Thursday, December 28, 2006

Internet access in Singapore severely affected by Taiwan quake

SINGAPORE : Internet and phone services were disrupted in Singapore and the rest of Southeast Asia following Tuesday's earthquake in Taiwan.

The strong earthquake in Taiwan had damaged several undersea cables around the island.

Many internet users had difficulty accessing sites online, especially US sites.
The instant messaging service was also down.Internet users faced a long wait in downloading information on the internet.

Some e-commerce activities were also affected as a result of problems with internet and telecommunication systems.

Singapore internet service provider StarHub and Southeast Asia's largest telco SingTel say the earthquake caused disruptions to the undersea cables, resulting in slow internet access to some sites.

Both companies say internet traffic diversion and restoration works are currently underway. - CNA /ls

Sunday, December 24, 2006

NTUC propose CPF increase of 1.5%

Looks like our CPF is slated to recover, not by a lot though.

A mere 1.5% despite the "solid" economic recovery but it is not confirmed yet.

NTUC has repeated its call for the CPF to be restored in recent weeks but MOM is still reconsidering the case. Come on, it is not going to crash the economy and many employers have also stated that a 1% increase will have minimal impact on their expenses.

The government can cut the employer's CPF contributions during the economic downturn in such a swift and decisive manner, but yet so reluctant to increase it during the good times. Only all-round fare increases so far, and the best of all is the announcement of a GST increase of 2% for 2007.

It will be good for our government to heed the call of the NTUC top-brass, otherwise people are not going to swallow the bitter medicine of salary and CPF cuts so willingly come the next economic recession.

The social contract between the rich and poor is already straining at the seams. Current policies are still in favour of the rich, otherwise the GST increase will be scraped already. While we cannot "chase away" the rich people with uncompetitive personal and corporate taxes, i
t is time to do more for the poor and middle-class, instead of just talking.

Let's start with the CPF first...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan addresses crowd at Speakers' Corner

SINGAPORE : Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan and his supporters turned up at the Speakers' Corner for a planned march on Saturday.

Dr Chee addressed the crowd at Hong Lim Park and asked them to join him in a march to the Parliament House.

He walked to the junction of North Canal Road and South Bridge Road where he was advised by the police not to proceed with the march as outdoor demonstrations were not allowed.

Dr Chee and his supporters had been standing at the junction since Saturday morning.

The incident attracted the attention of passers-by and the media.

Police said they are investigating the matter.

They added that Dr Chee was still at the Speakers' Corner at 10.15pm, accompanied by his group of associates with a crowd of 20 bystanders.

- CNA /ls

Our maverick politician Chee Soon Juan seems to be getting a lot of coverage of late. If anything, he is courageous and persistent in exposing the "despotic" regime. However, is this kind of politics healthy for Singapore?

Well, i will comment at a later date. Too much work lately...

Friday, September 15, 2006

PTC approves fare hikes of 1.7%

SINGAPORE: From October, adult EZ-link fares for buses and trains will increase by 1 to 3 cents, which amounts to an overall fare hike of 1.7 percent. Senior citizen off-peak EZ-link fares will correspondingly increase by 1 cent.

There are no increases in case fares for buses, single trip tickets for trains, child and student fares and monthly student and NS concession passes. In August, public transport operators SMRT Corp and SBS Transit applied to the Public Transport Council for these increases.

The Council says that given the positive economic outlook, it assessed that there were no "extenuating circumstances" to vary or reject the proposal. It has approved a "tiered increase," depending on the distance travelled so that those who make short trips or transfers will pay less. The Council added that of all the bus and train trips, six in ten will see either no increase, or an increase of 1 cent.

This also works out to be a quarter of all commuters who will not see any increase at all. The government has pledged to help needy families adjust to the increase. In a news release, the government said it has lined up the schemes that are available, including the Citizens'
Consultative Committees ComCare Fund.

This is part of the ComCare Fund launched last July to ensure that needy Singaporeans are not left behind. Since then, $1.95m have been disbursed, which helped about 12,500 cases. The two public transport operators have also contributed $1m for Public Transport Vouchers, which will also be available through the CCCs.

Each voucher is worth $20 and can be used to buy or top up EZ-link cards, or to buy monthly concession passes. The National Trade Unions Congress (NTUC) has also come up with $1.6m in "NTUC Care and Share Vouchers" to help union members from low-income families to cope with increases in utilities and transport costs.

Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan commended these organisations for stepping in to help needy families. He said through the Comcare Fund, the government will also do its part. - CNA /dt

The PTC says the fare hikes are reasonable. Is that true?? The "commendable" effort these companies have gone to (giving out vouchers and capping the increase for child and students) are all for show as they have come under immense pressure from Singaporeans for their greed and profit-driven approach.

It is getting to the point of exasperation that every year we have to discuss this topic but yet the end result is the same, ie. the request from the transport operators are approved and fares are increased (only difference is the percentage of increase).

Seriously, the PTC is nothing but a paper organization which bows to the request of transport companies and protect their interests instead of standing up for Singaporeans. Questions should be asked of the need to raise fares if profits are already secured or when the price of crude oil falls. Has the overall service and travel time improved with these constant fare hikes?

The government should also explain why the bus sectors are not open up for more competition while the taxi companies are facing stiff competition in the over-saturated market. Rather than having a useless PTC, they should introduce more players into the scene and let market economics settle the pricing. With intense competition, transport companies may think twice about raising fares.

The current system allows for the freedom of transport companies to engage in useless multi-million dollars projects with no fear of affecting ther bottomline as they can just send in their request to increase fares and then pass on the cost/losses to passengers. Why is SBS still complaining about the EZLink system after spending millions of dollars on it?

If it boils down to cheaters amongst passengers, then why discard TransitLink in the first place when the problem is still not solved? By the way, how much of the extra 1-2 cents have they pocketed when they did not update the stations properly and most people are just too lazy to ask for refunds?

It is high time the government looks into the affordability of public transport for its citizens instead of pushing the blame to us that we want a world-class transport system and hence should pay for it.

It is not that Singaporeans want to have their cake and eat it. We are willing to pay for a reasonable standard of public transport and if fare increases needs to be implemented which results in improvement of services or due to external circumstances like rising crude oil prices, then it is alright.

But if the underlying reason of fare hikes is just to ensure profits/directors' bonuses and answer to shareholders, then shouldn't commuters have a right to be angry about the situation and demand a stop to this exploitation? The government will come out with their templated responses soon to appease the people but end of the day, nothing is going to change.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reflections on the influx of Foreign Talents

The controversy over foreign talents (FTs) in Singapore continues unabated even weeks after the National Day Rally.

PM Lee spoke at length on the merits of foreign talents in Singapore and how Singaporeans should help to assimilate the foreigners into our home land and make them feel welcome. Question is: should Singaporeans welcome FTs with open arms as what the government has called us to do?

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the influx of FTs provided they add value to the local industries. Also, for jobs shunned by Singaporeans (cleaners, maids, construction workers), there is a dire need of these foreigners to supply the workforce. In this global economy, we cannot afford to adopt a closed-door or protectionist policy especially when we do not have natural resources nor a large domestic base to be self-sufficient.

Sad but true, we depend on foreign investments to sustain our economy and we have to bend over backwards at times to the needs of these investors who can shift their operations elsewhere.
So, painful as it may be, FTs are here to stay and we have to accept it.

However, the government should be conscious of the fact that not all FTs are good for the economic or social well-being of Singapore. Singaporeans should not be expected to follow the same salary scale as FTs who can do the same job as us (also put in longer hours) but for only half the pay.

We have a life-long commitment to our home-land given that our roots are here but for the foreign workers, they are under no obligation to serve or sacrifice for Singapore when the going gets tough. When times are bad, they will move on while Singaporeans weather the storm and "bite the bullets" to steer the economy out of the doldrums.

The government laments about the population decline and hope that we can reproduce more to replace ourselves. Hello, this is not a factory production line where you can place orders and expect deliveries in a period of time.

There is the ever rising cost of living to contend with but the rate of increase for our salaries are more or less stagnant these days with the influx of FTs. It is difficult to sustain oneself as it is, not to mention the duties of taking care of parents and our children.

The financial responsibilites that come with the setting up of a family and having sufficient retirement funds are major concerns for Singaporeans while most of the FTs are free of such worries as their families are not here. They can keep a very low cost of living and remit much of their money back home.

The current job insecurities is also worrrying as more and more industries prefer contract workers rather than perm staff and that is not conducive to starting a family.

Singaporeans are expected to lay their lives down for the nation but the government does not feel obliged to look after our interests when it comes to employment porspects or medical benefits. Ever since WWII, when Singapore fell to the Japanese and our colonial masters deserted us, the government has resolved that the task of defending Singapore be left to Singaporeans as only we can be the masters of our own destiny.

While we do not close the door on foreign talents, the government should not take us heartlanders for granted and then count on us to defend the country against external threats. If the people feels that there is nothing much to fight for here, Singapore will be in a very vulnerable situation.

The social effects of attracting FTs to top-up the shortfall of talents and compensate for our declining birth-rate will be seen in a few years time. As far as i am concerned, instead of home, Singapore will only be a transit point for many people and the future of the third or fourth generation of Singaporeans is going to be very uncertain (despite the rosy picture the govt has painted), as they are going to face much more competition than us now and while the cost of living continues to go up and UP...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Unveiling Ceremony of World Bank Photography Exhibition

Speech by Dr Lee Boon Yang , Minister For Information, Communications and the Arts, at the Unveiling Ceremony of World Bank “Imagine A World Without Poverty” Photography Exhibition

Mr Peter Stephens,
Regional Communications Manager,
World Bank Singapore Office
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen.

Good evening,

1. It gives me great pleasure to join you here for the World Bank photography exhibition “Imagine a World Without Poverty”.

2. This exhibition is an inspiring and artistic prelude to the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that will take place next week in Singapore. We are of course delighted and honoured to host the distinguished delegates and friends from all over the world for the Boards of Governors of IMF and WB Group Annual Meetings.

3. The World Bank is one of the world's largest sources of development assistance. It is focused on assisting developing countries achieve stable, sustainable and equitable growth. The World Bank works to reduce poverty worldwide. Through its numerous initiatives, the World Bank has helped many of the poorest people and poorest countries.

4. While most of Asia and many developed countries are experiencing growth, progress and prosperity, not all countries are enjoying economic development and growth. For example poverty is still a serious problem in Africa. Some 300 million in Africa live on less than one dollar a day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% of children die before their fifth birthday. Every 30 second, a child dies of malaria in Africa. More than a hundred million children never go to school and half of all children in South Asia are under-nourished. Worldwide, five million people die each year from contaminated water and poor sanitation. Clearly a world without poverty is still a challenge which the global community cannot ignore.

5. It was not that long ago that Singapore also faced many of the challenges faced by today’s under-developed countries. When we became independent more than 40 years ago, we had poor economic infrastructure, inadequate education, high unemployment and little foreign investments. The government quickly identified these weaknesses and set about with political will and determination to correct these deficiencies. The World Bank played a part by supporting early infrastructural projects such as a power station, expanding the telecommunication network and upgrading the National University of Singapore,

6. We appreciate the assistance from the World Bank. They had helped us to improve the life of our people and created more opportunities for Singaporeans. Today we have achieved sustainable progress and prosperity for all Singaporeans. Key social needs such as education, health care, housing and employment are met by an extensive array of government programmes and services. Singapore therefore shares in the World Bank and IMF’s vision of helping countries to develop and improve the life of their citizens. As a member of the international community, albeit a small country with limited resources, we will play our part in support of countries embarking on their economic development and where our own experience may provide useful guidance to help them overcome poverty and create opportunities.

7. The world today is now a much smaller place. Globalisation, increasing trade linkages and the ease and affordability of travel are bringing countries and regions closer together. We live in the era of the global village with instance communication. Technology such as infocomm and the internet serve to empower millions throughout the world. If we work together, it is possible that one day instead of “imagining a world without poverty” we may be able to “live in a world without poverty.”

8. I understand that this photo exhibition will be held throughout the duration of the IMF-World Bank meetings. This is indeed timely. Given that the world’s financial leaders, media and civil society organisations will gather in Singapore, this exhibition is a powerful reminder that poverty exists. This exhibition highlights to Singaporeans and visitors the seriousness of poverty and how these can impact the world.

9. In closing, I would like to thank the World Bank Singapore Office for organising this exhibition. It is a most commendable effort to reach out to Singaporeans and visitors. It will create awareness of the challenges confronting the world’s poor.

10. It is now my pleasure to declare open the World Bank exhibition entitled “Imagine A World without Poverty.”

11. Thank you.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Labour Force Survey to involve 8,500 households

The Manpower Ministry will conduct a Labour Force Survey from 24 August-7 October.

It will involve 8,500 households over a two-week period.

The purpose of the survey is to collect data on employment, unemployment and other economic characteristics of the population.

This is to help the government in the planning and formulation of manpower-related policies.

The survey will be done through the internet, telephone or face-to-face interviews.

Selected households will be notified by post.

Data to be collected include citizenship, age and education.

All information collected will be kept confidential and used for compiling statistics only. - CNA/ir

After the general household survey, we have the labour force survey coming up next. Looks like the government is really concerned about the welfare of Singaporeans. No doubt, all these data will be used to "improve" our livelihood and employment prospects.

Actually, all these surveys are nothing much than efforts for the government to trumpet its achievements or to serve as justifications for the next round of price hikes.

Never mind, just go ahead, since the government want to convince us that economy is booming and the good days are here again (despite the increasing job insecurities and lesser purchasing power of average Singaporeans) so everybody should just rejoice and feel proud that the government coffers are bursting at the seams...