed, a society that ranked at or near the top of international league tables regarding material and social well-being, as measured by such criteria as income and living standards, health care, education, global competitiveness, transparency, lack of corruption and global competitiveness. In so doing, Singapore also created a social order and a society that fare pretty well even when employing moral calculus much favoured by Western liberals.

In A Theory Of Justice (1971), his master work on morality and political philosophy, the late Harvard professor John Rawls famously employed the time-honoured "veil of ignorance" thought experiment to evaluate the morality of political and social policy.

Through this experiment, Professor Rawls attempted to establish a moral basis for a fair "social contract". He started from a hypothetical "original position", in which a group of individuals is tasked with developing principles and structures around which to organise a society.

To Prof Rawls, the best way to ensure fairness and justness in the society so established is for those involved to proceed behind a "veil of ignorance", that is, a situation wherein "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like".

With this veil in place, Prof Rawls believed, people would behave more rationally, impartially, empathetically and morally.

Singapore's competitiveness at risk

High wage costs and a strong currency are putting the economy at risk, while productivity gains have not materialised.
By Augustine H.H. Tan, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

SINGAPORE'S disappointing second-quarter growth of 2.1 per cent compared with the same period last year has raised concerns about the impact of economic restructuring. When compared with the last quarter, growth even dipped 0.8 per cent.

At the same time, productivity performance has been dismal.

After rising by 2.2 per cent in 2011, productivity dropped by 1.4 per cent in 2012 and another 0.2 per cent last year.

Government officials repeatedly emphasise that the productivity drive will take time to bear fruit. But the short-term effect of rising pay without productivity increases can only mean higher costs and prices. And this will have an impact on the cost of living and the viability of firms, encouraging some firms to leave the country.

The situation is reminiscent of that in the early 1980s, when wages were artificially raised in the hope that firms would be motivated to look for ways to increase productivity. During that period, Singapore also had an over-valued exchange rate because the Singapore dollar was closely tied to the overvalued US currency.

Recognising how the strong US dollar was damaging industry in Detroit, then President Ronald Reagan belatedly pressured Germany and Japan to revalue their currencies substantially at the Plaza Accord of September 1985. But that was too late to prevent the serious recession we experienced in 1985 and 1986.

According to the Bank of International Settlements, the real effective exchange rate of the Singapore dollar is higher today than it was in the 1980s.

An over-valued currency penalises the tradable sector and favours non-tradable ones.

It is therefore no surprise that asset markets here, especially real estate, reached bubble conditions.

Deep and strong ties with China

By Teo Chee Hean, Published The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

N EXT year, Singapore and China will celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. Our ties are deep and our cooperation is broad.

Last year, Singapore became China's top source of foreign investment with a total investment of US$7.33 billion (S$9.1 billion). China became Singapore's largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to US$73.1 billion. These figures are testament to the strength of our economic ties, and demonstrate Singapore's support for China's development and confidence in China's future.

Our bilateral engagement took off from the days of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping. Since then, generations of Singapore and Chinese leaders have built strong friendships. When Mr Deng visited Singapore in 1978, China was in the early stages of reform and opening up; industrialisation and economic development were major priorities.

In Singapore, Mr Deng saw a society that focused its energies on tackling these developmental challenges and found our experiences to be a useful reference for China. Singapore was most willing to share our experiences, as we wanted China to succeed.

Thus, by the time formal diplomatic relations were established in 1990, relations were already very strong. Chinese officials were making frequent visits to Singapore to exchange notes with their Singapore counterparts. Realising that mutual learning would be best achieved through direct, hands-on cooperation, Mr Lee proposed that our two governments undertake a joint project of unprecedented scale and ambition - the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP).

In the two decades since, the SIP has become a tremendous success. Today, it serves as a useful model of urban and industrial development that has been replicated in other cities across China, such as Nantong (Jiangsu), Suqian (Jiangsu), Chuzhou (Anhui) and Korgas (Xinjiang).

Better care for the dying in NUH’s emergency ward

NUH doctor says the hospital’s emergency department is seeing more terminally ill patients, for whom aggressive interventions may not be the way to go.
By Neo Chai Chin, Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jul 2014

Providing better quality of life and comfort to dying patients and their families within the fast-paced setting of a hospital’s emergency department might seem like a paradox, but that is what an emergency physician at the National University Hospital (NUH) has set out to do.

Emergency departments are traditionally focused on life-saving and aggressive resuscitative care. But with the ageing population here, the department is seeing more terminally ill patients, for whom aggressive life-saving interventions may not be the way to go, said Dr Rakhee Yash Pal, who is spearheading NUH’s palliative care efforts at its emergency department, believed to be a first for public hospitals here.

Of the 133,000 attendances last year at its emergency department, 414 died there. Fifty-five per cent of the deaths were of patients aged 65 and above, up from about 50 per cent in 2011.

The NUH has a palliative care team that can be deployed to various units in the hospital, but some emergency patients have only hours to live. The earlier the goals of care and treatment options for patients are determined, the more comfortable they will be, said Dr Yash Pal. For instance, a patient may wish to not die with tubes in him.

As part of its new palliative care initiatives, an emergency team member will set out to contact family members or check a patient’s records while the rest of the team is stabilising a patient with high risk of death. Previously, speaking to the family would come only after stabilising the patient.

4 new ERP gantries along AYE to begin operations on Aug 4

ERP rates at some gantries on MCE and ECP will be cut from next Monday, while four new gantries on the AYE will begin operation, the LTA announces.
Channel NewsAsia, 29 Jul 2014

Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) rates will be lowered at four gantries at the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) and the East Coast Parkway (ECP) from Aug 4, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in its latest quarterly review of traffic conditions on Tuesday (July 29).



Motorists who pass through two gantries along the ECP towards the city and Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) slip road will no longer have to pay fees between 7.30am and 8am. The current fee is S$1 for each gantry.

Those passing through the two gantries on the west-bound MCE before the Maxwell Road exit and on the slip road to Marina Coastal Drive will see a reduction of S$1 from 8.30am to 9am. The current fee is $3 for each gantry.

From Aug 4, new ERP gantries along the Ayer-Rajah Expressway (AYE) will begin operation, LTA said. The transport authority noted that traffic speeds at the stretches between Jurong Town Hall Road and North Buona Vista Road continue to fall below the optimal speed range of 45 kmh to 65 kmh for expressways.

Motorists passing through one of three gantries on the city-bound AYE – after Jurong Town Hall, on Clementi Ave 6 and Clementi Ave 2 slip roads – will have to pay S$2 between 7.30am and 9am, and S$1 between 6pm and 7pm.

Singapore will match Malaysia's new Causeway tolls, says LTA



Need for revenue key reason for tolls
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 2 Aug 2014

IT WOULD be easy to assume that Malaysia's decision to raise tolls for vehicles using the Causeway was a tit-for-tat reaction to Singapore's raising of its entry permit fee for foreign vehicles, which was announced early last month.

But that would be too simplistic a conclusion. In this instance, Malaysia's decision looks to be purely revenue-driven.

Singapore's raised vehicle entry permit provided a perfect opportunity for Malaysia to shore up its coffers to pay for various public projects, including the new RM1.27 billion (S$495 million) Eastern Dispersal Link - an expressway that connects the Johor Baru immigration complex to the North-South Highway.

If this were indeed a political spat, there would be other signs: a suspension or slowdown of joint projects such as the MRT extension to Johor Baru and cross-border high-speed rail link. So far, there has been no hint of this.

Also, if it were a tit-for-tat response, the toll rise would apply solely to Singapore cars. But the revision affects Malaysian vehicles, too.

This toll increase is separate from a proposed entry permit fee that Johor said it would apply by the end of this year.

Whatever the motivation, one thing is clear: the higher tolls - more than five times the previous rates for cars, lorries, taxis and buses - will be a royal pain to road users.

More so when Singapore eventually matches the increases.

Singapore's principle of matching toll rates goes back to when the Second Link opened in 1998. The Government said then that it was entitled to a share of the toll revenue, having spent $600 million on the project compared with the $200 million Malaysia spent.

To prevent diversion of traffic to the Causeway, tolls were introduced there as well.

While the rates and increases over the years have been fairly gradual, this is not so in the latest round.

AGC to simplify language used in Singapore's laws

By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Jul 2014

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is simplifying the language and presentation of Singapore's statutes, amid calls to use plain English in public documents. Instead of "shall", "must" will be used to highlight obligations, for instance.

Each provision will be concisely put in six lines or less "as far as practicable", and complex sentences with multiple parts will be broken down.

To eliminate gender bias in the law, terms such as "the person" will be used in place of "he" or "she" whenever applicable, an AGC spokesman told The Straits Times.

The tweaks to existing laws, which include almost 6,000 Acts of Parliament and pieces of subsidiary legislation, will be made under the Revised Edition of the Laws Act. This permits changes to the language and presentation of the statutes without affecting the meanings of the laws. The last time such a revision was done was in 1985.

New laws to be published on the Subsidiary Legislation Government Gazette from next month will contain these features.

They can already be seen in several recently introduced laws, such as the Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Act, which was passed in February, and the Transboundary Haze Bill tabled in Parliament earlier this month.

The changes are spearheaded by the AGC's Legislation and Law Reform Division (LLRD), which conducted a month-long online public survey last year to gather feedback on plausible changes. It received 1,058 responses - 70 per cent from people who are not legally trained.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hari Raya brings out spirit of giving

By Nity Farhana, TODAY, 29 Jul 2014

Hari Raya brought out the spirit of giving in some, as various efforts were made to help the needy over the holiday on Monday (July 28).

Bangladeshi workers here have been flocking to local mosques not only to break fast together, but also to lend a helping hand.

At Angullia Mosque on Serangoon Road, 50 per cent of its volunteers are Bangladeshi workers, which comes as no surprise since they make up 90 per cent of its congregants. These workers are involved in everything from preparations for breaking fast to cleaning up.

One volunteer, Mr Mohd Minhaz, said: “We try to service all the people here, from giving them seats to showing them the place. And we try to give everybody food.”

The same was observed at En-Naeem Mosque, where 30 per cent of volunteers are foreign workers. Volunteers not only assist in preparations for breaking fast, but also wake up in the wee hours to prepare pre-dawn meals for congregants performing their late-hour prayers.

Meanwhile, 96 children from 35 needy families struggling with drug addiction were given money to buy new sets of baju kurong (Malay traditional outfit).

They were taken on Monday morning to First Lady store in Tanjong Katong Complex, where each child could purchase outfits costing up to S$70. The initiative was fully sponsored by an informal social group called Rock Selenger Kids RSK, and organised by Persatuan Sang Nila Utama, a new association.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Door-to-door drive to warn residents about dengue

Over 2,000 volunteers to spread message; number of infections crosses 11,600 mark
By Melissa Lin, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

More than 2,000 grassroots volunteers will be trained to go door to door and teach residents how to prevent the spread of dengue.

Singapore is in the midst of its peak dengue season, which coincides with the dry months between June and October. There were 520 new cases between last Sunday and 3.30pm last Friday, bringing the tally to more than 11,600 infections this year.

Two deaths have also been reported, with the latest being an 85-year-old man who died last week.



Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu, who launched the nationwide dengue education and prevention drive yesterday, expects the fight against the disease to be "equally challenging" as last year's.

That was when Singapore had its worst dengue epidemic with more than 22,170 people falling ill.

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA) less than two weeks ago, Choa Chu Kang recorded the biggest dengue cluster here with 316 cases - eclipsing the high of 233 infections in a cluster in Tampines last year.

And while weekly dengue cases this year peaked in the first week of this month at 891 cases, numbers may still climb as the coming months are expected to be hot, warned Ms Fu.

The key to preventing the spread of the disease is to ensure small dengue clusters do not grow bigger, she said.

This is where the volunteers can step in, by spreading the message in small dengue clusters, leaving NEA officers to focus their efforts in areas where there are bigger outbreaks.

Doc, could you speak slower, more simply?

Spotlight on helping patients, especially the elderly, comply with medical instructions
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

If only patients followed their doctors' orders, fewer would land in hospital or complain that they never seem to get better. That's a lament often heard in medical circles.

Various studies have shown that as many as half the patients with chronic ailments do not take their medicine as instructed - resulting not only in much waste, but even worse, avoidable deaths.

So an article by Associate Professor Chin Jing Jih in the May issue of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) News is not just timely, but also refreshingly honest.

The SMA president, a senior geriatric medicine specialist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), described an encounter with a patient while he was still a junior doctor and the valuable lesson he learnt.

In his piece titled Excuse Me Doctor, Can I Record Your Instructions Please?, Prof Chin recounts how the patient told him: "Do you realise that you doctors have a tendency to just rattle off a long list of instructions and treatment plans, often in some technical jargon which I have to check my medical dictionary to understand?

"And because there are many instructions to follow, I really cannot remember them even if I want to be a good and compliant patient."

For the young doctor, that was the Eureka! moment when the truth of what the patient said hit home.

"Doctors tend to overload patients and caregivers with a flood of information. This is then followed by a long list of directives and advice," he said. "No wonder so many of them suffer from recall failure and end up being labelled 'poorly compliant patients' despite their best efforts."

That particular patient had whipped out a tape recorder so he could listen to the instructions later at leisure - an act Prof Chin described as a "way of crying for help".

Abortions fall to 30-year low

Figure dips below 10,000 as more S'poreans use birth control, but rate for foreigners on the rise
By Theresa Tan, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

The number of abortions hit a historic low here last year, falling below the 10,000 mark for the first time in at least 30 years.

The Health Ministry told The Sunday Times that 9,282 abortions were performed last year, 13 per cent fewer than in 2012.

Last year's figure was also way below the peak of 23,512 in 1985. After pre-abortion counselling was made mandatory in 1987, the numbers fell steadily to an average of 12,000 a year for most of the past decade.

Gynaecologists and counsellors say the decline reflects the increasingly widespread use of contraception by Singaporeans.

The numbers would have been even lower, if not for a rising number of abortions on permanent residents and, especially, foreign women.

About six in 10 abortions last year were on Singaporeans, down from eight in 10 in 2003. Conversely, almost four in 10 abortions were on PRs and foreigners, up from two in 10 in 2003.

The foreign women who had abortions included maids, service industry workers, professionals, wives of foreign professionals and foreign wives of Singaporean men. They were from countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

There are practical reasons some choose to end their pregnancies.

False declarations of foreign workers' addresses not prevalent: Ministry

THE report ("Errant bosses faking addresses of foreign workers"; Sunday) suggested that the practice of employers falsely declaring their foreign workers' addresses in the Online Foreign Worker Address Service (Ofwas) is widespread.

The report, based on anecdotal feedback from dormitory operators and employers, implied that the well-being of foreign workers is being undermined by this errant practice.

There are indeed instances where employers provide false addresses. Information provided by members of the public will be useful and we will investigate. If found to be true, we will take action and have done so.

However, we do not believe the practice of employers providing false information relating to their workers' accommodation addresses is prevalent.

As stated in the report, the vast majority of the 2,100 employers taken to task for Ofwas-related offences were for failure to update accommodation addresses. This can happen due to administrative lapses when the foreign worker has moved to another accommodation and the employer omits or otherwise fails to notify the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

However, outright false declaration of addresses is a serious offence - errant employers face fines of up to $20,000 and/or up to 24 months' imprisonment for each false declaration. Errant employers may also have their work pass privileges curbed.

A failure of employers to administratively update Ofwas does not necessarily imply that foreign workers are housed in sub-standard conditions.

Purpose-built dormitories are not the only form of approved accommodation. For instance, employers can also house their workers in residential premises, as well as converted industrial premises that meet statutory health and safety requirements for housing purposes.

The MOM regularly inspects foreign worker housing to ensure that standards are acceptable. When these are found wanting, we will take action against employers.

We welcome information from workers, non-governmental organisations and members of the public to assist us in our investigations.

Kevin Teoh
Divisional Director, Foreign Manpower Management Division
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 31 Jul 2014

Western radio broadcasters tuning out

They are ceding the short-wave, or political 'soft power', space to China instead
By Nirmal Ghosh, The Sunday Times, 27 Jul 2014

For 67-year-old Victor Goonetilleke, sitting with his headphones on in his house in the lush green Sri Lankan countryside, June 30 was the end of an era.

Voice of America's (VOA) short-wave broadcasts to Asia abruptly went off the air, raising howls of protest from many of the US government-funded broadcaster's listeners across the region.

But as the broadcasts had already been greatly diminished, this was not a surprise. The big Western radio broadcasters have gradually ceded the political "soft power" space they once dominated to a new heavyweight: China Radio International (CRI).

In recent years, Radio Canada International and Radio Netherlands Worldwide have shut down while the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and VOA have cut back on their range of languages and hours of programming. Now, the VOA has left Asia.

Mr Goonetilleke is not just an avid radio listener. He professionally monitors radio frequencies for the VOA. He is also a former veteran radio correspondent with Radio Netherlands for 24 years in an era when short-wave radio broadcasts from the likes of the BBC, VOA, Radio Netherlands, and Deutsche Welle were often lifelines to other worlds for hundreds of millions especially in times of conflict and misery.

The BBC now broadcasts in 29 languages across the planet, down from a peak of 69 in the 1970s. CRI broadcasts in 65, up from a reported 43 in 2006. Some programmes are run by local FM stations.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Rise and rise of Speakers' Corner

Popular protest venue shouldn't just be a place to vent anger or frustration
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

IN LESS than two months, the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park will celebrate its 14th anniversary.

In the last year or so, thousands of Singaporeans turned up there to protest against the Population White Paper and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has also made its presence felt through its annual Pink Dot mass picnic at Hong Lim Park. The picnic last month drew a reported 26,000-strong crowd.

The park's current popularity stands in stark contrast to its early years, when it languished in obscurity. Indeed, there was no shortage of cynics and critics when the Speakers' Corner was first set up on Sept 1, 2000.

One of its strongest opponents was then Non-Constituency MP J.B. Jeyaretnam. He tabled an adjournment motion in Parliament in May 2000 on the planned opening and said the move does not open up freedom of expression in Singapore. It was "just a pretence".

A year later, in May 2001, he even asserted in the House that the setting up of Speakers' Corner was a trap. He was referring to a police investigation which resulted in two activists being warned for holding an assembly at Hong Lim Park without a permit.

"You will not get me there any more," the late Mr Jeyaretnam famously said.

Philip Jeyaretnam: SG50 guest list will include naysayers

Lawyer and writer Philip Jeyaretnam believes that even the cynics and dissenters have a role to play as Singapore reflects on its ever-changing sense of identity amid preparations for the country's 50th birthday next year. The 50-year-old, who is co-chairman of the SG50 committee driving the culture and community events for the celebrations, tells Maryam Mokhtar why it is important to rope in these naysayers. He also relates how the political activities of his father, the late opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, helped shape his sense of being a Singaporean.
The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014


Among your best-selling books is First Loves, the story of a Chinese boy growing up in Singapore in the 80s. If you had to tell a story about our country through a protagonist, how do you think it would have played out?

I feel like I'd written that story. With First Loves, the protagonist Ah Leong is in many ways a sort of everyman figure. He's also something of a blank slate.

He is a young boy, very naive, and encountering the real world and finding the rough edges, bumping up against them, trying to get through them.

So many of those stories in a way explore Singapore but, of course, that was back in the 80s.


What would Ah Leong be like today, more than 30 years on?

Maybe I need to write that story, that's probably the best way of answering your question. (Laughs)

We celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday next year and a major focus this year is to get Singaporeans to reflect on our country's journey so far. How would your committee help us do it?

Many of the things the committee supports - some of the books coming out and the arts events to be held - will reflect on the last 50 years as well as where Singapore is today, plus where we're going and where we should be going.

As people reflect and participate, the sense of engagement will grow. And when they are engaged, there is a lasting impact which will go beyond 2015.

The starting point is celebration. What are we celebrating? We are celebrating the people who have made Singapore.

That leads to the idea that it has to be ground up. It is not just having big events but a celebration for people to take part in. That's the major thrust.

But at the same time, it is an opportunity for reflection, which is both retrospective and prospective.

One looks back at the last 50 years and one looks forward - whether it's the next 50 years or the next decade. That's where many of the projects are very thoughtful. Anyway, that's also very much what the arts is about.

The arts is about writers who will interrogate what the nation is about, who does it belong to and where is it going? The same thing applies to artists, dramatists and so on.

Many of the projects will provide that opportunity. For example, the National Arts Council has a project in which all the Cultural Medallion and young artist winners will contribute a new piece of work loosely linked to the SG50. And the Institute of Policy Studies has 50 books coming out.

Jubilee Fund to help give the poor a break

Care Corner initiative will see 500 families get $2,000 each to pay bills
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

A SINGLE mother supporting four children, 48-year-old Madam Surinah (not her real name) "inherited" $2,000 worth of housing arrears and utility bills upon her divorce five years ago.

She worked hard to pay them off but her $450 salary as a cleaner barely allowed her to feed her children. As the debts ballooned, everything went downhill.

She said: "I had panic attacks, lost my job several times and all these affected my health and relationship with my children."

To help people like her, voluntary welfare organisation Care Corner wants to raise $1 million to help the needy pay off their household debts and arrears.

Called the Jubilee Fund in honour of the nation's 50th birthday next year, the idea behind it is also informed by the biblical concept of Jubilee, in which debts are cancelled every 50th year so that everyone gets an equal chance to start life afresh.

The Jubilee Fund will disburse $2,000 each to 500 vulnerable families to help them with their bills. It is meant for families with less than $800 per capita and they can be identified by Family Service Centres and charities.

Social workers at Care Corner said they have seen how unpaid bills can debilitate those struggling with the incarceration, ill health, disability or death of a family member.

To live in anxiety is to be human

Many people are anxious at times in their lives but, for some, anxiety can take over their lives
By Chong Siow Ann, Published The Straits Times, 26 Jul 2014

"SOME people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you it is much, much more important than that," said the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly.

In the wake of that humiliating trouncing of the Brazilian football team in the semi-final of the World Cup - a defeat that assumed the proportion of a national tragedy - that quotation doesn't seem so ridiculous.

Various explanations have been advanced for this inexplicable and spectacular failure of a football powerhouse. Much had been said about the excessively high expectations placed on a team whose nerves were stretched as they inched closer to that coveted trophy that represented so much more to the Brazilians.

Signs of a potential meltdown were evident in the ill-concealed strain on the faces of the players and their occasional tearful outbursts. The team was already, to steal that line from the 19th-century poet Robert Browning, dangerously close to the edge of things.

On that day and on that pitch, the Brazilian team could not show grace under pressure. Instead, they buckled and crumpled under the German onslaught.

Collectively, they seemed to have "choked".

"Choking" is the sports colloquialism for that stress reaction that happens under high-pressure situations and where athletes become self-conscious, over-think their actions, and end up not being able to perform.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

In a national crisis, can we count on you, Singapore?

Is our society resilient enough to survive tragedies like MH17?
By Devadas Krishnadas, Published The Straits Times, 25 Jul 2014

IT HAS been a week since the crash of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) MH17 over Ukraine. Even as recovery efforts are still in progress, a quick scan of the front pages of major newspapers and news websites suggests that the world is already moving on from the tragedy.

The contrast between the permanent and deeply unsettling effect of the crash on family and friends of the victims, as well as on MAS as an operating entity, and the shifting interest of the rest of the global community is sobering.

It has been reported that there were many more flights by Singapore Airlines (SIA) traversing the route flown by MH17 than most other airlines - including MAS. Given that the attackers seemingly did not specifically target the aircraft because it was MAS, the statistical probability was greater that an SIA aircraft would have been struck - simply because it flew more flights over the area. We lucked out, MAS did not.

Our feelings are with the Malaysians and all those affected by the tragedy. For ourselves as Singaporeans, we may feel some relief at our good fortune. But perhaps we can also spend some time to pause and reflect on what it would mean if it had been an SIA aircraft that had been shot down and if many of the passengers had been Singaporeans. How would our Government have responded? How would our people have reacted?

These are important questions to ask ourselves for two reasons.

First, awful tragedies can happen even when all things are done right, so we should think about how best to manage our reaction now rather than in the event, however unlikely.

Second, the quality of a country's response to a tragedy is not only a function of the crisis management efforts of the government but the reaction and conduct of the people.

The Malaysian government has been resolute and confident in its response to the MH17 tragedy. This is in marked contrast to its handling of the earlier MH370 incident. Obviously, many lessons have been learnt and applied.

What CPF reform should achieve

By Devadas Krishnadas, TODAY, 25 Jul 2014

Earlier this week saw a lively discussion on reforming the Central Provident Fund or CPF at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies. Several ideas have been thrown out for consideration and we can expect to hear more about the Government’s thinking during the upcoming National Day Rally.

One proposal is the option of taking higher risk in investing CPF monies in return for the prospect of higher returns. Ideally, this should be limited to CPF members who already have high confidence of meeting their retirement needs through meeting a certain minimum sum. This would ensure that they have the base of security before taking greater risks.

What is important is that CPF members who qualify and elect to take higher risks should be expected to indemnify the Government from protecting them against any losses or from making good their retirement adequacy if their total financial circumstances are significantly altered by future events, such as another global financial crisis. This is to ensure that well-to-do CPF members do not benefit from a privatised upside gains but also socialised downside protection.

WHY PRIVATISING CPF MAY NOT WORK

Another suggestion often touted in social media discussions is to privatise, in part or as a whole, the management of CPF in order to have full transparency. This would be a very radical option.

The CPF system is not only integrated into our social fabric but also our national fiscal management system, as CPF monies are invested in Special Singapore Government Securities or SSGS bonds that are issued and guaranteed by the Government. The proceeds from SSGS bonds are invested by the Government via the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) to generate the required returns to cover the interest rates payments on CPF deposits.

Privatising CPF would reduce GIC’s inflow of fresh funds and affect its current operating model. GIC, being our sovereign wealth fund, can be relied on to keep the national interest as its highest priority. Private investment houses would no doubt be eager for the opportunity to manage the large pool of CPF capital, in view of the handsome management fees involved.

But unlike GIC, private investment managers’ focus would be serving their corporate and shareholder’s interests. GIC can afford to invest long term as Singapore is its sole client. Private investment firms would find it more difficult to do the same under the pressure to produce early results. Privatisation of CPF, therefore, entails higher risks than simple portfolio risks.