Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From coma patient to Bak Kut Teh master

Now famous for his bak kut teh, Mr Frankie Gwee was devastated after a 1987 road accident left him disfigured

He drives a low-key Hyundai.

 It is a “good-enough” vehicle that gets him from his five-room HDB flat in Choa Chu Kang to his workplace at Keppel Road, where he serves up bowls of his famous bak kut teh.

It is hard to imagine that this man is Mr Frankie Gwee, the owner of the renowned Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha and arguably one of Singapore’s best-known hawkers, one who has appeared in several reports for the food he serves and his philanthropy. In 2006, he was one of 12 Singapore hawkers awarded the title of Singapore Street Food Masters by Makansutra.

 In the same year, he was visited by Hong Kong’s former chief executive Donald Tsang, who came to try his famous bak kut teh. While Mr Gwee may stinge on his transport and does not believe in having an ostentatious home, he thinks nothing about donating $30,000 to anyone who he feels needs help.

Not that he is publicity-hungry. He was initially reluctant to reveal more details about his charity work and personal life when The New Paper on Sunday caught up with him. “Often, I prefer to slip in and out (when he is doing charity work), but after (the Donald Tsang) story, it’s hard.” He laughs, then adds: “Plus, with this face, it’s hard to pretend not to be me.” The credit goes to the customers who patronise Ya Hua, he maintains. “It’s their money, really. I’m only representing (them).”

He adds in a more sober tone: “When we die, we can’t take our wealth along with us. “But most importantly, I felt that this is my calling, a mission. God gave me a second chance in life.” Near-fatal accident devasted him The turning point in his life came in a horrific accident that nearly killed him.

That evening in 1987 was also the first day of the Hungry Ghost Month. He was juggling two jobs – as an office boy in a Chinese trading firm in the day and, from 6pm, as a stall assistant at a bak kut teh stall in River Valley Road. That night, he was off work and on the way to visit his girlfriend. He recalls: “It was so surreal. I woke up that morning and was telling my girlfriend – who is now my wife – that it had been a while since I last saw a doctor." "It was like a premonition." Mr Gwee adds: “The night was fine, there was no rain, the road was clear.

It was like someone covered my eyes when I was riding the motorcycle.” After waking up from a 10-day coma, Mr Gwee realised that he was blind in his right eye, his nose had collapsed and his face was horrifyingly disfigured. His spine was also broken. He says: “I was devastated.

For a while, I didn’t even know if I wanted to go on living.” It turned out that Mr Gwee had crashed through a steel road divider on Queensway. He says with a shudder: “Even now, when I occasionally drive past the road, it gives me the shivers.” After operations and plastic surgery spanning over three years, he slowly found the strength to move on with the love and support of his family members.

He has five brothers and nine sisters. “But it was my girlfriend’s unwavering support and love that truly kept me going,” he adds. In a TV interview in June, his wife, Madam Lim Poh Choon, 47, said: “I felt that I was partly responsible because he was on the way to meet me. “I didn’t feel it was right to abandon him.” The couple have two children, a 22-year-old son who is doing his national service after his polytechnic studies, and a daughter, 18, who is in poly.

 Not just affected by his physical injuries, Mr Gwee recounts how he had to pick up the pieces of his shattered confidence. He says: “I was so hideous-looking that adults shunned me and kids cried in fear when they saw me. “I felt so humiliated and I had no self-esteem.” Another thing that bothered him then was he just could not find a job. “No one wanted to hire me, but I could not blame anyone. On top of that, I stopped school at Primary 2.”

What he had was an insurance payout of $40,000, his family and a girlfriend whom he married two years after his accident. One day, when he was out with his sister, they met a customer, who used to frequent the bak kut teh stall that they worked for. Mr Gwee recollects: “The customer asked us, with our skills, why we didn’t run our own business.”

So the Gwee siblings decided to pool their resources and scouted for cheap shop space. In 1991, on Mr Gwee’s 28th birthday, they opened Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha at Block 27. He says: “My family members picked this date specially to mark the second phase in my life.”

After the cluster of flats in Outram Park went under the en-bloc scheme, the Gwees moved to Keppel Road in 2001, also on his birthday. He will turn 49 this Wednesday. “Each day I can wake up healthy and happy is a day earned.” This mentality explains too why it is not unusual to see Mr Gwee, who works the 6pm-to-4am shift, making the rounds like any of his employees – whether it is ladling out soup, refilling customers’ empty bowls, taking orders or clearing the tables.

On the charity front, Mr Gwee says he will continue with his mission to bring hope and relief to the needy. He has been actively involved in building a school in Chiang Rai, Thailand, “bit by bit because if you do everything all at once, it would not be as meaningful”.

This includes giving out bursaries and offering university scholarships. He is also helping the villagers in Cambodia to rebuild an orphanage. “The living conditions are poor and bad, and it gets worse between June and December, when there’s lots of rain,” says Mr Gwee. Each time he visits, which is once or twice a year, he spends about US$1,000 (S$1,250) on necessities such as rice, instant noodles and bottles of water, and books and stationery for the children.

 He also chips in with repairs and runs errands. He also cleans up the place. Mr Gwee maintains: “Doing charity work is not just about giving money.” One of the best rewards, he adds, is to be greeted by a line of young orphans waving the Singapore flag and singing our National Anthem. Mr Gwee says: “It always touches my heart to watch and hear them, to know that they want us to feel their appreciation.”

He reckons he has come a long way from the hideous-looking man who made children cry in fear. “I have learnt one thing – looks are not important. It’s your heart that matters most,” he says.

ABCs of illegal parking

A is for anger

The sound of a car horn blaring into the night is a barometer of sorts in this estate. It measures the anger quotient of someone whose right of way has been blocked by an illegally parked car.

 Just how a small space can cause such a big problem becomes evident as we approach a man outside his home at Jalan Sembilang in Upper Thomson Road.

The mere mention of the words "illegal parking" triggers an immediate response. The elderly man jumps out of his outdoor chair in his house. Anger palpable on his face, he points to the pavement just outside his home. Says the man, who declined to give his name: "I told a driver that it's not so wise to park here because you could get a fine. "You know what the driver told me? 'It's okay, uncle, I can afford it.'"

Those who park their vehicles illegally and block residents' homes often don't realise the pain that it causes others, says another resident, Mr Lawrence Lee, 45. He experiences problems with motorists who park illegally outside his home about once or twice a month and sometimes has to wait up to 45 minutes for the obstructing vehicle to be moved. "Getting in and out of our homes then becomes a frustrating affair, " Mr Lee laments.  

B is for bad

 Just how bad is the problem?

Data on parking summonses in private estates aren't categorised, but figures provided by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) show an overall rise in summonses issued for illegal parking. An LTA spokesman says that in the first two months since the LTA took over the enforcement of illegal parking on Nov 1, 2010, about 22,000 summonses were issued per month.

The following year, the figure rose to about 25,000 a month. No wonder some residents are fed up. Some have even come up with imaginative ways to discourage errant motorists from parking illegally. This month, a few residents of private estates wrote to The Straits Times to highlight their plight.

They put the blame on "outsiders" who visit their estates. One reason private estates, like the one in Upper Thomson Road, are swamped with illegally parked vehicles is their proximity to popular eateries, say some residents. Along the main stretch of Upper Thomson Road, there are many restaurants and coffee shops serving local delicacies and Western cuisine.

"People come here from all over Singapore just for the food," says one Mr Eu, whose shop, Tai Huat Tyres and Batteries, has been in business for 20 years. "I have lost count of how many times I have seen drivers arguing over illegal parking. Some even park in front of my shop only to walk away to take a bus."

C is for congestion

Mr Eu says illegal parking is a problem no one seems to have a solution to. He says that after the road beside his shop, Jalan Keli, was made into a two-way road in recent months, things got worse. "It's havoc on weekends when you have the foodie crowd, the illegally parked cars and those leaving after church services," he says. "Just last month, a luxury car driver entering Jalan Keli refused to move out of the way as cars were leaving the church nearby.

It caused a 20-minute jam and a few loud exchanges." But it's hard to blame the driver and those leaving the church as the the lane leading out of Jalan Keli and into Upper Thomson Road is usually blocked by a row of illegally parked cars. In another private estate in Siglap, workers appear to be the ones who are to blame.

 In the quiet neighbourhood of Ernani Street, the problem occurs when workers leave their vehicles and go to work at nearby factories and offices, says former police officer K. Kalidas, 74. Mr Kalidas, a retiree, had written to The Straits Times suggesting the use of a parking label system for private estates.

 He says: "When I go for my morning jogs, I see the foreign cars parked in the neighbourhood. In the evening, the cars are still there... "These illegally parked vehicles give a lot of problems to garbage disposal crew in the mornings."  

D is for damage

Residents have told Mr Kalidas that their cars have been nudged by passing garbage trucks,which try to squeeze past illegally parked cars.

Despite this, Mr Kalidas says he's against setting up paid parking in the neighbourhood as there would be a cost involved.

He believes that a dialogue with stakeholders, residents and Members of Parliament can help ease the situation. Some MPs have also weighed in on the situation.

 E is for excuses

 So, why do people park illegally knowing that there's a hefty fine involved? The common reasons offered seemed to be a lack of parking spaces, says one driver, who gave his name only as Mr Devaraj.

 This reporter approached him on Thursday evening as he parked his car along Siglap Drive. "It's just for a short while," says Mr Devaraj. "I'm just going to buy food from the coffee shop and I'll be out of the way."

In the 10 minutes he was gone, a bottleneck formed as cars tried to exit Frankel Avenue.

Woman who married dying hubby regrets aborting baby

SINGAPORE - The woman who married her dying husband in hospital last month reveals that she got pregnant 15 years ago, but aborted the foetus for practical reasons.

It is a decision that she now regrets, said Madam Chua Mui Mui, 37. Mr Tay succumbed to kidney failure last Friday.

He was 44. Last month, the couple held a traditional ceremony in the intensive care unit of the National University Hospital, where Mr Tay Guan Yeow was warded.

The childless couple registered their marriage 13 years ago, but never had the chance to have a traditional wedding, until local radio station 100.3FM helped the couple fulfill their dreams.

At the wake, Madam Chua Mui Mui, 37, told Shin Min Daily News that her one regret is not keeping the baby when she found out she was pregnant 15 years ago.

She recounted how she had met her husband in 1997 after an aunt introduced them. They became a couple soon after. But Madam Chua, a Malaysian citizen, got a shock when she found out she was pregnant.

 "We were not married yet and as I was a work permit-holder, my family was worried that I would get sent home," said Madam Chua. After discussing with Mr Tay, they decided to abort the foetus. "When I think about it now, I regret not keeping the baby.

Our child would have been 15 by now." Madam Chua says Mr Tay used to bring up the incident whenever he sees photos of babies in the papers, so she believes he had the same regret as well. Before he died, Mr Tay told his wife that he wished for her to remarry.

 Madam Chua also promised that she would take care of Mr Tay's beloved pet Arowana. Mr Tay was an animal-lover who used to keep more than 10 birds at home, said Madam Chua.

Even though Madam Chua does not enjoy keeping pets, she said she would continue to take care of the fish for her husband.

Employer leaves dying illegal worker at roadside

Despite bleeding from the mouth and vomiting after falling from a ladder, Mr Chelladurai Lenin, 47, did not want to be taken to the hospital as he was afraid that he would be caught for working on a forged permit.

 His employer, Tay Kok Eng, 56, then put the Indian national in his van and dumped the dying man by the side of the road.

On July 30, the owner of Midas Maintenance and Services admitted to depositing a dying person as well as hiring Mr Chelladurai from August 2009 to March 2010, even when he had reason to believe the general worker was an illegal immigrant.

He also admitted to a summons for failing to ensure work safety during the light-changing job on March 30, 2010. Tay had taken Mr Chelladurai to two clinics in Tampines and Hougang when the latter complained of pain after falling 2.8m while changing the ceiling lights at a condominium in Seraya Road.

Doctors in both clinics said Mr Chelladurai, who was losing consciousness and could barely walk, should be taken to the hospital.

Tay then took the dying man to Changi and the worker's friend dumped him on the pavement. The friend called an ambulance, then Tay took over the phone and told the operator that he had seen someone lying on the road at Upper Changi Road.

Mr Chelladurai was pronounced dead by paramedics when they arrived later. If convicted of illegally depositing a corpse, Tay could face up to six months in prison and be fined a maximum of $2,000.

For hiring an illegal worker, he could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in jail and fined up to $6,000.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Study shows brown rice curbs craving for fatty food

An experiment with mice has revealed that brown rice reduces the desire for high-fat foods, a finding that could help prevent obesity and diabetes in humans, according to researchers.

The group, led by Prof. Hiroyuki Masuzaki of Ryukyu University, published the study in an academic journal of the American Diabetes Association.

Humans and other mammals tend to prefer fatty foods as they help stave off hunger.

The group gave mice a choice between diets of fatty food and normal food: a high-fat diet consisting of 45 per cent lipids, 35 per cent carbohydrates and 20 per cent proteins, and the other 10 per cent lipids, 70 per cent carbohydrates and 20 per cent protein. The mice chose the high-fat food every time and eventually became obese.

However, after the researchers replaced half of each diet's source of carbohydrates--corn starch and other substances--with brown rice, the mice opted for the normal food and as a result cut half their increased weight. When the team mixed white rice with the food instead of brown rice, the same phenomenon was not seen.

When the team extracted gamma oryzanol from the brown rice bran and gave it to the mice, they also chose the normal food, showing that the substance helped increase the mice's distaste of fatty food.

After mice ate the fatty food, stress was produced in the brain's hypothalamus, which controls appetite, and they craved more fatty food. The study revealed that eating brown rice was effective in controlling the stress.

As brown rice also inhibits the absorption of fat in the bowels, the concentration of sugar and neutral fat in the blood decreased.

The team plans to conduct experiments this autumn to confirm the effect, by having about 50 people take supplements of gamma-oryzanol, a major component of brown rice.

"Brown rice is a safe food and people have been eating it for ages. We'd like to develop nutritional supplements to prevent obesity and diabetes," Masuzaki said.

Town gas to be cheaper from Wednesday

The gas tariff for households will be reduced by 2.8 per cent, from 22.16 cents per kilowatt hour to 21.54 cents per kwh from Wednesday, said City Gas.

The reduction in the average town-gas bill for households will range from 30 cents a month for one-room Housing Board flats to 52 cents a month for five-room HDB flats.

'Gifted' private tutor told by MOE to stop lying

SINGAPORE - Mr Kelvin Ong Wee Loong, the founder of AristoCare centre, charges a whopping $250 per lesson for parents of primary school students looking to clinch a place in the coveted Gifted Education Programme (GEP).

GEP is a highly selective academic programme in Singapore, designed to identify the top 1 per cent of students from each academic year.

On his website, the 36-year-old claimed he was previously from Clementi Town Primary before being admitted to Anglo-Chinese School's (Primary) GEP in Primary 4.

He further stated that he went on to attend Anglo-Chinese Junior College and the National University of Singapore, before becoming a teacher in the GEP programme at his alma mater.

However, checks by the Ministry of Education (MOE) revealed that Mr Ong was neither ever a pupil nor teacher in the programme, The Sunday Times reported (SUT)

He is not even a qualified teacher, and according to ACS (Primary), not even a student of the school.
MOE was alerted to the claims when SUT ran a report on parents sending children for costly tuition, where Mr Ong was featured as a highly sought after tutor.

In response to the revelations, Mr Ong said it was his mother who told him that he was from the gifted programme and he could not verify it because he does not have the records from the past.

He has since cleaned up his website and now claims that he was a relief teacher at ACS (Primary) from 2002 to 2003 and 'helped out' with the gifted classes.

However, this too is being disputed by the ACS (Primary), which said that a check with all its long-serving teachers revealed that there was never a Kelvin Ong who taught there as a relief teacher.

This is not the first time Mr Ong has faced allegations of misleading claims.

Two parents have asked him to remove positive testimonials supposedly written by their children, saying that their children never wrote them.

In 2010, Mr Ong also got into hot water with MOE for selling fake 2009 GEP Screening and Selection Test papers.

S'pore pilot trainee dies in crash in Malaysia

A Cessna light single-seat aircraft piloted by a Singaporean man crashed into a private oil palm plantation in Ayer Baloi today at about 1.30pm.

The pilot was identified as Samuel Ling Shi Min, 25, Pontian police said. His body was found under the plane wreck in the plantation, Malaysian police official Wan Razani Wan Ibrahim said.

Mr Ling, who was alone in the aircraft, is believed to have died on impact, reported The Straits Times. He is also believed to be on a training flight and had taken off from FRAS Flying Club, a private flight school in the state of Johor, according to media reports.

Pontian Police deputy chief DSP Tan Moh Chuan said that Mr Ling's body had been taken to Pontian Hospital.

The plane went down in clear weather, according to Officer Wan Razani. Malaysian's Department of Civil Aviation is investigating the cause of the crash. The crash site is an hour's drive from the Tuas Second Link Highway.

An eyewitness, Mohd Shafian Buang, 15, told a Malaysian news agency that he saw the plane circling in the air before crashing about 100 metres from his house.

He and some neighbours ran near the scene, however they did not get close to the aircraft fearing it would explode as they smelled fuel. Mohd Shafian related the incident to his uncle who notified the police.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said it is in contact with the next-of-kin of the deceased Singaporean and extends condolences to his family, according to local media reports. MFA has also sent consular staff to the crash site to provide necessary assistance.

PM Lee warns Singaporeans of rising food prices up ahead

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans are concerned by the higher cost of living, stemming from higher housing, certificate of entitlements (COEs), and crude oil prices.

However, we may also see an increase in raw food prices, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a Cheng San-Seletar division National Day dinner celebrations on Saturday.

"One thing which I would like to alert you to if we look ahead is food prices. So far, it is actually not so much of a problem. But if you look forward over the next year or so, I think we may have to be concerned because in America, they are having a big drought now," he said.

He said the drought, the most severe one in nearly a hundred years, is affecting their crops.

"So when you buy tao huay zhui, I think you have to be prepared maybe it'll cost you five cents more. When you have ice kachang, maybe there will be less jagung (Malay for sweet corn) in the ice kachang," he said, referring to the reports of soya bean and corn supply crunch.

"But I think as long as the Singapore economy is doing well and as long as we have resources, we will deal with this," he added.

PM Lee also urged Singaporeans to tap on possible areas for success that will allow the country to stay ahead of the race in an ever-changing globalised world.

"Take advantage of these new opportunities to keep on moving forward," he urged, noting the importance of working together as one people and having the determination to advance.

'This is Singapore, we are special, let's show the world what Singapore can do," he said.

His message was echoed by Member of Parliament for the Cheng San-Seletar division within the Ang Mo Kio GRC Ang Hin Kee, who reminded residents to work with one another for the progress of Singapore.

"Everyone has a stake in this country of ours, so even as we pursue to build a better future for one and all, let's do it the Singapore way - which is the friendly way," he said.

Close to a thousand residents who attended the dinner had the opportunity to meet PM Lee face to face as he went round the community club toasting and mingling with them.

Residents also sang the national anthem and recited the pledge to commemorate Singapore's 47th birthday, which falls on August 9.

5-year health promotion plan for Hong Kah ward

SINGAPORE: Hong Kah North constituency has launched a five-year health promotion plan which covers exercise, food and lifestyle.

This comes after the establishment of the national Constituency Health Promotion Grant.

Every constituency gets up to S$10,000 a year to fund health programmes and activities on nutrition, physical activity, mental wellness, tobacco control or chronic disease management.

Forty-one-year-old Serene Mak conducts supermarket tours for residents.

As a health ambassador, her job is to help them choose food that is healthy.

"Residents still need a bit of time to adapt because in mindset, they think that in everyday marketing they know the best choice.. But they don't know that actually we do not just choose one kind of colour... not just green. Fresh (ingredients) have to be more colourful (so as to provide) different types of vitamins," she said.

The supermarket tour is one programme that will be rolled out over the next 12 months as part of Hong Kah North's five-year health promotion plan.

Also included are healthy cooking demonstrations at community centres and exercise classes.

Dr Amy Khor, MP for Hong Kah North, Singapore Minister of State for Health, said: "The best way to improve our quality of life and reduce the incidence of chronic disease and so on, really is through preventive health measures, adopting a healthy lifestyle, healthy diet... that will also help mitigate medical expenses."

Dr Khor plans to rope in at least 500 health ambassadors over the next five years.

Currently, Hong Kah North has 50 of them.

The five-year plan is customised for residents in Hong Kah North. This after a survey found that less than half of residents engaged in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week. It also showed that seven in 10 consumed too much salt and sugar but not enough fruit.

So far, 24 constituencies have applied for the Health Promotion Grant.

CEO of the Health Promotion Board, Mr Ang Hak Seng, said: "These are bottom-up proposals that are co-created with the constituencies and HBP and customised to the particular needs of the constituency. For example, Geylang Serai Constituency actually used part of the funds to educate healthy eating during Ramadan. And Ayer Rajah Constituency used the funds to encourage our senior citizens to go for screening at the community centre."

Next year, a programme targeted at busy working mothers will be launched in Hong Kah North to teach them how to prepare healthier meals for their families.

Cash is still king for some retailers

SINGAPORE: As card issuers Visa and MasterCard gave in to a settlement with merchants in the United States following an anti-trust lawsuit - allowing them to charge customers more when they pay with credit cards - retailers here are also feeling the squeeze as consumers increasingly go cashless, even with purchases for everyday items.

Previously, Visa and MasterCard prohibited merchants around the world from passing on credit card transaction fees to customers - the rule was even written into law in some American states. Merchants are also not allowed to impose minimum purchase requirements for credit card payments.

In Singapore, these rules are stated in the contract that merchants sign with the acquiring banks, which process the credit card payments. Swipe fees here are at least two to four per cent of each credit card transaction.

A check by MediaCorp showed that retailers, especially mom-and-pop stores, are coming up with creative ways to work around the rules, such as discounts or other perks to encourage customers to pay by cash. Some are openly flouting them, taking advantage of the low level of awareness among consumers.

On thin-margin businesses, small purchases made by credit cards are unprofitable. Gaming shop Tec-Drome at Sim Lim Square offers customers a discount on video games if they pay by cash. Owner Woo Liah Meng said it would otherwise be "terrible doing business".

According to Mr Woo, the swipe fees have increased for his business over the years, from one per cent to the current four per cent per transaction.

"I couldn't continue like that, especially these days customers pay everything using credit card, even if it's a small amount. How to survive?" he said.

He added that many other retailers at Sim Lim Square also tell customers to withdraw cash from an ATM when they ask to pay by credit card.

Curtains shop MGL Curtains also started offering a discount for customers in the past year if they pay by cash or Nets.

Italian restaurant Porta Porta, which has two outlets, waives the service charge when customers pay by cash. The restaurant, which has been in business for 13 years, started this practice this year.

"We get to save on the (swipe fees) and, at the same time, reward our customers. So it's a good deal," said owner Daniel Naino, who is paying about two per cent for Visa and MasterCard transactions, and 3.3 per cent for American Express transactions.

While these merchants do not violate any rules by offering incentives to customers who pay by cash, many others do by putting up signs informing customers that they must chalk up a minimum purchase in order to use their credit cards.
Consumers in the dark

The number of credit card transactions are on the rise.

MasterCard figures show that, during the first month of the Great Singapore Sale this year - which ended last Sunday - the number of transactions increased by 15.4 per cent to almost 5.45 million, compared to the same period last year.

On average, consumers are also spending more: According to Credit Bureau (Singapore) statistics, the average monthly balance last year was S$4,807, up by 4.45 per cent compared to 2010.

Without providing figures, a MasterCard spokesperson told MediaCorp: "We do believe that small-value credit card transactions are on the rise as we continue to see an increase in consumers using electronic payments for everyday purchases."

Enforcement actions are only triggered by complaints: Acquiring banks here will serve errant merchants a warning letter based on tip-offs.

What many consumers are not aware of is that they can lodge complaints against retailers who impose credit card surcharges or demand minimum purchases.

While banks here put the onus on consumers to know their rights, Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) Executive Director Seah Seng Choon reiterated that public education efforts should be stepped up.

Pointing out that the number of such complaints to CASE have been small due to the lack of awareness, Mr Seah said: "Banks need to be a lot more explicit in informing customers about their rights, so that consumers don't pay different prices for the same product or be inconvenienced by the need to pay cash only."

Japan factory output in unexpected fall for June

TOKYO: Japan's factory output turned down unexpectedly last month, according to official data released Monday, stoking concerns that turmoil overseas is damaging recovery in the world's third-largest economy.

The output decline came amid growing fears about the fiscal situation in Europe -- a major market for Japanese products -- and a strong yen hurting demand for products from the nation's factories.

Industrial production in June edged down 0.1 percent from the previous month, said the ministry of economy, trade and industry -- smaller than a revised 3.4 percent fall in May but well short of market expectations for a 1.6 percent rise.

"Industrial production appears to be flat," the ministry said in its monthly report, downgrading its earlier assessment in May which said production was on a recovery path.

The June decrease was largely due to falling output from automakers and other transport equipment manufacturers, the electronics industry, and the iron and steel sector, it said.

A survey of manufacturers released with the production data was mixed with firms expecting factory output to rise 4.5 percent in July and fall 0.6 percent in August.

The latest figures came after central bank and government officials said Japan's economy appeared to be gaining traction, although they warned that weakness in Europe was the biggest threat to any recovery.

"Economic growth is on a much weaker trend than what the government and the Bank of Japan are telling us to believe," said Daiwa Institute of Research economist Satoshi Osanai.

"Any recovery will be temporary and the economy will continue to languish for months ahead. Exports to the US are already at high levels and have little room for additional growth," he said.

Osanai added that the positive effects of a temporary government subsidy for eco-friendly cars "have run their course".

Japanese industry is facing major challenges after the country shut down its nuclear reactors in the wake of last year's atomic crisis, with industrial users being asked to make deep cuts in energy consumption.

All 50 of Japan's nuclear power stations have been switched off after the March 11 tsunami, which swamped reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant and sent them into meltdown.

Despite widespread anti-nuclear sentiment the government later approved a plan to restart two reactors, which have now come online.

Manufacturers were hammered by last year's natural disasters, while the strong yen -- which hit record highs against the dollar last year -- has hurt exports.

Europe, a key market for everything from Japanese televisions and DVD players to cars and machinery, remains at the top of policymakers' concerns, with officials repeatedly saying the eurozone crisis was the biggest threat to Japan's economic recovery.

Naoki Murakami, chief economist at brokerage Monex, said Japanese manufacturing was not in as bad condition as the headline index suggested, but "there are signs that US-bound automobile exports that had led the production until early spring began to lose steam".

"We should pay attention to risks of outlook downgrades by major automakers when they announce results this week," he said in a note.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ex-finance chief of City Harvest listed as secretary of more than 50 companies

Serina Wee Gek Yin, the sixth person to be charged in the City Harvest Church misappropriation of funds case, was the church's former finance director.

The Straits Times reported that she is also listed by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority as the secretary of more than 50 companies associated with the church and its leaders. These companies include Skin Couture, Ed Hardy and Xtron Productions.

Xtron Productions is the company that manages pastor Kong Hee's wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career.

Wee, along with five other church members including Kong, are suspected of being involved in transferring $13 million from the church to Xtron Productions via supposed bond investments.

Yesterday at court, the accused faced a total of 10 charges - six counts for criminal breach of trust and four for falsification of accounts.

The 36-year-old mother of three had just given birth to a baby boy last month and lives in a three-storey house in Upper East Coast.

Church members revealed that the she was an active member of the church for 10 years and managed the church's finances under her portfolio.

Singapore's 40 richest 2012

The wealth of Singapore's 40 richest increased this year, according to the latest Singapore Rich List published by Forbes Asia.

It is up 9 per cent from US$54.4 billion (S$68.3 billion) last year to a collective worth of US$54.9 billion.

The top three from last year's list remains unchanged, topped by Robert and Philip Ng, the sons of the late Far East Organization's founder Ng Teng Fong. Their estimated net worth is up US$300 million to US$9.2 billion this year.

Eight newcomers made the list, including Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin. 30-year-old Saverin, worth about US$2.2 billion, made headlines last year when news that he renounced his American citizenship broke just days before Facebook's IPO. He said he has been living and working in Singapore since 2009.

Other newcomers to the list include property magnates Raj Kumar and his son, Kishin RK, and Raj Kumar's brother, Asok Kumar Hirandani. New Singapore citizen Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who controls Spice Group, also joined the list this year.

Local entrepreneurs that joined this year's list include Sheng Siong boss Lim Hock Chee with US$345 million and Hotel 81's boss Choo Chong Ngen.

The list was compiled using shareholdings and financial information obtained from the families and individuals, stock exchanges, analysts and the Accounting & Corporate Regulatory Authority of Singapore.

The ranking lists family fortunes, including those shared among extended families such as that of Kwek Leng Beng, whose net worth is combined with that of cousins Kwek Leng Kee and Kwek Leng Peck this year.

Public fortunes were calculated based on stock prices and exchange rates as of July 13. Private companies were valued based on similar companies that are publicly traded.

The full list of Singapore's 40 richest can be found in the August 2012 issue of Forbes Asia, which is available at newsstands now. For more information, visit www.forbes.com/Singapore.

Takeover war for Tiger brewer flows into F&N boardroom

Fraser and Neave Ltd's (F&N) board is set to decide the fate of its crown jewel by this Friday as Dutch and Thai suitors battle to take control of the brewer of Tiger Beer, one of Singapore's most iconic brands.

Heineken's $6 billion bid for Asia Pacific Breweries Ltd (APB) could also lead to the break-up of F&N's complex structure of drinks, property and publishing units.

"I suspect it's going to be a big unlocking of value. A general offer has been done for APB so the next natural thing is for F&N itself," said Christopher Wong, an investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia, which owns shares in F&N.

In the midst of Singapore's biggest takeover battle, Nomura has estimated the worth of F&N's property business at around $5.8 billion and its publishing and food and beverage arms, excluding APB's stake, at about S$2.5 billion.

The food and beverage business includes several brands of beer, fruit juices, dairy products and the popular soft drink 100PLUS.

F&N - whose chairman Lee Hsien Yang is the younger son of Singapore's first prime minister and elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew - gave details of its regional holdings and finances in a presentation for a non-deal roadshow this summer.

Founded in 1883 by John Fraser and David Chalmers Neave to make soft drinks, F&N launched Tiger Beer nearly half a century later in a joint venture with Heineken that later became APB.

Heineken is now having to break off that long relationship with F&N to defend its interests in APB from advances by Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. The billionaire founder of Thai Beverage PCL is seeking to expand his own beer business in Asia.

Companies linked to Charoen threw down the gauntlet last week by offering $3 billion for stakes in F&N and APB held by Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp and affiliated groups.

Singapore's OCBC had owned parts of F&N and APB since 1948.

Heineken, whose joint venture with F&N has a 65 per cent controlling stake in APB, countered the Thai bid with its general offer for the whole company.

F&N has said its board will make a decision about the Dutch giant's offer by this Friday - putting pressure on Charoen and Japan's Kirin Holdings to act fast. Kirin, which owns about 15 per cent of F&N, has hired Deutsche Bank as an advisor.


Investor interest is clearly high.

More than 43 million F&N shares, about 3 per cent of its total outstanding stock, were traded at S$8.08 each in block deals this week.

Some market players see "a price war going on," one analyst in Singapore said.

APB operates 24 breweries in 14 countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

"It's not just well known in the region, it's got some attraction outside Asian markets," Aberdeen's Wong said.

If F&N accepts Heineken's offer, the Singapore conglomerate will reap cash proceeds of about S$5.2 billion, part of which could be paid as a special dividend, but lose an important contributor to its earnings, Nomura said in a report.

Without APB, Kirin and Thai Beverage may try to have F&N split up so the beverage and property businesses can be valued separately and control of the assets settled, it said.

If F&N rebuffs the Dutch offer, Heineken's options include boosting its bid, building up a stake in F&N to gain control of APB or choosing to work with Thai Beverage, analysts said.

This 6-year-old is S'pore's youngest kidney recipient

It's the miracle that he and his family had been praying for - and in happening, a chapter of history has been recorded in Singapore.

Little Bryan Liu has finally found a kidney donor, making him the youngest recipient of the organ from a living altruistic donor.

An altruistic donor is one who is not related to the recipient via family links.

So far, most of kidney donors have been family members

The six-year-old successfully underwent a kidney transplant on Saturday and is now recovering in the intensive care unit of the National University Hospital (NUH).

It was a long, hopeful wait of almost three years for Bryan, who started Primary 1 this year.

The New Paper first reported his condition in June two years ago when he was just four.

He was born with only one kidney, which was small and had abnormal tissues.

By the time he was two, that kidney had failed completely, despite Bryan drinking up to three litres of water daily, to keep it going.

His mother, Madam Serene Ng, 38, then donated one of her kidneys to him, making him the youngest kidney transplant patient here then.

But the transplanted kidney also failed because of a rare viral condition and it was removed in September 2009.

Daily dialysis 

He had been without a kidney since, and had to undergo 10 hours of dialysis at home daily to stay alive.

He also had to have regular growth hormone injections and a cocktail of medication to keep his blood pressure under control.

25 offers, zero matches 

Bryan's father, Mr Victor Liu, 50, a telco group manager, and his elder twin sister, Charmaine, could not donate their kidneys to him as they have different blood types from his O+ blood group.

After TNP ran a story about his plight in 2010, 25 readers stepped forward wanting to donate their kidneys to him.

Some even said that they would donate to others on the waiting list for cadaver kidney, if their kidneys weren't a match for Bryan.

Potential donors have to undergo a battery of tests, including a medical fitness evaluation, counselling, psychiatric appraisal and an interview with the hospital's ethics committee to see if they are suitable for donation.

But despite all the excitement then, two years went by without a successful match.

Some people didn't even turn up for the first evaluation, Madam Ng had said last year.

She added that she even stopped hoping for a donor.

It was all quiet until two months ago, when Madam Ng was told that a donor had been found.

She told TNP: "We don't know who he is. He wants to be anonymous. We only know that he's in his late 20s."

Despite knowing that there was a matching and willing donor, she said nothing was confirmed until after the transplant.

Said Madam Ng: "If he had changed his mind in the operating theatre, the transplant would have been called off."


So she kept her fingers crossed - until after the transplant was successfully performed in a seven-hour operation.

Professor K. Prabhakaran, NUH's head and senior consultant of the Department of Paediatric Surgery who did the operation, said it went well.

Bryan's family can finally heave a sigh of relief and rejoice in the miracle.

Said Madam Ng: "Finding an altruistic donor for him is like a dream come true.

"Now he can finally do things he couldn't do previously."

When Bryan was on dialysis, he had many restrictions.

For example, he was allowed only to drink 300ml of fluids a day and couldn't go swimming for fear of infection.

But all this will soon change, said Madam Ng.

"We're all very excited that he can finally have a normal life," she said.

"He doesn't need to go to the hospital so frequently any more. No more tubes in him, no more foreign objects in him.

"There are so many things that he can do now. It's a new life for him with so many things he can look forward to."

Still in pain 

When we spoke to Bryan over the phone last night, and all he said was "cannot eat" and "painful" before hanging up.

He may have sounded a little down, but Bryan's family were filled with both joy and gratitude.

They want to thank the donor but, as the rules would have it, they have no way of contacting him.

Said Madam Ng: "We're really, really very grateful. We didn't think there would be such a person.

"From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for giving Bryan the gift of life. It's also a gift of freedom.

"No words can express our gratitude towards the donor. Thank you for giving my son the gift of life. Thank you..."

And after a pause, she added: "It's not just Bryan, but our whole family can now look forward to a brand new life together."

And there was thanks for this newspaper as well.

Without any solicitation, Madam Ng said that the articles in TNP about Bryan made a difference.

She said: "We also want to thank The New Paper. Because of the stories, a donor came forward.

"We've never thought this could happen."

Altruistic donors hard to come by

It's not easy to find an altruistic kidney donor here.

Firstly, it's extremely rare to find someone who is unrelated to the recipient and yet willing to offer his or her kidney.

Then, the donor must have the same blood type as the recipient.

Next, the donor has to pass through a battery of tests which include a medical fitness evaluation, counselling, tests and psychiatric appraisal.

All of these require the donor's commitment as he would have to turn up for his tests and appointments on time.

All these require time and effort, and not many people are willing to make the sacrifices to help someone they don't even know.

The donor also has to be interviewed by the hospital's ethics committee to see if he can donate his kidney.

The transplant ethics committee of the hospital must give a written authorisation for the removal of the donor's kidney.

Then, the donor must give consent for his kidney to be removed from his body and not revoke his consent.

Finally, the donor has to understand the nature and consequence of the medical procedures he has to undergo as a result of his donation.

For Bryan Liu's family, it was almost mission impossible when they started the search for a kidney for him.

His mother, Madam Serene Ng 38, said: "We never thought we would ever find a living donor for him. "But even though we knew it was almost impossible, we still had to give it a try.

"We could not give up because he's still so young."

China's economy to rebound in second half: IMF

BEIJING: China's economy will rebound in the second half of 2012 to achieve annual growth of eight percent as government policies to spur growth take effect, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday.

"Growth is expected to bottom out in the second quarter, and then accelerate in the second half of the year," the IMF said in an annual report on China's economy, predicting China's economy would expand by 8.5 percent in 2013.

The Fund noted that Chinese authorities, whose views are included in the report, said they had been pursuing policies to achieve a more sustainable pace of economic growth.

"This managed slowdown, however, has run into stronger-than-anticipated headwinds from the worsening of the euro area crisis," the IMF said.

"Measures to support growth are now being given more prominence and the authorities are confident that growth will be at least 7.5 percent this year."

China's slowing economy has prompted authorities to slash interest rates and loosen requirements for the amount of reserves banks must maintain as ways to spur lending and boost activity.

Growth in the world's second-largest economy slowed to a more than three-year low of 7.6 percent in the second quarter, marking the sixth straight three-month period in which it had weakened.

The Washington-based IMF said the projection, reached in consultation with Chinese authorities, was based on the premise that China maintains policies aimed at such a result.

It cited the ongoing eurozone sovereign debt crisis as the biggest external risk facing China's economy.

"The authorities were concerned about the external outlook, especially the risk of a worsening of the euro area crisis and the lack, so far, of a sufficiently strong policy response within Europe," the IMF said.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly expressed concern over the weakening economy and vowed to take further measures.

Premier Wen Jiabao has called stabilising growth the government's top priority.

British recession deepens as economy shrinks 0.7% in Q2

LONDON : Britain's economy shrank by a worse-than-expected 0.7 per cent in the second quarter, official data showed on Wednesday, as recession tightened its grip.

The economy shrank 0.7 per cent between April and June, the Office for National Statistics said, blaming the downturn on steep falls in the construction and manufacturing sectors.

That was far worse than market expectations for a 0.3-per cent contraction, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

"We all know the country has deep-rooted economic problems and these disappointing figures confirm that," said British finance minister George Osborne in reaction to the data.

He added: "We're dealing with our debts at home and the debt crisis abroad ... but given what's happening in the world we need a relentless focus on the economy."

Britain was already in recession after posting two successive negative quarters since late 2011. The economy shrank 0.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year and by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.

"This really is a very nasty surprise indeed," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer, in response to Wednesday's news.

"GDP contraction of 0.7 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the second quarter is far deeper than anyone expected and is a very disappointing and worrying performance.

"Plunging construction and manufacturing output weighed down heavily on the economy while service sector activity also contracted marginally."

The downbeat data was published two days before the 2012 Olympic Games opens in London, an event many hope will give a boost to the struggling economy.

"The economy should be able to return to growth in the third quarter, helped by the Olympics," Archer noted.

Safety breached in Bugis DTL horror: Experts

The two workers killed in a scaffolding collapse in last Thursday's construction accident should not have been under the scaffolding in the first place, said the Institute of Engineers, Singapore (IES) in a statement yesterday.

The institute was responding to the Bugis Downtown Line (DTL) accident.

The two workers, both Chinese nationals, were checking for cement leaks under a scaffolding when it collapsed at around 6.50am, said the Land Transport Authority. The scaffolding was supporting formwork - a term for moulds into which concrete is poured.

Eight other workers, who had been pouring concrete on top of the scaffolding, were injured.

The workers were casting a roof for a linkway between the DTL Bugis Station and the existing one.

IES vice-president Chong Kee Sen said: "As a good safety practice, supervisors should not allow workers to be positioned under the formwork structures during concreting."

He also said that "properly designed and installed" formwork structures would reduce the likelihood of cement leaking from under the formwork, "negating the need" for workers to check for leakages underneath.

Mr Chong said that formwork and the supporting scaffolding structure must be "designed to adequately withstand the load and take into account the additional pressure genera--ted when concreting work is carried out."

The statement added: "It is imperative for such structures to be installed in accordance with the design.

"To do this, a competent engineer should check the installation before concreting work begins.
"The process of pouring concrete should also be supervised."

Engineering professor Fan Sau Cheong from the Nanyang Technological University told my paper that he agrees with the IES, but revealed that workers often carry out work under scaffolding.

He said: "It is common practice for workers to be under the scaffolding to check for leaks during the pouring of concrete.

"Prof Fan added that formwork rarely leaks and that the workers would not have been in any danger if the scaffolding and formwork were "properly designed.

"The formwork was definitely overloaded and the scaffolding had not been properly checked," he said.

He added that there are no rules to prohibit workers from working under formwork structures. The Ministry of Manpower has not yet lifted a stop-work order at the site.

The Building and Construction Authority revoked the construction permit for the site while investigations are underway.

The ministry said that Koh Brothers, the main contractor for the construction, has a previously reported accident related to a scaffolding collapse on file.

The accident happened in 1998 during the construction of Sun Plaza. An Indian-national worker was killed.

MAS says economy "clearly slowing", revises inflation outlook

SINGAPORE - Singapore’s central bank boosted its paid-up capital by $8 billion and withheld contributions to government coffers earlier this year amid rising volatility in financial markets, its latest annual report showed on Wednesday.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also revised its 2012 inflation forecast on Wednesday to 4 to 4.5 percent from 3.5 to 4.5 percent.

But it said core inflation – the figure it most closely watches in setting monetary policy – was moderating, indicating a possible loosening of its stance on the Singapore dollar at its next half-yearly review in October.

The MAS said Singapore’s trade-dependent economy was on track to grow by 1-3 percent this year but that the momentum was “clearly slowing.” The city-state’s economy grew 4.9 percent in 2011.

“It (core inflation) is likely to ease further and approach 2 percent by the end of the year. This is not far from the historical average of 1.7 percent,” MAS managing director Ravi Menon said at a press conference about the annual report.

Core inflation excludes accommodation and private road transport, which are determined more by government policy. On Monday, the MAS said full-year headline inflation was expected to be in the upper half of the official forecast.

The MAS had paid-up capital of $25 billion as at March 31, 2012, up from S$17 billion at the end of the previous financial year, according to its annual report.

The capital increase took effect on March 29.

The MAS did not hand over part of its profits to the government during the financial year, resulting in a rise in its net assets to $35.15 billion from $24.38 billion the year before.

“This is a pre-emptive measure to strengthen the authority’s capital and reserves in the light of a volatile financial market environment,” the MAS said in the notes to its accounts.

Financial markets have been turbulent over the past year, with sharp swings in currency values because of concerns over the euro zone and uncertainty about the health of the U.S. and Chinese economies.

The Singapore central bank made a net profit of $2.77 billion in fiscal 2011/12, reversing from the record loss of $10.94 billion in the previous financial year when the strong local dollar reduced the value of reserves held in other currencies.

The MAS said its profits stemmed “mainly from interest income and gains from asset disposals, offset partially by the impact from the translation of the authority’s foreign assets into the stronger Singapore dollar.”

Total assets managed by Singapore-based asset managers were S$1.34 trillion as of the end of last year, 1.2 percent lower than in 2010 due to market weakness, the MAS said.

The Singapore dollar rose 0.3 percent against the U.S. dollar and 6.4 percent versus the euro in the 12 months to March 31 but weakened 0.4 percent against the yen.

S'pore ranks second in Asia Pacific for financial literacy

Singapore has been ranked second behind Taiwan and New Zealand in the MasterCard Worldwide Index of Financial Literacy.

Consumers were polled on three aspects of financial literacy including their basic money management skills, investment knowledge and financial planning.

Hong Kong and Australia share the spot with Singapore having both scored 71 index points each.

The index contains findings of a survey of more than 6,900 respondents in 14 countries from the Asia Pacific region.

Taiwan scored 77 points and jumped a total of five places from 2010 to share the top spot with New Zealand this year.

Japan and India both scored a low 60 index points each, and were at the bottom of the list.

While New Zealand scored the highest score of 77 per cent for basic management skills such as day-to-day budgeting and expenses, Singapore was ranked fifth.

Singapore also climbed two notches from eighth in 2010 to sixth position for the investment segment, which includes the understanding of their bank statements and complex investment concept.

The survey found that people from Taiwan and Vietnam also saved more regularly and were better prepared than their regional counterparts when it came to retirement and emergency savings.

Like other mature markets, Singaporeans over the age of 30 achieved higher scores for overall financial literacy than those who were below 30.

Although women outperformed men in terms of financial literacy in 10 out of the 14 markets, Singapore was not one of the 10.

Women in the Philippines scored nine per cent better than their male counterparts while women in Vietnam achieved a score six per cent better than the score achieved by the men there.

City Harvest Church ex-finance chief charged

SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church's (CHC) ex-finance chief Serina Wee, 35, was charged this morning, making her the sixth person to face criminal charges over the alleged siphoning of church funds.

The Straits Times reported that Wee faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four for falsifying accounts.

Her bail has been set at $500,000.

The other five charged so far are founding pastor Kong Hee, 47; church management board member John Lam Leng Hung, 44; Kong's deputy Tan Ye Peng, 39; church finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen, 36; and investment manager Chew Eng Han, 52.

Prosecutors believe that at least $23 million was invested in alleged sham transactions to fund the pop music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho.

The funds were said to have been put into a $13 million bond investment with Xtron Productions, while $11 million was allegedly put into another company called PT The First National Glassware.

It is believed that some of the accused also conspired to misappropriate another $26.6 million of church funds so that it would seem like the alleged sham bond investments were redeemed. This is called 'round-tripping'.

Kong arrived at the Subordinate Court at 8.55am this morning for a second mention of the high-profile case, which first came under scrutiny in early 2010, when the Commissioner of Charities (COC) received complaints alleging the misuse of the charity's funds.

The five have not pleaded guilty. The offence of criminal breach of trust carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, and/or a fine. For the charge of falsifying accounts, the accused may be punishable with a life sentence, or jail of up to 20 years and a fine.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mental health care, right at home

For families who face difficulties in coaxing seniors with mental illnesses to seek help, a pilot programme launched yesterday could help these seniors get the required support services in the comfort of their homes.

Called the Temasek Cares- iCommunity@North programme, the $1.1-million initiative offers mental-health services for residents in Admiralty, Marsiling, Sembawang, Woodlands and Yishun.

The services include counselling and referring residents to health-care partners for follow-up.

Dedicated teams will be offering these services to residents.

Residents can come under the programme through referrals by polyclinics, general practitioners, hospitals and community service providers in the northern part of Singapore.

The programme - run by Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, O'Joy Care Services, Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society and the Agency for Integrated Care - also allows patients with mental illnesses to seek follow-up care in their homes.

Weekly meetings will be held at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital to discuss the treatment and course of action most appropriate for patients.

As it is still a pilot, the initiative will be fully subsidised by Temasek Cares, an institution set up by Temasek Holdings that looks into the needs of underprivileged people. When the subsidies will end has not been decided yet.

There are plans to roll out the initiative to the entire country, with the central region to adopt the programme within the next year.

Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Health, said yesterday that the programme will improve the integration of the mentally ill into the community.

"The health-care landscape in Singapore needs to transform to meet the challenges of our ageing population," she said at the programme's official launch at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

By 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be aged 65 or older.

The number of seniors with dementia - a mental disorder - is expected to increase to 80,000, more than two times the current number of 28,000.

Dr Philip Yap, senior geriatrician consultant of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said that delivering mental-health-care services to the patient's home is more effective than having patients make trips to the hospital.

He explained that going into the homes of patients "will help us fully understand the situation and meet the patient's needs where they really need them".

19-year-old dies after playing 40 hours of Diablo

A Taiwan teenager died after playing 40 hours of Diablo 3 in an internet cafe last Thursday.

The 19-year-old did not consume any food except water, according to a report by Apple Daily.

At around 5am, an internet cafe assistant who was making his rounds to collect hourly fees found Zhuang Zhengfeng slumped on the keyboard at the shop in Tainan.

After being woken up by the assistant, Zhuang said he felt unwell and mumbled under his breath that he needed some fresh air.

He then exited the internet cafe, vomitted and collapsed on the ground. He had lost consciousness at that point.

The internet cafe assistant found him and called for an ambulance. Zhuang was subsequently taken to Tainan hospital's Xinhua branch.

During the journey, first aid personnel tried to resuscitate him - and he was momentarily revived - but passed away before they arrived at the hospital.

His mother identified his body at the hospital and kept calling out "Sweetheart," as she wept.

Tainan Kuo General Hospital Heart Department head Lu Yanyuan said: "The deceased sat for a long time in the internet cafe, his blood flow slowed and produced a blood clot, and the clot flowed through his lungs to the vein. This likely caused a pulmonary vein embolism and sudden death".

The police investigators announced that initial investigations revealed no external injuries, and they plan to perform an autopsy to establish the cause of death last Saturday.

Zhuang was considered to be fit and strong and he also took part in Taekwondo competitions.

The internet cafe assistant named Chen said that Zhuang had patronised the cafe often in the recent months and would play for a very long time, often from afternoon until late at night, before leaving.

CPI rises 5.3 per cent in June as accommodation, transport costs soar

SINGAPORE - Singapore's consumer price index in June rose 5.3 per cent from a year earlier, the government said on Monday, accelerating from May's 5.0 per cent rise as accommodation and private road transport costs continued to soar.

June's inflation number was slightly above the 5.2 per cent median forecast of 13 economists polled by Reuters.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) core inflation measure rose 2.7 per cent year-on-year and was flat month-on-month, compared with May's 2.7 per cent annual gain and 0.1 per cent month-on-month decline.

Singapore's core inflation excludes the cost of accommodation and private road transport, which are strongly influenced by government policy, and is the figure the MAS pays more attention to when deciding monetary policy.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry and the MAS said in a joint statement that 'core inflation will ease further in H2 2012 and average between 2.5-3.0 per cent for the whole year'.

- But headline inflation, while likely to be lower in the second half, is expected to be in the upper half of the 3.5 to 4.5 per cent official forecast for 2012, MTI and MAS added.

CIMB Research economist Song Seng Wun said: 'It's a tad higher than expected. It's always a case of playing cat and mouse with the two culprits - housing or private transportation CPI.'

'This time it was the housing rental side which caused the CPI to be a little bit more firm than what we were going for.'

'The good thing is that despite the ups and downs of housing and private transportation costs, the underlying inflation - the MAS core - remained relatively stable at 2.7 per cent.'

'Our headline inflation forecast for this year is still 4.5 to 5 per cent, which is outside the upper bounds of the government's 4.5 per cent mainly due to the stickiness of housing rentals and COE (certificate of entitlement to buy a new vehicle) prices.'

'There's also risk partly from the relatively firm labour market as well as potential risk from higher food inflation.'

Barclays regional economist Wai Ho Leong said: 'The acceleration from 5 per cent in May to 5.3 per cent in June reflected the base effect because of the discontinuation of rebates in housing, service and conservancy charges. Because of this, the comparison with last June will cause this base effect.'

''From a month on month perspective, inflation was quite contained. Core inflation remained sticky but did not rise.'

'We expect high 3 to 4 per cent percents in the second half of the year. But volatility is going to be quite substantial given the drop in quota for COEs. We already saw the bidding for July was quite aggressive and premiums rose to all-time highs.'

'If that kind of situation continues, there will be some upside risk to inflation. However, the global situation is not that great. Right now, chances of (inflation breaching 4.5 per cent) remain quite low.'

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Real wages may drop 2.7 per cent this year

Ms Chan Shu Jun has her eye on a new camera, but her rising monthly expenditure is making her think twice about buying it.

The 25-year-old analyst in the financial sector estimates that she spends about half of her monthly income - in the region of $4,000 - on food, shopping and entertainment.

Although her wages have increased by about 7 per cent in recent years, Ms Chan is still concerned by inflation and the spectre of shrinking incomes here.

She said: "I'm exploring investment opportunities to offset inflation. There's no point saving money in banks as the interest rates they offer cannot keep up with inflation."

Her concerns are shared by many, with real incomes likely to fall by 2.7 per cent this year, according to a survey by the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and wage consultancy Remuneration Data Specialists.

This is despite an expected increase of 1.5 per cent in nominal wages. The survey - which was conducted last month and covered 167 companies across key sectors, like services and construction - shows that further wage stagnation is expected next year.

Although nominal wages are expected to increase by 3.1 per cent next year, that will be offset by an expected 3 per cent inflation rate.

The former chief economist for the Government of Singapore Investment Corp, Mr Yeoh Lam Keong said that Singapore faces both "wage stagnation" and "inflationary problems".

"Wage stagnation appears to be a general trend globally but, in Singapore, this is exacerbated by the massive influx of low-wage workers, which depresses nominal wages," he said.

SHRI executive director David Ang said he is especially concerned with the ability of low-wage workers to manage their daily expenses on transport and food. Any increases would eat into their disposable incomes, he explained.

Mr Yeoh said that these expenses make up a big proportion of low-wage workers' "consumption baskets", thus an income drop will hurt their pockets.

He suggests that the Government raise the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme payout significantly by "about two to three times, and allocate a bigger share of the payout in cash rather than in the form of CPF".

This will help push low-wage workers past the poverty line, rather than "wait for productivity levels to increase to push real wages up". He said: "That would take too long."

The survey also found that about eight in 10 companies are expected to hire new staff this year. This is projected to drop to fewer than six in 10 firms next year.

Mr Yeoh believes that the sluggish United States economy, euro-zone crisis and China's faltering growth may dampen business sentiments here.
"This could then cause a lack of business confidence to hire," he said.

City Harvest increases stake in Suntec Singapore

City Harvest Church has upped its stake in Suntec Singapore to 39.2 per cent, reported The Straits Times on Saturday.

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain said that the church had increased its effective interest from 20 per cent in 2010 by 19.2 per cent in 2011.

He was speaking to a cheering 6,000 strong congregation during the church's Saturday evening service in Suntec.

Mr Zulkarnain said that the church had purchased the additional interest in the Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre for $54 million in 2011.

According to The Straits Times, they had previously purchased their initial 20 per cent stake in 2010 at just under $44 million.

He also announced that 96 per cent of the $23.6 million pledged by church-goers for the church's building fund in 2010 had already been collected.

6 months' paid leave for mum?

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has come up with suggestions to nudge reluctant Singaporeans to have more babies.

At the top of its wish list: give working mothers six months’ paid maternity leave, with an option for a further six months’ unpaid leave.

Also, it believes bigger government housing grants would help couples get their first Housing Board flat earlier and hopefully start families sooner too.

And it wants employers to do more to help employees balance their work and family life. This means going beyond merely paying lip service, and making flexible work arrangements a reality.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong told The Sunday Times that these and other recommendations by its family unit will be handed to the National Population and Talent Division this week.

The Government is reviewing policies to encourage Singaporeans to marry and have babies as Singapore’s total fertility rate has fallen to 1.2 children per woman of childbearing age, far below the replacement rate of 2.1.

The labour movement consulted members, conducted surveys and held small group discussions before drawing up its suggestions.

It hopes to encourage young couples without children to start families, as well as convince those with only one child to consider having more, said Ms Cham, 43, a former nominated MP.

She thinks it would make a difference if maternity leave goes up from the current four months to six months. “When parents don’t want to have a second kid, they say it is because they don’t have enough quality time to spend with the child,” she said.

But even if the Government pays for the additional two months of maternity leave, there must be buy-in from smaller firms because they have to hire temporary staff when mothers go on long leave.

“Today, if we say there is no discrimination, we’re kidding ourselves,” Ms Cham said. “In reality, some women fear that if they disappear from the job for six months, they can be displaced forever.”

Still, she felt six months’ maternity leave would be attractive to women considering motherhood.

To make housing more affordable for young couples, she hoped the Government would increase the housing subsidy, which is now between $30,000 and $40,000 for first-time HDB resale flat buyers.

Young couples say they still find it hard to afford their first flat. The extra financial help might reverse the trend of delayed marriage, said Ms Cham, citing the rising number of singles aged 25 to 29.

The NTUC’s list of ideas includes having two days’ mandatory paternity leave. “The guys don’t mind taking their own leave, but it’s a kind of support that the company can give if we want to promote equal parenting,” she said.

Health Minister Gan on MediShield enhancements

SINGAPORE: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has stressed the importance of insurance in a country's healthcare financing.

He said the government wants to encourage lower-income families to be covered by its insurance scheme, MediShield.

Mr Gan said this in response to questions from reporters, on his ministry's plan to provide wider coverage from the first quarter of next year.

He said it has to calibrate MediShield enhancements very carefully, including extending coverage for congenital and neo-natal conditions.

"We also are concerned that, whether by introducing this additional insurance, we will actually increase the cost of treatment. Because once it is covered by insurance, parents and doctors may pursue more expensive treatment and overall, this may raise the cost of healthcare for children in Singapore," said Mr Gan.

"We need to calibrate it so that there is a balance between benefits covered by the insurance, as well as the cost of the insurance premium, to ensure that the benefits remain relevant and effective and at the same time, the premium remains affordable," he added.

Mr Gan was speaking to the media at the end of his Ministerial walkabout to the Bukit Timah division of the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.

With the enhancements, patients will be able to claim more - up to S$70,000 for their hospital bills annually, compared with the current S$50,000.

The lifetime limit will be increased from S$200,000 to S$300,000 to help policyholders who face exceptionally large bills, such as undergoing multiple surgeries after an accident.

The Health Ministry said MediShield deductibles will also be adjusted accordingly, as medical bills have become more expensive over the years.

With the extended coverage and payouts, MediShield premiums will have to be raised.

But the Health Ministry said for the vast majority of policyholders, the increase in premiums will be less than S$10 a month.

And with the additional government support given at this year's Budget, Singaporeans aged 65 and below will have to fork out no more than S$5 per month in the next two years.

For the elderly, their premiums will be largely offset by the annual and one-time Medisave top-ups.

They will, in fact, see a decrease in premiums payable.

Euro falls below 95 yen for first time in over a decade

TOKYO: The euro hit fresh lows against the Japanese currency on Monday, falling below 95 yen for the first time in more than a decade.

The common currency, which has been under pressure over fears about the eurozone's fiscal problems, dipped as low as 94.91 yen in morning Asian trade -- its lowest level since November 2000 -- from 95.38 in New York trade on Friday.

The euro was also weak against the dollar, treading around two-year lows at US$1.2119, while the dollar bought 78.33 yen.

The Japanese currency, which hit record highs against the dollar last year, has been increasingly viewed as a safe-haven unit amid worries about Europe and a lumbering US economic recovery.

Officials in Tokyo have repeatedly warned that the yen was overvalued and have previously intervened in forex markets in a bid to bring down the soaring unit's value.

"My stance on foreign exchange is unchanged and will never change under any circumstance," Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi told reporters in Tokyo Monday, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"As I've been saying, I will take decisive steps against speculative movement of excessive volatility. As far as the current situation is concerned, I'm watching it carefully," he added.

Providers of eldercare facilities must win community over: Gan Kim Yong

SINGAPORE: Providers of eldercare facilities should work closely with the community, so that residents will accept such facilities and not view them as a burden or liability.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong made this call when he addressed the attitude of "NIMBY" or "Not in My Backyard", amid concerns and unhappiness over the presence of such facilities in the HDB estates.

He said this at the end of a walkabout to Bukit Timah division on Sunday morning.

St Luke's Eldercare centre in Clementi Avenue 4 is an example of how community engagement has convinced residents to accept wellness and eldercare facilities right in their neighbourhood.

The centre also has a park next to it.

The Health Minister said most Singaporeans understand the needs of an ageing population, and accept the need for such facilities within the community.

He said it's inevitable that many of these facilities will be within the community, as land-scarce Singapore does not have outlying areas to build them.

"These facilities are built also to serve the people in the community. So, it is important for us to site these facilities where our senior residents can age in place. We hope that Singaporeans would understand the need for us to do so and they would come forward and work with us to see how we can finetune designs, programmes or facilities," said Mr Gan.

"I am confident that if we continue to engage them, we would be able to win them over and support us," he added.

At a dialogue session with residents, Mr Gan also made clear that the U-Save rebate, given as part of this year's Budget package to offset the Goods and Services Tax, is for the whole household.

He said it's not based on the number of people living in the flat.

Residents of Bukit Timah also raised the problem of monkeys in their neighbourhood.

The monkeys have created a mess while trying to look for food in dustbins. They've also tried to attack residents.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Education and MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, Sim Ann, said efforts have been made to tackle the problem, such as trying out the use of dustbins that are "monkey-proof".

"We will continue to work with the agencies because I am also concerned about resident safety. This is really the most important, while also respecting the fact that in an area that has got alot of nature, wildlife actually comes along with it," she said.

In September, the GRC will launch One Connect for private estate residents to better connect with government agencies on local maintenance issues.
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