Monday, April 30, 2012

LTA revises ERP rates at 6 gantries

SINGAPORE: Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges at certain gantries along the Central Expressway (CTE) and Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) will be adjusted from 7 May.

Motorists using the southbound CTE before Braddell Road between 9am and 11am will not have to pay ERP charges.

Currently, they pay 50 cents.

Motorists using the PIE slip road into CTE between 7.30am and 8am will pay 50 cents less - at S$3.00.

However, ERP rates for four gantries along the southbound CTE after Braddell Road will go up.

The rate will increase by 50 cents - from S$1.50 to S$2 - between 7.30am and 8am.

Between 8am and 8.30am, they'll have to pay S$3, an increase of S$1.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Monday that it adjusted the rates as part of its quarterly review of traffic conditions on ERP-priced roads and expressways.

The next ERP review will take place in May for the June school holidays.

Singapore's jobless rate rises to 2.1% in March

SINGAPORE: Fewer jobs were created in the first quarter of the year, but the Ministry of Manpower said the domestic job market remains "fairly strong".

An estimated 27,400 new jobs were created in the first quarter of 2012, compared to 37,600 the previous quarter, and 28,300 the same time last year.

Unemployment rose slightly, to 2.1 per cent from last December's two per cent.

UniSIM School of Business' Business Programme head Randolph Tan said it is the start of an inevitable slowdown, as Singapore passes the peak of its economic recovery.

"From this point onwards, I expect to see the employment situation decline but not significantly deteriorate," Associate Professor Tan said.

"One of the reasons why, is because of the fact that government policy, to a large extent, has been anticipatory in trying to deal with the potential decline in demand [for labour].

"So the reduction in the influx of foreign manpower to some extent, will help hold up the labour market."

Assoc Prof Tan said he expects unemployment to creep up to about 2.5 per cent by year-end.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said higher unemployment is to be expected, as companies restructure or go offshore.

Workers will be affected, but he said his ministry will help them through the transition.

Singapore's latest employment data is set against a much bleaker global situation.

The International Labour Organisation has warned that the global employment situation is alarming, especially in Europe, where austerity measures are hurting job markets.

As the economy stays buoyant, some recruiters expect Singapore to reconsider its recent curbs on skilled foreign manpower.

Randstad regional director Karin Clarke said: "I think government is committed to restricting the number of foreign workers, particularly at the unskilled and semi-skilled layer.

"Those restrictions are here to stay. But I think there will be some easing when you look at professionals and the qualified level because Singapore's long-term growth depends on being able to bring in the skill sets to upskill the Singaporean workforce.

"Training and education come from overseas expertise, so if we continue to attract large R&D centres, then we need to be bringing those people in that can train the workforce.

"I also don't think Singapore probably has enough people to support all of that growth."

But for the unskilled foreign worker, observers said the restrictions are here to stay.

Couple pen 'bucket list' for their baby with terminal illness

What do you do when your 6-month-year-old daughter is diagnosed within incurable genetic disease, and will very likely not live long beyond her second birthday?

For Mike and Laura Canahuati, they chose to write a blog in her name - detailing their daily joys and trials with her, accompanied with a 'bucket list' of things to accomplish before her death.

Baby Avery was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1 on a Good Friday, June 4, 2012.

This means that little Avery, who has already lost her ability to move her legs, will eventually lose the ability to move her arms and her head.

When this happens, it will become increasingly difficult and in the end impossible for her body to pump air through her lungs.

This is why most babies diagnosed with SMA Type 1 have a life expectancy of less than two years of age.

There is even the possibility of dying a few months or even weeks after birth. Even with the help of a respirator, life expectancy can only be stretched till ten years of age.

One in 6,000 babies is born with one of four types of SMA, with Type Zero the worst. However, that usually occurs with fetuses, the couple said.

Much of the blog, written in the first person in Avery's voice, is the work of the father, Mike.

He writes: "My mommy, daddy, and grandparents have chosen to help me fight this disease, while embracing this news and helping me chronicle my "bucket list" experiences through this blog."

"So at this point, my family & friends can either sit back and watch me die and let my life be about doctors visits and tear filled days, or everyone can embrace what my future holds and we can make each day I'm here a memorable one...starting now."

Light-hearted and humorous, the blog and the bucket list is written as though Avery will live far beyond her estimated life expectancy and experience life's milestones.

In her wish-list, 'Avery' writes her hopes of 'attending a sleep over', 'going hiking', to 'play dress up in my mommy's closet and have a photo shoot' and 'celebrate my real 1st birthday'.

Others include:
  • Lose my first tooth and get a present from the tooth fairy
  • Meet Santa Claus
  • Dress up for Halloween and go trick or treating
  • Get a tattoo
  • Have a father daughter dance while watching Father of The Bride
Hopes and dreams 

Since the 31-year-old first time father started penning the blog for his daughter, the blog has gone viral, accumulating more than a million page views and counting.

"Today started like most days, I woke up, ate breakfast through my glam-tube, took a bath, and then checked my blog to see if anyone is reading my story and helping me spread awareness about SMA.

"Well, when I woke up yesterday I had 480,000 pageviews and as of right now I have 1.29 million pageviews (and that number is increasing by about 2.5 pageviews per second).

"Holy...Shitake mushrooms??? Umm, I'm not certain, but I believe they are with the rest of the produce sir. Ugh sorry, do I look like work here? Anyway, where was I?", reads one of the latest entries.

Mike, an insurance company owner, says he conjures up a little girl's perspective when he writes. He added that many people are surprised to find out it's the dad, not mom, typing out the sensitive tear-jerker entries.

The couple first began the blog as an efficient way to keep family and close friends in touch about little Avery's health.

In each post, they include a plea for readers to share Avery's story in the hope of spreading SMA awareness.

In her voice, they call on couples to get SMA testing, and medical organisations and insurance companies to offer SMA testing, so nobody has to go through what Avery's family is going through every day.

"The only way to do this is to make people aware of SMA so they know they have the OPTION of getting tested for it. That's all I want and that's all my mommy & daddy want for me and all of my future friends," 'Avery' writes.

The list began as the wistful imagination of Mike and Laura living out a normal life with Avery through her teenage years and beyond, wishing for her to try cupcakes, fly a kite and blow bubbles.

But slowly, emails started pouring in with people asking them to add things into the list.

Crossing items off the list 

Others offered help for the Canahuatis to strike off items from the list.

To date, Avery has gone on a road trip, been a cheerleader, had a birthday party, driven a car, and opened a birthday gift from a stranger.

In April 2012, Avery even got to throw the first pitch at a Sugar Land Skeeters baseball game.

During the game held in honour of SMA awareness, Mike got to strike off several more items off the list, including:

1. Go to my first baseball game
2. Throw out the first pitch at a baseball game
3. Throw a strike...whatever that means
4. Have thousands of people cheer for me at once
5. Shake hands with super hot baseball players
6. Meet some of my SMAns"

Mike says there is no rhyme or reason to him writing in Avery's perspective.

He told reporters that he doesn't know what it is like to be a little girl, but draws on his experience having "a bunch of sisters."

He is the single son in a family of three older sisters.

Despite the cheery picture the posts paint, the Canahuatis had a difficult Easter weekend when they tried to come to terms with their baby's fatal disorder.

Laura said the family sat around for two days crying and "being devastated".

Nothing they can do 

They had to absorb the cruel news that there was no cure and absolutely nothing they could do to help her. They had to accept the fact that Avery's fate was out of their hands and not within their control.

Besides the blog, there is a Facebook page and Twitter account encouraging couples to get tested on whether they are carriers of the SMA gene.

SMA is the top genetic killer of infants and children under the age of two. However, most people remain ignorant of it and medical institutions rarely offer tests for it.

According to the couple living in Bellaire, Texas, near Houston, it's not even included when performing genetic pre-screening tests for other potential diseases and disorders.

And while some insurance companies cover the testing costs, others don't.

One in 40 people are carriers of the SMA gene. Meaning that each couple has a one in 1,600 chance of both having it, and a one in 6,400 chance that the baby will be born a sufferer.

Laura, 29, a kindergarten teacher, has taken a leave of absence to care for her daughter and deal with the occasional medical frights.

On April 26, the couple had to send Avery to the hospital when her oxygen levels and heart beats per minute went 'crazy', triggered by milk being fed to her too much and too fast.

All the time in the world to cry when it's over 

This caused major reflux issues and affected her swallowing and breathing.

However, the Canahuatis, in their signature optimistic style, took the best view of the situation, writing that Avery "got to ride in an ambulance with two muscular firemen who wouldn't take their eyes off of me."

"I try to keep it as fun and lighthearted as possible within the realm that this is serious," said Mike, in an attempt to make people understand what is SMA and what everybody who loves Avery is going through.

"It's making people realize, 'Hey, my life is not that bad, I need to go hug my kid and I need to do something nice for my wife or my kid,'" he said.

Born on November 11, Avery has about 18 months more left for her to spend time with her loved ones.

Her legs have been rendered immobile, and her arms are showing less movements each day.

Her mother said for now, they will enjoy each moment they have with her in happiness, instead of choosing to cry all day.

"We have all the time in the world to cry when this is over," she said.

Go to the Canahuatis' blog to learn more 

Wages can be raised through productivity: PM Lee

Higher wages can push up business costs, affecting competitiveness and may cause higher inflation, warned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In order to sustain better wages and higher living standards, productivity among workers must be raised.

Mr Lee said that raising productivity is "more important than ever in our mature economy, because it is the only way to upgrade ourselves and our lives."

In his May Day message, the prime minister also urged every worker, whether rank-and-file or Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs), to continue to upgrade and master new skills.

"Raising our productivity will benefit workers, firms, and our economy as a whole. Workers can earn more in higher-quality jobs.

"Firms can prosper and expand their businesses here. Our economy can continue to thrive despite more intense global competition," said Mr Lee.

Looking ahead, Mr Lee said that Singaporeans must prepare for a more challenging economic environment, as globalisation has shortened economic cycles, and ups and downs happen much faster, with less warning.

The prime minister's message is the latest to come from employers and politicians over a highly debated suggestion on raising wages substantially.

SMRT's Q4 profit drops 59%

SINGAPORE - Singapore's main subway operator SMRT Corp Ltd reported on Monday a 59 percent drop in fiscal fourth-quarter net profit, hurt by higher operating expenses and impairment of goodwill on its bus operations.
The company earned S$13.9 million in the three months ended March, down from S$34 million a year earlier.

SMRT declared a reduced final dividend of 5.70 Singapore cents compared with 6.75 cents a year ago.

SMRT shares have fallen around 7 percent since it said last week it would spend S$900 million to overhaul the train system following numerous breakdowns in recent months. Part of the cost will be borne by the government's Land Transport Authority (LTA).

"We are still in discussion with LTA on cost-sharing arrangements," interim CEO Tan Ek Kia said in a statement.

Under Singapore's regulatory framework for public transport, LTA owns the assets but SMRT is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the train system.

Looking ahead, SMRT said it expects revenue to rise in the next 12 months due to the expected rise in train and bus ridership. But earnings will be hurt by higher repair and maintenance costs, as well as expenses on energy and staff.

Several analysts have downgraded the stock or cut their price targets on concerns such as higher operational costs, regulatory risks and uncertainty surrounding the appointment of a new chief executive.

Out of 17 analysts covering the stock, 10 have sell or strong sell ratings, four have hold recommendations, while the remaining three have buy or strong buy calls, according to Thomson Reuters data.

SMRT shares fell 0.3 percent to close at S$1.68 on Monday.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

$70m to help low-wage workers through IGP

In its drive to restructure Singapore's economy, the Government will also step up measures to ensure the blue-collar workforce is not left behind.

$70 million has been set aside for the next three years for the existing Inclusive Growth Programme (IGP), which will help companies - especially those employing low-wage workers - raise productivity.

Around 70,000 workers are expected to benefit as their companies tap on IGP's help and co-funding to adopt new technologies, streamline work processes and train staff.

Announcing this at a May Day dinner on Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Manpower Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam said the IGP, which was launched in Aug 2010, is working.

As a result of the programme, some 33,000 low-wage workers have seen, on average, a basic pay increase of about 10 per cent, he said.

IGP is administered by NTUC and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), with over $30 million committed to the programme in the past two years.

"We must restructure our economy, to create better jobs and enable our workers to earn significantly higher pay over the next decade," Mr Tharman said.

"We are working to ensure that low-paid workers are the chief beneficiaries of our economic restructuring efforts."

DPM Tharman: Average S'porean won't feel the sharp effects of inflation

The average Singapore will not feel the effects of a sharp inflation, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said today in a speech at this year's May Day dinner.

He acknowledged that the 5.2 per cent increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March 2012 compared to a year ago, was a "high figure".

But more than half of this inflation rate of 5.2 per cent comes from higher COE premiums on cars and the effect of higher market rents on homes, the Manpower Minister said.

So those who already own their homes and are not buying a new car will be unaffected.

In fact for most Singaporeans, inflation in actual household expenses is lower than 5 per cent.

Mr Tharman explained that the increase in prices of daily necessities and essential services, such as food, clothing and footwear, and education, has actually been much more moderate, at 3.0 per cent or lower.

Nevertheless the Government is closely monitoring the situation, including prices of everyday goods and services, Mr Tharman said.

Inflation remains an important challenge and it is also one that union leaders are most concerned about, he said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has been gradually strengthening the value of the Singapore dollar to reduce the impact of imported inflation.

Actions have also been taken to cool the property market as an overheated property market with inflated property prices, while by themselves not part of the CPI, can drive up other prices.

Eldershield review needs to be calibrated very carefully: Gan Kim Yong

SINGAPORE: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has stressed that the government needs to "calibrate very carefully" any review to the ElderShield scheme - a severe disability insurance scheme.

Mr Gan was speaking on the sidelines of a community event where a new study was released, showing the benefits of brisk walking.

The study shows that members of Singapore's National Brisk Walking Programme are about eight per cent fitter compared to the general population.

Conducted by the Health Promotion Board, the survey covered 1,236 participants during a one-year period from September 2010 to September 2011.

Research has found that brisk walking regularly could help to decrease the risk of suffering from chronic conditions -- such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and breast cancer -- by almost 50 per cent.

Brisk walking can also help to prevent dementia and osteoporosis, and help manage one's weight in tandem with a healthy diet.

The National Brisk Walking Programme was introduced in 2009 to get Singaporeans who had a sedentary lifestyle exercising.

There are now 700 brisk walking clubs island-wide, and since the start of the programme, the number of participants has ballooned by 25 per cent to some 100,000 people.

Members of the brisk walking club get about 230 minutes of physical activity each week, the survey reported.

The amount is about three times more than the national average of about 80 minutes per week for seniors, who make up 60 per cent of the participants.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said this was an encouraging sign, in view of Singapore's ageing population.

Chairman of the National Briskwalking Workgroup and Mayor for the North West District, Dr Teo Ho Pin, said there are now plans to reach out to more people.

"We are still trying to reach out to more minority groups especially our Indian friends because we still haven's attracted a lot of our Indian and Malay friends to join us in our brisk walking clubs," said Dr Teo.

Separately, Mr Gan also touched on calls to enhance Eldershield -- a severe disability insurance scheme that provides basic financial protection to those who need long-term care.

Some observers have said that current payouts are insufficient given high medical bills.

In 2007, the government increased the Eldershield monthly payout from S$300 to S$400, and the maximum payout period from 60 to 72 months.

Industry players have said the payout is insufficient, as patients' bills are at least twice that amount.

However, Mr Gan reiterated that there would be trade-offs accompanying any enhancement in payouts.

"We have to bear in mind that with enhancement, the cost of insurance will also go up," Mr Gan said.

"We'll have to calibrate very carefully to ensure that Eldershield remains affordable and at the same time the benefits remain effective to help our seniors."

A review of the ElderShield scheme is expected to take place in 2013.

HPB to reward senior citizens who brisk walk regularly

SINGAPORE: The Health Promotion Board (HPB) on Sunday released the findings of a study involving 1,200 seniors, which showed that those who participated in the National Brisk Walking Programme were, on average, eight per cent fitter than their peers.

The HPB also revealed that it is coming up with a reward system for seniors who spend at least 100 minutes a week brisk walking.

These seniors will be assessed every six months and could qualify for yearly awards. Those who achieve at least 200 minutes of brisk walking a week will attain the gold award, while those who brisk walk for at least 150 and 100 minutes will get the silver and bronze awards respectively.

The awards come with certificates and vouchers that can be used to buy healthy food.

The rewards will be offered to 100,000 constituents in the 700 brisk-walking clubs here and will progressively be rolled out islandwide, said HPB chief executive officer Ang Hak Seng.

"The reward is not about giving them something ... but about (providing) them a sense of accomplishment," Mr Ang said, adding that more details will be announced later.

To mark the third anniversary of the National Brisk Walking Programme, 10,000 residents took part in brisk-walking sessions across the island.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was at one of the sessions, noted that exercise such as brisk walking is increasingly important to cope with the challenges of an ageing population.

"One of the key strategies to address this challenge is to encourage Singaporeans to live well and stay active, healthy and engaged. For this reason, the brisk-walking club is a very important part of this strategy.

"Through brisk walking, Singaporeans can work out together (and) stay healthy," said Mr Gan, who shared that he brisk walks up to twice a day on weekends.

North-West District Mayor Teo Ho Pin, who chairs the National Brisk Walking Workgroup, said there are plans to reach out further to minorities such as Indians and Malays, as not many have joined the groups.

To encourage greater participation among all Singaporeans, Mr Ang said "bite-sized" brisk-walking exercises will be introduced during community events.

The South-West Community Development Council (CDC) will start a pilot for such exercises, which will be rolled out by other CDCs over the next three years.

Brisk-walking events with special themes - such as paranormal walks and speed-dating walks - will also be held between July and August, Mr Ang added.

Govt closely monitoring inflation: DPM Tharman

SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Manpower Tharman Shanmugaratnam has assured Singaporeans that the government is closely monitoring inflation including prices of everyday goods and services.

Speaking at the May Day dinner, he noted that inflation remains an important challenge and one that union leaders are most concerned about.

This year's May Day dinner comes at a time of continuing uncertainty in the global economy, caused especially by the problems in Europe, said Mr Tharman.

In Singapore however, he said the economy is not in a bad shape.

"Our unemployment rate remains lower than in most other countries. This is due to the very large number of jobs created last year. With the economic slowdown, we have seen a pick-up in redundancies since the last quarter of 2011, and can expect a slight increase in unemployment in the short term as displaced workers take some time to find new jobs," said Mr Tharman.

Singapore's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by about 5.2 per cent in March 2012 compared to a year ago and he said this is a high figure.

However, he also explained that this does not mean that the average Singaporean will feel this high inflation.

That is because more than half of the headline inflation rate of 5.2 per cent came from higher COEs for cars and the effect of higher market rent on houses.

Mr Tharman assured that the vast majority of Singaporeans who already own their homes and are not buying new cars will not feel the effects of these sharp increases.

Mr Tharman also said the increase in prices of daily necessities and essential services such as food and clothing have actually been much more moderate at three per cent or lower.

"The vast majority of Singaporeans, who already own their homes and are not buying a new car, will not feel the effects of these sharp increases. The increase in prices of daily necessities and essential services, such as food, clothing & footwear and education, has actually been much more moderate, at three per cent or lower. The inflation in actual household expenditures for most Singaporeans is hence lower than five per cent," said Mr Tharman.

He added: "Nevertheless, we are closely monitoring the situation, including prices of everyday goods and services. MAS has been strengthening the value of our dollar to reduce the impact of imported inflation. The government has taken actions to cool the property market. Although property prices are not part of the consumer price index, in an overheated property market, many other prices can also go up. We will keep a close watch on the property market.

"In the meantime too, the government is providing some help for Singaporean households to cope with the rising cost of living. This year, we introduced GST vouchers, which will help lower income Singaporeans and especially our older folk with their expenses."

Mr Tharman noted that the National Wages Council has been discussing the wage guidelines for 2012 and 2013 and he is sure that they will consider all factors carefully before making their recommendations, expected by June.

Mr Tharman hopes that the guidelines will allow workers to get their fair share from the growth over the past year and get wage increases that can be sustained while still ensuring that businesses in Singapore remain competitive and continue to generate good jobs.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Some 9,990 workers laid off in Singapore

SINGAPORE: Amid more moderate economic growth, more workers were laid off in 2011, especially in the fourth quarter of the year.

Some 9,990 workers were laid off last year, up slightly from the 9,800 in 2010.

But the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said seven out of 10 residents who were laid off were re-employed within a year.

This is according to MOM's yearly Redundancy and Re-employment Report.

With a larger employment base, however, the incidence of redundancy dropped.

5.5 workers were laid off for every 1,000 employees in 2011, down from 5.7 in 2010.

Redundancies for the past two years remain substantially lower than the more than 23,000 workers laid off during the recession in 2009.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, director, Workplace Safety and Health, NTUC, said: "The economic situation is getting more challenging, and the economic cycle is getting shorter, so it's inevitable that we'll see such figures going up and down.

"Fortunately, I think based on the last two years' figures, we don't have a significant trend to show that it's been getting worse.

"It's important that we continue to strengthen our efforts to strengthen employment and employability capability of all the workers. We need to take good care of those who're affected, although the numbers are still small."

Production, transport operators and cleaning workers formed the largest group of layoffs, at 47.6 per cent.

Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) came in second at 41.7 per cent.

The remaining 11 per cent were clerical, sales and service workers.

For companies, restructuring and high labour cost were the top two reasons for laying off workers, followed by high operating cost and business re-organisation.

Singapore National Employers Federation assistant executive-director Tan Kwang Cheak said: "If we look at overall context of how the economy is, how competitive it has been, not only in Singapore but globally, I think companies are constantly looking for ways to restructure, to improve their processes, to, in essence, be more competitive as they seek greater growth.

"So I think it reflects that ongoing process for companies."

In addition, the manpower report said the average time a laid-off worker took to find a job, was about two months.

Those in clerical, sales and service jobs, as well as those who're younger, took the shortest time.

Data showed re-entry into employment has been improving for the past three years.

Seventy per cent of residents laid off in the first three quarters of 2011 found jobs within a year, up from 66 per cent in 2010, and 65 per cent in 2009.

SingTel says sells stake in Far EasTone for $340m

SINGAPORE - Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (SingTel) confirmed on Friday it has divested its 3.98 per cent stake in Taiwan's Far EasTone Telecommunications Co Ltd for T$8.03 billion (S$340 million).

SingTel, Southeast Asia's biggest telecoms firm, said it will see a gain of about S$118 million (US$95 million) from the on-market sale. The gain will be reflected in the first quarter ending June 30.

On Thursday IFR reported SingTel was selling its stake in Far EasTone and Goldman Sachs was the sole bookrunner for the deal.

DPM Tharman on inclusive growth

SINGAPORE'S main focus is on the long-term challenge of building a better future for its people, said Deputy Prime Minister and Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

In his May Day Message yesterday, he said that everything the Government does is "ultimately aimed at achieving inclusive growth" which benefits all Singaporean workers.

He said: "We must press on with our efforts to restructure Singapore's economy, so that we can grow on the basis of productivity and support higher wages for our workers."

This is where the country's tripartite partnership between workers, employers and the Government plays a key role in engaging companies, he said.

Mr Tharman added that the Government is working with small and medium-sized enterprises especially, to help them upgrade their operations and stay competitive in a tight labour market.

To help lower-wage workers, the Workfare Income Supplement and Workfare Training Support schemes have been put in place to encourage them to find regular work. The schemes have also helped them progress through training and skills upgrading.

He said that the Manpower Ministry will step up awareness and enforcement efforts to ensure that employers comply with the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Act and the Employment Act.

This is so that lower-wage workers receive CPF contributions and statutory employment benefits from their employers.

As many lower-wage workers are employed in industries where outsourcing is common - such as cleaning and security - the Government is working closely with its tripartite partners to promote best sourcing.

He said that the Government, as a major service buyer, will lead by example in this aspect, by procuring only from accredited cleaning companies and well-graded security agencies.

The Retirement and Re-employment Act and the Special Employment Credit - to help older workers - will be monitored closely and studied for their implementation and impact, he said.

Mr Tharman also highlighted the need to develop a "strong Singapore core of employees", including professionals, managers and executives.

"We have to keep to the right balance. We must stay open to expertise from around the world and enable our companies to have the diverse teams that allow them to remain competitive."

PMETs still vulnerable to layoffs

SINGAPORE - Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) remain vulnerable to layoffs, according to a report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday.

Among occupational groups, PMETs were the second-most vulnerable, after those holding production jobs.

The third-most vulnerable group were those in clerical and sales positions.

Last year, about 4,170 PMETs were made redundant - retrenched or released early from contract - up from 3,450 in 2010.

Overall, some 9,990 workers were laid off last year. Due to a rise in layoffs in the fourth quarter last year, the number of employees made redundant was higher than the 9,800 in 2010.

Still, against a larger employment base last year, the rate of redundancies - at 5.5 workers for every 1,000 employees - continued to decline from 5.7 in 2010. Last year's rate is the lowest since 1998, when MOM first released the annual Redundancy And Re-entry Into Employment report.

Mr David Ang, executive director of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said that the rise in the number of PMETs displaced last year could be attributed to restructuring among companies in sectors such as manufacturing and services.

"Sometimes, companies merge or streamline their operations and, in the process, employees working in jobs like sales and marketing may end up losing their jobs," he told my paper.

"There may not be space for these employees, who used to hold positions that have now been combined with those in other departments or removed totally."

This was reflected in the report, which cited restructuring for greater efficiency and increased labour costs as the two main reasons for redundancies.

Workers in the manufacturing sector continued to be the most susceptible to redundancies. About 11 employees were laid off for every 1,000 of such workers last year.

This was drastically higher as compared to the 3.8 per 1,000 workers laid off in the services sector, and the 4.2 workers laid off for every 1,000 in the construction sector over the same period.

Meanwhile, the rate of re-entry into employment for workers who were laid off last year improved for the second straight year.

The report showed that 70 per cent of workers - or seven in 10 - who were made redundant in the first three quarters of last year had managed to secure employment again by December.

This was an improvement over the 66 per cent figure for the previous cohort in 2010, and 65 per cent for the 2009 cohort.

On average, it took just over two months for these workers to land new jobs last year.

Younger employees, and those laid off from clerical, sales and service jobs, took the shortest time to clinch new jobs.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nastiest travel nightmares

AT LEAST once a year, we cough out extra money from our kitty to spend on a holiday to escape from the daily stresses of our lives.

And who can blame you for having high expectations that it will be perfect?

We do our due diligence to pack an extra set of clothes, a windbreaker, a few phone chargers and adapters, and even some basic medication.

But according to U.S. News, what most people do not prepare for are calamities.

This is simply because, no one ever imagines that bad things will happen to them, it said.

Last week, two major earthquakes struck off the Sumatra coast and triggered tsunami warnings in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

Thailand evacuated areas along the Andaman Sea, including Phuket. Just 30 minutes after Mr Manjit Singh checked into his hotel on the island, he was greeted by sirens and crowds running on the streets with worried looks on their faces.

The 35-year-old Singaporean told The New Paper that he had to brace himself of the flooding and debris.

Luckily for Mr Singh and his friends, the tsunami never came.

So instead of being unprepared, here are seven tips on how to handle woeful travel dilemmas.

1. If your flight is cancelled...
These days you are better off tweeting about your flight woes than trying to call through the airline hotline. Most airlines like Qantas and Singapore Airlines have Twitter channels and use it to post updates on flight delays or cancellation.

They also have dedicated resources so are are better equipped to assist customers.

While you may not get immediate compensation (if at all), the response time is quicker via Twitter and you know that at least your feedback is heard.

2. If the airline loses your bags...
For starters, always label your baggages. If they get lost because it wasn't labelled, then you don't get to blame the airline or hotel bellboys.

U.S. News also said that it is probably a good idea to pack a few essentials on your carry-on pack and check in early. This gives the airline sufficient time to ensure your luggage reaches cargo hold.

If you are at arrival and find that your bags are not on the carousel, don't panic as most airlines have sophisticated tracking systems and usually will be able to locate the missing item(s) within hours of you reporting loss. Also, be sure to get the right number to follow-up on your missing baggage - the onus is on you.

The U.S News said that if your luggage is declared permanently lost, you have up to 30 days (depending on the airline) to file a valid liability claim.

4. If your passport is stolen…
Keep digital copies of your passport identification page. Also, save any visas on a secure online archive site (like Google Docs) so that you can access them from any computer to verify your identity.

4. If you get arrested...
Before you travel, you should brush up on the local customs and laws to avoid cultural misunderstands and having a brush with the law, according to U.S. News.

If you do get incarcerated, contact your local embassy or consulate immediately.

5. If there's a medical emergency...
When you travel, it is probably wise to pack some basic painkillers or cold medication which will help to ease your misery and speed up recovery. Make sure the prescriptions are in their original bottles so they can be easily identified.

But what happens if it is more than a sniffle?

Before you leave home, check through your health insurance coverage to check if you are covered overseas. If not, it is probably prudent to purchase short-term cover so have your back while you are overseas, said U.S. News.

If you get injured or terribly sick while overseas, contact your embassy or consulate. They can help contact your family or personal doctor, recommend the best local medical care or even help you transfer money so you can pay for medical expenses, according to U.S. News.

6. If there's a natural disaster...

Unfortunately, this is something no one can really be too prepared for when travelling. But you can read up on whether the area you are visiting is disaster-prone.

Leave your travel itinerary and a list of personal information including your passport number and telephone number with a trusted friend.

When you get to the destination, designate a meeting point with your travel companions so you can assemble there in case phone communications go out, said U.S. News.

Once again when disaster strikes, your embassy is your best friend. If you are out of the city, try to locate the nearest embassy or consulate with officers that speak your language and they will likely do their best to help you.

Lastly, stay calm and on top of the news for the lastest updates on the emergency situation.

7. If there's a state of emergency...
Political unrest tends to be volatile, so check your country's foreign affairs website for travel advisories.

If you are caught in political situation, a tip is to avoid public transport, taxis and popular tourist destinations as those are often popular targets of attack, according to U.S. News.

Check in with your embassy as often as possible so they know your whereabouts and how to contact you.

You might also want to consider leaving major cities in favor of smaller, quieter towns.

Lastly, get a Travel Insurance to protect you from the unforeseen and tide you through all your woes.

Police to install CCTV cameras at 300 housing blocks, carparks

SINGAPORE: To better prevent, deter and detect crime, police have started the installation of cameras at 300 public housing blocks and multi-storey carparks.

It is part of the new S$160 million Community Policing System announced during this year's Budget.

The cameras will be installed in seven areas - Bukit Merah, Bishan, Clementi, Punggol, Sengkang, Tampines and Woodlands.

The move is part of a pilot phase to enhance frontline policing through technology.

The cameras will be placed at public spaces, as well as key entry and exit points. Signs will also be put up to indicate where the cameras are.

While there will not be "live" monitoring of cameras, the footage captured will be kept for a month. Police said this has worked in their favour in the past, with molesters and thieves arrested.

Residents have welcomed the initiative.

One of the residents said: "Criminal activities happen frequently around here, so now it will be safer."

The plan is to cover 10,000 public housing blocks and multi-storey carparks islandwide with the cameras by 2016.

Singapore's crime rate is relatively low, at about 600 crimes per 100,000 people.

Singapore shares open lower on Friday

Singapore shares opened lower on Friday, with the benchmark Straits Times Index at 2,999.28, down 0.30 per cent, or 8.93 points.

About 186 million shares exchanged hands.

Losers beat gainers 82 to 46.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Late? Get a chit from SMRT

Commuters who get delayed as a result of train disruptions can ask for excuse slips to present to their bosses or teachers to explain their lateness.

These official slips - or excuse chits, as they are called - can be obtained at customer-service counters at any MRT station operated by SMRT, the transport operator said. They come complete with the date and time of a disruption, as well as a station stamp and staff signature.

An SMRT spokesman told my paper yesterday: "We provide an excuse chit to passengers who request one from our station staff, as official proof that they were delayed because of a service disruption."

Commuters who require one can also write in to SMRT Customer Relations at or call the transport operator's hotline on 1800-3368-900.

SMRT said it introduced the excuse chit in the early 2000s.

While the transport operator was unable to provide the total number of chits given out since, it said that fewer than 100 have been issued for disruptions over the past two weeks.

Stomp contributor Mansoor, 42, said he was stranded at Buona Vista Station yesterday morning, due to the disruption on the Circle Line.

He had been heading to one-north Station, just one stop away. The assistant merchandising manager approached staff at station control, who told him they could issue him a chit.

He finally made it to work by bus, arriving over half an hour late. He later posted a photograph of the chit on citizen-journalism website Stomp.

Mansoor said: "In the end, my boss was late too, so he accepted my lateness."

COE prices for cars hit $92,000

SINGAPORE - Premiums for certificates of entitlement soared to a stratospheric high of $92,010 at the end of April's 2nd bidding at 4pm today. Such prices have not been seen since the mid-1990s.

Premiums for Category A (1,600cc and below, plus taxis), jumped to $64,201 from $58,501 compared to the previous bidding earlier this April. This was an increase of 9.7 per cent, the biggest increase for this bidding.

Category B (cars above 1,600cc) premiums leapt 8.7 per cent to $91,000, up from $83,700.

Prices for the open category ended 8.7 per cent higher at $92,010 from $84,590. The category is usually used for cars and is transferable.

Premiums for commercial vehicles also rose 6.7 per cent to $57,589 from $53,989.

Only motorcycle premiums were spared. The category saw a 1.5 per cent increase to $1,924 from $1,896.

Recent news reports have cautioned of a likely increase in COE prices in the coming months due to an impending shrinkage in the supply of COEs. The supply is determined by the number of vehicles scrapped and is revised every six months.

April 2nd bidding
Category April 18 prices April 4 prices
Cars (1600CC & below) & taxis $64,201 $58,501
Cars (above 1,600CC) $91,000 $83,700
Commercial vehicles $57,589 $53,989
Motorcycles $1,924 $1,896
Open category $92,010 $84,590
According to a Straits Times report, the average number of cars scrapped in the first three months of 2012 was lower than in the preceding six months, thus spelling a smaller supply.

In an April 14 ST report, Mr Karsono Kwee, executive chairman of Eurokars Group, estimated that COE prices for a luxury car could reach $100,00.

Monday, April 16, 2012

S'pore's NODX falls sharply in March

SINGAPORE: Singapore's non-oil domestic exports (NODX) for March fell sharply from February figures, according to a statement from International Enterprise (IE) Singapore.

NODX fell 4.3 per cent on-year in March compared to a 30 per cent rise in February, largely due to a contraction in non-electronic NODX which
outweighed the expansion in electronic NODX.

Electronic exports rose 2.8 per cent but could not make up for non-electronic exports falling 7.8 per cent due to lower exports of structures of ships & boats(-99 per cent), petrochemicals (-13 per cent) and primary chemicals (-15 per cent).

The figures are a contrast to February, when electronic exports rose 23 per cent on-year while non-electronic exports expanded 34 per cent.

On a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis, NODX decreased by 17 per cent compared to an expansion of 7.2 per cent in the previous month.

On a seasonally adjusted basis the level of NODX reached S$14 billion, lower than the S$17 billion registered in February.

As for total trade, it dropped by 0.9 per cent on-year compared to a 26 per cent rise in February.

Total exports declined by 2.2 per cent in March compared to a 25 per cent expansion in February.

Total imports increased marginally by 0.6 per cent in March, following a 27 per cent rise in February.

ATM service with a smile...

He had gone to Clarke Quay with his friends and needed cash to pay for dinner.

Mr Wong Liang Yuan, 26, went to a DBS ATM to make a cash withdrawal. But the marketing manager was not prepared for what happened next.

"The ATM went crazy, issuing receipt after receipt with smiley faces on it," he said.

"I didn't know what was going on, but I knew something wasn't right."

He received five smiley receipts along with the $50 he had requested.

Concerned about a possible security breach, Mr Wong called DBS on the spot to report the apparent malfunction.

"A staff member told me that they would look into the matter," he said.

Mr Wong quickly realised that he was not the only bank customer to have received the strange receipts - he found similar printouts left on top of the ATM he had used.

When he got home, he checked his account balance online and was relieved to find no money missing from his POSB savings account.

A DBS spokesman told my paper: "This was an isolated case of a printer malfunction at an ATM.

"Please be assured that the printing error has no implication on a customer's account or banking transactions."

An engineer has already been dispatched to fix the printer, DBS said.

my paper understands that the smiley faces are printed by default whenever a printer encounters an error.

Bank security was in the spotlight earlier this year after a card-skimming scam came to light. The syndicate responsible stole money from customers who used two DBS ATMs in Bugis.

In January, fraudsters stole about $1million from the accounts of almost 700 customers by making withdrawals in Malaysia.

DBS has 4.3 million customers and an islandwide network of about 1,300 ATMs and cash- deposit machines.

ING seeks suitors for Asian life-insurance business

HONG KONG - ING has sent out information booklets for the sale of its Asian life-insurance business to some potential suitors and asked them to submit first-round bids by the third week of next month, sources told Reuters.

ING is selling the insurance- and investment-management businesses separately, in a deal that could fetch in excess of US$6.5 billion (S$8 billion), sources said.

Information memorandums (IMs) contain financial details of the businesses being sold, which will help suitors arrive at their bid values.

By sending out IMs, the bailed-out Dutch bank and insurer has set in motion an auction which has generated interest from global insurers keen to get a foothold in Asia's rapidly growing insurance industry.

"The starting gun has kind of gone off," one person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

At least a dozen global and Asian insurers - including Metlife, Prudential Financial, Manulife Financial Corp and AIA Group - have expressed interest in participating in the auction, sources said.

ING must spin off its insurance- and investment-management operations by the end of next year, in return for European Commission approval for 10 billion euros (S$16.5 billion) of Dutch state aid received in 2008.

An ING spokesman in Hong Kong declined to comment. Sources declined to be identified as the sale process is confidential.

The investment-management business is being sold in a separate auction and the IMs for that sale are expected to go out this week, sources added.

Some analysts estimate the investment-management business to fetch US$500-600 million.

While ING's preference is to sell the whole Asian life-insurance operations in seven countries in one deal, it will allow suitors the option to bid for some specific operations, sources added.

South Korea and Japan account for about two thirds of ING's Asian business but Japan may prove to be a stumbling block in the auction due to the 18 billion euros' worth of high guarantee variable-annuity policies the Japan operation has on the books.

Temasek buys $3b ICBC shares

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE - Temasek bought US$2.3 billion (S$3 billion) worth of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's (ICBC) Hong Kong-listed shares from seller Goldman Sachs, piling into three of China's top four banks and raising its bet on the world's second-biggest economy.

The deal for ICBC takes Temasek deeper into China's banking industry, which has grown from insolvency six years ago to become a sector that holds four of the world's top 10 banks by market value.

Mr Ding Wei, Temasek's China head, told Reuters that it bought into ICBC because the price was reasonable and the investor was positive about the bank and China's long-term development.
Temasek already owns stakes in China Construction Bank and Bank of China.

China assets accounted for 20 per cent of its portfolio as of March last year.

Mr Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB, said: "Temasek has laid out its strategy before on where it thinks growth is. Within Asia, China anchors the growth, so Temasek is putting money where its mouth is."

The latest purchase was of 3.55 billion H-shares, or about 1 per cent of ICBC, the world's largest bank by market value.

Temasek now has a 1.3 per cent stake in ICBC, a Temasek spokesman said. This includes ICBC shares that the investor owns directly, as well as various other stakes held by Temasek-linked companies.

China's banking industry has come under fire lately, as customers and politicians have cried out that the sector's massive profits are coming at the expense of citizens.

Low deposit rates, coupled with steady customer fees, are at the heart of the protests.

Goldman's block trade is in line with its plan to reduce its stake in ICBC, which it bought before the Chinese bank's 2006 initial public offering (IPO).

After the sale - its fourth - Goldman has roughly US$3 billion worth of ICBC shares remaining.

Goldman sold the Hong Kong-traded shares of ICBC at HK$5.05 each (S$0.82), or a 3.1 per cent discount to last Friday's closing price.

The other roughly US$200 million worth of shares were sold to other institutional investors, a source said.

Hong Kong shares of ICBC, which has a market value of US$240 billion, fell as much as 1.7 per cent early yesterday but pruned the losses to be down 0.8 per cent in the afternoon, in line with the broader market.

Its shares are up about 12 per cent so far this year, in line with a similar rise on the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Besides Goldman, American Express (Amex) is the only major foreign financial institution that holds shares in ICBC.

Amex holds about 638 million shares in ICBC, or less than 1 per cent of the bank's Hong Kong-listed shares.

Mr Sanjay Jain, head of Asian financials research at Credit Suisse, said: "The sale does not affect ICBC at all, and the overhang will be removed when Goldman disposes of the remaining (ICBC shares), hopefully in one go."

Temasek's financial-services portfolio includes stakes in DBS Group, Indian lender ICICI Bank and Standard Chartered.

Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS are among the foreign banks that have sold large stakes in Chinese banks over the past few years.

Such sales have been an attractive way to raise capital or reduce earnings volatility.

Goldman first bought 4.9 per cent of ICBC for about US$2.6 billion before the 2006 IPO, which was then the world's biggest public offering.

The latest stake purchase comes after Temasek, which manages about US$150 billion in assets, raised about US$800 million since the start of the year in three significant selldowns in its portfolio companies.

This included a 1.4 per cent stake sale in ICICI Bank.

Temasek is also selling its 67.4 per cent stake in Indonesia's Bank Danamon to DBS in exchange for DBS shares, in a deal that is awaiting regulatory approval.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One prick and S'pore boy risks bleeding to death

It was a routine blood test for jaundice in their newborn baby.

But after being pricked for a blood sample, he kept bleeding for hours.

They knew something was wrong but were still stunned to discover their son has a rare blood disease that affects only about 200 people in Singapore.

In April 2006, Mr Gerard Vaz and his wife, Grace, found that their son, Dominic, had been diagnosed with haemophilia, a genetic blood disorder that has no cure.

It results in the body's inability to form blood clots to stop bleeding, so a haemophiliac can bleed to death when injured.

Mr Vaz, 39, a special education teacher, said: "We knew so little about haemophilia, we had to learn. The Internet was a great help."

Dominic, the second of four children, was only seven days old at the time, and his parents were shocked as they had no family history of haemophilia.

In the five years since the diagnosis, Dominic has been hospitalised about 16 times for serious bleeding episodes, such as when his injection site kept spurting blood last November.

Although Dominic gets subsidies and is only warded when necessary, the medical bills have hit $165,000.

The combined net income for Mr Vaz and Mrs Vaz, 37, a probation officer, is about $10,000 a month.

To help haemophiliac patients with treatment cost, the Haemophilia Society of Singapore will have its first charity walkathon and carnival this Sunday.

Dominic's treatment costs have jumped since last May because he developed resistance towards the blood-clotting protein he had been injected with.


Only 10 per cent of all haemophiliacs worldwide develop such resistance, said Dr Joyce Lam, a consultant in paediatric haematology-oncology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

Dominic now needs another type of clotting protein that costs $3,000 per dose, compared to only $160 previously.

In the November bleeding episode, he needed seven doses, costing a total of $21,000. His parents hope he can go on a six-month intensive therapy involving daily infusions to reverse the resistance, but they will need to pay over $200,000.

Mrs Vaz, who learnt of the cost only two days ago, said: "Where are we going to find the money?"

Dominic has severe haemophilia, which means the amount of essential blood-clotting protein in his body is less than 1 per cent of that in a normal person.

That means he can experience internal bleeding at any time without external trauma such as falling or knocking into things, said Mrs Vaz.

"In the middle of the night, he can wake up screaming from pain due to bleeding in his joints. We try to close the windows so as not to wake the neighbours."

Dominic also has nightmares from reliving his painful injections.

Mrs Vaz said: "That's the hardest part, watching him getting poked five or six times before they can find a vein. Because he is so young, his veins are very fine.

"He would be screaming, and it would take four adults to hold him down."

During the hour-long interview in their five-room flat in Potong Pasir, Dominic behaved like a typical child - rolling on the floor and playing with his mother's laptop mouse despite repeated warnings to stop.

Mr Vaz said his son cannot do some activities like riding a bicycle, so they try to engage him through "safer" activities like reading and going for keyboard lessons.

He added: "But we don't stop him from running or jumping, unless he is injured. We want him to have as normal a childhood as possible, so we are prepared to take a few risks."

Someone suggested that Dominic wear a helmet and padded clothing, but his parents did not want him to be ridiculed.

Special notebook

To monitor his condition, Mrs Vaz keeps a detailed record of Dominic's injuries and treatments in a special notebook:

Entry #7, from when Dominic was about a year old, reads: "Learning to walk, trips over himself and cut upper lip. Transfusion and stitches".

Entry #27, from last May, reads: "Morning at Fort Canning Park. Constance's (Dominic's eight-year-old sister) family day. Afternoon left ankle swells, can't walk. Warded."

His condition also means the family has had overseas holiday plans disrupted.

For example, a four-day trip to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia came to an end after just one night because Dominic had to be rushed back for treatment.

His siblings understand and are not resentful towards him for the attention he gets, said Mr Vaz.

Besides Constance, Dominic also has a younger sister aged four and a five-month-old brother.

As haemophilia only affects males, the baby will be tested when he turns one.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed and praying," said Mrs Vaz.

The couple's Catholic faith and close family ties have helped them to cope with caring for Dominic.

Dominic's paternal grandparents are a 10-minute drive away, and his maternal grandparents live just
a few blocks away. Both sets of grandparents see the children almost every day.

Whenever Dominic is hospitalised, relatives will visit and help care for his siblings.

Mr Vaz said he and his wife take turns to be with Dominic to ensure the other children do not feel neglected. They are grateful to have understanding bosses who are flexible and who let them take leave when needed.

They are concerned about Dominic going to primary school next year, as there will be a higher risk of injury from being with bigger and more active children.

Also, Dominic will no longer be in childcare, where teachers have known him for years and know how to handle his injuries.

His parents hope he gets into a school near KKH, where medical personnel like Dr Lam and specialist nurse Lim Chiew Ying are familiar with his case.

They also look forward to lift upgrading in 2014 so Mr Vaz does not have to carry Dominic, who currently weighs 24kg, up and down the two flights of stairs to the lift when he cannot walk.

They watch Dominic's diet carefully because being overweight will stress his joints more.

Dr Lam praised Dominic's parents, saying: "They are experienced in spotting when a bleed is a serious one that needs treatment in hospital, and when a bleed can be treated at home.

"In fact, they have already learnt how to give him injections at home so that any injury can be treated as soon as possible."

Mr Vaz said: "We will always need to keep watch over him, but he is our son and we will never give up on him.

"It's hard for him too. He often has to sit in a corner while his friends play. So we do what we can for him."

"We don't stop him from running or jumping, unless he is injured. We want him to have as normal a childhood as possible."

Rare condition occurs only in males 

Haemophilia is caused by mutations in the genes that the body needs to produce an essential blood-clotting protein.

These genes are found on the X-chromosome, so only men can have the condition because their Y-chromosome cannot override their single X-chromosome.

Women have two X-chromosomes, so if one of them has the mutated haemophilia genes, the other chromosome will override the effect of the genes, making them carriers of the condition.

For these women, their sons will have a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the condition from them.

While haemophilia is usually inherited, it is possible for someone to have the condition without getting faulty genes from his mother, as spontaneous mutations of the genes can occur, said KKH paediatric haematology-oncology consultant Joyce Lam.

Dr Koh Pei Lin, consultant in paediatric haematology-oncology at the National University Hospital, said gene therapy is a potential cure for haemophilia, but this is not yet available as experiments are ongoing.

There is currently no cure, but the condition can be treated with injections of the missing blood-clotting protein.

It is also important to track which joints are most prone to injury - like what the Vazs do with Dominic.

Dr Lam explained that this is because every bleed into a joint causes swelling and makes that particular joint more prone to future bleeds.

Repeated bleeds cause the protective cartilage to break down, and early arthritis sets in. Many haemophiliacs may need a joint replacement by the time they are in their 20s if their bleeding is not well controlled.

According to the Haemophilia Society of Singapore (HSS), there are over 200 haemophiliac patients here.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said there have been no deaths from haemophilia in the past five years.

Death can occur when there is severe bleeding or bleeding into vital organs such as the brain, said HSS president Dr Gan Kim Loon.

He added: "In the past, haemophiliacs did not live past 30 years of age.

"However, with today's medical advancement, adequate treatment such as preventive injections of the blood-clotting protein can enable a haemophiliac to engage in physical activities and enjoy a normal life expectancy."

Support haemophilic sufferers
The theme for the first Haemophilia Society of Singapore (HSS) walkathon and carnival is "Walk Strong Towards a Better Future".

It will be flagged off by Mr Sam Tan, Mayor of Central Singapore District, this Sunday at the Playground@Big Splash in East Coast Park.

The HSS hopes the event, which runs from 7am to 11.30am, will raise awareness of the plight of haemophiliacs like Dominic Vaz.

It also aims to raise $50,000 to help haemophiliac patients with their treatments. Subsidies are available to the 130 current members of HSS who have haemophilia.

HSS also has an educational award to encourage haemophiliac patients to excel in their studies, and a welfare fund to help tide individuals over acute financial hardship.

Mr Tan, together with 1,600 members from the Central Singapore Community Development Council's healthy lifestyle club, will join haemophiliac patients and their loved ones and volunteers, comprising about 500 people, for the event.

HSS president Dr Gan Kim Loon said: "Haemophilia is one of the most expensive chronic diseases to treat. We hope that the public will help to contribute to HSS' life-changing programmes to build a better future for people with haemophilia in Singapore."

To participate in or make a donation to the event, visit

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Medtech industry set for growth: Lim Hng Kiang

SINGAPORE: The Singapore government is optimistic of the long term growth prospect of the medical technology (medtech) industry, Minister of Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang said.

Speaking at the launch of the MedTech Hub on Thursday, Mr Lim said Singapore is well positioned to harness the growth opportunities in the sector.

He added that Singapore's medtech industry has grown significantly over the past decade.

The sector's manufacturing output grew from S$1.5 billion in 2000 to S$4.3 billion in 2011.

Singapore's medtech sector grew by 12 per cent last year, according to the Economic Survey of Singapore 2011.

The setting up of MedTech Hub at Tukang Innovation Park will help to attract more medtech companies to Singapore, Mr Lim said.

Developed by JTC Corporation, the 7.4 hectare MedTech Hub will host an integrated ecosystem of local and international medtech companies, including manufacturers, suppliers, service providers and shared utilities, all in one location.

At the launch ceremony, Biosensors International Group signed an agreement with JTC, making it the first medtech company to lease land at the MedTech Hub.

Biosensors will lease 12,000 square metres of land to build a facility for the manufacturing of drug-eluting stents and other medical devices.

Medtech companies in Singapore currently provides 9,000 jobs, which represent over 60 per cent of the total number of jobs in the biomedical sciences cluster.

Mr Lim says the global medtech industry is expected to grow at a rate of 10 per cent per annum.

Today, it accounts for about S$423 billion in annual revenues, with the Asia Pacific region making up a quarter of global market share by 2012.

CPF Minimum Sum Topping-Up scheme extended

SINGAPORE: Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin announced on Thursday the extension of top-ups under the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Minimum Sum Topping-Up scheme to include parents-in-law and grandparents-in-law.

From January next year, cash top-ups into the special or retirement accounts of this group of persons will enjoy tax relief.

The CPF Board said that a CPF member may enjoy up to S$7,000 relief for cash top-ups to family members under the extension.

Giving details at a retirement conference, Mr Tan said the government would need to amend the CPF Act and the Income Tax Act later this year to effect the change.

With this enhancement, the Minimum Sum Topping-Up Scheme will become an even broader avenue to help CPF members boost the retirement savings for themselves and their loved ones, Mr Tan added.

According to CPF, there were 38,200 Minimum Sum Top-Up transactions amounting to S$215.6 million in 2011.

Top-up for parents were most popular with 58 per cent of top-ups going into parents' accounts.

Top-ups into spouses' accounts made up 16 per cent.

Mother's brave hug saves son

A Singapore family's holiday in Malacca ended in tragedy when a woman and her son were killed when the car they were in went out of control on the North-South Highway.

Madam Mok Ping Ping , 40, and two of her sons, aged 14 and seven, who were seated at the back, were flung out.

Lianhe Wanbao reported that Madam Mok had grabbed her youngest son and hugged him tightly as they were thrown out to the side of the highway.

Her instinctive action as a protective mother probably saved her son's life as her body shielded him from the full impact of hitting the ground.

Madam Mok and her oldest son, who was thrown onto the middle of the highway, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Her youngest son, a seven-year-old boy, suffered superficial injuries to his head.

The family were on the way back to Singapore when the accident took place near Pagoh in Johor around 5.30pm on Saturday.

It was raining heavily when the car skidded and crashed into a metal barrier along the side of the highway.

Madam Mok's husband was sitting in front next to a friend who was driving. Both of them escaped unhurt.

Another son, who's 13, was travelling with their friends in another car.

Madam Mok and her husband did not have driving licences, Lianhe Wanbao reported.


Her husband broke into loud wails and called repeatedly for her and their son during a ritual held at the accident site around 2am on Sunday.

When The New Paper visited their home in an Upper Bukit Timah Road condominium last night, no one answered the door.

A neighbour said she had not seen the family "for the past few days".

The woman, who looked to be in her 20s and did not want to be named, said the family had moved in just a few months ago.

She knew little about them, except that they have a pet dog.

In another accident on the North-South Highway, a tour bus carrying 29 passengers went out of control on Saturday night and crashed into bushes at the side the road before flipping over.

No one died in the accident, but 15 passengers suffered minor injuries.

The bus is believed to have left Genting Highlands around 4.30pm on Saturday and was heading north when the accident happened near Gopeng in Perak.


Slippery roads caused by the rainy weather might have contributed to the crash, reported Sin Chew Daily.

Eight passengers travelling on a commercial bus from Kajang suffered minor injuries when their vehicle crashed into a wall in Kuala Lumpur, stopping several metres from the railway tracks.

The New Straits Times reported that the bus, which was on its way from Kajang to Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, skidded near a traffic light at Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Brickfields, on Saturday morning.

The 54-year-old bus driver, who escaped unhurt, then lost control of the bus and it hit a traffic light post and an overhead bridge nearby.


June 2011
A woman died and another suffered injuries when a minibus they were in overturned on the North-South Highway near Kulai, Johor.

The accident happened when one of the vehicle's tyres burst, causing the minibus to go out of control and overturn.

April 2011
A 29-year-old IT manager died after he crashed his motorcycle into a barrier on the North-South Highway near Kuala Kangsar, Perak.

February 2011
An elderly woman was killed when the MPV she was in crashed on the North-South Highway near Pagoh, Johor, after the driver lost control of the vehicle.

The woman's son, a 53-year-old businessman, and five other relatives were hurt.

August 2010
A 19-year-old student was flung out of her boyfriend's car after he lost control and crashed into railings in Kluang, Johor.

The student died later in a Johor Baru hospital.

July 2010
A 62-year-old retiree was killed after returning with friends from a holiday in Penang.

The van he was in was involved a three-vehicle collision in Perak.

June 2010
A young Singaporean couple heading home from Genting Highlands crashed their car into the central divider on the North-South Highway in Johor.

The 21-year-old man died, while his girlfriend survived.

June 2010
A retired teacher driving with his family to a wedding in Terengganu smashed his car into a road barrier and spun out of control.

Their vehicle then collided with an oncoming car.

The man, his wife, their 12-year-old granddaughter and their Indonesian maid were killed.

Meet the new traffic 'witness'

Watch it - because you're being watched. Not only on cameras set up by police at traffic junctions and on the streets but, increasingly, in cars.

One motorist, sales executive Goh Keng Guan, 40, has installed cameras in his and four of his family's cars.

One in 50 car insurance claims is now accompanied by video evidence, double that of a year ago, said Mr Pan Jing Long, head of general insurance at Aviva Singapore.

Distributors reported that demand for vehicle cameras has been increasing by between 15 and 50 per cent yearly.

In the past week alone, in-car camera videos from two accidents were posted on YouTube, citizen journalism website Stomp and other forums (see below for pictures).

Last Tuesday morning, a cabby's camera captured a 66-year-old woman, Madam Chan Ah Ying, being knocked down and killed by a bus in Sengkang while she was crossing a traffic light junction.

The following night, footage from the aftermath of an accident - a cyclist trapped under a car at Jalan Bukit Merah - was posted on YouTube.

The motorist who posted the second video said that he is always on the lookout for newer technologies that would allow him to capture his surroundings, especially while on the road.

It all started when he posted photos on Stomp of a Nissan Skyline which had knocked down a woman at Beach Road in September 2010.

The 37-year-old motorist, who wanted to be known only as JT, said: "The accident was fatal and I felt for that poor woman.

"If I had video footage, it would perhaps have helped the police to prove that the driver involved was indeed racing with another Audi car that disappeared from the scene."

He then bought an in-car video recorder for S$299 to be his "witness" on the road.

He said: "I hope that I never have to use it but these days, you can never be sure. As safe as you are as a driver, there are a lot more inconsiderate and reckless drivers out there.

"The guilty party should never get away with it while the innocent ones should not be framed."

Another motorist, Mr Alvin Ng, 34, has become a firm "film buff" after an incident on an expressway last April.

The other driver cut in front of Mr Ng's Honda Stream and jammed his brakes.

After the accident, the other motorist tried to claim S$18,000 from Mr Ng's insurance company for medical bills and S$12,000 for repairs to his car. The case has yet to be settled.

Said Mr Ng: "That was a very bad experience for me. It left a sour taste in my mouth."

When the civil servant bought a new Peugeot 407 two weeks later, he immediately installed a camera. "If I had a camera, it would have been very obvious that he was trying to provoke me," he said.

Three insurance companies contacted by The New Paper said that while video evidence is not required in submitting claims, it is useful in assessing liability.

Mr Pui Phusangmook, general manager of the general insurance division of NTUC Income, said the company would ask policyholders if they have such evidence to support their claims.

"The rule of thumb is that the more evidence there is, the more accurate the reports will be," he said.

In-car video cameras
A spokesman for insurance firm Etiqa said it encourages policyholders to install in-car video cameras.

He said: "With the recorded footage, we are not only able to view how accidents occur but also information like the exact location, road and weather condition."

The cameras cost between S$100 and S$400.

Mr Marcus Tan, director of Eureka Plus - which sells the MARC car camera - said technology has vastly improved in the five years since it started selling in-car cameras.

Previous cameras would even be in black and white, or just 320 pixels, as compared to the present high definition models, he said.

Increasing awareness and affordability have also led to the increase in demand for in-car cameras, said Ms Amy Hoi, business development executive at Bio-Cognitive Solutions, which offers the
Recodia dual-channel camera.

She said: "When we first started out more than two years ago, it was s$380 for a single camera car recorder. Now, the prices for our single and dual camera car recorders are from $290 to $399."

Distributors said the cameras are also helpful in vandalism cases.

Mr Gary Chia, product manager of Wow! Gadgets, said customers would install one to four camera units per car - with victims of vandalism installing three or four units to ensure all angles were covered.

In the first three months this year, at least five customers have caught vandals with the company's BlackVue cameras, he claimed.

A motorist, who wanted to be known as Mr Goh, installed a camera last December after his car was scratched.

'It's about being protected'
"It's about being protected. This camera can do a lot of things - if people break in, if people hit and run, if they knock your car while parking, I'm able to get the offender," he said.

Just last month, a car hit Mr Goh's Volkswagen GTI and drove off. Even if Mr Goh had failed to catch up with the driver, he needn't have worried as his in-car camera captured the other car's licence plate number.

Lawyer Gloria James of Gloria James-Civetta & Co said footage from these cameras has been increasingly showing up in court, compared to two years ago.

She said: "During prosecution, if the 'victim' feels that the investigation officer (IO) is not proceeding to charge the 'accused', this footage evidence has to be mentioned and produced to the IO.

"It can be produced at the Magistrate's Complaint Stage too."

On the other hand, if an IO does not take footage evidence into consideration and an accused is charged, he can opt to claim trial and produce this evidence, she said.

Footage evidence can also be used to prosecute aperson.

Ms James cited one client who had a tailgater flashing his high beams and pursuing him for almost 10 minutes.

Her client called the traffic police, produced the video and the tailgater was issued with a warning.

But lawyer Patrick Yeo of KhattarWong cautioned that evidence could cut both ways.

He said: "If a person has a camera and chooses not to present footage to the court, the court will ask him about it, as he's not giving full disclosure."

But even if the camera doesn't capture accidents or vandals, users like Mr Terence Kang are happy.

Said the 41-year-old sales executive who installed a camera in his Toyota Vios three weeks ago: "It reminds me to be a safer driver. Before installation, I didn't care about cutting in front of other cars.

"Knowing the camera is there capturing my car's every move, I'm more careful. Really, it's for the protection of myself and other drivers out there."

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