Sunday, December 29, 2013

Engineer floats chilli crab restaurant idea

Dec 29, 2013

By Chang Ai-lien Senior Correspondent

Civil engineer Wang Chien Ming was feasting on a steaming plate of chilli crab when he was inspired to build a floating crab restaurant.

Professor Wang, 56, who is the director of the engineering science and global engineering programmes at the National University of Singapore, is an expert in Very Large Floating Structures (VLFS) - a structural technology that includes the platform used in National Day Parade performances.

Describing his plans, he suggested that "it would be an act of global positioning since Singapore is world-famous for its chilli crab".

VLFS, characterised by their size and flexibility on water, harness the buoyancy of water to support themselves, and are unaffected by the water's depth or the nature of the seabed. They are also faster and cheaper to build compared with traditional land reclamation, and can be moved or dismantled with relative ease.

Although the science of such construction has ramped up only over the last 10 years or so, many such structures are already in place worldwide. Prof Wang's name is synonymous with VLFS technology in the region and he was the consultant for the Marina Bay floating platform.

He has collaborated with architects to draw up a blue print of the floating crab restaurant, complete with a claw-like extension into the sea that will serve as a mooring area for boats. Other features include a ramp linking the eatery to shore, function rooms and outdoor green areas.

With a gross floor area of 2,770 sq m (or the size of almost half a football pitch) and a seating capacity of 1,100, he believes that it could be the world's largest floating restaurant. He is now looking for investors.

Some notable examples of VLFS include a large floating ferry pier in Hiroshima, Japan; floating restaurants, convention and exhibition centres on the Han River in the South Korean capital Seoul; floating oil storage bases in Shirashima and Kamigoto in Japan; Norway's 1.2km Nordhordland Bridge, which lies over a 500m-deep fjord; and Seattle's Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge which, at 2.3km, is believed to be the world's longest floating bridge.

Prof Wang's studies have also shown that it is feasible to build floating petrol kiosks for ships at sea, and workers' quarters as high as six storeys. He believes that such options offer an attractive solution in land-scarce Singapore.

"There is a limit to land reclamation, especially since the process is getting more and more expensive due to lack of fill materials and large water depths," he said.

Structures such as a floating workers' dormitory would be very large, so people living there would hardly feel the motion of the waves, just like being on a very large ship moored in the harbour, he noted.

While going underground is viable for storage - such as the Jurong caverns for storing oil, VLFS could be ideal for residential and recreational purposes, he added.

"You can float anything, from flats, factories and container terminals to hotels and floating gardens. You can actually create an entire island using VLFS technology, and I believe this will be the next frontier for land-scarce Singapore," he noted.

"And the best part? You can dismantle it and move it anywhere you want."

Singapore is ideal for such projects as its seas are calm and it has the technology and skilled workforce to build such structures, he said.

Creative juices seem to be stimulated by Singapore's iconic chilli crab dish.

For instance, it was earlier reported that a safe, non-invasive method of surgery, using a new robotic device, was thought up by two professors here over a feast of chilli crab.

Agreeing, Prof Wang said: "It's only fitting that this dish inspires invention since it was dreamt up here too.

"As for the floating restaurant, the technology is there. We just need to implement it."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We're digging ourselves into a money pit

Dec 24, 2013

By Paul Krugman

THIS is a tale of three money pits. It's also a tale of monetary regress - of the strange determination of many people to turn the clock back on centuries of progress.

The first money pit is an actual pit - the Porgera open-pit gold mine in Papua New Guinea, one of the world's top producers. The mine has a terrible reputation for both human rights abuses (rapes, beatings and killings by security personnel) and environmental damage (vast quantities of potentially toxic tailings dumped into a nearby river). But gold prices, while down from their recent peak, are still three times what they were a decade ago, so dig they must.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nuclear Power: Policy U-turn; Nuclear Power in Japan; The future?

Dec 11, 2013

Nuclear Power: The U-turn in nuclear power policy

Vested interests are pushing South-east Asia to adopt nuclear power, when alternative energy sources are now available.

By Barry Desker For The Straits Times

AS 2014 approaches, South-east Asian states are moving ahead with plans to push ahead with nuclear power plants. In doing this, they are being supported by generous terms provided by the governments of South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and France, which will provide the technology.

Singapore, however, has concluded that the safety risks are too high and current technology is not advanced enough to embark on the use of nuclear power. In a parliamentary statement in October last year, the Government announced that it will not pursue the nuclear option at the present time. This makes Singapore an exception.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Little India - home away from home

Dec 14, 2013

With the spotlight on Little India after last Sunday's riot, Insight speaks to foreign workers about its place in their hearts, and asks what life in this enclave says about Singapore's management of its foreign workforce. 

Robin Chan, Maryam Mokhtar and Charissa Yong report.

CHILDHOOD friends Karthick Muthuraman and Sundaraj Arumugam are leaning against two traffic bollards along Kerbau Street in Little India having a chat on Wednesday night.

It is three days after a riot broke out in the area, in which an estimated 400 people, most of them foreign workers from South Asia, threw stones, rubbish bins and beer bottles lit like fire bombs at police cars and ambulances. The mob left a trail of destruction in the largest display of civil unrest in Singapore since the 1960s.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Vitamins are a waste of money, studies find

17 Dec 2013

WASHINGTON — There is more disappointing news about multivitamins: Two major studies found popping the pills did not protect ageing men’s brains or help heart attack survivors.

Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin combinations, presumably to boost their health and fill gaps in their diets. But while people who do not eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government does not recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases.

The studies released yesterday (Dec 17) are the latest to test if multivitamins might go that extra step and concluded they do not.

Who will pay off US debt?


5 Dec 2013.

By Joergen Oerstroem Moeller

It is hard to believe one’s ears these days. Prudent economic policies are being claimed as destabilising for the global economy; the “good guys” are made out to be those borrowing and spending, using other people’s money.

At least, that is if we are to believe the United States’ criticism of China and Germany for running an economy where you cut the coat according to the cloth.

It is worth remembering that the Chinese and the Germans actually work hard, turn out manufactured goods and channel their savings — their own money — into infrastructure and investment enhancing their competitiveness. Strikingly, the calamities in the US economy arise from the fact that the Americans do more or less the exact opposite.

Since 1961, the federal budget has been in deficit 47 times out of 52 years; the balance of payments 31 times out of 33 years since 1981.

World War I deja vu


5 Dec 2013

By Martin Wolf

Will we sustain an open global economy while also managing tensions between a rising autocracy and democracies in relative economic decline?

That was the question posed by the arrival of imperial Germany as Europe’s leading economic and military power in the late 19th century.

It is the question posed today by the rise of communist China. Now, as then, mistrust is high and rising. Now, as then, actions of the rising power raise risks of conflict. We know how this story ended in 1914. How will the new one end, a century later?

Monday, December 16, 2013

They came, they worked, and they went home

Dec 16, 2013

The legal import of foreign labour has become common all over the world. The issue of managing large foreign worker populations concerns not just Singapore, but also many other countries.

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent

WITH the harrowing pictures of the riot in Little India still vivid, Singaporeans may be forgiven for believing that they are alone in confronting the complex challenges of dealing with foreign workers.

But nothing can be further from the truth. The use of foreign - or "guest" workers as they are sometimes more gingerly referred to - is well-established and far more widespread than many people realise. The phenomenon is also growing in significance. And although it does generate some social problems, the large movement of foreign workers remains one of the global economy's biggest achievements.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A world apart and invisible?

Dec 15, 2013


Beyond their economic contributions, there's little interest in what they do, how they cope

By Han Fook Kwang Managing Editor

Two worlds collided in Little India on the night of Dec 8.
The world we know is back in full control.
The charred remains of the violent riot have been cleared.
The police investigation and court proceedings are under way.
The Committee of Inquiry has been formed.
The leaders have spoken, as have Singaporeans on- and off-line.
Order has been restored.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The looming lost decade



13 Dec 2013

As 2013 comes to an end, it looks like the world economy will remain stuck in low gear. For those reading the tea leaves of global recovery, the third-quarter gross domestic product numbers offered no solace.

While the United States is ahead of the pack, some of its gains could soon be lost, as accumulating inventories begin eroding profits. Despite glimmers of hope, the eurozone and Japan are struggling to cross the 1 per cent threshold for annual economic growth. And the major emerging economies are all slowing, with Russia practically at a standstill.

Craving genuine leaders with moral authority



13 Dec 2013

The global outpouring of respect for Nelson Mandela suggests that we are not just saying goodbye to the man at his death, but that we are losing a certain kind of leader, unique on the world stage today, and we are mourning that just as much.

Mandela had an extraordinary amount of “moral authority”. Why? And how did he get it?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let’s not riot online about a riot


 By Devadas Krishnadas -

09 December

The incident at Little India yesterday evening was regrettable but not improbable. This is for two reasons: One environmental, the other sociological. Both conditions were necessary for the incident to occur but the latter is more significant.

First, the environment at the scene of the incident. The conditions for the riot could be said to have been in place for years. It becomes a highly dense environment on weekend nights, filled with workers out for recreation before returning to another week’s labour. Historically, small-scale incidents of affray, disorderly conduct and loitering without intent are not unknown in the area, but the numbers have always been low.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Big Trouble in Little India

10 Dec 2013

Excerpt from TODAY

The riot was triggered by a traffic accident in which Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, died after he was hit by a private bus.

Police investigations showed that an inebriated Sakthivel had boarded the bus, which was ferrying workers from Tekka Lane to their Avery Lodge dormitory in Jalan Papan. After noticing that Sakthivel was causing trouble on board — the construction worker had allegedly dropped his trousers at one point — the bus driver asked his assistant, who was helping to ensure the bus ran on schedule, to get the man off the bus.

Sakthivel alighted and the bus moved off. While it was turning into Race Course Road, the driver heard a thud on the side of the bus.

Sakthivel had been knocked down and was caught beneath the bus’ left rear tyre. It was not clear whether the driver got off the bus at this point or who called the police.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The perils of selective solidarity

Dec 08, 2013

Too much emphasis on common interests, ties can breed intolerance of those outside the circle

By Sunday With Chua Mui Hoong Opinion Editor

When I first saw the photo of the man reportedly caught snatching about $200 from a fishmonger's counter in Chong Pang, my initial reaction was one of approval.

Good that Singaporeans are stepping up to fight crime, I thought. According to the Chinese evening daily Shin Min Daily News, the fishmonger's shouts attracted other stall-holders and passers-by. The alleged thief was caught; he struggled, but was overpowered and restrained with cable ties.

But as I looked at the photo of the bare-bodied man on the floor, with his hands and feet tied together, I had another thought: He must have been desperate to try to snatch money in broad daylight.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Asset-rich, cash-poor retirees speak up

Nov 30, 2013

They live in landed property but some are so cash-strapped, they hope for low-wage jobs and Workfare. Amid many calls on the public purse, how can their needs be addressed?

By Andrea Ong And Maryam Mokhtar

SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD Wen Zhen counts every cent. He eats two slices of bread for breakfast and lunch each. For dinner, he cooks a vegetable dish, paired with a $2 packet of rice that he ekes out over two nights.

Yet outwardly, the retired quality surveyor - who declined to give his full name - would seem to have no money worries. After all, he lives in landed property.

Home is a single-storey terraced house in Opera Estate in Joo Chiat constituency bought by his late father for $17,000 in the 1960s. The 150 sq m house is in original condition and is dwarfed by swanky three-storey homes, but it is worth $1.6 million.

Friday, December 6, 2013

China's ADIZ - a brazen "Air Grab" ("Land Grab" is so passe!)


Matthew Hipple

December 2, 2013

On November 23rd, the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Ministry of National Defense released the full text of a new East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ECS ADIZ). The language itself is more subtle than the actual act. The ECSADIZ is not a reflection of China’s plan or desire to identify aircraft but rather the active imposition of sovereign regulation on all aircraft entering that area: a veiled invasion of the Senkakus using subtle lawfare to justify further presence and military operation.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From S’pore to Sweden, back to housing bubbles


2 Dec 2013

By Nouriel Roubini

It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing-market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, along with the severe recession that followed. While the United States is the best-known case, a combination of lax regulation and supervision of banks and low policy interest rates fuelled similar bubbles in the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Iceland and Dubai.

Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London).

In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centres in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Signs that home prices are entering bubble territory in these economies include fast-rising home prices, high and rising price-to-income ratios, and high levels of mortgage debt as a share of household debt.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taxi woes and the ghost of 1985

Dec 01, 2013

Govt steered clear after bid to resolve problems pleased nobody, but situation won't improve unless it takes action

By Han Fook Kwang

Whenever the state of the taxi service is discussed, my mind goes back to 1985.

That, in my view, was the last time the Government tried to tackle the problem in a fundamental way.

But that experience was so painful, no transport minister since has had the appetite to take on the issue.

Which is why the problems persist, almost 30 years on.

What is the issue?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

How China bungled the launch of its air zone

Nov 30, 2013


Finesse and better timing could have helped avert backlash, experts say

By Esther Teo

CHINA'S announcement of its first-ever Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) a week ago sparked strong criticism from neighbours Japan and South Korea to countries farther afield like the United States and Australia.

The Chinese ADIZ not only partially overlaps the zones set up by neighbouring countries, but it also includes a group of disputed East China Sea isles called Diaoyu by China and Senkaku by Japan.

The outrage the new zone has caused prompts the question: Could Beijing have prevented the backlash or at least mitigated it?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Is Fracking worse than Coal? Selected comments from the SDMB.

A partial answer. The US may be on the cusp of an oil boom.

From SDMB.

I have to take issue with Cecil Adams' latest article regarding fracking. In it, he says that fracking and natural gas use are bad, but not as bad as other options like coal. This is flatly untrue. According to a recent Cornell study, up to 8% of the natural gas released by fracking escapes unburnt into the atmosphere, and since natural gas as a greenhouse gas is much more potent than CO2, the resulting emissions make natural gas extraction three times worse for the environment than coal. This isn't to say we should be burning coal instead, but that we should reject false solutions that lock us in to a fossil fuel future. With Vermont Gas Systems trying to ram a gas pipeline extension down the throats of the Vermont public as I write, it's important that we keep scrupulously to the facts on this subject.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Welfare must not undermine value of hard work

Nov 10, 2013

Boost wages of poor to keep them in jobs, and to get the able-bodied to work

By Radha Basu Senior Correspondent

Just 37, Madam N already has eight children and a grandchild. Her third husband, a factory worker, earns $1,400.

The family receives close to $1,400 in monthly cash handouts and vouchers, the bulk of it from the Government.

Factor in medical and education subsidies, and what they get in state aid is considerably more than the money they make from work.

The handouts, the housewife acknowledged, have increased over the years. The state has also exercised flexibility in allowing the large family to live by themselves in a three-room Interim Rental Housing flat, whereas the temporary housing scheme usually requires two families to share a roof.

I chanced upon the former beautician after following her children home one afternoon last month, while wandering along the corridors of their Boon Lay housing block.

Chatting in their cluttered flat as her teenage daughter played on a Samsung tablet, I realised that this family was living proof of the rapid and relatively recent widening of Singapore's social safety nets.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This economic slump could be permanent


19 Nov 2013

By Paul Krugman

Spend any time around monetary officials and one word you will hear a lot is “normalisation”. Most, though not all, of such officials accept that now is no time to be tight-fisted, that for the time being, credit must be easy and interest rates low.

Still, the men in dark suits look forward eagerly to the day when they can go back to their usual job, snatching away the punch bowl whenever the party gets going.

But what if the world we have been living in for the past five years is the new normal?

What if depression-like conditions are on track to persist, not for another year or two, but for decades?

Refuelling American power

Nov 18, 2013


The shale revolution could shatter predictions of America's demise as a superpower and impact geopolitical dynamics.

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent

PREDICTIONS about the United States' inevitable decline as a superpower are banal - even senior American officials are preparing for a world in which Washington no longer acts as the ultimate arbiter.

But what if all such predictions are wrong? What if the US confounds its doomsayers by performing another economic revival miracle that again leaves all competitors trailing behind?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The myth of organic agriculture

By Henry I Miller
14 Nov 2013

Organic products — from food to skincare nostrums to cigarettes — are very much in vogue, with the global market for organic food alone now reportedly exceeding US$60 billion (S$75 billion) annually. The views of organic devotees seem to be shared by the European Commission, whose official view of organic farming and food is: “Good for nature, good for you.”

But there is no persuasive evidence of either.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why a ‘fat tax’ won’t work in Singapore


12 Nov 2012

By Jeremy Lim

Taxes on sugared drinks and other unhealthy food have been in the media spotlight recently.

Mexico, recently crowned the fattest country in the world with 32.8 per cent obesity among adults, pushed through price increases of 8 per cent for junk food. The Mexicans will also add one peso (about S$0.10) to the price of a litre of sugary drinks.

Over in the United Kingdom, a British Medical Journal paper modelling the effects of taxes on sugary drinks suggested a 20 per cent tax would reduce the number of obese adults by 180,000 and those who are overweight by 285,000.

What India and China can take away from Singapore’s water story


By Peter Brabeck-Letmathe & Asit K Biswas

13 Nov 2013

Water will be an important critical-resource issue for the social and economic development of the world in this century. Increasing demand for water and poor management practices over decades have already caused significant damage to the environment and the long-term development prospects of most countries.

Take India. The country’s pollution watchdog noted last month that water from half of the its 445 rivers is unfit for human consumption because nearly all major Indian cities discharge domestic wastewater, mostly without treatment.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Biggest leap in social assistance help was in short-term payouts, which grew to $24.5m

Oct 20, 2013

Handouts for the poor top $100m mark

By Radha Basu Senior Correspondent

Social assistance payments to the poor crossed the $100 million mark for the first time to reach $102.4million in the last financial year ending in March.

That was a nearly 45 per cent jump from the previous year and more than double the $44.5million given out five years ago.

Singapore poverty in the spotlight

Al Jazeera

The island's rich get richer while its poor get poorer, prompting calls for an official poverty line to be set.

Tom Benner

Singapore - Begging is illegal here, under the island-nation's Destitute Persons Act, carrying a fine of up to $3,000 or imprisonment for up to two years for repeat offenders.

But Singapore's poor still can be found, often selling packets of tissues outside food centres. Or spending the night on benches near their jobs to save the transport fare home - they are commonly called "sleepers". Or collecting empty soft drink cans out of trash bins.

The poor have no place in Singapore's vaunted success story, but there are growing calls for one of the wealthiest countries in the world to acknowledge rapidly rising income inequality by setting an official poverty line. Hong Kong's recent decision to set a poverty line as a way to better identify and assist its poor has prompted a similar debate in Singapore's parliament.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Seven pillars of Singapore's soft power

Nov 09, 2013

Singapore has many strengths, including a unique ability to bring the East and West together in a way that provides hope to those who worry that such competing civilisations may be incompatible.

By Kishore Mahbubani, For The Straits Times

Can Shanghai learn anything from Singapore’s soft power?

This was the question posed to me for my opening keynote address for the Shanghai Mayor’s International Business Leadership Advisory Council (Iblac) meeting in Shanghai on Oct 27.

I was tempted to go to the podium and say: “Nothing”. It would have been my shortest speech ever.

China: Too big to breathe?

By Thomas L Friedman

07 November


I arrived here in Shanghai on Oct 19 and was greeted with this news: A combination of cold weather, lack of wind, coal-powered heating and farmers burning off post-harvest debris had created a perfect storm of pollution in the north-eastern industrial city of Harbin, home to 10 million people.

It was so bad that bus drivers were getting lost because the smog-enveloped roads would only permit them to see a few yards ahead. Harbin’s official website reportedly warned that “cars with headlights turned on were moving no faster than pedestrians”.

A matter of individual choice, not communal right

By Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib -

8 Nov 2013


Several people have asked why I’ve not weighed in on the ‘hijab issue’. To be frank, the only reason why I’m apprehensive about commenting on the matter is because of the way the issue has been crafted and the utter lack of civility, divisive attitude and extremely patriarchal and bigoted nature of some of its major proponents who are dominating the various social media platforms, particularly on the Malay online sites.

Friday, November 8, 2013

China will be old before it’s rich


8 Nov 2013

David Pilling

As the leaders of China’s Standing Committee (average age 65) prepare for one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most important occasions, one issue will be hidden in plain view: The country is rapidly growing old.

President Xi Jinping, a sprightly 60, is only up to the third plenum of his leadership, an event at which he is expected to set out long-term plans for the country. But the nation as a whole is fast approaching the sixth Age of Man.

Humans, AI won't be replacing you... yet

Nov 07, 2013

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer

CIRCA 2045, argues author Ray Kurzweil, machines will become smarter than people.

In his popular 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near, the moment when this happens is called the "singularity". The bedrock idea is that machines with artificial intelligence (AI) that matches the human level can be built in the lifetime of those of us who are alive right now.

With greater and faster processing power, such a machine would be able to reprogram itself into one more intelligent than itself. As this machine would be more intelligent than the most intelligent one people can make, it would have superhuman intelligence.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Popcorn makes you immune to ads, scientists say


14 Oct 2013

LONDON — Eating popcorn in the cinema may be irritating not just for fellow movie goers, but for advertisers — a group of researchers from Cologne University has concluded that chewing makes us immune to film advertising.

The reason why adverts manage to imprint brand names on our brains is that our lips and the tongue automatically simulate the pronunciation of a new name when we first hear it. Every time we re-encounter the name, our mouth subconsciously practices its pronunciation.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Towards the end of poverty

The world’s next great leap forward

Nearly 1 billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in 20 years. The world should aim to do the same again 

The Economist

Jun 1st 2013 

IN HIS inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fair Consideration Framework - Hiring Singaporeans First

Firms must now post job listings for Singaporeans on MOM site
By Teo Xuanwei 
23 September

SINGAPORE — Employers will have to advertise job vacancies on a new government jobs bank for at least 14 days before they apply to hire an Employment Pass (EP) holder, starting from Aug 1 next year.

The new rule, applicable to jobs paying up to S$12,000 a month, is aimed at making firms consider Singaporeans fairly for a job, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Firms that do not comply will not have their application for an EP approved. Those that have disproportionately low numbers of Singaporeans at the PME level or are repeatedly complained of nationality-discrimination in their hiring will come under “additional scrutiny”, said the MOM.

This means they must provide information on their recruitment processes and organisation charts with nationality information, among other things. Consistently errant firms may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: “These changes are part of a broader effort to ensure that good jobs continue to be created for Singaporeans.

“The framework is not about ‘hire Singaporeans first or hire Singaporeans only’.”

Separately, the MOM also raised the qualifying salary for new EP applications by S$300 to S$3,300.

The new pay threshold will kick in for new applicants from January next year.


• Under the FCF, firms making new EP applications must have advertised the job vacancy on a new jobs bank administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). The advertisement must have been open to Singaporeans, comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices and run for at least 14 calendar days before an EP application can be made.

• Small firms with 25 or fewer employees, and those jobs which pay a fixed monthly salary of S$12,000 and above, will be exempted from the advertising requirement. However, if complaints are received of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices, these firms will attract additional scrutiny and may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

• MOM and other government agencies will also identify firms that may have scope to improve their hiring and career development practices. For example, these firms may have a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to others in their industry or have had repeated complaints of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices.

• Such firms will be asked to provide additional information to MOM such as organisation charts with nationality information, recruitment processes, staff grievance handling procedures, a framework for staff progression; and plans to develop local internal staff to take on higher roles or reduce reliance on EP holders.

• Firms that are not responsive towards improving their recruitment and training practices, may be asked to attest that the firm will not displace any similarly employed Singaporean within 60 calendar days before or after applying or renewing EPs, and display a factsheet containing key information submitted to MOM at its workplace.

• Unresponsive firms should expect greater scrutiny and a longer review period for their EP applications. They may also have their work pass privileges curtailed.


• From January 2014, the qualifying salary for new EP applications will be raised from S$3,000 to S$3,300, in line with rising salaries. Applicants will have to earn a salary of at least S$3,300 a month or more, depending on qualifications and experience

• Young graduates from good educational institutions can qualify if they earn at least S$3,300, and older applicants will have to command higher salaries to qualify, commensurate with the work experience and quality they are expected to bring.


New regulations for firms seeking to hire EP holders
By Teo Xuanwei

24 September 2013

SINGAPORE — Jittery employers were relieved yesterday after hearing about the Government’s plans to make them consider Singaporeans for vacancies.

On edge about the possibility of an onerous regime that will make hiring skilled foreigners even harder — following several waves of policy changes in recent years to curb imported labour, including steeper levies — businesses learnt that they have to first advertise job openings for 14 days on a new, free portal run by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency before they can turn to Employment Pass (EP) holders.

The “fair consideration framework”, announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), follows rising numbers of complaints about nationality-based discrimination in hiring, which many frequently accuse the banking, services and IT sectors of.

The advertising rule will apply from August next year for companies with more than 25 workers and which are seeking foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) for jobs paying up to S$12,000.

Among Singaporeans, 95 per cent are within this salary range.

Firms that attempt to “go through the motions”, as Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin put it, could face additional scrutiny and be made to show the MOM their organisation charts that detail the nationalities of workers, outline how they recruit, handle grievances and plan progression, as well as craft plans to develop Singaporean staff to take on bigger roles or reduce reliance on EP holders.

Errant firms may be hit with further requirements, such as declaring they will not let go of Singaporeans in a job they are applying or renewing EPs for 60 days prior and after. They should also “expect greater scrutiny and a longer review period for their EP applications”, or may have their work pass privileges curtailed, said the MOM.

It will also raise the qualifying pay for new EP applications for fresh graduates by S$300 to S$3,300 from January — the third hike since 2011.

Although there were fears that laws would be put in place to compel firms to give priority to locals, Mr Tan reiterated why it chose to “nudge” employers instead.

“Fair consideration is fundamentally about attitudes and mindsets,” he said. “It is neither possible to change mindsets overnight nor legislate the problem away ... It requires persuasion, explanation and leading by example,” said Mr Tan.

Business federations agreed with what they described as a “light touch” approach, saying that the rule will serve as a reminder to employers to give Singaporeans a chance.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises President Chan Chong Beng said: “Naturally, there were concerns that there would be new laws or harsh measures ... but I think this new rule is a fair move that doesn’t make it too difficult for companies.”

Mr Tan also stressed that the new rule was not about getting employers to “hire Singaporeans first, or hire Singaporeans only”, noting that firms that are unable to find “suitable” Singaporeans can still bring in those with the skills needed from overseas.

Reiterating that the Republic has and will remain open to imported skills and talent, Mr Tan pointed out that the rule is only about helping Singaporeans get a “fair opportunity” and is not a “silver bullet”. “Singaporeans must still prove themselves able and competitive to take on the higher jobs that they aspire to,” he said.

While the “jury is out”, in the words of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce’s Jonathan Asherson, on whether firms will indeed follow the spirit of the law, CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said he did not think Singapore’s competitiveness, as a place to work or set up shop, would be dented by the move.

“If you look at the figures, more are coming in than are leaving, even though costs are not low here,” he said. “As long as Singapore continues to be seen as a favourable place to live, work and play, it will not be an issue.”
Before the advertising rules kick in, the MOM will, from the first quarter of next year, also look for firms that warrant “additional scrutiny” because they either have a disproportionately low proportion of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to their industry’s benchmark or have repeatedly faced complaints about discriminatory human resource practices.

Writing on the MOM blog, Mr Tan said: “This is something ... we will be actively monitoring to add teeth to the advertising requirement, since we are realistic that some recalcitrant firms may try to ‘go through the motions’.”

The ministry had, together with employer and worker union representatives, studied models in other countries, such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and Hong Kong. “Many months of intense and wide-ranging consultations with various stakeholders” also went into coming up with the framework, Mr Tan said.

He noted that the new advertising requirement also serves “a larger purpose of facilitating greater labour market transparency”. Having a central pool of job vacancies will help the Government to “discern existing skill gaps and also better facilitate job-matching”, he added.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

US Shutdown: Fallout for Asia; Windfall for China

China reaps rewards of US govt shutdown

4 Oct 2013


WASHINGTON — Debate over the federal government shutdown has tended to focus on those it hurts: Veterans, tourists barred from the Lincoln Memorial and Yellowstone National Park, and giant panda enthusiasts deprived of their publicly funded panda cam.

But the shutdown has already produced at least one winner: China.

By forcing US President Barack Obama to cancel a visit next week to Malaysia and the Philippines, the impasse with House Republicans is spoiling his show of support for two South-east Asian countries that have long laboured under the shadow of China. And it is undermining his broader effort to put Asia at the heart of American foreign policy.

Mr Obama’s planned itinerary for next week — a mix of summit meetings and goodwill visits — was carefully moulded to reinforce the message to China that the United States is once again a central player in the region.

But the President’s Asian pivot keeps getting pulled back by two forces that have haunted his presidency: Strife in the Middle East and strife with Capitol Hill.

For now, the White House is clinging to the two remaining stops on Mr Obama’s tour: A Pacific Rim economic summit meeting in Indonesia at which he hopes to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and the East Asia Summit, in the sultanate of Brunei, where he is scheduled to meet the new Prime Minister of China, Mr Li Keqiang.

With little sign of a compromise that would reopen the government by this weekend, however, Mr Obama may be forced to scrap those visits, too, sending Secretary of State John Kerry as his understudy. It would be the third time he has been forced to sacrifice an Asia trip because of domestic issues — he postponed a visit in March 2010 because of the battle over the healthcare overhaul, and delayed it again four months later because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Diplomatically, it’s very harmful,” said Mr Kenneth Lieberthal, a top China adviser during the Clinton administration. “I’m sure there are some in China who say, insofar as the US pivot has China as its bullseye, this prevents them from hitting that bullseye.”

Mr Jeffrey Bader, who was Mr Obama’s senior adviser on China until 2011, said the White House’s attempt to salvage the two meetings, even amid the chaos of the shutdown, was an important sign that it remained committed to the region.

But he added: “The mayhem that compelled the decision sends an unfortunate signal to those countries that the US is far away, and that the US political system is dysfunctional.”

While Mr Obama’s plans are in flux, President Xi Jinping of China has embarked on a tour of South-east Asia with visits to Indonesia and Malaysia.

China, with its expansionist impulses, is a clear beneficiary of a distracted US. It has clashed with Malaysia and the Philippines over claims to rocky outposts in the South China Sea, which the three countries border. On previous visits, Mr Obama said the US wanted to resolve these disputes peacefully and keep sea lanes open.

The administration wants to wrap up negotiations on a trade deal by the end of this year, a goal few analysts believe it can achieve.

That may be even more elusive if Mr Obama cannot personally offer his public backing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The turmoil in Syria has reinforced the reality that the Middle East is likely to remain a preoccupation for Mr Obama.

In his speech at the United Nations last week, he mentioned Asia in a single line, noting that it could serve as an economic example.

While the President may be no less committed to the region, there is a reduction of Asia expertise on his senior team. Mr Kerry has made the Middle East, and particularly peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, his top priority, in contrast to his predecessor, Mrs Hillary Clinton, whose first trip in the post was to Asia and who led the drive to open diplomatic ties with Myanmar.

Ms Susan Rice, the National Security Adviser, has by necessity focused less on Asia than her predecessor, Mr Tom Donilon, while Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has far less experience in the region than his predecessor, Mr Timothy Geithner.

Administration officials counter that Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and the US Trade Representative, Mr Michael Froman, are both heavily involved in Asia.

But among top officials, only Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, whose history in Asia dates to his combat service in Vietnam, seems eager to put the rebalancing at the top of his agenda.



An unfortunate twist in the US pivot

By Simon Tay

4 OCT 2013

American President Barack Obama was due to tour Asia next week to attend two key multilateral summits and visit two other countries — Malaysia and the Philippines. The White House initially described this as an “on-going commitment”, building on the American pivot to emphasise ties with the region that the President established in his first term.

Events, however, have intervened. With the domestic debacle of the American government shutdown, reports are that the President’s trip might be cancelled or, at least, shortened. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Bali and the East Asia Summit in Brunei are likely to remain on the agenda. But bilateral stops in Malaysia and the Philippines have been cut.

This will not be without costs.

Mr Obama’s pivot, after all, primarily gave a political reassurance that US commitment remains, despite the crisis and possible impact on the coffers. The actual number of troops deployed in Asia — despite past headlines about Marines near Darwin — was ancillary.

The government shutdown starkly reveals divisive and dysfunctional Beltway politics. If they can furlough jobs, cease government services and risk a downgrade in the country’s credit rating, will American politicians be consistent about faraway Asia?


There is also Syria to show how the Middle East soaks up American time and attention. US Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be wading into Middle East issues — not only Syria, but also Iran and even Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many of these priorities were voiced by Mr Obama at the United Nations.

If he does come to Asia, the President’s speeches will no doubt shift emphasis. But a subtext has emerged to question if the pivot will be sustained in his second term. And even if sustained, American engagement may no longer be as welcome.

Take the administration’s centrepiece for trade and economic ties, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Over the past months, American negotiators have pushed hard for Asians to cough up “deliverables” that suit US interests. Resistance has grown, rather than any sense of partnership.

This is a sharp contrast to China, which has not backed down on claims in the South China Sea, but nevertheless has adjusted its diplomacy.

With Foreign Minister Wang Yi smiling benignly, Beijing is calmly laying down a 10-year strategy for engagement.

Alongside the US$500 million (S$625 million) China-ASEAN Maritime Fund and US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Fund, an upgrade to the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement seems likely, with new Chinese concessions to benefit its South-east Asian neighbours.

Malaysia, despite having overlapping claims with China to parts of the South China Sea, will roll out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping. His three-day state visit this week is expected to usher in a new era in ties between the two countries.

This makes a sharp contrast to Mr Obama’s reported decision to cancel, especially as no incumbent US President has been to Malaysia since Lyndon B Johnson during the Vietnam War.


The Philippines, another visit that has been cancelled, is in quite a different situation. The Aquino administration has challenged the Chinese claims, both at sea and through international arbitration. Beijing in response seems to be systematically isolating the Philippines.

The planned visit by President Benigno Aquino III to the ASEAN-China trade expo — ironically a flagship friendship event — was unceremoniously upended just last month.

The lesson is clear to other Asians who recall the old Chinese adage to, “kill the chicken to scare the monkeys”.

Because of this, it is Manila who will most miss Mr Obama. The two countries are already looking to an agreement for more troop visits and discussing the development of a mini-Subic Bay to host the American navy, proximate to maritime areas in dispute.

This might be delayed by the US President’s cancellation. But it will not be derailed. Indeed, there is some danger that America may, intentionally or otherwise, overcompensate with statements that the Chinese might find provocative.


If Mr Obama does come to Asia, there are opportunities to salvage matters somewhat.

Practically speaking, he can meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the sidelines of the APEC Summit as a next step in coming to an agreement over Syria.

Symbolically, if he comes despite the US government shutdown and looming debt ceiling deadline, this can show the level of his interest, even under intense pressure at home.

Not all things will be resolved. But getting on Air Force One even for a shorter visit would be something to show US commitment.

Otherwise, Asian questions about the sustainability of the American pivot will find their own answers.


Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and the author of Asia Alone: The Dangerous Post-Crisis Divide from America.

America’s very democracy is at stake


4 Oct 2013

By Thomas L Friedman -

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: Majority rule.

President Barack Obama must not give into this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party, but the whole government.

And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded.

When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the President and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperilled.


This danger was neatly captured by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, when he wrote on Tuesday about the 11th-hour debate in Congress to avert the shutdown.

Noting a shameful statement by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Mr Milbank wrote: “Democrats howled about ‘extortion’ and ‘hostage taking’, which Mr Boehner seemed to confirm when he came to the floor and offered: ‘All the Senate has to do is say ‘yes,’ and the government is funded tomorrow.’ It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt’.”

“Give me the money and nobody gets hurt.” How did we get here? First, by taking gerrymandering to a new level. The political analyst Charlie Cook, writing in The National Journal on March 16, noted that the 2010 election gave Republican state legislatures around the country unprecedented power to redraw political boundaries, which they used to create even more “safe, lily-white” Republican strongholds that are, in effect, an “alternative universe” to the country’s diverse reality.

“Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white share of the population fell from 69 per cent to 64 per cent,” wrote Mr Cook. “But after the post-census redistricting and the 2012 elections, the non-Hispanic white share of the average Republican House district jumped from 73 per cent to 75 per cent, and the average Democratic House district declined from 52 per cent white to 51 per cent white. In other words, while the country continues to grow more racially diverse, the average Republican district continues to get even whiter.”

According to Mr Cook, the number of strongly Democratic districts decreased from 144 before redistricting to 136 afterward. The number of strongly Republican districts increased from 175 to 183.

“When one party starts out with 47 more very strong districts than the other,” he said, “the numbers suggest that the fix is in for any election featuring a fairly neutral environment. Republicans would need to mess up pretty badly to lose their House majority in the near future.”

In other words, there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.


Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s inane Citizens United decision allowed a single donor, Mr Sheldon Adelson, to create his own alternative universe. He was able to contribute so much money to support Mr Newt Gingrich’s candidacy that Mr Gingrich was able to stay in the Republican presidential primary race longer than he would have under sane campaign finance rules. As a result, Mr Gingrich was able to pull the GOP’s leading candidate, Mr Mitt Romney, farther to the right longer, making it harder for him to garner centrist votes.

Last month, for the first time in Colorado, two state senators who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases lost their seats in a recall election engineered by gun extremists and reportedly financed with some US$400,000 (S$500,000) from the National Rifle Association.

You’re elected, you vote your conscience on a narrow issue, but now, determined opponents don’t have to wait for the next election. With enough money, they can get rid of you in weeks.


Finally, the rise of a separate GOP (and a liberal) media universe — from talk-radio hosts, to websites to Fox News — has created another gravity-free zone, where there is no punishment for extreme behaviour, but there’s 1,000 lashes on Twitter if you deviate from the hard line and great coverage to those who are most extreme.

When politicians only operate inside these bubbles, they lose the habit of persuasion and opt only for coercion. After all, they must be right. Mr Rush Limbaugh told them so.

These “legal” structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are super-empowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule.

If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.

Mr Obama is not defending healthcare. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him. THE NEW YORK TIMES


Thomas L Friedman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, has thrice won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary

Friday, October 4, 2013

Chin Peng: A fanatic but no hero

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Science wants the last word? I'm OK with that

Oct 01, 2013

By Alexandra Petri

GENE Weingarten once noted that reading both a news article and the online comments was like ordering a steak and getting a side of maggots. This approximates my feelings. When I started blogging, I made the mistake of reading the comments every day, a practice I cannot recommend if your hobbies include having a sunny outlook on life or believing that humankind is basically good.

Popular Science has just announced that it is removing comments from its site after a study revealed, fairly convincingly, that people who read an article with vitriolic and terrible comments beneath it regarded the scientific consensus as less settled than other readers did - and then presumably went out to sow misconception and bafflement in the public debate.

This study is a science-send for all of us who have long despised comments but only suspected that they were also UNDERMINING SCIENCE and DESTROYING AMERICA. Now we know for a fact that this is so.

In a post explaining the decision, Popular Science's online content director Suzanne LaBarre noted: "A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. 

"Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to 'debate' on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science."

Society has this mistaken idea that some settled facts are still up for debate. People may disagree on these things, but the only reason that they disagree is that, well, some of these people are wrong. You do not have to give people who are objectively incorrect equal time. There is no point disagreeing about facts. If you are constantly reduced to proving hundreds of years of scientific consensus again before you can even start to talk, you waste everyone's time.

American playwright Jean Kerr once noted that "the real menace in dealing with a five-year-old is that in no time at all you begin to sound like a five-year-old". Popular Science is right.

"Never read the comments" is one of the few phrases I would not regret tattooing onto my body. Partially this is because, like Noel Coward, I can take any amount of criticism so long as it is unadulterated praise. Distracted by our phones from writing on bathroom stalls, it seems we store up those sentiments and pour them out at the bottom of news stories.

My theory for why sites such as have such difficulty with comments used to be the Internet Rule: The more obscure and bizarre the niche group, the friendlier the comments.

By and large, the comments on Erotic Lincoln Vampire Fanfiction are much kinder, and better spelled, than the comments on a major news story about, say, wiretapping and surveillance (which consist mainly of erratically capitalised screeds against the president, erratically capitalised screeds against critics of the president, and angry notes erroneously addressing the writer of the piece as "Wally").

But why? On most major news sites, commenters generally have in common only that they just read (Whatever That Article Was) and have (Some Feeling) about it - and, more damning yet, that they are hardy enough to venture off the safe map of the article and into the chartless waters of the comments section, where most of the occupants are weird creatures with the opinion equivalent of dangly, glowing protrusions on their snouts to lure in unsuspecting fish ("So, you think Obamacare ISN'T a sinister plot? Come closer and explain!").

This does not conduce to civility or illumination.

The places on the Internet where the discussion is good are where a vigorous effort has been made to create community and bind people to more than simply having just read something: They come back to the same blogs day after day; they share an interest in certain policy areas; they like panda erotica.

Whatever it is, it forces them to have a stake in making conversation polite enough today that it won't be uninhabitable tomorrow. You can be much ruder to the waiter in a place where you are not a regular.

And even if some are regular commenters on news stories (hi, folks!), the nature of big news or breaking science is that, if it's big and controversial enough for readers to flood in, the small regular community gets overrun. It is hard to maintain community in the middle of a stampede. You use the correct forks only when you aren't fighting through throngs of people to tear hunks off the new carcass.

So, well done, Popular Science! Let me know what you think in the online comments.


Smile, S'poreans no longer 'least emotional'

Oct 01, 2013

But experts say leap in 'positivity' index shows Gallup poll is flawed

By Amelia Teng & Lim Yi Han

JUST a year after being labelled the world's most emotionless society, Singapore seems to have experienced an astonishing turnaround in the feel-good stakes.

International polling firm Gallup has now singled out the Republic as having the biggest surge in "positivity".

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ministers' Salaries revisited

Excerpts of an interview of Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, published in the September issue of the Singapore Medical Association’s newsletter, and printed in TODAY.

1 Oct 2013

You have said you were worried that some of the politicians today do not have the same qualities as the pioneer generation. What are you hoping to see in the newer and younger politicians today?

In the early days, Lim Kim San and Goh Keng Swee worked night and day, and they were truly dedicated. I don’t know whether Lee Kuan Yew will agree but it started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries, not even pegging them to the national salary but aligning them with the top 10.

When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar, every minister — no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever — will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.

Lim Kim San used to tell me, “Ngiam, if you want to leave your job, make sure you have enough walkaway money.” When the salary is so high, which minister dares to leave, unless they decide to become the Opposition party? As a result, the entire political arena has become a civil service, and I don’t see anyone speaking up any more.

Mr Ngiam has interesting ideas, but this one is off because of wrong assumptions.

Let's use a real example, instead of a hypothetical "Minister".

Let's take Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister (MEWR). The one who takes a lot of flak everytime somebody's
car get damaged by floodwaters and has to be scrapped (and loses the cheap COE), and the owner now have to bid for an expensive COE.

For the now, he is known as the Minister of Floods and Dengue. What's he trained for? His last pre-Minister post was as the Head (CEO?) of the National Eye Centre. He is trained as an Eye doctor/ Eye Surgeon. An eye surgeon at his level makes millions.

As a minister he makes a little more than a million. But hey! Job Security right?

As Minister for MEWR, he gets flak for floods. He gets flak for dengue. He even gets flak for Hawker Centre washing in opposition wards.

As an eye doctor, what does he know about flood containment, anti-flood measures, rainfall and weather prediction, Dengue outbreak and control measures, and for that matter, hawker centre washing?

If he really wanted a better life, he should go tell LHL off, get fired, and return to private practice. Even if he doesn't make as much as he used to, he at least would have his privacy, and peace of mind. He can sleep through a stormy night (like you and I) without waking up in a cold sweat wondering where else will flood.

Or take another Minister. Shanmugam. Minister of Law. For the longest time he resisted being "promoted" to Minister. Why? As a top lawyer, he makes MILLIONS. As a minister, just over a million. But at least he is one better than VB. At least he is not an eye doctor asked to look after floods and dengue.

Shanmugam at least is a trained Lawyer at the top of his game now made Minister of Law.

But even he would be better off telling LHL off, getting fired and getting back to private practice and making MILLIONS.

So Mr Ngiam's assertions is faulty, and his assumptions are wrong.

As for the "nobody speaking up", unless Mr Ngiam has a bug in the Cabinet or an informant, he has no evidence of that. The Singapore Brand is based on stability, reliability, and durability. Our culture is one of consensus, and public unity. He may well be right that in closed door meetings there is only "yes men" in attendance. But if he is right, it is pure coincidence, based on speculation on his part with no evidence except what he wishes, or hopes, or imagines to be true. ] 

[Update, 11 Oct 2013: Ngiam Retracts Comments.

"I also realise on re-reading the interview that I had not been fair in what I had said about Ministers and discussions in Cabinet. I retired from the civil service in 1999. Since then I have not attended any cabinet meetings, and have never seen one chaired by PM Lee Hsien Loong. Thus my statement that Ministers will not speak their minds before PM Lee is unfair as it was made without knowing what actually happens at Cabinet meetings today. I have been told by civil servant colleagues that Cabinet discussions are robust - as robust as they were when I attended cabinet meetings as PS (PMO), when Mr Goh Chok Tong was PM and Mr Lee Hsien Loong DPM."]

Monday, September 30, 2013

Singapore re-elected into governing body of UN aviation arm

Sep 29, 2013

By Karamjit Kaur

Singapore has been re-elected, for another three years, into the governing body of the United Nations arm that oversees global civil aviation.

The policy-making council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao), which Singapore was admitted to in 2003, comprises 36 member countries.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who is leading a Singapore delegation at Icao's 38th assembly in Montreal, Canada, said: "We will continue to contribute actively to the advancement of the Icao's objectives of promoting safety, security, efficiency and environmental protection in civil aviation."

Apart from its seat in the council, Singapore also holds leadership positions in 16 of Icao's expert bodies and working groups, contributing in many areas such as air law and aviation medicine.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, through its training arm, Singapore Aviation Academy, also provides a wide range of training programmes for civil aviation professionals worldwide.

Not sure what the figures mean. Singapore got 163 votes. Total votes cast was 172. Did Singapore get 163 out of 172 votes? That is 9 countries/members objected to Singapore’s election?

Other countries had 137 votes (Argentina), 143 votes (Mexico), 145 votes (Spain), etc. Singapore actually had the highest number of votes, if I’m interpreting the numbers correctly.

And there was a first part of the ballot:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

More poor people in S'pore than figures show

Sep 25, 2013

'Working poor' among those highlighted by panel at NUS forum

By Andrea Ong

THERE are more poor people in Singapore than the numbers seen in official figures, said speakers at a National University of Singapore forum yesterday.

To get to grips with the issue, more needs to be done to understand poverty here and tailor measures to the circumstances people face in their daily lives, they said at the forum on building an inclusive society.

To highlight the urgency of addressing the poverty issue, Nominated MP Laurence Lien and labour economist Hui Weng Tat cited sobering figures that show rising income inequality and stagnating wages of the bottom 20 per cent in the past decade.

One problem, said Mr Lien, who heads the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, is the absence of an official definition of the poverty line in Singapore.

Look Back: Death penalty change not based on winning votes: Shanmugam

From a news report a year ago.

Aug 04, 2012

THE recent government decision to lift the Mandatory Death Penalty for certain crimes was no populist move.

There is no current widespread support for campaigns against capital punishment, Law Minister K. Shanmugam pointed out.

As such, there is no political mileage to be gained from changing the death penalty law.

"If we went on popular sentiment, our internal surveys show that 70 per cent of Singaporeans favour the death penalty. If it was politics, the death penalty is one area we don't need to touch," he told Insight in an interview on Tuesday.

The PAP stands to win no votes from the change, he added, whether from those for or against the death penalty.

"They are not going to vote for us because we change this. The people who oppose the Government, oppose it for a variety of reasons. How many votes are there on the death penalty issue?

"Any sensible assessment will tell you that it is sheer nonsense to think that this is going to be a move that you have to do because of pressure or that you are going to get a lot of votes because you move. There are no votes in this either way.

"But governance cannot and should not be based only on such political calculations. You need to do what you think is right and we thought it is the right thing to do at this stage."

The proposed changes, announced last month in Parliament, give judges discretion in certain instances of drug trafficking and murder. Some activist groups have hailed it as a victory and attribute the result to their efforts.

Mr Shanmugam disagreed that public pressure had anything to do with it. He said the Government periodically reviews its death penalty laws, such as in 2006, 2009 and again in 2011.

That said, Mr Shanmugam explained that the Government will engage stakeholders before changing the law: "We consulted very widely with academics, with criminal law practitioners and now we intend - before the legislation has been put in place - to consult very widely."


[One year on, 2 convicts may be given a reprieve from the death penalty.]

Once China catches up - what then?

Sep 27, 2013

By Lee Kuan Yew

BARRING any major disruption, the speed at which China is growing in terms of total gross domestic product will enable it to catch up with the US by 2020. China will then go on to surpass America.

During the 1978-2011 period, China's high average rate of growth - about 10 per cent annually - was the result of Deng Xiaoping's 1978 trip to Singapore and his subsequent decision to implement economic reforms and open the economy to international investment. During that period, the US economy's annual growth rate was 2 per cent to 3 per cent.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Being poor changes your thinking about everything

By Harold Pollack,
September 13, 2013

Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir are two leading figures in the hot (if occasionally oversold) field of behavioral economics. Mullainathan teaches economics at Harvard and is a MacArthur Fellow. Shafir teaches psychology and public policy at Princeton. This week, they released an accessible short book titled "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much," which summarizes some of the best behavioral economics work.
I caught up with Mullainathan this week. An edited transcript follows.

For COEs, best indicator of value is value itself, not proxies

From Tan Si An -

20 September

I refer to the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) letter “Engine capacity and power better proxy” (Sept 17).

The LTA stated that the combination of engine capacity and power would be a better proxy for open market value (OMV) than engine capacity alone.

This is puzzling. How can a proxy for OMV be more correct than the actual OMV itself?

The LTA stated that using OMV directly is problematic because of fluctuations, and that even averaging (the value) would not solve this problem.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Leader who struck a chord with China

Sep 18, 2013

Lee Kuan Yew could get China's attention, but it will be tough for tiny Singapore to find comparable successors to fill his big shoes

By John Wong, For The Straits Times

CHINA has published many books about former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. One written by Chang Zheng in 1996 bears this interesting title, Lee Kuan Yew: A Great Man In A Small Country (Xiao Guo Wei Ren). In politics and international power relations, does "size" matter at all?

Deng Xiaoping, a "five- footer", had struck Mr Lee as "a giant among men" when they first met in 1978. Mr Lee has since openly stated that Deng was the most impressive leader he had ever met.

Viewed from a different angle, Singapore is a tiny city-state while China is a huge continental- sized country. The two also have inherent political, economic and social differences. Yet, they have developed strong bilateral relations, thanks to the efforts of both Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Deng.

Singapore must have also struck Deng as the most impressive country he had ever visited. He passed through Singapore in the 1920s on his way to France, when Singapore was then only a small trading port. Before his official visit to Singapore in November 1978, Deng had not been to any developed society other than the United States and Japan. He must have marvelled at how the Singapore leadership had managed to overcome the constraint of size and successfully transform this small island into a throbbing industrial state. This is something China had failed miserably to do under Mao Zedong.

Thus, Deng, in his famous Nanxun (tour of South China) speech in 1992, specifically singled out Singapore as a good model of economic and social development for China. This set off instant "Singapore fever" in China that has lasted to this day. Deng's endorsement of the "Singapore model" laid down a strong institutional base for a robust Singapore-China relationship ever since.

As for Mr Lee, he quickly changed his original Cold War perception of China. He was once attacked by Radio Beijing as the "running dog" of Western imperialism. As Deng started his pragmatic policy of economic reform and opening up, Mr Lee was quick to see rising economic opportunity for Singapore, particularly after Deng's Nanxun speech. True enough, Nanxun sparked off China's dynamic double-digit rates of economic growth for more than two decades.

Specifically, Mr Lee was instrumental in setting up the Singapore-Suzhou Industrial Park. After overcoming initial start-up problems, this park has developed to become a symbol of successful Singapore-China cooperation based on mutual benefits. Success in Suzhou led to another government-to-government flagship project, the Tianjin Eco-City, and then many others in different forms.

Under the auspices of these two great leaders, Singapore and China saw their economic ties grow by leaps and bounds, with two-way trade reaching US$64 billion (S$81 billion) in 2011. Bilateral cooperation has also broadened beyond trade and investment into political, social, cultural, education, and even security areas.

As Harvard University's China expert Ezra Vogel has pointed out in his recent book on Deng, Singapore and China would not have cemented their relationship in such a unique way had Mr Lee and Deng not been able to establish close rapport and a kind of "special bond" with each other from the start.

Lee Kuan Yew to the Chinese

IN CHINA, Mr Lee is probably the best-known foreign political figure, partly because he has been in public office for more than 50 years. More importantly, ordinary Chinese see him primarily as a prominent Chinese (not foreign) leader who has brought development to a foreign country called Singapore. To some, Singapore is still a very Chinese city-state.

[And this is part of the problem of Chinese immigrants in Singapore - their perspective of Singapore, their view of Singapore as Not-Quite-Foreign. It makes Singapore an attractive destination for work and eventual emigration, but it also means that the Chinese come here with preconceived notions and a perception that this is just like home. Landing here, and seeing the predominantly (ethnic) Chinese population, they assume that language and culture should be the same and familiar. So they may not feel the need to assimilate as much.]

This ethnocentric approach is very much in evidence in virtually all popular writings and books about Mr Lee. Invariably, they all start by tracing his ancestral origins (ji guan), for example, as an ethnic ke jia, and Guangdong's Dapu as his ancestral home. To many Chinese, Mr Lee is an overseas Chinese, and he will remain an overseas Chinese. Actually, because of this, his success outside China is all the more remarkable to the Chinese people.

Views on Mr Lee from the scholarly community are understandably more sophisticated. Thanks to Deng's promotion of the "Singapore model" and the many thousands of Chinese officials who have subsequently been sent to take training courses at Nanyang Technological University and National University of Singapore, Singapore studies as an academic subject is becoming popular in many universities in China, with the number of "Singapore watchers" growing rapidly.

Domestic Chinese scholars studying Singapore tend to interpret Mr Lee's role in Singapore's development through Chinese cultural lenses. Singapore's promotion of Confucian values in schools and the Speak Mandarin Campaign, in particular, have made a deep impression on China's scholars with an interest in Singapore. To them, Confucian values such as emphasis on education, frugality and hard work, must have contributed to Singapore's successful economic and social development. So Mr Lee is broadly viewed as a kind of Confucian ruler.

Since Mr Lee is a lawyer and Singapore is well known for upholding the rule of law, so Mr Lee should also belong to the Legal School (fa jia). Indeed most successful Chinese rulers and mandarins in the past were both Confucianist and Legalist. They governed China with an optimal mix of de (virtue) and fa (law). One scholar even labelled Mr Lee as a Legalist in substance but a Confucianist in spirit.

However, to the numerous young netizens and bloggers - there are 700 million Internet users in China today - Mr Lee presents a different image, often superficial and inconsistent.

In November 2009, Mr Lee called on the US to continue its presence in the region to balance a rising China. That remark immediately touched off a big hue and cry in China's cyber world.

Many Chinese, including those well disposed towards Singapore, were upset. This was not about Chinese nationalism. To them, it was just inconceivable that Mr Lee, as a Chinese who had said many good words about China, should turn around to ask the Americans to prevent China from developing into a strong and prosperous country!

After Lee, then who and what?

A LEADER from a small country needs to constantly shout in order to get attention. When Mr Lee speaks, Western leaders listen. In particular, they want his views on China. Mr Lee also commands an attentive audience in China. In Beijing, Chinese leaders are similarly very eager to seek wise counsel from him, especially his views about the US and the outside world. Mr Lee's official title of "Senior Minister", zi zheng (policy adviser) in Chinese, is particularly appropriate for his role in China.

After Mr Lee, it will be difficult to find comparable successors to fill his big shoes. That is rather unfortunate for Singapore when it comes to dealing with China's rise in future. In 1990 when Singapore normalised relations with China, China's gross domestic product (GDP) was only 10 times larger than Singapore's. Today, it is 30 times. Mr Lee can be frank and blunt in his views, but Chinese leaders still respect him as their senior.

After Mr Lee, Singapore's political discourse with China will have to take a different form. Without his astute guiding hand and stature, can Singapore continue to manoeuvre effectively in the dynamic power relationship of the US and China without running the risk of displeasing one or the other? This is a big question yet to be answered.

The writer is a professorial fellow at the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.