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  1. #5526
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Singapore's community activism blossoming

    By Qiuyi Tan | Posted: 29 December 2011 1853 hrs
    SINGAPORE: More Singaporeans this year have spoken up and acted on a slew of social causes from heritage conservation and environmental protection to animal welfare.

    In June, Singapore saw its first-ever public forum on animal welfare policies.

    Observers said this is not unusual for a developed country with an educated population.

    Assistant Professor Reuben Wong, from the National University of Singapore's Political Science Department, said: "Singaporeans find it remarkable because we've been used to a certain kind of politics which I'd describe as abnormal, where the citizenry has been depoliticised, where there is one overwhelming party or sometimes just one party in Parliament."

    At the National Day Rally in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had urged Singaporeans to come forward to play a larger and positive role on issues affecting the country.

    Leading the way in this effort are civil society groups such as the Cat Welfare Society.

    The society has seen public support increase steadily over the years.

    But what made 2011 a milestone for the group was its engagement with the government.

    It has successfully lobbied authorities to start sterilising stray cats this year -- a shift from the old policy of culling them.

    Its vice-president Veron Lau said the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, which was terminated in 2005, is now back and piloting in a number of housing estates like Ang Mo Kio and Tampines.

    Under the programme, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) works with town councils to microchip and sterilise stray cats, and pays for half the cost.

    "I see the change from the government officers in the way they want to work together with us," Ms Lau said.

    "It's because they have seen the results that are brought about when volunteers and residents in the community step forward to resolve issues, rather than just leaving it to the government officials to resolve them."

    Separately, architect Tham Wai Hon got his friends and colleagues together to lobby the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to preserve the full tract of KTM railway land recently returned to Singapore. They did that by proposing creative development ideas.

    Mr Tham said: "What's so amazing was that, usually in Singapore, things are planned 10, 20 years in advance, but this time, things happened so suddenly, no one was ready except our group. And so in that way it lent us a bigger voice, and the URA was really keen to get any ideas for what they could do about the space."

    Mr Tham's group -- Friends of the Rail Corridor -- is now part of an official dialogue process with the Rail Corridor Consultation Group on the Rail Corridor.

    There are concerns lengthy consultations will slow down Singapore's efficiency and strong government.

    But activists and observers said the dialogue process as well as active citizens and a strong civil society are vital to a mature and resilient society.

    NUS' Assistant Professor Wong said: "Some of the younger ministers and younger Members of Parliament (MPs) understand more intuitively, but the rest of the cabinet and government might have to be convinced of the merits of a more consultative approach."

    While some observers said activist groups are getting more organised and connected, others believe there will always be new issues that will get Singaporeans talking and moving.

    But one thing all can agree with, though, is that Singapore's budding community activism looks set to grow in the years ahead.

    - CNA/wk

  2. #5527
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default

    An underground science city in S'pore?


    by Hoe Yeen Nie
    04:47 AM Jan 03, 2012 SINGAPORE - As the Republic continues to explore the possibility of going underground to overcome land constraints, an area under the Singapore Science Park could be turned into a complex housing research laboratories, offices and a data centre.

    A feasibility study - to be completed by April - is being carried out on an area between Science Parks 1 and 2, looking into the possibility of constructing a complex about 30 storeys below the surface. The exact size of the complex - which will be linked to facilities above ground - is yet to be determined.

    Developer JTC Corporation describes the project as an expensive experiment but one that is perhaps inevitable, as land becomes increasingly scarce.

    Its assistant chief executive David Tan said: "By putting an underground science city between Science Parks 1 and 2, we could actually have two plots of land for development ... The key is really to see how we can use a piece of land twice."

    The benefits to building underground include the presence of a stable climate, which allows greater efficiency of facilities like data centres. The enclosed environment also ensures greater safety for storing risky chemicals.

    But such advantages come with a price: Mr Tan estimates that building underground will cost 50 per cent more than a similar facility above ground.

    Lessons can be learnt from JTC Corporation's Jurong Rock Caverns, an underground oil bunker at Jurong Island. For instance, evacuation plans and ventilation points need to be mapped out in detail. Construction challenges are also more complex, with restrictions set by the quality of the rock. Engineers have to work around fault lines and the problem of groundwater seepage too.

    Adjunct Associate Professor Zhou Yingxin, from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, said: "You have to build with the ground that's there ... You can try to choose a good site. But even in a good site, you wouldn't know the rock until you see it. So you must have a plan to deal with such uncertainties."

    Architects and engineers also have to ensure that the underground developments are conducive for people - including having natural light, greenery and fresh air.
    Last edited by Loh; 01-02-2012 at 09:54 PM.

  3. #5528
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Economy contracted by 4.9% in Q4

    MTI: GDP estimated to have expanded by 4.8 per cent in 2011, in line with 5-per-cent growth forecast


    by BLOOMBERG
    09:37 AM Jan 03, 2012

    SINGAPORE - The economy shrank for the second time in three quarters as manufacturing eased, increasing pressure on policy makers to spur growth as they forecast slower expansion this year.

    Gross domestic product fell an annualised 4.9 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2011 from the previous three months, when it climbed a revised 1.5 per cent, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a statement this morning. The median of 11 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey was for a 5 per cent contraction. The economy grew 4.8 per cent in 2011 and may expand 1 to 3 per cent this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Dec 31.

    A faltering global economy has eroded demand for goods made on the island, forcing policy makers to juggle protecting growth with containing inflation in the city of 5.2 million people. The nation's currency fell 3.2 per cent in the past two months after the Monetary Authority of Singapore, which uses the exchange rate to manage inflation, eased its policy stance last quarter while the government took steps to cool the property market.

    "Manufacturing and services will continue to be quite weak, and won't prove supportive of the economy," said UOB economist Chow Penn Nee. "We may see a technical recession later this year. There is a possibility of more easing in April" when the central bank next reviews its monetary policy stance, she added.

    Asian nations from Thailand to Indonesia have reduced interest rates to shield their economies from the protracted European sovereign-debt crisis. Taiwan's central bank left borrowing costs unchanged for a second straight quarter last week, while the People's Bank of China said it will maintain a "prudent" monetary stance and "ensure the continuity and stability" of policy in 2012.

    Singapore's growth will "inevitably be affected" this year in a "difficult" global economy, Prime Minister Lee said in his New Year message. "The external environment is uncertain," Mr Lee said. "Debt problems in Europe are far from solved."

    GDP increased 3.6 per cent from a year earlier last quarter, after rising a revised 5.9 per cent the previous three months. The expansion was slower than the median forecast of 4.3 per cent in a Bloomberg survey.

    The island's inflation was 5.7 per cent in November, matching the fastest pace since 2008
    . Consumer-price gains are forecast by the monetary authority to average 2.5 to 3.5 per cent in 2012 from about 5 per cent last year.

    The central bank had tightened monetary policy at each of the three half-yearly reviews before its October decision to slow gains in the currency while continuing with a modest and gradual appreciation. It guides the local dollar against a basket of currencies within an undisclosed band, and adjusts the pace of appreciation or depreciation by changing the slope, width and centre of the band.

    Singapore, home to the world's second-busiest container port, has remained vulnerable to fluctuations in overseas demand for manufactured goods even as the government boosts the financial services and tourism industries to cut its reliance on exports.

    Manufacturing
    rose 6.5 per cent from a year earlier in the three months ended Dec 31, after climbing a revised 13.4 per cent in the third quarter, the MTI said today.

    On a quarter-on-quarter annualised basis, the sector contracted by 21.7 per cent, reversing the 10.1 per cent expansion in the previous quarter.

    The services industry grew 3.2 per cent last quarter from a year earlier, after gaining 3.7 per cent in the previous three months. The construction industry expanded 1.7 per cent, compared with a revised 0.5 per cent increase in the quarter through September.


    The manufacturing sector grew by 6.5 per cent, down from 13.4 per cent in the third quarter. BLOOMBERG
    Last edited by Loh; 01-02-2012 at 10:04 PM.

  4. #5529
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default 'No global financial crisis for now'

    But the Govt is ready to act to tackle any fallout from euro zone's problems, says Trade and Industry Minister


    by Cheow Xin Yi
    04:46 AM Jan 03, 2012

    SINGAPORE - A full-blown global financial crisis, which will plunge the Republic into recession, is not on the cards for now, according to Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang.

    Still, with the euro zone crisis delicately poised, the Government is prepared to switch gears and tackle any potential fallout, he said yesterday.

    Speaking ahead of the release of advance gross domestic product (GDP) estimates today, Mr Lim said that, despite weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter figures dragging down full-year growth to 4.8 per cent last year, the Government is maintaining its economic growth forecast of between 1 and 3 per cent this year.

    Mr Lim was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the opening of the Labrador Nature & Coastal Walk. He noted that the economic performance between October and last month was weighed down by the pharmaceutical and electronics sectors. Nevertheless, the Q4 figures come on the back of a better-than-expected performance in the previous quarter, he said.

    Mr Lim said: "Right now, our expectation is that the global economy will slow down but there is no global financial crisis ... and we, in fact, have to prepare for a somewhat longish period of such slow growth."

    But he added: "If the euro crisis is mismanaged and there is a global financial crisis, then of course we will turn into a different gear and take different actions."

    Despite signs of an improving United States economy and a rebound in China's manufacturing output, Mr Lim reiterated that Singapore "cannot take things for granted".

    "In the beginning of last year, the prospects looked better, and there was a lot of talk about shoots of growth. Then, we had a downturn in the second quarter. So similarly, we are watching the situation very carefully," he said.

    On Sunday, at a community event, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had called on Singaporeans to take this year's slowdown "in our stride". Responding to questions on what could be in store for the coming Budget, Mr Lee noted that last year's S$3.2-billion package had provided "considerable help".

    Economists Today spoke to all but ruled out the prospect of a global crisis for now, which is why they expect the coming Budget to be relatively modest.

    CIMB-GK economist Song Seng Wun said: "It won't be as generous as the election budget last year, and we are unlikely to see the Government embark on an expansionary budget."

    Mr Song felt that the measures could focus on "helping businesses cope with a tougher environment", such as delaying the progressive increase in foreign worker levies. Keeping its powder dry, the Government will be "prepared to spend more if required to" later on, when the health of the global economy becomes clearer, he said.

    Barclays economist Leong Wai Ho noted that policymakers have "probably started crisis planning" even though the situation remains under control.

    "Trade-wise, the US and China have always been more important to Singapore and Asia, so if it's just Europe choking and sputtering, we can live with that. But if Europe causes a banking crisis ... that might actually curtail US confidence and spending, that's when all bets are off," he said.

    Mr Leong noted the market concerns about European countries such as Italy being unable to raise enough money to roll over their debts in the months ahead. But "doomsday predictions" are unwarranted, given the backing of the European Central Bank, he said.

    Concurring, Mr Song said that, in any event, "central banks and governments are a lot more prepared this time round, and reaction time will probably be much faster to ensure liquidity is available".

    While Singapore's economy is headed for a slowdown, Mr Lim noted that inflation is somewhat "persistent" due to factors such as global commodity prices, "particularly fuel and oil prices". Other causes include the Government's domestic policies on housing and car ownership, he added.

    Reiterating that core inflation is "not unusually high", Mr Lim said: "So if you are an owner of a HDB flat, the housing prices don't affect you, and if you are not buying a car, the car prices also don't affect you."

    Nevertheless, the Government expects headline inflation numbers to fall this year, he added.



    Mr Lim Hng Kiang. TODAY FILE PHOTO

  5. #5530
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Get closer to nature with Labrador walk

    by Evelyn Choo
    04:46 AM Jan 03, 2012

    SINGAPORE - Residents of and visitors to the southern part of Singapore have a new leisure destination - mangrove and coastal areas that were previously inaccessible - with the official opening of the Labrador Nature & Coastal Walk.

    The 2.1km walk, which seamlessly connects the Southern Ridges to the Southern Waterfront, runs along Alexandra Road from Depot Road to Telok Blangah Road, through the Berlayar Creek mangrove area and skirts the foothills of Bukit Chermin.

    It comprises three distinct segments - Alexandra Garden Trail, Berlayar Creek and Bukit Chermin Boardwalk - with Berlayar Creek home to a myriad of wildlife: 60 bird species, 19 fish species and 14 mangrove plant species recorded in an area of only 5.6ha.

    Extra care was taken to retain the natural environment along the walk, which was conceptualised and developed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and will be managed by the National Parks Board.

    For example, some boardwalks are elevated to ensure that animals can move from one end to the other. And as they usually move around at night, there are no lamp posts along certain stretches.

    "All the lights (subtle LED lights) are hidden below the handrails," said URA executive architect (Conservation & Urban Design) Lee Howe Ming.

    "We can maintain the nocturnal environment of this area and, at the same time, the public can come in for a moonlit stroll in this mangrove setting."

    Footpaths and bicycle paths also meander around mature rain trees, seamlessly weaving flora and fauna into the urban landscape, while information panels along the walk allow visitors to learn about nearby attractions and the rich biodiversity in the area.

    Construction of the S$10-million walk began in 2010 and was completed at the end of last year.

    Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang, who opened the walk yesterday, said it would provide new and healthy ways for visitors and residents of Telok Blangah to spend their weekends and holidays.



    Photo by DON WONG

  6. #5531
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Yafei guns for Olympic qualification

    by Philip Goh Haw Hann
    04:47 AM Jan 03, 2012

    SINGAPORE - When Li Yafei (picture) flies out to Doha next week for the 12th Asian Shooting Championship, she will be visualising an oasis of calm for her competition on Jan 14.

    As one of Singapore's brightest shooting talents, Yafei knows the difference between winning and losing is often in the mind.

    Her task in every competition, as her coach constantly reminds her, is to isolate herself from the tension in the competition arena and to make every shot count.

    She struggled to achieve that at the SEA Games in Indonesia last November - Yafei shot 394 to qualify in second place, only to falter in the final round and finish fourth - and she is determined not to let that happen again.

    "I allowed the environment to distract me," said Yafei. "It was tough enough dealing with the competition where there were fewer shooters and the pressure was more immediate, and I know now that despite whatever nervousness I had, I needed to have maintained my routine and do what I had to do."

    Still 17 - she turns 18 on March 1 - the Raffles Junior College student heads to Qatar on Jan 8 gunning for the biggest prize in her fledgling shooting career - a place in the 2012 London Olympics.

    To get there, she will need to replicate or better the 397 she nailed at the Asian Air Gun Championship in Kuwait last October, her highest competition score to date, when she outshone teammates Jasmine Ser and Cheng Jian Huan.

    Born in Tianjin, China, Yafei arrived in Singapore as a four-year-old when her father took up a teaching position at Raffles Girls School. She decided to pick up shooting when she entered Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, and after shooting 391 at a school training camp in China, she was inspired to take the sport seriously.

    In 2010, Yafei shot 396 to win the National School's girls 'B' division competition, setting a new record across all divisions and breaking Ser's old mark of 395.


    "Yafei has made great strides since joining national youth training in 2009," said national coach Zhang Man Zhen. "While she has done well, she is still some ways from being able to match up against the world's best, and she will need more exposure to learn how to handle competition stresses."

    In Doha, the best shooters in Asia who have yet to secure a spot at the 2012 Olympics will be competing for the two remaining quota places. Yafei is aware that she may need to outdo Ser and Cheng again if she wants to win her ticket to London. But she is not daunted.

    "We are always competing with each other anyway but what I really want to do is to continue shooting better in competition, and hopefully one day hit the perfect score of 400." Philip Goh



    10m Air Rifle shooter Li Yafei getting pointers from coach Zhang Man Zhen. Photo by PHILIP GOH

  7. #5532
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Malaysian Defence Force chief in Singapore

    Posted: 03 January 2012 1231 hrs


    Singapore: The Chief of Defence Force of the Malaysian Armed Forces, General Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin, who is in Singapore on an introductory visit, today called on Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen.

    General Zulkifeli, who is in Singapore till 4 January, also called on Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Neo Kian Hong after inspecting a Guard of Honour.

    In a statement, the Defence Ministry said the visit underscores the warm and long-standing defence relations between Singapore and Malaysia.

    The armed forces of both countries interact regularly through bilateral exercises as well as multilateral activities such as the Five Power Defence Arrangements, and work closely on maritime security through the Malacca Strait Patrols.

    "These regular interactions have strengthened the mutual understanding and friendship between the personnel of the two armed forces" said MINDEF.

    While in Singapore, the Malaysian Defence Force chief will visit the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Command, Changi Naval Base and Headquarters Armour.

    - CNA/sf


    Chief of Defence Force of the Malaysian Armed Forces, General Tan Sri Dato' Sri Zulkifeli bin Mohd Zin calling on Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen (photo: MINDEF)
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  8. #5533
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default Singapore's counter-terror success

    The city-state has played to its strengths as a multi-ethnic melting pot

    by Ali Soufan
    04:46 AM Jan 04, 2012

    Ten years ago today, the world learned that a major terrorist attack on Singapore had been thwarted. The anniversary of what would have been South-east Asia's 9/11 is notable not only because of how Singapore foiled it, but also because of the lesson it taught neighbouring countries.

    The Singapore cell of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a pan-South-east Asian terrorist group and Al Qaeda affiliate, planned to crash a hijacked plane into Singapore's Changi International Airport. They came up with the idea after a previous plot - to attack the United States, British, Israeli and Australian embassies, along with US naval bases and other US targets - was thwarted by the Internal Security Department (ISD), Singapore's domestic intelligence service. The ISD also stopped the airport plot.

    Singapore was targeted because of its close relations with the US, Israel and the West, and because of its multi-ethnic society. Like the US, Singapore is a melting pot, where people of different ethnicities are equal citizens, hold high positions and are proud of their Singaporean identity. The fact that the Muslim community could be so successful and have good relations with other religious groups was a powerful counter-example to the rhetoric of JI and Al Qaeda.

    The way that the ISD uncovered the attacks was instructive to those battling Al Qaeda around the region. The White Paper the Singaporean Government published in 2003 corrected the benign notion that many governments previously had of JI and its intentions.

    Just as important was the way the Singaporean authorities reacted to the fact that the JI cell included Muslim Singaporeans.

    What the authorities did not do was to turn on the local Muslim community, hold public hearings about the threat from them and send officers to mosques and homes. They understood that doing so would play into JI's and Al Qaeda's hands. If the Government made the community into outsiders who felt unwelcome in Singapore, it might create more converts to violent extremism.

    So instead, the Singaporeans worked with the local Muslim community as a partner in developing a programme aimed at countering extremism. They turned to local religious leaders and formed a leadership council, and also brought in social services, mental health professionals and psychologists to develop a comprehensive programme.

    The Singapore Government understood that developing programmes to counter terrorist recruitment efforts is a crucial part of any counterterrorism strategy. Otherwise, law enforcement and intelligence operatives can be drawn into a never-ending "cat and mouse" game if terrorists are allowed to continue hijacking local grievances for support and recruits.

    While in some countries, investing money and effort on rehabilitation programmes is seen as being soft, the Singaporeans see it as an important weapon. They understand that it goes hand-in-hand with intelligence and law enforcement work and is an important (if forgotten) tool.

    The impact of the programme on the community has been positive. The Muslim community feels it is part of the effort to protect Singapore from outside terrorists and corrupters. The threat from JI has diminished.

    Together with colleagues, as part of a study sponsored by the Qatar International Academy for Security Studies, we looked at "Countering Violent Extremism" programmes around the world and found Singapore's to be very effective.

    Singapore is a small country with a unique set of legal and cultural principles, and its programme would be difficult to replicate wholesale elsewhere.

    Nevertheless, countries need to develop regional and local strategies (rather than just national ones) to counter the efforts of terrorist groups. The groups themselves adjust their strategies to factor in local grievances and mindsets, and so the size of the Singapore model is more relevant than is at first assumed.

    Today, countries across the world are beginning to appreciate the value of such programmes in countering Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The US State Department is doing very important work in this area through the office of Ambassador Dan Benjamin, as is the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other allied governments.

    More and more countries are looking to learn lessons from countries with a successful track record countering extremism and, for good reason, Singapore is an important model to study.



    Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, is chairman of the Soufan Group, a strategic intelligence consultancy. He is the author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda (W.W. Norton, 2011).

  9. #5534
    Regular Member Loh's Avatar
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    Default S'pore could see 2 years of sub-par growth: DPM Tharman

    By Thomas Cho | Posted: 03 January 2012 1326 hrs



    SINGAPORE: Singapore's economy is expected to enter a phase of slower growth.

    Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said this is due to the recession in Europe and economic weakness in the US.

    He added that the expected slowdown may last for at least two years.

    Mr Tharman was speaking at the sidelines of a national productivity event on Tuesday after advance estimates released earlier showed that the Singapore economy grew by 3.6 per cent on-year in the fourth quarter of 2011.

    Rather than introducing short-term fiscal measures, Mr Tharman said the government will help companies and workers to upgrade for the long-term with more intensive schemes.

    And this will be a key topic that will be addressed in the upcoming Budget.

    "It may not be a slowdown for just one year. My sense is that this is going to be an environment of slow growth for some time, for at least two years I would say we'll see sub-par growth," said Mr Tharman.

    "So it means that we will focus our minds on preparing for the upgrading of the economy. Upgrading not just to get around a one year slowdown but upgrading so as to get beyond what we are doing into new products, new services, new quality of jobs. That's a comprehensive effort across the economy and the government is focusing its mind on it," he added.

    - CNA/cc

    Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam (file picture)
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  10. #5535
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    Default 36% pay cut for PM, 37% cut for entry-level ministers proposed

    The Straits Times

    Published on Jan 4, 2012


    By Lydia Lim, Deputy Political Editor

    The committee to review ministers' salaries has recommended a pay cut of 37 per cent for a minister at entry grade, and a cut of 36 per cent for the Prime Minister, including the removal of pensions. If pensions are factored out, the equivalent percentages are 31 per cent and 28 per cent.

    That means the salary of a minister at entry level will be cut to $1.1 million. This is down from the current actual salary which stood at $1.58 million in 2010. The Prime Minister's salary will also be adjusted to $2.2 million, down from the 2010 salary of $3.07 million. The President's annual salary will be cut by 51 per cent to $1.54 million. For the most junior ministers, the starting pay is $935,000.

    The government intends to accept the committee's recommendations, the Prime Minister said in a letter to the committee released on Wednesday.

    The committee has also recommended that ministers' pensions be done away with.
    The basis of the pay cuts is a recommendation to change the formula used to peg ministers' salaries to top private sector pay.

    The current formula for the starting salary of a minister is based on the median income of the top eight earners in six professions, including banking and law, with a one-third discount.

    The committee, chaired by National Kidney Foundation chairman Gerard Ee, has recommended the formula be changed to the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean income earners, with a 40 per cent discount.

    It also recommended a new national bonus to replace the GDP bonus that ministers currently receive. The proposed national bonus is to be decided based on four measures: GDP growth, unemployment rate, real growth in median incomes and real growth in the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent of wage earners.



    Channel NewsAsia

    PM may see 36% pay cut, entry-level ministers 37%


    By Hoe Yeen Nie | Posted: 04 January 2012 1208 hrs


    SINGAPORE: The Review Committee, appointed by the Prime Minister to look at Ministerial salaries, has recommended cuts of between 20 and 53 per cent.

    This was disclosed by Committee Chairman, Gerard Ee, on Wednesday at a news conference .

    The committee also recommended for the pension scheme to be removed entirely for new office holders.

    This will be applicable to those appointed on or after 21 May 2011.

    Those appointed before that, will also be affected.

    The committee was appointed after the general election in May last year, and had submitted its report to the Prime Minister on December 30.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced the review at the swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet in May last year.

    Among the recommendations made are the Prime Minister's annual salary to be cut by 36 per cent, to S$2.2 million.

    The President's annual salary is reduced by 51 per cent, to S$1.54 million.

    The Speaker of Parliament will see the biggest percentage cut of 53 per cent, to S$550,000.

    The lowest percentage change of a 20 per cent cut is for the Mayor and Senior Parliamentary Secretary positions.

    Mayors will now get S$660,000 while Senior Parliamentary Secretaries will get S$572,000.

    Previously, salaries were pegged to the median income of the top 48 earners in Singapore, with a one-third discount.

    Now, they will be pegged to the median income of the top 1,000 earners who are Singapore citizens.

    A 40 per cent discount will then be applied.

    Based on 2010 figures, the proposed salary for entry-level ministers works out to S$1.1 million.

    The committee also recommended changes to bonus payments, pensions and benefits under the new pay structure.

    The committee has recommended that the GDP bonus be removed, and replaced by a National Bonus.

    The National Bonus comprises four elements - including the unemployment rate, real median income growth, GDP growth and the real income growth of the bottom 20 per cent of wage earners.

    Chairman Gerard Ee said the salary must be a "clean wage" with no hidden perks.

    He said: "Our recommendations, while it is a severe cut, should be able to attract not all, but some of the talents to come forward.

    "But preserving the message that you're coming forward to serve in a political capacity, and there is some sacrifice to be made.

    "The 1,000, basically is, first take note that it's based on Singaporeans only, and eliminate the PRs and everybody.

    "So we say if the talent pool from which we want to tap, if we were to hunt for them, we believe if they were to be functioning outside of politics, that's where we're going to locate them."

    A member of the committee, Fang Ai Lian, said: "This new system is a lot more transparent and a lot more Singapore centric and that's why we were very careful when we picked our benchmark, it is about Singaporeans.

    "When we talk about performance indicators, it is about Singaporeans. This is something that the public can look forward to when measuring the performance of your ministers.

    "So when you look at benchmark, indicators pertaining to National Bonus, it is about the well-being of Singaporeans."

    View the news conference here

    The new salary will be backdated to 21 May last year, when the new government took office.

    MPs will debate the report when Parliament sits for a second session 16 January.

    Parliament's first sitting for this year will be on 9 January. It's expected to focus on several questions tabled on the recent flooding and the spate of MRT disruptions.

    - CNA/ck
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    Last edited by Loh; 01-04-2012 at 03:08 AM.

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    Default Salary report to be adopted as basis for political salaries: PM Lee

    TODAY

    Updated 12:58 PM Jan 04, 2012

    SINGAPORE - The Government intends to accept the recommendations made by the committee reviewing the salaries of political appointment holders in Singapore.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a letter to committee chairman Gerard Ee dated Jan 2 that the report will be published as a White Paper, and the Government will move a motion in Parliament on Jan 16 to adopt it as the basis for setting political salaries.

    In the letter, released to the media today, Mr Lee expressed his appreciation to the committee for having "invested the time to undertake a comprehensive and careful review, based on fundamental principles and the long-term interests of our country".

    "You have sought and considered a wide range of feedback from Singaporeans with diverse views and expectations ... You have had to strike a balance between attracting capable and committed leaders of integrity, strengthening links with our socio-economic progress, and reinforcing the ethos of political service," Mr Lee said.

    He also thanked "the many Singaporeans who contributed to the review".


    TODAY FILE PHOTO

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    Default Three principles used by the committee to determine the new ministerial salaries

    by Report on Salaries for a capable and committed Government
    04:47 AM Jan 05, 2012

    Competitive salary

    Politics is a calling and privilege, and those who want to serve must have a sense of duty to the nation and a desire to contribute to the public good.
    For a country to succeed, talented people need to step forward to serve when they are in their prime. In designing salaries, it is important to consider the quality of talent that we desire to lead our country and the opportunity cost faced by this group in deciding to enter politics.

    While money should never be the motivation for anyone becoming a politician, the financial sacrifice should not be so large that it discourages outstanding and committed Singaporeans from devoting the best part of their lives to political office. We must recognise that there is also a sacrifice of personal space and privacy for anyone who desires to enter politics.

    The business of government is complex. Time is needed for promising leaders to develop experience and build rapport with the people. Hence, our system cannot afford to wait until after the individual has earned and set aside enough money to take care of his personal and family needs before deciding to enter politics.

    This is why the Government's philosophy has been to pay competitive salaries, so that highly capable individuals in their prime can seriously consider entering politics and take on political leadership roles,without having pay as an obstacle. This philosophy of paying competitive salaries should not change.


    Ethos of political service

    Given the nature of political service, some element of financial sacrifice must be expected. The current benchmark level factors in a one-third discount as a demonstration of the personal sacrifice involved in political service. This ethos should continue.


    Clean wage

    Many countries are unable to provide competitive pay for their politicians because of public opinion or political constraints. Their pay is supplemented by a higher level of benefits and allowances, making the entire pay package less transparent to the electorate. Singapore has chosen to adopt a "clean wage" philosophy of paying a realistic and competitive salary with no hidden perks, to be more transparent and accountable to the people.

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    Default Deep cuts proposed to pay of political leaders

    Key recommendations by the ministerial salary review committee:

    Prime Minister's annual salary to be cut by 36%
    President's annual salary to be cut by 51%
    Minister's annual salary to be cut by 37%

    Salary of a new minister benchmarked to 60% of median income of top 1,000 Singapore citizens

    Pension for political appointees to be removed

    Introduce National Bonus linked to socio-economic progress of average and lower-income Singapore citizens



    by Loh Chee Kong
    04:46 AM Jan 05, 2012

    SINGAPORE - The issue of ministerial salaries, a lightning rod for public anger during last May's General Election as well as past polls, was dissected in logical, clinical fashion yesterday - as the committee tasked to review ministerial salaries unveiled its report.

    Leave the politics to the politicians was the message, as the eight-member committee presented its findings complete with detailed tables, figures, charts, graphs and matter-of-fact arguments.

    The report comes after seven months of deliberations, with the committee canvassing views from the public as well as past and present politicians.

    The centrepiece of its recommendations:
    The median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners across all industries - instead of the top 48 from six sectors - will now form the basis of the salaries of ministers and the President.

    "We think expanding the benchmark pool from 48 to 1,000 individuals will reduce the volatility ... while maintaining a link between salaries and the market. This benchmark is simple and transparent, and easy to understand," the committee said.

    Under the current formula, the group which the ministerial salaries are benchmarked against comprises Singaporeans, permanent residents and Malaysians working here.

    The proposed new benchmark "better reflects the pool from which political appointment holders are drawn", the committee pointed out.

    The new pay structure will benchmark a minister's entry salary - under the MR4 grade - to the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners but with a 40-per-cent discount to "signify the sacrifice that comes with the ethos of political service". This works out to S$1.1 million annually for a minister at the entry MR4 grade, although a minister at the lower end of the grade could have a starting salary of S$935,000.

    Committee chairman Gerard Ee noted that using the average income of the top 1,000 Singaporean earners - instead of the median - would "distort" the benchmark. Said Mr Ee: "All you need is a few people at the top who get paid more to distort it ... there will always be a few who will pay themselves more, or in a good year get paid more."

    Along the pay scale, the salaries of all political appointment holders will be pegged to the MR4 grade.

    Their salary will now comprise a fixed component of 12 months' pay and a traditional 13th-month Annual Wage Supplement. The one-month special allowance and one-month Public Service Leadership Allowance will be removed.

    The variable component will comprise an Annual Variable Component (AVC) of up to one-and-a-half month's pay, an Individual Performance Bonus of up to six months as well as a National Bonus of up of six months.

    This will replace the current package in which ministers receive a Performance Bonus - of up to 14 months - and a GDP Bonus capped at eight months.

    It has also been recommended that pension for this group be scrapped.

    According to the committee, under the new pay structure, a minister will typically draw a total annual remuneration of 20 months' pay which is equivalent to S$1.1 million
    .

    The individual bonus is based on the minister's performance as determined by the Prime Minister while the National Bonus will be linked to "the socio-economic progress of average and lower income Singapore citizens", in the committee's words.

    The four indicators for the National Bonus, with equal weightage, are the real median income growth rate of Singaporeans, real growth rate of the lowest 20th percentile income, real gross domestic product growth and the unemployment rate.

    In proposing the new formula, the committee also explained why, after due consideration, it rejected other suggestions such as applying a multiplier to the median income of Singaporeans and pegging ministerial pay to the median salaries of CEOs of companies here with at least S$1 billion market capitalisation.

    The committee's report said it gave the former "considerable attention but decided that such a benchmark has no direct link to the talent pool of potential political appointment holders". It added: "To set a pay level that is commensurate with the calibre of potential political appointment holders, a multiplier will need to be set arbitrarily, as opinions will differ on what is the right multiplier to adopt."

    Basing the formula on CEOs' salaries posed "significant data constraints", it noted. The committee added: "Any shift in salaries, even among a small number of CEOs, will have a large impact on the benchmark figure. Such a benchmark is in fact inferior to the existing benchmark as it focuses only on one alternative profession of the political appointment holders."


    HEFTY PAY CUTS FOR PRESIDENT, PM

    Under the proposed pay structure, the Prime Minister's pay will be pegged to twice the MR4 salary. This works out to S$2.2 million, a 36 per cent drop compared to the annual salary which Mr Lee Hsien Loong received in 2010.

    The Prime Minister will not be paid any individual performance bonus. However, he will be paid a larger national bonus of up to 12 months.

    The President's pay will be halved to S$1.54m. While the President will get the same monthly salary as the Prime Minister - he will also get the 13th month bonus and AVC - he will not receive any individual or national bonuses.

    "The President is Head of State and has significant custodial powers. However, unlike the Prime Minister he does not set national policies and does not have direct executive responsibility for governing the country, except as it relates to his custodial role," the committee noted.

    Yesterday, President Tony Tan wrote on his Facebook that he welcomed the recommendations. He has informed the Prime Minister that he will adopt the recommended salary backdated to September 1 last year.


    VARIED RESPONSES

    Despite the significant cuts, some Opposition parties were unhappy with the recommendations.

    In a statement, the Singapore Democratic Party welcomed the removal of pensions for ministers. But it pointed out that the recommended salaries would still make the ministers "the highest paid in the world". SDP policy unit head James Gomez said: "Nevertheless we see these measures as a first step towards further revisions that should aim to bring Singapore's political salaries in line with international levels for such salaries."

    National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa said it was "disappointing" that under the recommendations, the ministerial salaries "are still pegged to the top earners instead of the general wage levels". Ms Poa argued: "It rewards the Ministers more as income inequality increases and top earners get a larger and larger share of the economic pie."

    In response to media queries, the Workers' Party and the Singapore People's Party said they were studying the recommendations.

    The Public Service Division is also looking at the proposals to see if they can be applied to the Civil Service.

    PAP MPs and appointment holders generally welcomed the recommendations. Some, however, expressed concern that it will be even harder to attract top private sector talent to join politics.

    Writing on her Facebook page. Senior Minister of State Grace Fu noted that when she joined politics in 2006, "pay was not a key factor. Loss of privacy, public scrutiny on myself and my family and loss of personal time were".

    Ms Fu, who was previously PSA CEO (Southeast Asia and Japan), added: "The disruption to my career was also an important consideration. I had some ground to believe that my family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though I experienced a drop in my income."

    "If the balance is tilted further in the future, it will make it harder for any one considering political office," she added.

    The committee has also recommended that ministerial salaries be reviewed every five years. Parliament will sit on Jan 16 to debate the committee's report.



    Source: Report on Salaries for a capable and committed Government



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    Default Local start-up creates 3-D travel portal using game technology

    Published on Jan 5, 2012


    Mr Terence Mak's firm, 3rd Planet, has attracted more than $1 million in funding from the Media Development Authority and private investors. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES



    A local start-up is using computer-game technology to provide more engaging 3-D previews of travel destinations.

    The computer-based application by 3rd Planet lets users, for example, 'fly' around 3-D-rendered models of ancient structures like Nepal's 40m-tall Boudhanath Stupa with the click of a mouse, or experience the thrill of flying over fog-covered mountains to Lukla airport, the starting point for hikes to the Mount Everest base camp.

    Working with the Nepal Tourism Board, 3rd Planet released the first phase of the project last month and it has attracted more than 16,000 visitors worldwide.

    'How can you properly describe a 3-D world with pictures, words, maps and even video, which are all flat, two-dimensional media?' said the start-up's chief executive Terence Mak, 43.
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    Last edited by Loh; 01-04-2012 at 08:58 PM.

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    Default PM Lee to meet Malaysian PM Najib on Thursday

    Published on Jan 5, 2012




    File photo of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (right) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the Istana on 20 Sep 2010. Mr Lee will visit Putrajaya, Malaysia on Thursday for a Leaders' Retreat with Mr Najib. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM



    By Lydia Lim

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will visit Putrajaya, Malaysia on Thursday for a Leaders' Retreat with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

    They will discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral ties, following the full implementation of the Points of Agreement on Malayan Railway Land in Singapore last July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on Wednesday.

    The two Prime Ministers will also take stock of the progress of the joint iconic project in Iskandar Malaysia, and explore ways to further enhance connectivity and cross-border exchanges between the two countries, the MFA said. Iskandar Malaysia is a development region in south Johor.

    Mr Lee will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Co-ordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs.
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    Default CPF scheme to replace ministers' pension

    By Hoe Yeen Nie | Posted: 04 January 2012 2201 hrs
    SINGAPORE: The hotly-debated issue of pensions for political office holders was finally laid to rest, after the ministerial salary review committee recommended that the pension scheme be scrapped.

    This is in line with the principle of having a transparent wage system, where there are no hidden perks.

    Under the Parliamentary Pensions Act, political office holders such as parliamentary secretaries and ministers who have served at least eight years are eligible for a pension.

    The idea behind it was to recognise their role in policymaking, and their experience.

    The quantum is calculated based on the pensionable component of the monthly salary, and includes a cap on how much office-holders can receive. For instance, retired ministers who have served 18 years or more, get an annual payout of about 11 per cent of their last-drawn annual salaries.

    The salary review committee has now proposed that the scheme be scrapped, and replaced by the Central Provident Fund scheme, which is the basic retirement scheme for Singaporeans.

    Office-holders appointed on and after May 21, 2011, when the new government took office, will not receive any pension.

    Those appointed before May 21 will have their pensions frozen, meaning that they will only be eligible for pension accrued up to May 20, 2011.

    Gerard Ee, chairman of the ministerial salary review committee, said: "What is really important here is, whatever pension that is already accrued, where previously once you reach 55 you are entitled to the pension, we said no, it should only be paid when you step down or retire."

    The change covers office holders from parliamentary secretaries all the way to the Prime Minister.

    MPs elected after January 1, 1995 are already not eligible for pension.

    As for the President, the Constitution currently provides for a pension at a sum to be decided by Parliament. However, this provision has never been exercised and no President has ever received a state pension.

    MPs said the scrapping of the pension scheme is significant.

    Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, said: "I think it keeps us aligned with most Singaporean workers, who today have moved to the CPF system for some time. So I think in a certain sense, it's a welcome move and keeps us grounded as well."

    Hri Kumar Nair, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, was one of the 500 people who had submitted suggestions to the review committee, and said he had proposed that the pension scheme be removed.

    He said: "It is good for two reasons. Number one, it makes the wage much more transparent and easier to understand. I think that's important for people to understand. And number two, pensions have become a bit out of date. Most, in fact no one has it any more, and I don't think political office holders should have a benefit which no one else has."

    Political observer Eugene Tan said having a more transparent pay package can also take away some of the sting associated with political salaries.

    -CNA/ac

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    Default Iskandar Malaysia's success is in Singapore's interests

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sees developing the linkage between Republic and Malaysia's administrative capital as beneficial to both sides


    by S Ramesh
    04:48 AM Jan 06, 2012

    PUTRAJAYA - The Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore have agreed that the Joint Ministerial Committee should explore more ways to enhance collaboration in Iskandar Malaysia for the mutual benefit of both sides.

    The agreement was reached during discussions between Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak at their third leaders' retreat at the Malaysian administrative capital of Putrajaya yesterday.

    At a news conference after their meeting, both leaders said they have directed that a new workgroup on industrial cooperation be formed. The aim is to promote mutually beneficial economic activities between Iskandar Malaysia and Singapore.

    Mr Lee said this will be useful for Singapore, which has a large manufacturing base in its economy, but faces constraints of space and manpower.

    Both Prime Ministers said the Iskandar Malaysia project in Johor has helped enhance ties between the two countries. Mr Lee said: "It sets the basis for us to move forward and develop our bilateral relationship another step forward.

    "Singapore sees it very much in our interests that Iskandar Malaysia prospers and succeeds. It has been doing well, it has attracted many investments. But most importantly, I think if we can develop the linkage between Singapore and Iskandar, we will be able to have benefits to both sides."

    Mr Najib added: "There is no doubt that the synergistic development based on the impetus of Singapore and the existence of Southern Johor as a large hinterland has been proven to be a very workable and do-able concept."

    The two Prime Ministers also agreed that the Joint Ministerial Committee would also explore the possibility of establishing ferry and water taxi services as another means of transportation between the two countries. They may also work together in other areas such as aviation, with Singapore's Changi Airport potentially cooperating with Malaysia's nearby Senai.

    The two Prime Ministers were also pleased with the collaboration between Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings through joint investments in M+S Pte Ltd. The company has also submitted the designs for the Marina South and Ophir-Rochor developments in Singapore for planning approval.

    On the Malaysian proposal for its power generating companies to sell electricity to Singapore, Mr Lee said Singapore is in the process of working out the proper framework for managing the import of electricity.

    He said: "Once this framework is ready, we welcome Malaysian companies to participate and to bid to supply electricity to Singapore and we hope of course some of them would succeed.

    "But when you supply electricity, there is also the consideration of the environmental impact of the power generation companies, because if you are burning fossil fuels, particularly coal, you also have to make sure there are environmental controls and that is something we will be taking seriously in mind. It affects the immediate neighbours of the power station but there could be cross border implications as well, and that is something we have to pay attention to."

    Mr Lee and Mr Najib have also directed officials to look into further collaboration in the fields of information, culture, the arts, youth and sports, with the view of enhancing mutual goodwill and understanding between Malaysians and Singaporeans.

    One potential area of bilateral cooperation is the alignment of the radio frequency spectrum plans in both countries for digital broadcast and mobile broadband services.

    The alignment would allow both countries to meet the growing demand for digital TV and mobile broadband. It will also improve regional mobile roaming and provide more competitive mobile broadband services.



    Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak shaking hands in front of Putra Mosque yesterday. REUTERS

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