Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wage increases of 15-20% this year for some sectors: survey

SINGAPORE: Workers can expect salary increases of between 15 and 20 per cent for some sectors this year.

Global recruitment firm Robert Walters said these sectors include aerospace, oil and gas, chemical, fast moving consumer goods and financial services.

However, in its latest salary survey released Tuesday, Robert Walters points out such wage increases would be unrealistic within areas of operations facing slower growth.

During uncertain times, professionals are less likely to change jobs.

Thus, a good salary increase is needed to attract top talent for selected niche roles.

Andrea Ross, Robert Walters' managing director for Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, said: "If an individual is job hopping every single year they shouldn't be expecting 15 to 20 per cent increase. It does come to those individuals who have stayed and gained a lot of experience in an organisation for at least two to four years."

For example, the firm said a tax accountant earning S$65,000 per annum, can expect a salary increase by at least S$10,000 per annum.

Other job positions that could see wage increases include business analysts and payroll specialists.

However, observers said salary increases of 15 and 20 per cent is an ambitious forecast.

Associate Professor Randolph Tan, head of the Business Programme at SIM University, said: "I think with the impending slowdown it's probably more realistic to think of a figure slightly below that. My own forecast is that the average real wage increase for the labour force in the coming year could be between 3 and 8 per cent and this is across the board for the entire labour force."

Bonuses are expected to be smaller this year.

The survey highlights that international banks are seeing a decline of between 25 and 40 per cent.

More companies are also becoming aware of the cost of replacing experienced employees. Therefore, they are putting more effort into retaining top talent. As a result, counter-offers are expected to become increasingly prevalent.

"HR departments are a lot more innovative on how to retain talent, on how to attract talent because you have to put different incentives on board for certain individuals... especially the younger generation to keep them motivated, whether that is work life balance (or) a certain way of remunerating them throughout the year as opposed to a bonus... Are they able to match the 15 to 20 per cent externally?" said Ross.

Robert Walters also expects many companies to be cautiously optimistic this year.

They will be careful in assessing global economic uncertainty as a factor in making headcount decisions.

S'poreans owe public hospitals $40m in unpaid bills

SINGAPORE - Singapore public hospitals were owed $110 million in outstanding patient debts as of end-2011, said Minister of Health Mr Gan Kim Yong.

This is up from the total arrears owed by patients that exceeded two months on a cumulative basis of $75 million as of end-2008, and include arrears brought forward from prior years.

For 2011 bills alone, there were 136,000 bills outstanding for two months or more, translating to $48 million in total arrears. More than 80 per cent of these outstanding bills were incurred by Singaporean patients, he added.

Mr Gan was replying In a written answer to a question from Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NMP) Ms Lina Chiam.

These figures also include patients who are paying their outstanding bills by instalments or awaiting assessment for financial assistance by the hospitals.

Mr Gan said that while more than 96 per cent of patients settle their bills within two months and a significant portion of the debts are eventually recovered or paid up over time, there is still a significant amount of bad debt written off each year.

The total amount written off in FY2008, FY2009 and FY2010 was $27 million, $26 million and $37 million respectively.

As for what means hospitals take to recover the debt, Mr Gan said reminders will generally be sent through phone or mail if they do not settle their bills within a month.

There will be subsequent reminders in the following months, but if there is still no response, some hospitals may refer the case to an authorised debt collection agency to collect the arrears on their behalf, he added.

However, if a patient expresses problems paying his or her hospital bill, the hospital will assess the case and explore options for financial assistance, such as instalment payments or Medifund assistance, he said.

MP urges more help for low-wage workers

SINGAPORE: Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Lily Neo has called for the Workforce Income Supplement Scheme to be tweaked to help low-wage workers.

Dr Neo said those who earn about S$1,200 per month will need at least twice the present average WIS allocation despite GST vouchers.

She said the scheme should be reviewed yearly, based on Average Monthly Household Expenditure (AMHE) of the lowest 20 per cent of households.

Dr Neo suggested setting up a permanent-system approach to tailor assistance for individual families based on their needs.

"This is set up for the purpose of good take-up rate and to improve the long-term outcome of such families through hands-on intervention and follow-up," Dr Neo said.

"This will help these parents plan a better life for themselves and for their children and to increase their children's educational attainment."

Meanwhile, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Yeo Guat Kwang raised the issue of encouraging employment among low-income earners.

Mr Yeo stressed one area that needs to be looked at is the social responsibility of government service buyers.

"I urge all government agencies to set a good example as service buyers and support the Best Sourcing Initiatives advocated by the Labour Movement," Mr Yeo said.

"When outsourcing work, they should adhere to best sourcing practices. Commonly, when tendering for a contract, to get ahead of the competition, vendors are likely to offer a lower price -- at the expense of their workers. The lowest quote often suppresses the wages of contract workers.

"For example, at MOE's (Ministry of Education) schools, many of the cleaners' salaries remain around S$700, unchanged from many years ago.

"This is not fair to the workers. Public agencies should walk the talk and take the lead. I am pleased to learn that PAP (People's Action Party) Town Councils are taking the lead and now, thanks to skills upgrading and an overhaul of the tender system, their cleaner have seen a 30 per cent pay increase since 2008."

Mr Yeo also urged the government to consider increasing personal tax reliefs and reliefs for spouses and dependents.

He said he hopes the government will continue to ensure sufficient medical insurance coverage for all.

He said: "The top-ups and GST vouchers for Medisave are good moves, but by no means sufficient.

"I believe MOH (Ministry of Health) should continue to restructure MediShield coverage so as to protect more and ensure it does indeed help shield Singaporeans in times of crisis and illness.

"We should also look into how we could help the eight per cent who do not even have Medisave."

Monday, February 27, 2012

More people seeking financial aid from CDCs

More needy people are applying for ComCare funds, with a 14 per cent increase in applications from 2010 to last year.

The five community development councils (CDCs) received 69,600 applications for help last year, up from 60,900 in 2010.

The increase was due to more people becoming eligible for the schemes, as well as greater awareness of available help, the CDCs said in a statement on Monday.

Slower economic growth may also have resulted in more applications in the final quarter of last year, said South West District Mayor Amy Khor.


'We are ready to step up our assistance efforts should there be more residents needing help due to an economic slowdown.'
Dr Amy Khor, Mayor of South West District

Common sleeping pills linked with higher death risk

PARIS: Commonly-prescribed sleeping pills are linked to a more-than fourfold risk of premature death, according to an American study published in the journal BMJ Open on Monday.

These medications were also associated at higher doses with a 35-percent increased risk of cancer as compared with non-users, but the reason for this is unclear.

Doctors led by Daniel Kripke of the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Center in La Jolla, California, looked at the medical records of more than 10,500 adults living in Pennsylvania who were taking prescribed sleeping aids.

These were compared against more than 23,600 counterparts, matched for age, health and background, who did not take these drugs.

The study ranged over two and a half years, and looked at widely-prescribed sleeping pills, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepines, barbiturates and sedatives.

The overall number of deaths that occurred during this period was small in both groups, being less than a thousand in total.

But there was a striking difference in mortality, the researchers found.

Those who took between 18 and 132 doses of the pills per year were 4.6 times likelier to die than the "control" group.

Even those who took less than 18 annual doses were more than 3.5 times likelier to die.

"Rough order-of-magnitude estimates... suggest that in 2010, hypnotics (sleeping pills) may have been associated with 320,000 to 507,000 excess deaths in the USA alone," says the study.

Details of how individuals died were not disclosed, and the authors stress that they have found a statistical link but not a cause.

But they sound the alarm, given the vast number of people who take these drugs.

"We estimate that approximately six to 10 percent of US adults used these drugs in 2010 and the percentages may be higher in parts of Europe," they write.

The average age of the people in the study was 54. The researchers say they took into account factors that could skew the comparison between the two groups, such as whether an individual smoked or had a pre-existing health condition.

However, they were unable to take depression, anxiety and other emotional factors into account, as these diagnoses are kept secret under Pennsylvania law.

Previous research into sleeping pills has found a link with car accidents and serious falls, "night-eating syndromes" of binging on food, regurgitation in the oesophagus and peptic ulcer disease.

Singaporeans drawn to international schools here

A year at any of the three home-grown international schools costs more than $20,000 in fees - 10 times the cost at an independent school, and 80 times that at a mainstream secondary school.

But anyone who once doubted that Singapore parents would pay such fees now has to revise that impression.

At Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) International and Hwa Chong International, half the students are Singaporeans or permanent residents; at St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International, the figure is 60 per cent.

Officials from these schools say they have no shortage of Singaporean students; they have even had to turn some away in recent years. 

Annual fees

  • Home-grown international schools: More than $20,000
  • Independent schools: 10 times less
  • Mainstream secondary schools: 80 times less

  • Anglo-Chinese School International: 50 per cent of students
  • Hwa Chong International: 50 per cent
  • St Joseph's Institution International: 60 per cent

  • Contact me here to get a comprehensive planning for your children's education fund.

    NATAS fair rakes in $100m in collective sales

    THE Natas Travel 2012 fair welcomed a total of 62,871 visitors over three days since last Friday, achieving $100 million in collective sales, said a statement yesterday.

    The top five destinations were Europe, China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea respectively.

    The next Natas travel fair, Holidays 2012, will be held in August.

    For Travel Insurance, go here to get a fast quote.

    Colorectal-cancer cases on the rise

    COLORECTAL-CANCER cases are on the rise, with 8,206 cases diagnosed over five consecutive years ending in 2010, according to findings revealed yesterday.

    This is a nearly 4 per cent increase from the 7,909 cases diagnosed from 2005 to 2009.

    Also, nine in 10 diagnosed with the cancer of the large intestine between 2006 and 2010 were aged 50 and above.

    These statistics, from the Singapore Cancer Registry Interim Report, were highlighted yesterday at a media conference for the 11th Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

    Associate Professor Tang Choong Leong, head of Singapore General Hospital's department of colorectal surgery, said there are many reasons for the rise in colorectal cancer.

    But diet could be a contributing factor for the cancer, which has the highest number of diagnosed cases for men and women combined.

    "When people take a lot of red meat and very little fruit and vegetables, it increases the risk of cancer," said Prof Tang.

    He added that the chance of getting colorectal cancer increases significantly for people aged 50 and above, so more cases will likely surface as Singapore's population ages.

    Despite the increase in cases, the incidence of colorectal cancer per 100,000 people in a year fell slightly by 1.4 points to hit 39.7 for males for 2006 to 2010, compared to the five-year period before.
    The rate for females also fell 1.2 points to 28.1.

    But Prof Tang said that it is too early to tell if this signals the start of a fall in colorectal-cancer rates, noting that more studies have to be done.

    As there are no symptoms in the early stages of colorectal cancer, experts said regular screening can help to detect the disease early.

    Statistics show that those diagnosed at stage one of the cancer have an 80 per cent chance of surviving for at least five years. This drops to 7 per cent when diagnosis is done at stage four.

    People aged 50 and above are also encouraged to undergo the Faecal Occult Blood Test annually which involves collecting a stool sample and sending it to the Singapore Cancer Society for tests.

    The society will refer those who tested positive to a hospital for check-ups.

    As part of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the society is holding two roadshows and working with polyclinics and Guardian retail stores to distribute the stool test kits.

    Public forums on colorectal cancer will also be held at the end of next month.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012

    Pastamania's recipe for success

    FOR Pastamania's managing director, Andrew Kwan, quality people form the backbone of every successful company.

    Mr Kwan's experience at the casual restaurant chain proves this. Despite being unfamiliar with the food and beverage (F&B) business, the gutsy man made the decision to invest in Pastamania in 2002, four years after it was set up.

    Then, the company had two food court operations, one at Scotts Picnic and another at Lau Pa Sat.

    Things were 'tough going', which spurred Mr Kwan to reinvent the brand's image.

    'Food courts generally don't allow you to brand . . . and we felt that we should go after the younger crowd, the working executives, the women folk in particular,' he says.

    He fondly recalls how a devoted team of employees played a vital role in Pastamania's early days.

    'We had a young team of management staff who, without an extra cent, would have to work at night. It was our due to them that we were prepared to put money behind developing a new concept.'

    Changes that were made to Pastamania's concept include the colour of the brand logo - from green and black to a more eye-catching bright red and yellow. It also positioned itself as a brand that provides affordable and authentic Italian cuisine.

    The hard work paid off.

    Today, Pastamania has 28 outlets in Singapore and 17 outlets spread across Asia and the Middle East.
    And to Mr Kwan, this shows that what's important in running a business is the people behind it.

    'Many people focus on the product and if you have the wrong people doing it, your product will never truly be unique, never truly be breathtaking, so finding good people is key,' he says.

    Mr Kwan was previously part of Globamatrix Holdings, where he oversaw operations in the solar control window film business.

    On his decision to enter the vastly different food and beverage (F&B) industry, Mr Kwan noted that it was purely coincidental. 'It wasn't by design, it was by providence really. A mutual friend put me in touch with the former founder of Pastamania . . . In January 2002, we consummated the deal and got into F&B,' he recalls.

    While being relatively unfamiliar with the industry could be perceived as a major hurdle in penetrating such a competitive sector, Mr Kwan believes that this inexperience may have been an unseen advantage. He says: 'When we walked into this, we had no experience whatsoever and maybe that was a plus because we didn't carry any preconceptions of how a F&B (company) should be run.'

    According to Mr Kwan, Pastamania managed to see a 24.8 per cent revenue compound annual growth rate from FY2002 to FY2011, despite crises like the Sars outbreak in 2003 and the financial meltdown of 2008. He believes that its resilience is due to its positioning in the market.

    The cost of a meal at Pastamania can be 'as little as a third of a sit-down fine-dining Italian restaurant', says Mr Kwan. In an uncertain economic climate, conservative consumers would tend to shy away from spending an extra $50-80 on a meal, making Pastamania attractive to them.

    Mr Kwan believes that Pastamania can fill this niche market for affordable Italian dining. Although a wide array of affordable Asian cuisine is available, the market for affordable and authentic Western fare is relatively untapped, he notes. 'I think there is a market for that, so long as we continue to deliver good quality ingredients, well-prepared, and quick service all together at an affordable price,' he says.

    In remaining true to the fundamentals of the brand - using good quality ingredients to create authentic Italian food at affordable prices - Mr Kwan staunchly believes in sourcing high-quality produce.

    He says that it was a common misconception that cheap food is synonymous with low quality. He emphasises that Pastamania imports most of its ingredients from Europe and the United States. Its costs, however, are kept down by buying in volume and economies of scale.

    Besides this, Pastamania's success is also the result of Mr Kwan surrounding himself with trustworthy and capable staff.

    'I think it's people who will drive programmes that will create winning products. When you find the right people, everything else falls into place, the programmes and the plans will all come out and then from there you get really great products.'

    It is clear from the way he speaks of his business relationships that trust, chemistry, and people played a key role in his decision to acquire Bakematrix - Pastamania has a 60 per cent stake in Bakematrix - which in turn owns the bakery chains Swissbake and Swisstreats.

    When asked what the rationale behind this move was, he says that it did not begin with a rationale, but was a result of him 'clicking' with Swissbake's managing director Xavier Baumgartner, who was introduced to him by a mutual friend.

    'I found him to be very likeable and I think the make- up is quite similar. We may look different but I think our business thinking is quite aligned. Above all else, the people running the business must have chemistry. Otherwise they will always be looking behind (each other's) backs as a partner thinking if he is doing anything that is crooked, or we're constantly fighting over fundamental ways of doing business and that's very unproductive,' he says.

    The acquisition - which is expected to generate a combined revenue of $65 million this year compared to $53 million in total unaudited revenue last year - is more of a growth-oriented rather than cost-driven exercise, according to Mr Kwan, who has emphasised that he does not envisage any job cuts.

    When it comes to his staff, Mr Kwan strongly believes that it is important to help them reach their full potential - a belief that is aligned with Pastamania's corporate value to strive to develop its people to 'be the best that they can be'.

    It is particularly surprising for a businessman like Mr Kwan to speak about qualitative rather than quantitative outcomes. He believes that one of the most satisfying outcomes of the partnership with Swissbake was the opportunity for staff to be cross-trained in different culinary skills, as well as the morale boost and enthusiasm it generated.

    'Some of the chefs on my side were very excited when we told them we were going to have a plant tour at Swissbake. Everybody was volunteering because they said this is a new area for them, so I think we have, by this combination, rejuvenated and created a lot of excitement at the companies,' he says.

    Currently, Pastamania employs about 600 staff while Swissbake has over 200. Mr Kwan says he hopes to add a further 300 employees, but that the biggest constraint would be finding people of good quality to join the organisation. He also hopes that the two businesses will continue to grow together, although he has slightly different aspirations for each.

    He sees domestic growth as a key focus area for Swissbake in the next few years and hopes to add to its existing 32 retail points in Singapore. 'I really hope to see Swissbake available everywhere, even to neighbourhood areas . . . I want to take away the mindset that 'Oh this is gonna be expensive' but it's not, it is affordable.'

    For Pastamania, Mr Kwan hopes to continue expansion in regional markets and expects the first Pastamania location to open in the United Kingdom in the third quarter of this year.

    He says: 'We have come to a point whereby our footprint (domestically) is not yet saturated I would say, but we are starting to look overseas in a more serious way. (We hope to) keep ourselves nimble and fleet footed like a small company, but punch like a heavyweight with the enlarged resources of an upsized corporation.'

    He tells maid: Complete marathon and $2k is yours

    He threw his maid a challenge: Complete a marathon and you’ll get $2,000.

    And Mr Tan Kok Sing kept his promise when Ms Leah Martinez, 45, completed the 42km Standard Chartered Marathon three years ago in seven hours.

    “It wasn’t easy as I had put on a lot of weight at that time,” Miss Martinez said.

    Having caught the running bug, she has gone on to complete three more marathons without the need for monetary incentives.

    Her only training for the marathons is the regular exercise she does with the Tiong Bahru Joggers club.
    The Filipina began working for Mr Tan, whom she calls “uncle”, in 1999 .

    Mr Tan takes her along when he jogs and plays basketball every morning.

    She even has both the official blue and white Tiong Bahru Joggers club singlets, which Mr Tan prints for the members.

    “You can really see the progress she has made in her fitness. She can run so fast now,” said Mr Tan.

    Mr Tan, who is also the founder of Tiong Bahru Joggers club, is a fitness fanatic who jogs and plays basketball regularly despite his age.

    Retirees play a mean game of ball

    Mr Tan Kok Sing, 86, a retired director of an import-export company, exercises regularly and gets his friends and neighbours to take up basketball by buying them basketballs out of his own savings.

    Mr Tan’s enthusiasm for sports and leading a healthy lifestyle was triggered when, at the age of 35, he was afflicted with rheumatism in his knees.

    His condition improved after he took up jogging, and he even formed a jogging club, called Tiong Bahru Garden Joggers, which now has around 300 members.

    The combined age of the members of the basketball club he founded may well exceed 1,000 years.
    But it does not stop them from playing the game every weekday morning.

    Members of the Tiong Bahru Joggers club, ranging in age from 45 to 87, have been exercising and playing basketball for more than three decades now.

    And they play a mean game, with such moves as three pointers, lay-ups, rebounds and fast breaks down the wings.

    The club was started in 1977 by Mr Tan, and was initially only for jogging.

    The club has 50 members, most of them retirees, and they follow an exercise regimen that would put some young people to shame.

    Every day at 5.30am, they meet at Tiong Bahru Park for a warm-up, followed by a jog of between 4km and 7km. After that, they do exercises such as shuttle runs and sit-ups.

    And there are cash incentives for transcending one’s physical limits in the club.

    Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Tan said: “We challenge ourselves. If anyone achieves 30 sit-ups under a minute or under 12 seconds for the shuttle run, I will award them $20 NTUC FairPrice vouchers.”

    He buys the vouchers out of his own pocket, from his life savings, which he described asdecent.

    After the exercise regimen, at about 7am, those interested will play basketball, after which they would have a hearty breakfast at a nearby coffee shop at 8am.

    On average, there are 15 basketball players a day. Their only day off is when it rains.

    Birth of the basketball idea

    Mr Tan’s enthusiasm for sports and leading a healthy lifestyle was triggered when, at the age of 35, he was afflicted with rheumatism in his knees.

    His condition improved after he took up jogging, and he even formed a jogging club, called Tiong Bahru Garden Joggers, which now has around 300 members

    It used to be solely a jogging club until 20 years ago, when it struck Mr Tan that basketball was another sport that his friends would enjoy.

    “Soon, more and more people joined in. Over the years, there have been different people leaving and joining, due to them shifting houses and other reasons,” said Mr Tan, whose nickname is “Lao Chen” or “Old Tan” in Chinese.

    If that’s not enough, the club meets for a jog to Sentosa every Sunday, covering distances that vary from 6km to 12km.

    Slower runners start at 5am, while the faster ones set off an hour later.

    Mr Tan is a firm believer in the wonders of exercise and even gets his maid to participate actively in it.

    Retiree Mr Gay Hai Hing, 76, the team’s unofficial basketball coach, also agreed that exercising is crucial for health.

    “I was at Henderson Community Club when I saw Mr Tan shooting hoops on his own at the basketball court, so I decided to join him and have been here ever since,” he said.

    Mr Teo Kee Huat, a 68-year-old member of the club, said basketball is not one of his hobbies, but he enjoys the company of his club members, so he joins in.

    Mr Tan hopes to inspire others through his involvement in sports. His message is simple: One need not be handicapped by age.

    However, his children are not totally convinced that the game is suitable for him.

    Fear of falls

    “I had a fall some time back and spent five days in the hospital with abrasions on my left arm and a swollen left eye,” Mr Teo revealed.

    His elder son Wilson, 39, self-employed, explained that he is worried his father might get injured.

    “Old people’s bones are so brittle. Sometimes, exercising can do them more harm than good,” said the younger Mr Teo.

    But he is glad that his father is putting in effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    Mr Leslie Ng, a physiotherapist at sports injury clinic One Physiotherapy, explained that the elderly have more wear and tear in their joints, and loss of elasticity in their tendons and muscles.

    He stressed that to avoid muscle and joint sprains, it is important they spend more time warming up and stretching before and after sporting activities.

    A benefit of exercising into old age is that it helps maintain muscle mass, joint flexibility and overall fitness.

    “The main benefit would have to be that they (the elderly) are exercising the most important muscle in their body, their heart.” Mr Ng added.

    Pay boost seen for health-care professionals

    Good news for health- care workers - the Ministry of Health will be looking into a salary review for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.

    Speaking on the sidelines of a health-care career fair yesterday, Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health, said the review is "to attract more people to the profession".

    She added that more details will be revealed in the upcoming Committee of Supply debate. Dr Khor also revealed that the ministry is looking to hire 6,400 more nurses, and 1,800 more allied health professionals and support staff, by 2020.

    Currently, there are about 32,000 nurses and 2,000 allied health professionals here.

    The additional manpower is to help staff an increase in the number of hospital beds - 1,900 acute-hospital beds and 1,800 community-hospital beds, to be added by 2020.

    Dr Khor said: "Because of the rapidly ageing population and the increase in chronic- disease burden, there will be increasing demand for health- care services."

    The Healthcare - You Make A Difference Careers Fair, held at *Scape, saw 50 nurses and allied health professionals, including those from the National Healthcare Group (NHG), sharing information about their jobs.

    At the fair, eight allied health professions were showcased, including medical social work, respiratory therapy and speech therapy.

    Organisers said that the eight professions were chosen as there was greatest demand for manpower in these professions. They also wanted to raise awareness about some of the lesser- known careers.

    "A health-care career is not just nursing. If you ask a lot of people, they may not know much about the allied health professions," said Ms Olivia Tay, NHG's chief human-resource officer.

    She added that NHG intends to hire another 110 allied health professionals this year.

    Ms Tan Herng Lee, president of the Association of Respiratory Therapists (Singapore), said: "Our profession is rather niche, not so mainstream, so not many are aware of it."

    She estimates that respiratory therapists, who help patients with breathing problems, number only about 60 here.

    Besides being relatively unknown, some professions also suffer from misconceptions.

    Ms Kang Xinyi, 24, a medical social worker at the Institute of Mental Health, said: "People equate medical social workers with volunteers who are not paid. But, in fact, this is a recognised profession."

    Among the more than 1,100 jobseekers who attended, there were those interested in a mid- career switch, such as Ms Leng Xiuying, 28.

    Said Ms Leng, an education training consultant: "Health care is a real concern of the future and there looks to be many job opportunities. I'm looking for a viable career option for the long term."

    Saturday, February 25, 2012

    Subsidised medical transport on MediWheels for needy

    SINGAPORE: A new programme has been launched to offer needy residents in the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang constituency more options to move around.

    Called MediWheels, the programme aims to provide a highly-subsidised and affordable community medical transport service to frail, needy elderly and residents with special needs.

    They will pay S$5 to S$30 for a two-way trip.

    MediWheels also includes a mobility scooter rental scheme to enhance community interaction for needy residents with mobility limitations, and a medical concierge service where volunteers will befriend and also accompany elderly on their medical appointments.

    The programme is funded by Central Singapore CDC and sponsors.

    It will undergo a six-month trial in Ang Mo Kio-Hougang constituency before rolling out to Ang Mo Kio GRC and Sengkang West SMC .

    MediWheels was launched on Sunday by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong , who is also the Adviser to Ang Mo Kio GROs, Sam Tan, Mayor of Central Singapore District and Yeo Guat Kwang, Adviser to Ang Mo Kio-Hougang GROs at the AAC Intergeneration Carnival.

    "Many residents with elderly parents tell me that they find it difficult to transport their wheelchair-bound elderly parents for their medical check-ups. Apart from the financial cost of taking a taxi, they also have to take leave from work. This prompted me to think about how we can help - not just in providing transport and medical escort services - but also in ensuring the safety and well-being of the elderly," said Mr Yeo, in explaining the conception of the MediWheels programme.

    Going forward, to provide additional social support and care, grassroots leaders and volunteers from Ang Mo Kio-Hougang constituency will help accompany seniors for their medical appointments and relay doctor's instructions to family members under a medical concierge service.

    This way, family members need not apply for leave and can rest assured their elderly parents or loved ones are well taken care of.

    Needy residents will also benefit from the MediWheels mobility scooter rental scheme.

    For just S$10 a month, needy residents with mobility limitations can rent motorised wheelchairs and mobility scooters to go out of their house and move around in the neighbourhood.

    "This enhances their interaction with the community, and increases their independence and confidence", said Mr Yeo.

    Each scooter costs between S$1,500 to S$3,000.

    One such beneficiary of MediWheels is 56-year-old Tan Kim Seng, an amputee.

    After his leg was amputated, he fell into depression as he could no longer move around freely and felt trapped in the house.

    With the mobility scooter component of MediWheels, he can now rent a mobility scooter and look forward to zipping around in the neighbourhood, catching up with his friends and regaining his independence.

    The Central Singapore CDC is funding the MediWheels programme for S$100,000.

    Lipsticks with the most amount of lead

    IS YOUR lipstick exposing you to unnecessary amounts of lead?

    A recent study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that 400 different lipstick types - including brand names like L'Oreal, Covergirl and NARS - tested positive for the substance.

    The average amount of lead found in the 400 lipsticks was 1.11 parts per million, with L'Oreal's "Color Sensational" Pink Petal testing at a high of 7.19 parts per million.

    By comparison, children's products sold in the US are forbidden to have more than 100 parts per million of lead.

    The FDA says there is no cause for alarm. "Lipstick, as a product intended for topical use with limited absorption, is ingested only in very small quantities," FDA said in its report.

    "The lead levels we found are within the limits recommended by other public health authorities for lead in cosmetics, including lipstick."

    Still, non-profit group Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wants the FDA to set a limit for how much lead lipstick can contain and to study whether there are any dangers to having the substance applied to human lips, particularly the lips of children and pregnant women.

    "Recognising that there is no safe level of lead exposure, we need to be protecting women and children from all levels of exposure," said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the campaign - a non-profit coalition of environmental- and cancer-prevention groups.

    Find out which are the 10 lipsticks with the most amount of lead:

    #1. Maybelline, Color Sensational, Pink Petal: 7.19 parts per million

    #2. L'Oréal, Colour Riche, Volcanic: 7.00 parts per million

    #3. NARS, Semi-Matte, Red Lizard: 4.93 parts per million

    #4. Cover Girl Queen Collection, Vibrant Hues Color, Ruby Remix: 4.92 parts per million

    #5. NARS, Semi-Matte, Funny Face: 4.89 parts per million

    #6. L'Oréal, Colour Riche, Tickled Pink: 4.45 parts per million

    #7. L'Oréal, Intensely Moisturizing Lipcolor, Heroic: 4.41 parts per million

    #8. Cover Girl, Continuous Color, Warm Brick: 4.28 parts per million

    #9. Maybelline, Color Sensational, Mauve Me: 4.23 parts per million

    #10. Stargazer, Lipstick, 103: 4.12 parts per million         

    Eating citrus lowers women's stroke risk: study

    WASHINGTON - Women who regularly eat citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit may have a lower risk of blood-clot related stroke, according to a US study published on Thursday.

    Researchers looked at 14 years of data from a US nurses survey that included 69,622 women who reported what they ate, including details on fruit and vegetable consumption, every four years.

    The aim was to study the effects of flavonoids - a class of compounds present in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate and red wine - on health.

    While total flavonoid consumption across all six main types found in the typical US diet did not show a benefit in preventing stroke, those who ate lots of oranges and grapefruit and their derived juices showed a 19 per cent lower stroke risk than their counterparts in the study.

    "Studies have shown higher fruit, vegetable and specifically vitamin C intake is associated with reduced stroke risk," said Aedin Cassidy, lead author of the study in the Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

    "Flavonoids are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect," added Cassidy, a professor of nutrition at Norwich Medical School in the University of East Anglia.

    The researchers called for more studies to better understand the apparent link, and urged women to consume oranges and grapefruit rather than their juices to avoid high sugar content from drink additives.

    Previous research has suggested that citrus-derived flavonoids may help prevent weight gain and metabolic syndrome which can lead to Type 2 diabetes and higher risk of heart disease.

    Low-income patients to get 75% hospital subsidy

    SINGAPORE - Lower-income patients will receive a 75 per cent government subsidy in community hospitals.

    Those above the median income, who previously did not receive any subsidy, will now receive a 20 per cent to 50 per cent subsidy.

    Subsidies for nursing homes, day care and rehabilitation facilities and home-based care packages will also be raised so that more in the middle-income group can benefit.

    About 80 per cent of elderly will qualify for these subsidies.

    For example, a middle-income family with an elderly parent at a private nursing home will see its costs reduced to $1,700 from $2,800 with these new subsidies.

    A $120 grant per month will also be offered to families hiring a foreign domestic helper to help care for elderly family members who have severe dementia, or are immobile and unable to care for themselves.

    This is on top of the $95 concession in the Foreign Domestic Worker Levy that all households with elderly persons will continue to enjoy.

    Further, home modifications such as grab bars and anti-slip treatment for bathroom tiles will also be subsidized through a new programme, the "EASE" (Enhancement for Active Seniors) Programme.

    Each citizen household with an elderly member can get home modifications worth around $2,000.

    They will pay no more than $250 themselves.

    About 130,000 households are expected to benefit from this scheme.

    GST for long term care will also be absorbed for subsidised patients in community hospitals, nursing homes and other home-care services.

    Friday, February 24, 2012

    3rd ATM found to have been skimmed: DBS

    DBS said Friday that they believe that a third ATM machine was compromised at around the same time of the Bugis skimming.

    This could have led to the latest spate of unauthorised withdrawals on Sunday.

    The bank was alerted to unauthorised ATM withdrawals by 17 customers after they received real-time SMS alerts.

    After which, common patterns among the affected customers established through analytics allowed the bank to conclude that a different ATM was compromised in addition to the two Bugis ATMs previously identified.

    "We are unable to disclose further details, as this may jeopardise the ongoing investigation," the bank told The Straits Times.

    In last Sunday's series of ATM withdrawals, fraudsters stole a total of $23,000 before they were discovered. The previous operation had stolen about $1 million from 700 customers.

    The unauthorised withdrawals first began last month, with customers reporting sums of money being withdrawn from Kuala Lumpur when they were not in Malaysia at that time.

    DBS initially believed the frauds to be contained to Jan 4 and 5.

    To guard against further fraud, DBS had de-activated and replaced 2,726 customer cards deemed high risk, and blocked overseas ATM withdrawals unless requested not to by customers.

    However, the fraudsters changed tactic to make the withdrawals locally instead.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    Budget 2012: Innovating to cope with labour constraints

    PTS Technologies boss Albert Loh has big plans to expand its business of creating radio frequency identification tags, but the tight labour market is restricting his ability to do so.

    The firm, which employs six foreigners among its 25 staff, has seen its per unit cost of labour rise by some 16 per cent since 2010, largely due to higher foreign worker levies and more expensive local workers.

    And now that the Government has tightened foreign worker quotas, Mr Loh expects costs to escalate further, as local workers raise their salary expectations as they will be in even higher demand.

    PTS is in the process of expanding and hiring more staff, and it is struggling to find locals willing to take on the vacant roles.

    He added that it is difficult for PTS to hire more local workers at high salaries as the company cannot pass on the cost to its customers, given the highly competitive market it is in.

    'Thankfully I haven't hit my foreign worker quota yet, but I expect I will reach that level soon,' he said.

    For now, the company is trying to change the way its does business, so as to squeeze the most value out of its current operations.

    One way the company has tried to resolve its labour challenges is by hiring older workers. There are now three at PTS, but this has its limitations, he said.

    'They are excellent workers. But they are not as dexterous as younger workers, and so they are limited to certain jobs,' said Mr Loh.

    PTS has also been exploring various long-term strategies to overcome its labour constraints, including relocating some operations overseas, forming alliances or joint ventures with foreign partners, and automating some processes.

    The firm also recently acquired a licence to produce medical devices. Entry into this high-value market will give it another source of revenue, Mr Loh said.

    'Over the past two years, this is what we have been doing to deal with the increasing costs - innovating, finding creative ways to expand our customer base and enter new markets.

    'We have also tapped on a number of government schemes to improve productivity. We'll continue to do all these things as we try to survive.'

    Budget 2012: Bosses biting the bullet on foreign worker curbs

    Restaurant boss Daniel Tay has resigned himself to the fact that the Government is sticking to its tough foreign worker policy and is now considering moving some operations offshore.

    'After this Budget, it is quite clear they won't change their attitude,' said Mr Tay, chief executive of the Bakerzin chain.

    'I'll probably just start new food factories and outlets in Malaysia where costs are lower and staff easier to find.'

    Most of the dozen bosses The Straits Times spoke to said they are trying to adjust to the reality that it will be harder, and costlier, to hire foreign manpower.

    Almost all complain of increased staff costs - estimates range from 10 per cent to more than 30 per cent, although the increase is not just due to the levies, but also from paying locals and foreign workers higher wages.

    Some are trying to adapt by being more productive while a few others are giving up the fight by either passing on the costs to consumers or moving some operations from Singapore altogether.

    The Government has been raising the costs of hiring foreign manpower over the past two years by ramping up levies as part of the overall drive to raise productivity with the goal of raising incomes.

    Levy increases began in 2010 and were raised in last year's Budget. Companies will pay between $250 and $750 in levies by the time all the changes have been implemented in July 2013, depending on the sector they are in and how reliant they are on foreigners.

    Once all the increases are in place, employers could pay as much as six times more in levies than before the changes.

    For instance, before 2010, employers paid $50 a month for an S-Pass, which has a minimum fixed monthly wage requirement of $2,000 and with an education requirement of either a diploma or degree. By July next year, they will have to pay at least $300.

    Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced in last week's Budget that quotas, or Dependency Ratio Ceilings (DRCs), will be slashed by 5 percentage points, to 45 per cent in the services sector and to 60 per cent for manufacturing firms.

    The changes will hit about 8,500 services-related firms and 500 manufacturing companies that are highly reliant on foreign manpower but not the vast majority of firms, said a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesman.

    The DRC changes are a result of the push to raise productivity and reduce dependence on foreign workers; they take into consideration the economic slowdown, the spokesman added.

    The Man-Year Entitlement, a means to calculate the amount of labour needed for specific building projects, was also cut by 5 percentage points in the construction sector.

    'To give affected companies time to adjust, the Government will provide a two-year transition period till June 2014 for the firms to comply with the new DRCs for their existing foreign workers, said the MOM spokesman.

    Yet despite the higher levies last year, foreign employment continued to outpace local job creation, noted UniSIM economist Randolph Tan.

    Of the 121,300 jobs created last year, nearly 80,000 went to foreigners, while locals landed 36,600. This was even higher than in 2010, when foreign employment rose by 54,400, official data from MOM showed.

    'So I believe the Government has no choice but to cap foreign manpower levels using quantitative restrictions rather than simply relying on the pricing mechanism of the higher levies,' said Dr Tan.

    Unit labour costs rose 3.4 per cent nationally last year, partly the result of higher levies, said economists.

    Some bosses are having it worse, with those in manufacturing and construction saying that per unit labour costs have risen by as much as 30 per cent due to the higher levies.

    For instance, labour costs in construction have gone up by at least 20 per cent since 2010, said Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association.

    The situation is not much better in manufacturing.

    Singapore Business Federation chief operating officer Victor Tay noted that owing to various factors such as higher foreign worker levies, higher minimum wage requirements for foreign workers and the competitive hiring landscape, some of the more labour intensive firms in manufacturing had said that they were experiencing some 15 per cent to 20 per cent higher manpower costs.

    Firms warn that lowering the DRCs and higher foreign worker levies are going to exact a huge toll on their bottom lines, with no immediate reprieve in sight.

    The lower DRC means that firms have to be more productive with the same number of staff or turn to local workers, who demand higher wages, as substitutes, said bosses.

    At the same time, the base salaries for foreign workers have also risen over the past two years due to higher inflation, said Ms Pauline Shu, director at CEL Coatings, who said that labour costs have risen by 33 per cent.

    'Foreign workers will not want to come to Singapore to make a living if the salaries they earn after deducting the cost of living do not make any sense,' she said.

    Govt's move to fund bus purchases sparks public concern

    SINGAPORE: The government's move to spend S$1.1 billion over the next 10 years to fund the purchase of 550 SBS Transit and SMRT buses has sparked concerns among some Singaporeans.

    A few have written to the government's feedback portal REACH, questioning why the government is using public funds to help profit-driven companies.

    SBS Transit and SMRT are public-listed private enterprises.

    Analysts said the government's move to help the two public transport operators grow their bus fleet does not mean a free lunch for them. They said commuters would stand to benefit from higher service standards, which are likely to be imposed on SBS Transit and SMRT.

    Observers said the government's move is not unique. In affluent cities in Europe and Australia, private operators receive public-funded buses in order to achieve a more efficient transport network.

    Assistant Professor Paul Barter from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: "In Singapore, if the government is going to be helping a private sector operator in this way, we would not do it in an open-ended way.

    "We will need to set higher service standards. If we are giving money for the buses, we expect higher service in return. It would not just be a gift. There would be expectation of improved service."

    Analysts said although the two operators are making profits overall, they have been weighed down by bus operations.

    Latest data showed SBS Transit incurring an operating loss of S$6 million due mainly to increased fuel and staff costs.

    Meanwhile, SMRT said it incurred a higher operating loss of S$1.7 million due to the same reasons.

    So the assistance will come in handy to help boost capacity and meet the anticipated growth in demand.

    Analyst John Rachmat from the Royal Bank of Scotland said: "The situation is such that the bus operations are not generating enough profits for the operators.

    "In fact, in many cases, (they) are incurring losses. So if this continues, there will be no new investments in buses in Singapore and as a result, the public will suffer from more overcrowding."

    With the government's funding for additional buses, "hopefully, what we will see is a lot more frequent bus services, a lot lesser overcrowding and more profits for the operators because that will be the reason for them to deliver the better services," said Mr Rachmat.

    "In a way, they will earn more profits but in exchange for that, the public will see a lot better bus service in Singapore."

    Observers believe the S$1.1 billion fund will not only go towards helping operators grow their fleet.

    Given the big sum of money, there are indications it could also help operators get the manpower they need to run the buses.

    They could increase salaries to make the job more attractive, particularly to Singaporeans.

    Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said with the government chipping in to buy new buses, public transport operators must improve their service standards.

    Mrs Teo on Wednesday defended the government's move to co-fund new buses at a post-Budget dialogue organised by feedback unit REACH.

    "What Singaporeans want is quicker solutions," she said.

    "They don't want to wait so long. So it's with Singaporean needs in mind that we assessed that the better way to do it, the faster way to do it, the more efficient way of doing it, is to partner the existing public transport operators to deliver the increased capacity."

    Charles Chong, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, said: "With the grant, I think this eliminates some of their excuses...that they can't get drivers (because) they can't pay them enough."

    "This grant should not be used to bump up profits for shareholders -- it is meant really to help serve the public better, because you are using public funds for this; the expenditure should benefit the public," he added.

    Mr Chong said operators are expected to bump up bus frequencies and serve more areas.

    Analysts said they believe the operators will see operating costs going up in the short run. But the higher costs are unlikely to be transferred to commuters as higher fares.

    Details on the S$1.1 billion fund are expected in the upcoming Budget debate.

    COE prices end higher across all categories

    There were high rises for Certificate of Entitlement (COE) prices across all categories, with one setting a new record at the latest tender for February 2012.

    The biggest all-time high to set the new record was the COE for goods vehicles and buses. It closed at $52,004, up from $49,801 in the last bid two weeks ago.

    The COE for cars above 1,600cc closed at $78,189, up from $73,890.

    The Open category COE closed at $78,000, up from $73,801. Open category cars are mainly used for big cars eventhough any type of vehicle can be registered under it.

    Premiums for cars 1,600cc and below and taxis ended at $57,009, up from $52,809.

    The Straits Times reported that these bids are the highest since the late-1990s.

    The COE for motorcycles ended at $2,012, an increase from $1,802.

    Local news reports said it may take another few rounds of bidding before prices go down again as there is still a backlog of unsuccessful bids.

    February 2nd bidding
    Category Feb 22 prices Feb 08 prices
    Cars (1,600cc & below, taxis) $57,009 $52,809
    Cars (above 1,600cc) $78,189 $73,890
    Commercial vehicles $52,004 $49,801
    Motorcycles $2,012 $1,802
    Open category $78,000 $73,801

    Hand, foot and mouth disease on the rise

    SINGAPORE: There has been a significant increase in the cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

    Latest figures from the Ministry of Health show 815 new cases last week, up from the some 690 cases the previous week.

    This brings the total number of cases this year to 3,457.

    A childcare centre in Bedok -- Sunflower Childcare -- has had a few cases of HFMD over the past few days.

    This got some parents concerned.

    But most parents Channel NewsAsia spoke with said they are confident of the precautionary measures the childcare centre has in place.

    So far, the Ministry of Health has identified five childcare centres with more than 10 HFMD cases and a transmission period of more than 16 days, as of February 22.

    Childcare centres and kindergartens with more than 16 cases must be closed for 10 days.

    Pat's Schoolhouse in Lim Ah Pin Road near Upper Serangoon is currently closed from 15 February 2012 to 24 February 2012.

    Hui Clinic & Surgery family physician John Hui said he has seen at least 10 to 20 HFMD cases this month, a marked increase from what he saw in January.

    "The coxsackieviruses as well as the other family of enteroviruses: Generally speaking, the [viruses] are very mild and self-limiting and the children, generally speaking, will recover by themselves," Dr Hui said.

    "But in the past, there were some episodes when some children who were infected with the EV71 had more severe symptoms and some of them even died from the severity of the illness."

    Doctors are advising parents to ensure their children practise personal hygiene by washing hands frequently and not sharing utensils and stationery.

    Foreign banks eyeing share of depositor market

    SINGAPORE: Foreign banks with a full commercial licence in Singapore are out in force to draw customers.

    They are rolling out higher-than-normal interest rates for fixed deposits.

    And that's stepping up the competition, prompting Singapore banks to swing into action.

    Competition is getting intense as more foreign banks are offering attractive interest rates for Singapore dollar time deposits.

    In January, ANZ came out with a step-up deposit offering an increasing interest rate with an option to withdraw funds every quarter.

    More foreign banks have joined the fray with interest rates of over 1 per cent per annum.

    They are now offering as much as 1.5 per cent for a one-year deposit.

    Wu Jinmei, head of Retail Banking Department, Bank of China (Singapore branch), said: "These promotions are in line with our long-term development strategy and serve to thank our new and existing customers for their continued support."

    British bank, Standard Chartered fired the latest salvo with a 1.88 per cent rate on current account savings.

    Dennis Khoo, head of Consumer Banking, Singapore Standard Chartered Bank, said: "You don't get rewards from your credit cards but you get a high interest rate of 1.88 per cent. We do believe that most customers who have fixed deposits under S$50,000 will migrate to this product."

    Since its launch a week ago, Stanchart has an average daily sign-up rate of 500 accounts.

    Ritesh Maheshwari, MD, Asia-Pacific Financial Services Ratings, Standard & Poor's, said: "To grow, they need funds. So, it is part and parcel of their long standing strategy. They want to grow without growing the network in a cheaper way or it is a tactical move to balance the ALM (Asset-Liability Management) in a shorter term."

    However, the local banks are not resting on their laurels and have come up with promotional rates of as much as 0.9 per cent for a 13-month deposit, although, still falling short of their international counterparts.

    Alfred Chan, director, Financial Institution, Fitch Ratings, said: "This goes to show that the local banks still have a strong franchise among the depositors so they don't really need to go on a price war to compete for deposits."

    Local banks like OCBC take comfort in their branch network which offers convenience as a selling point, apart from interest rates.

    Analysts said the aggressive funding exercise may be the result of BASEL III requirements, which demand major international banks increase their capital as a safeguard against financial crises.

    Depositors in Singapore are guaranteed up to S$50,000 per depositor in case of any bank defaults.

    Gold trading in Singapore set to get boost

    SINGAPORE: Gold trading is set to find new glitter in Singapore.

    The government's move to exempt the 7 per cent goods and services tax (GST) on gold trading is expected to boost competitiveness globally.

    However, market players said more can be done to turn Singapore into a gold trading hub.

    For investors, the exemption of GST on investment grade gold will level the playing field for the precious metal.

    From October, gold will stand at par with other financial instruments like stocks and bonds which are also exempt from GST.

    Gold is also being held as an alternative to cash.

    And experts said the government's latest move may boost gold trading among retail investors.

    Nicholas Trevethan, senior commodities strategist, ANZ, said: "GST on money, or on what is essentially money, removing that is a sensible and practical idea. I think it's a good way to encourage in particular, retail investment demand amongst Singaporeans. You want that solid base within the country in order to help it develop as a trading hub and as an international trading centre."

    Analysts estimate the value of gold traded in Singapore to be worth about US$282 billion over the last year.

    Gold traders said the GST exemption will lower the barriers to entry for investors and will further boost interest in the precious metal.

    World Gold Council managing director Albert Chang said: "The tax exemption on bullion is an indispensable initial step to boosting the dynamics of the gold trading market."

    And the council expects a greater volume of physical gold transactions to take place from October 2012 when the new tax exemption will be in place.

    However, market players said more needs to be done before Singapore can take on other gold trading hubs such as Hong Kong and Dubai.

    Lee Song Teck, CEO, The Gold Guarantee, said: "First of all, an equivalent of the London Bullion Market Association needs to be set up, to encourage the market and government. What this body can do is to help gold-related industries such as refineries... if more are around, it would help boost the gold industry in Singapore."

    Since the budget announcement last Friday, spot gold price has increased 1.6 per cent to US$1,755 on Wednesday.

    And local traders said that they have seen about 5 to 10 per cent increase in sales.

    S'poreans respond to Budget via REACH

    SINGAPORE: Building a fair and inclusive society topped the number of responses with 40 per cent of all inputs received by the national feedback unit REACH on this year's Budget.

    While many welcomed the measures to support the ageing population and their employability, a handful were concerned older workers will not benefit from the increase in CPF contribution.

    This is because the change does not directly help with their daily expenses.

    There were calls for increases in the contribution to be extended to those aged 65 and above.

    Singaporeans also supported the government's Silver Housing Bonus to unlock the savings of seniors, but some questioned its effectiveness.

    On healthcare, affordability was a key concern.

    Some said costs will increase further with enhancements to healthcare infrastructure.

    Others suggested the monthly S$120 grant to hire foreign domestic helpers to care for seniors be extended to families with disabled members, as well as to those with children.

    The majority of Singaporeans welcomed support for those with disabilities, but also felt more could be done.

    Some suggested help be extended to those suffering from mental illness, and to the disabled who did not graduate from Special Education Schools.

    Restructuring the economy to sustain growth made up 23 per cent of feedback on the Budget.

    While there was support for the enhanced Special Employment Credit, some worried it may discourage companies from paying older workers more than S$3,000 monthly.

    Response towards measures to support small and medium sized enterprises were mixed as well.

    Some welcomed the cash grants announced for these enterprises, but others questioned the effectiveness of various measures.

    Public transport concerns made up 12 per cent of total responses.

    Some felt the plan to boost bus capacity should be fully funded by operators.

    They are also worried the increased bus fleets will add road congestion and increase the difficulty of recruiting more drivers.

    Many are also afraid the cost of additional bus fleets will be passed on to commuters via fare increases.

    Genting Singapore posts Q4 net profit of $262 million

    (REUTERS) - Genting Singapore said on Wednesday it swung to a net profit in the fourth quarter, helped by higher earnings from its casino in Singapore.

    Genting reported net profit of $262 million in October to December, compared to a loss of $150.3 million a year ago. Its net profit for 2011 was $1.01 billion.

    Resorts World at Sentosa made $398 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) last quarter, up from $384 million a year ago. Fourth-quarter EBITDA was also higher than the $375 million reported in July to September.

    Genting had an EBITDA margin of 52 per cent and the firm will pay its first dividend of one Singapore cent per share, Genting said in a statement on Wednesday.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Plans to help disabled from infancy

    Older children with developmental problems may have their condition detected earlier if the Government accepts a proposal submitted yesterday.

    One of 41 recommendations in a five-year master plan, the proposal calls for the funding of a screening programme targeted at children who are nine months, 18 months and 24-30 months old.

    Currently, children who are more than 18 months old are not screened until they turn three years old.

    The master plan - entitled Enabling Masterplan 2012-2016 - was drafted by a 32-member steering committee chaired by Mr Chua Chin Kiat and was submitted to the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports yesterday.

    It aims to better meet the needs of the disabled from infancy, and builds on the previous master plan which had focused more on education and employment for the disabled.

    Mr Chua said the plan seeks to build an "inclusive society" in which everyone, regardless of his physical or mental ability, can function as an integral member.

    The plan aims to enable the disabled, allowing them to be independent and become "who they want to be", he said.

    Referring to the proposal for screening children, Associate Professor Winnie Goh said that children develop their language, social, and basic- learning skills between 24 months and 30 months of age.

    "This is the critical period in which to detect any developmental problems," said Prof Goh, who headed the early-intervention sub-committee.

    To improve support for adults with disabilities, the committee recommended the development of group homes in the community.

    Such group homes could consist of rental flats housing disabled people who have little or no family support.

    Each of them would live in the flat with two or three other disabled people, and get regular support from private or voluntary welfare organisations.

    One pilot group home for the disabled has been set up in Bedok West.

    Mr Chua said public transport can be made more accessible to people with minor disabilities.

    He added that a specialised transport system for those with higher needs should also be considered.

    Acting Minister of Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said some recommendations can be implemented immediately, while others would require more time and resources.

    He said the Government has considered some of the recommendations, such as those for employment and transport, and updates will be announced in next week's Committee of Supply debates.

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    She's sick but hasn't seen doctor in 10 years

    People like housewife Tan Miu Muay could well be who Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had in mind when he spoke about the Government's emphasis on a fair and inclusive society.

    She's poor. She's sick. She has five school-going children.

    And because she hasn't seen a doctor in 10 years - she fears she cannot pay her medical bills - she has only a vague idea of what ails her.

    The 41-year-old is a needy Singaporean who hasn't been forgotten in this year's Budget, which was announced yesterday.

    She will benefit from a new GST voucher scheme, a permanent system of offsets to help lower-income Singaporean households.

    Her children will also benefit indirectly from top-ups to various funds which help with education and social support.

    Madam Tan has been living in a two-room rental flat on Lorong Lew Lian for the last 10 years.

    She has five sons, aged seven to 17. Her husband, Mr Chua Chue Po, 40, is a Malaysian who is a permanent resident here. He earns $1,200 a month moulding cornices.

    Their monthly rent is under $200.

    Madam Tan, who left school after Primary 6 and can't read or write, has been having trouble with her liver since she was 28.

    She said: "The last time I went to see a doctor 10 years ago he said that there were some levels in my liver which were very high."

    Liver operation 

    She said she had an operation on her liver in 1998, and was in and out of hospital for three years after that.

    She eventually discharged herself even though she needed further treatment because she was afraid of incurring further medical costs.

    "I had help from a medical social worker. But I was afraid that I could not pay if I continued to seek treatment.

    "So now I just tong ('endure' in Hokkien)."

    Since then, Madam Tan has foregone medication. She often breaks into cold sweat and feels cold even when the room temperature is normal.

    She suspects she also has low blood pressure because she often feels weak and tired, and cannot stand for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

    "I thought of getting a job, but all the jobs I qualify for are strenuous and I cannot do them."

    Her days are spent doing household chores - mostly while she is seated - and looking after her children.

    Yesterday, the new measures brought some relief. She was especially pleased with the Government's moves to make health care more affordable.

    "I hope health care will be cheaper, so I can find out what is wrong with me.

    "Right now, the thought of hospitals and clinics scares me. I don't know who can help me."

    What are the health care changes under Budget 2012?

    By 2020...
    >> Number of beds in acute-care hospitals to increase by 1,900 – or about 30 per cent.
    >>  Number of beds in community hospitals to increase by 1,800 – more than 100 per cent.
    >>  Two more community hospitals in Outram and Seng Kang.

    Enhanced subsidies
    >> In community hospitals, low-income patients will receive 75 per cent government subsidy. Patients above the median income to receive 20 to 50 per cent subsidy. They did not qualify for subsidies previously.
    >>  Subsidies for nursing homes, day care and rehabilitation facilities, and home-based care packages will be raised. About 80 per cent of elderly will qualify.
    GST will be fully absorbed for subsidised patients under long-term care.

    Enhanced Medishield
    >> Coverage extended from age 85 to 90.
    >>  One-off Medisave top-up to meet increase in premiums. Those aged under 40 will receive $50; aged 41 to 50, $100; aged 51 to 60, $200; aged 61 to 75, $300; and those aged above 76 will receive $400.

    Help for Mrs Tan

    New moves to offset GST

    1. Cash component
    Given to Singaporeans whose incomes fall within the bottom 40 per cent, and who live in HDB flats, or the bottom 15 per cent of private properties, based on assessable income and the annual value of their homes. They can expect to receive this from August.

    2. MEDISAVE Top-up
    Up to $450. This will go to about 85 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above from August.

    3. U-SAVE
    Between $180 and $260 for all HDB households to help directly offset their monthly utilities bills. To be given out in January and July each year, from July this year. Those who qualify for this scheme will receive a letter in July.

    How Madam Tan's family will benefit from the GST VOUCHERS

    Estimated GST they pay in a year: $810

    But Madam Tan will get:
    Cash: $250
    Medisave: $0
    U-Save: $260

    Effect: The GST voucher scheme will offset more than half of the GST incurred by her family in a year.

    Other ways she may benefit:
    >> More affordable health care
    >>  More affordability in long-term care
    >>  Top-ups to Medifund, an endowment fund set up by the Government to help needy Singaporeans who can’t pay for their medical expenses.

    Help for Madam Tan's children

    More support for children from low-income families:

    >> Pre-school subsidies will be extended. A family of five, with three children, will now pay $20 for each child in child care compared to $110 previously.

    >>  More students will benefit from the Education Ministry’s financial assistance scheme. The qualifying household income ceiling will be raised to $2,500 a month from $1,500.

    >>  About 40,000 more students will be subsidised for school fees, uniforms and textbooks, and receive a 75 per cent subsidy on their exam fees.

    Top-ups for school advisory and management committees:

    >> To help them introduce new schemes in school, like transport assistance for students.

    Enhanced student-care fee assistance scheme:

    >> Subsidies for student care will be extended to families with up to $3,500 in monthly household income. Currently, only families earning $2,500 or less qualify. A family under this scheme will typically see the amount they pay for student care reduced from $200 to $80 per month.


    >> $200 million to EduSave Endowment Fund to let children enjoy meaningful enrichment programmes.

    >>  $200 million to ComCare Endowment Fund to support needy families.

    >>  $5 million to self-help groups and $5 million the CCC ComCare Fund.

    Trimming the fat with the ultimate money diet

    We all like to tell ourselves that this year will be different, that we will lose weight, save money, take up a new hobby or quit smoking.

    We start the year with such good intentions but can sometimes set ourselves goals that we find hard to keep!

    Don't overload yourself with a huge list of goals for the year to start tackling straight away, take things one step at a time.

    Pick one goal to begin with and stick to it. Top goals for many people include losing weight and saving more money.

    So let's delve into the ultimate diet - the money diet - and get your bank balance in shape and fighting fit!

    Counting the financial calories

    Taking charge of your financial future isn't rocket science.

    You just need to be smart, organised and disciplined. You know when you want to lose weight you count the calories and compare them to the recommended daily allowance? Well the same goes for your money.

    Sit down and calculate your income each month and what your outgoings are.

    Be honest with yourself and include everything - from the big payments such as your rent or mortgage, to that coffee you buy on the way to work every morning.

    Now you are ready to start trimming down the outgoings.

    Like a healthy body needs a good diet of vitamins and minerals, a good quality of life also needs some basics like a roof over your head, electricity, food and the means to get to work each day. These bills are both regular and essential, so make sure they are the first thing to go into your brand new budget.

    To keep in check with these important bills, debit cards are rising in popularity, often replacing payment by cash or check.

    A debit card is unlike a credit card because it's tied directly to your bank account. When you make a payment with a debit card, it withdraws money directly from your bank account without you having to worry about paying it back later.

    You can also check with your bank or biller to check if they allow you to link your bills or loans payments directly to your debit card account so your bills are paid automatically before the due date.

    That way you don't have to worry about late fees and you have more time to complete the other tasks on your to-do list.

    Working out your new diet 

    So you have your essential bills included in your new money diet, but are you still finding it hard to sort the essentials from the luxuries? Here are some tips:

    Wholesome food Vs Junk food: Question what you need and want you want. Make two lists - one for needs and one for wants and as you are making the list ask yourself:

    1. Why do I want it?
    2. How would things be different if I had it?
    3. What other things would change I had it? (for better or worse)
    4. Which things are truly important to me?
    5. Does this match my values?

    Set guidelines: We all have different budgets based on our needs and wants. You may need to make adjustments for that daily latte fix.

    What's your recommended daily calorie allowance: Add up your income. To set a monthly budget, you need to know what's coming in.

    Make sure you include all sources of income such as salaries, interest, pension and any other income sources.

    Financial calorie intake: Estimate your expenses. The best way to do this is keep track of how much you spend each month. Categorize spending depending on your needs and wants.

    Are you overeating? Managing your personal expenses is like identifying the difference between your recommended daily allowance and your actual calorie intake.

    Once you've created your budget, keep records of your actual income and expenses. This keeps you on top of the difference between what you budget and actually spend.

    Track, Trim and Target: Once you start tracking, you may be surprised to find you spend hundreds of dollars a month on eating out or other flexible expenses. Some of these are easily trimmed but that doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you enjoy.

    Cutting back is usually a better place to start than completely cutting out. Be realistic. It will help you to be better prepared for unexpected costs.

    In any given week we buy and spend on many things and it's often those smaller purchases that get lost in the mix. Knowing the miscellaneous expenses may just be what you need to know so you can reign in your spending and stay within your means.

    Think of that extra magazine as the sneaky biscuit making its way into your diet and messing with your calorie intake! With everything else going on in our lives keeping track of monthly expenses can be daunting.

    Simplify your life by using your debit card for your daily expenses, which will allow you to track spending with your bank statement and identify how much you're spending and on what.

    The SMART way to slim down 

    Unfortunately our bank balances have a limit so it helps to have a goal in mind when thinking about ways to trim and cut back.

    It's all about SMART financial planning: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

    Each step takes your aspirations and gives them a benchmark which is easier to attain than some lofty goal.

    Specific: Be specific on what you want. Avoid just saying "I want to save money". Instead say "I want to travel to Bali."

    Measurable: Give your goal a benchmark. For instance traveling to Bali will cost $2,000 and if you have $800 saved your measurable goal should be to save the additional $1,200 you need.

    Attainable: Make your goal realistic. Saying you want to travel in Indonesia for 6 months staying only in 5 star hotels may not be attainable if you only have $800 to spend. Instead think what is within your means, for example, "I am going to save each month so I can visit Bali for 3 days and stay in a 3 star hotel.

    Relevant: The goals have to make sense to you. It's not practical to work toward a goal that doesn't fit your need. For example, if you are going to Bali for your wedding anniversary, you may not want to be staying in hostels and want to save for something a bit special.

    Timely: Set a definite target date. Set a date for your trip and work towards it. To stick to your new financial diet, remember to keep your budget planner and goals in mind every time you spend.

    Remember, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself every now and again, but if you overindulge too often you can find yourself gaining some unwanted financial worries!

    So stay smart, budget, and spend within your means to keep your bank balance nice and healthy. Your wallet will thank you for it!

    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...