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  1. #8076
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    Default Budget 2014 Education

    Both individuals and companies got good news in this year's Budget, with the Pioneer Generation Package taking centre stage. It includes health-care subsidies, Medisave top-ups and other benefits.


    Post Budget round-up by Maria Almenoar
    Five ways the measures announced in Budget 2014 will affect you


    Education


    1. Lower- and middle-income families will get more help with kindergarten fees through the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme (KiFAS). This means that more households will pay just $3 a month, down from as much as $75 previously.


    2. The KiFAS scheme will be made available to all kindergarten anchor operators and all Education Ministry kindergartens.


    3. Bursary amounts for students at the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnic and university level will be increased. For example, students from middle-income homes will see a $450 increase in their bursary amounts to $2,600 a year.


    4. More students will also be eligible for bursaries. The Government is raising the per capita monthly household income threshold for bursaries from $1,700 to $1,900 from this academic year 2014. This will benefit students from two-thirds of all Singaporean households.


    5. Families of children with special needs will get more subsidies for the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children. This programme includes educational and therapy support services. Those earning above median household income will benefit from a further 20 per cent to 50 per cent subsidy. This is on top of the $500 base subsidy available to all children enrolled in this programme.




    Read ST News Editor Ignatius Low's analysis of Budget 2014 as it happened earlier on Friday

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    Default Budget 2014 Companies

    Companies


    1. The Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme will be extended for another three years to 2018. Under the scheme, firms can get either tax deductions or cash grants when they invest in equipment to boost productivity. A new PIC+ scheme will be introduced. The expenditure cap for qualifying SMEs under the PIC+ scheme will be increased from the $400,000 under the PIC scheme to $600,000 per qualifying activity per Year of Assessment (YA) from YA 2015.


    2. New industrial spaces that cluster companies within the same industry will be created. This will lower costs for small- and medium-enterprises as they will be able to consolidate their operations and pool resources.


    3. The Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund will be increased by $500 million to $4.6 billion.


    4. The Government is launching the ICT for Productivity and Growth programme, which will subsidise 70 per cent of the cost of information and communications technology products and services for SMEs. This is to encourage SMEs to adopt ICT. Companies piloting emerging technology will also get an 80 per cent subsidy from the Government for the qualifying costs, capped at $1 million. The Government will also subsidise SMEs' fibre broadband subscription plans of at least 100 Mbps.


    5. To support companies who want to venture overseas, the Government will raise the support level for pilot and test-bedding projects from the current 50 per cent to 70 per cent under the Global Company Partnership.

  3. #8078
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    Default Budget 2014 Health Care

    Health care


    1. Lower- and middle-income groups will get permanent subsidies so that they can fully pay their MediShield Life premiums out of regular Medisave contributions.


    2. To ease the transition into MediShield Life, the Government will also provide subsidies to offset premium increases in the first few years. This will also cover those who have higher incomes.


    3. From September this year, subsidies for specialist outpatient clinics for lower- and middle-income Singaporeans will be increased from the current 50 per cent to 70 and 60 per cent respectively.


    4. Subsidies for medication will be enhanced as well. This will be introduced in early 2015.


    5. Singaporeans aged 55 and above this year, who are not part of the Pioneer Generation, will receive an annual Medisave top-up of $100 to $200 over the next five years. The amount they are eligible for is based on the annual value of their home. This will be paid out in August.

  4. #8079
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    Default Budget 2014 CPF

    CPF


    1. The employer Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rate will be increased by 1 percentage point for all workers from January next year. This will go into the Medisave Account.


    2. The CPF contribution rates for those aged 50 to 55 will increase by 1.5 percentage points, on top of the increase of 1 percentage point (refer to earlier point). This consists of 1 percentage point from the employer and 0.5 percentage point from the employee.


    3. The employer contribution rate for CPF for those aged 55 to 65 will increase by 0.5 percentage point.


    4. For points 2 and 3, employer contributions will be put into the Special Account, while employee contributions go into the Ordinary Account. This will begin in January next year.


    5. The Government is not expected to make further changes to total CPF contribution rates any time soon.

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    Default Budget 2014 Reliefs

    Reliefs


    1. Those aged 55 and above this year and who earn $26,000 or less a year will get a one-off Seniors' Bonus of $100 or $250, depending on the value of their homes.


    2. Housing Board households will get one-off GST vouchers, ranging from $90 to $260. HDB households, up to 4-rooms, will get one to three months rebate on their conservancy fees.


    3. Disabled individuals will get more subsidies for their transport needs. The Government will provide subsidies to cover up to 80% for those who require dedicated transport services to access special education and care services. This will apply to the lower two-thirds of households. Lower-income households with disabled members will get subsidies of up to 50 per cent under a new Taxi Subsidy Scheme.


    4. Parent relief and handicapped parent relief will be increased by up to $3,000, with those living with their parents getting a higher relief quantum. Parent relief can now also be shared among family members.


    5. Individuals caring for a handicapped spouse, sibling or child will see their reliefs increase by $2,500.

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    Default

    Sorry for the typo error on Relief no. 5 above which should be $2,000, not $2,500.

  7. #8082
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    Default Building a fair and equitable society a major plank of this year’s package

    Singapore's Central Business District skyline. TODAY file picture


    By Neo Chai Chin

    Published: 22 February, 4:03 AM


    SINGAPORE — The Government’s push to help the less well-off continued under Budget measures unveiled yesterday, with a particular focus on healthcare, which was identified as the main driver of higher social spending by Singapore over the next 10 to 15 years.

    From details of the much-anticipated Pioneer Generation Package to enhanced subsidies for Singaporeans and measures to boost retirement savings, the emphasis was unmistakable.

    The S$9 billion Pioneer Generation Package unveiled for seniors born in 1949 or earlier, and who became citizens before 1987, will feature greater outpatient subsidies, Medisave top-ups and MediShield Life subsidies.

    The benefits — which will be enjoyed by the pioneer generation for the rest of their lives — will not be differentiated by income because the objective is to honour contributions of the whole generation of Singaporeans working and living here when the Republic was newly independent, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said. But pioneers who are less well-off are eligible for higher underlying subsidies given to lower-income Singaporeans.

    Pioneers — consisting of about 450,000 individuals — will receive subsidies of 75 to 85 per cent for treatment at Specialist Outpatient Clinics (SOC) through the package and enhanced SOC subsidies for the lower- and middle-income from September.

    Every pioneer will be part of the Community Health Assist Scheme, which subsidises visits to participating general practitioners, from next year.

    Those with moderate to severe functional disabilities, or their caregivers, will receive cash assistance of S$1,200 each year from September — a measure that gender equality advocacy group AWARE said was a nod to caregiving being recognised as a public good, which it had called for.

    The pioneers will receive Medisave top-ups of between S$200 and S$800 a year for the rest of their lives under the package, with those born between 1945 and 1949 receiving S$200 a year and those born in 1934 or earlier receiving S$800 a year.

    They will also get help with MediShield Life premiums. A 65-year-old will have 40 per cent of his premiums covered by the package, with increased help for those older. The Government will fully cover the premiums of those turning 80 or older this year through the package and other schemes, Mr Tharman said.

    An S$8 billion fund from this year’s Budget will be set up to meet the cost of the package, with half of it expected to be drawn down in the first 10 years. The fund will ensure that Budgets in subsequent years can focus on the needs of the future, he said.
    With the population ageing and new medical treatments emerging, Singapore has to find the right ways to fund future healthcare needs, said Mr Tharman. It means finding the right balance of funding: Between tax-funded subsidies, collective risk-pooling through MediShield Life and ElderShield, individual co-payments and safety nets such as Medifund for the needy.

    “We must find a balance that is equitable to the poor and that also ensures that we can fund quality healthcare on a sustainable basis in the next decade and well beyond.”

    The healthcare system will need to be reshaped to control costs, as Singapore seeks good healthcare outcomes, and the over-concentration of patient loads in acute hospitals must be reduced, Mr Tharman added.

    Apart from healthcare costs, Mr Tharman cited the challenge to develop professional and empathetic people for the social sector. He also stressed the need for good nurses, doctors, social workers and other professionals, and said more investments would be made to deepen their expertise and empower them to find creative solutions for problems.

    Besides the seniors, the Government will also help lower- and middle-income Singaporeans with enhanced subsidies at specialist outpatient clinics.

    The Pioneer Generation Package and outpatient subsidies received the thumbs-up from experts. Dr Jeremy Lim, Partner and Head of the Health and Life Sciences Practice, Asia-Pacific, for consulting firm Oliver Wyman, said the Government should be applauded for acting decisively to ameliorate challenges faced by many Singaporeans. Components of the package “emphasise the commitment to lower out-of-pocket payments by Singaporeans and I think it will be well-received”, he said.

    The Budget’s emphasis on alleviating medical costs is targeted where help is needed most, said National Trades Union Congress President Diana Chia.

    Employers will play a role in meeting future healthcare needs by contributing one percentage point more to their employees’ Central Provident Fund accounts for Medisave from next year. They will receive help from the Government in the first year. CPF contribution rates for older workers will go up, with employers and workers co-shouldering the increase.

    The young and individuals with disabilities were not forgotten. Children from lower- and middle-income homes will receive a hand, with the expansion of the Kindergarten Fee Assistance Scheme to all anchor operators and Ministry of Education kindergartens. Children with special needs, including those from middle-income households, will receive more subsidies for early intervention.

    Students in institutes of higher learning will also receive a boost, with an increase in bursaries for those in universities, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education.

    Persons with disabilities will get more help to get around with transport subsidies including a new Taxi Subsidy Scheme covering up to half the cost. “Their difficulties are the greatest, and often their courage too. They deserve greater support,” said Mr Tharman.

    A major plank of the Budget revolves around efforts to build a fair and equitable society, said Mr Tharman. “It is a determined, multi-year effort to keep up social mobility and do all we can to avoid becoming a society of permanent tiers. Equally, we are enabling a better system of care and financial security for the elderly and Singaporeans with disabilities.”

    He reiterated that how resources are spent and redistributed is just as critical as how much is spent and redistributed.

    “Our approach to uplifting the poor and levelling up society can only succeed if it supports a culture of personal responsibility … (but) we cannot leave people to face life’s uncertainties on their own.”



  8. #8083
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    Default Budget 2014 is about doing the right thing

    The Pio­neer Generation Package recognises that the State has a vital role to play in caring for the elderly. Today File Photo


    By Eugene KB Tan

    Published: 24 February, 4:05 AM
    Updated: 24 February, 5:00 AM


    There are some who describe Budget 2014 as a relative non-event, one devoid of any major “wow” factor — probably due to the pre-Budget announcement of the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) to much fanfare a fortnight ago. However, I regard this Budget as an important statement of the right things to do.

    The PGP is one of them, even if it may be belated. What it means politically matters as much as the material benefits and assurance given to the pioneer generation. It represents the present and future generations’ commitment to care for the pioneers who laid the foundation stone for Singapore’s success.

    The Government has wisely ring-fenced the hefty S$8 billion cost by budgeting for it in its entirety in Budget 2014. This means that the PGP will not appear as a line item in future Budgets, and future governments and generations will not have to bear the responsibility of financing it. Whatever changes come in the next two to three decades, there is money in the kitty to ensure the endeavour to care for our pioneers is not merely a politically expedient one.

    The People’s Action Party (PAP) Government should reap political dividends from the PGP, as those aged 65 years and above constitute a valuable vote bank. This is the “3-to-1” generation — Singaporeans who lived the “Third World to First World” Singapore Story and can most easily identify with the PAP government, but who in recent years have become concerned with the rising costs of living and the sense that the country’s success may have passed them by.

    No political party wants older voters to caution their children and grandchildren to not vote for it; conversely, renewed trust in the party and a good word by the pioneer generation could pay political dividends. I would not begrudge such political pay-offs because, quite simply, creating the PGP was the right thing to do.

    STATE’S LARGER ROLE IN CARING

    At the same time, Singaporeans with pioneer generation parents will feel more assured now that the State has taken on this significant commitment in healthcare costs. It should assuage one long-standing concern among Singaporeans, not only about the costs but also how this society regards ageing.

    While future generations may not have the PGP, it is precedent-setting nonetheless.

    Beyond individual and familial responsibility, the package recognises that the State has a vital role to play in caring for the elderly too, given the changing demographic and healthcare landscape.

    Budget 2014 also has its eye clearly on the future. The funding initiatives for pre-school to tertiary-level education underline the critical role of education as a vehicle of social mobility.

    The various financial assistance schemes should be made administratively convenient in order to ensure that as many families as possible can avail themselves of them. Socio-economic immobility should not be hereditary — we must do all we can to reduce the inequality of access to educational opportunities.


    CPF: BITING THE BULLET NOW


    The unexpected surprise of the one-percentage-point hike in employers’ contribution to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) — an increase that will be channelled to Medisave accounts — is another right thing to do.

    The Finance Minister also indicated that the Government does not expect to make further changes to the total CPF contribution rates beyond this in the short to medium term.

    Earlier last week, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, in response to a parliamentary question I filed, said that the considerations against raising employer contributions were and are to keep our wage costs competitive so as to not price ourselves out of the competition.

    I am pleased that the Government has opted to bite the bullet now. There is never a good time to equalise the employer and employee CPF contribution rates, but the longer we delay, the harder it is to ensure Singaporeans’ adequacy for retirement. I appreciate the imperative of remaining competitive, but that must be balanced against another abiding imperative, that of ensuring the CPF institution is not compromised.

    I hope also that employers see this as the right thing to do — that they have a responsibility to keep the social compact relevant by contributing to their Singaporean employees’ healthcare needs.

    It will increase the costs of doing business, but that should be weighed against the already significant savings in doing business in Singapore — gleaned from the low corporate taxes, the excellent infrastructure, non-confrontational tripartite relations and a strong anti-corruption business environment.


    CAUTIOUS — THE WAY BUDGETS SHOULD BE?

    Budget 2014 should be emulated for the understated manner in which it reaffirms the society we should strive towards. Unlike past Budgets, it might be seen as a cautious fiscal statement. But perhaps that is what future Budgets ought to be.

    This latest Budget is endowed with the same spirit for quality growth and inclusive growth as its predecessors, but with a distinct difference: A greater appreciation that public social spending is not merely a cost centre; it is also an integral part and key driver of the productive economy.

    We can do even more to develop our own conception of the social investment state.

    To be sure, our Budgets have typically not spurred the man on the street to consider how rising public expenditures can, or ought to, be funded. Even the S$8 billion price tag of the PGP came across as not being a significant challenge financially. But in future Budgets, this question of financing is likely to come to the fore more prominently.

    Redistribution through taxes, especially direct ones, is one option. But we must be careful to ensure that there is no class envy or class war. It is convenient and populist to tear down those who pay income taxes, numbering about one-third of the workforce.

    In an open economy like ours, a social investment state can provide a shield: A crucial stabilising support and necessary safety nets for its people against external risks and internal constraints. What must be more prominent is the social investment state’s sword — honing the physical, human and social capital necessary for economic growth, social cohesion and opportunities for all. Public expenditures, if properly targeted, can nudge behavioural change at the individual level, to build a gracious society founded on inter-generational equity and prudence.

    Budget 2014 takes that important step in the evolution of our social investment state.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

    Eugene KB Tan is Associate Professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law and a Nominated Member of Parliament

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    Default Singapore Budget 2014: Plenty of goodies, but implementation is key, say panellists a

    Published on Feb 24, 2014
    5:45 AM


    By Fiona Chan

    This year's Budget brings welcome relief for elderly Singaporeans, workers and companies alike, but the devil will be in the details.

    Panellists at The Straits Times Budget Roundtable last Saturday said careful implementation will be important to make sure the benefits get to individuals and businesses in need, as some may not know how to access them.

    The Pioneer Generation Package and measures to help with health-care costs in particular were welcomed, as these will lessen cost pressures on individual families and help strengthen inter-generational bonds, said Tsao Foundation chairman Mary Ann Tsao and Member of Parliament Lily Neo.

    UOB's head of economic-treasury research and investor relations Jimmy Koh added that Budget 2014 continues the Government's recent trend of giving more help to older and lower-income Singaporeans, while health-care consultant Jeremy Lim of Oliver Wyman said the new initiatives should nudge society towards taking better care of each other.



    (From left) MR HO MENG KIT CEO, Singapore Business Federation; MS GAN KWEE LIAN Tax partner, KPMG; MR JIMMY KOH UOB's head of economic-treasury research and investor relations; MS FIONA CHAN ST's senior economics correspondent; DR MARY ANN TSAO Chairman, Tsao Foundation; MR JEREMY LIM Head of Asia-Pacific health and life sciences at Oliver Wyman and; DR LILY NEO Member of Parliament. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG


    However, some of the announced moves will put more pressure on local companies struggling with rising costs and they could do with more help, said Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit and KPMG tax partner Gan Kwee Lian.

  10. #8085
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    Default Bird spotted again at Sungei Buloh after 19 years

    A Whimbrel. Photo: National Parks Board


    Published: 24 February, 4:05 AM


    SINGAPORE — Nineteen years after it was first ringed here, a Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) — a large wading bird — was spotted at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve on Jan 29, marking the longest record for the repeat sighting of an individual Whimbrel species here.

    The Whimbrel spotted last month is believed to be about 20 years old, said the National Parks Board yesterday.

    Bird ringing is the process of catching wild birds and attaching a small ring with a unique serial number around its legs. It allows researchers to, for instance, study migration patterns and the longevity of different species.

    “Repeat sightings of the same individual can be quite rare and we are very fortunate to be able do so,” said Mr Wong Tuan Wah, Director of Conservation at NParks.

    “The Whimbrel and other migratory bird species can still be seen at Sungei Buloh and visitors will be able to observe them until around late March, which is usually the end of the migratory bird season,”
    he said.

    The Whimbrel, which has a long down-curved bill about twice the length of its head, is commonly sighted on the mudflats of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and Pulau Ubin.

    Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve started the bird-ringing process in 1990 and conducts bird-ringing sessions at least once a month during the annual migratory bird season from September to March.

  11. #8086
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    Default Government 'considering' lease buyback for bigger HDB flats

    Published on Feb 24, 2014
    8:17 AM



    National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan (standing, in blue shirt) chatting to grassroots leaders at the post-Budget dialogue at Fuchun Community Club yesterday. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO


    By Toh Yong Chuan

    Seniors living in bigger Housing Board flats may soon have the option of converting a part of the lease on their flat into cash, to allow them to age in place.

    This is after National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that the Government is considering expanding the criteria for the lease buyback scheme which is currently only for those living in three-room and smaller flats.

    He was responding to questions from reporters, on the sidelines of a post-Budget forum.

    Although the scheme has not been very popular, Mr Khaw said it provides more options for seniors, and that he had received many requests for four-room and five-room flats to be allowed too. "I do not regard the low take-up rate as a failure. I would just say that what it means is, people are not financially desperate to need to take advantage of those options."

  12. #8087
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    Default Swiss team Alinghi conquers S’pore leg again

    Team Alinghi’s (from left) bowman Yves Detrey, tactician Stuart Pollard, headsail trimmer Nils Frei, mainsail trimmer Pierre-Yves Jorand and skipper Morgan Larson. Lloyd Images


    By Dan Guen Chin
    Published: 24 February, 4:05 AM


    SINGAPORE — Experience and the benefit of a good start enabled Switzerland’s Team Alinghi to emerge the overall winner of the Extreme Sailing Series 2014 Singapore leg at the Promontory @ Marina Bay yesterday.

    After four days of sailing and 29 races, Alinghi, skippered by American Morgan Larson collected a total of 217 points to finish top of the 12-team contest. Oman’s The Wave, Muscat, which was helmed by Leigh McMillan and also featured Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton, finished second with 193 points while Realstone, another Swiss team, took third spot.

    Alinghi — who won the Singapore leg last year too — had entered the fourth and final day of competition yesterday with a commanding lead. They had 163 points, 31 ahead of nearest rival the Wave, and never looked like they would ever be knocked off their perch after winning Race 24 and finishing third in Race 25.

    The Wave tried to stage a valiant fight-back but, as McMillan admitted, there was just too much catching up to do after their poor performance on the opening day on Thursday.

    “We had a poor opening day while Alinghi got off to a blistering start. Once they established their lead and with the wealth of experience they could call upon, they were in a comfortable position all the way while we had so much catching up to do,” he said.

    “But it was four days of interesting racing. With such a tight venue and the unpredictable wind conditions caused by those skyscrapers in the background , it was always going to be so demanding.”

    Larson, who won the Singapore leg with Alinghi last year, said that this year’s success was due to the experience of his five-man crew.

    “It was the same five men we had from last season and getting them together again was the secret behind our success this time under such trying conditions,” he said.

    Team Aberdeen Singapore, with Australian Nick Moloney at the helm and Singaporeans Scott Glen Sydney and Justin Wong as part of the crew, had something to celebrate too — they avoided the wooden spoon by finishing 11th, ahead of GAC Pindar of Australia.

    Moloney said the result was an achievement after the collision between Team Aberdeen and French team Groupama on Saturday, which was the only crash in the Singapore series.

    “To come back and put the boat together again for the final day is an achievement to the crew. But I told them we must start believing in ourselves,” he said

    The Extreme Sailing Series 2014 will now move to Muscat, Oman, for the next stop on the eight-race series. The Muscat stop will be held next month.

    Meanwhile, Race Director Phil Lawrence hailed the Singapore leg, which drew over 30,000 spectators over four days, as a success. “Great atmosphere; challenging wind conditions and a tight course, which makes for a great venue. You cannot ask for more. I am sure the spectators enjoyed it too and I am encouraged by the turnout over the four days.

    “I was told there were close to 10,000 people gathered at the venue on Saturday evening. It all means there is a strong interest in sailing in Singapore which can be further built upon.”

    Final standings

    1. Alinghi (SUI) - 217 points
    2. The Wave, Muscat (OMA) - 193
    3. Realstone (SUI) - 178
    4. Emriates Team New Zealand (NZL) - 168
    5. Groupama (FRA) - 160
    6. Red Bull (AUT) - 156
    7. JP Morgan BAR - 152
    8. Gazprom Team Russia (RUS) - 128
    9. Oman Air (OMA) - 128
    10. SAP Extreme Sailing Team (DEN ) - 126
    11. Team Aberdeen Singapore (SIN) - 82
    12. GAC Pindar (AUS) - 59

  13. #8088
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    Default Fandi aims to have women’s team at 2015 SEA Games




    His F-17 Academy will field team in FAS league and conduct talks in schools


    By Adelene Wong
    Published: 24 February, 4:05 AM


    SINGAPORE — The last time the Singapore women’s football team won a medal at the SEA Games was back in 1985, when they took silver in Bangkok. Few may recall that milestone moment these days. Former national captain Fandi Ahmad does, though.

    “We used to have quite a good women’s team back in the 1970s and 1980s,” said Fandi, who is now the head coach of the LionsXII.

    “But a lot of girls gave up playing halfway as there has been no continuity in terms of support for them.

    “Women’s football in Singapore then faded into oblivion.”

    However, Fandi and his team behind the footballing school F-17 Academy will be doing their part to ensure that a women’s team will be flying Singapore’s flag at next year’s SEA Games, which will be held here.

    They have formed a team, the F-17 FC, to take part in the Football Association of Singapore’s Women’s Premier League (FAS WPL), which kicked off yesterday and will run till April. It is their hope that the bulk of the team can go on to represent the Republic at the SEA Games.

    Fandi, 51, will play an advisory role in overseeing the F-17 FC, which will be coached by former Singapore international Steven Tan.

    The FAS WPL started in 2004, but has never enjoyed the same kind of following as the S-League.

    Said Fandi, who stressed that a strong local league is important to the development of women’s football in Singapore: “We want to build a team for the future, to develop a group of talented women footballers who can represent the country.

    “Hopefully, the F-17 FC can spearhead that. It is also about building a supportive culture for women’s football first.”

    It is understood that Fandi approached footballer Ernie Sulastri, previously from league side H-TWO-O Dream Team, early last month to captain the F-17 FC.

    The team has also recruited 21 women comprising experienced players from other clubs in the league, and new players talent-scouted from schools and from within the F-17 Academy.

    Said Ernie, 26, who will join Japanese Division Two side Bunnys Kyoto FC in May after successful trials in November last year: “F-17 has put together a good mix of players, and with Fandi’s advice, and Steven’s coaching, the SEA Games 2015 dream is possible. It will be great exposure for the girls, and will also hype up interest for women’s football in Singapore.”

    According to F-17 Director Mizra Ismail, the side is wasting no time to build up for the SEA Games next year. “The team will try to do well in the local league first, then the SEA Games 2015 will be the ultimate aim, he said. “It is about getting girls excited about football in the first place, and giving them opportunities to play competitively in the league.”

    And to encourage the development of women’s football, the F-17 crew, comprising some of its directors, players and Fandi’s daughter Iman Fandi Ahmad, will also be visiting girls’ schools to conduct talks and coaching clinics this year.

    The aim is to get more girls to play football and to encourage talented players to join the academy.

    Last Friday, the team held their first talk at CHIJ Our Lady of Good Counsel.

    Added Mizra: “Moving forward, after the FAS WPL season ends, we need to give the F-17 girls international exposure.

    “We are in talks with women’s teams in the region such as Thailand and Vietnam to organise friendlies with them after our season is over.”

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    Default A generous Budget, but will the help reach all?

    Some older folk, business owners may not know how to access benefits: Panel



    Published on Feb 24, 2014
    3:00 PM


    THE Budget is a generous one bringing welcome relief for elderly Singaporeans, workers and companies alike but the devil will be in the details.

    That is the conclusion of six panellists at The Straits Times Budget Roundtable last Saturday.

    The experts, from the business to health care and audit fields, said careful implementation will be important to make sure the benefits get to those in need.

    And there are plenty of goodies to go around, they said.



    (From left) MR HO MENG KIT CEO, Singapore Business Federation; MS GAN KWEE LIAN Tax partner, KPMG; MR JIMMY KOH UOB's head of economic-treasury research and investor relations; MS FIONA CHAN ST's senior economics correspondent; DR MARY ANN TSAO Chairman, Tsao Foundation; MR JEREMY LIM Head of Asia-Pacific health and life sciences at Oliver Wyman and; DR LILY NEO Member of Parliament. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KON


    Tsao Foundation chairman Mary Ann Tsao was impressed by how the Pioneer Generation Package covered all aspects of health care that a senior citizen may need.

    "Health care is pretty broad. There's hospitalisation, there's outpatient care to make sure chronic diseases are managed, and there's long-term care when you become frail. And this package addresses all those components, which is really very good."

    However, the Government will have to ensure the benefits reach as many of those who are in need as possible, she noted.

    For example, not all older people have Central Provident Fund accounts to receive planned Medisave top-ups.

    "The ones who don't have CPF are most likely the ones who have the highest need," Dr Tsao noted.

    Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Lily Neo praised the huge amount set aside - $8 billion - for the Pioneer Generation Package and the fact that it specifically targets the health-care needs of older folk.

    "Many of them are very concerned about getting sick. There's this saying among the elderly that you can die but you cannot get sick," she said.

    "Hopefully, with this package, we can take away that saying forever, because this package is really targeting their health, and not just now but for their lifespans."

    Dr Neo also backed moves to narrow the gap in CPF contribution rates between older and younger workers, adding that she believes this gap will be narrowed further in time.

    "I personally feel that especially for those 50 to 55, I think we will probably narrow it further. Because if you look at the age group... they are really considered fit and should be really contributing their best efforts still and should be paid accordingly."

    This will likely be done progressively and depend on economic conditions and the ability of businesses to absorb the added costs, she added.

    United Overseas Bank's head of economic-treasury research and investor relations, Mr Jimmy Koh, said the Budget was a good example of how the Government has been doing far more in recent years to help older Singaporeans and lower-income groups.

    But thorough implementation is needed to ensure that those who need help know how to get it, he added.

    "The people who need it are probably those who do not know how to access all these channels."

    The same could be said of companies, noted Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

    Still, he praised the Budget for being balanced in offering support to both households and businesses in equal measure, adding that the past three Budgets provide a sense of certainty about the Government's direction towards a more productive economy.

    "I think this certainty will feed into the system and I think the message would get absorbed and I think when the multinational companies look at us, the small companies look at where they want to be, I think Singapore will regain its competitiveness."

    The next step, he said, would be to further simplify incentive schemes so that more firms, especially smaller ones, can benefit.

    KPMG Singapore tax partner Gan Kwee Lian agreed, noting that the application process for some schemes, such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC), can sometimes seem too onerous to small business owners.

    "Whenever a taxpayer wants to claim PIC, there are lot of queries being asked. And it also deters some smaller companies from making claims because they are very afraid that the moment they make a claim and it turns out to be an incorrect claim, they could be penalised."

    Overall, however, the panel of experts could not fault the Budget for a lack of generosity in supporting all sections of society.

    In fact, health-care consultant Jeremy Lim, of consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, said the Budget should nudge society into taking care of each other.

    "Governments can put out the money but communities need to organise... and I think that it's now time for communities, for individuals to really step up and take this very generous largesse to say we can do good things with it, to build a great nation that we'll all be proud to call home."

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    Default Singapore experiencing record dry spell - and it could get worse: NEA

    Published on Feb 25, 2014
    7:14 AM


    Dry conditions at the Botanic Gardens yesterday. Barely any rain fell in Singapore for 27 consecutive days from Jan 13 to Feb 8. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM


    By David Ee


    The nearly month-long dry spell from Jan 13 to Feb 8 has gone down in history as the country's worst since extensive data recording began five decades ago, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA).

    Barely any rain fell in Singapore for those 27 consecutive days, comfortably dwarfing the previous record, an 18-day dry spell in 2008.

    Though brief showers on Feb 8 and Feb 9 ended the dearth and brought respite to parched parks and gardens islandwide, the lack of rain has persisted. Apart from again short-lived showers in western Singapore on Feb 16, the island has seen no rain since.

    The dry weather is "likely to persist into the first half of March", the NEA predicted, which could set another record.

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    Default Committing to productivity for the long haul

    The longer we put off the real changes that need to be made in embracing a productivity-centred work culture, the further behind we will be compared with our global competitors. Photo: Bloomberg


    By Randolph Tan

    Published: February 25, 4:03 AM
    Updated: February 25, 5:00 AM


    Budget 2014 could, in time to come, be seen as cementing a trenchant reform for Singapore’s economic policy that places productivity ahead of growth. By fine-tuning and extending many of the policies first promulgated in the aftermath of the 2009 downturn, the message demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the next phase of national progress.

    In line with its declaration of a focus on depth, the Budget’s productivity message has coalesced around three key challenges: Technological upgrading, the resource constraints faced by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the skills of the workforce.

    In terms of technological upgrading, the focus is squarely on infocomm technology (ICT). While ICT has pervaded our society, the exploitation of ICT to serve as a viable technological complement to employees has a long way to go. Since we are starting from a low base, the potential for productivity gains is significant.

    For example, in the case of security companies, using remote cameras instead of personnel on the ground is a solution that has been available since the advent of high-resolution digital cameras and enhanced Internet bandwidth.

    However, this technology has not been fully absorbed by the industry for many reasons — including, possibly, the degree of comfort with industrial applications of Internet technology. Industrial applications are different from casual usage in important ways, relating to issues such as reliability, bandwidth costs, online security and customers’ privacy.

    LOOK INTO SUPPORT NETWORK TOO

    Some of the Budget’s initiatives are clearly aimed at encouraging long-term innovation. Hence they may not yield productivity improvements in the short run. Even basic productivity-enhancing practices take time to show results.

    There are still some quite basic challenges in introducing ICT that, if addressed, could yield large gains. Consider the use of iPads to take and convey orders in a restaurant.

    In order for this to be a truly effective innovation, not only must the service workers and food preparation professionals be comfortable with such a system, there must also be adequate technological support. In other words, there must be a network of technology vendors to which the restaurants can turn to — if not, early adopters may be frustrated rather than aided by such a foray into innovation.

    Some consideration should thus be given to analysing the extent to which such concerns prevent firms from undertaking more sophisticated productivity-enhancing initiatives.

    THE GRAVITY OF REALITY

    The Government has made strong efforts over the years to boost productivity. These efforts, originally spearheaded by agencies such as the National Productivity Board and the Productivity and Standards Board, exhorted our workers to work smarter and faster.

    In contrast to the colourful mascot and catchy acronyms marking those initiatives (including WITS or work improvement teams), this Budget’s tone is more sombre. I believe that is a good thing, because it injects a sense of gravity about the challenges we face.

    The longer we put off the real changes that need to be made in embracing a productivity-centred work culture, the further behind we will be compared with our global competitors. One thing we should be careful to avoid is the over-optimistic expectation of a spectacular improvement in productivity in a short time.

    Since most people usually get better at their jobs if they do it long enough, it may be interesting to consider what could inhibit productivity growth, even given the massive undertaking of the past few years. The most serious factor would be a lack of preparedness — the workforce may be unprepared for changes that would occur with greater ICT penetration into their work processes.

    The fact that key productivity-related initiatives are to take effect only from next year indicates that the changes are not meant to take anyone by surprise. The lead time of almost two years built into the next round of levy increases for the construction sector, for instance, should give employers enough reaction time to make the necessary adjustments.

    THE WORKER AT THE CENTRE

    From 2005 to 2008, the pressing needs of growth had a negative impact on productivity. The problem was that, contrary to the short-term imperatives of that period, which resulted in too heavy a dependence on manpower, productivity is very much a long-run challenge.

    In contrast, by maintaining a more steady focus, the Budgets of the past few years as a whole will come to be seen as achieving a much-needed consolidation in what had been an inchoate stream of initiatives targeting productivity over the past few decades.

    Still, based on experience to date, it is almost certainly clear that this Budget alone will not be enough. Productivity is more of a guiding philosophy than a pursuit: We should want it because it represents the correct way to do things.

    Indeed it is possible — as has been noted by some economists — that fewer workers will be needed once productivity is achieved.

    This is the other prong that a long-term policy on productivity must contain; this is why the focus on elevating workforce skills is required. That this Budget has sunk another S$500 million into the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund, in anticipation of expanded needs from a review of the Continuing Education and Training system, is reassuring.

    In short, while technology is an enabler, the central figure continues to be the worker.

    BETTER TO HAVE DELAYED CPF CHANGES?


    Given the urgent priority that the restructuring of the labour market plays in the scheme of things, I believe it would have been better to have delayed the Central Provident Fund (CPF) changes.

    For older workers, for instance, with the change, employers will ultimately have to contend with a 2-percentage point hike for those aged 50 to 55, which is more than half the 3.5-point difference between that age group and the main one before the change.

    It is unclear how the ongoing effort to increase older workers’ labour force participation rates will be affected by this.

    More generally, while the 1-percentage-point increase in Medisave contributions is important as a long-term objective, I feel the timing could be better. I would think it should not be more urgent than the economic structuring still going on in the labour market.

    Something similar to the two-year lead time for new levy increases in the construction sector could have been considered as it could make a difference in terms of substituting local for foreign workers.

    The employment credits present a clear signal of the Government’s concern about hiring costs. But getting the taxpayer to fund hiring costs is quite extreme and may not be a good idea if it occurs with regularity. Short of an emergency measure in a recession, such employment credits may actually lead to labour market distortions.

    So, the 0.5 percentage points funding through the two employment credit schemes to ameliorate the impact of the CPF increase is another indication, in my opinion, that it would have been better to delay the CPF increase by a longer time.

    Delaying the CPF increase to a later time would have concentrated our focus on the labour market changes that are meant to contribute to the productivity-enhancement targets.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

    Associate Professor Randolph Tan is with the Centre for Applied Research at SIM University.

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    Default Low tips Schooling to shine in Glasgow

    Sports


    Low Teo Ping, Singapore’s Chef-de-mission to the Commonwealth Games, expects Joseph Schooling to give a good account in his Games debut in Glasgow and perform better than at December’s SEA Games in Myanmar, where he won five gold medals. TODAY FILE PHOTO

    ByIAN DE COTTA
    Published: February 26, 1:50 AM


    SINGAPORE — Sports such as shooting, badminton and table tennis have delivered medals for Singapore at the past Commonwealth Games.

    But this year’s edition, to be held in Glasgow from July 23 to Aug 3, is the first time that swimming will be packing some real ammo, with rising star Joseph Schooling, 18, included in the side and set for a stern test against some of the world’s best swimmers from Australia and Britain.

    Schooling and two-time Asian Games champion Tao Li are the only two swimmers scheduled to compete in individual butterfly events after meeting the minimum sixth-place benchmark of the last Games set by the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).

    They were included in the SNOC’s preliminary list released yesterday in six sports that Singapore’s athletes will compete in Glasgow, namely athletics, badminton, gymnastics, shooting, swimming and table tennis.

    Judo, wrestling, cycling and boxing, all of which were unsuccessful in getting the nod from the SNOC for the Commonwealth Games, are expected to make appeals next Tuesday.

    The final list of athletes is expected to be finalised on June 11.

    Low Teo Ping, Singapore’s Chef-de-mission to the Commonwealth Games, expects Schooling to give a good account in his Games debut in Glasgow and perform better than at December’s SEA Games in Myanmar, where he won five gold medals.

    “I think he will not disappoint at the Commonwealth Games because an athlete like Joseph paces himself to peak for major meets and apart from Glasgow, there is also the Asian Games in Incheon he is looking at,” said Teo.

    “But all this leads to his preparations and real target in Brazil and without the benefit of knowing who will be swimming in Scotland, we can expect Joseph to do well.”

    United States-based Schooling, who will join the University of Texas in Austin in August, is regarded as a medal potential for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He was ranked among the top-five under-18 swimmers in the United States last year, where his time of 1min 56.27sec in the 200m fly saw him ranked third in the event.

    He received a major boost to his preparations in October last year when he was granted full-time deferment from National Service by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) until after the Games.

    Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) Executive Director Edwin Ker said they have not set any medal targets for the Commonwealth Games and the minimum that Schooling and Tao Li should achieve is the benchmark sixth-placed finish.

    “As it is, there is already quite a bit of pressure on Joseph. Everybody, including MINDEF, will be watching to see how he performs, so he does not need the added pressure from us,” said Ker.

    Singapore’s SEA Games gold-medal winning relay teams will also be travelling to Glasgow and their members can also compete in individual events although none have met the minimum benchmark.

    The SNOC said the contingent for this year’s Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, from Aug 16 to 28 will also be finalised next month.

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