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  1. #8127
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    Default Rain brings some respite from dry weather in parts of S’pore

    Rain at Tuas on March 3, 2014. Photo: Wiwie


    Fair and warm conditions expected over the next few days

    Published: March 3, 8:47 PM
    Updated: March 3, 9:17 PM

    SINGAPORE — Rain was observed in parts of Singapore this afternoon (March 3), providing some respite from the unrelenting dry weather in recent months.

    Brief localised showers fell mainly over Tuas, Jurong West and Chua Chu Kang between 4.45pm and 5.30pm today, said the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS). Rainfall of between 0.2mm and 15.2mm at Tuas was recorded.

    The showers were due to local wind convergence over the south western areas, said the MSS.

    For the next few days, mainly fair and warm conditions are expected, with Singapore still in the dry phase of the North-east Monsoon, said the MSS.

    The National Environment Agency (NEA) had in the morning forecast showers in the western part of Singapore.

    The Land Transport Authority tweeted around 5pm that there was a flash flood on the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) near the Ayer Rajah Expressway exit. In response to media queries, the authority clarified that it had observed some water collecting on the PIE which cleared within minutes, and the road remained passable to traffic.

    PUB confirmed that there was no flash flood.

    The recent dry spell of 27 days over the past two months beat the previous record of 18 days set in 2008, promoting PUB to increase the amount of NEWater pumped into the reservoirs to maintain water levels. The NEA said last week that the dry weather would likely persist into the first half of this month.

  2. #8128
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    Default More options for Hub ticketing, please

    When the S$1.33 billion Sports Hub is fully opened in June, builders SHPL will manage the biggest venues here for 25 years, namely the 12,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium and the 55,000-capacity National Stadium (picture). TODAY FILE PHOTO


    Promoters argue that competition will benefit consumers in the long term


    By IAN DE COTTA

    Published: March 4, 4:04 AM


    SINGAPORE — Unhappy event promoters are calling for a review of the monopoly on ticket sales that a unit of SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) has on Singapore’s biggest sports complex.

    When the S$1.33 billion Sports Hub is fully opened in June, builders SHPL will manage the biggest venues here for 25 years, namely the 12,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium (SIS) and the 55,000-capacity National Stadium.

    Sports Hub Tix (SH Tix) will also be the only operator contracted to sell tickets for all events held at the SPHL venues.

    This situation not only shuts out ticketing operators such as market leader SISTIC — owned by the Singapore Sports Council (65 per cent) and the Esplanade (35 per cent) — but has also left event promoters in a bind.

    It means they have to rely on SHPL to stage events that can pull in more than 4,000 people. Without a choice of ticketing operators, they also fear negotiations will be stacked in SHPL’s favour and ultimately affect the long-term interests of consumers.

    For example, SH Tix has already upped commissions for tickets priced above S$30 from S$3 to S$4, since they took over last October.

    On the upside, the fee for tickets below this band is S$1, which previously applied to listed prices of S$20 and under.

    These concerns have been compounded by SH Tix’s under-performing Paciolan ticketing software.

    Yesterday, fans could not buy tickets to the June 12 Taylor Swift concert at the SIS and took to Sports Hub’s Facebook to vent their anger.

    Leslie Ong, the Director of promoter Unusual Entertainment, which is organising the April 19 Lionel Richie concert at the SIS, said that if ticketing operators are allowed to compete, there is no reason why promoters will not use SH Tix if they had the best system on offer.


    (Well I tried many times to book an Early Bird Season ticket online for the Singapore Open without success. The booking fee that they charge seems relatively higher than before.)

  3. #8129
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    Default Free guided tours for local residents to mark 50 years of tourism

    Published on Mar 04, 2014
    3:01 PM



    In its heyday in the early 1980s, Haw Par Villa attracted over a million visitors annually and was Singapore’s fourth most popular tourist attraction. Those who live here can rediscover Singapore and familiar attractions like Haw Par Villa through free guided tours, as part of the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB's) efforts to celebrate the country's 50 years of tourism. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM


    By Jermyn Chow

    Those who live here can rediscover Singapore and familiar attractions like Haw Par Villa through free guided tours, as part of the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB's) efforts to celebrate the country's 50 years of tourism.

    The year-long Tourism50 celebrations are aimed at getting Singaporeans and residents here to relive their memories at local attractions and create new ones with their friends and families. The drive to woo those who live here will start from the middle of this month, with free weekend tours in Haw Par Villa.

    These tours, which will include the stories of the park's owners, a vintage flea market and a food bazaar, will be held on March 15, 16, 22 and 23.

    There will also be free 75-minute tours around the Heritage district - which includes the Singapore River, the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple along Tank Road and the Jamae Mosque along South Bridge Road- on March 29 and 30.

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    Default Former Singapore national shuttler cleared of stealing diamonds from ex-wife of Brune

    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    11:42 AM


    Singaporean Fatimah Kumin Lim (above), a former national badminton player, has been acquitted of stealing millions worth of diamonds belonging to the ex-wife of the Sultan of Brunei. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM


    By K C Vijayan

    A London jury on Tuesday acquitted Singaporean Fatimah Kumin Lim of stealing millions worth of diamonds belonging to the ex-wife of the Sultan of Brunei.

    The jury reached its verdict after a trial lasting several days at the Isleworth Crown Court where Ms Lim, 35, had denied the charges and fought the case with a legal aid lawyer. She had been accused of taking the jewellery belonging to Madam Mariam Aziz and was said to have replaced them with fakes.

    The stolen good involved a pear-shaped 12.71-carat blue diamond worth £7.6 million (S$16 million), a rectangular 27.1 carat yellow diamond worth £600,000 and a diamond bracelet worth £3.3 million.

    Ms Lim, who first started working for Ms Aziz as a badminton coach in 2003, subsequently served as her bodyguard and personal assistant and had accompanied her on several of her jaunts to casinos across the globe. Prosecutors had alleged Ms Lim sold the jewellery to clear her own gambling debts.

  5. #8131
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    Default Getting locals to rediscover Singapore charms

    STB hopes free tours of sights will help them to be tourism ambassadors



    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    8:38 AM


    Free weekend tours of Haw Par Villa will be offered to Singaporeans on the 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd of this month, when the theme park's history will be explained to visitors. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE


    By Jermyn Chow


    From Haw Par Villa's gruesome mythological statues to the historic Singapore River, locals will be offered free guided tours of famous sights to help them rediscover their own backyard.

    The Singapore Tourism Board is launching a series of tours from this month as part of its Tourism50 celebrations. The STB was set up in 1964 as the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board and is marking 50 years of tourism development and promotion here.

    It wants local residents to relive their memories of famous Singapore attractions and create new ones with friends and family.

    It also hopes that they will become "tourism ambassadors" who pass on their experiences to visitors and to a new audience through social media.


    Background story

    INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE
    Every tweet or photo that we share on platforms like Instagram or Facebook has an international audience. If they give a thumbs up... that really has resonance with visitors.
    - STB chief executive Lionel Yeo, on tapping the positive energy of residents who can act as tourism ambassadors when they show friends and families around the island or post photos and messages online

    ABOUT ADVOCACY
    It's not about chasing numbers. It's about advocacy - getting locals to tell their friends how great Singapore and its attractions are.
    - Mr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions

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    Default February was the driest month in Singapore since 1869, says NEA

    Published on Mar 04, 2014
    5:42 PM


    Low water levels seen at MacRitchie Reservoir on Feb 5, 2014. February was Singapore's driest month since 1869, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in an advisory on Tuesday, Mar 4, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI


    By David Ee


    February was Singapore's driest month since 1869
    , the National Environment Agency (NEA) said in an advisory on Tuesday.

    Just 0.2mm of rain during bone-dry February was recorded at the Changi climate station, which NEA uses as its reference station. The previous record was the 6.3mm of rain recorded in 2010, also in February, which is often drier than other months.

    There were only seven days of brief showers last month, between Feb 7 and 19, mainly in western Singapore. Rainfall recorded at all 64 rainfall stations across the island was far below the mean February rainfall of 161 mm. Half of the stations recorded under 10 mm of rain.

    February was also the windiest month in the last 30 years, and one of the least humid, added the NEA. Average daily wind speeds of 13.3 km/h were recorded at the Changi climate station, exceeding the previous high of 12.5 km/h recorded in January 1985. The average daily relative humidity of 74.5 per cent was also the lowest ever, shaving the previous record of 74.6 per cent measured in June last year.


  7. #8133
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    Default Expatriate living costs survey

    Singapore Budget 2014: Expatriate living costs survey do not reflect locals' costs: Tharman


    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    1:13 PM



    Cost-of-living reports are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN


    By Janice Heng

    Cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit one that has just ranked Singapore the priciest city in the world, are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his wrap-up speech on the Budget debate on Wednesday.

    There are thus two important differences between what such reports measure and what affects the living costs of Singaporeans, he added.

    One is currency. "An important reason why we've become expensive for expatriates is that the Singapore dollar has strengthened," said Mr Tharman.

    That makes things pricier for an expatriate who is paid in a foreign currency. But it improves Singaporeans' purchasing power, both at home when buying imported goods, and abroad.

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    Default Staying vibrant means S'pore won't be a cheap place for business

    Singapore Budget 2014: Staying vibrant means S'pore won't be a cheap place for business


    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    1:21 PM



    As long as the economy remains vibrant, Singapore will not be a cheap place for doing business, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in Parliament on Wednesday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KEVIN LIM


    By Chia Yan Min

    As long as the economy remains vibrant, Singapore will not be a cheap place for doing business,
    said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in Parliament on Wednesday.

    Demand for resources - especially labour and space - are strong, and costs will continue to pick up, he said in his speech closing the Budget debate.

    Weakening the economy and becoming less vibrant is the wrong strategy to address this, and "that's not what our business community and Singaporeans want", said Mr Tharman, who is also the Finance Minister.

    "(We) don't want to just leave it to the market, but neither can we fix rents and keep prices low."

  9. #8135
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    Default Cost of living reports do not reflect costs for locals: DPM Tharman




    Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam. Photo: Bloomberg


    What is important to Govt is that incomes of low- and middle- income S’poreans grew faster

    Published: March 5, 2:08 PM
    Updated: March 5, 2:35 PM

    SINGAPORE — Cost of living reports — such as the one released by the Economist Intelligence Unit which ranked Singapore as the costliest place to live in — are meant to measure cost of living for expatriates in various parts of the world, and thus do not reflect those of local residents, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam today (Mar 5).

    There are two things which make a big difference when comparing cost of living for expatriates and locals, Mr Tharman said, as he wrapped up the Budget debate in Parliament.

    The first is currency, he said. In Singapore’s case, the Singapore dollar has strengthened over the years, and this means it is more expensive for expatriates who are paid in a foreign currency. A stronger Singapore dollar also improves lives in Singapore, as purchasing power for item is improved.

    The second is the difference in items being measured, Mr Tharman said. The EIU study measured items such as imported cheese, which may not be purchased by Singapore residents. Singapore’s public transport cost is also significantly cheaper than most other cities like Tokyo and Paris, he said.

    What is important for the Government is that Singaporeans, particularly those in the low and middle income groups, have incomes that grew faster. In the last five years, incomes of median households have surpassed that of the increase in inflation, Mr Tharman pointed out.

  10. #8136
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    Default Three-pronged approach to boost productivity

    Singapore Budget 2014: Three-pronged approach to boost productivity, says Tharman


    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    2:26 PM



    Singapore's next phase of economic restructuring must be driven by transformations in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), readiness for jobs, and social norms, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG



    By Toh Yong Chuan

    Singapore's next phase of economic restructuring must be driven by transformations in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), readiness for jobs, and social norms, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday.

    Explaining the three-pronged approach in his Budget wrap-up speech, Mr Tharman said that productivity boosts cannot be achieved using "shock therapy", when companies are allowed to fail and jobs are lost.

    Instead, systematic steps to transform the economy at a steady clip should be taken while ensuring that jobs are not affected.

    The first step in economic restructuring is to help SMEs upgrade, said Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister.

    The Government will continue to give "substantial assistance" to SMEs. Some help schemes will be given liberally, but "more questions will be asked" when cash is handed out because there can be abuses, he pointed out.

    Besides firms, the Government will also help Singaporeans get ready for jobs in the future, including giving secondary school and tertiary students career counselling and putting them on job attachments.

    This will prepare them for jobs that are created in the future, many of which will involve handling and using technology, Mr Tharman said.

    The third front is to bring about a broad shift in societal values. The minister cited two examples where social norms need to change: To have seniors keep working not because of the tight labour market or for financial reasons, but for them to preserve their "self-worth"; and for consumers to accept self-service as a norm.

    He cited the example of the banking sector where self-service modes such as automated teller machines and Internet banking are widely-accepted, but singled out the real estate sector and said self-service there can be improved to levels in overseas countries.

    The three-pronged approach will help Singapore make the economic transformation without the pain of job losses, said Mr Tharman.

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    Default Community Health Assist Scheme for pioneers to start in Sept: Tharman

    About 11,000 more beds will be added in acute hospitals, community hospitals and nursing homes by 2020 to cater to demand, the Health Minister said. Today File Photo


    Benefits under Pioneer Generation Package will be provided automatically, DPM assures


    By Neo Chai Chin

    Published: March 5, 3:14 PM
    Updated: March 5, 3:15 PM

    SINGAPORE — All older Singaporeans who are part of the Pioneer Generation Package will be on the Community Health Assist Scheme from September, four months ahead of the original schedule.

    Benefits under the Package will be provided automatically, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam assured as he closed Parliament’s debate on the Budget today (March 5). The Community Health Assist Scheme, or CHAS, subsidises visits to participating general practitioners and private dentists.

    He added that the pioneers need not have Central Provident Fund accounts; they only need to have Medisave accounts, which the vast majority who have previously been part of various Government schemes, such as the GST Voucher scheme, would possess.

    Of the potential group eligible for the Package, less than 3 per cent do not have Medisave accounts and have been uncontactable despite efforts to reach them. Some have died overseas, while others have addresses on their identity cards that are not valid, said Mr Tharman, who said efforts will continue to reach out to this small group.

    The pioneers will receive Medisave top-ups by early July, and subsidies for MediShield Life premiums can be used for private Shield plans that some pioneers have bought.

    The appeals panel to be set up to hear cases for inclusion in the Package will be set up by end-April, and comprise a diverse representation, Mr Tharman said.

    The authorities will work closely with healthcare providers and voluntary welfare organisations to reach out to the pioneers. “Don’t worry,” Mr Tharman assured.

    In a 100-minute speech that addressed questions raised by over 50 MPs during the “rich” debate, Mr Tharman also spoke about the need to increase productivity to address rising business costs and cost of living.

    He said healthcare financing will be a key fiscal challenge for the Government. Projected healthcare spending will hit S$8 billion in 2015 – one year ahead of initial projections – and is likely to hit S$12 billion by 2020. But Mr Tharman stressed that higher spending does not necessarily mean better care, and that there is no such thing as cheap or free healthcare as the public will ultimately pay for it.

    The Government will need to raise revenues over time, said Mr Tharman.

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    Default NUS rises to No. 3 in Asia, NTU slips in Times rankings

    Magazine editor 'surprised' by NTU's slide given past standing



    Published on Mar 06, 2014
    8:34 AM



    The National University of Singapore (NUS) campus. -- ST FILE PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG


    By Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent

    Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which has been climbing several university league tables, took a tumble in the latest Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings released this morning.

    It fell from the 71st to 80th band last year to the 91st to 100th band
    .

    The London-based magazine, which described this as "a surprise", said the university's decision last year to deny journalism professor Cherian George tenure could have hurt its standing with academics abroad.

    The National University of Singapore meanwhile moved up a spot to No. 21, making it the third highest ranked Asian university behind Tokyo University and Kyoto University. Only the top 50 schools are given a specific rank.


    Background story

    SUBJECTIVE VIEWS

    However, these reputation figures constitute soft data and are the most subjective part of rankings. The results can vary depending on the people surveyed each year.
    - NTU president Bertil Andersson, when asked about the university's new place in Times' rankings

  13. #8139
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    Default Singapore ranked second-safest country in study

    Republic also rises to No. 2 spot for its criminal justice system



    Published on Mar 06, 2014
    8:33 AM


    By K.C. Vijayan Senior Law Correspondent


    Singapore was ranked the second-safest out of 99 countries
    in a rule of law study released yesterday, narrowly losing out to Japan for last year's top spot.

    In its order and security category, the US-based World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2014 praised the Republic for its low crime levels, absence of political violence and confidence in the law enforcement authorities.

    Singapore also rose from third to second spot - behind Finland - for its criminal justice system.

    The WJP describes the rule of law as "a system of rules and rights that enables fair and functioning societies". It surveyed the 99 countries on eight factors and gave a combined overall ranking in which Singapore was 10th, the highest-ranking Asian country with Japan next in 12th place.

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    Default Singapore must never spend more than it earns

    Singapore must never spend more than it earns and burden future generations: PM Lee


    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    11:57 PM




    Singapore must never fall into the same hole as some countries which spend more than they can earn, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday night in a Facebook post. -- FILE PHOTO: BLOOMBERG



    By Tham Yuen-c

    Singapore must never fall into the same hole as some countries which spend more than they can earn, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday night in a Facebook post.

    He warned that doing so would drag down the economy and burden future generations. Instead, Singapore should keep its economy vibrant and live within its means.

    It is only through doing so that the Government will be able to provide help and assurance to all and keep Singapore a nation of opportunities, he said.

    Mr Lee noted that MPs from both sides of the House had supported this year's Budget, especially the Pioneer Generation Package.

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    Default Singapore Budget 2014: Lessons from Ukraine for a small state like Singapore

    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    11:12 PM





    Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin's tweet: "Russia-Ukraine: Any lessons for 'kuching kurak' Singapore?". -- PHOTO: SCREENGRA


    By Ong Hwee Hwee

    Budget Talk: What are MPs and observers saying about the Budget debate outside Parliament? We sum up some of the topics being discussed on social media.

    A country half-way across the globe was a focus during Wednesday's Budget debate, alongside issues closer to the hearts of Singaporeans, like jobs and cost of living.

    Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, during the Committee of Supply debate on his ministry's Budget, spoke at length about the lessons Singapore can draw from the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, including how a smaller country like Ukraine can become a pawn when squeezed between two big powers or blocs.

    The sobering lessons gleaned from Kiev resonated with Members of Parliament, including Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin who succinctly summed up the discussion in a tweet: "Russia-Ukraine: Any lessons for 'kuching kurak' Singapore?
    #Singaporeans, Russia-Ukraine: Any lessons for 'kuching kurak' #Singapore? http://t.co/2oszlXHSUo
    — Tan Chuan-Jin (@chuanjin1) March 5, 2014
    In a separate post on Facebook, Mr Tan, who is an MP for Marine Parade GRC, said:

    "Even while we debate our budget and focus on issues of the day, let us not forget about where we are in the world and what lessons we draw."

    The former army general added: "When I was in The Singapore Army, in each of the units I was at, I will often have a dialogue and ask my new soldiers and commanders as to our reason for defending and why it mattered. Some felt that we will just 'tahan' until the UN came to our rescue. Some felt that it was a lost cause because we were too small. Though most only see a fraction of our capability, many eventually do believe that we should be able to and believe that we must."

    "That we can and will is probably another topic for another day. But for small countries, being able and having the will to defend what is one's own, is an imperative first step.

    Workers' Party member and Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao, meanwhile, pondered on what Nominated MP Laurence Lien said about opportunities and possibilities during the Budget debate this week.

    Mr Chen wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday: "In his parliamentary speech on the Budget, NMP Laurence Lien pointed out the difference between our seizing 'opportunities' and seeing 'possibilities' - seeing possibilities in Singapore and Singaporeans and what we can achieve together.

    "I think of the many things I have learnt from Mr Lien's parliamentary speeches during his term as NMP, and his articles, and wonder about the possibilities of more Singaporeans coming forward to share their ideas and do what they can, for Singapore."

    Mr Lien, who called for more optimism and trust in Singaporeans, had said in Parliament:

    "If we think of Singapore as a sampan, we will not think of possibilities. We cannot go out to explore and conquer the world in a sampan."

    MP Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC),
    meanwhile, invited feedback on his Facebook on a topic he planned to raise during the Committee of Supply debate on the Budget which will stretch into next week. Referring to stay-at-home mums, he wrote: "Will be voicing for SAHMs next week during Committee of Supply in Parliament.

    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
    , in a Facebook post on Wednesday, said he was glad this year's Budget has been well-received. "MPs from both sides of the House supported the Budget, especially the Pioneer Generation Package. They shared stories of their own parents or grandparents, who belonged to the special generation which built Singapore. They made useful suggestions to improve the Package and other Budget initiatives. We will consider their ideas carefully."

    But he cautioned: "The govt can afford the Pioneer Generation Package because we have been careful with our finances. But govt spending is going up - on healthcare,

    infrastructure, and an ageing population. We are alright for the next few years. Beyond that, we must think about raising more revenues.

    He added: "We must never fall into the same hole as so many other countries, spending more than they earn, dragging down the economy and burdening future generations. If we keep our economy vibrant, and live within our means, we can continue providing assurance to all, while keeping ours a nation of opportunities."

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    Default Lessons for small states like Singapore from Ukraine

    Ukraine has become the victim of Great Power politics. Small states like Singapore should draw the appropriate lessons.



    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    8:16 PM



    -- ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO


    By Bilahari Kausikan, For The Straits Times


    LAST December, finding myself in Ukraine, I took the opportunity to visit Kiev's Independence Square to observe the EuroMaidan demonstrations. On one visit I listened to some European Union (EU) politician - I think it was a member of the European Parliament - give a rousing speech.

    He spoke of freedom and democracy, the usual phrases tripping off his tongue fluently.

    The speech was in English and I do not know how much the crowd really understood. But the intent was clear in any language and the crowd responded enthusiastically to the expression of support. There was an almost festive air.

    Ukraine and Russia

    BUT the thought crossed my mind: This could end up like Hungary in 1956. At that time, the West encouraged an anti-Soviet revolt, then folded its arms as Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest.

    Thankfully, the current Russian intervention has so far been limited and less bloody. But Russia's response was entirely predictable, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the region's history and Ukraine's complicated relationship with Russia should have known.

    Russia cannot allow Ukraine to become part of the Western system without losing an essential part of itself and without abandoning President Vladimir Putin's goal of a revived Russia as a great power
    . And Mr Putin's own authority rests in no small part on his reputation as a strong Russian nationalist.

    Some 17 per cent of Ukraine's population - more than eight million - is ethnically Russian, the largest Russian diaspora in the world. Ethnic Russians constitute the majority of the population in the Crimea. There are also substantial numbers in East and South-east Ukraine next to the Russian border, as well as in the major cities. Indeed, the origin and heart of Russia's Slavic culture lies in the mediaeval kingdom of Kievian Rus centred in modern Ukraine, not Moscow.

    The pipelines that supply Russian gas to West Europe pass through Ukraine. That revenue is essential to the Russian economy. Geopolitically, Sevastopol on the Black Sea in the Crimea is Russia's only warm water port.

    In August 1991, with the Soviet Union on the brink of collapse, then US President George H. W. Bush flew to Kiev and cautioned the Verkhova Rada, Ukraine's Parliament, against "suicidal nationalism". He was roundly criticised by the Western media. But the wisdom of Bush senior is now clear.

    Ukraine was and remains deeply divided over the question of closer association with the EU, opinions generally mirroring the ethnic divisions. It was reckless of the post-Yanukovych government to have abolished Russian as Ukraine's second language as its very first act.

    It aroused the worst fears of Russia and Russian Ukrainians. In January and February this year, it is estimated that almost 700,000 Ukrainian citizens, most believed to be ethnic Russians, fled to Russia.

    It was inevitable that Russia would move decisively. And so it did, with its customary ruthlessness that caught the West flatfooted.

    Russia and the West

    US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has said the Russian intervention will have "costs". But what costs?

    The United States and the EU are not going to go to war with Russia over Ukraine, as Mr Putin well knows. After a decade of wars in the Middle East, the American public is weary of foreign adventures. That was among the reasons that Mr Obama was elected in the first place. The EU has neither the capability nor the stomach to wage war on Russia.

    Will there be sanctions? Perhaps there will be some symbolic sanctions, and they may inconvenience individual Russians and businesses. But they will not bite deep enough to make Russia reverse course. Will - or can - Western Europe stop buying Russian gas? That is the only sanction that would really hurt, and it is not going to happen, as Mr Putin again well knows.

    There will probably be a boycott of the Sochi G-8 Summit. Russia may even be expelled or suspended from the G-8. So what? Does Mr Putin really care? Ukraine is a vital interest to Russia and to him personally. Weighed in that balance, any cost the US and EU can realistically impose is insignificant.

    The United Nations Security Council met in an emergency session. Predictably, it achieved nothing. As a permanent member, Russia holds a veto. The US and EU know this. Arguably the very reason they convened the Security Council was precisely that it would achieve nothing: It was a low-cost gesture to preserve some semblance of amour propre.

    International readjustments

    CRIMEA is lost to Ukraine. In some weeks or months, there will probably be a referendum or some other act of self-determination. A new state will then be set up in Crimea on the model of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia established after its 2008 intervention in Georgia.

    I doubt that Russia will intervene in East or South-east Ukraine in the same way as it did in Crimea. Moscow need not resort to naked military intervention again to drive home the point that Russian interests cannot be disregarded in its "near abroad". On a personal level, Mr Putin has made himself look strong and American and European leaders look weak. He can afford to stop.

    After a decent interval, the US and EU will again "reset" relations with Russia. As a nuclear weapon state, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a major energy supplier, Russia simply cannot be ostracised forever.

    The EU was itself divided over the prospect of a closer association with Ukraine. The EU members that were formerly part of the Soviet empire - Poland and the Baltic states - were the most enthusiastic. Other EU members were more ambivalent, fearing the costs of a closer partnership with such a huge country at a time when their economies were still fragile.

    The EU politician I heard last December was not the only or the most important Western leader to give encouragement to the Ukrainians. It was irresponsible to do so without the capacity to deter a Russian intervention or to respond effectively when Russia did intervene.

    None of this in any way excuses Russia's actions. As a small country, Singapore must take seriously any violation of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, wherever and whenever they occur. I am certain that those Singaporeans who have paid attention to recent events in Ukraine feel sympathy for its people.

    Lessons for Singapore

    BUT more importantly than empathy for yet another country that has fallen prey to Great Power politics, the plight of the Ukrainians holds valuable lessons for us.

    Do not just listen to the sweet words of foreigners, however pleasing to the ear. We must calculate our own interests as clinically as we can and not let anyone beguile us into believing they know better.

    The West speaks often and eloquently of democracy and elections with a near religious fervour. The ousted Yanukovych government, whatever its failings, was popularly elected in a manner that just four years ago the US and the EU hailed as free and fair.

    Yet when the US and EU thought that it was in their interests, they did not hesitate to recognise the government that seized power in Kiev after President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office. In doing so, they broke an agreement to hold new elections that had been signed by Mr Yanukovych, the Ukrainian opposition and the European foreign ministers themselves just weeks earlier.

    A Russian Special Envoy was present at those negotiations but did not sign. That was a strong signal that should have been heeded.

    Why did the US and EU miscalculate so disastrously?
    One important reason why they were blindsided by Russia was that having no stomach for drastic action themselves, they thought everyone else was similarly squeamish.

    The US and the EU responded to the new government in Kiev by immediately offering International Monetary Fund assistance. This was undoubtedly very necessary. But they failed to understand that Russia's calculations and priorities were entirely different. The US and EU mistook their own beliefs and hopes for reality. We must never do that.

    A world ruled by international law is the ideal world for small states
    . But is this really such a world? Perhaps sometimes; or even most times; but not all the time.

    International law is an instrument of state policy, not an autonomous reality. Great powers resort to it only when convenient. Russia is not unique in this respect. This is a dangerous world.

    The US and EU have suffered a blow to their credibility. But they, or at least the US, will eventually recover. It is the Ukrainian people who paid and who will continue to pay the heaviest price for Western miscalculations.

    There is yet another particularly apt lesson here for Singaporeans. Calls for a reduction in national service commitments should be regarded with great scepticism. We must never lose the ability to look after ourselves, because if we cannot look after ourselves, nobody will look after us.

    stopinion@sph.com.sg

    The writer is ambassador at large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was, until May last year, its permanent secretary. He was Singapore's ambassador to Russia in 1994-1995.


    Background story

    Do not just listen to the sweet words of foreigners, however pleasing to the ear. We must calculate our own interests as clinically as we can and not let anyone beguile us into believing they know better.

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    Default Little India Riot: Fiery debate between COI and police commander

    Committee grills officer for over 4 hours on events and actions taken



    Published on Mar 05, 2014
    8:00 PM



    DAC Lu faced intense questioning on the witness stand. He seemed beleaguered at various points, but at times he gave as good as he got. He said his guiding principle that night was not to use force unless there was no choice. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW


    By Francis Chan Assistant News Editor


    The actions of the police commander who led the operation to quell the violence in Little India on Dec 8 were the subject of a fiery debate yesterday as the hearing into the unrest resumed.

    The Committee of Inquiry (COI) pulled no punches as it grilled Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lu Yeow Lim for more than four hours on the witness stand.

    One issue it raised with DAC Lu was his claim that his men were outnumbered by the mob. "Let me ask you again. At the time you arrived, the record says 130 men were on the ground. Car flipped over," said COI member Tee Tua Ba.

    "That is not the correct assumption," said DAC Lu, correcting Mr Tee, who is a former commissioner of police.

    Although the inquiry had been presented with evidence that showed there were 111 police officers on the ground that night, only 47 were dealing directly with the riot, said DAC Lu.

    Most of these officers were also scattered across an area the size of "three football fields", he added. Of the remaining 64 officers, 30 were controlling traffic, 22 were unarmed plainclothes officers, seven were injured and another five were "around the area".

    All he had at his disposal were 11 police officers, of which only eight were armed with revolvers and T-batons, said DAC Lu.


    The 11 men, who included himself, were also facing two sections of rioters - on one side a group of about 50, and on the other in Race Course Road, rioters "in the hundreds".

    Mr Tee also took issue with DAC Lu's strategy of "holding the line" to wait for riot control troops from the Special Operations Command to arrive before engaging the unruly mob. A Traffic Police sergeant had given testimony that he had charged at some rioters earlier that night and a Certis Cisco officer had even "caught" four men, he noted.

    Mr Tee also quoted a British parliamentary report on the 2011 London Riots which concluded that holding back police action would only embolden rioters.

    DAC Lu, however, disagreed. Quoting from the same report, he said: "I have read the report... The conclusion was not that the tactic did not work, it was that numbers matter. Sufficient numbers were the key to the issue."

    Mr Tee had also asked why DAC Lu was not aware that police vehicles were being set on fire even though he had "command and control" of the scene.

    DAC Lu explained that his line of sight was blocked by the bus, which was involved in the fatal accident that sparked the riot.

    He said he also had difficulties communicating with other officers because the radio airwaves were jammed and hence he did not have an idea of how many of his men were at the scene or where they were located initially.

    "As a commander, the first thing you want to know is how many men you have on the ground," said Mr Tee. "You didn't know how many men were on the ground?"

    The 48-year-old senior police officer seemed beleaguered at various points yesterday as the committee peppered him with questions, often cutting him off as he tried to answer.
    At times, he gave as good as he got, asking at one point: "Is the COI using information gathered over the last three months to evaluate my actions on that night?"

    At another, Mr Tee asked him: "Was it a failure of you, or a failure of the whole system?"
    DAC Lu replied: "Is the honourable member asking for an opinion or asking a question?"
    Pressed on the inaction of his men, he said: "These are not two armies facing off, it was like fighting an insurgency so even if we wanted to shoot, shoot who?

    "Stones were coming from behind people in the crowd," he added. "This would have been a totally different COI, asking different questions... (such as) why did you shoot without a clear line of sight?"

    The commander of Tanglin Police Division added that if his men had opened fire and shot or killed one of the rioters, "the sentiments would have been inflamed".

    "They might have set fire to a building, or attacked people. So my guiding principle that night: Where possible, do not escalate the situation, do no use force unless there is no choice, even if we're legally right in shooting."

    franchan@sph.com.sg


    Background story

    HOW MANY OFFICERS WERE ON THE GROUND?
    Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC) of Police Lu Yeow Lim (LYL) faced off with Committee of Inquiry member Tee Tua Ba (TTB) over the actual number of police officers on the ground.

    TTB: As a commander, the first thing you want to know is how many men you have on the ground. You didn't know how many men were on the ground?
    LYL: No, but that was the first question I asked when I reached the ground.
    TTB: So was it a failure of you or a failure of the whole system?
    LYL: Is the honourable member asking for an opinion or asking a question?

    WERE YOU AWARE OF THE SITUATION?
    Was DAC Lu aware of the situation on the ground, asked Mr Tee and committee chairman G. Pannir Selvam (GPS).
    TTB: You were not waiting 10 minutes, you were waiting more than half an hour, and you said that five minutes, even five seconds is a long time... All this was happening and you said you did not know. Then I don't think you are aware of the situation on the ground.
    GPS: You did not know because you chose not to know.
    LYL: That is not correct, sir. If the few of us had gone in and taken a walk... my officers would be walking into a crowd. If you think of the tactics of a commander - to lead his only reserves to find out what was happening - are you trying to make the situation worse?
    GPS: That is your imagination, not reality.
    LYL: The fact is, this is all conjecture... There is nothing superior about one conjecture or the other. I had very reasonable belief that if I moved to engage, they would surround us.
    TTB: Let's put it this way. For half an hour, you were there holding the line. You must look at it from the perception of the rioters.
    LYL: I think the COI has rejected the fact that, how do you not make it worse?
    TTB: You have somehow made it worse by not taking any action.
    LYL: No, it might have precipitated the discharge of firearms.
    TTB: You don't know means there must be something wrong with the system.

    DID YOU READ THE CROWD WRONGLY?
    The committee compared DAC Lu's account to that of video evidence.
    TTB: We believe that you have read the crowd wrongly.
    GPS: The video I see paints a very different picture from what you tell us.
    LYL: Again the committee is using videos...
    GPS: That's because you brought up a video.
    LYL: The assertion is that I read the crowd wrongly, made the wrong judgment based on the video.
    My counter assertion is, I have not seen the video that night, so that information is not available to me.
    Now, three months after the riot... it is used to evaluate my decision making on the night of the riot, when I did not have that information.
    TTB: Your whole contention is, if you move forward, you'll be overwhelmed, your guns would have been taken from you...
    LYL: It is with the benefit of hindsight... I did not see the video that night, I did not have the benefit of hindsight.
    What I saw were hundreds of people overturning vehicles. Everything I saw suggested that if we had engaged them, they would have struck back.
    The committee is now using the video clip to say we read the crowd wrongly. I read the crowd the way I saw it that night, without the benefit of the video.

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