Thursday, January 31, 2008

Get used to more gantries - and paying more

Jan 31, 2008

By Christopher Tan

A DOCTORED photo of a Singapore road with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantries lined up as far as the eye can see has been making the rounds via e-mail. It is accompanied by a caption that reads: Singapore 2020.

The thing that makes the lark especially funny - or unfunny depending on your perspective - is its element of truth.

Using a vehicle in Singapore is an increasingly costly proposition, even though sticker prices have dropped significantly in the last two decades.

Today, car prices are close to what they were back in the late-1980s, thanks to decreases in registration fees and duties. You would be hard pressed to come up with another commodity that costs as much today as it did 20 years ago.

But the cost of driving a car has gone up. From fuel to parking, insurance to repairs - everything linked to the running of a car has become more expensive.

That includes ERP charges, which could well soar as 16 more operational gantries are added to the network this year, bringing the total to 71.

Not only that, charges per gantry are likely to rise faster as a new definition of congestion sets in. In the new regime, new gantries will be erected or ERP rates will be raised as soon as more than 15 per cent of vehicles do not move at prescribed speeds on any given road.

The bottom line? Motorists will pay more to use the roads. In some cases, a lot more. Last year, ERP revenue amounted to $98 million - or an average of $115 per vehicle. The LTA expects the new gantries will raise this by $70 million to $168 million - or an estimated $192 per vehicle.

But as in the past, the Government is offsetting the higher charges by granting a 15 per cent cut in road tax for all vehicles, starting in July. This is on top of an 8 per cent reduction last September.

At the same time, the Additional Registration Fee - the main car tax - will be cut by 10 percentage points.

Both tax cuts will cost the national coffers $310 million a year. This is small potatoes compared with the $14 billion the Government is spending on new road infrastructure up to 2020; and $40 billion on MRT projects to be completed in the same time frame.

The goal? To have 70 per cent of journeys in the morning peak made on public transport - from 63 per cent today.

Why? So that our roads don't clog up like they clog up in many other cities in the world.

The switch won't be overnight, though.

For starters, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) expects only 6,000 daily car trips to be reduced initially by the slew of new ERP measures - or less than one per cent of the three-million-plus car trips made a day.

The keyword here is 'initially'.

With the new definition of congestion kicking in, more roads could have gantries in the future.

And it does not matter if it is day or night. Evening ERP will be increasingly commonplace, even if it does not hit the economy by resulting in people getting to work late or delays in goods being delivered.

LTA chief executive Yam Ah Mee says there are motorists who, after a long day at work, want a smooth and quick drive home. Hence evening ERP.

In that case, why are off-peak cars allowed to contribute to congestion from 7pm when ERP stays on for up to 10.30pm? Sure, ERP applies to these 34,000 red-plated cars too, but their owners enjoy hefty upfront tax rebates too.

The argument here is not for off-peak car usage to be further restricted, but for a relook at the necessity of ERP at 10.30pm.

That incongruity aside, it is clear that ERP will be increasingly inescapable for those who drive - wherever they drive. The LTA is now working on a gantry-less system that makes use of satellite-based global positioning system. When that system is ready - foreseeably in 10 years' time - ERP can be islandwide.

By then, it would be possible to fine-tune charges based on vehicle type and location as well as distance travelled. When that happens, how much would average daily ERP charges be?

The Government gave an indication back in 2000. It said that if ERP were to be implemented islandwide and beyond the morning peak hours, the charges should be equivalent to a day licence an off-peak car owner has to buy if he wishes to drive outside the prescribed hours.

Today it is $20.

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Hindu woman and Islamic Council in insurance row

Jan 31, 2008

$25,000 insurance payout denied to mum even though Muslim son named her as beneficiary
KUALA LUMPUR - A HINDU woman has spurned an offer by Malaysia's Islamic authorities to settle a dispute over her dead Muslim son's insurance policy in a case that highlights growing conflicts over religious rights.

The Federal Territory Islamic Council offered on Tuesday to give Mrs Rukumony Muthiah two-thirds of the RM56,300 (S$25,000) proceeds from her son's insurance policy, Mrs Rukumony's lawyer Darshan Singh Khaira said yesterday.

Mrs Rukumony's army ranger son, a Muslim convert, had died in 2000. In his insurance policy, Mr Ragu Ellaiappan - whose Muslim name was Mohamed Redzuan Abdullah - had named Mrs Rukumony as his beneficiary, Mr Darshan said.

But the Islamic authorities argued in court that under the country's religious laws for Muslims, a non-Muslim cannot claim inheritance from a Muslim, he said.

'Our federal Constitution guarantees equality, so how can you say a non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim, but a Muslim can inherit from a non-Muslim?' Mr Darshan asked.

The council's lawyers made the offer in the High Court in Penang on Tuesday, but Mr Darshan said it was a 'fairy-tale offer' that was unacceptable.

Mrs Rukumony, a 61-year-old Indian widow, is willing to settle for 80 per cent of the total sum, he said. The court is scheduled to hear the case on March 14.

Malaysia's non-Muslim minorities say a spate of court cases in recent years, involving disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims, has usually ended with the Muslim side winning.

The legal conflicts have strained multiracial ties in Malaysia.

The Rukumony case is not the first one involving inheritance rights of a non-Muslim family following the death of a Muslim family member.

In September 2004, a family of a Chinese fireman in Malacca who had converted to Islam lost their inheritance after he died. His estate was placed under the administration of the state's Islamic council.

After political intervention, half of the estate was returned to the family.

In another closely watched case, a Chinese man is battling the authorities who took away the body of his father after saying he had embraced Islam before he died.

He wants the court to declare that his father was a Buddhist.

Mr Gan Hok Ming, a 46-year-old computer technician, said yesterday that non-Muslims were getting a raw deal.

'What choice do we have? We are very unsatisfied. There should be a more transparent system, especially on Muslim conversions,' he said from his home in Negeri Sembilan.

His father Gan Eng Gor, 74, had died on Jan 20 and was buried as a Muslim after an Islamic court ruled that he converted to Islam last year.

But the family insisted that Mr Gan was a Buddhist up to the day he died.


[Comment: The other shoe has dropped. It is now clear why one son who converted to Islam would then claim that his bedridden, paralysed father has converted to Islam before he died. Money is a powerful force for conversion.]

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

URA unveils new Woodlands Waterfront proposals

Jan 26, 2008

THE Urban Redevelopment Authority has unveiled design proposals for the Woodlands Waterfront, comprising of a coastal promenade and a park in Woodlands on Saturday.

Residents and those living in nearby residential estates can look forward to a new waterfront recreational playground, right at their doorsteps.

URA will be building a 1.5-km long promenade and a nine hectare park along a tranquil stretch of coastline in Woodlands to improve accessibility to the area and to open up the scenic waterfront.

The promenade, in the form of boardwalk will be built over the seawall to bring visitors closer to the water's edge.

A park will also be created right next to the coastal promenade.

The design of the park leverages on the existing terrain and contours to create interesting spaces and views within the park.

There will be jogging and fitness trail and cycling tracks for fitness enthusiasts; playgrounds for young children; event spaces to hold outdoor community functions; picnic areas for families; and nature trails as a haven for nature lovers.

An old jetty connected to the park will also be refurbished to allow for recreational activities.

URA's CEO, Mrs Cheong Koon Hean, said: 'The new facilities are part of URA's plans to continually enhance the quality of our living environment and to strengthen Singaporeans' sense of belonging and identity.'

The Woodlands Waterfront - set for completion in 2010 - will form part of the comprehensive network of parks and park connectors in the area.

It will be linked to the newly-opened Admiralty Park and Woodlands Town Garden through a park connector that runs through a HDB estate.

Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for Health and MP for Sembawang GRC officiated the launch of the 'Woodlands Waterfront and the Discovery Map' at Woodlands Civic Centre on Saturday.

The design proposals for Woodlands Waterfront will be exhibited there from Jan 26 - Jan 29. The public are welcome to give their feedback on the proposals.

[Comment: Boardwalks over coasts could also be considered "fencing" to prevent illegal landings on open shores or coastlines, or at least restrict landings to a few possibilities.]

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chinese, Indians a 'great advantage' to S'pore's economy: MM Lee

Jan 23, 2008
Malays have also imbibed the same mindset to acquire knowledge and compete

By Li Xueying

IN making Singapore into a knowledge-based economy, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said he had the 'great advantage' of a population that includes the ethnic Chinese and the Indians, both with cultures that place great emphasis on knowledge.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The day Western Union foiled scam

Jan 22, 2008

By Teh Joo Lin

THE woman walked into a Western Union outlet and started filling up a remittance form to wire $4,000 to China.

She seemed to be receiving a stream of non-stop instructions on her mobile phone.

Warning bells rang for the Western Union staff: It looked like a phone scammer was about to claim yet another victim.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Researchers identify rare genetic glitch that increases risk of autism

Jan 10, 2008

TRENTON - A RARE genetic variation dramatically raises the risk of developing autism, a large study showed, opening new research targets for better understanding the disorder and for treating it.

Research into the causes of autism has focused on genetic causes because so many families have multiple children with the disorder.

A monster in the making?

Jan 14, 2008

By Chua Mui Hoong

THE push by the Housing Board to get private-sector developers to build and sell HDB flats was always a bold but risky move.

When it was first announced in March 2005 in Parliament, the proposal drew only muted responses from parliamentarians.

Nearly three years on, the Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) has gained acceptance. Under this scheme, private companies develop and sell the flats, but only those who fulfil the Housing Board's income and other criteria can buy the flats.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

News Clash

12 Jan 2008

Minister Mentor, now referred to by the press as Singapore's Founding Father said that "Retirement is Death" at SICEX (Silver Industry Convention & Exhibition). Meanwhile, HDB has tracked down a 75 yr old hawker who they say they had incorrectly paid $18k for her stall in 2003. She has 3 weeks to repay.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Seven ways to rethink longevity and age well

Jan 11, 2008

By Sumathi V. Selvaretnam
DESIGN a car for an old man and nobody will buy it.

Instead, it is best to create products that promise convenience that people of different ages will enjoy.

This is one of seven ways that Singapore can re-imagine longevity, said Dr Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab which develops age-friendly items.

He shared his tips on how businesses can tap the opportunities of an ageing Singapore and how people can age well, when he spoke at the Silver Industry Conference yesterday:

1. Focus on health and wellness across one's lifespan - not disease.

2. Redefine old age as 'quality living'.

3. Embed technology into education, health, leisure and daily life to help people live longer.

4. Do not develop products specially for the old. Design services instead for 'convenience' that can be used by people as they turn 50, 60, 70 and older.

5. Keep working. Redesign your work, for instance, with a more flexible work arrangement. Or try a different job.

6. Instil lifelong education. A degree from 40 years ago may not be relevant, so go back to school.

7. Institutionalise the idea of innovation. Build it around stakeholders and industrialise the process. Export it to the rest of the world.

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Roller-coaster ride ends in bull run

Jan 10, 2008

1,073.47 (Jan 12, 1998) - lost nearly half its value in six months

GLOOM and doom engulfed East Asia during the region's dark days, which began with the devaluation of the Thai baht in July 1997.

The financial maelstrom saw the STII shedding almost half its value in six months. It plunged from about 2,000 points in July to 1,073.47 on Jan 12, 1998.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Khairy: Stop saying 'Indon'

9 Jan 2008
New Straits Times

SHAH ALAM: Stop using the derogatory term "Indon" when referring to Indonesians.

Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin said most Malaysians were unaware that the term was not used in Indonesia and that Indonesians were offended by its usage here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Smart cars will watch roads while drivers' minds drift

Jan 8, 2008
LAS VEGAS - SMART cars that pay attention to the roads while drivers' minds are elsewhere are on the automotive horizon at the world's largest consumer electronics show.

Germany-based Continental Automotive Systems showed off some of the technology, and its view of the near future, in a 'Safely There' mobile exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.