Friday, August 31, 2012

Youngest kidney recipient is happy to be home

SINGAPORE - Laughter filled the living room as two six-year-olds have a boisterous time with a couple of bouncing balls shining with neon lights.

One of them was little Bryan Liu, the youngest recipient of a kidney donated by an altruistic donor in Singapore. The other was his elder twin sister, Charmaine.

Yes, Bryan is finally back home, after being discharged from the National University Hospital (NUH) last Saturday, and truly loving life.

Said his mother, Madam Serene Ng, 38: "He was so happy running around the house, playing and laughing.

"Small things also make him laugh. Throw a ball also laugh.

"We can see that he's really happy to be home. He looks for his toys and plays with them."

Little Bryan underwent a kidney transplant on July21, receiving a kidney donated by a stranger, Mr Lin Dilun, 27, an events consultant.

Mr Lin had told The New Paper on Sunday (TNPS) in an exclusive interview on Aug 5 that it was logical to donate something he didn't need to someone who needed it.

He had said: "The crucial thing is, if I give it away, can I still survive? If yes, it's no loss to me. It makes perfect sense."

And it has been worth it, knowing that Bryan has bounced back.

On the night he was discharged, Bryan was too excited to go to bed even though it was past 1am.

Madam Ng said: "He couldn't sleep. He asked if he could watch the television. He's trying to push his luck to see what he can do."

It had been six weeks since he was admitted into NUH on July 15 in preparation for the transplant, the transplant itself and then to recover from the operation.

And his mother has noticed some changes in him, in terms of his eating habits and his personality.

She said: "After the surgery, we notice that he's very adventurous when it comes to food, which is surprising.

"Previously, he didn't like fruits at all, but now he eats them. He would take half an hour to finish just half an apple and we had to cut it into smaller pieces.

"Now, he bites it and even eats faster than his sister."

He also didn't like cold things previously.

Said Madam Ng: "Before the transplant, he wasn't an ice cream person. Now, he sees ice cream and he wants to try it."

When previously given a choice of hamburger or nuggets, he would choose nuggets, as "he didn't like to get his hands dirty".

But when he was in the hospital and was served a hamburger for one of his meals, he ate it, said his mother.

Once a "fussy eater", he now "doesn't care, food comes first".

His mother mentioned in jest: "We hear that sometimes, the recipient will 'inherit' some of the donor's character. I hope the donor is a food lover, then at least Bryan will not be choosy with his food."

When told about that, Mr Lin said: "I bet no one told them I'm probably the least picky eater around."

Bryan has also turned "more vocal and inquisitive".

Madam Ng said: "Since he came back, he has been very vocal and he would voice out things that he wants. He's no longer the follower and the observer. He's also more daring."

She is not too sure of the causes for the behavioural changes saying "either he inherited the characteristics from the donor or he feels better and is in a clearer state of mind to think, unlike how he used to be when he was sick".

Added Madam Ng: "Now, he's eager to learn. It really is freedom for him."

When asked whether a kidney recipient would inherit characteristics from a donor, renal physician Akira Wu's answer was a clear "No."

Said Dr Wu, 62: "What the transplanted kidney may carry is (kidney) stone. Otherwise, no donor character is transmitted."

Previously, Bryan used to undergo 10 hours of dialysis daily at home, swallow a cocktail of medicines and have growth hormone injections to survive.

Out of the hospital, he will be closely monitored for the next three months. His latest blood test last week showed that everything is normal.

He is now on about 10 types of medicines, mostly immunosuppressants, to ensure that his body does not reject the new kidney.

And for that reason, he cannot return to school until next year.

He had started Primary 1 this year. In the meantime, he will be home schooled, said his mother.

"His immune system is low. If any of his friends are sick, he would catch the illness easily," said Madam Ng.

She said: "The advantage is that they (Bryan and his sister) are in the same class. My girl will bring his homework back."

The other advantage of home schooling is that she can "watch over him". She said: "I can start teaching him how to look after his kidney, such as what he can do when he is back inschool."

His father, Mr Victor Liu, 50, a telco group manager, coaches him in English.

Drinking water

Madam Ng said one of Bryan's challenge is getting into a habit of drinking water. She said that it would take months to develop a habit of drinking water.

He has to drink at least three litres of water a day - about 10 times more the 300ml of water he used to be able to drink when he was on dialysis - to keep his kidney healthy, she said.

She has a one-litre bottle filled with water and he has to drink three bottles each day. She also uses drinking cups with colourful characters to entice him to drink up.

She has had to toilet-train him again.

"He can pee on his own now. But it is a bit harder at night. So he wears a diaper and we wake him up about two to three times to pee.

"He has not been urinating for so long. Sometimes, he can't hold his urine for long, which is normal because his bladder has not been used for so long and is not used to the pressure."

Going forward, she said his ambition is to be a doctor.

She said: "He wants to poke back the doctors who poked him last time. The sky is the limit now. It is up to him what he wants to be, as long as it is legal."

To Bryan, what matters is now.

While pointing to the scars from the transplant on the left side of his lower abdomen, he said: "My donor gave me a kidney - no need to do dialysis.

"Can play."

Little Bryan has his childhood back, finally.

"Lemon law" to kick in on Sep 1

SINGAPORE : Singapore's "lemon law" will kick in on September 1.

The new legislation will provide more options through additional remedies, such as repair and replacement, and provide greater clarity on the burden of proof for defective goods.

The lemon law will have a two-stage recourse framework for consumers. At the first stage, consumers may ask the seller to replace or repair the defected goods within a reasonable period of time. But if this isn't possible, consumers can move on to the next stage, where they can keep the defected goods and ask for a reduction in price or return them for a refund.

Currently, the exchange or refund policy can differ between retailers. Some shops may offer up to seven days to exchange products, while others have a strict "no refund" policy.

Customers at Swedish furniture giant IKEA have all along been benefiting from its 100-day return policy.

This means that if customers change their mind on purchases, they can return the items within 100 days from the date of purchase.

With the lemon law in place, they will now have up to six months to take action on any defective product.

Most customers welcome the lemon law.

One customer said: "When there was no such law, I would not be bothered to go back and change (the item), because I am afraid there will be this and that, a lot more issues. So, now that there is such a law, I will definitely bring it back to change."

Another commented: "That is something they do in the US already...And I think it is nice, actually. It is good for business also because in the end, people would end up buying more because they know they can always return them."

Others were concerned that some may abuse the law.

One person said: "What the retailers can do is actually state the terms and conditions clearly, and maybe state it on the cashier counter and on the receipts. Everything should be black and white, and have no grey areas, so that consumers can better know what is a defective product and they can exchange the product."

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said: "With the new lemon law, consumers and retailers now have more options of recourse for defective goods.

"I encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with the provisions under the law. At the same time, we also want to ensure that businesses are not subject to frivolous claims and that limitations and safeguards are in place."

The government will monitor how smaller retailers adjust to the new law.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) will gather feedback for some three months and work towards closing gaps, if any.

Mr Teo said: "For smaller retailers, sometimes, it is harder to implement some of the good, excellent measures of the major retailers because of cost issue, because of volume, because of the type of products.

"We will be monitoring the smaller retailers, their responses and how they manage the process more carefully, because we want to make sure that it actually enhances the experience for them, it actually helps them in their business."

Mr Teo added : "It is important to let the law be implemented and accumulate enough experiences for the retailers as well as consumers. And then we monitor and see what is the outcome, how is it done, and then we can figure out what are the gaps to close, if there are any gaps, and figure out some of the measures or counter measures, and see how we can help the smaller retailers or even the consumers go through with the transactions."

To help reduce the impact on business, Mr Teo encouraged smaller retailers to focus on building personalised relationships with customers.

To make it easier for customers to track their purchases, customers of electronics, furniture and IT retailer Courts, can now access their product purchase information online, or 'e-receipts' - so they do not have to worry about losing receipts, which are usually required as proof of purchase.

These 'e-receipts' allow them to easily retrieve vital information such as product purchase dates.

The MTI and the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) have organised some 40 seminars and roadshows to brief consumers and retailers on the new law.

MTI said 15 additional briefing sessions are expected to be held over the next two months.

MTI has also worked with CASE and various trade associations to develop lemon law consumer guides.

These will explain the consumers' rights under the law, and the limitations and safeguards against frivolous claims. These guides will be available at supermarkets, and places like community centres and shopping centres.

14 military camps to allow servicemen to bring in camera phones

SINGAPORE: From Saturday, those enlisting for military service on Pulau Tekong - a rite of passage for many Singaporean males - can bring along their smartphones.

The island is among 14 camps letting servicemen bring in camera phones - something not allowed previously.

This policy change will be reviewed after six to nine months, with a possibility of its extension to more installations.

Camps will be divided into "green" and "red" zones.

Green zones are where camera phones will be allowed. The green zones include places like cookhouses, canteens, sleeping quarters, business centres and gyms.

However, photography or filming is still prohibited. Exceptions will only be made for certain occasions, like passing-out parades.

Other mobile devices with imaging capabilities, like tablet computers and digital cameras, will still not be allowed.

When a servicemen enters a more sensitive red zone, the camera phones have to be temporarily surrendered. Lockers will be provided for servicemen to store their camera phones before entering a red zone.

To help ensure security is not compromised, closed-circuit television cameras and digital door locks will be in place, besides signs demarcating the two zones.

Perimeter fences will also be installed where possible.

Selected camps under the Singapore Armed Forces' security zoning policy include Bedok Camp, Maju Camp, Khatib Camp and Seletar Camp.

The camps have been chosen because large numbers of Singapore's citizen soldiers pass through them yearly.

One of them is Major Lim Hock Guan, who works for an investment bank.

"Having this policy that allows me to bring my office phone into camp helps me manage the time between my office and also during In-Camp Training," he said.

Another serviceman who welcomed the move is 2nd Lieutenant Kok Chun Hou.

"Full-time national servicemen like me who are already using smartphones before we enlist are (now) able to use their smartphones... rather than having to buy a new phone," he said.

10,000 Yosemite tourists could face deadly virus

LOS ANGELES: Some 10,000 visitors to California's Yosemite National Park could have been exposed to a deadly virus that kills one in three victims and cannot be treated, officials said Friday.

So far, six cases of the rare hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) have been confirmed -- two of whom have died -- while a "multiple" number of other suspected cases of the rodent-borne disease are being investigated.

Yosemite authorities closed down the "Signature Tent Cabins" earlier this week at Curry Village, a popular lodging area in Yosemite Valley, the tourist center of the scenic park visited by millions of people every year.

The National Park Service (NPS) has written to some 2,900 people who booked stays in the Boystown area tent lodgings between June 10 and August 24, alerting them to keep an eye out for symptoms of HPS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of people who actually stayed in the tent cabins -- those who booked plus their guests -- at 10,000.

"On August 24, 2012, the tents were disinfected and visitors were relocated. People who stayed in the tents between June 10 and August 24 may be at risk of developing HPS in the next six weeks," it said.

The incubation period for HPS is typically two to four weeks after exposure, with a range of a few days up to six weeks. Symptoms include fever, chills, myalgias, cough, headaches and gastrointestinal ailments.

"The disease often progresses rapidly to respiratory distress, requiring supplemental oxygen and/or intubation, non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema and shock," the CDC said.

"There is no specific treatment available, but early recognition and administration of supportive care greatly increase the chance of survival."

Since the disease was first identified in 1993, there have been some 60 cases in California and 587 cases nationwide in the United States, around a third of which have been fatal.

Teachers, education support staff get pay rise

SINGAPORE: Schools across the island celebrated Teachers' Day in advance on Friday, and for many educators, it's an extra special occasion this year.

Some 26,000 teachers and 500 Allied Educators (AEDs) will get a pay raise starting September 1.

The Education Ministry said the adjustments will ensure the salaries keep pace with the market and match their roles and responsibilities.

The last pay revision for teachers was more than four years ago.

For Allied Educators, this is their first pay review since the scheme was created in 2009.

Teachers will get an 8 per cent increment - which means a rise of up to S$550 for teachers, and S$830 for senior teachers.

Allied Educators' salaries will go up by 5 to 15 per cent, which is an increase of up to S$700.

Kelda Chan, an allied counsellor at Anderson Secondary School welcomed the move.

"I feel that is how MOE actually sees and recognises our work and our effort in school, and I'm just thankful that they feel (our work) is just as important as that of a teacher."

Mrs Constance Loke, Principal of Haig Girls' School, said: "I'm glad to hear about the salary revision. But at the end of the day, we do what we do because we love the children and we have a passion for making a difference in their lives."

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said on his Facebook page that he is pleased that the ministry is making the salary adjustments.

Ng Wei Da, a teacher at Anderson Secondary, is one of many who hope to get more support from the ministry, in terms of managing their workload and professional development.

"Recently, the PM mentioned about work-life harmony during the National Day Rally, and I think a lot of teachers are also facing this problem."

Ms Chan said: "I would really like to contribute more to the school, but I think it'd be great if we're able to be equipped with a higher level training or education for us, post-graduate studies to be exact."

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, said the ministry's move is timely.

"Currently what we have is a tight labour market, and the experience is that every time we have a tight labour workforce, the teachers do feel a certain amount of attraction to want to try and see whether they will perform better in the private sector. I don't think it's wise for us to wait for that to happen," he said.

Mr Lim said it's important to ensure teachers are paid competitively to better retain them.

Asian nations edge towards giant free trade zone

SIEM REAP, Cambodia: Sixteen nations home to roughly half the world's population have agreed "in principle" to create a free trade area spanning Asia, the secretary-general of ASEAN said on Friday.

Trade ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand will press their leaders to start talks on the trade zone at a regional summit in November, Surin Pitsuwan told AFP.

The move towards establishing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), made during a meeting in the Cambodian tourist town of Siem Reap on Thursday, was hailed by Surin as "a big achievement".

The proposal could transform the region - containing around 3.5 billion people - into an integrated market with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $23 trillion, a third of the world's current annual GDP, he said.

ASEAN - which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - already has five separate free trade agreements (FTAs) governing economic cooperation with the six partner countries.

"This idea of trying to string together all these FTAs in existence into one, in principle now it's been agreed," Surin said on the final day of a week-long gathering of ASEAN economic ministers.

The pact will aim to eliminate trade barriers, create a liberal investment environment and protect intellectual property rights, according to the negotiation guidelines.

"This is a bold move to deepen integration in the most dynamic region in the world," New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said in a statement on his government's website.

"It shows that despite the economic difficulties in other parts of the world, Asia is actively pursuing trade liberalisation."

Progress on the proposed RCEP trade deal, where China will be a dominant power, comes as the United States is leading a push to create a vast trans-Pacific pact with at least 10 other economies, including four ASEAN members.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has emerged as a trade priority for US President Barack Obama, who has cast the mooted pact as a way to boost US exports and jobs while preserving labor and environmental standards.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who attended this week's trade talks in Cambodia, said there was room for both trade initiatives.

"We seem them as complementary, not necessarily competition," he told reporters.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Singapore's Olam in Forbes Fab 50 list

SINGAPORE - Supply chain manager and agricultural processing firm Olam International has been named one of the best publicly traded companies in Asia-Pacific.

Olam is the only Singapore firm to make this year's Forbes Asia Fab 50 list, which is dominated by Chinese and Indian firms.

The list recognises the top public firms in Asia which have shown good results in a time when global economy is slowing and growth is decelerating or non-existent.

Despite suffering a quarterly loss last year, Hong Kong's Noble Group recovered and made the list for the seventh time in a row, the longest any company has managed to stay on the Fab 50 list.

Some 23 firms from China made the list this year including Tingyi Holding Corporation, China Vanke, Want Want and Baidu.

Companies from India took up 11 spaces on the list, including IT software services and consulting firms like HCL and Tata Consultancy.

A number of companies which did well in the past saw their performances fall. Australia's Wesfarmers, India's Mahindra & Mahindra and Taiwan's HTC are among those which failed to make it back on the list this year.

To qualify for the list, companies needed to have an annual revenue or market cap of at least US$3 billion (S$3.78 billion).

South Korea had the third-largest group of companies on the list, with four entries.

Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand each had two companies, while Japan, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore each had one company that made the cut this year.

Wild boar gores dog, sparks fear on Adam Drive

SINGAPORE - The rustle in the brushes got Lhotse bounding towards the wooded area along Adam Drive, off Adam Road.

Minutes later, the three-year-old chocolate labrador, dashed out, whimpering loudly. It had been badly gored in the side and bitten in its neck.

With blood flowing, the dog made a dash home, followed closely behind by the family's maid, Miss Elvie Lacsa.

The incident happened last Saturday at about 5.30pm.

Miss Lacsa, 44, said: "It all happened so fast. As usual, I was taking Lhotse for his walk when we heard a noise in the forest and he ran there," she said.

"A minute later, I heard loud grunts and then (I heard) Lhotse cry loudly. He ran madly home, with blood flowing from his side and neck," she recalled, tears welling up in her eyes.

The Adam Drive area is secluded and not highly populated, so Lhotse is often off-leash on the way home after a walk, she said.

She told The New Paper she almost "collapsed from fear".

Although she did not see what attacked the labrador, she and her employer believe it must have been a wild boar.

Miss Lacsa and others who live in the neighbourhood said they have often seen wild boars roaming there.

Her employer and the owner of Lhotse, Mr Kim Das, 40, took it to James Tan Veterinary Centre in Whitley Road. He said he spent almost $1,000 on its treatment.

"I was told the tusk had taken off a chunk of his flesh and the vet had to suture his side to hold his flesh together before stitches were done. The wound on his neck also had to be stitched," he said.

Concern in Adam Drive 

The incident has caused concern among some of the residents, mainly expatriates, along the 841m-long road. They are concerned about the safety of children and of pets playing in the fields near the forested areas.

The area, about 2km from MacRitchie Reservoir, mainly has black and white bungalows on one side of the road and forest on the other.

Mr Das said he has reported the incident to National Parks Board (NParks) and was told it will be investigating.

"While I appreciate the fact that with urbanisation, the boars are gradually losing their natural habitat, they can be quite a nuisance and pose a threat even to motorists," he said.

A European woman, who declined to be named, said: "This time it is someone's pet dog. Next time it could be someone's child."It was only two months ago that a wild boar, believed to be from the Lower Peirce area, wandered into Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, where it charged at a security guard and a boy.

The five-year-old was hurled about a metre into the air after the animal rammed into his rear, while the Cisco protection officer hurt his hand in the fall. The boar was later put down with a dart gun.

After wild boars attacked people at the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and killed a pet dog in the Chestnut area, NParks decided to control their numbers by culling.

It will round them up before vets sedate them with dart guns and euthanise them with drug injections.

Mr Das, who spent his childhood in India, said he used to hunt wild boars with his father and uncles.

He added that he "never knew one to be not menacing".

When wild boars become dangerous

Mr Ong Say Lin, director of Acres Laos, felt the latest incident was an unfortunate one, but said that the boar, being a wild animal, was reacting to what it regarded as a potential predator.

Acres Laos is the Laos branch of a local charity here which works to foster respect and compassion for all animals, to improve the living conditions and welfare of captive animals, and to educate people.

Said Mr Ong: "It is therefore natural for the wild boars to stand on guard against the dog. It was merely acting on its instincts when it charged. But at the same time, the dog should not be running unleashed in the natural reserves."

He felt there should be increased public education and awareness for humans and nature to co-exist.

"People should know the characteristics of the wild animals and how they behave, and react in order to be able to act accordingly in their presence," he said.

He added that while he was studying wild boars as a research student with the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, he only spotted wild boars twice in eight months.

"Wild boars usually evade people. In the second encounter, I had to stay really still to observe two juvenile boars, but once when they caught my scent, they ran away," he said.

As for Lhotse, it appeared none the worse for the experience and was wagging its tail enthusiastically when The New Paper team visited on Monday evening.

"He is, after all, a very happy, loving fellow and the incident has shown him to be very resilient, too," Mr Das said.

AVA: First case in the area

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the attack on the dog at Adam Drive was the first wild boar attack case reported in the area.

Its spokesman said the agency is working with the National Parks Board and the Singapore Land Authority to address the wild boar issue there.

AVA is also "increasing surveillance in the vicinity to facilitate capturing of the animal," she said.
If the public should encounter a wild boar, AVA said they should:

Be calm and move away slowly from the animal. Do not approach or even attempt to feed the animal.

Do not provoke or startle the animal or use flash photography to take pictures. Keep a good distance from adult boars with young piglets and leave them alone as they are potentially more dangerous. The adults may attempt to defend their young.

For sightings of wild boars or other animal-related queries, contact AVA at 1800-476-1600.

Work, mahjong and tea: Hong Kong's secrets to longevity

HONG KONG: Covered in smog and cramped apartment towers, Hong Kong is not usually associated with a healthy lifestyle. But new figures show that Hong Kongers are the longest-living people in the world.

Hong Kong men have held the title for more than a decade and recent data show female Hong Kongers are overtaking their Japanese counterparts for the first time, according to the governments in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong women's life expectancy rose from an average 86 years in 2010 to 86.7 years in 2011, while Japanese women's longevity was hit by last year's earthquake and tsunami, falling to 85.9 years, census figures reveal.

So what is Hong Kong's secret to a long life?

Experts say there is no single elixir, but contributing factors include easy access to modern health care, keeping busy, traditional Cantonese cuisine and even the centuries-old Chinese tile game of mahjong.
Rolling stones gather no moss

"I love travelling, I like to see new things and I meet my friends for 'yum cha' every day," Mak Yin, an 80-year-old grandmother of six says as she practises the slow-motion martial art of tai chi in a park on a Sunday morning.

"Yum cha" is the Cantonese term to describe the tradition of drinking tea with bite-sized delicacies known as dim sum. The tea is free and served non-stop, delivering a healthy dose of antioxidants with the meal.

"My friends are in their 60s -- they think I'm around their age too, although I'm much older than them," Mak laughs.

Mak's favourite food is steamed vegetables, rice and fruit. Cantonese food is famous for steamed fish and vegetables -- dishes that use little or none of the cooking oils blamed for heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol.

But before Mak enjoys her afternoon tea, she joins a group of elderly people for her morning exercise of tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice said to have benefits including improving balance and boosting cardiovascular strength.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February found that tai chi reduces falls and "appears to reduce balance impairments" in people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's disease.

Another factor behind Hong Kongers' longevity, experts say, is work. While others long for the day they can retire and kick up their heels, many people in Hong Kong work well into their 70s and even 80s.

Hong Kong does not have a statutory retirement age and it is common to see elderly people working in shops, markets and restaurants alongside younger staff.

"Many old people in our city remain working, that contributes to better psychological and mental health," Hong Kong Association of Gerontology president Edward Leung says.

"For older people, a lot of them are stressed because they have nothing to do and they develop 'emptiness syndrome'. This causes mental stress."

Fishmonger Lee Woo-hing, 67, says he could not bear to sit at home and do nothing. His inspiration is local tycoon Li Ka-shing, Asia's richest man, who still runs his vast business empire in his 80s.

"If Li Ka-shing continues working at the age of 84, why should I retire?" asks the father-of-four during a break from his 14-hour shift at a bustling market in central Hong Kong.

"If I just sit at home and stare at the walls, I'm worried that my brain will degenerate faster. I'm happy to chat with different people here in the market."
'Mahjong delays dementia'

Hong Kong's cramped living conditions are famously unhealthy, fuelling outbreaks of disease and viruses including bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which have killed dozens of people.

The city's reputation won it the dubious distinction of a starring role in director Steven Soderbergh's 2011 disaster thriller "Contagion", about a deadly virus that spreads from Hong Kong to the United States.

But in the day-to-day habits of ordinary people, experts say Hong Kong is a great place to grow old.

A popular local way of keeping busy and meeting friends is mahjong -- a mentally stimulating tile game which can help delay dementia, according to aging expert Alfred Chan, of Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

"It stimulates the parts that control memory and cognitive abilities. It helps old people with their retention of memory," he says.

The complex rules and calculation of scores make mahjong, also known as the Chinese version of dominoes, mentally demanding. But the social aspects of the four-player game are just as important.

"In mahjong you need to play with three other people. It is a very good social activity, you have to interact with each other constantly," says Chan, who has studied the game's effects on the well being of elderly people.

"It is also a self-fulfilling game because if you win -- whether you play with money or not -- it gives you a sense of empowerment."

Mahjong parlours are popular in Hong Kong, and mahjong tables are a must at Chinese wedding banquets.

"I'm in semi-retirement. I work in the morning and hang out with my friends by playing mahjong in the afternoon," says 67-year-old tailor Yeung Fook, on the sidelines of a game in his modest garment shop.

"I'm happier when I work. It's boring to just sit at home."

WTO head confirms 2012 slowdown in world trade

PARIS: Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organisation, confirmed on Thursday that growth in global trade would remain below four percent this year and urged governments against protectionism.

Annual growth in world trade has averaged six percent over the past 15 years, but this year "we will be below four percent," Lamy told France's BFM radio, blaming the slowdown on a sluggish world economy.

But Lamy said the rough patch should not be an excuse for political leaders to give in to protectionism "which makes no sense."

"The world has crossed this crisis without a protectionist tsunami, but there are preoccupying signs that the WTO is watching over closely," Lamy said.

In April, the WTO warned that world trade growth, which slowed in 2011 after a big rebound in 2010, would weaken again this year and grow by 5.6 percent in 2013.

New committee set up to enhance pre-school education

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Education and Community Development ministries have set up a committee to oversee enhancements to pre-school education.

The enhancements will include updating the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework.

The Implementation Committee for Enhancing Pre-School Education (ICEPE) will be co-chaired by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat and Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Chan Chun Sing.

Members of the committee include Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for MCYS, Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State (designate) for Law and Education, and senior officials from MOE and MCYS.

MOE and MCYS said this in a joint statement, days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the government would play a more active role in early childhood education.

The Kindergarten Curriculum Framework first came about in 2003, and acts as a guide for kindergarten teachers to follow.

In revising it, the Education Ministry said the framework will incorporate latest research on early childhood education.

It will include learning goals at the end of Kindergarten 2 in a bid to facilitate better transition from pre-school to primary one.

It will be completed by end of 2012.

The framework will also include a teachers' guide and learning resources.

These will be available by the first half of next year.

Some kindergarten teachers Channel NewsAsia spoke with welcomed the changes.

Janice Foo, a kindergarten teacher, said: "Right now the framework is quite vague, because it just points out different factors, like aesthetic approach... or physical development. But it doesn't really go into what kind.

"Having a learning goal allows the teacher to make sure that whatever is necessary for the kid to know, he or she at least knows it."

The Committee will also look at developing a detailed role for the statutory board to improve policy coordination and regulation.

The Committee will bring in new anchor operators in a bid to improve quality and affordability of pre-school education.

Currently, there are two anchor operators - the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) and NTUC My First Skool.

It will also facilitate the government's setting up of pilot pre-school centres over the next few years.

The pilot pre-school centres are part of the government's move to play a more active role in raising the quality of pre-school education.

MOE said these centres will enable the ministry to incorporate findings on effective teaching and learning in pre-schools, and develop best practices.

These ideas will then be shared with other operators.

The shake-up of the pre-school sector also comes at a time when the government is cautioning against "over-teaching" pre-schoolers.

Adjunct Professor at SIM University, Professor S Gopinathan said parents also have an important role to play in ensuring the intrinsic love for learning and discovery remains a focus at this age.

"They have to make choices, they have to look at how children are coping. If children appear to be stressed, appear to be disinclined to learn, then that's a signal that they should heed. So it's something parents have to think seriously about," he said.

Prof Gopinathan said pre-school education must remain a time for children to learn through play, and pick up social skills.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thomson Line to open from 2019 with 22 stations

SINGAPORE: Singapore's sixth rail network -- the Thomson Line (TSL) -- will open from 2019, instead of the indicative timeline of 2018 announced in the Land Transport Master Plan.

Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew, who gave an update on the Thomson Line on Wednesday, said the change in timeline is to accommodate some adjustments made to the original plan.

Under the final rail alignment plan of the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the TSL will be longer and have more stations.

It will be 30 kilometres long -- 3 kilometres longer than envisaged -- and have 22 stations, four more than originally planned.

One of them is Springleaf station, sited in Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Ms Lee Bee Wah, an MP for the area, said: "(At) Springleaf, most of the residents there are living in private estates, landed properties as well as some condominiums. Currently, the nearest station is Khatib MRT and the complaint is that it is so near and yet so far, because there is no direct bus service. (With the TSL)...we don't need to have direct bus service, there will be a station there."

Another two stations are Woodlands North and Woodlands South in Sembawang GRC.

Ms Ellen Lee, an MP for the area, said: "It (TSL) will facilitate transfer, especially within the estate itself and it will solve the crunch that my residents feel whenever they take the MRT and when they take the buses."

TSL will run from Woodlands in the north to Marina Bay in the south and is expected to be built at an estimated cost of around S$18 billion.

It is expected to have a daily ridership of 400,000 commuters.

Six of the 22 stations will be interchanges, enabling commuters to reach their destinations in the shortest possible time.

For example, a resident of Sin Ming travelling to Republic Polytechnic in Woodlands will halve his or her commute time from 50 minutes to 25 minutes.

Another at Woodlands Regional Centre heading to Marina Barrage will take 55 minutes instead of 70.

With six interchange stations, the TSL will connect to all existing lines and the future Downtown Line (DTL).

"All in, about 160,000 households will be within 10- to 12-minute walk from one of these stations. So you will have an additional option. Instead of having to take a feeder bus or find a way to get to one of the stations on the North-South Line, these 160,000 households can choose to walk to one of the Thomson Line's stations as an alternative," said Mr Lui.

TSL will connect to the North-South Line at Woodlands and Orchard stations.

Caldecott Station will connect to the Circle Line.

Residents of the Bukit Timah stretch can change trains at the future DTL Stevens Station to connect to the TSL.

The Outram Park Station will connect the TSL to the East-West Line and North-East Line, while the Marina Bay Station will connect the TSL to the North-South Line and Circle Line.

TSL will open in three stages from the north to the south.

Phase One, which will have three stations from Woodlands North to Woodlands South, will open in 2019.

Phase Two will be ready in 2020, with stations from Springleaf to Caldecott.

The final stretch of 13 stations from Mount Pleasant to Gardens by the Bay will open in 2021.

When fully operational, an estimated 60,000 households will be within 400 metres of one of the TSL stations.

The line, which will be fully underground, will run on a four-car instead of a three-car system.

Mr Lui said this will give it additional capacity to cope with any increase in long-term demand.

He was speaking during a visit to Telok Ayer Station of Downtown Line One, which will open by the end of next year.

Mr Lui also said: "During the construction phase (of the TSL), there will inevitably be a certain amount of inconvenience, noise pollution. We will try our best to minimise this as much as possible. We will of course want to engage the residents, dialogue with them, find ways to meet as much as possible some of the points that they raise."

LTA, Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said in a joint statement that while all efforts have been made to minimise land acquisition, the government will acquire four full lots.

They include Pearls Centre in Eu Tong Sen Street, a post office along Upper Thomson Road and two landed properties along Stevens Road and Robin Close.

Pearls Centre will be affected by the construction of the TSL as a tunnel will run under part of the building.

To optimise land use around the future TSL station at Outram Park, Pearls Centre will be acquired and integrated with the adjoining state land for a high-density mixed-use development.

Five other part lots will also be acquired but will not affect the main building structure.

Affected parties will be compensated and the amount will run into a few hundred million dollars, said SLA. The money will come from the S$18b budget to built the line.

The SLA gazetted the land affected by acquisition on Wednesday.

US economy growing 'gradually', says Fed report

WASHINGTON: The US economy is growing slowly amid slight improvements in retail sales and the depressed housing market, while hiring held steady, the Federal Reserve said in a report on Wednesday.

"Economic activity continued to expand gradually in July and early August across most regions and sectors," the Fed said in its Beige Book, a key report on current regional economic conditions that feeds it policy decisions.

Retail sales strengthened "somewhat" in July compared with softness in May and June, particularly at discount stores and online.

The pace of auto sales slowed "somewhat," but the Fed noted that it remained significantly above a year ago.

The ravaged housing market was showing signs of improvement six years after a price bubble collapsed.

"All 12 of the Fed's districts cited increases in home sales, home prices, or housing construction" in July and early August, it said.

The jobs outlook, with unemployment stuck above 8.0 percent for the past three years, appeared little changed.

"Most districts reported that employment was stable or growing only slightly," the report said.

Amid sluggish growth and high unemployment, upward wage pressure across the nation was "very contained."

Manufacturers continued to hire in almost all districts, but only "modestly," it said.

Demand has been strongest for skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs, and information technology services.

The Beige Book data will be used by the Federal Open Market Committee at its September 12-13 meeting as it reviews monetary policy.

Market hopes are high that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will give an early signal of the central bank's intentions on more stimulus in his keenly awaited speech Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The FOMC, at its prior July 31-August 1 meeting, signalled it was ready to provide additional stimulus if warranted by economic conditions warranted.

She gave up job for daughter's PSLE

Some consider the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) one of the toughest hurdles in a child’s education.

And it shows in the way parents and children react to it.

The stress it brings has led to some parents quitting their jobs to be with their kids.

Some even quit more than a year ahead of the exam.

Others end up seeing psychiatrists to help cope with the mental stress – theirs, not their kids.

Madam Bernice Koh, 38, decided to leave her job as a secretary after 16 years despite her boss begging her to stay.

Her reason: Her daughter, Cherie Lim, 11, will be taking her PSLE next year.

She says: “When I was working, my daughter would wait for me or my husband to come back before she came to us with problems in her homework.”

“And sometimes I would be too tired, so at least when I quit, Iamable to rest and help her whenever she needs it.”

Madam Koh says PSLE stress has already affected Cherie.

It began when her grades dropped drastically. Cherie, who scored 80s and 90s in her Primary 4 exams, even started to fear mathematics, her favourite subject.

Madam Koh says: “When her grades slipped, she looked more deflated and was not motivated when it came to schoolwork.”

This change in attitude prompted Madam Koh to quit her job to be a constant source of support and motivation for her only child until her PSLE.

She discussed resigning from her job with her husband, an IT project manager, and they both agreed that it would be best for Cherie to have at least one parent who is always home.

Madam Koh says she now takes her daughter to and from Ai Tong School, takes her lunches to school and makes sure that she is there should she have any questions about her schoolwork.

“Now my main role is just to be there for her,” she says.

Trying to balance a PSLE-taking child’s needs and working at the same time has taken a toll on some mums.

More are taking leave of absence just to prepare for this exam, say human resources practitioners and experts.

“It is now more common compared to five years ago, says Mr Anthony Peck, 40.

The general manager at HRsingapore, which provides HR services and training, says: “Most mothers usually take time off just a few weeks prior to the exam, although I have heard of some instances when mothers go as far as requesting for a year of no-pay leave or even quitting when their requests are denied.”

PSLE stress was in the news two weeks ago when a Pri 6 boy ran away for three days just before the PSLE oral exams. He apparently wrote in a letter that he was stressed out by the coming exams.

While the oral exams have concluded, the written exams begin next month. Most Pri 6 pupils have finished their preliminary exams a few days ago.

Ms Ng Bee Bee, 41, an accounts manager, took three months of no-pay leave.

Those three months also helped reduce her stress, says Ms Ng, who sometimes works long hours.

She says: “It definitely helped because I don’t have to think about work and can focus on helping my son with his preparation.”

She wanted to help her son, who is sitting the PSLE this year, pace himself for the tough year ahead.

She chose to do it at the beginning of the year, from February to April.

Ms Ng says: “I wanted to make sure that he kept to a timetable from the start so that he doesn’t get overworked by the end of the year.”

A 38-year-old junior college teacher, who wanted to be known only as Ms Koh, took one year of no-pay leave from September last year for her son,who is now in Pri 5.

Ms Koh, who thought that preparation should start early, contemplated quitting her job but was told by her principal that her career still had room for progress and urged her not to resign.

While she didn’t quit, Ms Koh has applied for another year of no-pay leave so that she can see her son through his PSLE.

Constant parental supervision does not add strain to their child’s already stressful lives, say these parents.

Mrs Elizabeth Wong, an administrative manager, who took two months’ no-pay leave, says that they are simply there to provide for their children should they need any help, comfort or guidance.

She says: “The school is already giving my son so much work, and there are still supplementary and enrichment classes.

“It is up to me to make sure that he doesn’t burn out.”

But giving up your job to ensure PSLE success for your kids requires sacrifices and risks, say HR practitioners.

It is not that easy if your work in a small or medium-size enterprise (SME), says Mr Peck, because there are fewer resources at hand and they are most likely to be short of manpower.

Mr Chan Chon Beng, 58, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, says: “SMEs can be badly affected because productivity will be significantly reduced.”

He also says there is a risk of mothers losing their jobs after they take a long leave of absence.

“Sometimes, employers find a replacement who performs as well as the mother who temporarily vacatedher job,” says Mr Chan.

That is why the executive director of Singapore Human Resources Institute, Mr David Ang, 64, says it is better to quit and go back when you’re ready.

“It benefits both the company and the mother,” he says.

Tokyo stocks open marginally down

TOKYO - Tokyo stocks opened marginally lower on Thursday after New York closed flat on a mixed bag of economic data. The Nikkei 225 index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange was down 0.09 percent or 7.74 points to 9,062.07.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up just 4.49 points (0.03 percent) at 13,107.48 on Wednesday amid fresh data that sent more mixed signals on the economy.

On the positive side, second-quarter gross domestic product growth was revised upwards to 1.7 percent from 1.5 percent, and data on pending home sales in July was strong.

But the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book survey of regional economies, a key input into policy decisions, gave a slightly less buoyant picture of growth since the prior report in July.

Currency markets were quiet as investors waited for a speech by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke on Friday.

The euro bought $1.2528 and 98.65 yen in early Asian trade, compared with $1.2526 and 98.61 yen in New York late Wednesday. The dollar was trading at 78.73 yen against 78.70 yen.

“The yen is unlikely to gain ahead of Fed chief Bernanke’s speech Friday,” which is positive for exporters, Rakuten Securities senior market analyst Masayuki Doshida told Dow Jones Newswires.

10 ways to wake up looking gorgeous

How to look great when you wake up

We're sick of venturing downstairs every morning with our pyjamas in a tangle, bed hair, under-eye bags and a pasty face, so we decided to do something about it. Want to know how to wake up looking glamorous and gorgeous? Here are 10 simple ways:

1: Don't sleep on your stomach

If you're fond of sleeping on your front, the first step to looking beautiful in the AM is to find a new preferred pose for the PM. Sleep lines are caused by sleeping positions that squash your face on one side. Did you know that the average head weighs around eight pounds? Imagine all of that weight on your face - a recipe for crinkled up morning skin.

2: Satin or silk pillows

If you really can't sleep in any other position than on your tummy, invest in some satin or silk pillow covers. Not only does this mean that you wake up feeling like a princess every morning, but these super soft materials help your skin and hair to glide along them when you move around in your sleep. Less friction and creases means less frizzy hair and skin crinkles.

3: Pile up the pillows

If you lie flat during your slumber, fluids can pool around your eyes and make them appear puffy in the morning. By keeping your head elevated during the night, the fluids don't have chance to gather and you wake up looking bright eyed and beautiful.

4: Get your glow on

Say goodbye to the pasty morning face and hello to sun-kissed skin. Before your bed time routine, exfoliate your skin, moisturise, apply some false tan and then wait a few hours. Right before bed, wash it off and go to bed fresh as a daisy. You'll wake up with a sun-kissed glow.

5: Wear your hair in a bun

We love voluminous hair in the morning, but that doesn't mean we love it to look like we've been dragged through a hedge backwards. The controlled voluminous look is where it's at! Pile your hair in a high bun on top of your head to add some controlled volume. This way, your hair won't get in the way while you're in the land of nod and when you wake up it looks big and sexy. Va-va-voom!

6: Mineral powders

We don't recommend wearing makeup to bed, but there are some natural mineral powders out there that can cover up imperfections without clogging your pores. Make sure you get a natural mineral makeup and apply with a clean brush before you go to bed.

7: Moisturise before bed

Who wants to wake up with dry flaky skin? Not us! Apply a nourishing moisturiser on your face and neck before bed to wake up with plump, revitalised skin. You can apply a moisturiser to your feet too and you'll feel even more beautiful in your waking hours.

8: Go to bed at a decent time

The phrase "beauty sleep" is actually grounded in truth. Indeed, those who get their recommended eight hours of sleep per night have smoother, clearer skin. If you are sleep deprived, there's a good chance you'll look pale, worn-out, and have bags under your eyes. Go to bed at a decent time so you can fill the recommended quota of eight hours per night.

9: Wash your face

Sorry girls, panda eyes aren't the key to waking up looking gorgeous. Don't make the mistake of thinking that sleeping in your makeup means that you'll look gorgeous when you wake up. The chances are, no matter how smudge-proof, waterproof or long-lasting that mascara is, it will be a mess by the time you've tossed and turned in it all night. Cleanse away any dirt and oils that are sitting on top of your skin before bed and you'll wake up feeling clean and beautiful.

10: Butter up

Slather on some body butter before you drift off into dreamland to wake up feeling smooth and smelling good. Pay particular attention to dry areas such as elbows and knees. For super smooth legs, make sure you've gone through your usual hair removal routine before you go to bed so you can be proud to strut around looking gorgeous in the morning.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MOH tackling health-care costs

SINGAPORE - Health-care affordability is one of the key issues the Ministry of Health (MOH) is tackling, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

He also said that MOH is working out the details for the creation of a Medisave account for each newborn baby, with an initial sum to be deposited by the Government.

"This will give Singaporeans greater peace of mind," said Mr Gan, who was speaking at the National Medical Excellence Awards (NMEA) 2012 held at the Hilton hotel.

The Medisave move was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally on Sunday.

Mr Gan stressed that the Government will have to work closely with all Singaporeans, health-care professionals and institutions - in both the private and public sectors - to ensure that health care remains of high quality, and is accessible and affordable.

In his speech, Mr Gan also lauded the achievements and contributions of the NMEA award recipients. He said: "They are the role models who will inspire succeeding generations as they strive to achieve tomorrow's excellence."

The national-level awards are an initiative of the National Medical Research Council, set up in 1994 to oversee the development and advancement of medical research here.

Mr Gan said: "Accolades like world rankings will pass, but your compassion and concern for the patient will last a lifetime."

Why people are not having babies

They have been married for three years but have no plans to have children yet.

Financial planners Amanda Bandar-Tay and Bandar Tjetty, both 28, together earn $15,000 a month, but even so, they feel that they are not financially ready to have children.

The couple's parents, who have been bugging them for the pitter-patter of tiny feet, might have to wait a while.

The couple live in a resale five-room flat in Tampines with Mrs Bandar-Tay's parents and sisters.

Says Mrs Bandar-Tay: "You want the best for your children and good quality early childhood education is so expensive.

"It's $1,500 for half a day and $2,000 to $2,500 for a full day every month for a good pre-school." Mrs Bandar-Tay should know.

She graduated with a degree in early childhood education and taught in a private childcare centre, Brighton Montessori, for four years .

"The teacher-student ratio at a private childcare centre is much lower and the qualifications of teachers tend to be better. (But) so is the cost of education," she says.

"You want the best for your kids because the system is so competitive. You want them to go to good schools and a good pre-school will give you a good foundation."

Being financial planners, the couple have worked out their sums.

By their estimation, it will cost them $3,000 to $4,000 a month in fees for enrichment classes, pre-school, wages for a caregiver and a maid, and the cost of diapers and food to raise a child.

"Don't forget you also have to save for their education - you can't rely on CPF because most of it will go towards housing," says Mrs Bandar-Tay.

Mr Tjetty estimates that by 2023, the cost of local university education will amount to $150,000, while an overseas education will cost double of that. The couple do want to have kids, just not now.

Said Mr Tjetty: "I wanted to have five, but after doing the sums, anything more than two will be a stretch."

For now, the couple's game plan is to save as much as they can, so that in about two to three years' time, Mrs Bandar-Tay can stay at home and look after the children, Mr Tjetty tells The New Paper on Sunday.

The couple say they're aware of the risks of having children at a later age but say there's always in-vitro fertilisation.

"Don't forget, we're self-employed - we don't get CPF - so we have to put aside savings each month," he says.

Being a housewife would mean spending "quality time" with the children, says Mrs Bandar-Tay.

"One of the reasons my mother and I are very close is that she was there for me and my two younger sisters at home."

Thai Beverage increases F&N stake to 29%

Thai Beverage said on Tuesday it had increased its stake in Fraser and Neave to 29 per cent, just below the 30 per cent level that would trigger a mandatory offer for the entire company.

Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, ThaiBev's main shareholder, has been trying to stop F&N's sale of its 40 per cent effective stake in Tiger beer maker Asia Pacific Breweries to Dutch brewer Heineken.

ThaiBev said the value of the shares it bought from the open market was S$311 million (US$248 million), confirming market talk it was the buyer of F&N shares in a block trade last week.

5 injured after cement mixer rams into bus

SINGAPORE - Five people have been sent to the hospital after a cement mixer rammed into the bus they were riding in on Monday afternoon.

Bus service 163 was travelling near Sengkang West Avenue at about 3.45pm when the accident happened.

According to Shin Min Daily, it was raining at the time and the bus was travelling in the direction of Toa Payoh.

A passenger told the Chinese paper that the bus was about to cross a junction when the cement mixer lorry collided with it.

The bus driver lost control of the vehicle, which only came to a halt when it crashed into a row of fences in the middle of Fernvale Road.

There were more than 10 people on board at the time, the paper reported.

A commuter, known only as Madam Yu, told Shin Min that she felt a sudden impact and fell onto the bus floor. Her body then rolled out of the rear doors on the bus.

Madam Yu suffered injuries to her hands and has a bump on her forehead.

Other commuters the paper spoke to said that the bus driver had crossed the junction when the traffic light was green.

As a result, they expressed the belief that the driver of the cement mixer was trying to beat a red light at the time of the accident.

Carrefour to close Singapore outlets by year-end

SINGAPORE: Hypermarket chain Carrefour has announced that it plans to close both its local outlets -- at Suntec City Mall and Plaza Singapura -- by the end of this year.

In a press release dated Tuesday morning, the company said: "Carrefour Singapore announces the decision to close its Suntec and Plaza Singapura stores before end of 2012, since expansion and growth perspectives do not allow reaching a leadership position in the medium and long term."

The French company, which opened its first store in Singapore in 1997, had previously said in 2010 that it would leave Malaysian, Singaporean and Thai markets.

In November 2010, it sold its operations in Thailand -- where it had 42 stores including 34 hypermarkets -- to Thai chain Big C, for an enterprise value of 868 million euros (S$1.36 billion).

But in the same month, it put off plans of selling its stores in Singapore and Malaysia, saying it was confident of creating more value single-handedly in Malaysia and Singapore in the medium and long term, rather than by disposing of those properties.

Then-chief executive of the Carrefour group, Lars Olofsson, said at that point that the two countries would become more significant contributors to the company's overall business.

However, other reports claimed that Carrefour had cancelled plans to sell its Malaysian and Singaporean assets after the designed sale did not attract expected bids.

In 2009, Asia accounted for 7.9 per cent of Carrefour's sales of 85.9 billion euros. Carrefour's two outlets in Singapore contributed 85 million euros in revenue that year, according to its annual report.

Separately, Dairy Farm Singapore says it has signed a lease to open a new Giant hypermarket chain at Suntec City. It is also exploring the possibility of taking over the space at Plaza Singapura after Carrefour ends its lease.

Keep commission model, say financial advisers, managers

SINGAPORE: An ad-hoc alliance of about 15,000 financial advisers and managers are hoping to sway a review panel, which is considering, among other things, doing away with the commission model that most insurance and financial advisory firms use.

The alliance is arguing that the move towards a fee-only model - essentially a fixed fee for advisory services - would endanger the livelihood of the financial advisers.

It is also refuting an assertion by Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Managing Director Ravi Menon that the commissions can amount to 160 per cent of the annual premium of a product.

The review panel's proposals, if adopted, would see the industry undergo the most wide-ranging shake-up in more than a decade.

And five months after Mr Menon dropped the bombshell that it is looking at lowering the costs of insurance products by way of scrapping the commission-based model and the multi-tier distribution structure, a task force from the alliance argued against the proposed changes at a one-hour meeting with the Financial Advisory Industry Review (FAIR) panel last Tuesday.

The following day, the task force's chairman, Mr Leong Sow Hoe, sent a memo to the alliance's members updating them on the meeting, which he wrote that he left "feeling optimistic".

The alliance includes the Insurance and Financial Practitioners Association of Singapore and insurance firms, among others.

According to the memo, which TODAY has obtained, it argued forcefully against the move towards a fee-only model because it would "not only break our rice bowl, but would not achieve the national objective of increasing coverage and penetration".

Mr Menon had said the "overriding aim" of FAIR is to "protect and benefit the consumer", citing how the commissions are pushing up the cost of the products.

The commission-based model also risks conflicts of interest between adviser and client because advisers may try to sell mainly policies that command higher commission, he added.

But the task force refuted these, saying its research showed that the "norm" was closer to 120 per cent of annual premiums and that "bread-and-butter policies form the bulk".

Doing away with a multi-tier distribution structure - the agent gets commission, his boss gets a cut and the latter's manager gets another cut - would also "(compromise) quality of supervision", it argued.

Citing statistics on the income of financial agents and managers which were purportedly "below the national norm", as well as "unadorned" with CPF contributions or medical benefits, Mr Leong wrote: "Any cut in commissions would render some or even most of us out of a job."

Mr Leong pointed out that the United Kingdom and Australia, which have a fee-based model, have seen an "industry exodus, with the remaining mainly elderly agents serving the well-off".

Mr Leong also wrote that consumers it surveyed do not want a fee-based system as well. Rather, they want "personal interaction with advisers, who stay on for the long-term to service them through the different stages of their life, and to settle the claims they have to make in times of distress", he said.

Yesterday, Mr Leong told TODAY the task force's presentation was "quite well-received, going by my own gut feel", by the FAIR panel chaired by MAS Assistant Managing Director for Capital Markets Lee Chuan Teck.

He added that Mr Lee remarked that it gave the panel a better comprehension of issues from the perspectives of practitioners and that the research and surveys would help them in their deliberations.

When contacted, an MAS spokesperson said the FAIR panel has been engaging many stakeholders and discussions are ongoing.

"We continue to welcome views and suggestions on how we can achieve the objectives of raising the professionalism of the industry and representatives, as well as enhancing the efficiency of distribution of financial products," she added.

Euro pushes up against dollar

WASHINGTON: The euro rebounded against the dollar Tuesday, pushing higher in early trade after falling for two straight days and then holding ground following a poor US consumer confidence reading.

At around 2300 GMT, the euro was at $1.2565, up 0.53 per cent on the dollar from late Monday.

The euro also picked up against the yen, rising to 98.68 from 98.41 yen Monday. The dollar fell to 78.49 yen from 78.74.

Markets were on watch for more signals of possible stimulus from US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke in a keynote speech on Friday.

"The greenback may face additional headwinds going into the Jackson Hole Economic Symposium as market participants increase bets for another round of quantitative easing," said David Song of DailyFx.

The British pound rose to $1.5819 from $1.5792. The dollar was at 0.9558 Swiss francs, compared to 0.9609 francs Monday.

Sembcorp Marine wins US$674m building contract in Brazil

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Sembcorp Marine's unit, Jurong Do Brazil, has secured a US$674 million contract to build offshore modules in the Tupi oil field off the coast of Brazil.

The contract, placed by a consortium controlled by state-owned Petrobras, involves the construction of modules and associated equipment for two floating production and storage vessels.

The work is scheduled for completion in 60 months.

Each vessel will have a production capacity of 150,000 barrels of oil a day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

ECB will stay within mandate, assures board member

BERLIN: The European Central Bank will stay within its mandate and intervene on the secondary debt markets only in conjunction with European Union rescue funds, board member Joerg Asmussen said on Monday.

"We will act within the framework of our mandate," Asmussen said in a speech in Germany, while insisting on the "complete independence" of the ECB.

Earlier this month, ECB chief Mario Draghi suggested the central bank could restart buying bonds of crisis-hit member states to drive down their crippling borrowing costs, following trouble in Spain and Italy.

The ECB "may undertake outright open market operations of a size adequate to reach its objective," Draghi had said.

But over the weekend in Der Spiegel magazine, German central bank chief Jens Weidmann, who sits on the ECB governing council, criticised as dangerous any plan by the ECB to buy member states' bonds, warning countries could get "hooked" on the intervention "like a drug".

"For me such a policy comes close to financing states with the printing press," Weidmann told the magazine.

"The manna from central banks will forever sharpen greed," the Bundesbank chief said. "One should not underestimate the danger that financing by central banks can get one hooked like a drug."

The German finance ministry also has concerns about any buying of states' bonds by the ECB, which it fears could compromise the Frankfurt-based bank's independence, Der Spiegel reported .

The magazine noted "fierce arguments" within the ECB itself over the form of the programme between representatives of countries such as Spain or Italy and those from northern Europe who think it should be used only in "extreme situations".

Former German deputy finance minister Asmussen, who is considered a monetary conservative, said the ECB would only intervene in parallel with the European Financial Stability Facility and its successor the European Stability Mechanism, EU funds that offer rescue loans in return for strict controls on national budgets.

Asmussen repeated Draghi's comments that the ECB would only intervene on short-term debt and said that the programme was still in development.

In 2010 the ECB carried out a bond-buying blitz under the Securities Market Programme (SMP) to help debt-wracked eurozone countries that were finding it difficult to drum up financing in capital markets.

The controversial programme, that pushed key figures at the ECB to resign, has lain dormant since February.

At one point, purchases reached as much as 22 billion euros in a single week, mainly in bonds from Greece Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain.

PM Lee's speech lauded as wake-up call for Singaporeans

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans, by and large, hailed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech, calling it a timely and compassionate wake-up call on what it means to call the country home.

They praised his bold vision in tackling Singapore's declining birth rate by creating a conducive workplace environment; and highlighted his candour in pointing out the double standards faced by foreigners here.

Lawyer Terence Yeo, 37, is all for the idea of paternity leave - part of a slew of measures which Mr Lee said the Government is considering.

It may help spur him and his wife, Ms Michele Lee, 38, who is head of operations in a human- resource consultancy, to have more kids, he said. The couple have a six-year-old son.

"It would encourage my wife because I would be able to help around more, without work concerns," he added.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited a recent New York Times article as damaging to Singapore's reputation, as it causes others to view the country as xenophobic.

When a foreigner says or does something wrong, the response is vitriolic, but bad Singaporean behaviour often goes uncriticised, and a good deed by a foreigner often goes unnoticed, he said.

National badminton player Fu Mingtian, who is the reigning Singapore Sportswoman of the Year, told my paper it "wasn't easy understanding and speaking English" at first. But she felt she was fortunate to have multiracial teammates to interact with.

"I'm lucky I didn't get teased too much when I spoke English. Many of my teammates even helped me to improve my English," said the 22-year-old, who was born in Hubei, China.

Regional supply-chain manager Anna Chua, 43, who works with foreigners, noted that while differences between Singaporeans and foreigners exist, "it's about how we embrace all those differences and come to a mutual understanding".

Whether a foreigner comes across as different boils down to his individual personality, she said.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called on Singaporeans to "keep our gracious and open spirit".

The vitriol towards foreigners, especially in online discussions, is quite out of the Singaporean character, he observed.

"Bad behaviour by a small number of foreigners does not justify spiteful comment about foreigners in general, or all foreigners of a particular race. It does no one good," he wrote.

Others commended the Government's pledge to invest in pre-school education.

Ms Adeline Sim, 32, a legal counsel, applauded the move, as it will ensure that children will be adequately prepared for Primary 1. The mother of two young children said: "Kids at that age are like sponges and their ability to learn even surpasses (that of) adults."

Mr Chan Tee Seng, chief executive of NTUC First Campus, which runs childcare centres, said the new statutory board set up to oversee the sector will mean "a single, harmonised regulatory regime" for childcare centres and kindergartens.

Speaking at NTUC's National Day Observance Ceremony yesterday, Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and labour chief, stressed the need for better social integration of foreign workers.

Employers must commit to attracting more Singaporeans but, at the same time, Singaporeans should regard foreign workers as friends and not enemies, he said, adding: "It's better for them to compete for Singapore than for them to compete against us."

On concerns of insufficient suitable jobs in the wake of plans to increase university places, Mr Lim said it is important to "turn the manpower of Singapore into a core competitive advantage".

This will attract overseas investment and create more demand for quality employees, he noted.

Worker dies after falling into hole at worksite

SINGAPORE - An Indian national died after falling into a 68m deep bore hole at the Tuas West extension line worksite.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said its preliminary findings revealed that the workers were in the process of lowering a rebar cage when it got dislodged from its lifting chains and dragged the 30-year-old worker into a 1.5m-wide bore hole.

A rebar cage is made of steel and is commonly used to reinforce concrete structures.

The Straits Times reported that the police was notified of the accident at around 2.50pm last Saturday and subsequently dispatched Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rescue vehicles to the scene.

Eyewitnesses said that the SCDF officers continued the rescue operation until the body of the worker was recovered the next day, almost 24 hours later.

The Indian worker was pronounced dead by SCDF officers at 1.40pm on Sunday.

A MOM spokesperson said they have instructed the contractor, China Railway 11 Bureau Group Corporation, to cease operations.

Officers from MOM's Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate are investigating the accident.
Construction for this project commenced early this year and is set for completion in 2016.

Veteran pageant organiser Tracy Lee, 50, dies in sleep

The "queen" was finally crowned at her funeral on Friday, after crowning many local beauty queens over nearly 20 years.

Ms Tracy Lee, who was also known as the "queen" of pageants among colleagues and beauty queens for being the woman behind the scene at many glitzy pageants, died in her sleep on Thursday.

She was 50 years old.

Her body was found by her caregiver in her three-room flat in Toa Payoh early on Thursday morning.
Ms Lee, who lived alone with her caregiver, is believed to have suffered a heart failure.

She leaves her elderly mother and three brothers, all of whom live in Malaysia.

Said long-time working partner and friend Alex Liu, the managing director of ERM World Marketing:

"She said she always wanted a crown, so we decided to get her a tiara to send her off."

The tiara, which was adorned with crystals, cost about $280 and was placed in her casket, to be cremated with her body.

Her funeral at Mandai Crematorium yesterday was attended by close to a hundred people, including her church friends, past pageant winners and colleagues.

Ms Lee was the events consultant of ERM, which has been organising pageants such as Miss Singapore Intercontinental and Manhunt Singapore.

Friends, colleagues and previous pageant winners describe her as stern, professional and no-nonsense, someone who demanded nothing but the best from her pageant girls.

Ms Lee, who suffered from diabetes, had been wheelchair-bound for the past six months.

But that did not stop her from working tirelessly behind the scenes at the beauty pageants.

Her most recent event was just two weeks ago - the Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant 2012 held at the Inter Continental Hotel ballroom.

News of her sudden death is still a huge shock to everyone close to her.

Ms Rocher Ang, 25, who was crowned winner of Miss Singapore Chinese World at the Saturday event, attended Ms Lee's funeral just several hours before speaking to The New Paper.

She was close to tears as she spoke about Ms Lee's death.

"I still cannot accept the fact that she is gone. The winners were supposed to meet at her place today for a gathering," she said.

"I love baking and Tracy was complaining that I never baked for her before.

"She never got the chance to try my cupcakes. I was going to take some for the gathering," she said.

Ex-beauty queen Ris Low, 22, was also distressed to hear the news from TNP yesterday.

"I am shocked and sad. I don't know what to feel," she said.

Like many others, Ms Low recalled Ms Lee as someone who set very high standards for pageant contestants.

"But I learnt a lot from her. During the rehearsals, she would be the one shouting things like, 'Posture!'

"She expected everything to be perfect."

She also has many fond memories of Ms Lee.

Said Ms Low: "She remembered my birthday, and she was always holding dinners and parties to keep everyone together."

Ms Lee saw ERM through many episodes, including the "Ris Low saga", where the beauty queen was stripped of her Miss Singapore World title.

Following criticism of the poor image of the Miss Singapore World franchise, the Miss Singapore World pageant was handed over to businessman Raymund Ooi in 2011. ERM had run the contest for seven years.

ERM is still the regional franchise holder for many international beauty pageants, including Manhunt International, Miss Tourism Queen International, and runs local contests such as Manhunt Singapore, Miss Singapore Chinatown and Miss Singapore Tourism Queen.

Mr Liu, who has known Ms Lee for 26 years, said he now has to find a "left hand to replace his right hand".

"It will be difficult to find someone to fill her shoes. "

Still working

Mr Liu also said that Ms Lee was still working as usual on a few projects, such as the Mrs Singapore pageant and the Little Miss Singapore Cinderella pageant before she died.

Entertainment lawyer and talent agency owner Samuel Seow, who has judged beauty contests such as Miss Singapore World and Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant, recalled that Ms Lee had a strong zeal for life despite her disabilities.

Aside form having trouble moving around, she was also blind in one eye, believed to be a result of her diabetes.

Mr Seow said: "Before meeting her, I heard stories of how she could be fierce and unreasonable, but I think people tended to misunderstand her.

"She has been a good friend to me for the past five years. She would call me occasionally to ask me how I was. She loved food and I would take her out to eat at Shangri-La hotel," he added.

Ms Yang Lay, who was recently crowned Mrs Asia International Community Queen, had worked closely with Ms Lee for the past four years.

She was the one who placed the crown on Ms Lee's casket.

In her eulogy, she said: "Tracy has organised and been involved in pageants for a long time. In all these pageants, many queens have been crowned.

"She has always wanted a crown. So here is the crown from Alex and all of us in ERM to Tracy."

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