Tuesday, October 27, 2009

PR distribution in HDB estates to be monitored

26 October 2009 0824 hrs (SST)

SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) will consider measures to prevent the congregation of permanent residents, if necessary.

MediaCorp had contacted the statutory board after Member of Parliament Lim Wee Kiak filed a parliamentary question on the total number of PRs who own HDB flats and the distribution of PRs in various public housing estates.

While his question is being held over from last week - it could not be reached within the 90 minutes given for question time - an HDB spokesman said: "It's important that PRs can integrate into the larger citizen community and to have a good mix of PRs in HDB estates. HDB will monitor the distribution of PRs in HDB estates."

While it will consider measures, the spokesman added: "The number of PR households owning HDB flats is a small proportion of all HDB households."

To Dr Lim, who may get the numbers next month when Parliament is in session, "10 to 15 per cent" would be "significant" enough - "as big a group as Indians and Malays" - to warrant introducing a quota system to ensure "even distribution" of PRs across estates, which will help the efforts to integrate and naturalise them. PRs will otherwise "remain separated", he said.

PR households are subject to the same HDB rules, including the Ethnic Integration Policy, and can buy any type of resale flat but are not eligible for any housing and mortgage subsidy, which only Singaporeans can receive.

MP Ho Geok Choo cautioned against introducing a quota, however. "The numbers (of foreigners) are not so intimidating or threatening yet," she said. "We have to share the need to house these foreign residents among us in Singapore."

Dr Lim hopes his colleagues will raise more questions when National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan gives his reply in Parliament. The issue should be addressed now, he said, rather than later.

"Eventually, a lot of (PRs) may become Singaporeans and they'll have a chance to exercise their vote and will become a political voice," he said.

Foreigners, PRs a more common sight in heartlands

A Singaporean walking around Boon Lay Shopping Centre could be forgiven for thinking he is in a foreign land. It has six minimarts - four Myanmar, one Thai and one Indian - while seven remittance shops and Internet cafes dot its aisles.

Shop owners estimate that foreigners form about 70 per cent of the patrons there.

At Clementi Avenue 5 and 2, two Myanmar minimarts are located under HDB blocks, while Chinese nationals enjoy discounted S$8 hair cuts at a shop in West Coast. Other patrons pay S$12.

Foreign banks and remittance services are sprouting up in estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands and Marine Parade, too.

The heartland landscape is changing in tandem with the influx of foreigners. Last year, 79,167 took up permanent residency, up from the 63,627 new PRs in 2007.

From their house visits, Members of Parliament attest to the increase in foreigners and PRs moving into their estates.

MP Ho Geok Choo told MediaCorp that in her Boon Lay ward, they sometimes made up half of a floor consisting of 15 to 18 units. Likewise, MP Lim Wee Kiak has come across PRs of different nationalities occupying six out of the eight units in one of his Sembawang blocks.

The presence of the new arrivals in the heartlands has not gone unnoticed by Singaporeans. When retiree Sim Ai Mei attended a recent folk singing class organised by her residents' committee in Woodlands, she found she was a minority - of the 20 participants, 12 were Chinese nationals.

Living close to one another, they decided to enrol for the class together, the 64 year old later learnt. "I was surprised," said Mdm Sim. "I didn't expect them to turn up as a group."

Mdm Sim's friend, who wanted to be known as Mdm Lim, was more direct. She said: "There are just too many (of them). I can't take their habits sometimes."

Singaporeans' complaints range from the smell of alien cuisines wafting through their flats, the noise levels and the hanging of clothes along the common corridors.

The new arrivals also chose to congregate with their fellow countrymen over locals, noted MPs and residents.

Choa Chu Kang resident Chow Zhihong observed that Chinese nationals at his estate have held gatherings at the common areas for their friends on occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day - but did not invite their Singaporean neighbours.

"They tend to stick to themselves," said Mr Chow, who has lived in the estate for seven years.

The increasing numbers means that immigrants do not need to integrate with locals.

Mr Dong Liquan chose to live close to other Chinese families in Woodlands so that they could accompany his family when he is at work. "Our neighbours don't understand our accent and some even laugh at us," he said.

Dr Terence Chong, a sociologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, believes that migrants have moved into the heartlands for economic reasons. "A foreigner who moves into the heartlands may not want to integrate by local life. It's just cheaper," he said.

Accommodation costs do make a difference - which means the likes of Bishan, for example, would not have the numbers being seen elsewhere.

Compared to 2006, property agent Daniel Koh, who oversees 60 associates, has seen a 20 per cent rise in PRs looking for flats in the Woodlands area. Other estates that new arrivals have been eyeing include Sembawang, Punggol and Sengkang.

Some new arrivals think the economic downturn has accentuated the differences between them and Singaporeans.

"They think we're out to take over their jobs and their housing," said PR Liu Zijie. "It creates an uneasy tension."

When one Chinese national hung his country's flag outside his flat, netizens blasted him for being culturally insensitive. In another incident, a group of foreign workers received an invoice with obscenities written in English.

It used to be easier to get along, feels Mr Pyaa Phyo Kyaw, 20, who came here three years ago from Myanmar after his parents obtained PR status.

Then, his Whampoa neighbours used to chat with his family in the evenings at the common corridor. The family shifted last year to Toa Payoh and getting to know their new neighbours has become harder. "Their doors are always closed," said Mr Pyaa, who is now a Singaporean.

- TODAY/yb

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Highest court's decision final, judge rules

Oct 22, 2009
By K. C. Vijayan

A DECISION made by Singapore's highest court must be final, not 'almost final or conditionally final', said a High Court judge, giving his reasons for refusing to reopen a case settled last year.

The only exception: If not doing so would seriously diminish public confidence in the integrity of the courts and administration of justice, said Justice Choo Han Teck.

[So here's the exceptional circumstances spelt out by the Judge, as to when a case can be re-opended.]

He cited an example from Britain in 2000, where the highest court set aside its own decision as there had been an apparent bias on the part of one of the presiding judges.

But the suit brought by residents of Grange Heights was no such exception for the court to use its inherent power, said Justice Choo in a written judgment released on Tuesday.

The case had triggered the landmark poser as to whether Singapore's Court of Appeal could reopen its own case to be heard by a reconstituted court - either under powers provided by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act or under its own auspices.

Said Justice Choo: 'Each time a litigant files a challenge against the validity of the final judgment of the final court of law, the stability of the law and court is by that additional effort, corroded and undermined.'

[And here's the concern.]

The saga began when Grange Heights residents lost their 30-year-old right to an access path that led to their property, following a Court of Appeal decision last year.

The path runs through a Grange Road property owned by Lee Tat Development.

Through Senior Counsel Sundaresh Menon and a team of lawyers from Rajah & Tann, the residents asked that the decision be re-examined and the case re-heard.

Lee Tat's lawyers, Senior Counsel Tan Cheng Han and lawyers from Arfat Selvam Alliance, countered that a re-hearing was a no-go as the court's powers were defined by legislation which did not provide statutory powers for it to re-hear its own case.

Senior Counsel Menon argued that there had been a breach of natural justice because the Appeals Court had cited a 1991 English case to justify its reversal of the earlier decision, that had not been brought up by either party during the hearing.

[Here's the argument - that the Appeals Court independently cited a case not raised by and therefore with no opportunity for either party to address as to the relevance, validity, or applicability of the case. The defence could argue that since the plaintive had not raised the case, either the plaintive did not think the case was relevant, or that it was not applicable or that there were counter-arguments why it would not be applicable. But not having raised the case the defendent had no opportunity to address the specifics of the case as to relevance, materialness, and applicability. Instead the judges had cited the case themselves and summarily applied the principle and precedent. Therefore natural justice is not served as the defence had no opportunity to respond and repudiate the precedent. ]

He claimed the 2008 judgment would not have gone Lee Tat's way if counsel had been given the chance to address the court on the English case.

The issue was not about the merits of the case but about 'procedural fairness', he argued.

Justice Choo held that not all procedural wrongs would justify setting aside a final judgment.

'A court may not be able to hear every argument made by counsel, and sometimes arguments are summarily dismissed because they were absurd or outrageous.'

He pointed out that sometimes the courts might draw conclusions that had little to do with the lawyers' arguments.

'If counsel had the right to address the court on every thread of its reasoning, the act of judgment will become a long and tedious debate between court and counsel.'

Justice Choo said this would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

'Decorum is an important part of the authority of the court,' he added.

[This is true. But it sounds so petty when spoken out loud.]

Also, it is not every case that a decision of the court made on reasons not addressed by the lawyers would, if appealed, be found to be wrong.

'Finality in a decision outweighs the individual interests of a particular litigant.'

[So does the court exists to serve justice or its own prestige and authority?]

Senior Counsel Menon said when contacted: 'We are studying the judgment on this important issue and are taking instructions from our clients on whether to file an appeal.'

'Adviser over MP' raises many questions

Oct 22, 2009
Who should manage lift upgrading at the constituency level?
By Sue-Ann Chia

THE official reply from the Ministry of National Development (MND) to justify why opposition MPs should not manage the Government's lift upgrading programme (LUP) in their wards raises many questions.

The MND's argument is as follows: The LUP is a national scheme that ought to be managed by government representatives, as elected opposition MPs are not answerable to the Government.

So the task falls to government-appointed grassroots advisers in Hougang and Potong Pasir. In this case, both are People's Action Party (PAP) candidates who lost at the polls.

To press home the point that opposition MPs have no right to manage the LUP, the National Development Minister's press secretary Lim Yuin Chien said in a reply to Workers' Party MP for Hougang Low Thia Khiang:

'Mr Low is mistaken when he cites the 'will of the people' expressed in general elections to justify why he should play a leading role in the LUP in Hougang.

'The will of the people expressed in general elections is to elect a government for the country as a whole; and not to elect separate local governments for each constituency.'

Mr Lim added in his letter to The Straits Times Forum Page: 'Singapore has a one-level system of government. MPs, whether People's Action Party or opposition, do not constitute a local government in their constituency.'

These arguments deserve a closer look. Let us first consider 'the will of the people', as expressed by the votes they cast in elections.

The general purpose of general elections here is undoubtedly to elect a national government, as Mr Lim points out. But voters also choose their local representatives: Members of Parliament.

The individual who commands the support of a majority of MPs becomes the prime minister and he forms the government. In most democracies, the prime minister is usually also the leader of the party with the most number of MPs in Parliament.

The Singapore system is quite different from, say, Israel's, where voters vote directly for political parties - not individual candidates - and parliamentary seats are divvied up according to the proportion of votes each party garners.

Here, we elect MPs directly; and the majority among them choose a prime minister. In our system, MPs do have the mandate of voters. We vest in our elected representatives the power to speak on our behalf and act in our interest. They are our particular, local MPs - not the representatives of the amorphous 65 per cent or 35 per cent or whatever who voted for particular parties.

Yet Mr Lim said Mr Low is wrong to assume that this gives him the authority to lead the LUP in Hougang. 'MPs - PAP or opposition - do not constitute a local government in their constituency,' wrote Mr Lim.

If that is so, it is a principle that should apply to all 84 MPs, equally. But only the two opposition MPs are denied the right to manage the LUP.

The MND's justification appears to be that the Government works through grassroots advisers on national schemes. PAP MPs are appointed as advisers to the grassroots organisations in their wards by the People's Association (PA). In the two opposition wards, the PA picked the PAP candidates who contested but lost in the wards in the last two polls as the grassroots advisers. Therefore, the Government should work with them, not the elected MPs, in those two constituencies.

This would imply that the Government accords more recognition to grassroots advisers than MPs. If this is the case, Singaporeans may ask: So what happened to their elected representatives?

To Mr Lim, the MP's role seems to be confined to that of running the town council: Collect service and conservancy fees from residents and maintain the estate. And yet town councils, he emphasised, should not be considered local government - for Singapore has only 'one level of government'.

This statement, however, contradicts statements that senior government leaders have made previously.

In the 1997 polls, for instance, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong upped the stakes by getting PAP candidates to come up with detailed plans for their constituencies. The aim was to get voters to decide not just whether a candidate could make speeches in Parliament, but whether he also had concrete plans to improve people's lives, Mr Goh said.

'With town councils and community development councils, and my intention to give more power and responsibility to them (MPs), every election in a constituency is indeed a local government election,' Mr Goh explained at the annual PAP conference held before the polls.

At another event, he elaborated: 'In every constituency, there will be a local government with a local programme, and how you vote will affect immediately your own interest.'

His point was reiterated by then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew when Mr Lee commented on the PAP's 'local government' strategy. 'We know that if there is no direct stake, everything is the same, then the voter does not take his vote seriously. He would if he knows that he has a stake,' he said.

Then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added: 'They know that the way they vote will influence their own personal well-being - their town, their neighbourhood, their property values.'

In the two elections that followed the 1997 polls, PAP leaders continued to invoke the 'local government' argument.

Singapore is not a federal state - so yes, there is really only one centre of power. But that does not mean that there is no local government - in practice and by policy.

When the Government announced in July that the LUP would be applied to ageing HDB flats in Potong Pasir and Hougang earlier than expected, many Singaporeans saw it as an act of political goodwill, recognising that all citizens - regardless of who they voted for - should benefit from national schemes.

Unfortunately, that act of goodwill was marred in its execution: In this case, MND's insistence on working only with the appointed grassroots representatives instead of the elected opposition MPs.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


Oct 17, 2009

Low-carbon growth the best option
By Nicholas Stern

THE United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Copenhagen in December, should provide the climax to two years of international negotiations over a new global treaty aimed at addressing the causes and consequences of greenhouse gas emissions.

A global deal on climate change is urgently needed. Concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached 435 parts per million (ppm), compared with about 280 ppm before industrialisation in the 19th century.

If we continue with business-as-usual emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests, concentrations could reach 750 ppm by the end of the century. Should that happen, the probable rise in global average temperature relative to pre-industrial times will be 5 deg C or more.

It has been more than 30 million years since the earth's temperature was that high. The human species, which has been around for no more than 200,000 years, would have to deal with a more hostile physical environment than it has ever experienced. Floods and droughts would become more intense and global sea levels would be several metres higher. Some parts of the world would be under water; other would become deserts.

Developing countries recognise and are angered by the inequity of the current situation. Current greenhouse gas levels are largely due to industrialisation in the developed world. Yet developing countries are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. At the same time, emissions cannot be reduced at the extent required without the central contribution of the developing world.

Climate change and poverty, the two defining challenges of this century, must be tackled together. If we fail on one, we will fail on the other. The task facing the world is to meet the environment's 'carbon constraints' while creating the growth necessary to raise living standards for the poor.

To avoid the severe risks that would result from a rise in global average temperature of more than 2 deg C, we must bring atmospheric concentrations to below 450 ppm. This will require a cut in annual global emissions from about 50 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent today to below 35 gigatonnes in 2030, and less than 20 gigatonnes by 2050.

[And so the question is, "how?" That's a 30% cut by 2030 and a 60% cut by 2050 while the population rises by almost 50%. On a per capita basis, it would mean a cut of 80% - 90% of our carbon footprint. So, you can only use your aircon 10% of the time you current use. Drive just 10% of the distance you currently drive, and do laundry one-tenth of the time you currently do.

Today, per-capita annual emissions in the European Union are 12 tonnes, and 23.6 tonnes in the United States, compared to six tonnes for China and 1.7 tonnes for India. As the world's population will be about nine billion in 2050, annual per-capita emissions must be reduced to approximately two tonnes of CO2-equivalent, on average, if the global annual total is to be less than 20 gigatonnes.

[If we use the EU as the benchmark and say that the US can easily reach the EU carbon footprint by 2030, we would still be off by about 10 tonnes per year. The Indians are already hitting the target, but the proposal means zero growth for the next 40 years. The Chinese has exceeded by 200%. Of course the proposal is not zero growth, but zero carbon growth. Again, how?]

Developing countries need substantial help and support from rich nations in order to implement their plans for low-carbon economic growth, and to adapt to the effects of climate change that are now inevitable over the next few decades. Developed countries should also provide strong support for measures to halt deforestation in developing countries.

Based on recent estimates of the developing world's extra requests as a result of climate change, rich countries should be providing annual financial support - in addition to existing foreign aid commitments - of about US$100 billion (S$140 billion) for adaptation and US$100 billion for mitigation by the early 2020s. Some of the latter can come through the carbon market.

Rich countries must also demonstrate that low-carbon growth is possible by investing in new technologies, which should be shared with developing countries to boost their mitigation efforts.

We are already seeing extraordinary innovation by the private sector. Investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies could also pull the global economy out of its economic slowdown over the next couple of years. More importantly, in driving the transition to low-carbon growth, these technologies could create the most dynamic and innovative period in economic history, surpassing that of the introduction of railways, electricity grids, or the Internet.

There is no real alternative. High-carbon growth is doomed. Low-carbon growth will be more energy-secure, cleaner, quieter, safer and more bio-diverse.

[For small states like Singapore, hydro-electric power is out of the question. So is geo-thermal temperature. Solar energy is abundant, but current efficiency is laughable. There is no foreseeable way solar energy would contribute significantly to our power grid. Same for wind energy.]

We should learn from the financial crisis that if risks are ignored, the eventual consequences are inevitably worse. If we do not start to combat the flow of greenhouse gas emissions now, the stock in the atmosphere will grow, making future action more difficult and costly. Other public expenditure can be postponed, but delaying climate change measures is a high-risk, high-cost option.

Climate change poses a profound threat to our economic future, while low-carbon growth promises decades of increased prosperity. The choice in Copenhagen will be stark, and the stakes could not be higher. We know what we must do, and we can do it.

[Again, the question is not what we must do, but how can we do it. There have been no feasible proposal.]

The writer is chairman of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and professor of economics and government at the London School of Economics, and a member of the British House of Lords.



Oct 15, 2009

Smart guys got too clever by half
By Calvin Trillin

'IF YOU really want to know why the financial system nearly collapsed in the fall of 2008, I can tell you in one simple sentence.'

The statement came from a man sitting three or four stools away from me in a sparsely populated midtown New York bar, where I was waiting for a friend. 'But I have to buy you a drink to hear it?' I asked.

'Absolutely not,' he said. 'I can buy my own drinks. I got out of the market eight or 10 years ago, when I saw what was happening.'

He did indeed look capable of buying his own drinks - one of which, a dry martini, straight up, was on the bar in front of him. He was a well-preserved, grey- haired man of about retirement age, dressed in the same sort of clothes he must have worn on some Ivy League campus in the late 1950s or early 1960s - a tweed jacket, grey pants, a blue button- down shirt and a club tie that, seen from a distance, seemed adorned with tiny brussels sprouts.

'OK,' I said. 'Let's hear it.'

'The financial system nearly collapsed,' he said, 'because smart guys had started working on Wall Street.' He took a sip of his martini and stared straight at the row of bottles behind the bar, as if the conversation was now over.

'But weren't there smart guys on Wall Street in the first place?' I asked.

He looked at me the way a mathematics teacher might look at a child who, despite heroic efforts by the teacher, seemed incapable of learning the most rudimentary principles of long division. 'You are either a lot younger than you look or you don't have much of a memory,' he said. 'One of the speakers at my 25th reunion said that, according to a survey he had done of those attending, income was now precisely in inverse proportion to academic standing in the class, and that was partly because everyone in the lower third of the class had become a Wall Street millionaire.'

I reflected on my own college class, of roughly the same era. The top student had been appointed a federal appeals court judge - earning, by Wall Street standards, tip money. A lot of the people with similarly impressive academic records had become professors. I could picture the future titans of Wall Street dozing in the back rows of some gut course like Geology 101, popularly known as Rocks for Jocks.

'That actually sounds more or less accurate,' I said.

'Of course it's accurate,' he said. 'Don't get me wrong: The guys from the lower third of the class who went to Wall Street had a lot of nice qualities. Most of them were pleasant enough. They made a good impression. And now we realise that by the standards that came later, they weren't really greedy. They just wanted a nice house in Greenwich and maybe a sailboat. A lot of them were from families that had always been on Wall Street, so they were accustomed to nice houses in Greenwich. They didn't feel the need to leverage the entire business so they could make the sort of money that easily supports the second ocean-going yacht.'

'So what happened?'

'I told you what happened. Smart guys started going to Wall Street.'


'I thought you'd never ask,' he said, making a practised gesture with his eyebrows that caused the bartender to get started mixing another martini.

'Two things happened. One is that the amount of money that could be made on Wall Street with hedge fund and private equity operations became just mind-blowing. At the same time, college was getting so expensive that people from reasonably prosperous families were graduating with huge debts. So even the smart guys went to Wall Street, maybe telling themselves that in a few years they'd have so much money they could then become professors or legal-services lawyers or whatever they'd wanted to be in the first place.

'That's when you started reading stories about the percentage of the graduating class of Harvard College who planned to go into the financial industry or go to business school so they could then go into the financial industry. That's when you started reading about these geniuses from MIT and Caltech who instead of going to graduate school in physics went to Wall Street to calculate arbitrage odds.'

'But you still haven't told me how that brought on the financial crisis.'

'Did you ever hear the word 'derivatives'?' he said. 'Do you think our guys could have invented, say, credit default swaps? Give me a break! They couldn't have done the maths.'

'Why do I get the feeling that there's one more step in this scenario?' I said.

'Because there is,' he said. 'When the smart guys started this business of securitising things that didn't even exist in the first place, who was running the firms they worked for? Our guys! The lower third of the class! Guys who didn't have the foggiest notion of what a credit default swap was. All our guys knew was that they were getting disgustingly rich, and they had gotten to like that. All of that easy money had eaten away at their sense of enoughness.'

'So having smart guys there almost caused Wall Street to collapse.'

'You got it,' he said. 'It took you a while, but you got it.'

The theory sounded too simple to be true, but right offhand I couldn't find any flaws in it. I found myself contemplating the sort of havoc a horde of smart guys could wreak in other industries. I saw those industries falling one by one, done in by superior intelligence. 'I think I need a drink,' I said.

He nodded at my glass and made another one of those eyebrow gestures to the bartender. 'Please,' he said. 'Allow me.'

The writer is the author of Deciding The Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race In Rhyme.


Monday, October 12, 2009


12 Oct 2009

THE amount of paper, plastic and other garbage has more than tripled in two decades to about 300 million tons a year, according to Nie Yongfeng, a waste management expert at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

Americans are still way ahead of China in garbage; a population less than a quarter the size of China's 1.3 billion generated 254 million tons of garbage in 2007, a third of which is recycled or composted, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

But for China, the problem represents a rapid turnabout from a generation ago, when families, then largely rural and poor, used and reused everything.

'Trash was never complicated before, because we didn't have supermarkets, we didn't have fancy packaging and endless things to buy,' said Mr Nie. 'Now suddenly, the government is panicking about the mountains of garbage piling up with no place to put it all.'

In Zhanglidong, villagers engage in shouting matches with drivers and sometimes try to bodily block their garbage trucks coming from Zhengzhou, 20 miles (32 kilometres) away.

'Zhengzhou is spotless because their trash is dumped into our village,' says Li Qiaohong, who blames it for her 5-year-old son's eczema.

Ms Li's family is one of a few who live within 100 metres of the landfill, separated from it by a fence. These families get 100 yuan (S$20) a month in government compensation.

The dump has poisoned not just the air and ground, but relationships. Villagers say they were never consulted, and suspect their Communist Party officials were paid to accept the landfill.

Elsewhere, thousands of farmers in the central province of Hubei clashed with police last year over illegal dumping near their homes.

A person filming the clash died after being beaten by police.

Protests in cities are driving trash to the countryside.

Residents in central Beijing swarmed the offices of the Ministry of Environment last year, protesting the stench from a landfill and plans for a new incinerator there. In July, officials scrapped the incinerator plan and closed the landfill four years early.

In eastern Beijing, local officials invested millions of dollars to make the Gao An Tun landfill and incinerator one of a handful in China to meet global health standards. That was after 200,000 residents petitioned for a year about the smell.

After millennia as a farming society, China expects to be majority urban in five years.

Busy families are shifting from fresh to packaged foods, consumption of which rose 10.8 per cent a year from 2000 to 2008, well above the 4.2 per cent average in Asia, according to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. By 2013, the packaged-food market is expected to reach US$195 billion (S$272.6 billion), up 74 per cent from last year.

At least 85 per cent of China's seven billion tons of trash is in landfills, much of it in unlicensed dumps in the countryside. Most have only thin linings of plastic or fiberglass.

Rain drips heavy metals, ammonia, and bacteria into the groundwater and soil, and the decomposing stew sends out methane and carbon dioxide.

Regulations allow incinerators to emit 10 times the level of dioxins permitted in the US, and these release cancer-causing dioxins and other poisons, according to a Chinese government study.

'If the government doesn't step up efforts to solve our garbage woes, China will likely face an impending health crisis in the coming decade,' warns Liu Yangsheng, an expert in waste management at Peking University.

In Zhanglidong, resident Zheng Dongxiao says the village's only water well is polluted and causing chronic ulcers.

Wang Ling, a spokesman for the Zhengzhou Ministry of Environment, said the landfill has a polyethylene liner to protect the ground beneath. 'Test results of the local soil, water, and air quality, in 2006 and this year, showed that everything was in line with national standards,' he told The Associated Press.

Residents say the liner has tears and only covers a fraction of the landfill.

The government knows its garbage disposal will always draw complaints, says Mr Liu. 'What they need to do is invest more money into building and maintaining better plants.'

That remains a tall order in a country bent on growth, where economic planners hold more sway than environmental regulators and are loath to spend scarce funds on waste management. -- AP

Friday, October 9, 2009

No guanxi please, we're S'poreans

Oct 9, 2009

The arrival of new immigrants from China has aroused much anxiety and angst among Singaporeans who believe they are snatching away their jobs and unable to integrate into the local community. Speaking Mandarin with varying intonations and lacking proficiency in simple English, they are often viewed with mistrust and suspicion. Lesser known, however, are the new citizens who strive to foster interaction and integration. Insight puts the spotlight on the people who make a difference.
By Cai Haoxiang

A NEW immigrant freelance writer triggered off a controversy in Lianhe Zaobao recently when she bemoaned the falling standards on the Singapore Chinese orchestra scene.

In an article based on interviews with musicians from China in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Ms Zou Lu commented that while the Government had been active in promoting and popularising the arts, the public still lacked a sense of identification with the music.

She asked if the music was entering a 'sunset phase' and if Singapore's young talented artists were being 'strangled' by an unappreciative society.

The immediate response was a flurry of letters from the local community defending the vibrancy of Singapore Chinese orchestra music and questioning Ms Zou's familiarity with the scene.

Ms Zou's critique in the Chinese morning daily was singled out by a new citizen from Sichuan, Professor William Yang Jian Wei, as an example of how new arrivals need to be attuned to the sensitivities of their host society.

As Prof Yang, who became a Singaporean in 2004 after working here for 11 years, put it: 'According to traditional Chinese teaching, the one who comes first is the master and the rest are guests. As a guest, there are rules for you: When the master welcomes you, you should pay due respect and be grateful. If you start to be picky and criticise this and that, the host won't be happy.

'I am not saying that one should not criticise, but rather that it should be done carefully. Otherwise the host will say, do not lay your finger on my rice.'

Prof Yang, 59, sits on the 17-member National Integration Working Group for Community, one of four groups set up by the Government since April to discuss and implement integration programmes.

The vice-president of business consultancy Asia-Link Technology addressed a group of 250 mostly immigrant Chinese in a dialogue organised by the Tian Fu Club, an association for Chinese immigrants, and the Amoy Association at the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry last Saturday.

Prof Yang, an author of several books on investing in China, referred to the tendency among new well-educated Chinese immigrants to gripe, for example, about the use of Chinese and English in Singapore.

Rather than complain, he said, new arrivals should ru siang sui su - adapt to the customs of the place they are in. 'If you cannot change the environment, you can only change yourself. To want the environment to change for you is not practical.'

Talking about how Chinese immigrants could be better integrated here, he noted how many came to Singapore mistakenly thinking that Singaporean Chinese culture was identical to mainland Chinese culture.

[This is so true.]

He said that Singapore, after around 150 years of being a British colony, has developed a very different culture and operates on a system of laws and contracts rather than relationships, or guanxi.

Drawing an example, he said that if Singaporeans were pulled up for a traffic offence, they would go to the authorities to pay a fine.

'But the Chinese will tell the policeman, I think my brother's wife's uncle's son is a policeman, perhaps he can help? Chinese can't use guanxi here, that's why they get frustrated,' Prof Yang said.

The result is that immigrants, unused to the Singaporean way of life, end up mingling with their own circle of people, whether they are studying or working here. Not knowing the world outside their circle, and not interested in exploring further, he said, they stay different from locals in their way of thinking, culture and the way they interact with people.

As Prof Yang pointed out, immigrants also do not mix with the locals because they do not speak English. While Chinese immigrants mainly use Mandarin, English is the main language of communication in Singapore where even the local Chinese talk to one another in English, he said.

Most adult Chinese immigrants here - apart from a small professional group - do not speak English well enough to communicate with the locals. And that, in Prof Yang's view, is the key factor that explains why locals and immigrant Chinese do not mix.

A Speak Good English campaign targeted at immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds can help, he said.

But ultimately the onus is on oneself. To integrate, new immigrants have to work hard at learning English.

'Listen more, connect more, criticise less, appreciate and praise more. Complaining every day won't buy you happiness, but regret. If you don't treat Singapore as home, Singapore won't treat you as part of its family.'


[A good overview of the problem from someone who has experienced some if not all the issues either first-hand or indirectly. ]

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not allowed to shop alone... how about together?

[Ris Low and an architect charged with theft have both been given probation with the condition the neither should be allowed to shop alone.

So... they can shop (lift) together?]

Oct 6, 2009
Not allowed to shop alone
By Elena Chong

DETHRONED beauty queen Ris Low has been barred from shopping alone and must be accompanied by a family member at all times when she is out.

These are among the stricter conditions imposed by a District Judge on Tuesday when she turned up in court for a review of her 24 months supervised probation.

District Judge May Mesenas also wants her to continue her psychiatric treatment and counselling for her bipolar disorder, and take specific instructions from her psychiatrist.

'Whatever he advises you, whatever symptoms you have, you need to tell your doctor. Don't keep it to yourself. He needs to know everything so that he could give you the best treatment possible... so that you can get better,' the judge told Ms Low, who was dressed in a lime green long-sleeve hooded jacket and dark blue jeans.

The controversial ex-beauty queen who decided to give up her crown last week, said she would comply with the additional conditions.

She was given a chance and put on probation in May after she admitted to two charges each of cheating and cheating by impersonation, and one of misappropriation.

Oct 6, 2009
He's not allowed to shop alone
Man with depressive disorder gets 3 years' probation instead of jail for theft spree
By Elena Chong
A FORMER architect who was placed on three years' probation yesterday will not be allowed to go shopping alone.

Whenever Chia Leng has to buy something, he must be accompanied by a family member at all times.

This is one of the conditions placed on the 45-year-old who had earlier admitted to six charges, mainly of theft. Thirteen other charges were considered.

Chia, who is suffering from a major depressive disorder, has been jailed four times previously for theft and once for cheating in Hong Kong.

At the last hearing in August, the court was told that a long prison sentence could worsen Chia's mental condition and hinder his rehabilitation.

District Judge May Mesenas accepted the prosecution's request to place Chia on 36 months' probation, instead of 24 months as recommended by his probation officer.

Chia's elder brother, who was in court, signed a $5,000 bond to ensure his brother's good behaviour.

The man's crime spree began in June 2006, when he asked to use the mobile phone of a staff member at the GNC health supplements store at Orchard Shopping Centre. Chia's excuse was that his own phone's battery was low and he was waiting for an urgent message.

He then fled with the $700 phone.

About a month later, he used the same tactic on an employee of Simply Nails at Holland Shopping Centre.

In May 2007, he stole $2,000 from the wallet of an acquaintance at a restaurant in Goodwood Park Hotel.

Between May last year and March this year, Chia shoplifted at three stores, getting away with $492 worth of items.

Asked if he had anything to say yesterday, Chia said he was confident of being cured of his depression and 'sickness'.

Judge Mesenas said a lot would depend on him.

'If you don't follow these conditions strictly and reoffend during these three years, you know the consequences - you will be brought back to court and you can be sent to prison for these charges,' she told him.


Monday, October 5, 2009

Gas mask in bra wins IgNobel

Oct 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - ENGINEERS who invented a brassiere that converts quickly into a gas mask, pathologists who determined that beer bottles can crack your skull even when empty and Irish police officers who mistakenly wrote tickets to 'Driver's Licence' all won spoof 'IgNobel' prizes on Thursday.

Prizes also went to Zimbabwe for issuing banknotes that range in value from one Zimbabwean cent to 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars, to Mexican scientists who made diamonds out of tequila and to the directors, executives, and auditors of four Icelandic banks that suffered spectacular collapses.

The IgNobel prizes - a play on the name of the Nobel prizes awarded every October from Stockholm and Oslo - are given out by the Harvard-based humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research and co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard Computer Society.

The Public Health prize went to Elena Bodnar of Hinsdale, Illinois and colleagues who designed and patented a bra that can be quickly converted into a pair of gas masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander.

Ireland's police won the literature prize from writing more than 50 traffic tickets to a frequent visitor and speeder named Prawo Jazdy. In Polish, this means 'driver's licence'.

Pathologist Stephan Bolliger and colleagues at the University of Bern in Switzerland won for a study they did to determine whether an empty beer bottle does more or less damage to the human skull than a full one in a bar fight.

'Both suffice in breaking the human skull. However, the empty ones are more sturdy,' Dr Bolliger said by e-mail. This is because the pressure of the beer, aided by carbonation, makes a full beer bottle explode quickly.

Gideon Gono, governor of Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank which is struggling to fight runaway inflation, won an award 'for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers - from very small to very big - by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one Zimbabwean cent to Z$100 trillion.

The economics prize went to managers at Kaupthing Bank, Landsbanki, Glitnir Bank and Central Bank of Iceland 'for demonstrating that tiny banks can be rapidly transformed into huge banks, and vice versa'.

Donald Unger of California was honoured for a lifelong, experiment in which he cracked the knuckles of his left hand but never his right for more than 60 years to prove that cracking your knuckles does not cause arthritis.

[This is dedication to the scientific method! :-) ]

Other winners included farmers who showed that naming your cows makes them give more milk, researchers who used panda droppings to break down household trash and a scientist who calculated why pregnant women do not fall over. -- REUTERS

Friday, October 2, 2009


Oct 2, 2009

A seller's cautionary tale

I AM compelled to share my experience as a cautionary tale after reading the report, 'Private homes still seeing high demand' (Sept 22). I was a flat owner of Gillman Heights, which was sold in a collective property sale exercise and for which I received $887,000 (around $520 per sq ft) for my 1,700 sqft three-bedroom unit.

By the time I received my money, I could only afford a similar unit far from the city and certainly not as central as Gillman Heights.

Former owners like me were assured we would receive priority in buying units in the new condominium - The Interlace - on the site of our former home.

But at $1,000 psf, I would have been effectively downgraded to a much smaller apartment at the same location. Worse, we were given only three days' advance notice of the exclusive preview for us to choose our units at the Shenton Way office of the developer, CapitaLand Residential.

The preview, like the units offered to us, was unfavourable. We were not given brochures and all we had to gauge the new condo visually was an amateurish miniature model which was a stark contrast to the sleek, three-dimensional and professionally crafted model displayed at the sales office at the public launch.

The preview seemed like a half-hearted attempt by the developer to meet its obligations under the sales pact.

Was the professional Interlace model completed and ready for viewing at the off-site sales office, and if yes, why was the 'private preview' not held at CapitaLand's temporary River Valley Road sales office instead?

Why were the preview for ex-owners and the public launch of The Interlace so starkly different? Former owners were not offered a discount and while it may seem like a public relations coup to announce that ex-owners of Gillman Heights would receive priority in selection of apartments in the new project, the ones we were offered were some of the most unfavourable.

So, if there is a moral to my experience for flat owners contemplating collective sale, I would say potential seller beware: Read the fine print over matters like priority purchase of the new condo.

Reginald Tan