Sunday, 17 December 2017

Euthanasia: A good life to the end, or a quick death

The Victorian state of Australia has legalised euthanasia. Concerns about a slippery slope are real. The alternative to euthanasia is palliative care to alleviate suffering.
By Chong Siow Ann, Published The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2017

The Australian state of Victoria recently legalised assisted suicide. This law, when enacted, will enable a resident who has lived in Victoria for at least a year, and who has a terminal, incurable illness with a life expectancy of less than six months, to obtain a lethal drug to commit suicide.

Victoria has now joined the ranks of the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia and Luxembourg which have legalised euthanasia. Several states in the United States, including California, Washington, Vermont and Oregon, have passed laws allowing assisted suicide.

In physician-assisted suicide, a physician supplies a lethal drug or suggests a means by which a patient will use it to complete the act that brings about death.

In euthanasia, the physician performs the act of directly injecting the medication to cause death. These terms do not apply to a patient's refusal of life-support measures, or to the request for these life-prolonging measures to be withdrawn.

We would think that it would be terminally ill patients with grievous and irredeemable pain who are most likely to want physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, but the laws permitting this were mainly motivated by the concerns of the "worried-well" - by healthy people who fear the unknown future and the possibility of dying painfully, and who want that control and assurance that they can have the legalised means to end their lives if things become unbearable.

But empirical studies of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in the Netherlands and the United States indicate that pain played a relatively minor role in motivating requests for assisted suicide. These studies showed that in only 11 to 32 per cent of all cases was pain the reason for requests for euthanasia.

Depression, general psychological distress, and fear of a loss of control or dignity, of being a burden, and of being dependent on others, were the common reasons. This prompted oncologist and bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel to ask (in an article published in The Atlantic) if the wishes of these patients should then be granted. He followed with this riposte: "Our usual approach to people who try to end their lives for reasons of depression and psychological distress is psychiatric intervention - not giving them a syringe and life-ending drugs."


One of the biggest - and perennial - concerns of legalising physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia is that it will lead to the "slippery slope".

The slippery slope argument contends that even a relatively conservative law like the Victorian model would evolve over time, becoming more permissive and with the right to receive assisted suicide extending to many others: from physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill and fully consenting adults to euthanasia for patients who cannot give consent - the unconscious, severely disabled children, and the mentally ill.

New measure to help individuals manage unsecured debts from 1 January 2018

Monetary Authority of Singapore acts to curb excessive unsecured debt
By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2017

More help is on the way for borrowers who are in danger of being overwhelmed by unsecured debt like credit card borrowings.

A new Credit Limit Management Measure coming into effect on Jan 1 will potentially affect people who have unsecured debts that are six times their monthly income.

Banks will not be allowed to grant any increase in credit limits or any new unsecured credit facilities to such a person if they cause his total credit limit to exceed 12 times his monthly income.

Ms Loo Siew Yee, assistant managing director (policy, risk and surveillance) at the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said yesterday that the measure aims to help borrowers avoid getting over their heads in debt.

In June 2015, an industrywide borrowing limit was introduced that capped unsecured loans to 24 times one's monthly income. It was cut to 18 times in June this year, and will be lowered to 12 times from June 2019.

There are an estimated 60,000 borrowers with unsecured debts between six and 12 times their monthly income. That is only about 4 per cent of the total 1.5 million unsecured credit users here.

These borrowers will be affected only if they apply for new credit facilities, or a credit limit increase, that push their total credit limit above 12 times their monthly income.

They can still draw on their existing unutilised unsecured credit facilities.

Steps taken to manage borrowing have produced results. The number of highly indebted borrowers has come down by about 21,000 since June 2015, from 5 per cent to below 4 per cent of the total number of unsecured borrowers.

But since January, an average of 4,000 borrowers every month have hit unsecured debt levels 12 times their monthly income or more.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

HDB to launch 17,000 new flats in 2018, keeping supply steady

BTO flats to be spread across mature and newer towns; some to be ready in 2-1/2 years
By Ng Jun Sen, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2017

Around 17,000 Build-To-Order (BTO) flats will be launched next year, keeping the supply of flats on a par with this year's, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said in a blog post yesterday.

These new flats will be spread across mature and non-mature towns. These include the upcoming Tengah town, the first time that Housing Board flats will be launched there.

Sembawang, Yishun and Sengkang will also see launches in the second half of the year that feature a shorter waiting time of 2½ years, compared with the typical three to four years.

Said Mr Wong: "We will continue to calibrate our flat supply carefully, taking into account underlying demand and the stability of the HDB resale market."

Taking stock of the public housing situation for the year, he added that the Government had focused on allowing first-timer families to move into their homes quickly by offering higher Central Provident Fund (CPF) housing grants, more rental subsidies for applicants staying in interim housing and re-offering unsold flats to those with more urgent needs.

He said: "All this means that young couples will have even more affordable and accessible housing options to start their marriage and parenthood journey early."

Real-estate watchers told The Straits Times that the move to launch 17,000 new flats next year was adequate to meet the needs of first-time flat buyers.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

MINDEF to invite 300 hackers to test its cyber defences

MINDEF Bug Bounty Programme: International and local hackers will try to locate vulnerabilities in its Internet-linked systems
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2017

In a first for the Government, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will be inviting about 300 international and local hackers to hunt for vulnerabilities in its Internet-connected systems next year, in a bid to guard against ever-evolving cyber threats.

From Jan 15 to Feb 4, these selected experts will try to penetrate eight of MINDEF's Internet-facing systems, such as the MINDEF website, the NS Portal and LearNet 2 Portal, a learning resource portal for trainees.

These registered hackers can earn cash rewards - or bounties - of between $150 and $20,000, depending on how critical the flaws discovered are. Called the MINDEF Bug Bounty Programme, it will be the Government's first crowdsourced hacking programme.

This follows an incident earlier this year when MINDEF discovered that hackers had stolen the NRIC numbers, telephone numbers and birth dates of 854 personnel in a breach of its I-Net system.

One of the systems being tested, Defence Mail, uses the I-net system for MINDEF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel to connect to the Internet.

Yesterday, the new programme was announced by defence cyber chief David Koh after a visit to the Cyber Defence Test and Evaluation Centre - a cyber "live-firing range" where servicemen train against simulated cyber attacks - at Stagmont Camp in Choa Chu Kang.

On the significance of the "Hack MINDEF" initiative, he told reporters: "The SAF is a highly networked force. How we conduct our military operations depends on networking across the army, navy, air force and the joint staff.

"Every day, we see new cyber attacks launched by malicious actors who are constantly seeking new ways to breach our systems... Clearly, this is a fast-evolving environment and, increasingly, you see that it is one that is of relevance to the defence and security domain."

The bigger picture is that cyberspace is emerging as the next battlefield, said Mr Koh, who is also the deputy secretary for special projects at MINDEF.

"Some countries have begun to recognise cyber as a domain similar to air, land and sea. Some have even gone so far as to say that the next major conflict will see cyber activity as the first activity of a major conflict," he added.

While there will be some risks in inviting hackers to test the systems, such as an increase in website traffic and the chance that these "white-hat" hackers will turn over discovered vulnerabilities to the dark Web, measures will be put in place to guard against this.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Dakota Crescent to be redeveloped for public housing; iconic dove playground and parts of estate to be retained

Dakota icons to be kept as estate is redeveloped
Playground, courtyard to stay; six blocks to be repurposed for civic and community uses
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2017

Dakota Crescent, one of Singapore's oldest public housing estates, will start a fresh chapter when new public flats are built there, but it will not turn the page entirely on the past.

The historic estate's courtyard and iconic dove playground will be retained, along with the six blocks around them. These blocks will be repurposed for civic and community uses, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post yesterday.

His announcement was welcomed by those advocating the conservation of the 59-year-old estate.

Dakota Crescent's 17 low-rise blocks with 648 units off Old Airport Road were developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958 as a public rental housing estate, and handed over to the Housing Board in 1960 - the year the statutory board was formed.

The estate was named after the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a model of plane that used to land at Kallang Airport.

In 2014, the Government said the estate would make way for developments under renewal plans for Mountbatten, and residents had till the end of last year to vacate their flats.

Of the 17 blocks, which have hardly changed in nearly six decades, two - Blocks 13 and 21 across Old Airport Road - have been kept for interim use under the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme. This scheme allows eligible buyers waiting for their new flats to be built to have a place to stay in the meantime.

Blocks 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20, the central cluster of blocks around the playground, will be kept.

These comprise two seven-storey curved "butterfly" blocks, two seven-storey slab blocks, one three-storey block and a two-storey block - all representative of the four types of SIT buildings.

Mr Wong said in his Facebook post that redeveloping the estate for public housing "will provide more public housing options near the city, and allow another generation of Singaporeans to build their own memories of the place".

"To achieve this, we will need new HDB flats in the estate that can better serve the housing needs of Singaporeans," he added.

Fees at polytechnics, ITE to increase for students enrolling in the 2018 academic year

New poly and ITE students to pay more
Fees up by 3% to 7% next year but remain heavily subsidised by Govt, says ministry
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2017

Tuition fees for students entering the polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) next year will go up by between 3 per cent and 7 per cent.

The new fees, posted on the institutions' websites yesterday, apply only to newcomers in the 2018 academic year.

Tuition fees for polytechnics and the ITE have been rising yearly in the past few years and, as with previous hikes, the increase will be bigger for permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners than citizens.

The Education Ministry told The Straits Times that the Government continues to subsidise heavily polytechnic and ITE education for Singaporeans - at about 85 per cent and over 90 per cent respectively.

Its spokesman said the higher fees are "to allow the polytechnics and ITE to continue to deliver a high-quality education to Singaporeans".

Singaporeans entering the five polytechnics next year will pay an annual tuition fee of $2,800, up from the $2,700 their seniors paid.

The polytechnic fees for PRs and international students will climb to $5,600 and $10,000 respectively, up by $200 and $400.

Fees for full-time ITE Nitec courses will go up by $20 for Singaporeans, while PRs and foreign students will pay $300 and $900 more respectively. Fees for the higher Nitec courses remain unchanged.

The ministry's spokesman said students who need help can approach the financial aid offices in the institutions.

She also said the ministry, with the institutions, "will ensure that financial assistance is available to students who need it, and that no deserving student is denied a polytechnic or ITE education due to financial difficulties".

Financial aid to help students defray their costs of living is also available, she added.

Government bursary amounts were raised this year. Polytechnic and ITE students can get up to $2,350 and $1,400 a year respectively, depending on household income.

"The household per capita income cut-off to qualify for the bursaries was also increased from $1,900 to $2,250 per month, which translates to a gross monthly household income of about $9,000 for a family of four," said the spokesman.

Parents and students interviewed said the fees are still affordable despite the hike, although they hope for more financial aid.

Car owners can use independent workshops without voiding warranties from 2018

Car repairs may be cheaper after lifting of warranty curbs
Independent workshops can do fixes without affecting warranty: Competition watchdog
By Adrian Lim, Transport Correspondent and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2017

Come next year, drivers will be able to fix their cars at a workshop of their choice - sometimes at far lower prices - and not worry too much about losing their warranty, the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) said in a statement yesterday.

Under current warranty restrictions, drivers may service or repair their cars only at authorised workshops. Fixing their cars at independent workshops will void the warranty.

The CCS said it has worked with major car dealers to remove these restrictions from existing and new warranties. The move comes after the commission concluded an inquiry into the supply of car parts.

Current restrictions deter car owners from using independent workshops, curbing the workshops' ability to compete effectively with authorised ones, the watchdog said.

This restriction may, in turn, allow authorised workshops to charge customers higher prices for servicing, repair and parts, it added.

The change will mean that car dealers can void warranties or reject claims only if they establish that independent workshops had damaged or caused defects to the vehicle under warranty, the watchdog added.

CCS chief executive Toh Han Li said: "The removal of the warranty restrictions will facilitate a more competitive market for car repairs and servicing, with more choices for car owners, and opportunities for existing and new independent workshops."

According to the CCS, market feedback indicates that authorised workshops can charge two to three times as much as independent workshops for comparable parts and servicing.

For example, an oil filter change at the independent workshop could cost around $100, but an authorised one will charge about $200, said an industry source.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Unjustified attacks made against the police must be rebutted; Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam addresses criticism of police raid tactics on illegal brothels

Unjustified attacks do huge disservice to police: Shanmugam
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2017

Unjustified attacks made against the police should be rebutted, as these do a huge disservice to the officers in blue who put their lives at risk to keep Singapore safe, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

"In many countries, unjustified attacks on police have eventually led to the weakening of law enforcement," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"We do not intend to let that happen in Singapore. And I believe that the vast majority of Singaporeans support our approach to maintaining law and order," he said.

In another post, Mr Shanmugam addressed online criticism of police tactics used during recent raids on illegal brothels near Rowell Road.

Speed and surprise are key elements during raids, and the police "cannot be expected to knock on the door, and wait for a response", Mr Shanmugam said.

"What do we expect - the gangsters (who might be present) will open the door, and politely admit to their actions? And even if gangsters are not present, we expect the women involved to be cooperative?" he added.

He explained that the police wear masks during such operations to hide their identities, as the syndicates behind these illegal brothels would retaliate, if they can.

He added that he had been quite puzzled by the criticism directed at the police, and "the deeply flawed, misplaced sympathies" for those in the vice trade.

Sharing further details of the case in his post, he said that there had been complaints about the sex workers in the area, with a syndicate seemingly in operation.

During the raid last Friday, more than 20 people - all foreigners - were arrested, including a 16-year-old male sex worker. One suspect injured himself while trying to escape.

Many of them were transgender sex workers, he said, adding that the police are concerned about human trafficking as well.

While the operations were ongoing, the police had noticed a woman filming a video, he added.

She later made a post online accusing the police of "wasting taxpayer money, terrorising women". The post has since been taken down.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said: "Would she prefer that police didn't do anything? (Would she) like the sex workers to continue soliciting for customers along the roads and bringing them into HDB estates among our families and children? What about the exploitation of underage youngsters?"

Monday, 11 December 2017

Volunteers who ensure no one dies alone

NODA members support terminally ill with few or no family members in their final days
By Janice Tai, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

Mr Tay Cheng Tian, 54, died in a hospice on Nov 4. None of his family members was by his bedside when he took his last breath, but he did not die alone.

In the last few weeks of his life, a bunch of strangers befriended him and committed to spending time with him till the end.

They fulfilled his last wishes and did things such as wheeling him downstairs for smoke breaks.

When Mr Tay started deteriorating rapidly from oesophageal cancer, the volunteers took turns to sit vigil round-the-clock by his bed.

For about two days, they held his hands, whispered to him or played his favourite songs to let him know that someone was there with him.

One saw him take his last breath at 8.30am that Saturday.

"It was a privilege to be with him, knowing that he was comfortable enough with my presence to go at that moment," said Ms Angela Sho, 43, a volunteer with Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone (NODA) programme.

It is part of a small but growing movement to support dying people who have few or no family members or friends to accompany them in their final hours. Demand for the service is likely to grow as the number of elderly folk who live alone in Singapore surges.

The General Household Survey, released last year, shows the number of households comprising only residents aged 65 or older stood at 82,600. About half, or 41,200, are made up of residents who live alone. By 2030, the Government estimates the number of seniors who live alone will hit 83,000.

"Given the increasing trends of one-person and two-person households with the head of households over 65 years old, we foresee the number of persons who die alone may increase," said Ms Chee Wai Yee, chairman of the grief and bereavement work group at the Singapore Hospice Council.

Billion-dollar Bus Service Enhancement Programme ends after five years; 80 new services and 1,000 buses added to Singapore roads since 2012

$1.1 billion enhancement of bus services complete
Five-year programme has increased capacity of 70% of bus services and cut waiting times
By Melody Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

The $1.1 billion five-year Bus Service Enhancement Programme (BSEP), which added 1,000 government-funded buses to the country's roads, has been completed.

Since it was rolled out in September 2012, the programme has boosted the capacity of 218 bus services here, which accounts for 70 per cent of the services. This was achieved by deploying more double-decker buses and increasing trip frequencies, said the Land Transport Authority.

BSEP has also bumped up the total fleet of public buses to about 5,500.

LTA said that the programme, coupled with the transition to the Government's bus contracting model in 2014 where operators have to meet higher service standards, has shaved bus intervals from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

Intervals for feeder services during peak periods have also been trimmed to six to eight minutes, from more than 10.

BSEP was introduced after the two publicly listed transport companies, SBS Transit and SMRT, were unable to cope with the burgeoning demand for bus services.

The expansion also helped ease the crunch on trains which also came under greater scrutiny after a series of breakdowns.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commemorated the bus enhancement programme's conclusion at an event yesterday by launching a new service, 71. It is the 80th service introduced under BSEP.

Tuas mega port: Keeping the ships sailing in – why the mega port matters

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transshipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the second of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at the move to consolidate all port operations in Tuas.
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 10 Dec 2017

It is touted as the upcoming site of a mega port - Tuas in the west where Singapore's city port operations, including Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang, will relocate to. The move will free up land for the Greater Southern Waterfront development, three times the size of Marina Bay.

But just how big is "mega"?

After all, much is at stake - the port operations now run by PSA make Singapore the world's top container transshipment hub, so the Tuas mega port must keep building on this success. This is especially as the maritime industry is a key part of the economy, accounting for 7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Yet challenges loom: While Singapore currently holds the title of world's busiest port, other countries in the region are eyeing bigger slices of the transshipment pie and boosting their infrastructure.

A visit to the new port's location, though, shows the sheer, jaw-dropping scale of what is being developed. A construction yard at the tip of the southernmost end of Tuas is a hive of activity round the clock, as 500 workers labour to assemble massive structures that will form the building blocks for the future mega port.

These watertight retaining structures - called caissons - weigh 15,000 tonnes each, the equivalent of 8,000 cars. At 28m, each is as tall as a 10-storey HDB block.

There are two production lines at the construction yard churning out eight caissons a month. When completed, each caisson is towed to sea, where they are placed on a foundation on the seabed. A total of 138 caissons have been installed as of Nov 13 - more than 60 per cent of the 222 needed to form the wharf for Phase 1 of the Tuas mega port.

First announced by then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew in 2012, the mega port will consolidate all of Singapore's port operations in Tuas. It will open in four phases, with the first berths expected to be operational in 2021.

The multibillion-dollar Tuas project will increase the port's capacity to 65 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo, more than double what the port handled last year.

This expansion is the latest in a series of bold moves to grow Singapore's port by building ahead of demand. Tuas, in fact, was considered as a potential location before Pasir Panjang was chosen in the early 1990s.

Insight examines why the port is now moving to Tuas some two decades later, and how the mega project is slated to boost Singapore's maritime industry.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Jerusalem as Israel's capital declares US President Donald Trump

Issue of Jerusalem goes back decades
The Straits Times, 8 Dec 2017

JERUSALEM • The decision by United States President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would upend decades of US policy.

Underpinning the move is a proposed shift of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Trump was expected to sign a national security waiver - as have his predecessors - keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv for another six months, but would commit to expediting a move. Here are some questions and answers on the issue:


The tensions over Jerusalem have their origins decades ago. After the end of World War II in 1947, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two states - one Jewish, one Arab - with Jerusalem governed by a "special international regime" owing to its unique status.

The Arabs rejected the partition plan, and a day after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, the Arab countries attacked the new state. They were defeated. Amid violence by militias and mobs on both sides, huge numbers of Jews and Arabs were displaced.

Jerusalem was divided: The western half became part of the new state of Israel (and its capital, under an Israeli law passed in 1950), while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan.

Subsequently, Israel seized control of East Jerusalem from Jordan during a 1967 war, and later annexed it. The move was never recognised by the international community, but Israel declared the city its undivided capital. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

No country accepted Israeli sovereignty and almost all had their embassies in the commercial capital Tel Aviv instead. Jerusalem is home to holy sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, such as the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


The final status of Jerusalem has been one of the most vexatious questions in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Mr Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital will be seen as deciding an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations, breaking with the international consensus.


In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, calling on the country to move its embassy to the holy city.

"Since 1950, the city of Jerusalem has been the capital of the state of Israel," it said, demanding that the government move the embassy.

The Act is binding, but there was a clause that presidents could delay it for six months at a time to protect "national security interests" through a so-called waiver.

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama signed these waivers every six months.

Mr Trump reluctantly signed the first waiver that came due during his presidency on June 1. The second deadline lapsed on Monday.


If Mr Trump chooses not to sign the waiver, the embassy would not move immediately, but there are rapid repercussions. Under the 1995 Act, the US State Department would see a 50 per cent cut in all its future budgets for "acquisition and maintenance of buildings abroad" until the new embassy opens.


Mr Alan Baker, a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital without moving the embassy would amount to a "sort of legal acrobatics - trying to please both sides and not annoy either".

But Mr Baker said "anything is better than now, where Jerusalem is not recognised by Israel's best friend and supporter". Moving the embassy would be seen as cementing Israel's hold over the city.

Palestinians see the issue starkly differently. Mr Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said on Sunday that such recognition would "promote international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law".


Before 1980, several countries had their embassies in Jerusalem, including the Netherlands and Costa Rica. However, when Israel passed a law in July of that year declaring Jerusalem as its united capital, a UN Security Council resolution condemned Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and declared it a violation of international law. In 2006, Costa Rica and El Salvador became the last countries to move their embassies out of Jerusalem.

Govt spending on healthcare expected to rise sharply; Singapore faces demographic time bomb in 2018

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says it will go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 because of ageing population, tech advances
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2017

Singapore may have to foot a bigger health bill to care for its ageing population.

Government expenditure on healthcare is expected to "rise quite sharply" in the next three to five years, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He expects it to go up by at least $3 billion by 2020 from the current levels.

To put that in perspective, the total budget for the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2010 was $4 billion. In this year's Budget, Mr Heng allocated it $10 billion.

A jump of another $3 billion by 2020 would mean that in 10 years, the health budget will climb to more than three times its 2010 level.

After a tour of Changi General Hospital (CGH) and St Andrew's Community Hospital (SACH) yesterday, Mr Heng said: "As medical technology improves, as our population ages, the demands will grow, and the need to provide for that will also grow." He predicted an annual MOH budget of "at least" $13 billion from 2020.

Professor Euston Quah, head of economics at Nanyang Technological University, said rising healthcare costs will mean higher taxes.

He said: "It is one major reason since, increasingly, healthcare is subsidised for greater number of eligible people.

"Income tax and corporate taxes, which are direct taxes, are low in Singapore relative to other countries, but indirect taxes (GST and other non-earnings-based taxes) make up for it."

In his Budget speech in February, Mr Heng had said that part of a bigger healthcare bill will be covered by new taxes or the Government raising present taxes.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "Spending on healthcare will comprise an increasing proportion of net government expenditure over the next decade.

"When taxes do increase, it is good to know that a significant proportion of our tax dollars is going towards healthcare, which is a public good and necessity."

Mr Heng said the $3 billion increase is "just an initial estimate", and will depend on "how well we are able to manage in the next few years".

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Singapore football may be beyond saving

While I recognise and respect the efforts of our players and staff in the local football scene, it seems that the sport here is quite well beyond saving.

We have lost many matches and cannot even qualify for the Asian Cup. Stadium attendance shows that the number of people interested in the S-League and the Lions is small. The atmosphere there is also lacklustre. This is hardly the result of a lack of interest in the sport. Many Singaporeans frequently stay up late and get up early to watch Premier League and Champions League matches. They have costly subscriptions to football channels.

I can easily tell you the names of hundreds of foreign footballers and their clubs, ages, nationalities and FIFA ratings. Unfortunately, I cannot name more than five Singaporean football players.

Several solutions have been proposed to revamp our football scene, but none have worked.

We could pump several billion dollars in and set aside hectares of land for football facilities, and hope that we will have exciting matches and packed stadiums.

Or perhaps we should just enjoy the luxury that other countries have already provided for us.

Tan Yi Swee, 14
Secondary 2 student
ST Forum, 6 Dec 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

CPF rumours on social media clarified

Separating fact from fallacy about Central Provident Fund (CPF)
By Christopher Tan, Published The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

Like me, you might have recently received messages or read rumours circulating on social media about your Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings. When I saw these messages posted all over Facebook, I knew I had to clarify them as they were not completely true. Let me touch on two of these messages.

The first message claims that when you die, your nominees will not receive your CPF savings in cash. Instead, it said your CPF savings will be deposited into your nominees' Medisave Accounts instead. This is not true.

Part of the message or rumour on CPF nominees goes like this:

"Everybody please note that when we kick the bucket, all our balance CPF money will not be automatically deposited into our nominated NOK (next of kin) bank account in CASH.

"CPF board will instead send all your balance CPF money to your nominated NOK CPF MEDISAVE ACCOUNT. There is a separate form to be filled if cash or cheque is required. So better know this.... Die die they don't give to NOK the CASH."

The second message relates to CPF refunds from property purchases using CPF savings.

Part of the message goes like this:

"Recently, I was asked by CPF Board to return the total amount I used my CPF money plus interest when I sold my apartment. I was shocked and asked CPF staff why I need to return my money when I am already 66 years old, they said it is a new rule regardless of your age.

"Why should I pay interest for my own money and why should I return my money when CPF had released my fund when I reached 55 years old? Please let your friends and family members know of such hidden and unreasonable CPF rules which will affect the seniors."

Unfortunately, both messages contain half-truths and the tone of voice used might generate public mistrust in the CPF system. So allow me to clarify them.

Changi Airport Terminal 5: Decades of groundwork for T5 to take flight

Singapore has thrived by betting big on future trends that make or break economies, whether in air or sea transport, urban development or water sustainability. It is how the Republic rose to become the world's top transhipment hub, a leading air hub and a model liveable city. In the first of a three-part series on major infrastructure projects, Insight looks at what it takes to get Changi Airport Terminal 5 off the ground.
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 3 Dec 2017

From the air, it is a striking sight for travellers flying into Singapore: A massive construction zone, as big as Changi Airport itself, with trucks constantly on the move along dirt and paved roads, huge canals being dug and a network of taxiways being laid, as long as the Pan-Island Expressway from Tuas to Tampines.

Next door, it is business as usual with a plane landing or taking off every 11/2 minutes.

By the time construction and other works are completed around 2030, Changi Airport will have almost doubled to cover more than 2,000ha, with enough room to eventually handle up to 150 million passengers a year, compared with 82 million now.

The Changi East project - as the new development is referred to - is Singapore's most ambitious attempt, since Changi Airport opened on July 1, 1981, to cement the Republic's status as a key aviation hub for regional and global traffic.

The stakes are high. The aviation and maritime sectors jointly account for about 10 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and provide nearly 250,000 jobs.

A global airline body forecast that Singapore's total air passenger traffic and the number of aviation-related jobs could more than double in 20 years.

This would increase the aviation industry's contribution to Singapore's GDP by the same quantum to an estimated US$65 billion (S$88 billion) in 2035, said the International Air Transport Association.


Actual ground works at Changi East started just three years ago, but the T5 story dates back almost three decades.

The move from Paya Lebar to Changi in 1981 was an enormous task: 550 buildings demolished, 4,500 graves exhumed, 200ha of swamp land cleared, one airbase that was built during the Japanese Occupation removed, and 870ha of land reclaimed.

Yet, within a decade of the opening of Terminal 1, planners were at it again, hunting for the next big plot of land for further expansion.

In 1989, even before T2 started operating, the Cabinet approved plans for more land to be reclaimed for airport development. This is the area where T5 is being constructed.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

PUB to spend $500 million to upgrade drainage network over the next 3 years

PUB pumps in $500m more to keep floods at bay
Sum will be used for ongoing projects at 75 sites, those at 16 new spots and future works
By Samantha Boh, The Straits Times, 1 Dec 2017

To keep floods at bay as Singapore is lashed by increasingly intense storms, the country is pumping another $500 million into a massive upgrade of its drainage network.

National water agency PUB said yesterday the money will be channelled into ongoing projects at 75 spots islandwide, as well as those at 16 new locations and future projects, to make monsoon drains and canals bigger, and fortify older structures, for instance.

Said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB's director of catchment and waterways: "With climate change, we expect more intense storms to occur more frequently in Singapore. PUB will continue to implement 'pathway' (the passage that rainwater takes) measures by deepening and widening drains."

The sum, which will be spent over the next two to three years, adds to the $1.2 billion the Government has already spent on drainage improvement works since 2011.

Meteorological Service Singapore statistics show that the annual maximum hourly rainfall rose to 90mm last year, from about 80mm in 1980.

"We are right to 'buy insurance', to put these plans in place and execute them, so we are not caught unprepared," said weather researcher Koh Tieh Yong from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

There have been floods on 14 days this year, compared with 10 last year, and six in 2015. The figure has, however, dropped from 36 in 2013.

Drains in flood-prone areas or those nearing the end of their lifespans will be given priority in upgrading. Next year, they will be improved in areas such as Thomson Road and Sennett Estate.

The 3.2km Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal will be expanded by the end of next year at a cost of $280 million. It will be able to take in 30 per cent more rainwater.

This will protect buildings in the catchment area, such as Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Beauty World Plaza, Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Sime Darby Centre, from floods.

Friday, 1 December 2017

New scheme to allow social workers to manage finances for mentally incapacitated seniors under their care

Community Kin Service: Social workers can get powers to manage seniors' finances
MSF pilot project targets elderly folk who have lost ability to make decisions and do not have family support
By Toh Yong Chuan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2017

Seniors without family support can soon turn to social workers to help manage their finances if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has introduced the Community Kin Service pilot project, where social workers with voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) may apply to the Family Justice Courts for powers to manage the finances of seniors under their care. The courts will then approve regular payments for the seniors' healthcare needs and household expenses, with MSF backing such court applications.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday: "The Community Kin Service allows VWOs to help fill the role that a next of kin would typically play in supporting a senior."

The MSF said in a statement that the pilot project will cover seniors who are 60 and above, have no family support and show signs of a declining ability to make decisions for themselves.

Two VWOs - TOUCH Community Services and AMKFSC Community Services - have been chosen for the pilot that starts early next year.

The MSF was unable to say how many seniors could potentially benefit from the scheme.

TOUCH said about 350 of the 7,000 seniors under its care are gradually losing the ability to make decisions for themselves, while AMKFSC estimated that 100 of the 1,000 seniors under its care may have dementia.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director at TOUCH, said the new scheme is an extension of what the VWO's social workers are already doing to help the seniors under their care.

"The social workers now take care of the seniors' medical and social needs. Some of the seniors also turned to us for help in managing their finances," she said. "But currently we cannot do that because we are not authorised to do so."

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

MOE kindergarten kids get priority P1 admission to co-located primary schools from 2018

Those applying to co-located primary schools will be under Phase 2A2, as part of pilot scheme
By Sandra Davie, Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2017

To help children transition more smoothly to Primary 1, those attending Ministry of Education (MOE) kindergartens will be given priority to enter the primary school that shares a compound with their kindergarten.

The MOE said this will involve 12 kindergartens as part of a pilot scheme next year, involving children entering Primary 1 in 2019.

Kindergarten children applying for admission to the respective primary school will be eligible under Phase 2A2 of the Primary 1 registration scheme, which currently applies to children whose parents or siblings had studied in the primary school, but had not joined the alumni association.

The change, announced yesterday, puts MOE kindergarten children ahead of those who apply in the next phase, 2B, which gives priority to parent volunteers and those with church or clan links.

The ministry will continue to set aside a minimum of 40 places for phases 2B and 2C. It also said it will provide sufficient school places on a regional basis so that no child will have to travel long distances to his or her primary school.

Schools involved include Riverside Primary, Farrer Park, Punggol Green and West Spring.

Explaining the move, Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng said: "MOE always has the child at the centre of its policymaking. It will facilitate the child's learning in a more familiar environment... We hope to enable the child to have a smoother transition to Primary 1."

Will the change lead to more pressure for Primary 1 registration?

MOE assured parents that the planned intake from its kindergartens will be below that of the associated primary school. Parents may also choose another primary school.

But it admitted that "as demand situations differ from year to year, we are unable to predict the demand situation in individual schools and kindergartens".

"The MOE kindergartens are located in areas with upcoming developments and families with young children. We expect healthy demand for these school-based kindergartens as well as the primary schools in that area."

MOE explained that it was making this change to help children have an easier transition to the co-located primary schools as they would remain in a familiar environment.

"With a close partnership between the kindergarten and the primary school, the latter would also be more familiar with the needs of the children, and can more quickly ensure that they have the necessary developmental support when they enter Primary 1."